Thursday, October 28, 2010

Observations while packing to move. And downsize.

Books that have been on your shelf unread for years (many never read), will suddenly look exceedingly interesting when you are faced with giving them away.

A job that at the outset looks like no big deal will after a few days reveal itself to be a very big deal.

Most of what we have is junk. We are fortunate enough to recognize that; it will save us from thinking that we would have made a mint off of it if only we'd had the time and foresight to have a garage sale. Our gift to ourselves is not to have a garage sale.

Our gift to our children is to move to half the space now and only keep what can fit there. This is written from the perspective of a child-in-law who had to help clear off a 60-year-old farm a few years back. (Their gift to us will be to come take their stuff away now).

It is surprising how nostalgic I can get about an oversize one-car garage on my husband's account.

Suddenly I'm obsessed with flat screens and other things that take up less space. Unfortunately until we sell our big roomy old house for less than we paid for our slightly less old compact model, budget is tighter. (But this computer monitor is about 3 feet deep. It's gotta go soon.)

Word of advice. Before you buy, you might want to check and see if your new house has cell phone reception. Farewell to the T-Mobile plan that has served our family well for 5+ years.

This is an adventure. People are shockingly impressed that we are doing it at all. It's good to go on an adventure.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Not Better Than Average

Have you read/heard of the research that says most people think they are better than average drivers? I'm not one of them. I think that I am a worse than average driver by nature, and try to compensate by being a very vigilant driver, taking caffeine for the morning commute, driving a very small car to minimize the damage I might do in a moment of inattention, trying not to pay attention to anything around me that might be more interesting than what is ahead of me, never talking (never mind texting, which is inconceivable) on the cell while driving, or drinking before driving.

I also don't find myself to be a woman of better than average character. My motives for much of what I do are base self-preservatory motives. When I pray not to do harm in my work, I'm praying not just for my patients' safety, but also for my ability to go on doing my job and being able to live with myself. Doing one's duty is the duty of all, and many if not most do theirs; I try to do mine. That makes me, at best, a person of average character. But my obstacles are not as high as those of most people in this world, so maybe average is an overestimate.

Of the things I love to do--read, write poems, sing, care for (and entertain) those I love, and those entrusted to my care--most people who love to do those things do them better than I do. And among those who love God, God knows I am not his most passionate and dedicated soul, loving with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. But, because of his grace, I haven't given up. I still hope for those occasions when I forget myself and where I fall in the continuum of the rest of sin-touched humanity, and do the right thing for the right reason, and love for the sake of the beloved, and rise above not all the others, but myself, by pure grace. It stands to reason that if that ever happens, I won't notice.

And just so you don't find this morbidly depressing or think I'm obnoxiously self-effacing--like that could ever happen--there are a few things I do well: Whereas I'm not normally a good judge of character, tending to trust those who are up to no good, I was, when it mattered 37 years ago, a profoundly good judge of husband material. And I'm a great speller and punctuater. Or is it punctuator?)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Undeep Thoughts

Doesn't anyone but me find the Tree in "The Giving Tree" more than just a bit of an enabler? I never found this story as heartwarming as my friends did. And I really wonder if Shel Silverstein meant it that way.

One good thing about electronic medical records (and there aren't a lot of good things yet) is that I get to spend a little less time on hold to medical organizations (labs, pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, radiology clinics) and listening to their music, ads, etc. Salem Hospital is currently the worst. Yesterday I was victimized by a sad, dreamy, slowed-down piano version of, yeah, this is weird, "The Candy Man". To judge from their hold music, SH wants to be your hospital if you are into Lawrence Welk reruns and '50's movie theme music. Oregon Health and Science University favors Top 40 classical, absolutely nothing you can't hum along to even if you own fewer than 5 classical albums. Walgreen's at least has decent pop sometimes--I've occasionally been disappointed to be interrupted in my sing-along by the actual pharmacist answering the phone. Nursing homes/retirement centers are the other worst: They seem to assume that almost everyone who calls is actually looking for a nursing home so that the innocent nurse practitioner answering an urgent call from a nurse is assaulted with ads telling her what a great place this would be for her or her loved one to live. With some spritely music to punctuate. These are the times when electronic access to records and order forms can't come fast enough!

