Category Archives: Personal

Coping with Mental Illness in America

I can tell you from first-hand experience, that dealing with the mentally ill is difficult, and fraught with an endless maze of conflicting interests.

When a loved one begins exhibiting signs of mental illness – even something as simple and common as depression – you quickly realize how powerless you are to help. For more severe disorders where a break from what you and I might recognize as reality occurs, it can be extremely difficult to get your loved one the help they need.

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Breakfast in Palmyra

Visiting Central Pennsylvania on a business trip, I stopped in at a favorite restaurant, The Filling Station. Normally I am there for lunch will colleagues, but this visit had me flying solo. I took a stool at the counter, ordered coffee and an omelette. My order arrived promptly and like any good 21st century guy I took a photo of it with my cell phone and posted it to Facebook. While I was doing this, the door opened and the waitress said “Hi Scott, the usual?”

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The New(ish) Car

The wife and I bought a new car – new to us at least. With just under 12,000 miles, this is the newest car she and I have ever bought together. The experience filled us with both excitement and dread.

We were excited, because the purchase was part of our happy little partnership pursuing a business opportunity that required a nice vehicle that was reliable. The old Caravan just sucked nearly $1000 out of our savings, demanding a repair that deadlined the vehicle at an Amoco station. While the new oil pump, water pump and timing belt might give the minivan another 10,000 trouble-free miles, the last thing our fledgling enterprise needed was for her to be broken down on the way to a revenue event.

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Why I Support Ed Martin for Congress

Russ Carnahan was elected to represent my district after living here somewhere south of four years.  While certainly a longer tenure than Hillary’s few months before becoming New York’s senator, it still seems odious that he came here to first become a Missouri House representative, and then landed the Federal job after Dick Gephardt retired.

I would pretty much vote for a ham sandwich rather than be represented by a carpet-bagger. Worse, Carnahan proved to be to the left of even Dick Gephardt.  He voted for TARP, Porkulus, and Cap and Trade.  He’s all for Obamacare.  It has been as if San Francisco has two elected representatives.

Over the years, the GOP has fielded candidates, each slowly inching closer to the critical 51% mark to unseat the incumbent. Russ won in 2008 with a surprisingly narrow 53%.  Had he not been buoyed by President Obama’s historic election, William Federer may have been our Representative. God bless Bill, he is sitting this election out.

I had lunch with Ed Martin the other day.  He’s an attorney who will run against Carnahan in 2010.

Ed is no ham sandwich.
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Your Correspondent bids Farewell to his Car

My aging Dodge minivan began to show its age a few months ago. Already on its second transmission, the old gal’s 3rd gear began to intermittently jump in and out at highway speeds. This van was assembled in 1994, four years before the Germans took over, 13 years before Cerberus and 15 years before the Government took it over and arranged a shotgun marriage with Fiat.

I can say it has been a solid used car. I have never, and probably never will, buy a car new. Used cars make far more financial sense, even accounting for repair costs and the occasional unexpected breakdown. For $3000 ($1500 to purchase, about another $1500 in major repairs) I drove a reasonably reliable vehicle for over four years. It is inevitable that you will be inconvenienced one day on the highway, but I say carry AAA and a cell phone and comfort yourself with he fact that over five years you are likely saving tens of thousands of dollars (I buy really cheap cars). One big repair I did myself with the aid of my very mechanically talented son. 300 bucks in parts, 8 hours of labor, 100 bucks to my son and 1400 bucks to my physical therapist. Net savings $19.21. That’s three lattes at Starbucks if you have a coupon.

My legendary thrift aside, all good things come to an end. I cleared out my van of stuff and made arrangements to take my car to a “recycling center”. Taylor’s place is a junkyard about six miles from my job. Located at St. Charles Rock Road and Kingsland, they offered a fair sum if I drove the van to them, saving them the trouble of a tow. My plan was to load up my bicycle, offer up a handful of prayers invoking the patron saint of drivetrains and drive the van in. I would complete my trip to work under my own power. On the evening before taking my 15 year old beater, I pulled up to my garage and noted that the van was not where I left it.

The damn thing had been stolen.

Annoyed as hell, I reported it missing to the police, after establishing it had not been towed for some violation of alley-parking etiquette. Around 9:00, the police dropped by my house and asked if I was missing a van. The 1st district cops gave me a ride where the van had been abandoned, after first encouraging me to get a screwdriver to use as a “key” as the ignition switch had been wrecked. The little Rasputins who had boosted the van had found several solid objects against which to rub the fenders and quarter-panels. A loose plastic chunk made a forlorn, staccato wail from the wheel well until I yanked the piece free.

