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Friday, July 31, 2009

Cogitate

July 31, 2009

Some random thoughts to ponder while evacuating. . .
  • Do vacation and evacuation have the same root word? If so, can you expect to have equal fun participating in either?
  • Was Teddy a chauffeur or race car driver in a previous life? That would explain her strong insistence on taking over the steering every time she gets in the car.
  • Do we really need to evacuate Kitty Muffin, since every day she single-handedly produces amounts of ammonia in her litter box equivalent to what we drove through yesterday afternoon. By the way, I understand why cat leashes are not a preferred option.
  • Is dog barking or cat mewling more melodious?
  • If asked, I'd categorize a mini van as a compact car if it contained two adults, Teddy, Uma, Willie, and Kitty Muffin.
  • Should Uma win the Best Behaved contest. . .for the first time ever?
  • Is it a coincidence that I'm reading The Zookeeper's Wife? At least I know the importance of harmony and humor when mixing anxious people and animals in strange settings.
  • Why do people drive worse (some times much worse), instead of better, when evacuating? This sounds like a better syndrome to investigate than having restless legs (with apologies to anyone with that condition).
  • It least we hadn't unpacked and stored all the suitcases from vacation yet. That made it a little easier to leave.
  • Does it seem strange that the kind and gentle policeman denying us access to Leonard Road at 9:30 last night after we returned from exile could smell nothing and planned to stand at the intersection of 2818 and Leonard with no protection for the rest of the night, but he couldn't let us drive home and sleep in our home with a recirculating air system and mostly fixed pane windows? Those Jedi Mind Trick beers I had at the Cambridge Brewing Co. worked well. "These aren't the evacuees you are looking for. Go about your business. Move along."
  • Have I ever been gladder of a south wind, given that I live south of the chemical plant that exploded and burned? If you squint (or click on the image to enlarge it) you can see Leisure Lake, right by the bend in the road on the southeast edge of the evacuation area. This map also works if you are trying to find my house for the lanyard workshop.

  • There' no better sleep than in your own bed.
Seriously, we made it home from vacation on Wednesday with some close connections and some bumpy air miles (I'll update The Repore when I get a chance). I'm a bit behind on laundry because of the unscheduled drive we made to Magnolia when we evacuated after the ammonia nitrate cloud threatened the area on Thursday.

The lanyard workshop schedule for 3:00 this afternoon is still on.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Report

July 26, 2009

I started a theme last week on The Dahvee Repore, Things in Rochester that Make Me Say Hmm. Today I can continue that conversation.

For instance, what else can you possibly say when you read a sign on a building that says "Say no to drugs. . .Say yes to bowling."?

We visited the Eastman House in Rochester, where I saw the first player pipe organ of my life (pipes distributed handsomely practically everywhere). George Eastman also displayed the head of the rogue elephant that he "bagged" in the same room where he housed the organ. Apparently, this room was originally built with the wrong proportions. When he built the house, it cost $350,000. Sawing the conservatory off the house and rolling it ten feet over to make it just large enough, cost another $700,000. Hmm.

I also had nothing more than Hmm and Hmm again when we got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at mile marker 209 in upstate New York. This grinding halt lasted well over forty-five minutes. This is the last situation where you don't appreciate that someone spent time marking not only the mile markers, but also the tenth-of-a-mile markers, too. Anyway, getting stuck in traffic didn't prompt a Hmm, but the fact that NO ONE hopped lanes or got agitated and tried to pass on the shoulder, the entire time. It was a little like meeting a bunch of folks from Stepford.

That politeness and calm in a traffic jam gave me some comfort when our rent car lost power and started decelerating as we crossed a lengthy bridge a short time after that. We made it across before we rolled to a stop on the shoulder. Rebooting the car returned power to the drive train, but the check engine let remained on. We limped along another twenty minutes to Ballston Spa, NY to our friends' eighteenth century farm house. About two hours later, Jake, the tow truck guy, trucked a replacement rent car directly to our door and traded out the one we had that still had its "check engine" light glowing.

For those of you who suggested reading options back when I added WeRead to my sidebar, I can now consider your suggestions. That's right, we can all celebrate that I finally polished off Middlemarch, a true triumph of willpower. Not to say that I didn't get into the intertwined doings of the citizens of Middlemarch, but I always have difficulty with books that make me want to put my hands over my eyes and scream "No, don't do that" when the characters make ill-considered decisions and say things that lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding.

We have made it to the outskirts of Boston and are having a really relaxed and fun time. For those of you planning your week, we'll make it back home on Wednesday and the lanyard workshop will resume this Friday (31st) at 3:00.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stargaze

July 19, 2009

Almost everyone in the Brazos Valley has waited all summer for it to cloud up and rain. For days and days, weeks and weeks, we have not needed the weather channel to tell us that we can expected fair skies, with a high of 100 (plus or minus a couple of degrees) and a low of 75 (plus or minus a couple of degrees). Monotonous, not to mention hotter than two cats fighting inside a wool sock.

