Friday, October 31, 2008

What does your treasure look like?

Here's Ben's. He put his treasure in my hand for safekeeping. Who do you trust with your treasure?

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It was an "Oh My!" morning.

"Oh my. Oh my. Oh my." That was mostly what Ben had to say this
morning as he explored some of the wonders of the back yard. He was
excited about rose bushes, little yellow "flower balls," and a variety
of other common to us objects. They're UNcommon to Ben. Maybe I need
to look again.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

I Like Trick or Trunk!

Trick or Trunk is new to me.  Since this concept of community-based trick or treating started after my kids were past that age, I was aware that our church had begun to do Trick or Trunk every year, but hadn't attended one.  That changed yesterday afternoon as we took our grandson Ben to enjoy the experience.

What a great event.  Folks who wanted to decorated their car trunks (or motorcycles in one case) or set up a game or other attraction next to their car did so, and then families were invited to come and enjoy.  There were even hot dogs, snow cones, popcorn and other goodies for everyone.  There was no scary stuff, but there were a lot of interesting costumes, both for kids and adults.

Ben actually was more attracted to the pumpkins that were decorating many of the venues than he was to the candy.  But when he figured out the pumpkins weighed too much, he was happy to focus on filling his monster bag with sweet treats.  He also found the games to be totally uninteresting -- just heading straight to the candy bowls.

I personally liked the game set up where older kids popped up and down from a box while someone tried to hit them with a balloon type mallet.  Sort of like the machines in Chuckey Cheese, but harmless to the ones being hit on the head.

So I give Trick or Trunk a big thumbs up.  It's great for the kids, easy on the adults, and creates a great sense of community.  It's a great, safe addition to our Halloween traditions.

And I still look forward to seeing the neighborhood kids come by for the old fashioned trick or treat later this week.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Huge Hurricane Relief Gift Coming to Sugar Land

An email from half way around the world announced that hurricane relief was on its way to Sugar Land, Texas.  The email came from Mbarara, Uganda.  They had heard about Hurricane Ike and that members of our church had suffered damage.  They wanted to help.  So they decided that they would give today's entire contribution to help.  Their usual weekly church contribution is about $11, but this week through sacrificial giving, they contributed more than twice that much, a little over $24.  They're sending it all, in a money order, to our church to help our members.

The absurdity of this situation has to be clear to you.  The poorest member of our church in Sugar Land has vast wealth compared to even the wealthiest member of the church in Mbarara.  While $24 is a very significant amount of money in Mbarara, it's probably not enough to replace one section of fence in Sugar Land.  They know that in Mbarara, and we know that in Sugar Land.

The only story I know that is more absurd is the one in the Bible that tells of the widow giving her two mites in the Temple contribution, and Jesus remarking that that her two mite contribution was greater than all of the large contributions put in that day by the wealthy.

Absurb stories by the way we usually measure things, by the way we usually value things.  But not when measured by the heart behind the gift. 

This is a huge gift when measured by the heart.  I'm touched by their compasion for people half way around the world, by their desire to do what they can to help, to express their compasion in a concrete way. 

And I'm forced to re-examine my own expressions of compasion in light of both the folks in Mbarara and the widow.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Eating a Bowl Full of Cherrys!

Here's Ben at Benihanas. They brought him a bowl of cherries. They went fast!

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's Making an ICU Visit Like for a Lay Chaplain - Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 I provided general information about making an ICU visit and the preparations I usually go through prior to walking into the ICU area.  In this post, I'll talk some about the actual visit.

At M.D. Anderson, where I regularly make chaplaincy visits, the ICU units are organized as Pods, with rooms enclosed by glass sliding doors arranged around the stations where the medical staff works when not in a room.  That allows a visitor to see into the room before entering, and get some idea of what's going on and who's in the room.  After washing my hands, and sometimes putting on required protective gear such as gloves, a mask, and a gown, I gently knock on the door to let those inside know that I'm present.  I open the door and walk in, at the same time trying to get a picture of what's going on.

