Friday, April 29, 2011

To Contact or Not to Contact?

A Caring Bridge site for an old friend was forwarded to me along with a copy of a prayer from a mutual friend of ours the other day.  I had not heard from this person for a very long time.  So I went to that site and read some of her journal entries about her cancer and how she is dealing with it.

This woman and I had been very close friends from about junior high school through college and after.  I met her through my best friend.  Their respective mothers had sent them both to golf lessons, probably in the hopes they would be able to hold their own on the golf course which would no doubt make them better prospects for meeting men.  They both bonded through their hatred of golf and their anger at their mothers for continuing to try to make them suitable husband-catching material.  For a while the three of us were inseparable spending every waking, non-school hour together.  Ah, good times.    

After college and bad marriages, this woman and I roomed together for a short time until I re-married.  For some reason (to this day I still don’t know what that reason was) she suddenly stopped talking to me.  Things got very unpleasant in the house where we were living, so my fiancé and I found an apartment and moved in together.  Our mutual friend refused to tell me what the reason was and insisted I work things out with her on my own, but that was very difficult because every attempt I made – sending birthday cards, Christmas cards, and letters – were met with silence.  Eventually I gave up.  That was 21 years ago.

A few months ago, her old boyfriend called me to tell me that she was very sick and had asked about me.  He gave me her address and I sent flowers and a card with my cell phone number and said that if she wanted to I would welcome her call.  I didn’t want to bother her and wanted the communication to be on her terms.  Perhaps I should have called her but I didn’t think I could handle the rejection, and from the sound of things, she was too sick to speak to me.  Again, it was met with silence. 

So now, I have her email address and her other contact information and I have a choice.  Do I reach out again and call her and deal with the rejection, or do I wait until she responds to the posting I made on her journal guestbook?  Will there be a rejection anyway?  I guess I just will have to gather my courage and do it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I have collected pig figurines for a while. The whole thing started when I saw a brightly colored pottery piggy bank at a shop in Rehoboth Beach. For some reason I just had to have it. It was not expensive and I actually went back into the store and bought it after walking out initally. Since then I have gotten a few more pig related items, most of which I have at work. A co-worker did the same and while she was employed at the same company, we traded some items. I don’t know why because I don’t really like the animals themselves all that much. But pig figurines and stuffed animals really appeal to me.

Recently there has been some press about teacup pigs. They are all the rage in the UK and right now are just being introduced to the American market. I went online to find out more about it and found that teacups are really potbellied pigs that have been stunted by not feeding the animal enough. Essentially it is animal cruelty which shortens their lifespan and does not allow them to fully mature. In addition, underfed pigs can become aggressive because they are hungry all the time.

The piglets are really cute. I mean look at them. Can you really deny that they aren’t the cutest things you ever saw? They can be housetrained, are more intelligent than people think, and apparently need a lot of attention because they bore easily. I supposed since they don’t stay tiny and cute people don’t realize what they have. They can breed at the age of 3-4 months and so when the breeder shows the piglet’s parents to you they are small, so you get fooled thinking the piglet will not grow any larger. As a result, there are quite a few pig rescue centers in the UK where people have abandoned their pet pigs because the pig grew out of their cute piglet stage. As with other animals bred for being pets, adoption is encouraged rather than getting from a breeder to discourage over population.

Pigs can cost upward of $3000, shipping included. They range in price like other purebred animals based on their lineage and of course their size. But after they get out of their cute piglet size they can get big. A fully grown pig can get to be 65 pounds to over 100 pounds. They are about 1/10th the size of a farm pig (which can weigh over 1000 pounds) and live for about 15 -20 years. It does take a while for the pig to mature growing even past the age of four. If you go to the Southern California Association for Miniature Potbellied Pigs site they have pictures of cute, tiny piglets that have grown to over 100 pounds to show you that these cute little animals will not stay cute and tiny.

Right now, I think I will stick to my beautiful furry Maine Coon cats and continue to collect pig figurines. First of all I don’t have the time to devote to a pig and second we probably don’t have the zoning required for keeping a pig, even a pet.

Smartphone – 3

Okay, so I don’t know if this works the same as with the iPhone, but it was really easy to get up and running with my replacement Droid phone which came late yesterday afternoon. Once I activated the phone, even my wallpaper came back and the apps that I had downloaded originally, including the ones that were purchased by the thief, were automatically downloaded minus one. The one it did not download was the one I purchased online at the Android app store, rather than purchase it on the phone through the Market app.

I still had to set up my icons as I wanted them but it was pretty painless. Lessons learned from this fiasco:
  • Password protect your phone so they can’t even get into it from the start.
  • Put a tracking program on your phone that can remotely lock and wipe.
  • As soon as you know it is lost or stolen, use the lock feature so they can’t do anything with it.
  • Backup your data often, especially pictures that are on the SDE card.
  • Call your provider as soon as you have done the remote lock and suspend your account. This way if they do try to sell it, it cannot be activated.
  • Get insurance. It cost me a lot less to just pay the deductable instead of shelling out the cost of a new phone.

 These tips can work even if you damage the phone. If you don’t have a SmartPhone, you can still back up your data such as pictures and contacts. Your provider will probably have a service that allows you to back up your contacts. Verizon has Backup Assistant which works really well. I know from my son’s phone which had to be replaced several times. He is a skater and destroyed three phones – insurance only covered the first two. But without the backup program all of his contacts would have been lost. In addition, I was able to go in and see his contacts, which as a parent of a teen is important.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Sometimes I am blown away by some people’s actions. The other day I lost something of mine that was very dear to me. I was walking on the trail at work during lunch and in the course of taking off my jacket, I must have caught my beaded bracelet in the sleeve and it fell off without my noticing. I didn’t see it was gone until I had gotten back to the office. I was devastated to see it gone. I looked everywhere and even went back out to the trail to see if I could find it but I couldn’t take a lot of time as I was still “on the clock”. I remembered seeing a co-worker on the trail and I asked him if he saw it. The bracelet was not a fine piece of jewelry, but it had great sentimental value and I was heartbroken that I had lost it. Two days later the bracelet appeared on my desk. It was broken but most of it was there. Turns out the co-worker I had spoken to had been out on the trail the next day and found it. He brought it in and put it on my desk when I wasn’t there. I was so touched by his kindness.

