Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

A Busy June in the Rai...

Birthday, anniversary, driver’s license, vehicle registrations and insurance, 90 day report of residence, the wife enrolling at a local university and various projects around the house.  I have also had several blog posts floating around in my head but have been unable to focus on any one of them long enough to get anything published.  There is method to my madness, however, so allow me to elaborate.

As a child I always felt blessed to have Christmas and my birthday evenly space across the calendar, unlike my brother who had them both crammed into the same month.  By the time I got around to getting married, at 45 years of age, I was astute enough to see the advantages of having birthday and anniversary on the same day.  Birthdays are hard to forget, no matter how hard you try.  As perfect as that would have been, we didn’t have all the required paperwork prepared on that day and had to come back later in the month.  At least we managed to get our anniversary is in the same month as my birthday.

As a matter of practicality we have tended to make major purchases around our birthdays, which are only a month apart, and designate them as birthday gifts.  For me that included things like my mountain bike, motorcycle and truck.  My wife’s list is too long and unmanageable to cover here.  Okay not particularly romantic but it works for us.

So here is the rundown for the month of June.  I turn 58 this month and have long since ceased to recognize that person in the mirror.  Though we have been together for 15 years, we have been married for 13 as of this month.  Wonderful and happy years I might add.  My driver’s license needed renewal after 5 years and we have been thinking of replacing our 5 year old truck with something new but there is still a backlog of vehicle orders due to last year’s events in Japan and Bangkok.

My wife enjoyed her recent volunteer teaching, so has decided to go back to school herself, which I support as a good idea.  With the rainy season upon us it is a good time to plant trees in the front field we had filled in earlier this year, so that project is ongoing.  With the air again breathable I am trying to get out a bit more on the mountain bike and walking more with my wife and Cookie but I still find it a little too hot to start running again.  I will have to get back to that soon.

On a not so pleasant note, I had a couple of basal cell carcinomas removed last month with a note from the lab that they were fully excised.  With my family history there are sure to be more in my future.

Surely I am forgetting something but I will stop here and submit this as my excuse for not doing more on the blog this month.

Paradise is Still Burning ...

Seems like everyone is venting their spleen over the burning in Northern Thailand so why not me.  What I have noticed is that everyone seems to have their own limited perspective on the problem.  Most rant on about the government and lack of enforcement, while few have any recommendations that don’t border on the ridiculous.

One guy suggested that all you need is a couple of helicopters flying around full-time to douse the fires before they get out of control.  Okay that takes care of his village, now what about the rest of the region and our neighbors.  In a search for simple solutions we focus on overly simplified explanations of the problem.

Some say all the smoke comes from Burma and Laos.  Others blame big agribusiness and the growing of corn in areas like Mae Chaem.  Some say it is the rice farmers who are the culprits or perhaps the slash and burn hill tribe people.  Yet others blame their neighbors for burning their trash.  Some seem to think it is all the government’s fault, due to greed and corruption, or the educational system is to blame.

A few foreigners have cobbled together a poorly thought out petition to demand the end of the burning.  I am sure it made them feel less impotent but I am equally sure it will have no effect.  I heard of one guy who got perhaps a little too vocal in his criticism of his Thai neighbors and their penchant for burning so his wife took him for a holiday down south to avoid the linch mob coming over in the middle of the night.  She seemed genuinely concerned.

Composting of all the waste has been suggested but we are not talking of kitchen scraps here.  There are literally mountains of vegetation leftover after the harvest.  The corn harvest leaves not only stalks on the steep mountain slopes but also mountains of discarded husks at the processing sites.  Some say plow the stubble back into the ground.  Unfortunately many of the hillsides are far too steep for heavy equipment.  Even the hiring of the larger tractors necessary to plow waist high rice stubble back into the earth is expensive and would make the growing of rice even less profitable for small farmers.  Many indeed argue that burning helps control pests and disease, leading to a better crop.

As it is, villagers in my area can’t make a living growing rice but do it based on a longstanding tradition that one must grow your own rice.  It is okay for city people to buy rice from the store but it is not the done thing in the village.  To make a living they must go to find work in the cities and scavenge what they can from what is left of the natural environment.  Each year they encroach a little more into the forest.  They strip the streams and reservoirs of fish.  They burn the undergrowth in hopes of stimulating an abundant crop of wild mushrooms that can be harvested and sold at roadside stands.