I've learned to introduce myself clearly and slowly to give the patient and family members a chance to figure out who this new person is and why he's there.  They're used to people coming in and out frequently, but it gets confusing to figure out who's who and why they've entered the room.  I also hand the patient or family member one of my business cards, as that also helps them process who I am.  The words I usually say are, "Hi, I'm Jim Hughes from Lifeline Chaplaincy.  We're the church of Christ chaplaincy here in the Texas Medical Center, and I just wanted to come by and see how you're doing today."  Most of the folks I visit have identified themselves as members of the church of Christ, so that provides an immediate connection, even if they're not familiar with Lifeline Chaplaincy.  Sometimes I add a little more information, especially if they've been referred to us asking that we visit.  I'll tell them that, and mention the name of the person that asked us to come by.

Sometimes just that introduction is enough to start a conversation.  But most of the time, I ask a couple of questions to stimulate the conversation.  One that nearly always works well is, "So, what's going on today?"  That gives them an option to say as little or as much as they want to, and I just listen, and try to respond in a way that they know I've heard them.  I find that I use words like, "Wow!" or "Oh My" a lot.  Sometimes my response may be, "Sounds like things are getting better, right?"  Other times I may respond, "Sounds like you're having a tough time right now."  Again, those are not only words to let them know I'm hearing what they're saying, they're also invitations to say more if they want to.  If they don't bring it up in their conversation, which is maybe half the time, I'll inquire about how they're doing emotionally and spiritually.  Sometimes I'll just ask using those words.  Other times, depending on how the conversation has gone to that point, I'll use a phrase that's a little different, like "How are you and God getting along these days?"  That's a different question to many folks than "How's your relationship with God?"

The conversation may be quite short, depending on circumstances.  Or it may go for a lengthy period.  We may talk about a lot of other things, and they may be important.  It's not uncommon that the patient has a question that they've been thinking about, and want to have a discussion around that.  I'm there to go where they want to go -- they lead, I follow.

At then end of the visit, I usually say something like, "I'd love to pray with you if that would be okay."  Most of the time, the answer is "Please."  But sometimes it's not, and that's okay.  If they want to pray, I also like to ask them, "What would you like to pray about today besides the medical issues going on?" or simply, "What would you like to pray for today."  I'm surprised by how often there are other issues that are weighing on them that need prayer as well.

Then we pray, and what we pray about is what we've talked about during our visit.  In addition to carrying their needs and concerns to God, I want my wording of the prayer to convey to the patient and family that I've heard what they've shared with me, and that I am also concerned.  We generally then visit for another minute or so to close out the visit.

Sometimes, I'll also have a visit with a family member in the waiting room.  That conversation usually follows the same general path, but with some additional conversation about how things are for them in the role of caregiver.  That gives an opportunity to talk about issues that the family member might not want to talk about in front of the patient.

No two situations are ever the same.  I remember one patient I visited weekly for a couple of months.  He couldn't talk, but was awake.  I'd reintroduce myself, say a few words of encouragement, and pray with him. Sometimes the patients are delirious.  Sometimes they are alert and feeling good.  Sometimes their church experience has been good, sometimes it hasn't.  Sometimes they're getting better, sometimes they're in the process of dying, or anywhere in between.  But what they all have in common is that they're going through difficult days, they're anxious, and they're glad to have someone stop by and for a few moments share their life.

So what's it like to make an ICU visit?  Seeing the pain, seeing people in such critical situations, seeing the effects of cancer up close and personal is not fun, sometimes even shocking even though I've been doing this for a while.  But making a deep connection with someone, even for a few minutes, is an amazing feeling.  And the more of life I experience, the more certain I am that making deep connections with others is what this life is all about.  Learning to love, as God is love.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Slide Set for Tonight's "How to Deal With Difficult Seasons in Life" Presentation

I'll be speaking tonight at Uplift at First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land on "How To Deal With Difficult Seasons in Life."  Here's a link to the slide set I'll be using:

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Monday, October 20, 2008

This is What Friendship Looks Like

Sometimes while doing chaplaincy rounds at M. D. Anderson, I happen to be in the right place at the right time to participate in a special moment.  Today I got to be present for another one of those times.

