“It’s the Brain, Stupid!”

Blog 1661, 20 October 2018, Saturday

Dear friend,

Walking and working outside (yard work, gratefully not ours) have been wonderful this week. My weather guru, Cliff Mass of KNKX, informs me that on this coming Tuesday all of what resembled summer will vanish under heavy clouds and a rain that stretches as far as he can see. I don’t know how far he can see, but on Tuesday I’ll dig out my rain gear. It’s been great weather, and considering that the rainiest month of the year is only eleven days away, it makes me want to sing “This time, we almost made it.” With my study for Amos on Sunday almost done, just the review happens, I’ll spend today afoot in perfect walking weather.

Yesterday we went to the eye doc to see about getting new glasses. He said, “No, you don’t need them. Your glasses are fine.” So I explained about the headaches and the weakness of my eyes and he told me the line that I’m almost not willing to share. This is what the doctor said, “It’s not your eyes, it’s your brain.” Oh. He isn’t a master of communication; he could have delivered that message a little more pleasantly. The title to this blog, “It’s the brain, stupid” a self-applied paraphrase of Bill Clinton’s campaign line that’s been Marvin-ized. As Jean kindly pointed out already, “Everyone already knew that, Marvin.” Oh. So I’ll limp through life slightly visually impaired, trying to avoid bright lights and over-use of my eyes, and be content to be as I am, hopefully for a long time. And it’s good to know the source of my problem—it’s the brain!

I’m already dreading the end of the Amos study. It’s not that Amos is a terrific book in which we loll our way through God’s gentle word to his people, it’s actually more like a alcohol-induced, three-car freeway accident. But it’s a strong word and a message of caution and an invitation to take our lives seriously. I’ve loved delving into the unknowable and yet with an assurance that defies logic. With permission of the new pastor, whoever that will be, we’ll probably teach a shorter class this winter. With blessings and a quote from Amos, “Seek good, and love good, and establish justice in the gate,” (Amos 5:15a). Love,


Walking and One-Sock Writing

Blog 1660, 18 October 2018, Thursday

Dear friend,

We’ve had two days of record highs and sunshine in mid-October. On Tuesday I opted to take a stroll instead of sitting indoors for Pastor Jim’s class. I walked just over eight miles. I came back as a sweaty mess and I got to watch the wrong teams win both baseball games. I hadn’t been aware of how far I walked; I just kept walking. At first I was in the sunny side of anywhere, later I was in the shady side. It was a glorious day and today may be as nice.

Yesterday Jean and I had lunch down at the Factoria Appleby’s. We walked. It’s about six miles, round trip and with a hill. Our trip included a necessary stop at the Great Harvest Bread Company for two scones for this morning. There go the calories we burned off. I don’t pay much attention to it on my Garmin, but yesterday I burned over 3,000 calories in walking 8.7 miles. It would have been a better day without Great Harvest, but not a better tasting day—with real butter.

I wrote this morning for two hours with one sock on. The why is insight into who (or what) I am. Generally I don’t wear sock, they keep me too warm, but sometimes socks or walking in the sand on the beach keeps your feet smooth and lovely. So for this week I’m wearing socks, being that beaches in Bellevue in October are not what I’m talking about. As I drank my first cup of coffee before heading off to one of the neighborhood Starbucks to read undisturbed, I skimmed a document someone wanted me to read and give them ideas on how to rework it. I read a little while putting on my socks. Two hours later I had an eight-page rewrite done for them and one sock on my left foot. My coffee was cold, my attention span was wavering, and I was jealous that I’d given away that effort and not kept it for myself. Had I been able to give that much attention with that kind of focus on my own work, I’d have finished that silly book I’ve been wrestling with these last few months. So today I wrote with one sock on, maybe tomorrow I’ll put a sock on the other foot and see what I can write. What if it’s a magic sock? Would my life be more interesting if I always wrote with only one sock on? So many questions I’ll have to examine. With my second sock now on but dawn interfering with my walking in the dark, I close. Love,