The locals are quite ingenious in searching out leaves, bugs, frogs, crabs, snakes, fish, mushrooms and countless other edible delectables to supplement their diet without adding to their financial burden.  The environment ends up paying a price though.  Villagers are not immune to the seduction of modern conveniences and want what we all want.  They want transportation, communication, entertainment, electronic conveniences, a better house and perhaps a leg up for their children by sending them to better schools.  Everything costs money and the rural populace have limited options compared to their big city brethren.

As bad as things are in our village they continue to burn daily.  People will complain about the smoke in a very general way and then go off and light another fire.  Around here fires are not started by faceless figures in some remote location but by friends and neighbors.  Pointing fingers at individuals is only done in extreme cases as one cannot afford to do anything that could lead to being ostracized from the community as a whole.  The extreme interdependency in the village is the adhesive that bonds them together and makes things work.  At the same time it is what often holds them back when it comes to making changes.  They are mired in tradition and superstition unable to step over the threshold into a truly modern world.

One villager for example lost seventy rubber trees, by his estimate, due to his neighbor’s burning which got out of control.  He asked for something like 70,000 baht but I heard they may have negotiated that down to around 30,000.  Chances are the firebug doesn’t have the money so will try to avoid payment or he will have to borrow the money and go even deeper into debt.  That will lead the culprit to further disregarding rules and regulations in an effort to scrape together a few more baht here and there.

As you can see I am not claiming to have the answers to this problem.  I suppose I am suggesting that foreigners who think they have the answer are a bit more daft than I am.  I’m sorry guys but we are guests here and what we think or want carries very little weight.  Punitive measures focused exclusively on the poorest members of society, especially when they are the backbone of that society, are in the very least counterproductive and potentially destructive and destabilizing. 

Until someone can come up with affordable alternatives that don’t further burden the poor and take into consideration the complexity of what leads to this yearly burning and the resulting pollution, we are destined to suffer with this problem for years to come.  In my estimation, the talk and histrionics will continue until the rain comes.  Hopefully that will be soon.

With the government’s focus being primarily on the floods there will be no money allocated to the burning in my estimation.  If we are lucky some flood related initiatives could help stem the encroachment into the mountains as there is an overlap there between the burning and the floods.  The wife and I suffer from the smoke just like everyone else but I dare say we are not so simple as to think there is a simple solution to this problem.  So there you have my take on the burning of paradise.  Nothing will happen.

An Ergonomic Chair for Village Farang ...

Sitting here writing today finds this writer much more comfy than usual.  Though comfort was not the driving force in my search of a replacement chair it is clearly a welcome consequence of that search.  Observing my father’s deteriorating physical condition and noticing my own lax posture, at least in part due to my aging chair, put me on the path of something ergonomic.  I wanted support in all the right places and infinite adjustability.  I also wanted mesh on both the seat and back for temperature control.  Yes, I wanted it to look good too.

When we moved into this house our furniture focus was on the big ticket items, so with little thought I opted for an affordable chair with an office like appearance and function.  I had no inkling at the time that I would be spending so much time seated, as I am at this moment, here in front of the computer.

As with so many of my purchases, the first chair turned out to be a starter chair.  Without the experience of the first chair I wouldn’t have had such a clear idea of what I wanted this time.  Knowing what you want and finding it here in Chiang Rai is seldom part of the same story.   Online the search is complicated not by the lack of choice but by too much.  In the end I went for something that was readily available in Bangkok with easy shipping by post.

Purchased on Thursday by trustingly depositing money into their account, the chair arrived on Saturday.  When the local postoffice called I was already in Chiang Rai for the day, with no chance of returning home before their closing time.  That left me with no option but to wait until today to go pick it up.  I had been over the specs countless times and looked at the pictures but truthfully I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Considering the cost, even with a negotiated 30% discount, my expectations should have been quite lofty but I have found one has less chance of being disappointed if one manages expectations.

So I am still fiddling with the lumbar support and tilt functions to see what works best but I have to say I am very happy with my new VF throne.  It looks like it is going to take Cookie a little longer to feel comfortable sharing her space with this new interloper.  She has only known that one chair and it had been well and truly personalized during her puppy days, with the undercarriage serving as a chew-toy.

