Saturday, May 31, 2008

See It Sunday--Animal


Bison seen last year in Yellowstone.

Too close for comfort

OK, this is a lousy picture but he was so close to my car he could have left nose prints on the window. I was too busy trying to figure out if rental car insurance covers bison damage to get a better shot.

Book Reviews in Short

See you later
American Alligator, seen in Louisiana swamp.

If I don’t do these, in brief, and now, they will never get done. Here is a list of some books I recently read:

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin—highly recommended. This is a moving memoir, not of a dysfunctional family but of a family living in a dysfunctional country, Zimbabwe. Peter Godwin is a journalist based in New York City but he writes eloquently of his family’s history and his own childhood growing up in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. It makes for a fascinating study of a slice of history about which those of us, such as myself, who don’t listed to the BBC News or read the Economist often enough, might otherwise remain comfortably ignorant.

Almost Home by Jessica Blank is a young adult novel about a group of homeless youth in Los Angeles. It is well written and the kids are believable enough although sometimes the inner musings of the teens represented is unconvincing to my ear. The story is unrelentingly grim even though it attempts to end with the hope of redemption for at least one character. Intense themes include rape, molestation, prostitution, and drug abuse. It isn’t a pretty story and I’m not sure most teens would feel comfortable reading it. I know it made me sad without leaving me with a sense of why I was reading it other than my vested interest in mental illness and my literary effort in writing about a foster child/runaway. I have never worked much with the homeless adolescent population although I have met many addicted youth and homeless adults. It is deeply saddening to confront, even in a work of fiction.

The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle—I would call this a “coming of age novel” about a 12 year old girl living on a Colorado ranch with her hard-working father and mentally ill, depressed mother. It is about how children can be neglected even by well-meaning parents in an intact home. Unlike in the previously reviewed novel, this book balances hope and despair in a way that is quite effective. The writing is tight and the characters well-drawn. My main objection is to what felt to me as a slight excess of melodrama—a dead classmate and a crush on a teacher are two key plot points that seem overdone. I’m still not clear whether there is an unspoken convention for “coming of age novels” that a hopeless crush/love affair with a teacher is required. Or maybe I am just jealous that unrequited love with a pedophilic teacher passed me by when I was 12. None of my classmates died either. I guess I would have made for a boring character in a novel. Nonetheless it is a classy novel and a good read.

Friday, May 30, 2008



After a long work week, the cat and I like to turn in early on Fridays.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wait, Wait

Wait, wait

What are we all waiting for? Are we waiting in traffic, waiting for the light to change, waiting for the big hand to get to the 2 and the little hand to get to the 6? Wait, there are no hands on this clock! Are we counting the days until school gets out as most kids do? Are we counting the days until our birthday as most little kids do? Or waiting to see if anyone remembers our birthday as some adults have to do? Are we waiting for winter to be over, finally?
Wouldn't it be more zen-like not to wait at all? To always live in the present moment, comfortably enjoying whatever life chooses to send to us? I'd like to do that savoring-thing, wouldn't you? Imagine us all sitting at that stop light full of the joy of present. Perhaps we'd watch a mote of dust flying by our face. We'd banish all road rage and smile sweetly when someone cuts into the bank line ahead of us. The deadline for that raise or tax-refund would pass us by and we would take note, but mildly. We'd smell all the daisies and never mind the hay fever or the bees. The plane might be late to take off, but suddenly sardine-class seems so cozy.
Imagine the practice of medicine--no need to swear after being left on hold for 45 minutes by a managed care company. Think of all the happy patients in the waiting room who have enjoyed the canned music and 3 year old magazines while waiting for you to deal with yet another emergency. And as you show your next appointment in, your patient delightedly comments on how he watched the busy ants in the lobby carrying a half eaten candy bar back to their nest in the building walls.
The irritable, hyperactive children join hands and dance with their siblings expressing their joy to be together. Their tired, overworked teachers bless them for the joy their inattention brings them. The insomniac sings the praise of all those extra hours of awareness his troubles bring him. Depression gives us time to get in tune with our inner self-loathing. We all love the way the panic attacks make every second seem like hours.
Wait, wait, don't hang up now. I have more joy and inner beauty to share with you, really! Not to mention there is this lovely gentleman in Nigeria who needs our financial support. His lawyer can be reached at. . . .

Tuesday Challenge--Brick

Barr Paver

At some point I would have said, "What's so interesting about a brick?" But like many other things when you really look at something you find a world of interest. Thanks to the internet, it seems like there is an answer to every random question.
I inherited a few old brick pavers with my house. At first I didn't realize they were pavers. I thought they were overly large bricks with the word Egyptian printed on them. Thanks to the internet I now know that people collect these old pavers, reuse them in walks and driveways and otherwise find interest and value in them. I've recycled used brick to line my flower beds and have learned the hard way that not all brick tolerates our Chicago winters. Some of my beds are now lined with brick shards which is considerably less useful and ornamental. The old pavers will almost certainly outlive me, however.