The next morning I loaded up my fancy bicycle, donned my fancy cycling shoes and clothing and continued on with the intended mission. I was prepared to accept a lesser sum, though the man offered the amount sight unseen. I did tell him about the bad transmission, but he asked no more questions. Arriving early, I pulled into the seemingly abandoned junkyard. Doors were open, music played, but the only human form was a mannequin lying on the ground, clothed in a mechanics uniform and surrounded by empty beer cans. Under my breath I muttered “Cujo?”.

Eventually a sturdy man drove up from the bowels of the yard in a giant forklift and asked if I was going to junk my van. He told me the guy who handles those transactions would be in somewhere between 8:00 and 8:30. The yard opened at 8:00 for people seeking used parts.

Right at 8:00 people began to file in. Admission is a buck, though I think it applies to the price of any parts you buy. Working men brought tools and grabbed wheelbarrows to find the part they needed to get back on the road. An older black man strode through with a failed part, his son or grandson following. The young man chirpped happily away obviously glad to be with a respected mentor.

FYI – if you ever need to feel like an idiot, I recommend you begin by putting on spandex cycling shorts with a pad tucked up in your nether regions followed by a snug cycling jersey. Finish the deal by standing in a gritty junkyard as people who have real jobs file past. Perhaps the only way to be a bigger tool would be to saunter to the grimy window where “Joe” collected money for parts and order a soy macchiato. With nutmeg.

“Joe” didn’t have much use for me. I said “Hi” and offered my hand, which he refused, half-regarding me out of the corner of his eye. I thought about making a wisecrack about the snub, but I was outnumbered by young men who worked for a living. My shorts already ride up. A wedgie would be catastrophic, probably requiring reconstructive surgery.

Eventually Da Boss arrived. He was friendly and we quickly exchanged paperwork and handshakes. I looked at the check and calculated how much more valuable my bicycle was than my car (4x). A young man sprayed “94 7/1” in yellow paint indicating the day they got the car and the model year. I tucked away the check, loaded up my junk and took off for work.

I have a nice, easy job where I work with my head, not my hands. Surrounded by conditioned air and clean environs, I can remember scrambling to find a part at a junkyard in the afternoon so I could fix my car in the evening to get to work in the morning. A mechanic named Doc takes care of most of my repairs. I can turn a wrench, but it is an option, not a necessity. That said, I do not pity those guys I saw today, neither do I envy them in some yeoman-hero sort of way.

I just appreciate them.

Meditation On Mending

I have a beat up hat.  Khaki in color, it has the emblem of the American Red Cross, a logo as recognizable as anything in the world, save for Coca-Cola.  Composed of fairly sturdy cotton with a nice stiff brim, it features a Velcro closure.  This last is vast improvement over those wretched plastic doo-dads with the holes and the knobs you snap together.  With my giant melon, I always have to mate the last knob on the last hole. I think it makes my head look like someone is trying dress up a pumpkin to look like a trucker.

My hat has fallen on hard times.  I wore it in lieu of a bandanna when working out, so it needed to be washed with the rest of my togs lest it become as fragrant as the south end of a northbound buffalo.  In the wash it became twisted up with other clothing and the Velcro closure tore off.  The hat has been sitting in the laundry room for a week or so, and this morning I decided to do something about it.  

I have no particular affection for it, it is not a memento.  It was free, and I have several other similar hats that would work just as well keeping sweat from my eyes.  I could likely score a half dozen more just like it if I paid attention.  Nevertheless, I broke out a needle and thread, and spent a few minutes repairing the hat.  I have been preternaturally dismayed at how disposable our things have become.  Blowing and throwing a tissue is more sanitary than handkerchiefs, so I am fine with things meant to be used and tossed meeting their appointed fate.  Still, a few stitches in my hat, and it was back in business.  I imagine that more people would patch up little things like this, but who today knows how to sew?

As a teenager, I bought a used backpack.  After a few trips the hip belt was ready to fail.  A new one was more than I could afford.  On an inspiration, I took he belt to a shoemaker.  He was able to sturdy as new for just a few dollars.  I felt very clever, and have been a fan of shoe repair shops ever since. There is a skill in identifying things that can be mended, and yet more skills in mending.  Money spent on a new thing to replace a repairable thing is money that could be put to better use.  It further exacts a cost in the lost opportunity to feel satisfaction in keeping one’s world in order.  Any fool can dispose and buy, it takes wisdom and foresight to repair, to add a rivet, drive a nail or choose the right glue.  Necessity may breed being handy, surely our fathers learned this when money was scarce, but learning to fix a thing has it’s own rewarding virtue even if you can afford a new one.  I hope to pass this on to my grandkids.