Jean’s Back, I’m Glad

Blog 1659,16 October 2018, Tuesday

Dear friend,

Jean was due to land at 1:05. Unusual for me, I checked on Delta flight 589 and found it was landing 40 minutes early. A mild shriek, a hearty Hi-Ho-Silver, and away I rode listening to KNKX-jazz radio rather than the William Tell Symphony. They were down by 12:30 with carry-on luggage only. It still took them a half-hour to get to the pickup site. They were fine, they’d been up late the night before (too many Wahlstroms cause a lack of sleep) and, amazingly, they hadn’t played golf. Usually when Jean gets back I get a brief report that everyone’s fine; this time there are two more casualties back there, a brother going in for major surgery and a sister-in-law with aging problems.

Speaking of aging, we got our new Medicare cards. They are no longer using our Social Security numbers for medical things, instead of 9 numbers we now have 6 numbers and 6 letters, and I sure hope no one asks me to memorize this set of 12 random digits. I think they’ll ask if you can recite your new number; if you can you’re obviously a machine.

Yesterday evening I embarrassed myself by watching YouTube. Now I’m a YouTube fan when it comes to fixing things, the dryer, the car, etc. I’ve been watching and loving short Science Fiction movies (like 6 to 20 minutes long movies on DUST). Last night they had a video on the “World’s Worst Drivers.” Nearly two hours later I was still watching. I kept telling myself to turn it off, but I’d watch just one more, one more, one more, etc. I got absolutely nothing out of it except it was entertaining and, fortunately, they didn’t have any video of me. It was mostly drunken Russians driving trucks, but not all. I feel like I concluded a really good day with garbage, and I alone was responsible. So, I’m telling you this because I feel guilty, thereby proving I am a Lutheran and am as foible-filled as anyone you know. That’s enough confession. Love,

Solo Amos

Blog 1658, 15 October 2018, Monday

Dear friend,

Generally when we teach, Jean takes the majority role and covers the material, my job is to drop thoughts into her presentation like hand grenades into wells, she may be deep but I’m louder and with shrapnel. This week she’s gone so I’ve studied too much, doing my “Solo Amos.” Alas for the class, “alas” in Hebrew being the same word when a stereotyped Jewish mother exclaims to her children, “Oi, vai! You’ll be the death of me.” “Vai” is the Hebrew word for “woe” or “alas.” Even Jesus said it, and it’s a word that invites you to rock back and forth as you utter it.

On the way home from QFC where I’d bought a little plastic box of doughnut holes for the Bible study, I picked up a “Lucky 13” lottery ticket someone had discarded in the middle of the sidewalk. It was a very easy game, in the upper left hand corner you rub off the cover of the winning number, in this case 5/Fiv. There were then five numbers called “Your Numbers” which, when you rub them off, reveal how much you made. Obviously with only ten numbers to chose from, no, wait, there’s 13 in this game, your odds of winning are almost 50%, but you could win up to $1,300 if you’re lucky enough. On this ticket, if “their” number had been a 1 you’d have won $10; 6 would have been $1300; 8 was $30; 12 was $2; and 10 was $20. Oh, the purchaser of the ticket missed winning the big prize by only one number! Do you think these people know the state only pays out 50% and keeps the other half? So, if you buy $100 worth of tickets, you can expect to win $50 back. Do it again, you’re down to $25. Etc. They don’t let you win. Carl Bennet, a former Saint Andrew’s member, friend, and statistician, assured me there was no game that even he could win. I’d like to tell that to all these people so desperate for money they throw away half their earnings, hoping to get lucky. Tossed lottery tickets make me sad. Luck happens, but it’s not something you can depend on, especially if the state controls the outcome.

And my low point of the week, not counting Jean’s absence, was the snotty clerk in the store who told me, “Well, that’s what the register says,” regarding a price of something I was buying that was on sale. So, I paid the higher price, went back to the sales item, pulled the sale sticker off the display, went back to his register, and pasted it on his counter with the words, “See, it was $____.” Said he, “That’s for the mango-jalapeno mix.” “Yup,” said I, the proud possessor of the over-charged mango-jalapeno (I’m making that up, you know) mix. That’s not nice behavior. But it was funny, although I don’t think he thought so. I left hoping he’d be the one to put the price back on the item but I doubt it.