We have worked together for about 5 years or so. In the time I have known him I have thought some pretty bad things about him as he a most sarcastic nature. He is constantly making snide comments about people and doesn’t seem to be able to be serious. He is always acting out and has the reputation of being the “class clown”. He is young, unmarried, a baby-daddy, and doesn’t seem to have a responsible bone in his body aside from doing his job somewhat dependably. You can always count on a joke from him and a silly picture since he always make a face when having his picture taken.

But recently I have seen a side of him that I didn’t know existed. He seems to have compassion, hiding under there with all his smirking and carrying on. He seems to have kindness below the surface. He seems to actually be a nice person if you can get past all the sarcastic barbs. Perhaps his child is making a change in him, or perhaps he is finally growing up. But whatever it is, it is a pleasure to see a person who really cares about others bubbling up to the surface.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Smartphone – 2

Today marks day 3 without my phone. I carelessly lost my phone on Saturday and the person who retrieved it started using it. They downloaded three apps that cost money and started texting a California number. I call that theft. Rather than take the phone to the police department as a lost item they took what was not theirs and called it their own. That is stealing.

At any rate, I put in a claim to the insurance company and have to wait until it was shipped, so I was without over the holiday weekend and yesterday and of couse since I am work during the day I won't get to charge it and activate it until later. Of course, because it’s a smart phone that means that I was afraid that someone could get my personal information on the device. So I spent a sleepless night on Saturday changing passwords on everything I could think I had on the phone after suspending the service and calling to deny the charges for the downloaded apps and the text messages from the time it was lost until it was shutdown. Of course I didn’t have a password protection on the phone. I know, that was “my bad”, and my own stupid fault if they were able to get anything.

I am having withdrawals. There are so many things that I normally do on that phone aside from just the phone aspect of it. Since I cannot get to Facebook at work, I use it on my phone so I can see what is going on and send birthday greetings to those friends who are celebrating birthdays. I like having access to the Weather Bug app so I can see the forecast and the pollen count, which will determine if I will be able to ride my bike after work. I don’t have my tracking app so I can’t track my bike ride to see how far I rode and what my average speed was. My calendar and my task list are on my phone so I have to wait until I get to a computer to be able to check if I have appointments in the evening and if there are any pressing things to do. Even looking at the time of day is an issue since I don’t usually wear a watch. Fortunately, since I have the Droid, all of it is saved to the “cloud” so I really didn’t lose any data and I can go to the computer to find it.

If you have a Droid, or other Smartphone, learn from my mistake. At the very least password protect your phone. I did find some cool apps that can help in the future. There is a nifty website that lists so great apps. These apps can do a number of things like locate, lock, and wipe your phone if it gets stolen. I had Lookout but that didn’t really help and thought I didn’t need to password lock my phone with that. But I guess you really do get what you pay for and that app was free. If you do realize it’s stolen, immediately lock it. I waited too long and the phone was turned off. While you are at it remote wipe it. Chances are you aren’t getting it back anyway so if you do that soon, you will halt the possibility of someone seeing your personal data. Change your passwords to all the apps like Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and others that your phone accesses, as they could get in and hack your accounts. Finally call your provider and suspend your account. They will report the phone as lost or stolen and no one will be able to reactivate it. Might as well make it difficult for the thief and not allow him to make money on selling it, and they won't be able to make any more calls or download anything to your phone with the number suspended.

As great as technology is, when one is tied to it and don’t use it as it should be used, it can be an albatross around the neck. A little bit of preparedness could have eased my mind in this situation., and I hope you don’t have to go through this.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Great Non-Cleanup

Several weeks ago, we got a flyer in the door. It was advertising a cleanup of our block for the Great American Cleanup supposedly part of the Keep America Beautiful program that was to have happened on Earth Day (4/22) with a rain date of Saturday. My husband and I work very hard to keep the litter at bay on our property and there are some like minded people, but by and large most people on the block are pretty oblivious to the litter on their yards. As such, we when we got this flyer we were immediately skeptical of the intentions.

He placed a call to the phone number on the flyer and was told that the cleanup was being organized by the mother who lives in Philadelphia of a woman who lives across the street. Ironically enough the woman across the street is in one of the worst kept homes on the block. My husband indicated that Friday was a workday for him (which it turned out not to be) and it was not likely that we would be able to participate, to which the woman remarked, “well maybe next year”. Maybe next year?

Saturday weather was good and we glanced out the front door at varying intervals and saw about two people putting some leaves in a bag. They did police up some of the trash, but generally we saw no change on the block otherwise.

The thing about cleanups is that they have to be done every day. That is one of the responsibilities of home ownership.  Why wait until you need a dumpster to be brought over to the block when you can clean up a few candy wrappers or paper plates that irresponsible people just drop as they walk down the street when it happens? Oh, that’s right. I forgot. People don’t know how to bend over.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

Earth Day is today and every year there is a theme.  This year, Earth Day's theme is themed after A Billion Acts of Green and apparently we should all be hearing about a campaign to generate acts of kindness toward our planet.  The intention of Earth Day is to inspire awareness and appreciation for our Earth and the many bounties in our environment.  Unfortunately, we have not been really kind to Mother Nature and that is not a good thing.

Think of it.  We only have one planet and it is filling up with all kinds of bad things.  You might not think that­, but all of our resources are really quite finite.  We have only so much fresh water, clean air, and quality dirt to grow our food.  When that goes away we won’t have anything and it will be very dangerous for humans to survive.  We have already done so much damage already with greenhouse gases in our air, cutting down massive quantities of trees which hurts the oxygen, and adopting a throw-away culture.  It may not seem like a lot, but take what you do and multiply it by billions of people and you might be able to get an appreciation for how bad it can get.  Even now there are places where things are looking really dour.  Check out this article about a woman in Canada that was printed recently in CNN.