White Crown and Pavers

For more about bricks, check out Here is the web site of another collector: this fellow has 1370 unique bricks in his collection which are nicely collated on his web site. Illinois is represented by 36 separate bricks including the three I have photographed--Purington, Barr and Egyptian.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Self, Reflected

The window was so wonderfully reflective I couldn't resist taking a few photos.

Self Reflected

Friday, May 23, 2008

Shutterday--Aches and Pains

Cactus and shoe

The moral of the story was, do not wear flip flops when taking photographs of cacti. Guanica, Puerto Rico last spring.

Beware of spines

Tuesday Challenge--Towers


Marina City, Chicago. Architect Bertrand Goldberg, completed in 1964. Described as a "corncob" although to my eye, a close up seems more scalloped.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thursday Challenge--Pink

Pink Monkeyflower

Pink Monkeyflower seen last year in the North Cascades mountains, Washington.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Story of My Life


Phone call:

I thought I’d tell the tale of taking phone calls as the psychiatry resident on call for a large urban hospital. Actually, I want to speak of one particular phone call, on one “special” night.
First, to set the stage: Overnight call was arduous to say the least. There were nights when I got less than a half hour of sleep sometime around 2-4 AM. There were nights when as soon as I got into bed, I needed to get up to go to the emergency room of a neighboring hospital (we covered two hospitals on call nights). This was stressful at best but at subzero temperatures was even harder. I remember trying to decide if an in-patient’s chest pain was serious enough to require my making the trek. Fortunately morals, responsibility and duty won out over comfort, convenience and rest.
If a night was miraculously calm, I would climb into bed and be unable to sleep due to an excess of adrenaline and fear of sleeping through a page. I learned a few tricks that helped, including setting my pager on vibrate (a tiny bit less startling to be awakened by than the beeper function) and sleeping with it hooked on my scrub shirt, and bringing my own pillow from home. Hospital issue beds and pillows are covered in water proof material and are miserable to sleep on. Still, sleep was an unexpected gift while on call.
Generally we only dealt with ER and in hospital calls but occasionally the hospital operator would put through an external phone call. Here is how this one went:
I’m awakened from a sound sleep by a page. I connect to the phone caller and sleepily state—“Psychiatrist-on-call.”
A male voice says he needs some advice.
“My wife and I are getting some counseling.”
“We have marital problems.”
He goes on for a bit about his marriage and wife. I’m wondering when he will get to the point of his call but am too sleepy or too polite to ask him to get a move on.
I’m beginning to nod off.
Suddenly I’m startled awake.
“See, it is about 12 inches long,” the caller says.
“What?” I mumble.
“I’m telling you how long it is,” says the man.
Suddenly I realize this is not a standard crisis line call. My befuddled brain realizes that instead of an emergency, I have been listening to an obscene phone call. I hang up the phone feeling dirty. I can’t believe how long I listened to this guy. Psychiatrists are supposed to be good listeners but this is ridiculous!
Words cannot express how glad I am that my on-call days are over!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Soar v. Crawl

Old Pavers

It sounds like a lawsuit doesn’t it? Today I’m going to argue in favor of crawling. Not that I have anything against soaring, mind you. But some days, you just have to crawl. Not all crawling is a bad thing. In photography, crawling is a macro. You have to get up close, maybe get your knees dirty. Soaring is a photograph of the Chicago skyline from the top of the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Soaring is a photograph of the Tetons from an airplane window.

Tetons from an Airplane Window

Today I crawled through the streets and alleys of Chicago looking for the right picture. I have a collector’s soul, so I looked to add to my oddball collections of photos: street art, fire escape counterweights, clocks, and eccentric-looking doors. Fortunately digital collections take a lot less space than physical ones. Even so, my laptop groans with the weight of photographs I have stored on it.
Crawling netted me three new clocks, some architectural details and some fascinating street art. Not too bad for a photo outing. Some days you just cannot soar. On those days, crawling will do.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Backyard Action

Triple crown

House sparrow, white crowned sparrow, song sparrow.

Getting them to pose took a bit of work. Birds are so prone to fidgeting. I assure you that no birds were harmed in the making of these photographs.

Turdus migratorius

The Latin name for the American Robin is Turdus migratorius. We can all be grateful our parents didn't name us "turdus".

