Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Homeschooling, in SALON

We are back in the new school year, and here in a new town, so I find myself answering some familiar questions about home schooling from people I meet.

I am glad they ask, it means they are open and curious. Sometimes people seem disapproving, and there are certainly some assumptions made by people about home schooling. But most people seem genuinely curious.

The main questions I hear when we move to a new place and make new friends are: "Why do you home school?" "What about socialization?" and something along the lines of, "How do you do it? Do you start in the morning and go all day like in regular school?"

I thought I'd do a blog on these 3 questions at a later date. But first in this blog I'd like to link to two interesting perspectives on homeschooling from the left-of-center home school crowd, in links below.

For my more traditional friends, also want to add I am not advocating taking your children to bars late at night or "un-schooling."

But I digress...

There are some interesting points and perspectives in these links, especially about socialization (most famously and capably handled by Susan Wise Bauer in the homeschooling classic, The Well-Trained Mind, intended for non-sectarian home schoolers as well as Christian ones) and also specialization.

Home schoolers are a group of diverse people. After all, people rarely fit rigidly into one mold. There is a spectrum of people involved on home schooling -- politically, financially, and culturally -- and they overlap in areas. Going to a home schooling convention or meeting or support group can mean sitting next to people you would otherwise never cross paths with, and enjoying it. It is good.

I know of a home schooling mom whose children wear school uniforms and sit in a row in little desks. I have met moms whose children wear their pajamas until noon and do their school sprawled across the floor.

Most of us fall somewhere in between. Both of these approaches would make me a little crazy, though when we moved here before our furniture did, we had no choice but to do our workbooks on the carpet. (And you know, the good news is that the kids were able to do it. An unintended consequence of home schooling can be flexibility -- mentally and physically -- cue wry smile.)

I saw this diversity among home schoolers more in China than in anywhere else, where, due to the exorbitant cost of private schooling and the Mandarin and communist nature of public schooling, many expat. women home schooled who otherwise wouldn't.

Confessions of a Homeschooler

Sour Grapes

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Top 10 Reasons to Home School

10. Pajamas and pancakes during memory work and devotions.

9. You can safely doze off during afternoon SSR (sustained, silent reading)

8. I get to go on every field trip. Heck, I get to pick every field trip!

7. It is socially acceptable to cuddle during read-alouds.

6. The kitchen crew is available during morning hours.

5. My human encyclopedia, Will, is always at the ready with scientific data.

4. Three little words: Done By One.

3. No need to flatten down cowlicks except on Sundays.

4. Owning lots of good Kingfisher and DK books!

3. The town library, the nature preserve, and Starbucks are satellite locations.

2. Vacations in the off season!

1. The learning never stops...for mom, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Matthew Henry quotes

Quotes from Matthew Henry

I have a brand new Matthew Henry commentary on the Bible ("Nelson's Super Value Series!") which I got from Borders this summer.

From Romans:

"And we all know how soon a man will contrive, against the strongest evidence, to reason himself out of the belief of what he dislikes"

From Exodus:

"It is a sign of guilt to be angry at reproof."

"Sometimes the Lord suffers the rod of the wicked to lie very long and very heavy on the lot of the righteous."

About our attitude towards the church and the foibles of its members: "But we must take heed of being set against the ways and people of God, by the follies and peevishness of some persons that profess religion."

On Moses faithful mother and his little reed boat, "And if the weak affection of a mother were thus careful, what shall we think of Him, whose love, whose compassion is, as himself, boundless? Moses never had a stronger protection about him...than now, when he lay alone, a helpless babe upon the waves. No water, no Egyptian, can hurt him. When we seem most neglected and forlorn, God is most present with us."

Genesis and Dysfunctional Families

The kids and I just finished Genesis in the mornings, and we noted the following repeating themes coming down through the generations of God's people, starting with Cain and Abel and moving on down through the ages. Faith marks this family -- many of them have great faith in acting as God commands, and following His commands to move great distances, but there are some markers of dysfunction we took as a warning for all of us today.

* Brothers as rivals and competitors
* Jealousy and/or favoritism, as a partial cause of the above, and always simmering under the surface
* Trickiness! "Parsing" words
* Marital infidelity

Monday, August 3, 2009

Escape from Presence

Here is an amusing and insightful excerpt from an old Cary Tennis column in Salon. It is about the increasing inability of all of us -- in this virtual world -- to achieve Absence. (And here I am, blogging on it. Rich.)