I feel like I should be apologizing for not writing lately but this seasonal burning has blocked more than my view of the horizon.  I have a few ideas floating around in my head but can’t seem to get them onto the page.  Anyway here are a few more photos of my new chair.

Rereading My Blog ...

Recently finished rereading my blog.  I manage to correct a ton of errors but I’m quite sure there are many more.  Updated some of the older pictures to correspond in size to more recent ones, as they were in a smaller format.  I noticed a big difference in what was produced by different cameras and by the photographer for that matter.  Tried my best to put labels on all my posts to facilitate browsing my content.  (Someone recently suggested I should also label all my photos on Google+.)  Since my writing is all over the place, I found labeling very difficult.  Blogger has added a pop-out toolbar on the right side of the blog, reinstating some of the functions lost when I moved to Dynamic Views.  To the best of my memory this summarizes recent blog activity.

In a way I regret not rereading all the comments as they add so much to the content and it would have been fun to be reminded of readers who have moved on to other things.  There was just so much to read and being unable to edit comments it just seemed easier to stick to the editable content of my blog.  Admittedly at times I found myself scanning instead of proofreading, out of laziness one would presume.  Anyway, it was an interesting time trying to recall what was going on at the time of writing and why I chose to write what I did.  I haven’t done so yet but there are several posts that could be removed without being noticed.

You can tell I am struggling with my writing when I revert to blogging about the blog or posting nothing but pictures.  We had a little rain this morning so perhaps this smoky soup we have been living with for weeks will thin out a bit.  Being unable to go outdoors to do the things I love is taking its toll on my physical wellbeing and overall disposition.  I still have to walk the dogs but that is about it.  I somehow don’t think we have seen the end of the burning season, though today is a little better.

No More Excuses ...

There once was a man who sat at his favorite table enjoying high-tea in a posh hotel lobby, often accompanied by friends.  He would eventually wander upstairs to the health club for a bit of weight training, stretching and drills on the squash court before being joined by others eager to play.  A couple of hours later, both exhausted and exhilarated from the effort, it was time for a sauna, jacuzzi, cold-plunge and a shower before heading out.  Next was a massage, usually followed by sex and a late dinner.  As others were bringing down the curtain on the day, he was gearing up for a night of hotspots and notorious places one did not speak of with your daytime friends.

He was heard to boast that his worst days were often better than most people’s best days and the majority took him to be much younger than his actual years.  I used to know this guy but we have lost touch with the passage of time.  Age, injury, overindulgence, changes in lifestyle and location, laziness of mind and body, have all contributed to him being little more than a memory.  This last year he was particularly indulgent and whether in the mirror or in candid ten megapixel photos from unflattering angles, he is all but unrecognizable.

His last few years have been focused on outward things.  Building things, social networks, exploring the roads and trails, preparing for the future but forgetting something more important.  If you treat life’s achievements like trophies to be displayed upon a shelf, they soon become weathered and tarnished.  Life is not what you dream about or once did but what you do on a daily basis.  No matter what your age, life is to be lived to the best of ones ability and not just talked of or dreamed about.  It must be reaffirmed each day to keep it alive and healthy.  We begin each day on the lower slopes, not on the top of the mountain and only by our struggles to get to the top do we delay the inevitable decline into the valley.

To this end my old friend is trying to make a comeback.  A little over four weeks ago there was a small ripple in the force or perhaps a tiny rift in the fabric of space-time which caused a reboot of his system.  Gone were the memories and expectations of the past that blocked forward progress.  There was just the present and a desire to see what he could do.  With no measure of time or distance he set off down the trail at a slow jog, to find the limits of his new reality.  The pain and suffering that was to follow until this day, have been a test of character.

At four weeks there was the first sign of a breakthrough.  Usually he does two days on and a day off, with the distance being ever increased by the smallest of increments.  Then one day at the top of a hill, only recently added to take in the view before returning home, he instead headed down the other side intent on taking a longer circular route.  Arriving at home covered in sweat as usual, he sat in his chair on the drive surrounded by his canine entourage.

