General

Tortoise Triumph

I’ve found lost dogs before and returned them to their owners. I’ve even found a hamster and hermit crab–although the latter two don’t really count because they were mine, and I lost them in my house.   However, I have never found a tortoise before with or without red feet, not before today anyway.

I was in the schoolyard that backs up to our rear property line this evening and had just completed weed-whacking along our back fence. While heading home I was whacking some weeds along our neighbor’s fence when I was confronted by a South American Red Foot Tortoise.

Redfoot_TortoiseConfronted is probably not the right word since the creature was looking up at me from under some tall bushes.  Since it was only about a foot long I didn’t feel threatened.   In fact, I thought it was a cool looking animal with a colorful carapace (shell), red legs and face.  It also had a bit of an overbite that I figure it used to tear meat. Maybe I was wrong but I didn’t want to put my hand by it to find out.

While it’s not every day I run across amphibians while weed-whacking, I must admit I wasn’t too surprised to have found this one.  That’s because a sign had been posted for about a week on the front lawn of a home about 200 yards down the street from us with a photo of the creature I was looking at and the word “LOST” in large block letters.  In fact, I guess I was more surprised that 1) someone was looking for something other than a dog or cat and 2) the fact that someone could even LOSE a tortoise.  After all, it’s not like those things can run, jump or fly. In fact, I would think it’s pretty darn hard to lose one’s tortoise.

Anyway, to make a long story short, after finding the tortoise, I went home, dropped off the weed whacker and went in search of the owner.  I left the tortoise were it was figuring that since it had survived the wilds of the schoolyard for nearly a week it would be safe for a few more minutes.  Plus, my mama told me never to pick up strangers, be they people or tortoises.

I walked down the street to  find a woman sitting on the front porch of the house with the sign.  I announced my find and we set off.  While accompanying me to the spot she explained that the tortoise was native to South America and the family had owned it for about seven years.  She said it wasn’t very friendly but seemed to recognize their voices.  It lived in a fancy box in the house and  needed a heat lamp to keep it warm.

The tortoise was where I had found it and I pointed it out to her when we arrived.  The reunion was pretty unemotional on the part of both parties.  I guess I was more excited about finding the animal then the woman was about getting it back–or the tortoise was about going home.  Going out onto the internet afterwards I found those things retail for about $150 – $290 each when they are 3-4 inches long.  Based on that I would have thought the woman would have been ecstatic to find the creature since it must have been worth nearly a grand.

I was glad to have found it but I wouldn’t have wanted it.  Gimme a dog anytime.  And it doesn’t even have to have red feet.

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Emailing Senator Levin: An Exercise in Futility

I realize our senators get a lot of mail and can’t read it all.  After all there are only two of them for this state and a whole lot of us–maybe not as many of us as there were a couple of years ago before the economy tanked, but still a whole lot.   That means our senators won’t read everything sent their way.  They don’t have the time.  I’d be surprised if they even read half the stuff they vote for or against. (gasp!)

I suppose I really don’t expect their staffs to read the letters or emails either. After all, they are busy cranking out press releases and sending out tickets to constituents who want to visit the Capitol or White House or send flags to those who ask for them.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised to get a canned response to the recent email I sent Senator Levin concerning the need to improve infection reporting by hospitals. The idea being that forced reporting will cause (shame) hospitals into increasing the precautions they take to cut infections, therefore saving lives. It’s all in a recent posting I did.

Anyway, I got a response back from Senator Levin’s office today. It’s below. Apparently, his staff didn’t have a canned response that matched my particular request and they didn’t have time to draft something, so they used what they had–a message on health care reform.

Too bad it has nothing to do with infection reporting by hospitals. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Johnson:

Thank you for contacting me regarding hospital safety standards in health care reform. I appreciate hearing from you. I have long supported the goal of ensuring that all Americans have access to stable, reliable, and affordable health care.

In November 2009, the House of Representatives passed health care reform legislation, and on December 24, 2009, the Senate passed its version of health care reform legislation (H.R.3590). The Senate bill would strengthen America’s health care system by preserving personal choice, ensuring people can keep their health insurance if they like it, and reducing cost through competition. This bill would eliminate existing insurance company practices that discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, and that impose annual and lifetime limits on benefits. These limits on benefits have allowed insurance companies to deny coverage for an individual’s medical treatment if that treatment is too costly. In addition, this legislation would reduce waste and fraud in the health care system and would reinvest those savings to strengthen that system.

Recently, President Obama released a health care reform plan that includes several provisions contained in the bills passed by the House and Senate. As Congress and President Obama continue to debate health care reform and the most practical and prudent way to enact those reforms, I will keep your thoughts in mind. Again, thank you for contacting me.