...The problem is compounded by the fact that the very definitions of presence and absence have changed; absence has become contingent; presence has become inescapable. No matter where we are, our virtual selves remain under surveillance.

Until recently, one could actually achieve absence. One could go somewhere and be gone. The traveler would send postcards. The postcards would have pictures of beaches or statues. They would be eagerly awaited and gratefully received. Absence was simple. It was an absolute condition, soon relieved by presence. Presence was also an absolute condition.

No more.

Now absence and presence are contingent and variable, matters of degree and form. A person may cease responding to e-mail and achieve a sort of absence although he or she remains in place. Or a person may go to India and yet be as present as always.

A version of us is always present. We are over-connected. We spy on each other from afar.
The quality of our absence is thus degraded. Absenceness is a precious resource we are fast running out of. Soon there will be nothing but presence. We will wish we could go away but will not be able to. The pain of constant presence will be too much for some to bear; it will be a torture like that of sleep deprivation. There will be a rash of virtual suicides, in which people disconnect themselves and appear to be dead. We will have virtual funerals for them. This will all come in time...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Poetry readings, a photo film negative

I acquired from Borders a cd on sale of modern poets reading their own poetry in scratchy worn recordings -- Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Yeats (!), Dylan Thomas.

I am struck by how, generally speaking, to be a poet is NOT to be a stage entertainer. The few poems I have listened to so far are read hurriedly, abashedly by poets who seem shy to be reading their own work. Frost fairly flies through his great poems, and dismisses his famous "Two Roads" poem with a hasty muttering at the end: that's "an easy poem."

After a few of these, I skipped ahead to Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" where pain enters the production and the broken anger of a daughter does scratch in her voice.

It is painful to hear, to listen to, painful to read. Dark, tragic, lost, pitiful soul. The poem is a wretchedly truthful portrait of the wretched state of mind a bad father bequeaths to his daughter, the inclinations to patricide (metaphorically if not literally), the heavy-hearted plodding in and out of relationships with bad men looking for one pitiful chance to redeem -- to win -- paternal love. We've all know women who have been burdened in life by a harsh or distant or tragically neglectful father -- girls born to pillagers (emotional or physical) instead of the shepherd.

This poem is a negative -- like on photo film; in displaying what can be wrong, it divulges the importance of fathers in viewing life, self and the divine..."a bag full of God," as she says.

And who could redeem a broken soul from this, but God himself?

Silvia Plath
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time---
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du. ...

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through. ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

1899 Farmhouse

Some friends of ours here in North Texas, a fun and talented couple, just opened their new business. It is a facility for events like weddings, reunions, parties, and so on in a lovely country setting with an historic old farmhouse and large covered area and pool on the property.

Locals, check it out if you are looking for such a venue! Here is the link!
1899 Farmhouse

Thursday, April 2, 2009

On current events

But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?

...It cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed as its price

...From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living
And concealed from the birds of the air.

...God understands the way to it, and he knows it's place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.

...And he said to man, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding"

Job 28:12, 15, 20, 21, 23, 28

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yahweh, Yahweh...

Yahweh. Yahweh. Still I'm waiting for the dawn.

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit

Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean

Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don't make a fist no

Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it pray

(This is a U2 song. Usually it is David's provenance to quote U2, I know. Surely these words are for us all in the church.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ben's First "Story"

First Ever 'Written-Down' Story by our First Grader:

Abraham Lincoln
by Ben Chamberlin

Abraham Lincoln lived in a cabin in Kentucky. He read the Bible. He was brave and honest. He was President of the United States.

Short and sweet: Hemingway would approve.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Wood Between the Worlds: Reflections on Moving

...About to embark on my 23rd move (I think that is the final count). This one is from Texas to somewhere in the NYC metro area. Growing up I attended 10 schools from 1st grade on, and as an adult I have continued in the moving tradition, albeit in the civilian world.

In bit of cosmic humor, one week after the For Sale sign went up in the yard, the Allen, Texas (our town) "Welcome Wagon" called to send me a packet and welcome us to Texas. That's how we roll. We relocate before the Welcome Wagon can catch us!

The house is up for sale on MLS, and the bedrooms are abnormally clean and half empty (thanks to underbed storage). Lamps are tastefully lit in rooms where there are no people. I am burning vanilla on tinfoil in the oven on purpose. Come in to my house, said the spider to the fly.