Things I will miss when we, Lord willing, in a month or two, move to Portland:

  • My clothesline (new place has no place private to put one and I don't like to hang even my clean laundry in public).
  • The Santa Rosa plum tree. Grabbing a plum off it and eating it bent over to let the juice hit the grass instead of my clothes.
  • The wood stove, as even the smallest would probably blast us out of the new place, which is, well, little.
  • The Evilberries, as my daughter named the unreproducible thorny blackberryboysenberryloganberrywhoknowswhatotherberry hybrids that were an attempt to keep the neighbor kids from coming through the fence (ineffective) but make the best jams and cobblers we'll never see again.
  • Having the kids spend the night and eat several meals in a row with us. But we should see them more often, if for less time at a pop.
  • Sunday walks with Susan. I'll always talk to Susan, thank God for the technology that makes that easy, but we won't get to walk as often. Maybe I'll have to get a dog, name it Lucy, and be Susan to someone else on Sundays.

Speaking of whom, this is the poem which really kicked off my poem-writing jag of the 20-oughts:

Poem for Susan, Epiphany 2007

Sitting on the sofa at ten.
The phone still warm from my ear.
Pondering why I am glad I didn’t accidentally say
before hanging up
“Love you” (as I say to my family) instead of
“Take care” (as I say to my friends).
Wondering why that would have embarrassed both of us
because we really are good enough friends that it is certainly true,
and we certainly both know it.
But still glad I didn’t accidentally say it.

And because of our conversation
About the common disaster that has overtaken our family,
the sudden decline of a loved old one
and the hardship that creates for us all,
I am happy to sit,
hearing in the near silence
the hum and blow of the furnace,
feeling in my motionlessness
the pulse of my blood,
noticing in the not-noticing
the absence any real pain in my body.

This won’t last.
I’m not entitled for it to.
But I’m grateful
for hearing, pulse, and painlessness.
And, of course, for you.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Not a Bad September Day

This morning, one of those pitch-perfect September mornings, the first Saturday after school started, I ran past the soccer fields, and it was all as it's been since my kids were kids. Tiny creatures in crayon yellow and crayon green T-shirts were buzzing around a black and white ball, with adults hovering above and around them with whistles and snacks and sweatshirts. Of course it took me back to my days sitting sideline, often with a nursing textbook, always with other grownups with whom I may or may not have had a lot in common, but if nothing else, at least those kids. It was a ritual, a rite, in our case one that our son always seemed to regret having gotten involved with shortly after the start of the season. I kind of miss those days, and I kind of don't. I felt much more a part of this community then, which was cool.

This afternoon, a pitch-perfect September afternoon, I did a Dallas afternoon romp, first to the library to return overdue books, get seduced by some others I don't have time for, and to check out my those books without human help. Okay, I needed a human to help me learn to do it, but now I can do it alone. When the lady cheerfully told me I could check out books without her, the first thing out of my mouth was, "But what about your job?" She assured me she'd still have a job. (I hope she wasn't insulted, thinking I thought her job was only about passing things under a scanner and collecting the only kind of fines most people don't mind paying. She didn't seem to be.) Then I went to a vacant lot and bought apples, corn, and shiny red pears from the blind man and his family who always sell them. I had to read the scale and report honestly so they could charge me correctly. He did the math in his head. Then I went to a coffee kiosk in the Safeway parking lot and ordered a cherry Italian soda without cream, which is one of the prettiest and most refreshing things in the world. THEN, a glutton for a good afternoon, and mainly just a glutton, I went to the deserted noodle and sushi place on Main and got the evilest yummy sushi roll, now known as a Dallas Roll, which is deep fried. I was the only one in the perfectly un-air-conditioned restaurant and enjoyed a peaceful feast over a book I like but expect to end badly, and it all only was broken by my pager bleating at me, because, yes, I'm on call.

A little later my daughter called, and I told her of the roadbumps in the way of our efforts to move to her general neck of the woods, North Portland, but that I hadn't lost hope. She told me that she has some adoptive grandchildren in that neighborhood she thinks we might take advantage of (and their parents of us!) and I was glad to hear it.

Now, this evening, I'm going to do a bad job of cooking steak, and eat the corn I bought, and try to polish off a children's feature (is there a better word than "feature" for this kind of thing? It isn't really a story, so...?) about lost and found sheep and people. Sometimes I think my life is a little bland. I imagine by now you do, too. But a normal day like this is such a pipe dream for so many, and I will not despise that, and I will be, am, grateful.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Last week was the annual Doyle (my side of the family) gathering at the beach. I realized we've been going to the beach together every summer for about 35 years now. There are 14 of us all told now, down from a high of 15: Mom, her three children and our spouses, our collective 7 children. None of the seven currently have spouses, and Mom has no great grandchildren.

At times I feel a little wistful about this, but my sister reminded me that we in our generation are all still very tethered to the working world, all work more than full time, and would probably not be the grandparents our mom and dad were, as they retired with energy to spare. It actually made me feel better, oddly, and it also helps to recall that we have marvelous children, who are making their way in the world and making life better for others, and who don't break our hearts on a daily basis, as many children unfortunately do.