I'd just entered a patient room, a guy I'd visited last week as well.  He could hardly wait to tell me that the preacher and one of the elders from his home church had driven down from Oklahoma City to spend some time with him.  And almost before he could finish the sentence, in they walked along with the patient's wife.

For the next 15 minutes, they took turns telling great church stories, which had us all (including the nurse who came in to do vitals) laughing, and enjoying each others' company.  When the elder began telling about announcing to their Bible class yesterday morning that they were coming to Houston for this visit, both he and the patient shed tears -- evidence of the close bond they share.  And then the five of us joined hands while the preacher of 60 years prayed about God's power and our shared desire for healing. 

On our way out after the prayer, the preacher explained to the patient that they would visit him four times during this trip, the second time tonight after dinner.  Each visit would be short, and would include prayer.

That these two men would drive from Oklahoma City to Houston speaks volumes about how valued this patient is to that church.  And there are no words to express how valuable it was to this patient to have two dear friends be present with him during this time of trial.

I want to be that kind of friend.  Because I need those kinds of friends.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Long Fence (Now Upright)

To fully appreciate this photo, you have to realize that this fence was leaning at about a 30 degree angle following Ike. It could only be straightened post by post. Slow, hard work.

Most things in life are like this fence - fixing them requires a post by post approach. There's no magic to just pop them all up at once. So we're overwhelmed by looking at the long line of things to be done. It's hard to get started. But the truth of the matter is, you'll only get it done by starting, and then patiently going from post to post. Slow, hard work.

In actuality, I'm not finished. There's another section just about this long to straighten. And there are other similar challenges in my life. But it's great to have one piece done, and to take a moment to enjoy progress

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Firecrackers (the plant, not the exploding kind)

I planted these last year to attract hummingbirds, which they do. But
I've also found that I enjoy just seeing their brightness. And of
course, Ben thinks these are what firecrackers are, which at two, is
probably okay.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Just a Rose? No such thing!

As I look at this photo of one of our roses, I'm tempted to say, "Just
another rose." But then I'm attracted to the layers of petals
unfolding. To the droplets of rain water hanging on to the petal.
The nearby bud trying to bust out from it's green cover. It's not just
a rose, it's a glimpse into the beauty of this earth, if I'll but

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Photo of My Porch Spider

This cute(?) little guy lives on our back porch. Looks hungry to me!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ben grew ears at Mickey Mouse's house!

Mark sent this photo yesterday during their first day at Disney World.
I just hope Ben is enjoying being at Mickey's house as much as Mark
and Kathy are!

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

It Only Takes a Moment for Things to Change

As we watch the sunset, changing minute by minute, suddenly back over our shoulder a new light appears to mark the passage of time. Change is a constant.  If we're paying attention.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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A Display That Marks the Passage of Time

Sunrise, sunset. Clockwork. Easy to take for granted. Like time. But each sunrise, each sunset is unique. Miss it, and you'll never see one just like it again. I'm thankful for time, and for georgeous displays that mark its passing.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

If you don't have a Goofy hat, get one! Your inner child needs it.

Life's just too short not to have a Goofy hat. Ben's modeling one of
his favorites in this photo, and leaves tomorrow to visit Goofy at
Mickey Mouse's house (Disney World).

I don't mean that you need to go buy a hat. Just look around, use
your imagination, and put something goofy on your head. Then go look
in the mirror. Wear it for a walk around the neighborhood. Become
childlike. See if that doesn't change your perspective in a good way.

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Can't Progress Be Quieter?

Somebody's working in the neighborhood with a tractor or dozer with that annoying back-up warning device.  Somehow, "BEEP, BEEP" is not an adequate description of the sound it makes.  And on a calm morning, it's effective at piercing the silence.  While it's muted some by being inside, it's still obvious.

I know why these warning devices are required, and I don't doubt that they prevent accidents.  It's just that I'm a half mile away, and I don't need to be warned that a tractor or dozer leveling a new lot is backing up.  I'm not there, I'm here.  And yes, I find it irritating, even without my hearing aids.