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Price of Gas


I'm reminded of a quote attributed to the late senator SI Hayakawa who became famous for allegedly saying that rising oil prices (during the gas crisis of the 1970's) do not affect the poor, saying: "the poor don't need gas, because they're not working." Cited in a Washington Post obituary posted here. It would therefore follow that this summer's gas prices won't do the poor any harm either.
I am tempted to write a math problem of this nature.
A young high school drop out is looking for a job. Due to the poor state of the economy and high unemployment the only work she can find is a minimum wage job at McDonald's. The restaurant is 5 miles from her house. She can't take the bus because she has to work a lot of night shifts and the store is in an unsafe neighborhood.
If gas costs $4 a gallon, her car gets 20 mpg, she earns $7.50 an hour, and works 30 hours a week over 4 days, should she take the job?
(a) Yes, and buy lottery tickets with her first paycheck.
(b) No, she should apply for welfare; she will make more and not need to pay for gas or car insurance.
(c) No, she should get pregnant and hope her boyfriend will marry her and support her.
(d) No, she should get pregnant and remain single. The state will support her and her child.
(e) Yes, she should take her first paycheck and buy stock in Amoco.


The price of gas

Tuesday Challenge--Graffiti


From a playground in a Hispanic neighborhood. I like the combination of commissioned, legal graffiti, and the other kind.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sands of Time

Tracks of a Shore Bird--med

Here is an excerpt from:
A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Monday, May 12, 2008



Sorry folks but I found this prompt a bit trite. So here is a gloomy variation on the theme, from a weathered headstone at a local cemetery.

Fame and Fortune

Kids herded together waiting to take the SAT tests.

Well, actually I managed neither fame nor fortune but still. . . . I've been getting back to posting regularly and was wondering what had happened to my nearly non-existent fan club--I love all three of you--so I looked at the source of some of my recent "hits." As usual most are from Google searches which is after all, interesting. However, I discovered I have garnered a teeny-tiny bit of vicarious fame from an old post about a Tom Chapin song on No Child Left Behind. It turns out that Tom Chapin has a web site and has linked to my 2007 post (which linked his song) on it. I guess this is kind of like returning a compliment. Thank you Tom. I honestly do think your song is great.
My attention has turned again to the issue of school testing lately as my older son it suffering from an excess of tests. As a junior in high school and a serious student, he has more tests than most. In the past 6 weeks, and I'm sure I am missing a few, he has taken the SAT subject tests (calculus, physics and U.S. history), the ACT's, and 2 AP tests (with a third today in AP Physics). He has his SAT scheduled for early June. This is not to mention his high school final exams and so forth.
The poor kid frequently has the deer-in-the-headlights look and we have had to rigorously encourage him to "chill" on numerous occasions. We also spoil him with lots of good food. I don't know who is looking more forward to his summer vacation, his parents or him. I am not "getting" this high stakes testing. How many times does a kid have to prove how smart he is in any 12 month period? Is it really helping the colleges pick the best students or just earning money for the College Board? I can tell you that my son believes the latter. I tend to agree with him. As yet another aside(I seem to specialize in asides) I am nonetheless a proud mom who can boast that his ACT score was off the charts.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Little Bird, Little Bird

Migrants in my back yard

White crowned sparrows--close crop

The white crowned sparrows are migrating through my back yard. Technically the bird in the second photo ought to be called a gray crowned sparrow--which is a variant of the species. I have no idea why the stripes are gray on some birds.
Here are the lyrics to a song the birds bring to my mind:

Little bird, little bird,
In the cinnamon tree,
Little bird, little bird,
Do you sing for me?
Do you bring me word
Of one I know?
Little bird, little bird,
I love her so,
Little bird, little bird,
I have to know. . . .

From Man of La Mancha

Friday, May 09, 2008

Butterfly Photo

Black Swallowtail (better crop)

I managed an outing and found this lovely fellow in a Chicago cemetery. I believe it is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Feel free to correct me if I have the wrong I.D.
This is the same cemetery where I spied a coyote a few months ago. It is interesting how an old cemetery can provide a place for nature to flourish. If only I were a morning person, I'm sure the birding would be great too.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Embroidered detail

I had a good time taking photos of various bits and pieces of embroidery around the house. I love the detail in hand embroidery. I believe the top piece came from India but it was a gift and I may be mis-remembering. I also took a few photos of old linens I picked up in antique stores here and there. They appeal to my imagination as I picture another woman painstakingly stitching as part of her trousseau or as a hobby or because it was a requirement of being a woman from a certain time period.