Anyway, everyone wants rain, and for the past couple of nights the wind has stirred and the sky has clouded up and teased us. Sound and fury, of course, signifying nothing.

Not only did the faux storms lead to no rain, they kept me from stargazing. Didn't know I was an amateur astronomer? I wasn't, until Friday. My lovely nephew and niece from Carrolton, Mark and Alicia Taylor, drove in to claim the furthest traveled award for the lanyard workshop (I interrupt this story to remind you that we will take July 24 OFF from making lanyards and resume on July 31). They also brought birthday gifts. I didn't look in the tall, skinny brown paper bag with Davis's name on it, but since he turned 21 in April, I'm sure whatever it is will not be unfamiliar and will be appreciated. For Erin? They named a star after her.

Next time you find yourself hoping for rain when there's not a cloud in sight, use it as an opportunity to spot the Erin Channing Buenger star. As you can see from the star chart below, it is fairly close to the Little Dipper. (If you are really interested, I can tell you the exact coordinates.)

First, locate the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). Because it has seven bright stars, you can usually find it fairly easily. Use the Big Dipper to help you find the Little Dipper (its handle points to the North Star). You might have more trouble making out the Little Dipper than the big one because,except for the North Star at the tip of its handle, all its stars are fainter. If you need more help than this, here's a link to more specific stargazing instructions (How to Find the Little Dipper). Erin's star is a little to the left of the third star in the handle of the Little Dipper.

This was a cool gift just for its creativity and permanence, but beyond that, Erin loved the night sky. It didn't happen too often, but she would get so excited when we would take a "night walk" and lie on the cool pavement at the boat launch, counting stars and listening to night noise. After Alicia and Mark registered the star for Erin, they went out to locate it. After a little struggle and a little prayer for inspiration, they opened their eyes and saw a shooting star (not Erin's actual star, but perhaps she was in transit out to her new place).

Besides telling you about the star, I'd also like to tack on some thanks to this post. Athena and Tracy took a load of lanyard to the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation Conference this weekend and traded a good number of them for generous donations. They cut their effort a little short when Alex, Athena's precious NB survivor, had a severe pain attack that hospitalized him for a couple of days. I don't think the docs ever got to the bottom of his problem. Ladies, we all appreciate you muling the lanyards (and manyards) around. Pat, thanks for supporting their efforts and taking over when they had to leave! Thanks also to Janice and her lovely daughters who took another batch to Mo ranch this week.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thank and Cry

July 16, 2009

I cleaned my desk and filed bills today (the stack was not insubstantial). I came across the order form for Erin's spring school pics (another ball that got dropped at the time). As usual, Erin looked good in the photo, so I decided to suck it up and pay the $15.00 late fee to place an order. I went to the website, registered, and tried to place an order. I couldn't figure out a particular code I needed to enter, so after three failed tries, I picked up the phone to get a little tech support.

I explained to the phone rep what I needed and why I was so late. My eyes teared up a little when I mentioned that Erin had "passed away" and had missed the deadline. No big deal. I swallowed the lump in my throat and went on to give the woman Erin's name and school and the other information she needed to place the order. She put me on hold to check on something. When she came back, she began by saying, "It's our company's policy in cases like yours. . ." and I thought uh-oh, I'm too late. She continued, "to create a special, complimentary package of photos of various sizes, our largest package. We'll hand deliver them to your house tomorrow."

This is a national company, not some local photographer with a passion for Erin.

It is always sincere expression of kindness, generosity, and unconditional love that have the greatest emotional impact on me. I managed to thank the woman from LifeTouch and hang up the phone before I had a good, short cry.

I really needed to find a good person/company today to counteract the hostile, unhelpful phone jockey and his supervisor that I encountered when trying UNSUCCESSFULLY to unravel some major problems that I had with Visa gift cards I gave for graduation gifts.

NEVER buy Gift2Go cards. EVER.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Move (at the Speed of Erin)

July 15, 2009

I don't feel like I have given too much to Erin fans lately. I have had short fuses on a variety of items in my in-baskets late, and a drop-dead deadline of next Monday, when Walter and I leave for vacation to New York and Boston. I always tell my students about how energizing deadlines are. Now I can testify to that truth.

I dropped 60 Erin Dream Lanyards off with Tracy this afternoon to take to Chicago for the CNCF Conference this weekend. I hope everyone has a great time. Jen, perhaps you can find some trouble even if Ellen and Shannon can't attend. If you can't find trouble, I'll bet you can find a lanyard!