I understand that it's a sound of progress, and I like progress.  But can't progress be quieter?

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Straightening Up Fence Posts That Ike Bent Over

It's one of those times when having a large back yard with a fence on two sides with no one on the other side is a disadvantage.  Hurricane Ike didn't faze it during the early phases of the storm, but by the time the winds shifted and started coming out of the southwest, the ground was good and wet, so it could push the fence posts to an angle.  None of them went all the way down, and none of the sections of fence boards was damaged.  It just all leans.  So, it has to be straightened up.

That's not quite as easy as it sounds.  Because the ground was wet, the soil shifted.  The posts can't be just pulled back to their former position.  At least not without some preparation and some work.

So here is the method I've found successful.

1.  Because the fence sections are leaning, I first remove the weight of the fence boards as a section by removing the 2 x 4's from the post.  I've gotten to where I can do that pretty quickly.

2.  More difficult and time consuming is digging the dirt out that has filled in to allow the post to move.  It's not quite as bad as digging a new hole, but close.  I don't have to go all the way down, but I do have to clear out to a pretty good depth.

3.  Finally, I hook up my riding mower and pull the post back upright, then using the weight of the mower to hold it in place.  (Most of the posts won't move with me just pulling or pushing on them myself -- thus the mower.)

4.  I then fill the gaps around the post and concrete with dirt, and using a small sledge and a 2x4, I tamp the dirt around the post.

5.  Finally, I reattach the fence sections.

I have 27 of these leaning posts to do.  The good news is that I now have a method and am getting faster at getting it done.  Still, it may be a while...

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Say, "Ahh!" Or make up your own caption!

I can't really remember what Ben was saying if anything when I shot
this photo yesterday, but it's sort of a strange pose, and sort of
weird to be able to capture it. You make up your own caption and

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What's Making an ICU Visit Like for a Lay Chaplain? Part 2

In Part 1, I described in general what an ICU is like and and a number of the conditions you are likely to encounter when you make a visit.

In this post, I want to describe some of the preparation I use to help me be effective when I enter the ICU.  Hopefully, the information I presented in Part 1 helps you understand that an ICU is not a place you just walk into lightly.  It's a very serious place because the patients there have serious medical conditions, they and their family members are anxious, and the medical staff has important work to do.  My presence in the ICU will hopefully be calming, encouraging, and non-intrusive.

Preparation is further important because I really have no idea what I'll encounter when I walk into the patients room.  I have minimal information, usually just the patient's name and room number.  I don't know their condition, what they've been going through, or what family members may be present.  Sometimes I have visited them before, and so I may know something of their story.  But basically I go into every visit pretty much blind as to what I'll find and what the needs are.  Surprisingly, that's enough.

My goal is to go into each room neutral so that I can match -- and not contrast with -- the mood of the patient and family members.  That requires that I be able to put aside whatever else I've been thinking about, worrying about, enjoying, or whatever has happened earlier in the day.  I want to be able to give the patient and family my complete focus while I'm with them.

Sister Alice Potts, who was the first chaplain at M. D. Anderson, was a mentor to all of the staff chaplains that followed, and also to a lot of us who do lay chaplaincy.  She's the one that impressed on us the importance of being neutral going into a room.  Her message to us was that if the patient is angry, then we should reflect their anger.  If the patient is frustrated, then we should reflect their frustration. If the patient is rejoicing, then we should reflect their joy. If they are speaking slowly and quietly, then we should speak slowly and quietly.  You get the idea.  "Join the patient where they are," was her constant admonition.

My training and my mentors have also impressed on me the importance of being present for the patient.  Being present has many facets, but important to me is that I go into their room with no set agenda except to meet their needs as they express them at that moment.  That means going into the room with all my senses heightened.  I need to sense whether this is a good time for a visit, whether a conversation is appropriate, make a split second assessment of what's already going on in the room, and many other things.  Being present can mean just leaving a card and slipping out quietly.  Or it can mean spending significant time engaging the patient and/or family.  Being there, though,is the most important thing I do, whether I say or word or not.