If there were no God, having children would have to be considered a crap shoot, with the likelihood of pain and pleasure about equal. Recently on NPR I heard about a study (or several?) indicating that most people are less happy after they have children than before. This is hard to believe from where I sit, but may be true, I suppose. But there is a God, who I believe arranges for our spiritual progress through the fruit of our loins, and theirs through us, if we're expectant and alert. Which is a bigger deal than mere Happiness. I'm grateful for the progress and the happiness mine have provoked.

I'm also grateful for the Doyles who are great cooks, great laughers, great listeners to music (and some of us great sing-alongers, even if others of us disagree), great junk-shop trawlers, and who, though we only do it three times, a year, love to hang out with each other.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bad memory

I read a riveting neuroscience blog called The Frontal Cortex at (Yeah, you heard me. Riveting.) A recent post called "Memory is Fiction" discusses the mutability and unreliability of memory in a way that is quite depressing.

Evidence exists that the more often you remember something the more inaccurate the memory becomes. Apparently it gets trimmed down, embellished up, worked over, and plowed under the soil of other memories, and you really can't trust it as well as you wish you could. Was I really going to a church quilting day when I heard of the Challenger disaster? Was I really standing is line to eat lunch in 7th grade when the PA system began broadcasting radio coverage of the Kennedy assassination? (Did I really eat a whole bag of potato chips every time I babysat for the Kirchbergers?) Studies that have asked for these vivid kinds of memories to be recalled immediately and a long time after the events they recall show that it all really breaks down something awful. And yet, much as I love studies, and Science, there is a level on which I really can't believe this is true. Memory is sacred.

But I wonder if the science isn't a case for reunions and hanging out occasionally with old friends you never see and don't think you have a lot in common with anymore. Just going over the old stuff you did that made you who you are, and getting their take on it all seems worthwhile.

My little sister often "reminds" me that I went to bat for her when she was arguing with mom over the right to wear nylons to school in junior high. Believe me, this was once not only fashionable, but essential to avoid being a fashion pariah. Really, it was. She says I told mom to please not make her go through what I had gone through in my 7th and 8th grade years (when mom's position was firm--nylons were expensive and stupid). I used the quotes around "reminds" above because I don't actually remember doing this. But I'm glad to know it. It makes me look like a good big sister, and that makes me happy. And if she didn't "remind" me, I wouldn't know it.

I think the unreliability of memory is also, obviously, a case for writing things down fresh, in an indelible format. Like blogging (snicker) or a real paper journal.

Visit, write. Beat those unfaithful neurons!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Visit to the cemetery

Today, we did something we've never actually done before. We (Merlin, kids, and I) went up to the Dallas cemetery and put flowers at the grave of Merlin's parents and our aunt. I know Memorial Day is established to honor war dead, but we are Mennonites, as were the Brandt elders before us, and so have no war dead of our own. But I remembered that Mom and Dad used to go up to their parents' graves on Memorial Day, and it seemed for once like we ought to honor them the same way. I suddenly wanted anyone who passed by the section where they and their parents lie to know we hadn't forgotten them.

I was surprised how widely decorated the (huge, beautiful) cemetery was, including the section near the road that contains the bones of Dallasites buried over a century ago. Many other headstones of folks we knew already had been visited and remembrances left. One headstone had little glass beads and stars arranged around the flowers. Molly had suggested we leave a few chocolate covered cherries (which, I guess, sounds a little "Dia de los Muertes" to me, although kind of appropriate to her grandparents), but I forgot to get them.

Not sure when we'll do it again. Not sure I know why we do it. But I think however we go about it, it's good to recall with gratitude the great cloud of witnesses who are no longer running the race, but who enabled us to run it, and who I believe still care how we run it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Because it is time to blog again....

I've been on vacation, and back, and the coming back was with a vengeance, as the saying goes, to an office under stress. Well, under more stress than usual. I've stared at the screen for some indeterminate amount of time, trying to think what to tell you. It would be a boring little kvetch, if I talk about work.

So I'll share the few poems that came out of the travels this time. The first two have an obvious connection to the trip, and the last just popped out after I came home. If history is any indicator, it could be a while before any more poems happen.

The Right Coast

I am home from Florida.
Only two margaritas in ten days,
but I got drunk on the ocean,
so different from my Pacific,
recalling which,
I felt the guilt of unfaithfulness.

So drunk on the ocean, I couldn’t drive.
I could only
stare and stare at the green and greens
of the bay, the ocean, the bight.
On the last day, that ocean turned nearly
blue for me.
So I could stand to come home.