Cross Stitch Detail--sm800
I think often about how there has been a resurgence of women doing crafts. Knitting, crochet, needlepoint, cross-stitch and sewing all have become popular again. Perhaps we have more free time and enjoy seeing the works of our hands. Although since most women work outside of the home these days, it is hard to imagine that they have all that much free time. Perhaps it is the need to see something tangible that we have done. Something we can hang on the wall or wear or give as a gift. So much of our production at work these days is "virtual"--e-mails, phone calls, faxes--real productivity but nothing we can pick up, hold, manipulate. But when I make a scarf and wear it or give it away, I have tangible, physical proof that I made it.
Since society doesn't expect women to spend their free time embroidering linens, darning socks, and so forth, we can get in touch with our gender's past without feeling enslaved by it. True feminism is sometimes not being threatened by doing something that is stereotypically feminine.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ode to my cleaning lady

Sewing Machine

This post is going to require certain, painful admissions. One is that I am spoiled enough to have someone else to do my cleaning. Another is that I am a slob. I also happen to be married to my opposite in the house cleaning department--a man who would give up sleep to do the dishes or clean his desk. Years ago, struggling with two careers and children, we realized that if we wanted to stay married we needed cleaning help. Otherwise there would have been serious bodily harm to one of us. There was a bit of guilt involved, feeling as if we were too high class to pick up after ourselves but we both work long hours (much more so for me when I was earlier in my career) and try to devote what time we have left over to being the best parents we know how to be. Vacuuming just didn't fit in.
So why am I writing about my cleaning lady? Well, it's a long story but here goes. We have always found our cleaning ladies through a service run by an Eastern European woman who seems to be the local madam of Polish cleaning ladies. Truly. I don't know how she does this but you call her up and she sends you someone. At your house will arrive a generally, middle aged woman who changes into a house coat and starts to clean. She will speak very little English and will refer to you as Missus. These women are incredibly trustworthy and reliable. They show up, work hard, need little supervision and so on. I am not referring to the women by name because it is not my right but I wish I could because it would make them seem more real and human.
The cleaning ladies don't always understand the American lifestyle. Hence, they do not wash my clothes--otherwise everything would go into hot water and a hot dryer and come out seven sizes too small. Wool, silk, a business suit or party dress--all in the same load as the dirty underwear. So we have to have a sense of humor when things don't work out.
We have had several women, each for a number of years and were always saddened to see them go. We would learn about their grandchildren still in Poland, that they rarely or never saw. They would ask about our kids and grow to know them. There never was enough common language for us to be friends but we liked each other.
A few months ago, the woman who had been with us for a number of years moved back to Poland. We were very happy for her as it seemed to be something she very much wanted. I hope she does well there. Her replacement arrived--a very young woman who came one day and didn't leave us feeling happy. She seemed in a hurry to finish up and left many things poorly done (this was a first for us). Clothes were put away wet and so were dishes. We had to track down what she had done and do it properly ourselves. We decided to give her one more chance and then say something to her boss. The next week she showed up with a broken arm and another woman with her. She told us she would be unable to work for some time and she was showing the other woman the ropes.
This new woman was somewhat older, I'll call her by her first initial G. She was tiny, less than 5 feet tall and looked somewhat frail. She reminded me somewhat of my great grandmothers who came from Eastern Europe (although one great grandmother was quite heavy) with her limited English and her old fashioned house coat. The first time she came by herself her enthusiasm exceeded her knowledge. I had to frantically intercede and pull a linen jacket out of the dryer. I lost a couple of old clothes items but no serious harm was done. I had to reorient her to the assumed rule which is that only clothes in a laundry basket get washed. This was required since (embarrassingly) my dry cleaning often winds up in a heap on my closet floor.
We decided that we were very happy with G. due to her incredibly hard work and good-spiritedness and asked to keep her on instead of the younger woman with the broken arm.
Anyway, we had another unspoken rule which is that our cleaning ladies did not need to clean the third floor of our house which is largely unused or overflow as well as having a guest room we rarely use. We figured they did not have the time as our house is large. There are three rooms upstairs and a bathroom. One is the guest room. One was intended for the kids to play in and later as a teen hang-out but the kids prefer to be on the main floors where they can be in contact with their parents meaning all their games are scattered across the house. Of course, I'm pleased they still like to have us around. There is a second room which has evolved into a room for my sewing machine and a "project room". And there is a guest room which remains neat.


Unfortunately, the "project room" being mine alone became a disaster area. Sewing supplies, yarn, paper, books and photos wound up strewn all over. I'm sure no one but me could possibly work in there. So today I nearly fell over when I went upstairs and happened to glance in the room. It had a floor! With a little carpet and a desk with a sewing machine on it. For a moment, I was literally confused, as if I had been teleported into the wrong house. I didn't recognize my own room.
I'm sure I will have trouble locating my things and I feel a little strange having my personal space invaded but I just need to suck it up. A miracle happened in the guise of a short dynamo of a Polish cleaning lady. She accomplished what I thought would require a minimum of a professional de-clutterer. It will take me a few days to adapt to the new world "order" or at least household order but who knows? Maybe someday I'll be one of those people who enjoys giving tours of her house. That would be different.
Thanks G!

Monday, May 05, 2008


The brain still won't write so here's a . . .


pelican and a silly poem.

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week!
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can!

Attributed to Dixon Lanier Merritt as quoted by