Sincerely,
Carl Levin

Huh?

I don’t want to just pick on Levin.  Senator Stabenow’s office did something similar in response to an email I sent her way a while back. I would think Republican senators in other states do the same thing.

I’d like to someday visit either Senator’s office to see just how staff members decide what canned responses to use with a particular message, or if they even bother to read either the email when it arrives or their response before they send it out.  Or maybe they don’t read it.  Maybe a piece of software does it for them and then just spits out a response.

I do know that if I decide to visit I won’t make the request via email. Who knows what kind of weird response I’d get.

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Time Warps and the Unemployed

Parkinson’s Law states “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” That’s may be true for those who are gainfully employed, but what about those of us who are unemployed?   What law governs our life during this particular difficult time?

Some may think a law governing aimless behavior becomes primary.  While unproven, this law states “When a day is without a purpose, putzing expands to fill all available time.”

Perhaps this law is valid–at least in some cases. Certainly, when one is unemployed, the possibility exists for there to be plenty of time to perform unimportant tasks unrelated to finding a job (writing a blog comes to mind).  And you might think time might drag for the unemployed, leaving plenty of time for putzing–or at least watching Oprah or the Olympic sport of curling.

That, however, is not the case.  At least not in my case.  For me, time has gone into fast forward.   The days are over long before my “to do” list is completed.  Back when I first lost my job, I thought I would have my office cleaned out, Joomla (an open source website tool) mastered and my two websites converted to Joomla, a third website up and running and all the books in my bookcase read, in no time.

Sadly, I have only completed the first task, I am barely underway on the second and I have read only a couple of books.

In my own defense, I have  taken a course in social media, worked on some brochures and newsletters and done volunteer work during the last couple of months.

Still, I would have thought I would have accomplished more during this period.  That’s why it seems to me  that time speeds up for the unemployed.   I’m open to suggestions and will give it some additional thought.   Right now I need to clean out my junk drawer, shovel a little more snow, check out a stock tip, brush the cat, walk the dog and sweep out the garage.   And since I know I will get sidetracked I may not get all those things done.  What I will not do is putz.   Nope, not me.  Never.

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Sometimes Passion is Found in Unexpected Places

Are you passionate about your job?  I have recently encountered some very passionate people in a place you may never expect:  A hospice.

Angela Hospice Care CenterThe people I’ve found with a passion are part of Angela Hospice staff  in Livonia, Michigan.  These individuals don’t believe they have merely a job, they have found their calling.  They do not just give of their time and talents but give of their hearts, as well.

I have not had the privilege of meeting everyone on the staff and can assume there may be some who work there because it pays to do so.  I have a feeling they are in the minority.  I think most who work there do so, because they want to help people lovingly make their final journey amidst the care and comfort of their family and loved ones.

As you may know, (and according to the Hospice Foundation of America), hospice is a concept of care designed to provide comfort and support to terminally ill patients and their families.   Its goal is to improve the quality of a patient’s last days by offering comfort and dignity.  Hospice care neither prolongs life nor hastens death.

Angela Hospice has provided this sort of care to Southeastern Michigan since 1977 and now provides assistance to more than 1,500 people per year.  With a free-standing facility with 16 beds, which is now being expanded to 48, most of its services are provided in the homes of patients so they may enjoy the benefit of being near loved ones in familiar surroundings.  Along with hospice services that are reimbursed by Medicare and private insurance, Angela offers grief programs for families and a prenatal hospice program, not covered by insurance, solely through donations.

I have never personally had any connection with hospice care before I started an eight-week training course in January, when I decided to become an Angela Hospice volunteer.  Although Angela already has 500 volunteers, the need continues to grow as the number of families for their care continues to grow. I don’t know what role I will be called to serve, respite care seems to be in the most need at this time.

In regards to volunteers, there are many passionate people among the volunteers in my training class.  Some of them are very familiar with Angela Hospice Care because they have experienced its services first hand when facing the death of a terminally ill parent, sibling, spouse, relative or friend.  They have been touched so positively that they are in the classroom so they can help others who are in need. This passion and commitment speaks volumes about who Angela Hospice is and its commitment to making our loved one’s final days as comfortable and dignified as possible.

Angela Hospice has numerous giving opportunities, including assisting with a campaign to pay for a New Care Center that will triple the number of patients served in their inpatient care center.  The cost of this project alone is $10 million.  Donors are needed with a passion for caring.  From what I’ve seen thus far, Angela Hospice’s mission is well worth you support.