Even with the added distance he felt different, almost good, and less a puddle of melting flesh.  This his favorite time of day seemed even more wonderful than usual.  He was not hunched over in agony and gasping for breath but head up enjoying his favorite time of day.  Here he sat awash with endorphins, feeling also a light breeze caressing and cooling his wet body, with eyes lifted to the heavens drinking in the colors and shapes that adorn the evening sky just after the sun sets and before it becomes too dark to see.  This he could see as a routine that someone could look forward to and not dread.  Exertion and discipline followed by beauty and relaxation.

Hikes and bike rides are all good but are time consuming and best undertaken in the early morning hours.  Even after years of trying, mornings are more of a one-off for me having never been able to make them routine.  I suffer as a slow starter and it is only in the late afternoon, preferably around sunset, that I feel invigorated and pain free enough to exercise.  So instead of fighting my nature or making excuses, I have simply reclaimed the evening as my time of exercise.  Don’t really know why it has taken so long.

I never thought I would end up being this person but sure enough here I am.  So now I am paying the price of trying to find that guy I once was and thought I would always be.  In the short term I will probably have more empathy for the excuse makers and understand the pain involved in starting over but I could become more obnoxious than ever if I am indeed successful in my quest to be reunited with that guy I used to know so well.  Anyway for now there will be no more excuses and my fifty-seventh year will be dedicated to a new me or reclaiming what I can of the old me.

Helping Others, How Far Would You Go? ...

For many life is one miserable day after another.  A seemingly endless parade of catastrophic events.  Others seem to dance through life, suffering little more than the occasional bump or bruise.  Recently it was brought to the attention of the Chiang Rai community, that there are some unfortunate foreigners in our midst.  Of course that should not be news to anyone who has been around for a while.

A cry for help and sympathy from one distraught soul, trying to help a friend through a bad time in the hospital, was met by a strange mix of concern from some and unbridled distain from others.  After some heated debate, one brave peacemaker in our midst, took it upon himself to find out if the story was true or lived in the realm of imagination and fantasy.

Not only was the story true, but yet another unfortunate foreigner was discovered in the same overcrowded local hospital.  This is the hospital where our local villagers would go, as opposed to the two upmarket hospitals, frequented by many local expats.

Upon receiving a report on the individuals in question (both the teller and victim), one brave individual in the negative camp, summoned the courage to both apologize and visit the hospital.  Others maintained an eerie silence, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Clearly these events are not unusual.  One could, and I believe some do, make it their calling in life to look after the many foreigners who fall on bad times here in Thailand.  Visiting jails and hospitals, or even the local bars would surely provide an endless stream of even more desperate stories than the two gentlemen referred to above.  I’m not sure what it is about Thailand, that lends its self to so many sad tales of woe about unfortunate foreigners.  That is a discussion for another day, perhaps.

It is the variance in response to these situations that interests me.  The concern or sympathy is understandable but the hostility and distain begs a closer look.  While some might genuinely be mean spirited, others may simply have difficulty dealing with adversity or prefer to keep their distance.  I for one avoid bars and jails and find hospitals depressing places, along with retirement and nursing homes.  Except for dealing with my immediate family I would find it hard to spend time in such depressing places.

Some religions take the position that life is suffering and do a good business providing guidance to the multitudes, in their effort to escape said suffering.  I suspect there are relatively few of us who view life in a more positive light and who’s choices and opportunities have led them down an easier path.  I’m not at all sure how long I could maintain my outlook on life if I were mired in the tragedy of other’s lives.  I do admire those who can give of themselves and step into the lives of strangers, offering comfort and help in their time of need.

Sadly I seem to lack the capacity to step out of my comfort zone for anyone other than my wife and my parents.  That said, there runs under the surface, a theme of the savior or knight in shining armor, here in Thailand.  How else could one explain the multitude of odd couples that perpetuate here, with seemingly nothing in common.  Desperate young girls with the need to receive and desperate old men, with a savior complex, and the seemingly even more desperate need to give.

So when you hear these tragic stories that abound in Thailand, how do you respond?  Break into tears, hover around hospitals, turn a blind eye, say it serves them right, accuse the messenger of telling untruths or some more imaginative response?  Is your attitude toward desperate Thai women different from your attitude toward desperate foreigners who are down on their luck?  Would you help her but not him?