May 2010

Old Folks

Wed seventy-three years, they were
Parted by death for only seven months,
and then reunited by it.
They were in love the whole time
(truly, though not always smoothly,
I learned near the end).

Coming past Mt. Hood on a Continental flight,
I wrap their third son’s arm in both of mine,
perfectly content, and aware of it,
to be watching Mt. Hood with this man after a paltry
36 years, knowing at some point, unfathomably,
death will us part.

That son, a man, married a child
who knew what she wanted,
has always known what she has,
and never questioned her choice.
Grateful, as other children-in-law,
to those old folks who lasted

longer than any of us will.

May 2010 (Pete and Sally Brandt’s 77th anniversary)

Aromata: Three Haiku from Runs

Fallen fir needles
smell like wild blackberry pie
baking in the sun.


Someone must have brought
Ariel laundry powder
home from Mexico.


Mimosa’s out there,
but where? Follow the nose out
over a high fence.

May 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Aging

The drive to correct grammar and spelling does not diminish with age. You just learn to only do it on your own stuff.

A good pair of glasses that will not embarrass you in front of your 20- and 30-something friends, with progressive (read, "line-free") correction for reading and computer work, costs you $400. After the AARP discount.

We look younger than our parents at our age because they helped us keep our own teeth.

We should be enviable company to our youngers--we know a lot of interesting stuff (and yet know that we know nothing), can see the humor in anything, can add humor where we can't find it, and we are so humble.

They will be us before they know it.

When I was in my thirties, I thought those 40-something women who wore shorts over their swimsuits were just being silly. Around 15 years ago, when I was 40-something, I got it. I'm now buying "swimskirts". Never say never.

I repeat myself, but... Never say never.

A poem from two years ago:

Sleeveless dress

My arms, somewhat dimpled,
a little slack,
must offend some who see them.

But I already retired my thighs and my belly
from public life.
Everything from chin to cleavage is at risk.
And the toenails. Please.

I can’t retire my arms.
They will go beneath summer sleeves
When I take a veil over my face.
Not a day sooner.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hey, Poppa Bird!

Today is my dad's 86th birthday, and although he left the mortal phase of his 11 years ago, I think of him and his mark on us often. "Poppa Bird" was one of his favorite nicknames for himself. Here are some of the things he did:

Balanced me standing on one hand at age 5 months. Must have driven Mom nuts. I have a picture of this blown up to blurry proportions in my stairwell, so I see him and me in 1952 every time I go downstairs.

Scared (or tried to scare) my few boyfriends. Mainly by use of his strange sense of humor. Couldn't scare Merlin.

Taught me to drive, and especially how to skid to a stop on gravel. He always said to keep my eyes far down the road, not at what was right in front of me. Good advice on all levels, especially for a girl who tends to fixate on all the obstacles within three feet of her instead of just mowing them down.

Taught me (albeit through the agency of mom after he died) to make the best homemade dill pickles anyone has ever eaten. Really. The Best.

Went frequently to Monty's Bar, and the Old Heidelburg Inn, and brought back the foods that are still my downfall, namely anything pungent and salty, especially pickled polish sausage and greasy fries.

Told me I didn't need to go to college since I was a girl and then sent me and bragged about me to his friends.

Got lung cancer at 45, survived, I assume miraculously, and kept on smoking. Yeah, I can't recommend that, but he was (all due respect) kind of a cuss that way. This retired him, so he spent lots of time gardening and ferrying his elderly friends around to appointments.

Loved to send flowers to all of us. (Maybe not to my brother. Casey?)

Went to the mall the day I delivered his first grandchild and had a T-shirt made that said "Call me Grampaw: Molly". Then every time another grandchild appeared, went down to the mall and added a name to it. Actually wore it a lot.

Could find a bargain on anything, and no matter what you bought, if you told him what you paid, assured you that he could have gotten it cheaper. I know, lots of you have that kind of dad. I think it's Y-chromosome-related.

Loved going to the doctor. Didn't live to see his "First-borned" (nickname for me) become something close to one.

Had very strange taste in clothes.

Had excellent taste in women. Happy Dad's Birthday, Mom!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Running Mercies, Traveling Plans, Poems

I awoke at 0645 and freaked out briefly thinking it was Tuesday (0600 is my rising time Tuesday, because that is my first day of the work week, and I face about two and a half to three feet of charts that want something from me before the pressure-cooker really starts rattling).