Workout Week Two

Monday begins my second week working out. Today I weighed myself, and learned that the modest dieting and moderate to heavy exercise has netted me a .012% loss of my total mass. I am quite pleased, though I am realistic about staying on this trajectory. I am packing my lunch, bringing along many small items that I eat every hour or two. I read somewhere that it takes about 100 calories to fire up the digestion engine. Eat three 800 calorie meals, and you expend 300 calories digesting 2400 calories for a net of 2100 calories. Eat six 400 calorie meals and burn 600 calories in processing, for a net of 1800. You can extrapolate for yourself.

I imagine there is a point of diminishing returns, but I do feel that my hunger/satisfaction cycles are not as far apart as they are with fewer, larger meals. I have had a problem with indigestion the last few months, and most of that is under control now that I am not eating the same crap as before. Mind you, I still love crap. I can eat deep fried buffalo-style cookie dough sundaes and love each and every bite, but I’d love to live past 55 without needing either oxygen or a Rascal. Torn between to lovers, as it were.

Try as I might, I was unable to “take it easy” in the weightlifting department. I started with fairly low weight and high repetition, just to get used to the exercises. I did curls, rows, flys and presses with freeweights. I also did a few more thingys on a whatchamacalit, but in either case I thought I had been careful to not overdo it. Not so much. I was OK Thursday after my last set. I was a little sore Friday. On Saturday, I couldn’t have made a snow angel to save my mama’s life. I’m OK now, mostly recovering after Saturday night, which prompts me to ask “What the hell took my body so long to get to work?”.

This last is a real question. As I understand it, muscle pain is caused by tissues being stressed and “torn” which in turn causes inflammation. These inflamed tissues begin pressing against nerves making for the ouch. Cells respond to inflammation by cycling the unwanted wastes to the bloodstream and bringing in repair materials that rebuild the stressed muscles. Over time this cycle of tear and repair creates more and stronger muscles.

I am interested in what takes so long. Are there projects going on that have to be wrapped up? Who the hell decides what to work on and when? Is there a little foreman somewhere who has to be bribed? Undoubtedly someone among my six or so readers knows, and I welcome their input. Until then, I hope the little gland with the clipboard and hardhat gets the football tickets I sent him. If I shred my biceps and pecs again, I want it to be first on the list for repair.

Sweating In the New Year

First Monday of the new year I purposed to go back to the gym regularly. I have never been a gym rat, but when my gym was just across the street it was a good deal easier to get into the habit of working out over lunchtime.

I don’t enjoy exercise, with the exception of cycling. I do love to ride my bike, and can be found doing just that when the weather gets somewhat agreeable. Toward the end of 2008 I was not able to saddle up and spin very much, and now I fear I have lost enough of my cycling mojo that a nice 44 mile round trip to work and back would do me in. In addition, last year saw a good deal of stress. I manage stress in a number of ways, none of them particularly healthy, but it is mostly by taking out my festering rage upon unsuspecting Cheetos, Ho Hos and Little Debbie, the Milwaukee’s Best of snack cakes. I am going to be 44 this year, and I can’t expect to continue indefinitely on this trajectory.

Today was the day, and I did get all my crap together for a good workout. I go to Club Fitness in St. Charles, a short drive across the river from Earth City. The facility is well-lit and the staff are friendly and willing to ask questions, but will largely leave you alone. I think I pay less than 20 bucks a month.

I used a machine that resembles an elliptical, but it is more of a combination of an elliptical and stair climber. It offers very little impact on the old knees and ankles, and for the first 20 pounds I think I’ll focus on that. I plan to do cardio Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to include lengthy rides on the stationary bike. One of the things I really appreciate about my gym is that you can watch television as you workout. Each major workout unit, treadmill, stair climber, bike etc. have their own screen and audio jack. As long as you remember to bring your headphones, you are good to go. It does take away some the tedium. If you are looking for a gym, I recommend you weigh this feature heavily.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I’ll do weights. That thing that looks like a Pilate’s ball fused to a manhole cover is a Bosu ball (see video below). I had a friend show me a few exercises with it, namely standing on the damn thing while lifting freeweights. Working to keep your balance and going through the repetition is supposed to improve your balance and work your core muscles. I can tell you that it is pretty tough, and just staying balanced is a tidy workout for the legs in and of itself. I confess to being a genuine klutz, so almost anything would be an improvement. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you how it is going.