There is of course no correct answer here, just an acknowledgement of how we deal with such things.  I for one find myself a little numb after so many years in Thailand.  I deal through avoidance when I can, with the realization that I cannot realistically carry the burden of all those in need.  The dance of life, whether short or long, ends at the same place for everyone.  I’ll dance to the music I have been given and try my best to stick to that rhythm without disturbing the dance of others.  Perhaps you are a better person than I, willing to sacrifice your own wellbeing for the good of others?

Busy Days, An Update ...

Today, Cookie lost out to the mountain bike once again.  I suppose it wasn’t really her turn, having been to the dam just the other day.  I always feel guilty leaving her behind, though.  She so loves to hit the trail.  Anyway, after two hours of hard riding on the trail I’m awash with endorphins and basking in the afterglow.  No worries here.

On a health note.  My recent physical found me fit except for my consistently elevated cholesterol.  Down from the mid 250s of my Bangkok days I still came in at 220.  Over the last month, a regiment of healthy living and the marvel of modern pharmaceuticals, has put me at 108 as of yesterday.  Imagine that.

The combination of intermittently cool weather (today is actually chilly) and guests has produced a whirlwind of recent activity.  Repeats, included another trip to the Black Village and Doi Din Daeng Pottery with a guest.  New for us, (we are seldom out after dark) was a walk down Chiang Rai’s Walking Street one late Saturday afternoon.  Stumbled upon parking quite by accident.  Walked the street in the fading light of the day.  Had something to eat and headed home just as it got dark and the crowds seemed to be pushing in around us.

We also got up a 3am to drive to Phu Chi Faa for the sunrise.  Not a spectacular day for photos but it was still a good experience.  It was anything but lonely up there with a surprisingly good turnout.  I didn’t enjoy the lack of sleep, however, so doubt I will be eager to do a repeat performance anytime soon.  I probably could have done without the incessant talking and singing of the group just behind me, but what can you do.

Apart from the weather being perfect for outdoor adventures, this is a great time to visit government offices.  With all the farmers bringing in the harvest, offices are all but deserted.  We updated our motorcycle driving licenses, from one year to five, with no wait at all.

The Land Department in Thoeng was equally deserted and the staff ever so helpful.  My wife got the notion that perhaps I should be put on the chanote (land ownership papers) as having the right of residence there for the rest of my life.  As a foreigner I cannot own land so everything is in my wife’s name.  Unlike some, I have no misgivings about our financial arrangements or the peculiarities of Thai law.

Being twenty years older, I am usually the one voicing concern about my wife’s wellbeing after I am gone.  Recently she started pondering what would happen if something untoward happened to her.  To protect me from overeager relatives who might inherit the land, she came up with this notion of giving me right of abode so I couldn’t be sent packing.  The land department staff were quite helpful and quickly came up with the proper forms to be filled in.  The fee was next to nothing and even considering the stack of forms, copies and bureaucratic procedures involved, everything went quite smoothly.

A friend from Hawaii has just arrived in Bangkok, so I have booked a flight for my wife to go down for a visit.  I volunteered to stay home and look after the house and dogs so she could enjoy a girls only, time on the town.  We very seldom have any time apart, so a few days surely won’t hurt either of us.

As we are having guests over for dinner a bit later, perhaps I should rap this up and go about making myself more presentable.  My biking clothes are a bit ripe so it is off to a steamy hot shower for me.  On a chilly overcast day like today, who knows I may just get lucky after washing away the trail dust.  Wish me luck.

A Dog’s Life ...

It was once possible to stroll down the forest path to the dam, extend your arms and find your hands had vanished from view amidst the lush foliage on either side.  Sure there were ruts and rocks, thorns and mud puddles to be navigated but that just added to the sense of accomplishment at the end of the trail.  After a recent upgrade, the term trail is no longer appropriate.  Two lane highway, now comes to mind.  Sure it is still dirt beneath a sprinkling of gravel but the width and more even gradient makes for a different kind of walk. 

While the distance remains the same the effort expended seems less.  The mental effort is reduced as well.  Hardly any need to watch your step to keep your balance.  With little need to look down I suppose one is freer to look up and across the landscape.  Cookie shows no sign of being incensed by the forward march of progress.  She bounds ahead with her unrelenting enthusiasm, undaunted by a break with the past and intently focused on new sights and smells.  The mental health and balance of a dog is perhaps something to be aspired to.