Jeanless in Seattle

Blog 1657, 13 October 2018, Saturday

Dear friend,

Yesterday I dropped Jean and her brother off at the airport, then came back in the northbound lanes of 405, 13 miles in 45 minutes. No, I did not speed. But I’m always playing games, and in that bumper-to-bumper traffic, the Honda behind me was following too closely. I suppose if I’d been a practicing Christian, I’d have moved over one lane until that driver got ahead of me or behind me, depending on traffic, then moved back into my original lane. Instead of behaving so nobly, I thought I’d play with him. Now, I didn’t want him hitting my car, but I began tapping my brake lights, whether I was slowing, stopped, or something between. Flashing red in his face, after about a minute he, a lone, male driver, zipped around me in the Express lanes and then, a few cars ahead, pulled back into my line. His place was taken by a wonderfully and carefully driven Audi who kept a safe and sane distance. Score: Marvin 1, the world 0. Then I said, “I’m glad he wasn’t prone to epileptic seizures.” Flashing lights can set some people off. But then, as in my case, so can tailgaters.

But I did ruefully look over to that faster moving Express Lane and missed Jean all the more.

My other morning observation was made while during my pre-dawn, post-Starbucks crossing of 148th. I hit the Walk button, when the little walking figure showed up I crossed, in front of car that barely stopped short of the pedestrian path. I walked quickly, there was another car making a left turn from behind me and had to wait for me. I intentionally hurried, and while the red hand was blinking a second car was able to make the same left turn. I thought, “I wonder if anyone blesses me for hurrying” (or if they noticed) because I snarl at pedestrians who slowly amble their way across in front of me, listening to their I-phones, unmindful that cars are waiting for them to move. Senior citizens are never a problem; youthful indifference irks me. Here was my conclusion, by hurrying perhaps one in a hundred drivers blesses me with a silent prayer, which is more than I’d get if I moseyed along. And, as I am wont to do, I looked up “mosey” to make sure I had the right word and spelling and found this definition: “To go around in a dull, stupid way.” Yup, right word! I’ll go mosey through the day now. Love,

Jean Does a Marvin

Blog 1656, 12 October 2018, Friday

Dear friend,

The move back to America in 2010 was cultural leap. In this electronic age, years flip by too fast. Electronically speaking, we were gone twelve years but were twenty years behind common trends in America when we returned. We learned the rudiments, kept simpler phones, stuck with cable TV, and have slowly tried to catch up. One of our recent, large steps happened two weeks ago when we bought a $10 “Square,” that physical phone app that enables you to receive payments from someone else’s credit card. As we helped collect money for an operating budget (inadvertent pun there—the operating budget and the medical operating fees) for The Plaster House, we enabled people to use their credit cards if they wanted to contribute money.

As might be expected, the “Square” didn’t work on Jean’s G-3 phone, but did on the phone of a volunteer. We only used it three times. After the event in downtown Seattle, we moved to Barbee Mill on Lake Washington but were not willing to use the device on an unsecured web site. This last Tuesday when we moved toward Olympia for our third and final The Plaster House event, we couldn’t find the “Square.” We asked everyone who’d helped us, we speculated how it might have gotten thrown away. (“Did you throw away a dental floss container lately?” I asked Jean.) No one knew, most hadn’t even seen it when we used it.

Last night getting ready to travel to Minnesota, Jean went into our travel drawer and shrieked, “Marvin, did you find it and put it in my drawer.” “Huh?” I asked in complete innocence, not knowing what she was talking about. It seems that some elf had hidden the “Square” in the drawer where Jean keeps her little electronic stuff. She has zero recollection of doing that very logical thing. If she’d been asked to testify in a court of law where she was expected to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” she’d have committed perjury. Even after finding it, she has zero memory of putting it there. She did it.