It's like a pretend family lives here, like that house in the desert in that recent Indiana Jones movie, the set of a movie. The computer is set to all of the online listings sent by our realtor in New Jersey several times a week.

Here, in this sunny southern town -- a town where we have played little league and bought groceries and attended congregational meetings -- we suddenly have now have become short-timers.

And I have begun especially appreciating the things I always liked about this house that I am about to vacate. There are big brown bunnies that come right up to our long kitchen windows for bird seed...right where we do the pledge of allegiance and our calendar each day! I'll miss the woodpecker that lives in the tree behind us on the creek, and his little red head and his busy work at his hole. I'll miss the gorgeous, rich and textured, handscraped hardwood floor the last owners installed. It feels nice and gently bumpy on barefeet. The soft, warm pale yellow color of the walls. My neighbor who is always good for a mid-day chat session by the mail box.

I look at the folks in our loving church and see them with a certain warmth and affection brought by new distance. I suddenly notice that there is one lady at church who seems to help with everything. That is, I vaguely knew it before, but now it hits me with the force of clarity. I notice the new people at church, and suddenly realize they almost belong here more than I do. I notice that an elder looks tired and that the Hot Topic everyone is caught up in will actually probably work out fine either way. I think I begin to see things from the perspective of "When We Stop Back To Visit In Two Years."

And within myself, I feel a drawing back, and moving ahead, even as I realize I have no home yet to go to. It's a funny, Navy kid feeling. An in-between feeling, like the Wood Between the Worlds in that CS Lewis book about the dawning of time.

A softness steals over me as I withdraw -- not my affection, but something else -- like ownership. There is sadness, yes, and, strangely, also a bit of a relief, an almost spiritual sort of shedding of cares. When you are forced to say good bye to things and people you love and don't want to leave, you find you are a little sharper in thought, a little more streamlined in your life and person, a little more dependent on fundamentals.

The busy-ness suddenly becomes more internal, now that I am withdrawn from ministry obligations, from kids' sports, from whatever good and right plans I would have been making for a Texas summer. I find my focus narrowing. I am still busy -- actually more so -- but in a focused, wagons-circled kind of way, an inward way, and my outward view broadens and perhaps clarifies.

I am even more simply a wife and mom concerned with making and finding a home and a church -- discussing options and plans with David, schooling the kids, working on the special issues with them, keeping the house very clean, calling movers and getting estimates, finishing up with doctors and dentists.

We both, David and I, go back to some our old timeworn jokes and ways, we revert back to our more original selves. "Love yer show babe," I say. I think about when we were engaged. I think about the Ryder truck to California. I think about the drive to Denver.

I remember that sometimes this kind of thing would happen when I was a working girl, with respect to work concerns. Some giant issue would suddenly loom up at work, and we would all drop our other work concerns and hunch together and give all of our days to handling this event, or paper, or issue. There is a sort of purgative relief in streamlining like this.

And yes, it makes the eventual falling back into the variety of settled cares a relief and a novelty, too. Vive la Variety!

Eat, drink, learn, reflect. The Wood Between the Worlds.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Re-posting in honor of my friends who have recently had children: Jenn, Cindy, Laura... and Sarah, who is about to...

Drawing Room

It seems to me that babies are sprouting forth in other families all around me, so here I sit thinking about babies and pregnancy, of all things.

I am thinking, pregnancy is masculine. This is only right, for after all, a man is closely involved. The womb is New York City, it is a large, rumbling construction site of vessels and muscles and belly, swollen with doings and slow traffic and shut down for days, months, longer than predicted. All kinds of activities and such re-routed, things grind to a standstill, then a rush of activity.

Mom at Work! There should be orange Detour signs, No Traffic Today, Not This Month, Not This Summer, Expect Delays! Go the other way! Ok, Stand and Watch, but Stay Back behind the tape. We should all be wearing hard hats and giving cat calls and surveying the scene with our thumbs in our pockets. The baby finally emerges and looks like he has been in a brawl, red and blue and puffy and gasping and clenched.

But, of course, pregnancy is also feminine. It is, as the Psalmist says, like knitting.