Speaking of health, we spent much of yesterday in the corridors of an unfamiliar environment.  I am guessing it had been eight or nine years since our last physicals and thought it was perhaps time to let someone check on our internal heath.  I seem to remember a tonsillectomy as a child and a broken leg as an adult but that is pretty much the sum total of my hospital experience.  Since coming to Thailand in 1975 I have been a devout self-medicator (my own word).  A little reading and a close relationship with a skilled pharmacist and I was good to go. 

The recent rash of family and village deaths has left my wife a little rattled and thinking more about things like health and life insurance.  Even with an uncle retired from the business, I have never trusted insurance companies.  I view them in a similar light as the large casinos.  The odds seem overwhelmingly stacked in their favor or they would not be able to build such obscene edifices to their grandeur.

As a first step down the road to helping my wife cope, a checkup seemed the way to go.  We did get impatient by afternoon and left with one remaining procedure for her and the reading of our results by a doctor.  We will reschedule the completion on another day when it might not be quite such an inconvenience.  Overall I found the scene that unfolded around us in the hospital quite foreign and unpleasant.  It reminded me a little, of the time I have spent in my parent’s retirement home.  Unhealthy, unattractive and unhappy people meandering around in a desperate slow-motion dance with death but representing a broader range of age groups, from newborn to very old. 

Perhaps it is all down to luck and good genes but then again my distinct lack of vices may have played a part as well.  Whatever the reason my preference is to focus on getting as much joy and experience out of living as I can.  Trying to avoid or postpone death indefinitely seems to me to be a sucker’s game.  I will, however, find ways to comfort and reassure my wife as she goes through this period of grief, questioning and uncertainty. 

With the inevitability of death, it seems clear to me, that how we live is the only thing we can exert control over.  Accidents do happen and living a “perfect” life is no guarantee of a long healthy existence, but high-risk habits and behaviors are nonetheless, not in ones best interest.  Of course you would not get that message by looking around and observing how others live.  I think I will continue aspiring to being a little more like Cookie everyday.  The here and now of a dog’s life seems pretty good right now.

A Little Light Reading ...

A little light reading has been necessitated by recent events.  Something along the lines of mortality rates in, Alzheimer’s or dementia patients, who suffer a fall and hip fracture.  I know, not real cheery or uplifting stuff.  Part of my role, however, as the family “shock jock” and general bearer of bad tidings, is to give periodic reality checks and updates.  To do this requires some supplemental reading and awareness of, not simply present circumstances but possible consequences and outcomes.

No one enjoys seeing their parents suffer and the after effects of a fall are no exception.  There are often multiple perspectives on an event, however.  In an emotional cloud, it may be hard to see beyond the initial tragedy.  Another look will often reveal a silver lining of sorts.  Without a precipitating event, inertia prevails and necessary actions are merely contemplated but never initiated. 

The best efforts of the players, though noble and honorable, are not always in everyones best interest.  There are times when it becomes imperative that we let go of our own, self image and need to “be” or “maintain” a certain persona.  It can be difficult to admit, that others may do a better job, caring for someone we love.  Not all of us come equipped with the necessary temperament and skill set, to care for those who suffer from dementia.  Love and loyalty, simply aren’t enough.

Those who suffer memory impairment, or some form of dementia, are often lumped into the classification of Alzheimer’s patients.  In the movies and on TV, these individuals often show awareness of what is happening to them as they drift in and out of their altering realties.  This gives family members the time and opportunity to ask their questions and say their goodbyes.  Our situation might have been easier had there been even the slightest recognition of the changes taking place.  If only life had imitated art in this case.

Looking back, that fall at the symphony was probably the starting point.  (People always ask, “When did you first notice?”)  Tests were taken and nothing found, so behavioral anomalies were written off as temporary and due to the trauma of the, trip and fall.  It took time before the delusions and hallucinations, developed to a point that they could no longer be ignored or attributed to being under the weather.

Even then the grasping of straws continued, in search of a quick fix or cure.  If only this behavior could be stopped or suppressed, then things might get better.  Perhaps it is a tumor or there was a stroke and it can be fixed.  When the victim issues stubborn and vehement denial, that anything is wrong, action of any sort becomes difficult.  Those who can read the writing on the wall or issue warnings are often dismissed or scorned.