Like many observances, an annual event is not enough.  Earth Day should be every day.  One should be mindful of the waste they are creating or the pollution that are spreading.   If we all did our own little part every day, we might be able to slowly reverse some of the damage caused.  But it is going to take a lot and unless we do something our future generations will be left to suffer the consequences.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Facebook and Privacy

My mother is worse than a pit bull and she tends to get on a topic and not let go.  Her latest rant is about Facebook.  She may have a point on this one, though because she is convinced that Facebook is taking away our privacy.

My mother’s page was set up by a friend of hers.  She really doesn’t do anything with it except occasionally go in there and look at some pictures posted by her friends.  She doesn’t play games, or stalk people, or post anything.  She is really quite computer illiterate content to use the computer for email, word processing, photo printing, and the occasional Internet search. 

If you really think about it Facebook really has invaded our lives, and there have been several privacy issues since its inception.   In 2007 some code was accidently made public and caused user information to be available to people other than who they intended it to.  In 2009 Facebook launched a system that sent information about users to a game site, which prompted concern because the script allowed movements a user made to be public.  The news feed and mini-news feeds, which members can opt out of, display everyone’s information on their friend’s pages and very few members opt out, or know how.  Photos that friends tag you in are shown without your consent even though you can un-tag yourself.  But isn’t that what Facebook is all about?

But I think that she is particularly infuriated with the fact that every webpage she visits has a Facebook presence on it. Everywhere you go there is something to do with Facebook and I think she is frustrated by that. I try to tell her that if people want, they can click the like button and share that page with their friends so that the company or information gets exposure.  The point is that people what their information to be spread.  That’s how they get business.  You don’t have to click the like button if you don’t want to.  No one is forcing you to do anything.

The main concern about Facebook is that it could be used as surveillance and data mining. They did state in their privacy policy at once point that they may use information from other sources in your profiles.  In addition, Mr. Zuckerberg has been known to meet with the FBI to assist in investigations using the company’s databases, which are far greater than the government because of the information in them.  We have all heard stories about prospective employers or recruiting colleges using Facebook to gain information about people in advance of their potential inclusion into their organization.  Furthermore, parents have to guide their children into safe computer usage and help prevent others from getting information about their children.  Children under 18 are not supposed to have Facebook pages anyway, but I am sure that many do anyway.

But the bottom line is that Facebook is really what people make of it.  If you want your information out there, it will be out there and if you don’t, then don’t post things about yourself.  Don’t allow drunken posts in the middle of the night that show your party side, or post blog entries and news feeds about your latest escapade that could be damaging to your reputation.  In this modern world where everything is potentially out there for everyone to see, you have to monitor your conduct. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It really takes a lot of effort to have a fight with someone. For the past few weeks, I have been arguing with someone and have found it easier to just ignore that person. I send all their calls to voicemail and I haven’t returned their calls. Since I don’t live nearby or work with the person, I don’t have to worry about how to avoid running into that person. It’s really a lot of work.

One would think that I would just resolve the issue and get back to the way it was. But I just can’t get around the fact that this person thoroughly pissed me off and until I am over the initial anger I can’t face them or speak to them. Not dealing with it for me is the best way right now because I know that if I encounter this person a big shouting match will ensue and it won’t be pretty.

But it takes a lot of work. I don’t have caller id on my home phone so I have to monitor my answering machine so I don’t accidently pick up when they call. I can’t just answer my work phone or my cell phone without looking at it to see who is calling and the pushing a button to ignore the call. Then I have to go into my voice mail and delete the message or that annoying little icon shows telling me I have a message. So I might as well listen to the message or part of it anyway because that’s the only way to delete it properly. Plus it’s amusing to hear this person’s continual pleas for me to call back. Get over it.

I guess I am being a little immature about this whole thing. Usually I don’t go to these extremes and I confront my issues straight on. But this situation is different. This person betrayed my trust and my confidence and I don’t get over that so easily. Only time will help lessen my anger. In the meantime if this person decides I am not worth the trouble, then fine. The less work for me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I recently read an interview written in the Philadelphia Inquirer with Amy Gutmann, President to the University of Pennsylvania,. The interview was about her opinions on women and leadership and it was published at this time largely because Penn recently hosted an event called "Empowering Women to Change the World." The last question in the interview was about women’s appearance and whether it was more important for women to hold themselves to a higher standard. She replied that it was and it was unfair.

Long ago I remember arguing with my mother about what I was wearing to school. I can’t really remember what she had a problem with, but I do remember the one thing she said that sparked off another argument about appearances in general. My mother was brought up in a generation when people were very particular about what they wore. Men wore suits to work and people would dress up to go to the movies. When I was young, we had to dress to go “into town”. I remember we used to take a yearly trip to New York to shop for Easter dresses and we always dressed for that. However, when I was in high school, in the late 60s, the dress standards were getting much more lax. She told me that as a young woman I had to be extra careful about how I looked in order to get ahead.

Maybe it’s the whole baby bearer thing, but men seem to be so enamored by how women look and for some women their looks are almost revered. It’s pretty easy for me to become invisible – I don’t wear makeup and wear dark clothes and I am ignored. But you take a really pretty woman whose makeup is artfully applied and who is thin and wearing a figure enhancing outfit and she will not be able to walk down the street unnoticed.

Just look to the media to get an idea of how totally lopsided this is: half of the men broadcasters are gray haired while the women are dead to the TV audience if one gray hair or wrinkle shows. When a woman gets to be a certain age, her career in front of the camera is over. Gray haired men are thought of as wise and knowledgeable. Gray haired women are thought of as old. Older men are said to be distinguished. Older women are said to be used up.

I agree that it is totally unfair, but until people of both genders accept others based on their character and not their looks it is going to be this way. And that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Recently I read an article about birthing centers in San Gabriel, California where affluent Chinese women come to have their babies so that the children are American citizens. The places were shut down but had been operating for several years. There are many more like these centers where people from other countries come here to ensure that their children can later come back and take advantage of free education and other benefits of being an American citizen.