But it wasn't. I rejoiced that for the first time in a week I had fallen asleep and stayed all night in the same bed without the help of anything but God and Advil. Then I was spared having to face the dreaded treadmill by the unexpected appearance of the sun after an all-night rain. Well, it was probably an all-night rain; as I said, I slept uncharacteristically soundly. Here's what I observed on my run:

1. The longer the rain, the more earthworms on the sidewalk. I hate stepping on earthworms, simply because I don't know if they suffer or not. I sometimes rescue them if the rain is over and I think it is safe for them to climb back into the earth. But today I didn't, because it is supposed to keep raining and they might just have to find the sidewalk again, and there were far too many anyway. I wish them well; they are an honored part of the great chain of life.

2. Sun and rain can coexist for considerable stretches in this part of the world. I don't know that it ever stopped raining the whole time I ran. Lots of blue, lots of gray, and at the end, I was able to stop and find the rainbow that pretty much always has to be there in that kind of weather. I love sun and blue-black clouds in the same sky. I always have to stop and stare.

3. The creek is fast, deep and brown now. The creek is to Dallas what the Willamette is to Portland: Runs through the heart and gives it some of the best of its personality. I dreamed about the creek and the ways to get down to it that don't actually exist last night. I think I will miss it if we do move to the Portland area. I'm unlikely to live so close to natural water at play ever again.

4. I have a favorite song I like to listen to as I sit on the porch and cool down after a run: James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma's rendition of "Here Comes The Sun". It was especially appropriate today. It's from YYM and friends' album "Songs of Joy and Peace" which I recommend with all my heart to all. It is a song I hope someone can find and play at my funeral. I wish I could be at my funeral with James and Yo-Yo and sing along; I love it that much.

So, speaking of sun and rain, we spent much of the rest of the morning working on vacation plans online. We need to warm up, and so decided on a trip to south Florida. Everglades, Keys, beach. It helped that the fare is $218 round-trip, and will add a LOT of air miles. I have called my brother to borrow a couple of his Jimmy Buffet novels and we are taking suggestions from friends who have been there. It will be the off-season there (we try to pick off-seasons, but not too off). We are taking suggestions from those who've been there, so feel free.

Here are two poems from the past couple of years, one sparked by a run near the creek, the other by loopy weather.


Rickreall, I married on your bank
A boy who grew up wading in your water,
Catching your crawdads,
Moving pipe on a farm that drank you.

I became a nurse so that boy
would not one day work both that farm
And a full-time job.
But we never made that move.

I don’t regret nursing or not farming.
Nowadays I sign little pieces of paper
So people can swallow little pills
That they hope will make them feel

The way they might naturally feel
If they had grown up beside you,
Raised by the people who raised him,
Or if they’d married that boy.


Moment in Yellowstone

The fountain at our feet was nothing special
by Yellowstone standards—
a butterscotch hole bubbling
with hot, noxious water.
Not surprising if people once thought
this was where the vapors of hell
condensed and boiled to the surface.
But the pools just beyond it were liquid
opal and peridot, iridescing in the
sun pouring over our shoulders.
And the pines beyond them radiated back
that same sun’s green-gold rays.
But between us and all of that heat and light—
Not on the ground, no, but
falling, driving,
straight across the whole sunny scene.
Ridiculous, stunning.


Monday, March 15, 2010

El Salvador Anniversary

The ides of March means different things to different people. Maybe it makes some of you think of junior-year English class, back when they used to make us read Julius Caesar because it was just about the only Shakespeare play with no sex in it. Maybe it is just another day in your countdown to St. Patrick's Day (I know I am always thinking ahead to be sure I have something clean and green ready to wear on my mom's birthday) or to the first day of a longed-for spring. For me, it's always going to be the anniversary of the day I spent patrolling the courtyards of a large school in Izalco, Sonsonate, El Salvador, as an election observer.
That'd be one year ago today. I had been sitting in church a few months earlier when our pastor mentioned that a local organization was recruiting people to be official election observers to help keep honest the first Salvadoran national election that had a good chance of changing the nation's ruling party. With persistent trepidation I just kept saying I'd think about it until I had drifted into saying "Yes". So glad I did. The whole thing was like a crash course in grass-roots democracy in action.

I didn't catch anyone stealing a vote, stuffing a ballot box, stopping a legitimate voter from voting (although there a lot more things that can keep you from voting in El Salvador than in the U.S.--for one thing, you have to register six months in advance), or exchanging money or weapons for votes. I didn't see anyone that seemed to have been brought in from across the Nicaraguan border to impersonate a Salvadoran voter. I just saw an enthusiastic body politic doing its job, and then getting its thumbs dyed purple to prove it had done it.
And then, just before we left, we were thanked, over and over, for doing nothing but being there to bear witness. Here is the poem I wrote a few days later:
March 15, 2009, Izalco, El Salvador

We rose in the dark and raced through the streets
to see the set-up: rivals settling into their chairs
side by side, hip to hip, cheek by jowl
to do the country’s business,
showing their loyalties gently if at all
(unlike their neighbors who would come from church
to vote with their children beautiful in party colors).
At those tables, I couldn’t tell
who was ARENA, who was FMLN
until I saw who brought them food and drink.