Good Bye (Good Riddance?) 2008

I am ready for 2008 to be over. I can’t tell exactly because it has been dreadful, or because I am just weary of the roller coaster ride it has been.

On the plus side, a lot of good things have happened. My son was married to an adorable young woman who has been his sweetheart since high school. This improbable event was unthinkable not too long ago. If anything, I know that I have worries, God has purposes.

Normally I have a skeptical eye for media histrionics on the economy. Our economic engine has climbed the repeated incomprehensible assaults on the economy by the ignorant or cynical but finally the one-two punch of an 18 month campaign to talk down how things are and a festering boil finally bursting has spooked even guys like me. Things are not as bad as the Reagan recession, or the recession of Bush the Elder. Nevertheless, I find myself extra grateful to have a job.

On the down side, we had the sad work of bidding farewell to three members of our family. My mom lost her husband, and Gemey lost her dad and sister. Thanksgiving and Christmas were still happy and joyous but the empty chairs were hard to deal with. Friends have stumbled this last year, and I have fretted while they struggled to find their way. Sickness haunts some, joblessness stalks others or has overtaken them. Worry is no condition in which a Christian ought to dwell. Jesus told us that sparrows do not fall to the ground that God not take note of it.

I did not, nor would I ever vote for a politician like Barack Obama. He is the most leftist member of the Senate, and I anticipate ballooning government spending and further interference in our economy through taxes and regulation. So far, I don’t think he is particularly crooked, but I know that nice guys do dumb things with good intentions. Nothing the president elect has said or accomplished gives me confidence that he has a clue how to run our nation. Nevertheless, the part of me that is a fan of Langston Hughes wishes I could get into a time machine and visit the old poet shortly after he wrote Let America be America again and show him a copy of the New York Times from November 5th. Though I don’t think the genuine social significance of having a black president is worth what I expect to be Jimmy Carter II – Electric Boogaloo, I am certainly able to appreciate what it says about our nation and be glad in that. Hopefully in four years I’ll be willing to show Mr. Hughes a newspaper from 2012 highlighting the great success of our incoming president.

On reflection, I guess 2008 isn’t so bad. I have family, health and enough prosperity to be free from want with extra resources to help others. I have seen the hand of God in my life and in the lives of a wide circle of friends. It could be worse.

Grandpa’s Christmas Workshop

Saturday night and Sunday afternoon were spent toiling away in my workshop, cobbling together the raw parts for a set of Christmas gifts for my two sons and daughter-in-law.

I am indeed a cheap weasel, but my goal was not to transform scrap plywood into inexpensive presents doomed to a landfill, but to help the grandkids make something for their moms an dads. Both my boys work hard and their kids love them. I wanted to give them the opportunity to express that love with their hands and spend some “grandpa” time with them.

You would be surprised how much time it takes to plan out six individual gifts. Two gifts, three times each. 30 parts, paint, brushes, rags, rollers, glue, nails screws – the list is pretty lengthy. Cutting, gluing, painting – I spent a good 12 hours on my feet on concrete listening to Internet radio and transforming scraps into kits.

Codey and Kaleb did their mommy’s present first. We screwed together the parts, and they painted their little brains out. Codey is a one-color kind of guy, whereas Kaleb is more adventuresome. He isn’t done until he has all the paint he needs for a lovely shade of battleship gray. Kaylee went the monochrome route too.

Kaylee is still just 10, but she really enjoys working on such projects. She’ll clamber up onto my workbench to more easily handle the big cordless drill. “Did you make this table?” she asked, bouncing on it to test it’s strength. I answered “yes”, and she seemed duly impressed before returning to drilling and driving screws.

For my part, I tend to focus entirely too much on precision and quality. Kaylee made her father’s present, which required a good deal of painting. We used a small roller. I noted that when she applied paint to the roller, she dipped it rather than “loading” it, rolling it into the paint and distributing the paint all over the roller before painting your object. I carried this lesson over to the younger cousins and loaded the roller first. Kaleb asked poignantly why “Kaylee got to do the paint all by herself”. Little escapes their attention, and nothing escapes their sense of justice. I told him because it was because I love her more, and he gave me a look that said “You’ll get yours, old man”.

If I were a UAW worker earning average wages those 12 hours would have been worth well over a thousand dollars. 12 hours worth of patent illustrations (one of my little sidelines) would have netted even more. If I had a project worth a thousand dollars, I probably would have done it instead if I had to choose. There are many needs among my family and friends, and to honor the brutal truth, I like making money. I am frankly grateful to a loving God I did not, happy to have spent my time earning a great deal more.