Monday, November 29, 2010


What do you think of when you think of a life of privilege? Being wealthy? Being famous? Being born with a silver spoon in your mouth? Being high up in society? Having the best of everything?

Sometimes I don't consider my life a life of privilege, but when I think about it, it truly is. Of course, I lead a middle-class existence, but in this country, middle class can be called privileged, because, after all, I have a roof over my head, all the food I want, warmth in the winter, and a car to get me to work. Plus extras, like cable TV, a computer, a sewing machine, and many other things add niceties to my existence.

Today, however, I'm thinking of privilege in a different way. While we had our 7-year-old precocious granddaughter Caroline over this past weekend, I marveled that I have been privileged to have the opportunity to know my grandchildren, privileged to see my children get married, privileged to have lived long enough so far to watch my nieces grow up. You see, many of my high school classmates did not make it this far, even to my relatively young age of 56. Kathleen Capon White, Mark Williamson, Debbie Henrich, Debra Boone, Woody Phillips, Debbie Kaplan, James Galey...they died too young. My dear cousin Mike McDonald, a few years younger than me, died just a couple of years ago. Cancer, murder, heart disease, hepatitis, auto accidents - for whatever reason, they are not here and I am. Mark never got to see his only child reach adulthood. Kathleen, who adored babies, never saw her kids marry and never got to cuddle a newborn grandbaby in her arms. All of them were kind, smart, talented people - yet they are gone, and I am still here, enjoying life with those I love. There is no reason for this set of circumstances, and it is beyond my power to control. Yet I can't get over the fact that they are gone, and I am still here.

My wish is that I never take for granted the precious time given me on this earth. I live for those whose lives were cut short. I live for all the experiences they missed, all the grandchildren without their kisses, all the sunrises and sunsets and snows they didn't see, and all the Thanksgivings and Christmases, weddings and births and graduations that they didn't have a chance to participate in. I pray that I live my life as I know they would have lived theirs - with dignity, compassion, and joy.

There are no guarantees. Death comes unannounced and it comes for everyone. While I still breathe the air of this good earth, though, I realize I am indeed living a life of grand privilege, a life of wealth that has nothing to do with money, and a life of remembrance of friends and family who left us too soon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The In-Between

Most of the time I don't enjoy being out in nature (bugs, heat, cold, wind, sunburn, etc.) but I love taking photographs of nature - especially Nature at her finest. The blue ocean bay at the height of summer with the sun glistening off the tide; the amazing fall foliage; the snowstorm that brought 2 feet of snow, with the evergreens hanging onto what snow didn't make it to the ground. I appreciate beauty, and I love to document it. At various times, I have been know to stop the car so I could take a picture of a scene that took my breath away.

I don't do that much in November, though. November is not a beautiful month. The trees, who a month ago sported their incredible fall colors, are bare and lifeless. The grass is dead with no pure white snow to cover the landscape. On top of that, it gets dark so early that I wouldn't have much time after work to take a picture anyway. November is the in-between season. Nature in-between her beauty, intermission between acts, while she's changing clothes to get ready for the next scene. Mother Earth can be extraordinary at times, but in November, you can just drop the "extra" out of that word. That leaves ordinary.

I think it takes a little extra effort to see the beauty in ordinary, but it's there if we are open to it. I look back on my photo-taking life. There are the usual photos - the Christmas pictures, the birthday pictures, the graduation pictures, the new baby pictures, the vacations, the zoo visits. I have found, though, that some of my most treasured pictures are ordinary, taken in the in-between times. On the surface, they aren't special. The ones above are examples. They were taken after I had gotten married and moved out of my parents' house, the only home I'd ever lived in. I had an extraordinary emotional push one day to capture the scenes of my everyday life, that one day I would not have my beloved parents anymore, and I wanted to remember them, not just in posed pictures on important occasions but in the in-between times, the un-special times, the non-holiday times. Here are two of the photos - Mama holding Mike the cat in her lap, as was her habit, and a picture of Daddy just coming in the door from work. These pictures derive their beauty from their sheer ordinariness. They're Mama and Daddy, as I remember them, in familiar surroundings, doing familiar things, in the familiar house in Memphis.

If I really think about it, some of my most joyous times have been the in-between times - giving or receiving an unexpected gift "for no reason," seeing a deer on our street on my way to work at dawn, laughing at my DVD "Lancelot Link Secret Chimp" when I'm feeling blue, or hanging out with my adult children and watching them interact with their own kids. Sometimes the love in my heart just explodes at the beauty of life. Yes, even in the in-between times. Maybe especially in the in-between times.

So before we know it, the snow will fall and Mother Nature will put on her usual spectacular show. In the meantime, though, it's November - and it's beautiful.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's a gamble

I like doctors; I really do. I just think they spend a lot of time guessing.

My journey to simplicity encompasses all facets of my life, and that includes my health. I enjoy keeping things simple. I've gotten my eating down to an art form, for instance. I eat the same delicious low-carb breakfast every day of the week that I go to work, and those days I enjoy the same big delicious salad for lunch. Yummy.... I've been repeating this routine since February this year, and I'm still not bored with it, and I still look forward to my breakfasts and lunches. I try to make healthy decisions and I'm at my ideal body weight.