It shakes us a little, to have no recollection of having done something. Maybe it’s a sign of her aging, however if that’s true then I’ve been aging for seventy-some years because I’m always doing that. We used to joke that if Jean misplaced something we could find it by being logical (it should have worked this time, too), but with me logic never helped. So, Jean found what she thought she lost. She had a very Marvin-esque moment. She had asked everyone we worked with about the “Square.” All were concerned but no one had any idea where it went. We found it. In the future we’ll trust ourselves a little less. There was joy and sorrow in finding the “Square.” The last line of this blog should be something like “Life is …” but I can’t decide which of the million apt words should go next. We’re well. Love,

It’s Been a Crazy Week

Blog 1655, 11 October 2018, Thursday

Dear friend,

Except for a period of slight calmness this last Monday, and possibly this coming Saturday (which, coincidentally, is the day after Jean leaves), it’s been a whirlwind week in our lives but without the damage that Hurricane Michael caused in the South. This morning I called my sister who lives south of Sarasota and learned they only had mild winds and waves of moderate rain. She also said she’s thinking of moving to Tennessee if the hurricanes continue, then she added that someone down there said this should be the last hurricane of the year because hurricane season ends at the end of November. I did not ask her the obvious questions of “So?” and “Why not?”

Jean swims this morning, sees a physical therapist later, and this afternoon we may go mow a yard. I, with not quite as hectic a life as she leads, read at Starbucks and maybe will help her mow, but that depends on how sore her neck is after the therapist. This morning I was reading John Calvin on Amos, a great moment in theology when Grumpy writes about Grouchy. It’s a fun read and fun to see where the predestinational (The view that God has actively chosen some people for damnation as well as for salvation) Calvin keeps jumping into the Amos judgments against Israel with a “See, see, see!” I think Luther is usually a much better read but I didn’t find anything he wrote about on Amos, which probably explains a lot of his thinking. Personally, I’m a “Grace and Forgiveness” kind of Christian but think “Works” is part of the seasoning that improves our flavor and life.

Tomorrow Jean flies back to Minnesota just in time for us to have some of our best autumn weather, which strikes me as acutely unfair, humorously so. She tried to get me to do a few projects while I’m home alone but I assured her that wasn’t possible. I was taking these few days for my own projects that would, if I worked non-stop on them, take me six months. I really think she was surprised by my attitude. By the time she returns Monday, I’ll have a whole list of projects I never got started on.

I add this one thought today, thank you for being there. It’s good to know someone listens, so often writers (and I suppose everyone) feels themselves to be unheard. Thank you. Love,

Letter from DiSpirito

Blog 1654, 10 0ctober 2O18, Wednesday

Dear friend,

Today I share an e-mail that came in a 1 this morning:

“Hi Jean and Marv,

I went to visit Rebecca yesterday. It had been a while since I saw her, checked in, and saw the house renovations so I wanted to go visit. She looked great! The color was back in her face; she said she has absolutely no pain. She is doing the stump wrapping to shape it for a prosthetic everyday and she is doing it well. She can still slightly feel her non-existent big toe when I press in a certain spot on her stump but the sensation is becoming less and less and she is doing a great job at massaging it. She said she is sleeping very well… I joked with her that she is sleeping more to make up for all the sleepless nights she had because of the pain.

The house looks really good! The fundis (workers) did not completely follow my instructions so the ramps are a little bit steep which makes it hard to go up them by herself. The bathroom is not the design layout I told them but it’s big enough for the wheelchair and she can safely transfer from wheelchair to toilet and to the shower chair and back, which is perfect! She seems really, really happy. The “road,” the paved pathway from her house to the bakery, is great as well; she wheeled herself down and back the whole way with me. Overall, I am very pleased. She looked really good and really happy.

She said she is getting tired of sitting! I can’t blame her there! I showed her some exercises to do. However, due to the old, poorly fitting, right prosthetic, it is unsafe for her to stand up with a walker by herself and it is difficult for her to completely weight-bear with just the one prosthetic.