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Drinking the Wine of Life and Death

The Wall Street Journal today (Feb. 5, 2010) included an essay by Edmund Carpenter entitled “before I Die.”  Carpenter wrote it back in June 1938 at the age of 17.  In the essay, the then young man talked about what he wanted out of life and his thoughts of what came after.

Life and death he said were two cups of wine.  As we experience life we drink from the first and consider the second not knowing if it will be sweet, sour or tasteless.  Carpenter’s is a wonderful essay and would be considered so had it been written by an adult, and not a boy, too young to really experience life and many years from death.

Regarding the life he wanted, Carpenter hoped for several things: do something great, experience deep love and deep sorrow, travel the globe and help others.  According to the brief bio that preceded the essay, it appears Carpenter achieved many of his goals.  He won the Bronze Star in WWII, attended Harvard Law School, and became an attorney and president of a law firm.  He left six children and 15 grandchildren when he died late last year at the age of 87.

Now he is drinking of that second cup of wine.

Because the WSJ limits access of its articles to subscribers, the entire essay is not available to many.  However, below is the last paragraph in which Carpenter speaks of that second cup.

As for death itself, I do not believe that it will be such a disagreeable thing providing my life has been successful. I have always considered life and death as two cups of wine. Of the first cup, containing the wine of life, we can learn a little from literature and from those who have drunk it, but only a little. In order to get the full flavor we must drink deeply of it for ourselves. I believe that after I have quaffed the cup containing the wine of life, emptied it to its last dregs, then I will not fear to turn to that other cup, the one whose contents can be designated only by X, an unknown, and a thing about which we can gain no knowledge at all until we drink for ourselves. Will it be sweet, or sour, or tasteless? Who can tell? Surely none of us like to think of death as the end of everything. Yet is it? That is a question that for all of us will one day be answered when we, having witnessed the drama of life, come to the final curtain. Probably we will all regret to leave this world, yet I believe that after I have drained the first cup, and have possibly grown a bit weary of its flavor, I will then turn not unwillingly to the second cup and to the new and thrilling experience of exploring the unknown.

I hope to share it with him someday.

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Moving out of Winter into Spring. Sorta

Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog saw his shadow today.   That means six more weeks of winter instead of a month-and-a-half of frigid temps and snow. So it goes.

There is some additional meteorological information associated with this date that is more telling: The average daily temperatures in my Detroit Metro area has stopped falling and is beginning to slowly rise.

thermometerAlthough the amount of time the sun has been above the horizon has increased since the winter solstice on Dec.23–in fact we’ve already gained 30 minutes of sunlight per day since that date–the temperatures have continued to fall.  Until today, that is.  Beginning today, we start enjoying warmer temps in the southern part of Michigan.  And in another week, so will my adopted town of Harrison in Michigan’s midsection.  (Being a little further north with slightly shorter summers, it takes a little longer for that area’s average temperatures to begin their rise.)

But don’t put that winter coat away just yet.  Unlike sunlight that increases by a minute or two (or three) each day, we are not so lucky in regards to outdoor temperatures.  Since we are talking long-term averages, we will still have some horrendous bone-chilling cold snaps in the next month or two.   But as my sainted mother used to say, “two steps forward and one step back,” as she would count down the days until spring. (Mom hated winter, by the way.)

I may be my mother’s son, but I hope winter doesn’t end too fast. I have yet to use my cross-country skis or strap on my snowshoes, either down here or up north.  That means I want snow but also some seasonal temperatures and sunny days on which to use them.

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Let’s Publicize Infections in Hospitals

I saved lives today–or at least took a simple step that might.  I sent emails to my Congressional representatives asking that hospital infection rates be made public.

Why do that, you ask?

Simple.  States that require hospitals to disclose this information have lower infection rates and lower infection rates mean fewer deaths and lower medical costs.  In Pennsylvania, for example, infection rates dropped 8% when the state’s new law went into effect. (That’s a big decrease.)  Currently, laws vary from state to state and only 27 states have laws.  That’s not right.  Everybody should have access to information so they can make an informed decision when choosing a hospital.  Plus, disclosing that information might just shame hospitals into enforcing practices that result in fewer infections.  Shame is a powerful motivator.

It’s important hospitals cut infections.  According to Consumers Union, nearly 100,000 American lives and up to $45 billion each year can be saved if hospitals take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of deadly infections among their patients.

The email I sent to my representatives came from Consumers Union, the organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine.  The request is part of CU’s Safe Patient Project campaign focused on eliminating medical harm, improving FDA oversight of prescription drugs and promoting disclosure laws that give information to consumers about health care safety and quality.