I finished the rough draft of the Erin Dream Lanyard how-to powerpoint to send to Kristen for her upcoming 160-person lanyard workshop, and all the wire/lanyard hook starts. I still have to order and ship about 2000+ grams of beads.

I made it over the hump at Discovery Canyon vacation Bible school. I am Elaine's lackey in the storytelling room, and exhausted just thinking about it.

I started compiling the results of my health insurance research.

I have taken two loads of garage sale items to the church for the August 1 benefit to furnish a room in the new Twin City Mission's building. Do you have items to donate?

I lobbied my Congressman about appropriations for the Childhood Cancer Registry database.

I worked out with Erin's old soccer team last night.

I went to Han's birthday at Pump It Up in The Woodlands on Monday.

I used up all the tomatoes populating my counter tops by making spaghetti sauce last night and invited company over tonight to finish it off.

I didn't really mean to post this, because I have an exceptionally interesting observation to make about cilantro, but that will have to wait until another day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Voyage

July 13, 2009

My new, favorite travel website.  Please, please, please click on the link and you will know why:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Act

July 9, 2009

Faced with the challenge of teaching a lanyard making workshop 1564.5 miles from home in absentia, I decided to make an instructional video or possibly a podcast. Since I only have a vague idea of what either of those entails, I did what any modern person would do. I hired child labor.

I have the true experts (Jackson, Nico, Adam, Noah, and Peyton) in this afternoon to tape a session where they explain how to make Erin Dream Lanyards. Here are some stills of them at work.


We have three scenes in the can. I went off to answer the phone and returned to find that they had added a new scene to the sequence ("a planned blooper").

video

For the record, I love middle school boys.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Categorize and List

July 7, 2009

I always tell my students that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide people into categories and those who don't. (rim shot)


I don't think that Erin ever categorized, or worse stereotyped, people, but she was a big one for sorting. I found this photo montage in a document folder yesterday when I was searching for something else. These are not dogs she owned or knew. This was part of her research a year and a half ago (12/16/07) when she was trying to decide what kind of dog she wanted to buy. Whenever she saw one that fit in the category of "acceptable" she copied a photo of the breed into this document. Notice that they all fit some of the criteria that ultimately led to Teddy's adoption four months later (small, cute, quiet, and capable for forming attachments. . .emphasis on small and cute).


Anyway, I brought up categorization because it often serves as a prelude to my class discussions on personality. Some students buy into personality categories. Others don't. I'm not sure which way I fall, BUT when I guide the discussion over to the topic of individual differences, a lot more students willingly confess to recognizing that people have naturally different tendencies. When I ask, they willingly sort themselves into groups like risk averse, risk neutral, and risk loving, or procrastinator and early starter, or usually tardy, usually early, or right on time.

List making or not is another way the students willingly sort themselves, but it's not as simple as "To Do" or not "To Do." Some make elaborate lists, having multiple lists going at once with a master list of lists, others just jot down what they
definitely need to remember. Some claim to carry all essential lists around in their heads for immediate access. Others sneer at the whole idea. My favorite (I occasionally fall into this category) are people who make to do lists and include things they have already done or that they know they will do with little effort, just to experience that little trill of thrill when they get to cross those items off as "done."

I have to admit that there is a list maker in me. I really try to suppress the urge to list in the summer, because. . .well, because summer is for spontaneity and a little laziness. Lately, however, I have found myself spending time in the shower, or on my dog walk, or while weeding thinking about my what I need to do, or perhaps more accurately what I need to list. You see my lists encompass more than tasks. I try to make a note of grocery items as I use them up so we don't forget them next time we make a grocery run. I try to jot down potential gifts for friends if they mention they like or need something, because I'm not a very creative gift giver. I also have at least a mental list of books people mention that I may want to follow up on.

Lately, I have had to notice what beading supplies I need to replace so that I can make my weekly run to Michael's or Hobby Lobby. Believe me, this week that list is long! Remember last week, I sent my whole inventory to Sacramento, California, where donations exceeded $1500 and depleted the entire stock. Last Friday, I had a house full of beaders to help me re-build the collection: 35 folks came to make lanyards and another dozen stood by giving encouragement and drinking help-inducing beverages. My lanyard board is full again (though most of these will soon be headed to Chicago, Mo Ranch, and Connecticut--so I will again need a large turnout for Friday's workshop).

I have fought off the temptation to carry my little moleskin notebook around with me to jot things down until yesterday when I succumbed. You see, Monday evening I got an e-mail from a lovely
college-aged Erin fan who will be a senior counselor at a YMCA teen leadership camp in the northeast in the last week of July. They want one of their evening activities to be making Erin Lanyards. So I have a very short window to plan how to organize a large (165 person) lanyard workshop that will take place 1500 miles away (in Cooksville, Pennsylvania), without me. Can you see the To Do lists proliferating in my head?

