Serial Crises at the VA

The congresspeople acting surprised at the serial crises at the Veterans Administration are a bunch of Captain Renaults. You remember, in Casablanca  he threatens to close Rick’s place because of gambling saying,  (“I’m shocked, shocked,” as the help is handling his share of the winnings. )

From the bits of history I’ve picked up, the problems have been frontva and center since 2000. Promises were made; no money was forthcoming; more commitments were made; no money was forthcoming.

Wars ratcheted up but the money for protective gear wasn’t there. Combat military men and women were surviving injuries that killed their predecessors. But there was no extra money for research on TBI and prosthetics. In the meantime, budgets were cut.

The Renaults in Congress have obviously not visited a veterans’ hospital since, well maybe forever. Otherwise they would see the reception areas with lines – this after the initial appointments that take more than a year. They haven’t seen the peeling paint, loose floor tiles, (not a good thing for people with canes and walkers, and so forth), parking that feels like one has to walk to another state. (That part ebbs and flows depending on whether a guard is available).

Oh, and the cafeterias – their food options seem designed to give the diners coronary artery disease. I’m not saying eliminate the pastries and the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches – but offer more fruit and maybe a few more veggie options.

It might be good to encourage the staff to choose healthy  too. I find it really discouraging to walk into any healthcare facility and see that much of the staff looks unhealthy. Not a good message.

But … there may be good news. I heard today that a congressperson had contacted a veteran who is not even a constituent and inquired about the benefits and benefits for a family member.

Am I allowed to hope? Or will there be another “I’m shocked” moment in a year when there’s no more money, many more disabled veterans, and everyone is a year older?

Still She Rises

So many words have been written about the poet, memoirist, script writer, activist, singer, actress Maya Angelou that I hesitate to add my lesser contribution. The tributes are intimidating and lyrical, except for the one in WaPo about M.A. as a gun owner.

Here goes, anyway.

I cannot remember the first time I read her work. It was almost mayacertainly I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and almost certainly shortly after its publication in 1970. All I know is that Ms. Angelou has been in my life and on my shelves for all my adult life. Her output was astonishing considering all of her activities that didn’t involve writing. (See list above).

It is inconceivable that there will be no new take on rock, river, and tree; no more lilting, earthy voice; no more strong advocacy for the oppressed. But I know she will continue to be an inspiration for Oprah and for the rest of us still in need of the rock-solid image of a strong woman who will not back down.

Most of all I know I can turn to her words as I need them. And at the moment I’m savoring “Phenomenal Woman.”

I close with the words she wrote in her tribute to Nelson Mandela: “We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all.”

RIP, Maya Angelou. You will live on in your daughters.

What I’m Reading Now

Another in an occasional series. Once again, I have no idea where I learned about this mystery series created by I.J. Parker. And once again, I finished The Dragon Scroll before I started this entry.

dragonThe detective is a young aristocrat (she describes him as “impecunious descendant” of his family), who lives in Japan during the Heian era. The book opens in A.C.E. 1014 and takes Sugawara Akitada from Kyoto, then the capital, into the countryside. His mission is to learn what happened to three shipments of tax payments, along with the escorts, that left one of the eastern provinces but never made it to emperor’s coffers.

Parker sets up the story with an attack on a young noblewoman. Nothing more comes of this brief incident until after the mystery of the tax payments is resolved and then it comes an afterthoughr with minimal connection to the investigation into the missing money, goods, and people.

The main tale winds on an awfully long and convoluted trip from Point A to Point X. In that regard it’s much like the story of the Tale of Genji, and so fits form to content.

The characters, too, have a stock quality. Akitada seems a befuddled young man. Then there is the wise older servant, the impetuous and not wholly honest younger sidekck. There are the various suspects – the governor, the military man, the monk, etc. I couldn’t engage with any of them. And with one exception, the women are cyphers. Skilled in martial arts, Ayako is a fascinating creature, and I hope she makes a return appearance in later novels.