In our area, we have a large population of other immigrants who essentially doing the same thing. However, one major difference is that since they are not wealthy, so they can only afford to come here and stay, rather than have their children here and then go back. The large majority of these immigrants are Mexicans, but there are other countries too but we never hear about those other places.

The government has been arguing about immigration for a very long time and has not done anything about it. Some local municipalities have tried to enforce immigration type of laws, and we sure hear plenty or complaints about why local cities aren’t doing anything. But immigration is a federal issue and as such has to be dealt with by them. No matter what happens, any type of reform is not going to be liked by one side or another.

Immigration has its pluses and minuses, as any issue does. On the plus side, we get a whole new group of people who are suddenly very pro-America and most of them are willing to work and increase the amount of services that can be performed. On the negative side, that group of workers puts a huge strain on the job market for the ones who “were here first” and it drastically increases the job competition. But does it really? When you look at the type of jobs that many immigrants do, American people are generally loathe to do that type of work. These are things like domestics, manual labor, and menial construction jobs. These jobs often pay little and have few chances of advancement. They are good for people who have little education such as immigrants and leave the field wide open for more skilled employment for others. In addition, we are a rapidly aging nation. An influx of young families, even if they are from other countries brings in a younger workforce that can lead to strengthen our economy.

But the bottom line with the immigration issues is the fact that no matter what type of laws we create or enforce the real issue is the reason people from other countries emigrate to the United States. Other countries sometimes have such horrible living conditions that families flee in an effort to increase their standard of living, and that’s a much harder issue to solve. We cannot control how other countries treat their citizens, and therein is the rub. If things in other parts of the world were as great as they are here, no one would risk their lives to get here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Old Things

 In the West End of town, just on the border sits a building built in 1794 called the Selma Mansion.  The house was the home of Andrew Porter, a soldier during the Revolutionary War, and a co-founder of the Marine Corp.  The Norristown Preservation Society now owns the building and has been working to restore the house.  This past weekend, a group of about 12 people scrapped, stripped, and dusted all of the rooms in the house.  The reason this was done was to get the building in some semblance of order for Norristown History Day in June.  I did a video of the cleanup  to help get a little attention to it.  Several more of these kinds of event are being planned as a way to work to restoring the building into a usable space.

After we were finished for the day – still a long way from the building being finished – the group expressed a great feeling of satisfaction about getting things in order.  Everyone worked really hard and I am sure each one of us had some sore muscles over the weekend.  The one thing that struck me about the day was that everyone was so enthusiastic about the house and its history.  Generally, we as Americans have a throw-away mentality where most of us think “oh, it’s old, let’s just tear it down”.  There was nothing evident of that kind of thinking for anyone who worked there on Saturday.

The Selma Mansion represents a great period in history about Norristown.  If you go to the Wikipedia entry for the town, you can read a section devoted to Selma.  Other than that reference there is not much written on the home, but there is a fair amount written about the inhabitants.  Selma has a history and should have a permenant place in the town.  The building needs to have a breath of fresh air breathed into it and the current board of the Preservation Society seems that have what it takes.  I look forward to a new start to the renovation, and I hope you will join me in what you can to help.  You can donate to help with the restoration by going to the NPS site and sending a check to the address listed.  Let’s do what we can to preserve our past so that our children will not forget what our ancestors did for them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Nose Knows

One reason that I can’t lose weight is that I smell food all day (I’ll use any excuse).  I work in an office setting that has cubicles instead of offices.  I can’t close my door to the smells of food people bring to eat at their desks.  Furthermore, the “food cube” is located right outside my cube and I can smell whatever is placed there. 
I have been blessed, or cursed, with the nose of a bloodhound.  My husband is always amazed when I walk in the door and ask him if he has eaten one thing or another because I smell it as soon as I walk in.  My son hates it because I often complain about his room because I can smell if it’s dirty.  I can tell if someone has been in the house because I can smell them and I always know when I walk in the door if one of his friends is over.
It is really amazing, this sense of smell.  We can smell something that is even too small to see with our eyes; things even too small to be seen with a microscope!  These things are called odor particles and there are millions of them are floating around.
Our nose is like a huge cave built to smell, moisten, and filter the air we breathe. The air enters through your nostrils as we breathe in.  Our noses contain tiny little hairs called cilia that filter all the things trying to enter your nose. The cilia act as tiny brooms to sweep all the dirt out of the nasal cavity so that the air is clean on its way to the lungs. After passing through the nasal cavity, the air passes through a thick layer of mucous to the olfactory bulb where we recognize smells because each molecule fits into a nerve cell which then sends signals to the brain where they are interpreted.
Our sense of smell is also tied to our sense of taste.  You probably have noticed that when you have a cold, you don’t like the taste of food because your nose is stuffed up and you can’t smell anything.  Those senses are important because they can warn us of impending danger such as toxic chemicals, fire, or poisons.  Smell and taste contribute to our enjoyment of life by stimulating a desire to eat, and eating is what I do too much of.  Interestingly enough tobacco smoking,  the most concentrated form of pollution, impairs the ability to smell and taste, but even when I smoked my sense of smell was heightened.
I also found that a heightened sense of smell has a medical name, hyperosmia.  I came across an entry in Wikipedia which said that hyperosmia has been “seen in patients with cluster headaches, migraines, and adrenal cortical insufficiency (Addison's Disease)”.  There is also a murder mystery was written called Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.  The book is a 1985 literary historical by German writer Patrick Süskind.  Apparently, the story focuses on a perfume apprentice in 18th century France who, born with no body scent himself, begins to stalk and murder virgins in search of the "perfect scent". 
So be it a curse or a blessing, my sense of smell is tied to some fascinating stuff.  I thought I smelled a rose in all of this!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Teen Rebellion

I don’t know if you are a Gleek like me, but if you are, you might remember the song that Mercedes wrote in a recent segment called Hell to the No.  In this song she sings a defiant cry against everything she is being asked to do that she doesn’t want to do.  Regardless of the part of the song where she says she doesn’t want to be all diva about it, she really is.