I am in touch with Dr. Murilla about getting prosthetics in Nairobi. He has not been as responsive as I would like but I know he is looking into all this in his spare time because it is not what he typically does so it is very nice of him. I am hoping to learn more about this where and when soon! Will keep you updated.”

I’m sitting here in my study silently singing praises for all who helped Rebecca. The “DiSpirito” of the title of the blog is the last name of Keira, the OT (Occupational Therapist) who is covering for Sarah! while Sarah! deals with her cancer in Australia. She wrote this blog for me. What a lovely last name! It sure beats Kananen. Love, from a very happy

The Second Mad Tuesday

Blog 1653, 9 October 2018, Tuesday

Dear friend,

Today will be our third and final The Plaster House event, this one in the Lacey/Olympia area at our friend’s (Tom and Pam) home. It’s a smaller and far more informal gathering, showing the same information on The Plaster House. We have time today to attend the two Bible studies (men’s and the pastor’s), pick up the prepared African food (the cook is from Zanzibar), and drive to Olympia by 3 for the 6:30 program. I don’t really do anything except enable Jean to drive in the express lanes (that’s important) and ask questions. I’ve asked “What are the monthly mortgage payments? (None!) Cost of electricity? (None!) Water and cooking gas?” (None!) Solar and biogas and a deep well were parts of the original plan, very wise.

This is only my second blog since last Tuesday. I try to write five times a week, but this week it didn’t happen. Nothing really did. We’ve sort of been on pause until the family decided about Jean’s middle sister, Marion’s, final service. It’ll be this coming Saturday. Jean and her brother Marlyn fly out on Friday, returning Monday. No one has talked about golf yet, which means there’s probably still a 50/50 chance they play if it doesn’t snow, but no one mentions it. They thinks about it, oh, yeah; that’s called “Minnesota Funeral Etiquette.”

I think where last week went was watching baseball, ten teams I don’t really care about are playing some really interesting games and I can walk by and get caught. It feels like a scene from a Harry Potter movie, you can almost see my spirit leave my body and sit in front of the TV until the body locates it and sit back into it. Then, reunited body and spirit, we watch the rest of the game. I’ll try to make this week more interesting. Love,

Tuesday and The Plaster House

Blog 1652, 5 October 2018, Friday

Dear friend,

We spent Tuesday with a lot of people whose values and mine syncopate. NEWSFLASH: “syncopate” means to shorten, not to work together as I’d always thought. So we didn’t syncopate, we agreed so closely that we let our values flow together as we learned about the latest news from The Plaster House. With a luncheon at the Woman’s University Club of Seattle and an evening at the Barbee Mill on Lake Washington, we spent twelve hours. Amazingly, we had four people who spent all twelve hours with us and did most of the work while I stood around wondering what next to do and Jean spoke to everyone she could see, find, or hunt down. Two years ago we met in the same places and raised money for a new dorm, guesthouse, and offices at The Plaster House. This time our needs were much less, trying to find money for the added staff (I think it’s $10,000 a month for a staff of 40) and then $4/day for food, clothing, and support for children, each of whom average a stay is four to six weeks. The average cost per kid, from pickup to evaluation to surgery to healing is $850. In 2016 they helped 700 kids through the miracle of medicine. The budget for the year is $350,000. Can you realize how cheap that is for changing so many lives, actually giving a kid a lifetime of being normal?

The Plaster House (do look it up on the web: theplasterhouse.org) takes my breath away. The people we stood with make me proud, grateful, and humble by their presence. They aren’t afraid to care. Either that or they’re hopelessly romantic warriors willing to fight for change toward the betterment of life for kids, adults, animals, housing, etc. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing in their midst, I’m a grumpy pessimist who can’t even do that well.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent in therapy-free mental free-fall crashes. Next Tuesday we do it again, a one-show The Plaster House program in Olympia/Lacey. A week from today Jean flies to Minnesota to attend her sister’s (Marion) memorial service, she’ll be gone over the weekend. As of today we can expect rain and rejoice any day the temperature actually hits sixty. Winter cometh with soggy steps. LoVe,