Despite these drawbacks I will give at least one more Sugawara Akitada mystery a try because of the wealth of information about Japan that Parker supplies without becoming didactic. For example, our hero’s education includes Chinese language and culture. He models his behavior on the Confucian precepts of ethics and dislikes the Buddhist faith practiced by the aristocracy.

Parker also gives the first two chapters a date: Leaf-Turning Month (September) and Gods-Absent Month (November). I wish she had continued that practice in later chapters.

Her greatest strength is the poetic descriptions of the settings:

The back gate of the empty mansion swung loose in the wind, and [Akitada] stopped in for a look at the garden. The studio slept under a mantel of white. At the small pond, [the] fish rose from the black depths at his approach, still expecting their owner’s hand dispensing food. But only snow fell and melted on the black water. One by one the silver and gold shapes turned and sank again to the bottom. When Akitada left, he looked back. His steps marred the pristine white paths, perhaps never to be swept again. He latched the gate behind himself.

My Office

Thanks, New Yorker
Thanks, New Yorker

The state of the office has been a recurring theme on this blog, though Bluehost has deleted previous entries. I’m once again embarking on the cleaning adventure. Here’s a brief recap of a few adventures:

  • February 1, 2013: On working at home: “Keeping the workspace organized. I never achieved this admirable goal in any of the offices where I’ve worked. Why should I be successful just because the office is in my house? … On those rare occasions when I do tidy up, I waste more time in the following days looking for the stuff I’ve put away.”
  • June 22 2012: “This update is so depressing I almost don’t want to include it. I began excavating my office on May 12 (“Clean Up” and “Cleaning Up (Again)“) and have not yet finished. Some of the piles I started are still in the living room. The floor in the study has new stacks of books and papers. Is there a cure for the depression that sets in when one feels confronted by an impossible task? And I don’t consider ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream’ a solution.”
  • March 31, 2012: “I spent an unfortunate afternoon trying to clean my office. I keep telling myself it’s always darkest before the dawn.”
  • January 27, 2012: “I spent the better part of the morning in a frustrating search for sources for an essay, then later wore myself out excavating the floor and desk in my office.”
  • August 2, 2011: “The blog will be up and down, on and off this week as I’m cleaning the office.”
  • March 11, 2011: “Did a major office cleaning, finding memorabilia back to 2008 and enough cat fur to make a blanket.”
  • March 1, 2011: ‘In Computer Hell:”” While the computer was on strike,“ I cleaned my office. It felt like I was suffocating in an avalanche of paper — or maybe it was the dust, cat fur, etc. It was amusing to unearth stuff from 2007 — I honestly thought I’d cleaned it more recently than four years ago. Poor little Isis doesn’t know what to make of the bare floor. There’s no more paper for her to play ‘tunnel and disperse.’ “

That’s enough for now.

Seven Minutes

Two quick workout options presented themselves in the last few weeks. One actually came from an old, old (as in 2013) NYT Mag, which I had saved but buried under a huge pile o’ other clippings. I think if I actually cleaned up the pile, I’d be in great shape – all those trips to the recycle bin. The other was in the April/May issue of AARP Mag, which I don’t normally read but it had Patrick Stewart on the cover …

Anyway, both of these items concerned the seven-minute workout. NYT had twelve exercises, each done for thirty seconds with a ten-second rest between each session. The AARP version had just for, still with thirty seconds of exercise but with fifteen in between.

Since I couldn’t walk today – well I could have if I’d wanted wet feet and the possibility of getting soaked and/or hit by lightning – so I thought give the workout a try.

The impossible side plank, courtesy of the NYTimes
The impossible side plank, courtesy of the NYTimes

First plus: there’s an app for that.

I downloaded “The 7-Minute Workout” on my iPhone, which is great because it would have taken me way more than ten or even fifteen seconds to figure out what I was supposed to do next.