This cry of defiance is familiar to anyone who has teenagers.  Since the time my son turned 13, his teenaged, hormone-filled, rebellion started.  My favorite phrase became “you didn’t cause this, you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it”.    I tried repeating that phrase over and over again and pretended it helped.  It didn’t, and as any mother will tell you, their child’s behavior is a direct hit on your parenting psyche.
When your child is in danger, it’s natural as a mother, to want to help.  You want to fix it; wipe away the tears, and kiss the boo-boos goodbye.  However, we as parents have to understand that protecting teens from the dangers in the outside world is not always realistic.  We have to begin to let go and allow them to learn from their mistakes and reach inside to find the resources they have.  We parents have to reach inside too, but in our case it is to find the patience to deal with rebellion.  I say these words and know them in my head, but my heart still wants to make things right for my son.  
Dealing with a rebellious teen is similar to dealing with an addict.  You need to be there when they fall, but they have to come to the conclusion that they are acting in a manner that is incorrect.  You have to understand that you have given them the tools for living and now they have to use the tools, and with any new skill, there is a learning curve that goes with it.  As much as I am pained to see him go through the consequences of his actions, my desire to reach out and fix things may spring from a loving impulse, but they are not loving actions. Those actions could be harmful to you and my loved one because in the long run they do not allow him to fix the problem for himself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Generation

My cousin’s daughter had a baby girl a few months back. This is the first grandchild of my generation and it is exciting to see our little family move on. My cousin has posted several pictures on Facebook and I am so amazed at the family resemblance between this child and my son when he was her age.

Genetics is a fascinating study to me. In high school we studied fruit flies and charted their offspring for traits such as wing length and eye color. With a species as simple as that, it is somewhat easy to predict the percentages of the generational characteristics. However, humans have many more traits that can be passed between members of a family, some which cannot be seen like genetic diseases. What is interesting to me is there are specific traits like noses or eyes that transcend the generations. My little cousin is not yet mature enough to see if she has the family nose shape or eyebrow arch that I see in pictures that my maternal grandparents.

Modern genetics started with a German-Czech Augustinian monk and scientist named Gregor Johann Mendel, who studied the nature of inheritance in plants. Mendel traced the inheritance patterns of certain traits in pea plants and described them mathematically. In 1905, a proponent of Mendel's work, William Bateson, coined the word genetics. He popularized this word during the International Conference on Plant Hybridization in London, England, in 1906. As time went on, they determined that genetics were tied to DNA and found that DNA is the molecule responsible for inheritance.

The early study of genetics was done with plants and then moved on to mammals. Dog and cat breeders look for traits they want to bred for and pair animals together to maximize those traits. It is interesting to note that environment often plays a part in genetic results. According to a Wikipedia article on genetics, it states that temperature actually is a factor in breeding Siamese cats. A low temperature environment causes the DNA protein's structure to be stable and function normally. This results in the coat coloration of the cats. It goes on to say that the protein remains functional in areas of skin that are colder—legs, ears, tail, and face—and so the cat has dark fur at its extremities.

It is possible that early noble families, without really knowing what they were doing, practiced genetics when arranging the marriages of their offspring. This is possibly how certain diseases became specific to particular ethnicities. Today, with love marriages the variations are endless.

Genetics aside, it will be interesting to see how my little cousin grows up and which side of her family she favors.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I read an article about a bill that Senator Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) is proposing. The bill had been crafted back in June of 2010 but was brought up by State Auditor Jack Wagner recently because of the budget concerns. On, it states “According to a summary in the proposed budget, Pennsylvania pays $30,248 per year to lock up an inmate. Health care costs account for $4,505 per inmate per year. In contrast, Pennsylvania spends $13,343 per child in school ($4,952 of that in state funds, the rest from federal sources and local property tax revenue).”

Pennsylvania had the fastest-growing prison population in the nation in 2009, and this is not necessarily because more crime is happening here. It is due to certain mandatory sentencing guidelines that are set by each state that prevents a judge from lawfully sentencing anything below the minimum. That means that more people doing crime are sentenced to prison when the crime may not call for it. That means our prison population grows, the supposed need for more prisons grows, and the amount of our tax dollars being spent to house those criminals grows.

Many of these sentences are for non-violent drug related offenses which can be handled other ways. Auditor General Jack Wagner offered a list of recommendations to reduce the prison population recommending reforms such as expanding alternative punishment programs for non-violent offenders half-way houses, home-based electronic monitoring, motivational boot camp as well as expanding the types of crimes that qualify for those programs. Many of these things would also help the rate of recidivism as well. Let’s face it, prison simply warehouses people and allows them to network with other, possibly harder, criminals. A person going in for a small possession charge may come out with the knowledge to do a more serious crime as well as tips to prevent getting caught.

When running, many politicians vow to be “tough on crime” but there has to be sensibility to that promise. Putting people in jail as a way to combat crime is one sided and narrow thinking. In the long run it means a higher percentage of dollars spent on prisons which translates into less dollars spent elsewhere. The better question to ask them is how. Simply putting away people who commit crime does not help reduce crime, putting programs in place to prevent crime in the first place is a far more prudent way to spend tax dollars, and in my opinion works to reduce crime overall.

Please call your senator and ask them to support SB100. Currently it is in committee and it needs to get on the floor, out to a vote and then to the House for support. The sooner we get a more sensible way to deal with crime, the faster our society can deal with the underlying reasons for crime.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I purchased a smartphone last year and joined the 69.5 million Americans who own smartphones as of the end of February. I anxiously awaited the ability to upgrade my Razor, purchased the Motorola Droid when my previous contract expired, and since then have been quite happy with the phone. I have downloaded some apps, all but one was free, and some of them I don’t think I can live without. The best part is the calendar and email capability and the fact that it is constantly synced with Google.