It's also important to me that I enter the room as God's representative, with the purpose of ministering to the patient and family.  I'm still me, with my skills, knowledge, and intuition -- and with all my baggage too.  The visit is to be about the patient and family, and not about me.  I'm there to listen to them, not to tell them my stories.

My preparation is simple.  Since I generally make these visits on Monday afternoons, I'll spend some time Monday morning reminding myself why I'm making them.  At some point during the morning or while driving to the medical center, I'll pray for my effectiveness.  After arriving at the hospital, I'll review my list of folks that I'm to visit, and if they are folks I've visited before, try to jump start my memory about their story.  I generally try to make my ICU visits first, before making visits to patients in regular rooms, to be sure I can spend whatever time is needed with them.  But sometimes I'm led to visit elsewhere first.  And occasionally, I find that I need to take a few minutes in a quiet place to re-center, to get ready to engage another patient.

That gets us to the point of entering the unit.  In Part 3, I'll describe how I conduct the visit and some of the common tools I use. 

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Need fence boards?

Home Depot was restocking yesterday afternoon. They had 0 until they moved these in. Wonder how many are left today?

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What Can You Do with a Laundry Basket and a Styrofoam Cup?

Well, here's one thing Ben did this morning. And yes, he got into the
laundry basket by himself.

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A Goblin Was Waiting for Ben!

Nana got this out this morning and plugged it in anticipating Ben's arrival. He loved it! Great fun!

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Peppermint Tea to Settle My Stomach After the Debate

Here's a photo of the nice cup of peppermint tea I just prepared. We didn't watch the debate, but from what my twitter friends who did had to say, it was pretty pitiful. Apparently each guy failed to answer the question and just launched into their talking points.

The tea is to settle my stomach, because I can't see either of these guys as leaders. They're just pawns of the system.

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Here's JennyDog!

This is JennyDog.

You should know that she doesn't like you. If you ring my doorbell, she gets very angry, and will let you know. If you come into my house or yard, she'll do her best to make you sorry you did.

She also doesn't like other dogs. She will do everything in her power to bully them.

She loves me, my wife, and our son John, who rescued her from bullying kids when she was a puppy. She tolerates the vet and boarding staff.

She's old (13 1/2), cranky, and thinks her main goal in life is trying by every means possible to get real food of any variety. I can't blame her for that. She has to eat Rx partially hydrolized dog food. She can't have even dog treats because of food allergies to any whole food. The food restrictions aren't the cause of her bad temperament - she's always been that way.

You've been warned!

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Houstonians must need to climb!

New shipment of ladders at Home Depot.

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My Tuesdays are different because of where I spent Monday.

Tuesdays are different because of where I spent Monday.

My heart is still engaged by the patients I visited on Monday. I replay our conversations. I continue to pray for them. I am still rejoicing in their victories, groaning over their setbacks.

I'm remembering holding the hand of the patient in excruciating pain. I am remembering the words of the patient who prayed for relief and got it.

My Tuesdays are different because of where I spent Monday.

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What's Making an ICU Visit Like for a Lay Chaplain? Part 1

As a lay chaplain, I've gotten to make a lot of ICU visits. At MD Anderson where I provide pastoral care for Lifeline Chaplaincy, a whole floor is devoted to ICU, with some of the units focused on treating patients needing intensive care because of surgical causes, and other units focused on other medical crises.

You always know that ICU is a serious place. People are there because their lives depend on receiving specialized, life stabilizing, intensive medical care. There are all kinds of machines in the rooms, lines and tubes running everywhere, monitors with flashing lights, and sometimes breathing support devices and even more. Sometimes the patient is in isolation because of infection, and gowns, masks, and gloves have to be worn by everyone entering the room. And of course, hand sanitization is standard before and after leaving the room.