There is fine needlework being done deep down in the womb -- a genteel drawing room, private and hushed. There are delicate, tiny, original stitches... the infinite, infinitesimal, industrious click-clicking of molecule upon molecule weaving and fitting, a little friendly gossip between the soul and body, the DNA taking tea.

Did you know, the face forms itself from the outside in? It meets in the middle and leaves it's little calling card, which is the dimple and bow of your upper lip. In a child born with a cleft lip, like my boy, Ben, you can see where the face did not meet, the introduction wasn't properly made, and there was a scandal. And always the placenta pours the precise mix of blood and vitamins in, the little toes and hands grasp and push away the cup. There is the clink of saucers, a polite chuckle, a murmur. Then -- shhh -- the baby is sleeping!


An Inch and a Universe

I write this on an old spiral after a day at dog obedience school, clearing out branches and logs from the storm, and shuttling to and fro the repair shop... the flotsam of suburban life.

I look down at my Vestal belly, untroubled by improvements and besotted with metaphor. It is Greek Hestia's belly, or the Victorian "Angel at the Hearth," or the Hearth itself where babies are warmed, a Garden where babies are grown.

In college it was tight and brown and good to look at, good for tanning and pink bikinis. But it has been about more important business since then. Now it is good for holding babies. It is good Rx for scraped knees and stubbed toes, a pillow for tired brown heads in church, a place to bury your face when you feel shy or afraid, a warm and friendly place.

It is stretched and functional, criss-crossed with the lines and shiny stretches of 3 babies and some surgeries. It bears the haphazard tic-tac-toe of gestation and trauma, the hard work of hammering out and making people. My dad remarks (a military man), "Your Marine friends would be jealous!" But surely if I hung out with Marines, I wouldn't be showing them my belly!

William, once and years ago you were a baby inside, elbowing my abdomen, forcing me to take up your desperate agenda. One inch of skin separated me from you. One inch of skin and womb between mother and son, and it may as well have been a mile. There was a human pressed to my heart and kicking my ribs, and I had never met him. I hadn't met you.

I'd seen many strangers and never you. And there would be no hurrying our introduction -- that grand introduction. The brutal miracle, this labor of desire, forged by your father's heat and shaped in your mother's lap -- and you, a different soul, separate from us, little squawking man. And now my tall and lanky brown-eyed boy, catcher of baseballs, reader of science encyclopedias, eater of large cookies... irrevocably you.

God's creation. Holy to the Lord. Never early, never late. I wait.

"As it is written, 'Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'" Luke 10: 23

Monday, February 23, 2009

Step by Step Lasik: details for those considering it

This will be a boring post for anyone not interested in having Lasik eye surgery. I am writing it because a few be-spectacled friends have asked for details of my recent Lasik surgery here in Dallas. I learned some good information from bloggers, myself, before I had the surgery.

Before I had Lasik (on February 6), my eyeglass prescription was 20/750. The next morning after Lasik, I was seeing "20/20 plus" -- ie, a little better than 20/20.

The only complications for me have been occasional dry eyes -- the expected complication for up to 3 months following -- and a blood clot/streak on my eye, mostly covered by my lid, which I don't feel at all. This is also supposed to go away. I have been warned to expect to wear reading glasses a bit sooner than I would have.


I spent years looking into this procedure and was screened by 3 different places -- Johns Hopkins, a Texas Laser Center calls Cornea Associates (recommended by an opthalmologist -- just a preliminary screening), and UT Southwestern (Zale-Lipshy) Laser Center.

My prescription was steep and my corneas moderately thin, so when I was screened at John's Hopkins 3 1/2 years ago, the doctor recommended I wait until the next generation of machine came out. This would allow me to take advantage of the best "Wavefront" machine possible and get the best results, rather than settling for a different, less precise kind of surgery. (More on that later)

I settled on UT Southwestern while here in Texas, because it was recommended by 2 trusted people and because it is a teaching hospital. I had heard that a teaching, university hospital like this would be more likely to have a long-view towards eye care, and also would not be as profit-driven. In other words, if it would be wiser for me to to wait, or not do, the surgery, I wanted the doctor to be very likely to so advise, and not be concerned about making money.

It is also important, as you search, to find a place which publishes their results, and to find a place where a surgeon, not a tech, will perform the procedure.