However, I think my smartphone is getting dumber. First of all my battery seems to be losing the ability to hold a charge as long as I thought it used to. The battery has always been a sore point. I supposed I expected it to be much better designed considering the potential usage and the fact that most people utilize many aspects of the phone for the majority of the day. There is no way I could use my phone as an MP3 player and expect to still make calls after about an hour. Additionally, if I use the navigation on it, I have to plug it into the car battery charger or I risk the phone going dead once I have reached my destination. And don’t even get me started on playing Angry Birds and battery consumption. I am just glad I have a charger cord wherever I am; work, home, and car. I even got a solar re-charger unit for when I am biking. I haven’t really used it too much, but I tried it once when I was on the MS150 bike tour and while it kept my phone charged, my GPS tracking app flaked out.

The second part is the slowness of the unit which is beginning to be very frustrating. My phone used to go from screen to screen and load things up lighting fast, but now not so much. I haven’t researched why this is happening, but I suspect there is something running in the background that I have to kill or maybe the phone has some kind of bug in it. Whatever it is I get really frustrated loading up apps whenever I want to use them. The other day I wanted to post something on Facebook when I was at an event and it just took forever to load.

But despite these annoyances, I really like my smartphone. I have it with me constantly and if I do go out without it I feel as if a part of me is missing. I anxiously await a new phone with better battery power when I upgrade next time around. But on the other hand I kind of hate being so attached to a piece of technology. Such a quandary I am in.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


There has been a lot of talk recently about bullying both in person and on the web. The latest episode of CSI involved a young pregnant teen who was driven to suicide because she had been taunted on the web. A group of popular cheerleaders were angry at her for “stealing” one of the cheerleader’s boyfriend and created a barrage of hate texts and emails including uploading a video of the victim trying out for the cheerleader team. The cheerleaders were arrested at the end of the show, but in real life things are not that easily tied up.

In a way, I guess I was lucky to be born when I was. There was no Internet and the bullying was not as out of hand as it appears to be now. I was teased a bit for wearing glasses, being a fat kid, and having an unusual name, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I really feel for these kids who are the targets of other who feel the need to bully. As a parent, you can only tell your child so much to disregard the taunts and ignore the endless barrage of insults thrown your child’s way. Some children are very sensitive and take things so personally especially when they start off with a poor self image.

Some forms of bullying are not that obvious. For example printing an article in a school publication or newspaper about an incident that is embarrassing or incriminating can be just as damaging to a person’s self esteem as physically standing in front of them and taunting them, or sending them hate text messages. However, text messages and daily emails, such as the ones portrayed on the CSI episode are a constant reminder to the person receiving the taunt and hard to ignore.

Bullying is a need to feel empowered. People who bully actually feel as bad about themselves as the person they are taunting. However, they work to establish control and get other people to do it too. Being a ringleader is quite exhilarating. Many of these kids have parents who model aggression and they learn to handle conflicts belligerently. When you add in peer influence others can lose their moral compass and participate even if they have been taught differently in the home. The bullying continues because the bullies are not made accountable for their actions, but things are changing.

However, the bottom line is that we need to teach our young people (as young as possible) about the consequences of their actions from bullying and about healthy relationships. Additionly, we need to encourage everyone to appreciate diversity and accept those who are different. Until we are able to stand up to the fears of others, we will fall to the belief in ourselves.

Friday, April 8, 2011


A few weeks ago I was walking to the mailbox and boom! I saw the familiar red and white sticker on the door of a house indicating a condemned house.  This one is 6 doors down from me. My husband immediately called Code Enforcement to find out the details. It turns out that the resident was not taking care of the property and due to unsanitary conditions it was shut down.

It is a really sad story about the house to begin with. When we moved into the block almost 30 years ago now, a widower and his daughter lived there. The daughter was in elementary school at the time. The daughter has since grown up and her father was sent to a nursing home and she lived there on and off with her occasional boyfriend. Normally it would not be a problem, but she has some issues and she seems to be unable to take care of herself or the house. We were encouraged about the boyfriend for a while, but he is not really that much better. They keep to themselves and aside from the occasional nod they are not really the neighborly type.

Condemnation is done for a variety of reasons. In most cases the house is considered unfit because of unsanitary conditions. It could be from a fire, or in most cases, pure neglect in which case structural damage can crop up or unsanitary conditions that can render it uninhabitable. Generally, code enforcement will come in and give a list of things that need to be done to correct the situation and it is up to the property owner to fix things in a reasonable timeframe. This assumes the owner is known and can be found. This can be a problem because people just up and leave and they ignore the citations. If the bank owns the property, or it’s tied up in court proceedings, then the resolution can be very time consuming. If the house continues in such a condition, it could be slated for demolition but that could be another 10 years down the road. This can begin to be an issue for the attached house, if there is one, because it can begin to cause structural damage to the other house as well and then two structures end up being razed due to neglect.

While the property sits it can be a magnet for vagrants, animals (the four legged kind), and of course the grass and trash could become unmanageable if there no one is willing to step forward to help. On our block the later is less likely to happen as most of our neighbors are the kind to step in and help out if needed. But it requires constant attention to make sure it does not get out of hand.

So this is a situation that will likely have several updates to it. Perhaps a group of helpful people can help fix the place up for the owner. Or maybe a builder can buy the property and fix it and sell it. I feel pretty confident that this property will have a happy ending, but it will take time.  Maybe the lessons learned from this one can help others in the town. More to come.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

You Can Learn A Lot From a Tree

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
-- Joyce Kilmer

The other day I was riding past a stream and happened to notice the trees lining the water. You could see the exposed roots and the way they hugged the ground. The tree was very tall and I wondered about its stability with such a fragile-looking base as there didn’t seem to be a lot holding it to the shore. Trees seem so tenacious in their ability to grab the ground and grow anywhere. It is that kind of press-on-regardless attitude that I admire about trees.