This particular campaign is aimed at cutting infections people get in hospitals by publicizing infection rates. Because hospital staffs  don’t always take the steps they should to lower the chances of infection, we or our family members could be at risk every time we go into a hospital. Unfortunately, you don’t know if you’re at risk because many hospitals aren’t required to tell you how many people get infections while being treated there.

Some of the steps a hospital staff can take to cut infection rates are simple and include such things as:
— Routine hand-washing between patients
— Isolation of patients with infections or those carrying antibiotic superbugs
— Giving surgical patients preventive antibiotics in the proper manner
—  Use a simple checklist in ICUs for inserting catheters.

By the way, routine hand-washing is something done only half the time, according to Consumers Union research.  Scary, isn’t it?

Emails to Congress don’t have as much impact as a personal letter or phone call. And unfortunately, those don’t have as much impact as the money hospital lobbyists give opposing such measures.  However, a lot of legislators are running scared after the recent vote in Massachusetts and they may just listen.   After all, who can be opposed to preventing infections in moms, babies and apple pie.  Ok, maybe not the pie.

So, take a minute and fill out the Consumers Union email form.  It’s customizable and you don’t even need to know who your congressional representatives are.   The site makes that determination based on your address.

By doing so, you might just save a lives today, too.

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Discount Tire and Excellent Customer Service

I was wowed the other day. Honestly. I went to get my tires rotated at Discount Tire in Livonia, Michigan. Discount Tire is a national retailer and I purchased tires from them last year. I did so because they had good prices, I could get a AAA discount and because Discount Tire offers a free tire rotation every 6,000 miles for the life of the tires.

Anyway, I went back Monday for the rotation and because one of my tires was losing air.   I figured Discount  could patch the tire when they performed the rotation.  I also figured they’d charge me for the patch since the problem wasn’t their fault.  I never discussed price during the write up (probably a mistake) since the patching had to be done and I didn’t think it would cost more than 20 bucks.

I was wrong about the charge.   As I sat sipping their free coffee and reading my Communications World magazine, the mechanic called my name, handed me my paperwork, told me the leak was due to a screw, said he fixed and added that I was all set.  No charge.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Make that wowed.  Since I am out of work (please hire me), any savings is greatly appreciated.  So as a way to thank Discount I am spreading the word.  I’m not sure free patches is their policy, and I don’t know if they’d do it for me again or do it for anyone else.  However, this time it was awfully nice of them.  Thanks, Discount Tire.

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Is it True? Kind? Necessary?

There is an article in today’s (Jan 6) issue of The Wall Street Journal on gossip and compassion (Before you gossip, ask yourself this).   While WSJ might seem to be a strange place to find such an article, it was one of those I took time to read today and hope to take its advice to heart.   Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a new year.   Maybe it’s the fact that I, on occasion, have been known to gossip (but shhhhhh; don’t tell anyone).

Whatever the reason, the article contained some good information.  Basically, it said before you talk about someone, ask yourself these three questions:

1) Is it true?
2) Is it kind?
3) Is it necessary?

Taking the time to think before we talk–engage brain, THEN open mouth–might make for a kinder, gentler society.   It might also make each of us better people.  Lord knows I need improving.

The article also included a great story on compassion. It was in the form of a letter the author received from a reader.

“My mother was waiting for me when I came home [from a teenage dance].  But instead of telling her I had a great time, I regaled her with a scathing description of some incredible nerd who’d tried to dance with me.  In essence, I said that this guy had a lot of nerve to expect anyone to dance with a person as weird and ugly as he was.

“When I finished my tirade, my mom said, ‘You know, this boy you find ugly and weird is some mother’s pride and joy.  She waited for him to come home, just like I waited for you, hoping to hear he’d had a nice time at the dance.  But when he came home, she saw his face, she knew someone hurt him, and it broke her heart.  So the next time a boy asks you to dance, before you turn him down or make fun of him, just remember: Every boy is some mother’s son.’ “

The writer of the letter said she always remembered that lesson.

It’s a lesson all of us should remember as we go through this dance called life. 

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New Post for a New Year

It’s a brand new year. Starting 2010 with a visit to family (daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Grand Rapids).   Being with family and grow closer to them is a good way to start.  Makes for a good resolution too.   Add to that one, grow closer to God.   And grow closer to my wife.

Oh yes, and get a job.

Four resolutions for 201o for me.  At least for right now.  I figure the list will grow.  Being “in transition” in one’s career gives one time to think, to look for opportunities outside the box/cubicle and to seek one’s passion.

Happy New Year.

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