I was screened preliminarily, then later in-depth, at UT. Because of my still-borderline cornea thickness issue, the doctor decided to take measurements the day of surgery again, before he made a final decision on type of procedure. He would then determine, that day, whether to do conventional Lasik or the more "tissue hungry" Wavefront (more expensive by $350 per eye, better, more precise results, but uses more corneal tissue to get them).

Day of Surgery

The day of the surgery, the doctor took me in for some more measurements, and gave the go-ahead for for Wavefront. Hooray!

I understand many places prescribe Valium. UT did not offer that, and I didn't request it, as I don't like how it makes me feels.

The first step on the day of surgery was taking the basic measurements again. Then my eyeballs were numbed with drops and the doctor marked on my eyeball with permanent marker. (Funny!) He said he does this, because when we lie down, our eye shifts a bit, and this pre-marking would allow him to get his bearings.

Before I went in, they asked if I had any questions, and I requested that the doctor verbally walk through everything he did as he did it, so that I could know what was going on during the procedure. The doctor told me afterward that it is actually his policy to verbally walk through things, so that his assistants can catch him if he misses a step. I liked knowing that, even later!

This particular doctor is also a professor and has an entourage of interns and an experienced assistant or two following him around and assisting him. So along the way he explained different technical things to them out loud. He also had an assistant double check certain things he had done -- measurements and settings -- before he proceeded to do them. Two thumbs up! I'm all in favor of reducing human error!

After having the measurements done, my eyes were marked, and my eye balls numbed with drops again, and I was led to a room for the first part of the procedure, in which the corneal flaps are cut on each eye. This is the first of two parts of the operation where you have to hold yourself very still for a few seconds. This is also the part of the procedure where your eyes are open, but your vision goes black.

When I was laying down, one of the nurses gave me a teddy bear (I must confess, I thought this was extremely silly, but apparently this is standard operating procedure. It gives you something to clench onto if you feel the need to -- and I did end up clenching it at points, so I guess it made sense). A speculum is put in your eye to hold your eye open and your eyeball still.

The thing to know about this first part of the procedure is that there is pressure and significant manhandling of the eyeball, but it doesn't hurt. The eyeball itself has been numbed. The manhandling is more disconcerting on the first eye. When they do the second eye, it is not as disconcerting. (Because it has happened before! Like so many things in life.) In this first stage, the flap is cut and suddenly things go dark. I saw golden stars, too. (A special treat?)

After both eyes have their flaps cut, you are told to lay still for 15 minutes. I asked why and I can't remember what the answer was. David had asked after me out in the lobby, and so a nurse came in to tell me, which was sweet. The nurses were very diligent about putting numbing drops in my eyes frequently all during the procedure -- maybe 3 or 4 times or more during the time I was having the procedure done.

There are clear plastic goggles on your eyes while you are waiting, but you can "see" again (still with poor eyesight but things are not black anymore). After 15 minutes, I was moved to a new room and I lay down under the special Allegretto laser machine, and the room was darkened.

At this point began the second part of the procedure. The machine's "coordinates" (my word choice) were set for my eyes. (Basically, my measurements were entered in a computer.)

The beauty of Wavefront technology is that the computer is able to precisely re-sculpt the eye to not only correct the basic prescription, but also to smooth and correct other natural irregularities (and all eyes have them, even 20/20 ones). This makes vision even clearer and cuts down on night vision issues and haze issues -- essentially making a smoother eye than found in nature.

I believe (this is my lay understanding) the special thing about the Allegretto version of Wavefront is that the wave pulses are faster than ever, and even better at correcting/accounting for tiny movements of the eyeball. Apparently, even when you hold very still and look at one point, your eye moves a tiny bit. These newer machines are able to account for that to a greater degree.

The machine came on, and I was told to look at the green light and not to stop looking at the green light, and to hold still. This "holding very still" was just for a 22 seconds, and the nurse kept updating me on elapsed time. It is not long at all.

But this was the time I felt a little bit of panic. For some reason, my mind played that horrible trick on me in which it wants to do the exact thing it is not supposed to do, and I felt driven to look away from the green light. Sort of the "Don't think of a pink elephant" phenomenon. I kept feeling an almost irresistible urge to look away from the green light! I prayed fervently -- that I would keep staring straight at the light -- and I did. Whew!

The second eye went much better, especially since I had experienced how short a period of time the whole process really is. This is not a painful process either, but one does smell a mild burning smell while the laser is cutting. I don't know if the smell was the machinery or my eye tissue.