If you think about it, there are some other qualities about trees that can teach one about life:
  • Trees are simple. They don’t need much except air, water, and a little nourishment.
  • Trees care for others sometimes at the risk of their own existence. Many animals can live in a tree and it doesn’t seem to bother it.
  • Trees don’t let the bad elements bother them. Their bark is rough and protective.
  • Trees are flexible. They sway with the wind yet stay standing.
  • Trees are adaptable yet dependable. They may drop their leaves in the winter, but come back every spring.
  • Trees are good housekeepers. They clean the air and keep it fresh for others.

Maybe that's how the term Tree of Life came about.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Outcome of Kindness

About three years ago, we took in a foster cat.  We had every intention of putting her up for adoption, as my husband said over and over again that three cats were too much.  Me, on the other hand believes in the saying “cats are like potato chips; you can’t have just one”.  So for all you cat haters out there, you can stop reading right now.

Anyway, we agree to foster this cat, named Paula, because it was supposed to be only temporary.  I had adopted a Maine Coon mix from the Maine Coon Rescue group and he was, and is, a great cat (Simon).  However, we already had an older Domestic Shorthair who was 14 at the time (Trixie).  She didn’t want to have anything to do with Simon.  He was basically a kitten when we got him and all he wanted to do was play.  She wanted no part of that.  Trixie just wanted to sleep.  If you don’t know anything about Maine Coons, they are known as dogs in cat’s clothing and have similar personalities to dogs in that they are very friendly, greet you at the door, and generally very responsive to humans.  Simon is a very social cat.  So in an effort to “give back” to the Maine Coon Rescue organization, we agreed to take on Paula as a foster.    

Paula is a tiny little thing.  She is shy and somewhat fearful of everything.  Most of her early time here was spent in the cellar hiding among the storage items and she wouldn’t come out unless it was for food.  She did respond to Simon little by little and the two of them became great friends.  This worked out so well.  Simon played with Paula and left Trixie alone.  Everyone was happy.  After realizing this little arrangement was working, we decided that we would take Paula off the market and keep her. 

For some reason, my husband took a shine to Paula and began to interact with her more.  He found out that she only responded to humans if she were up on things.  For example if she were up on top of the dryer she would allow you to pet her, but if she were on the floor she would not.  We had been told at the time of taking her in that she was abused and it was pretty evident from her response to things like being picked up.  If you picked her up she would go into the “taz” mode, her four paws would spin around, and all claws were out.  To this day, it is almost impossible to clip her claws because she cannot take a person handling her paws.  But as time wore on, the kind treatment we gave her, especially my husband, has calmed her down immensely.  She no longer spends her time in the cellar.  She comes up and sits on my husband’s lap when he is watching TV, and does the famous Maine Coon head butts when she wants to be petted.  It has taken almost three years, but she shows no evidence of her past life due to the kindness she has received living here.  It is really gratifying to see the transformation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Need to Collect

I have a collection of various things; Christmas ornaments, glass spheres, small pig figurines, and miniature perfume bottles. The other day I was looking at the collection of things that I have on my desk at work; I wondered why do I collect these things? Why do humans have a need to have things around them? Is this something that is genetic to our species?

I found some very interesting things when I looked into the subject. A few feel that collecting is a basic human instinct. It is a survival tool augmented by years of natural selection. Our ancient ancestors managed to accumulate scarce objects and the ones that did may have been the ones able to survive longer. Maybe it even gave them an incentive to do so. Supposedly having great wealth correlates to longer life expectancy. Others said it goes back to our history as hunters and gatherers. But it is mostly something American, Europeans, and Canadians do. It probably reflects the amount of disposable income and the number of material things that one has access to.

According to much of the information, there are several reasons why people collect things:
  1. Knowledge and learning
  2. Create a sense of identity; a reflection of our personality
  3. Relaxation and stress reduction
  4. Personal pleasure
  5. Pride of ownership
  6. Social interaction with fellow collectors
  7. Competitive challenge
  8. Recognition
  9. Altruism (donating your collection to a museum)
  10. The desire to control, possess and bring order
  11. Nostalgia and/or a connection to history
  12. Accumulation and diversification of wealth
  13. The quest the represents a life-long pursuit that is never complete
  14. A security against uncertainty and loss

 There are even words for collectors: an archtophilist collects teddy bears, a deltiologist collects postcards, a numismatist collects coins, a vecturist collects subway tokens and a clock collector is a horologist. But most of the reading that I did on the subject pointed to the need to control things. Apparently Freud said it was due to our loss of control when we were toilet trained. Furthermore there is a difference between men and women. Women tend to display their collections, whereas men have theirs in a separate place.

I can see that the need to control things is a big reason. I know some collectors who are very picky about who sees their collections, who gets to touch the things, and those who feel great pride having a complete set of something. It represents a feeling of achievement, which could be a needed thing when we lack those feelings in our everyday life.

To me, the collection of the ornaments, which are given each year of employment that I keep in my cubicle, is a visual reminder of how long I have been at the same company. I do have sense of pride that I have lasted this long and feel very fortunate to been able to stay employed at the same place for a long time. So I guess the mystery of why people collect is really not really a mystery at all. We all need a sense of control.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Quick Meal

I found the most wonderful product the other day at Wal-Mart’s. I found a package of “restaurant quality” fajita beef in the freezer section. You just have to add the fresh onions and peppers and after a while it’s all there. I have tried many times before seasoning the meat to get that taste, but have not been able to duplicate it. This is just so easy and simple, which makes it a great meal for those nights when I am rushed to get something on the table.

I really kind of hate using packaged things to make dinner, but I don’t always have the time to cook fresh, and the fajita beef is one of the few processed things that I will use. Generally my family eats fairly well, save my son who eats junk. But he basically still a kid. I try to make meals from scratch most every night and it can be a rush situation after work and bike riding. I hate to leave the dinner thing up to my husband who just goes out and buys hoagies or cheesesteaks. He is not much of a cook, content to make buttered noodles as a meal, so making sure I get home and get dinner cooked is paramount in my mind to making sure my family gets good quality food.

I really do love to cook – I love to eat too, as many who know me already have surmised. But I don’t always have the time to do it. I especially love the challenge of coming home and grabbing what I can out of the ‘fridge and pantry and making something up right there on the spot. A lot of those dishes have gotten rave reviews from my little family, but I am hard pressed to replicate it as I rarely measure or keep track of what’s in the creation.