  • So how’d I do? The jumping jacks (AARP includes) were surprisingly easy considering I hadn’t done any since middle school. Chalk that up to the walking and the T-T hike and the odd spin on the stationary bike.
  • Wall sits worked fine once I found a bare stretch of wall to sit on so I probably only got twenty-seven seconds.
  • Push-ups? Ha! I cheated by doing them with bent knees. (AARP says it’s OK.)
  • Abdominal crunches went OK until I figured out I was doing them with legs straight up instead of on the floor.
  • Step-ups onto chair: I lost a couple of seconds running to the stairs because the chair was way too high. Otherwise also fine.
  • Squat. (AARP includes) I started to shake and sweat but got through it.
  • Triceps dip on chair. I think I cheated by not extending all the way up but go through.
  • Planks. (AARP includes). Ha! I made it through about fifteen seconds, started to shake and collapsed round twenty.
  • High knees running in place. OK but I should have more space.
  • Lunges worked also fine except I ditto on the room.
  • Push-ups and rotation. Double HA! I don’t even know how to do them and realized afterward that I never extended my free arm. Shaking to the max and sweating through my T-shirt.
  • Side plank. Oh, sure. This would be HA HA HA if I could breathe! Will practice the last two before I try the full routine again.

Shredding My Life

I’m writing this in paragraphs because Bluehost won’t let me single- space the poetry.

The scrip for the antibiotics for the first dental implant/ Listening to Kinky Friedman on Dr. G’s iPod/Odd spot for an office:/in  tiny office park /down the street from a strip mall/most stores closed, space forever abandoned

The NYTimes that cost $4.50, then $5/Much more of interest then/Is it me?/The invasion of the Web?/Bad choices by editors?/Bad choices of editors?

The Goddess
The Goddess

Oil bill for $700 for the entire winter/Before the new triple-pane windows downstairs/Now it’s $700 a fill- up/The oil spill by the firebox that began in January is spreading

Isis’s annual checkup: $45/My boss KHRIII called it “lube, oil, and filter”/No extra charge for the assault on the doctor/No extra charge for cleaning up the vomit in her cat carrier/I miss her every day

Paper bill for Verizon/No more Verizon

Paper bill for Direct TV/No more Direct TV

1040s with lots of attachments but not much money/No more paper 1040s/Now a bunch of computer files/Still lots of attachments/Still not much money

Goodbye, 2007.



Final Brit

Here we complete the leap across the pond.

  • Julia Bradbury, per her own website, a television personality

    Julia Bradbury, less scary than that Bear person
    Julia Bradbury, less scary than that Bear person
  • blah to persuade someone in a clever or slightly dishonest way to allow you to do something or to give you something
  • gunnels per, a northern dialect word for passageways between two buildings
  • snicket, per, partially vegetated alleyway or cut through in the north of England
  • naffly per Collins English Dictionary, slang for inferior
  • chamfered per Collins English Dictionary to cut a narrow flat surface on a beam
  • Happy Mondays gig per its own website a scary-looking comedy troupe of six guys and a woman
  • clough per the Free Dictionary, a gorge or narrow ravine
  • salopettes per Oxford Dictionary, a one piece garment similar to overalls with a front flap and shoulder straps
  • hag/grough per the Free Dictionary a natural channel or fissure in a peat moor

And here are the words that I couldn’t find given the context:

  • maroon as in  “last-gasp, never-to-be-used safety measure, like a maroon or cyanide tablet”
  • turn as a person
  • currick and hushes, which appearing with cairns and sink-holes, are probably some type of geological formations


More Brit

Here we continue proving that we are a people divided by an ocean and by a common tongue.