Loyalty to ones partner, years of memories and deeply engrained patterns of interaction often block the path to recognition and acceptance.  Without these, the most basic steps cannot be taken.  One is left playing catch-up, as you are always a few steps behind the curve.  Perhaps better late than never, recent events have led to flurry of action.

The main players have finally landed in their separate, yet appropriate accommodations, to be properly cared for.  Most family members are onboard and have a clearer view of the situation and what is necessary.  I sometimes wish I could be the optimist, reassuring everyone that everything will be okay.  Since optimism and denial are well represented, that leaves me holding the bag and sounding alarms. 

Oddly, being the furthest removed geographically, I find myself closest to the situation.  I am expected to be in charge, to the extent that I can be.  I dare say, that no one in our extended family would have a clue what is going on if not for my sometimes brash and forthright delivery of updates.  No two families are alike and it is futile to whine about why events or individuals are the way they are.  One merely prepares, to the best of ones abilities, hoping that they will be ready for what comes. 

Measured against optimism and denial, I cannot state emphatically, that my way is better.  Foolish or defiant, perhaps, but I want to see it coming.  I do not long for blissful ignorance.  I choose the painful truth.  To know both the ecstasy and the agony.   To know all that I am capable of knowing.  To feel each step in life’s relentless march toward death and miss nothing along the way.

A "Green" Birthday...

For my birthday this year we planted 50 trees and a dozen or more flowering plants. The women did most of the work. That is, my wife and her mother and aunt. I did the heavy lifting, measuring and made sure everything ended up properly spaced, alined and aesthetically pleasing. The aunt dug most of the holes while my wife and her mother did the planting and fertilizing. We hire people for most jobs but sometimes you just want to get down and dirty.

It rained throughout the night so the ground was softer than normal and the sky was still overcast, at least for the morning hours. We were still in bed when a truck drove up with the delivery of 50 trees we had ordered but were not expecting on the day. We gave them directions to where to put the trees but of course they got it wrong and I had to haul them all over the site by hand.

We have been adding fruit trees a couple at a time and had grass planted on the slopes to stop the erosion. This was our first chance, however, to do a major planting along the sides of the property as some of the construction material has been cleared up recently.

Planting trees and growing things in general gives you a good feeling but aside from that there are many practical reasons. They look good, help demarcate the property line, provide some privacy, shade and windbreak and protect against erosion. Then there is the politically correct, global warming position, of planting trees as a counterbalance to our need to purchase a gas guzzling diesel pickup truck.

In our area the forest continues to be cut down and burned to grow other things that they think might make some money. It means they have to go much further to find their jungle food and things like bamboo and mushrooms. The wild animals that used to be in the area have long since disappeared or moved to safer environs.

The soil is also highly degraded from generations of monoculture rice farming. I don’t know that anything we do in the area will have a positive effect on the environment or on the lives of the local villagers but one can always hope and dream. In the very least we will try not to make things any worse than they already are.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t start out with the idea of planting trees to save the world or any thing so grand. It wasn’t a birthday gesture either. That is just the way it worked out and birthdays have never been much of a high point for me, anyway. Except for my wife writing me the most amazing birthday cards, that would make even the hardest guy melt, I could do without birthdays altogether.

The forties were great but the fifties have been hard work, as I become more aware of my limitations. I can’t say I like getting old or the effect it has on my body. My problems don’t come so much from sloth but from overdoing on the squash court. I took too much pride in playing more, longer and harder than the other guys who were usually much younger. Finally I went one injury too far.

That was when I turned 50 and it took a while to recover and find new exercise outlets. I don’t get the same physical rush from weight lifting, hiking, jogging or bike riding but I do get a real sense of inner peace and get to see some really pretty stuff. Much of what I still want to do and see in life requires that I stay fit enough to do it. 

Having a sport made exercise much easier for me. Now I am having those internal dialogs that I had heard about before. You know, all those excuses for why I can’t get it done today. Well I’m still a work in progress but like to think that I’m getting better and more consistent. I’m definitely still not where I want to be but I’ll get there, I hope.