The word “VIGILANTE” rode the backs of
watchers who stood all day, two at each table,
dressed in red, or
dressed in blue, white, and red.
Smiling at me all day,
the middle-aged foreigner
in the white vest with the black letters,
they answered my questions,
and asked me theirs.
That word will never again sound like
The evil that it sounds like here.
They were vigilant, steadfast
on their feet all the long day, until

The doors were closed,
the boxes opened,
the ballots unfolded,
the votes read aloud,
counted by the rivals
before the vigilantes
so no one could question
that this was a real election,
a real election.
At last, a real election.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Training my Dragon

We were offered a $2000 bonus to switch from dictating our office visit notes onto a cassette tape which another human then transcribes, to dictating to voice-recognition software. The software is called Dragon Naturally Speaking 10. The advantage to the office is probably cost (and yes, I am worried about the ladies who've been doing our transcription, but also a little mad at them for deciding to eliminate all apostrophes a few months back; I dont like things that make ME look poorly schooled). The advantage to all of us is an instant record; no waiting days to weeks--usually weeks--for the chart note to come back, be checked (apostrophes added) and signed off by us, and then to be pasted into the paper chart. It's all part of our move to electronic medical records, hereafter referred to as EMR. I think EMR will eventually be good for all of us, but the switchover is a bit like a 50-week pregnancy followed by a difficult labor.

So, for those of you who don't use voice-recognition software, I will describe some of the adventures of "training" the Dragon to hear what I am really saying. For some reason, the version the office bought is not the medical version, and, this will not surprise you, I use a lot of medical terms in my dictation. Setting aside the fact that the world might be better off if we used normal English to describe the patients' symptoms and the findings in their exams (I once said I would never use the term "erythematous" when the term "red" was available, but I have reneged for purely cultural reasons), sometimes you just need to say "paralumbar" to denote those back muscles alongside the lower spine, which often hurt. Dragon insisted it heard "parallel bars". My job is to convince it that when I say "paralumbar" I mean "paralumbar". This was a hard sell. What you do is say "select paralumbar", then it highlights the words "parallel bars" and you say "spell that" and you spell the term out for it. Then you hope it recognizes it the next time. I think it didn't. Maybe you have to do it a couple of times for it to take you seriously. I picture it thinking, "No, honey, you didn't mean that; that makes no sense. Go with me, I know what I'm doing, and you clearly don't."

A sentence I dictated something like, "The patient couldn't get his Geodon" (Geodon is a common antipsychotic drug) comes out "The patient couldn't get his jihad on." Poor guy. Dragon just lost it on "otorhinolaryngology", which I admit I spoke just to mess with it. It did recognize "ENT", so I'm going with that in the future. It has drugs it knows and drugs it doesn't. I wonder if there are prescribers who've just decided to limit their personal formularies to drugs that Dragon recognizes to save themselves misery. There is actually some medical rationale for that approach if you subscribe to the theory that old drugs are often better and safer than newer "me-too" drugs.

After I got it installed and a little bit trained, I logged off the computer, and when I logged back on, I found it wouldn't even let me in as I'd installed it with an administrator's password. My Dragon refused to recognize me as someone it had to obey, or even deal with. So I got it put on again, by a real administrator, and now I have to start training it all over again. I just keep saying to myself, "$2000...$2000....$2000...."

Monday, February 22, 2010


This year I am giving up facebook for Lent, and I pretty much announced it on facebook. Judging from the people who think that's a good idea, I gather that I am not the only person who finds it a timesucker, a mild addiction that does not give you the buzz it once did (or maybe never did). And it turns out it's pretty easy, so not much of a discipline. But it will save me some time--for something better, I hope. And it is a reasonable jumping-off point to ponder why we do this Lenten thing.

We watched an old episode of "The Vicar of Dibley" about Lent last week, and each of the characters was suggesting annoying habits that the others should give up. That concept was what I guess you could call Temporary Character Correction--doing something you should do all the time, but only for Lent. The irony of that approach is that on Easter, arguably the holiest day of the Christian year, you get to resume your evil or annoying ways.

I've tended to give up something that is harmless but has me a bit in its jaws, such as salty snacks, or shopping, or, well, facebook.