  • bothy per Merriam-Webster online – a hut
  • finca – estate
  • shambolic — confused and badly organized
  • Kendal mint cake per the BBC – an energy candy, containing mostly sugar and mint but no flour or eggs. It was also banned in the USA at one point because cakes were supposed to have flour.
  • mobbish per – British slang for “destructive behaviour”

    Bear Grylls looks like he's hanging from a tree.
    Bear Grylls looks like he’s hanging from a tree.
  • Bear Grylls, per his own website, “one of the most recognized faces of survival and outdoor adventure.” Personally I think he’s kind of scary looking.
  • Blue Remembered Hills per its own website —  a television play that began in 1979
  • wine gums per photos online – a type of candy that looks like Jujubes that contain no wine — see Kendal mint cake, above.
  • Belfast sink, per blog.specifinder –  a square kitchen sink with a “weir overflow.”

Talking Brit

I should call this entry fun with words, but it’s too close to Words with Friends.  What follows is the first of my forays into the world of words from across the Pond, based on Walking Home.  All definitions are from the Cambridge Dictionary online unless otherwise noted.

  • yomp: to walk quickly and energetically, usually while carrying a lot of equipment, often said of soldiers
  • Victoria sponge (from BBC Food): a double-layer sponge cake with fresh berries and whipped cream placed between the layers
  • biro: a type of ball point pen
  • pac-a-mac:  per ebay an anorak “comes with stuff sack.” Mine is too hideous to photograph.
  • abseil: to go down a very steep slope by holding on to a rope that is fastened to the top of the slope
  • dosh: money
  • leylandii: per its own website a popular hedge or tree
  • clunner: per Collins English Dictionary, a variation of chunter, which per Cambridge means to complain, especially in a low voicewellies
  • Barbour jacket: per, a casual looking jacket that can cost up to $419 for “waxed cotton.” Here are the Wellies to go with the jacket.
  • shell suit per the Daily Mail on line, “Based on the track suit, the brightly colored polyester trouser and jacket outfit…” also voted worst fashion item of the last 50 years. The model was that Brit TV personality suspected of serial child molesting.

More to follow.


‘Walking Home’ Again

Having come to the end of Simon Armitage’s Walking Home, I want to write another commentary and revise some of what I said before. I take back, in part, the complaint about the lack of poetry. There is some but not enough. Also, the ending left me wildly disappointed. My favorite sentence remains: “A woman plays the Northumberland pipes; from where I’m sitting … it looks like she’s giving physiotherapy to a small marsupial wearing callipers and smoking a bong…” And my favorite bit of information: They played Pooh sticks!

And I share his “anxiety disorder”:  As he walked he worried about the poetry reading; as he read, he worried about the walk. Boy, can I identify!

Before I get to the long list of new words, here are some observations on British English. Besides “tyre” for “tire,” and “judgement” for “judgment,” we have pretty much abandoned “doughnut” for “donut.” I’ve never seen the word “tarmack” used as a verb, nor would I ever refer to a packet of mustard as a sachet.

Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage

Some of these Britishisms create delightful images: “posh Wellies,” which Armitage says have a buckle on the side. But the Hunter company’s catalogue indicates that all the models, for men and women, come that way now. So I guess we’d all have to be “posh” if we bought them, which I have now decided never to do.

The noun “fell” in Brit-speak means, according to the Cambridge dictionary, a hill or a rise of land. On this side of the pond, Emily Dickinson has the best usage, as an adjective: “House is being ‘cleaned.’ I prefer pestilence. It is more classic and less fell.” I prefer the E.D. version.

Here are the words I did not know that I found in the American Heritage Dictionary:

  • beck – a small brook,
  • lurcher – a crossbred dog used by poachers,
  • tup – ram (which I’ve seen before, probably in Willie S.),
  • tormentil – a plant with yellow flowers,
  • conurbation – a metropolitan area,
  • rota – rotation,
  • pipit – a type of songbird,
  • Theodolite – a surveying instrument,
  • saloon – a sedan.

Note: Spel Czech (my version of spell check) didn’t recognize recognize any of the above except “fell” and the American spellings.

Tomorrow: Definitions I had to locate in English-English dictionaries and elsewhere.