But part of my health still lies in the thoughts and advice of the established medical community. Of course, I can clearly state I'm glad it does. With two C-sections under my belt, if the medical professionals hadn't discovered how to do those eons ago, I would be dead. Heck, I wouldn't even be here at all because I was born by C-section myself 56 years ago. And last year when my thyroid formed a growing nodule, a skilled surgeon excised it and now I'm on medicine to suppress my thyroid activity because pathology showed the nodule was the type that could have advanced to cancer. Thank God for medical science.

There are parts of medical science, though, that are just statistics, and stats are fickle. Researchers do their thing, have these studies, try to do them right, publish their findings, and regular family doctors read the interpretation and make their decisions accordingly. Of course, studies are always flawed in some way, because there is no perfect study. Maybe most of them have been done on men, and you're a woman. Maybe most have been done on folks in their 40s, and you're in your 50s. Maybe the starting assumptions were flawed. Maybe even the study was backwards - in other words, are the findings there because of some other reason and therefore correlate as a result of the problem and not the cause?

By now you are probably aware of the calcium study, which is making a lot of physicians tell their female patients to quit taking calcium supplements and only get calcium from their food. This is quite surprising, of course, since for years the same docs have been telling us to take calcium supplements for our bones. It turns out it is not getting in our bones; it is getting in our hearts instead, and the calcium from food doesn't have the same heart risk result. So I've quit taking calcium pills.

I don't fault the medical community for that turnaround. New studies, new data, and WHAM - new advice. I like progress. I'm glad we aren't subject of "blood letting" for every disease under the sun. I'm glad they grew out of that, I'm happy that they acquired more knowledge.

But in the end, it's just a guess, isn't it? "Right now, today, November 13, 2010, at 6:30 a.m., we think ________ is the right thing to do. Tomorrow it may be different." This is the message from the medical community. It's not their fault; it is just the way life is.

Everything in life is a gamble. Forget the casino, the lottery, and the stock market - those are just gambling's poster boys. Every decision we make, we weigh the options and decide whether to take the risk. Should I marry this person? Should I sell this house and buy another one? Should I have kids? Should I take this job? If I invest money in buying this dress pattern, fabric, and notions, will I have the skill to make it? Should I follow my doctor's advice or listen to my gut instinct? Place your bets, folks!

I once read a definition of insurance - life insurance, house insurance, car insurance, medical insurance - you name it. Paraphrased, it said insurance is something you hope you never have to use. By buying it, you are betting you'll need it. The insurance company is betting you won't. You hope they win and are paying them to think that way!

This is why all the studies in the world can't explain why a smoking, drinking man lives to be 100, while another man who follows the medical straight and narrow dies in his 60s. The stats just don't add up. Then you have to crunch more numbers, decide on how much genetics is worth, how important attitude and psychology are to longevity, accidents, and just fate. We can't explain everything, and neither can doctors and researchers. It's all a best guess and that can change on a moment's notice.

The gist of all this is that I've been asked to go on two statins because my LDL is too high, although advanced lipid testing shows that the LDLs are type A and are the good, fluffy, benign particles, and my triglycerides are low, low, low, HDL is high, high, high, all of which is great, great, great. The doc is looking at the studies mainly done on men about what causes heart disease and the current thinking on what all those numbers mean and the current advice on what to do about it. He has years of experience, many studies with acronym names, and he has crunched a multitude of numbers. In the end, though, he admits reluctantly that it is still a best guess. Worse, it's unprovable in the end. If I do take statins and live a long, healthy life, is there any proof that without the statins I would have died early? No. You can't prove it one way or the other. I would just be another uninterpretable statistic.

My lipid specialist doctor is intelligent and trying to do the right thing. I, however, am ultimately responsible for my own body and health decisions. I am choosing at this time, I think, to wait on any kind of medication. It's a gamble to think I don't really need it and that the side effects would be worse than the benefit, but it's just another example of the gambling we each do on a regular basis. It's just a little scarier.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Questions to Ponder

I don't have anything deep or insightful to blog about this week, but I do want to throw out some puzzling questions that I have never been able to quite figure out.

1. If the normal body temperature is 98.6, how come when it's 98 degrees outside it feels extraordinarily hot? Wouldn't it be neutral if the outside temperature matched the inside temperature?

2. How come a "career politician," i.e., a politician with years of experience, is automatically considered undesirable, yet when we need a surgeon, we demand one with years of experience, the more the better? Why is knowledge of how things work and experience derided in the first instance and acclaimed in the second?

3. How is it that in school you can get more than half a test correct, i.e., 69%, and fail, yet you can be elected governor with only 38% of the vote?

4. The final question that Ed and I have been pondering, in honor of Daylight Saving Time "Fall Back" this Sunday: With DST, you lose an hour in the spring, and gain it back in the fall. If you die sometime between spring and fall, you would lose that hour forever, never having lived to recoup it. Is there someone your heirs can sue for that on your behalf?

Ah, logic!