There is also the option of adding a positive discipline that you think would do you good, but which you can't commit to for the long haul. Last year I tried going to bed before 1130 p.m., something a lot of my friends would have to try very hard not to do. I simply never made it. It was the biggest failure I've ever had at Lenten disciplines. Second only to the other positive action I tried a few years ago, keeping a journal (12 out of 40 days). These may actually be better for the soul, but harder to do than a "fast". Who would have guessed?

My daughter is much more heroic than I; she has actually given up fiction, and chocolate. I have never even fasted from coffee.

It all comes down, I suppose, to, what is the point, and that is something I am still trying to figure out. I think Lent is a time to get a little more interior and God-ward, and anything that helps you do that, or reminds you how enslaved you are to everything that makes that hard (the truth is supposed to set you free) is at least potentially helpful. If anyone actually reads this and has any thoughts on the value of Lenten disciplines, or avoids them entirely for good or bad reasons, let me know. Just don't post it as a facebook status update, or it'll never do me any good.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No idea I'd been away so long

Seems like about two weeks, but I just noticed it's been four. Well, you can count on me to say nothing when there's nothing to say, as I said once before.

Or maybe you can't. Random thoughts about my most recent week or so:

1. Today Merlin and I went to see, in one sitting, all the Oscar-nominated short animated films. (Being the first-degree relatives of an animator, we go to collections of short animated films when they pop up within a 60-mile radius.) That means this will be the first year in my admittedly so-so memory that there will be a category in the Oscars in which I have seen every bloomin' film.

2. Some movies are better when you see them completely alone in a theater. Especially those you have heard are bad but you really want to see them. I did this with "Leap Year" two weeks back. A sappy chick flick in which Amy Adams goes to Ireland to propose to her boyfriend (whom NOBODY will want her to marry) and has to hire a cranky, hunky, down-on-his-luck, hunky (I know) Irish innkeeper to get her from Dingle to Dublin. Lame zaniness ensues. Dumb, but I loved looking at Ireland and singing along with the soundtrack and lurching along toward the inevitable s/happy ending, not wondering if anyone I was with was enjoying it. Yes, singing along. When I said "alone", I meant ALONE. No one else in the theater. Nothing like it. I commend to you Monday mid-afternoon matinees.

3. I met the first patient I have ever wanted to steal from another provider on Friday. To protect her privacy I will refer to her as Susana instead of by her real Biblical name. She's 9 months old. I have a lot of cute tiny patients, but this kid was so intensely charming and entertaining that I couldn't look at her and keep my mind on what I was doing. She had a mild eye infection and it made her want to squint a little, and when she realized that it was kind of funny she kept coming up with new variations on it that kept her mom and her aunt and I in stitches. I was trying to explain something to her mother and I looked at her and she did it again and I just lost my concentration entirely; she had me at [crinkle]. I'll do the right thing and not steal her. But if her own NP ever quits, that kid is mine.

4. I have really been enjoying the jokes about the iPad's absurd name. The best so far is Andy Borowitz's at I assume only women read this (my) blog, so I figure it shouldn't cause much offense to direct you there. I mean, these guys had to expect....Hmm, they are boys. Maybe this is what they wanted?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Would you have done this? Would you now?

Last evening I decided to walk over to Starbuck's in the rain and spend a little gift card. My usual walking partner was under the weather, but I needed the walk and figured an umbrella and my recently downloaded Hope for Haiti music would have to do for company. It was nearly dark when I left and good and dark (and still raining) when I started for home. Crossing the North Dallas intersection with the light, I was three-quarters of the way to the opposite sidewalk when I saw a black pickup who clearly didn't see me barreling into his turn, into my path, so I stopped. He saw me at the last minute, hit the brakes, and skidded maybe an inch or two on the wet pavement. I looked up, breathed a word of thanks that neither of us would suffer what we might have, and kept walking.

About a block later, a black pickup pulled up into a parking lot I was walking by, and I thought, Is that the guy? Is he going to chew me out for wearing black in the dark on a rainy night (as I had already silently chastised myself for doing)? Should I be scared? Out bounded a young man about 18, with a pencil-thin mustache and a white hoodie, saying as he walked toward me, "I am SO sorry!" I said, "It's okay; I've done that myself before. Don't worry about it, just be careful the next time. And thank you so much for stopping to apologize. That is so kind." He went on to explain that all he saw was his own green light and just wasn't looking at me. I said I understood, things happen, be careful, and he wished me a good night.

I realized that he had actually turned his car around in the opposite direction from where he was headed just to say he was sorry to a lady he hadn't actually harmed. I was so warmed by that, it didn't even seem like a bad thing had happened at all. He will not know how much his action meant to me; I've been thinking about it all day.