At least when I grab a pen and start thinking through my list, I find myself in good company. I recently found this list in among a pile of papers that got hauled upstairs and stacked on my desk.

What is it? A quintessential Erin list from election night last November. Column 1 is the list of channel numbers and Column 2 is a list of the corresponding stations that were going to have election coverage. Column 3 lists when coverage begins. Column 4 lists when voting results first be shown. I'm not sure what column 5 is "?" and Column 6 is when coverage on that network ends. She kept the list beside her so she could channel surf for election news more efficiently.

So what about you? Do you list or not? What makes your lists special?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Insure

July 5, 2009


Thank you for your continued involvement in my research project about health insurance and health care. I used some of my research to write a letter to the editor of The Eagle, my newspaper. It appeared yesterday. Here's what I wrote:


I’m not sure what Bill Hunter meant when he wrote (June 30) that President Barack Obama is about to “parade some sad anecdotes before us” to convince us of the need for health care reform. In Brazos County, where I live, 18.4% of the population or 28,747 people had no health insurance in 2005. In Leon County, where Mr. Hunter lives, another 2823 (17.3%) were uninsured. Almost 7,000 of those without any form of health insurance in these two counties were children.


While these numbers may seem high, our counties are better off than many parts of our state. In 2006, Texas had the highest uninsured rate in the nation, with one in four Texans living without insurance. That translated into 5.7 million Texans with no coverage. Having so many uninsured Texans creates problems for the rest of us.


According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission a high rate of uninsured citizens contributes to:


Poorer health outcomes, because the uninsured have more difficulty securing access to primary and preventive care;

• Increased costs of private insurance, because those with insurance pay higher premiums to subsidize the uninsured;

Over reliance on safety net providers, including hospitals and emergency rooms, for care that is more expensive than care received in another setting, such as a doctor’s office;

An increased likelihood of hospitalization for the uninsured for conditions that are avoidable; and

Increased mortality rates.


What anecdotes could President Obama relate that would be sadder than these grim statistics? Insuring Aunt Mable might make her family feel better, but common sense economics tells the rest of us that we’d all be better off reforming the health care system.


Vickie Buenger

Bryan, Texas

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Exclaim

July 2, 2009

Lest you wondered whether I would have enough room to store all the lanyards that Friends of Erin have made on the four Fridays we have met this summer, worry no longer. My California sister-in-law texted me Sunday night.

Quin: How many lanyards do you have in stock?

Vickie: About 50.

Quin: What about necklaces and eyeglasses chains?

Vickie: A few of each.

Quin: Overnight all please.

And the people exclaimed, "Wow!"

This was just days after Elaine had returned from Mo Ranch, having taken about 15 lanyards and returned with one and a big pile of donations. So, stocks depleted, we have to have another push. Luckily, a goodly number of folks have Friday off this week, and what better way to warm yourself up for a three-day weekend and big Independence Day celebrations, than to squint and work your fingers to the bone stringing beads? (NOTE BENE: I do offer refreshments and lively wit in exchange for labor. Apparently, those inducements are enough to prompt a dozen novice lanyarders (?) to commit to dropping by tomorrow. And the people exclaimed, "Wow!" )

I have also had equally good fortune collecting your responses to Erin's health insurance questionnaire. As of this morning 101 kind friends have taken the time to tell me their experiences and opinions about health insurance (And the people exclaimed, "Wow!"). I want to begin compiling the responses, but I also know several of you have just not had time to click on the link on the left side bar yet. I will leave the survey open until the 10th, just for you. I'd sure like to know what happened in your family if you ever had to go without insurance, even for a short while.

On other fronts, I finished reviewing the book manuscript for Texas A&M University Press I had worked on since our DC/New York trip. And Mary Lenn exclaimed, "Wow!"

I hope the people have not exclaimed themselves into a pile of limp rags, because I have one more for you.

You know that Erin loved to sing even though I think it would be kind to say that singing wasn't her most well-developed gift. She sang in the BISD Honor choir, always starred enthusiastically as a member of the chorus at Creative Arts Camp (front row, second from the left), and
played Queen Jezebel in our church's musical production of Elijah (if you fast forward the video to about 30 seconds in you can hear her in action).



video

Why bring this up now? Another fine thing has happened that lets the ripples created by Erin's short, but powerful life continue to spread. We had a meeting with the music director at a local church this week (not our church, and not even a church that we had ever visited), who wanted our permission to commission a chorale work and dedicate it to Erin. Mark your calenders. The world premier performance of what right now is known as The Erin Anthem (but which, will no doubt have a fancier title by then) will occur at A&M First United Methodist Church in College Station on January 24, 2010. Everyone is invited.

And the people exclaimed, "Wow!"