Sometimes the ICU room is almost erily calm, while other times it is a hive of activity with medical staff performing procedures or doing assessments. Sometimes a family member is present (many spend the night in the room with their spouse/relative who is the patient at MDA), sometimes a family member is in the waiting room and the patient is alone in ICU, and sometimes there's no family member at all.

The patient may be feeling pretty good, be anxious to talk, and be on the upswing. Or the patient may be comatose and/or on life support, unable to communicate. Or the patient may be at any of the variations in between these two conditions. Their prognosis may be optimistic, some variation of guarded, or nearing death.

The family providing support is generally exhausted, stressed, anxious, but coping. Some days are better for the family than others, depending on the course of what's happened and what's expected to happen.

When I first started making visits, I have to admit, heading into the ICU was intimidating. Part of it was because I knew the person I was to visit was seriously ill. Part of it was because it was entering an alien space. And part of it was recognizing that the patient and perhaps family I was to visit were in the midst of a crisis, and that although I'd had good training, knowing how to best respond to their needs was still a mystery.

As with most endeavors, experience is a great teacher. I'm much more comfortable and confident these days as I step off the elevator onto the seventh floor. I know that I'm just there as a person to be used by God to minister to others, and that He always steps up to make that enough. And I know how important it is to patients and family to have someone just walk in the door and say, "I came by just to check on you today."

(More to come)

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Winston's not in the picture!

Winston is really just down on the floor, but after yesterday's romp through the neighborhood, he's lucky to be "in the picture" at all! This is Cooper with Sara, both doing their "cute" pose.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Give the phone back, Sara!

Ben and Aunt Sara were taking turns taking to Nana on the cell phone. Ben's never had so much fun! He's trying his best to get it back so he can talk some more.

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This was just too weird -- but good weird!

Yesterday I was shopping for entertainment centers with my daughter Sara, ending up at Ciruit City.  I'd also been working with my son Mark to coordinate a family lunch.  He said something about going to the Gap to get some shorts. So, when Sara was finished looking, I called Mark's cell to finalize plans.

Me:  "Hey."

Mark:  "Where are you?"  (suddenly in stereo!)

Me, after a quick glance in which I see Mark, Kathy and Ben not 15 feet away:  "Same place as you!"

So, what's the chance of all of us being in a place none of us had originally planned to be when we started out, and one of us making a call to the other?  Not high.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Collecting Sticks

Ben and I have been collecting sticks. Now collecting sticks from the
yard may not seem very exciting to you. In fact, for you and me,
sticks are viewed as trash, something to be thrown away. But to Ben,
sticks are important treasures, to be collected and studied and
counted. Nothing except ladybugs and treefrogs have as much currency
in Ben's world. And thanks to Ben, I again have learned to value
sticks, ladybugs, and tree frogs.

Friday, October 03, 2008

New Haircut and Shirt

The shirt says "what happens at Nana's house stays at Nana's house."
ben does usually leave evidence. :-)

Burning Trash

Sitting on the back porch, I see that someone is apparently burning
#Ike debris in the distance. The smoke grabs your attention against
the pristene, blue Houston sky, because we don't often have pristene,
blue sky. And now I can begin to smell it. Wonder if it's going to
contribute to today's ozone alert?

What seeing the smoke made me think about was how much we have changed
how we think about trash burning during my lifetime. As a child, I
remember those 55 gallon drums that people living in rural areas used
to burn their trash. And when I was a teenager, if you lived in Denver
as we did, you were required to have a trash incenerator in the back
yard, and to use it.

Now I'm conditioned to be shocked when I see trash being burned and
dirtying the air.

I wonder what practices we take for granted as okay today will change?
I vote for mowing grass!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Some Personal #Ike Debris

Owning two houses has disadvantages, especially after a hurricane.
This pile is some from house 2. Neither house had enough damage for
insurance to kick in, so I'm doing what I can, slowly.

Looking in the Mirror

For Ben, looking into Nana's makeup mirror is very entertaining. For me, looking into the mirror isn't entertaining, it's a reminder that I'm getting older, that my hair's a mess, and so forth. Maybe I need enough perspective to find my looks into the mirror entertaining.
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