The question on my mind is, would I have done that? I don't know if it would even have occurred to me to do that. I hope, if I should ever give someone a close call again, I'll have the concern, the class, and the guts, to do exactly what he did.

And I don't believe I'll go out at night dressed like a ring-wraith anymore.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Please read my niece's brilliant blog post

The blogger heatheradair, who wittily writes mostly about pop culture, is a relative. I was blown away by her analysis of the recent Supreme Court ruling that blessed corporate buying of the political system as "free speech". Check it out at .

I'm scared. I think it is corporate fearmongering that has all but scuttled good healthcare reform legislation, and maybe any health care reform. Think what you like about the current mishmash of proposals that are about to be ground to bits in Washington once more, but something has to change--the U.S. has a miserable record (take just our infant mortality rate) among the developed nations vis-a-vis the health of her citizens. And a lot of why we won't get good reform is that corporations don't want us to. (My very humble opinion, of course, and I'm open to alternative views. I just want things better!)

Anyway, I think heatheradair gives us something to think about, and she's fun to read. Check it!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Today on my run I saw two men in khaki and camouflage colored pants and T-shirts taking cell phone pictures of their two dogs sitting calmly over 4 or five dead ducks. Or maybe they were dead geese.

Last week on my run I saw a bunch of Union Army soldiers drilling in the high school parking lot.

Once while running Molly and I encountered a couple dozen army reservists running in the opposite direction. Do you think they moved aside for two ladies in their path? No, we moved aside (into the roadway, if I recall correctly) for them.

I don't really like running, but it makes me feel less old. It would make me feel even less old if I could run in cool running clothes. But that never works out. Either the cool running clothes are uncomfortable, or washing makes them shrink into an uncool shape, or they are too revealing or age-inappropriate to buy. It may be that God just wants me very, very humble.

Here is my poem about running.


I’m not a runner.
I just run.
It makes me feel like
someone who runs.
It makes me sound like
someone on the preferable side
of the Hill.

I don’t like the sweat
or the windedness
that gets others high. But
I do like the moments
when the music captures the stride,
stretches it out,
and holds it for awhile. And

I do like the sweet, smooth, and sharp things
that stop me:
The blood-red tree,
the shimmering thread of barking geese,
the breath of late-blooming mimosa
I have to search the fence-tops to find.

Kim Brandt, October 18, 2008

Saturday, January 9, 2010

On Call Weekend

I never expect nor demand myself to get anything done when on call. Maybe laundry. Oops, excuse me while I put in that load of light stuff.


I know people who live life on call like any other day. Go to that concert, entertain guests, do the grocery shopping. Not me, not usually. On a day like this, when only a handful of people call me for simple stuff ("My child's doctor accidently put 1/10/10 on the amoxicillin Rx and the pharmacy won't fill it") it seems silly to set the bar so low. On one of those days when I can barely get through a shower or a meal without someone running out of her pain medication, I remember why I feel less than horrible for vegging at the computer, where no one will be offended at my phone conversations about someone's most recent BM. I sometimes do go out to eat, and I will go for a walk with my friend Susan, who understands, and kindly comments on how beautiful my Spanish sounds when it's called into service.

Today, here is what I did with my on-call time. 1.)Woke up late to the tune of my pager, tired because I'd had an irritating middle-of-the-night call in which the patient repeated herself 4 or 5 times about each symptom and I (gently, sort of) snapped at her for it. I can never fall back to sleep when I snap at a patient, even if they probably deserved it. I actually lie there wondering if I should call back and apologize. 2.)Went for a wimpy, middle-aged 3-mile jog which I like to refer to as a run. 3.)While still in my running clothes and sweat, was reminded by my husband at 1130 of a 12-noon reunion of people I used to work with, necessitating a hyper-speed shower/blowdryer/facepainting session, only to find very few people I knew there. 4.) Surreptitious stop at the library to check out the new books rack when I really have two or three other books I actually paid money for that I am already reading. 5.) Built a fire and made coffee. 6.) Walked over to H20 with Merlin to glean from the last of the week-old bread and pastries. 7.) Went to the NPR site to listen to a free preview of an album by Portland singer/songwriter Laura Viers. She's good! (Oh, and between 5 and 6 above visited my friend Aaron's short-story blog and left a comment.)

That's all I have to show for my day. I don't feel too guilty though, because I'm at work. Maybe I'll get ambitious tomorrow and take down the Christmas tree. Or maybe spend some time browsing the works of Elmore Leonard, Garrison Keillor, Joyce Carol Oates, Mark Strand's favorite poets, Nick Hornby, or the coffee table book of 500 Iconic Buildings, all of which I checked out at the DPL today.

Oops! Gotta go. Two pages since the end of the last paragraph.