The flaps are pulled back, and then a funny thing happens. The doctor takes, essentially, a tiny squeegie, and spends a good bit of time smoothing down the flap's edges and pushing out any air bubbles. In fact, the funny thing is, you get to watch the tiny squeegie at work on your eye, and you don't feel it because of the numbing drops!

After sitting up in the darkened room, I was given goggles to wear, told not to rub my eyes (I scrunched them when I shut them and they all exclaimed " don't do that!) and led to an exam room.

I sat down in the exam room, looked at the doctor and promptly started to cry. I could see him well without any lenses! (I am one of those who could not see the big E on the eye chart!)

All the interns were crowded round smiling, and the nurse. The nurse got teary, too, what a dear, and the doctor was simply beaming. He said tears were ok -- good for my eyes.


What a moment!

When he could get me to stop thanking him and shaking his hand, he measured me, and I was seeing 20/80. After total dependency on glasses and contacts since 4th grade -- for 30 years -- I could now already see fairly well without any lenses!


Before I left, I was given a prescription pain killer to take with food. As the numbing wears off, it really does feel like someone has taken a brillo pad to your eye. I was also handed darkened sunglasses to wear home. They advised me to keep my eyes closed for the trip home, though I confess I peeked a few times, and saw I could read license plates! Not even the "Tabasco-in-the-eye" feeling could dampen my mood!

But I have light-colored eyes, and the light was way too bright to handle, even with my eyes closed and the sunglasses, so I wrapped a sweater around my head to block out the light and get home comfortably. As soon as I got home I headed straight for the dark bedroom.

There I took the painkiller -- hydrocodone (ie generic vicodin) -- with food. But I had a reaction to it. My eye pain was significantly reduced by it, but I also spent the next 4 hours nauseous and vomiting. This is something I have frequently experienced with certain prescription painkillers and also anesthesia, so I wasn't surprised. Still, I was already so cheered by my vision results that I didn't care very much -- maybe the one time in life I have felt cheerful while vomiting!

This kind of reaction to Vicodin is not common, I don't think. Unless you're allergic to it, what I recommend is that you do take the painkiller before you even leave the laser center -- bring some food to take with it --so that you can manage your pain ahead of time.

I was also given steroid drops and antibiotic drops, to apply very frequently at first, and less frequently later. Everyone naps right after the surgery but I did not feel at all like napping -- obviously.

After explaining the whole process to my eager and curious children ("Gross, mom! That's cool!") in the darkened room, finally recovering from nausea, and chatting with my sweet mom who came to watch the kids while David helped me, I went to bed that night with goggles on. These goggles are to keep you from rubbing or scratching your eyes in your sleep. You wear them at night for a week.

The next morning, I could see with sunglasses on. As we drove to the clinic I found I could read street signs. At the exam, I was able to read part of the 20/15 line!

The weeks following this procedure I have diligently used my eye drops and the moisture drops (given by the clinic) to alleviate the occasional very mild discomfort. I did have some light sensitivity for the next day or so, no longer than that. I do wear my sunglasses a little more frequently as it is windy in Texas and that is mildly uncomfortable in terms of dryness. It's only been a few weeks. I found, for the first week, that my eyes would tire more easily, and computer work was more draining. But things have quickly settled out.

For 3 months, I need to avoid water sports and not get water in my eyes. I can shower and bathe as usual.

The benefits of this outpatient procedure -- for someone with allergies and also someone who loves the outdoors and swimming and yard work -- are huge! It is a daily, hourly delight to just go about my business without worrying about my contacts getting blurry or "goopy," and without thinking of glasses. It is wonderful to wake up and see immediately. I still get a tiny thrill each morning when I wake up and see right away!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hanging out at the State Dept, 8th Floor

There is no special order to any of these images as I don't know how to put them in any certain order. They are not even showing up in the order I selected them. Need a little blogger tutorial on that.

Oval Office Lobby and Roosevelt Room

The first 3 pictures are in the Roosevelt Room adjacent to the Oval Office. The last picture is in the Oval Office Lobby.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Utilitarian Case for Evangelism in Africa

Here's one to think about:

December 27, 2008

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.
At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.
We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.
Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.
This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. "Privately" because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.
It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.
There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: "theirs" and therefore best for "them"; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.
I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the "big man" and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.
Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.
How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? "Because it's there," he said.
To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.
And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.