Recently I have started creating a weekly menu and writing the main dish on a white board in the kitchen. It does help with the shopping and I hope it will end up saving money as so things won’t go to waste. But things come up and sometimes I don’t get to the meal I have intended to cook and then forget to put the meat in the freezer. Or maybe I do get it in the freezer but then it stays there and gets freezer burn and I have to throw it out anyway. At any rate the menu thing is working out pretty well and I would recommend it to anyone.

So give the frozen meat from Wal-Mart a try. It is called John Soules Food Beef Fajitas.  It is really quite quick and tasty. Make things easy on yourself once in a while.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

To the Rescue

I came across this picture the other day when I was cleaning out my office. My son was about two when this was taken and he had received the fireman’s hat when we went to the local firehouse for an event there. I am not sure where the push toy came from.  I don’t know what it is about kids sometimes, maybe it was just mine, but sometimes they latch onto a new toy or something and won’t let go. It was that way with the hat and the firetruck toy.

My son is grown up now and time has gone by so fast and sometimes I sit back and wonder about the path his life has taken him. It was not my choice, it was his and I have to learn that no matter what he does, I cannot rescue him from everything as I did when he was little. His boo-boos cannot be taken care of by a kiss on the knee and the boo-boo bunny. I have done the best I can and now it is his decision to take what I have taught him and either use it or lose it.

As a parent, one can only control so much. With my son, I think he stopped listening to me as soon as he entered in to the teen years. He also seemed to stop following my advice shortly thereafter. He was always a strong-willed child and like most teens thinks he knows all. However, the tables will turn at some point and I might be the one who needs to be rescued in my advancing years. I just hope he will be there for me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

In a Land Far Away

A friend and former co-worker of my husband has recently gone to find a job in North Dakota. He was laid off at the same time (about two years ago) as my husband but unlike my husband has not been able to find steady work around here. So he is off to stay in a man-camp in North Dakota to take advantage of the work available from the oil drilling.

I am not sure if the man-camp that this article talks about is where he is going, but these places are popping up all over the state as people who are looking for work have no other place to live. People are leaving their families behind and going for several months in the hopes that they can avoid bankruptcy with the money they can make on a temporary basis.  There are plenty of jobs out there, but little housing

There are currently over 100 drilling rigs that are active in North Dakota now. Oil companies are investing millions of dollars in new wells. According to one article I read, western North Dakota has large oil reserves that have more oil that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I suppose the cry of “drill, baby, drill” is heard all over that part of the country.

Like Pennsylvania, the oil is deep within the shale and it is expensive to extract. They are saying that with improved technology, the oil will be gettting easier to obtain. Unlike Pennsylvania, the company pays a tax to do the drilling. Back in 2006, North Dakota officials approved about permits for 500 new oil wells. All that activity means a great surplus for state government. The oil tax brought in $170 million in 2005 and I can only imagine what it brings in now. One thing is for sure, North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

But with every positive there is a negative, and oil extraction has some really heavy negatives.  I hope that they are paying attention to the harm that is being caused by this drilling because there are some serious health issues that can come out of the drilling, all due to the considerable loss of fresh water. According to an article I read, they only recycle 20% of the water they use for the fracking process and they use 7 million gallons per day.  Now they want to drain the river for more.  Furthermore, there are no regulations on companies to let us know what is in the water after the process has occured, so there is no telling what humans will  ultimately unknowingly consume.  When you think of all the things we use water for, this hunger for oil could be quite hazardous to our health.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tomatoes and Things

Last night I attended a viewing of Food, Inc sponsored by the West End Association and Greener Partners. The film is a documentary produced by the same people who did The Inconvenient Truth, and deals with the food industry. It is a somewhat disturbing film because there are some rather graphic scenes in it of meat slaughtering and animals that have been warehoused for our use. It is also disturbing because it turns out that there is so little that is known about what we eat. I am sure most of us mindlessly go to the grocery store, bring things home, prepare them for our family, and never stop to think about where it comes from.

Food, Inc points out that our food is not grown, but really manufactured by four large conglomerates that run the factories that supply our food. Chickens are grown faster and re-designed to have larger breasts because that’s the way we like to eat them. The chickens are so fat that they can’t take more than a few steps because their bones have not kept up with the speed in which their bodies have grown. The cows are kept in pens, moving around in their own feces, shoulder to shoulder with one another. These animals along with pigs and even fish are fed corn rather than given grass because it fattens them up quickly. The different diet not only makes them fatter faster, but causes a particularly deadly E. Coli bacteria in cows. Above all, the FDA who are supposed to be overseeing everything have no real teeth and until recently were not even able to shut down a plant if there was contamination.

But the good news in all of this is that we have a choice. There are 10 things we can do to make a change, a change that is also better for your health:

  1. Stop drinking sodas and other sweetened beverages. You can lose 25 lbs in a year by replacing one 20 oz soda a day with a no calorie beverage (preferably water). 
  2. Eat at home instead of eating out. Children consume almost twice (1.8 times) as many calories when eating food prepared outside the home.
  3. Bring food labeling into the 21st Century. Half of the leading chain restaurants provide no nutritional information to their customers. 
  4. Tell schools to stop selling sodas, junk food, and sports drinks. Over the last two decades, rates of obesity have tripled in children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 years. 
  5. Meatless Mondays—Go without meat one day a week. 
  6. An estimated 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to farm animals. Buy organic or sustainable food with little or no pesticides. According to the EPA, over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the U.S. 
  7. Protect family farms; visit your local farmer's market. Farmer's markets allow farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar spent by the consumer. 
  8. Make a point to know where your food comes from—READ LABELS. The average meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to your dinner plate. 
  9. Tell Congress that food safety is important to you. Each year, contaminated food causes millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths in the U.S. 
  10. Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, ensuring fair wages and other protections.
You can go to the film’s website for more information. Be informed and be healthy.