Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Life You Can Save

I was at my local library a few weeks ago when a title in the “New Releases” section caught my eye. The book was entitled The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, by Peter Singer. I was intrigued, so I brought it home, and devoured it over the course of just a couple of evenings.

The book is…troublesome. Especially from the viewpoint of having just recently finished reading Atlas Shrugged, which was the definitive free-market, virtue of self-interest tale of the 20th century, I did find this book over the top, and outright insulting in a lot of ways. It devotes quite a few chapters to ragging on our extravagant lifestyle, right down to the little things like bottled water. The author makes extended metaphors and philosophical slippery slope arguments which allow him to all but outright accuse the average person of mass murder for not giving more.

More interesting as the book moves on, the author explores the psychology of giving, studies on human behavior, what tugs our heartstrings and what does not. Moreover, he spends considerable time examining the charitable opportunities out there (unsurprisingly, most of them in Africa), which I had never heard of but were absolutely fascinating, such as Population Services International and the Campaign to End Fistula. The book also talks about microloans, which have interested me for some time, and I have renewed my determination to participate in this.

Toward the end of the book, the author lays out his plan for ending poverty, complete with a general guideline of what percentage of their income the more fortunate should be willing to give. This does seem to be targeted toward the more affluent readers, beginning with those who are significantly rich, and using a tiered guideline down to those who make $100,000 per year or more. No specific parameters are outlined for those earning less than that (though it is interesting to note that, according to the author’s statistics, it is the poorest among us who currently give the largest percentage of their income to charity.)

As I said, it’s a tough read. It is particularly difficult to get through the early chapters of the book without feeling personally attacked and defensive. Make of it what you will, but I would still recommend it. Whether it changes your life, in a big way or a small way, or whether you disagree with his philosophy…it did make me step back and examine my life, and as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

A Few Things My Dad Did For Me:

Taught me how to swim.

Never 'let' me win at chess.

Bought me my very own C64 at a time when the kids I knew just didn't have personal computers, encouraged my love of puzzle games and math programs, and insisted I learn Basic.

Took away my C64 privileges when I decided it was more fun than applying myself at schoolwork.

Took me with him to the darkroom when he had an interest in amateur photography for a few years in the military...to this day the smell of a photo lab makes me sentimental.

Had the wackiest sense of humor of anyone I knew, and taught me not to take myself too seriously.

Spent weeks at a time coming home from a long day at work only to drive me all the way across town and sit long through the dinner hour in a rehearsal area when I decided I wanted to do community theatre instead of the high school play.

Always seemed to know when I needed a kick in the ass, or a lecture, and when I just really needed an understanding ear instead.

I couldn't have picked a better guy myself. I love you, Dad.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Surgery Day

Whups, it's been a while since I updated! Well school is out and summer is here, so I've had the boy underfoot more often, and I've been trying to get caught up on a lot of projects and get my house more organized. The biggest event of the last few weeks was this: Last week, my baby had surgery. He had his tonsils and adenoids out, wooo!

Poor guy has had problems with them for years, and certainly as long as he can remember. Tonsillectomy as an option has been on my mind for quite some time, but his pediatrician would never commit to recommending it. He always said that Duncan didn't get quite enough infections per year to warrant it, we should try longer-term antibiotics, yada yada. Surgery is a pretty major thing, no matter how routine the procedure, and without the backup of his medical provider I was very hesitant to commit. But when my poor baby got yet another case of strep, complete with fever, inability to eat, and utter tearful misery, I'd had enough. I went ahead and scheduled him for just after school let out.

It's always been a simple procedure, but I was still amazed. Most of the time went into getting down to the Children's Hospital early, getting processed, and meeting with the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, and the nurses who'd be looking out for him.

My worst moment - having to part ways at the OR door. They let me walk alongside the gurney until they reached the operating room, at which point they told me to say goodbye and go check in to the waiting room. I felt a fleeting moment of panic as they wheeled him in, like I wanted to grab him back and forget the whole thing.

My most amusing moment - I'd brought a book, I'd brought a Nintendo DS, but knowing he was in surgery, I instead did the only thing I had the attention span for...I put some meditation music in my mp3 player, sat crosslegged in a chair in the waiting room, and just started meditating, figuring he'd be in at least half an hour. So after about 15 minutes, I became aware that the person next to me was giggling uncertainly, and then someone tapped my hand, and presto! the surgeon was standing over me with a bemused expression, not sure whether to disturb me. I blurted out, "Already?"

So the surgeon, this ENT specialist who'd told me in consultation that Duncan was "borderline, could go either way, totally my decision" yada yada, told me the surgery had gone just fine and that Duncan's tonsils were actually quite large, his adenoids were scarred, and they were definitely obstructive. I actually felt so relieved to be vindicated, hell, I'd have done this long ago if a doctor had recommended it instead of letting me agonize over whether I was jumping the gun.

No great YouTube material or anything after surgery...the nurse told me she'd never seen a kid come out of anesthesia so quickly and smoothly. Apparently he'd told the first nurse that talked to him when he woke up that he was "bored". When I was allowed to see him he just sipped water and told me about how weird anesthesia had felt, that he had forgotten who he was for a moment before he went out, and occasionally sticking his tongue out and telling me things like "one side of my tongue feels bigger than the other" and "my leg feels funny". Once his IV fluids ran out, they took out the IV, let him get dressed, and gave him a sick bag for the ride home just in case.

Recuperating, tonsil-free!

He did get sick right after we got home; post-anesthesia and a long car drive just don't mix. But once that was out of his system he immediately began asking for food, and has made a very quick and reasonably comfortable recovery.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Givin' it Laldy!

as the Scots say, meaning 'doing something with gusto'.

Apparently, my bonnie bairn has been studying his heritage in school, and it was to culminate in a day of Show and Tell (they didn't call it show and tell, of course....ten-year-olds do not have Show and Tell.) But I got a letter home saying that he was supposed to bring in something from his heritage, be it a costume, musical instrument, food, or even just a photograph. I think that last one was added as an "out" for those (like me) who might panic over this. Due date: Tuesday. Paper was brought home by Duncan Disorderly: Friday.

What to do? 'Kilt' sprang immediately to mind, but I do NOT sew, and the one time about 10 years ago that I had read written instructions on how to wrap a great kilt, I couldn't picture what was being explained. 'Haggis' also sprung to mind, but only fleetingly, and largely for amusement.

"If you bring food, please make sure to bring enough for the whole class to try," said the notice. I gave myself the giggles picturing the faces of his classmates on that one. "An cut you up wi' ready sleight, trenching your gushing entrails bright, like ony ditch; and then, O what glorious sight, warm-reekin, rich!* ...and I brought enough for EVERYONE!"

Ah, but the internet! Bless it. Ten years ago I'd never heard of YouTube...these days, you can find just about anything on it. Visual step-by-step instructions made it suddenly so easy, and after acquiring a few yards of appropriately plaid material from a bin of clearance fabrics, I managed to drape my bewildered little man (generally) correctly on the first try. For good measure, I also tried my hand at treacle scones, and while I'm sure they will appreciate it more than haggis, it may be a dubious improvement. I am not a great baker by any means, and I did scorch them a bit on the bottom. Oh well.

The kilt, with apologies to the Scottish community for my amateur job:

Pleating by hand down the middle.

Wrapping it around...

Off the floor, and so much fabric still!
The final look.  Yay, my pleats!

Of course I showed the hubby, whose comment was "Wrong tartan burns!"

"Yes dear," I said. "Next time he has a school project with 3 days' notice, I'll be sure to order our tartan from overseas at about 40 pounds sterling per meter."


* Address to a Haggis, by Bobby Burns