Saturday, June 29, 2013

Giving Blood: A Success Story

My father regularly gave blood during my youth.  Every 8 weeks, usually on Friday afternoons, he'd drive to the Western Kentucky Blood Center, be strapped in, and donate.  We three kids frequently accompanied him on these trips and I distinctly remember 1) how fast he was -- usually done donating in 5 minutes, 2) how cool it was that he had three choices of soda, and 3) how he clearly valued doing this action for others.  The Blood Center had displayed plaques with listings of people and how many gallons of blood they had donated over the years.  I was so eager to see my dad's name on the wall (he eventually got there) and to get my name on the wall too.

In Owensboro, you have to be 16 years old to donate, so my first trip was on my 16th birthday.  I honestly don't remember if I was successful then or not, because I was turned away from donating countless times.  There were three factors that kept me on the "decline" list and I quickly learned the minimum cut-offs: blood pressure needed to be 90/50 or higher, pulse rate needed to be 50 beats per minute or higher, and iron count needed to be 12.5.  I rarely passed all three criteria.  I actually started doing jumping jacks right before walking in to the center, so that at least my pulse rate would be over 50 bpm.  I also acquired another piercing during that time, which put me on the "decline" list for a while.

I was exceptionally determined, though, so if I was declined one day then I would return the next and then the next and the next until I passed.  Fifty six days later, I'd be back at the center ready to start the process again.  I didn't make it to the "donor wall" but I did receive a commendation letter and a little pin once I had donated a full gallon of blood. 

I learned a new restriction once I started donating in college.  There is a time limit on the amount of time giving blood should take.  If you don't fill up the bag in 20 minutes, then the blood isn't usable for patients and it's instead used for research.  I hit that 20 minutes cut-off more than once -- many times because my vein just stopped giving blood -- and it was so incredibly disappointing.  After 6 or 7 times of this, I stopped trying to donate.  My last successful donation was when I was 23 years old.

The Ethical Society hosted a Blood Drive on Friday, so I decided to give it another chance.  I was prepared for disappointment, so my elation was clearly visible when I passed the blood pressure, pulse, and iron checks.  The phlebotomist successfully stuck me on the first try and then I filled up the bag in 5 minutes!  Woohoo!  I was positively euphoric about it, and I'm eager to go back in 56 days to try it again.  I hope to again make this a regular part of my service to others.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Multi-Faceted Nature of "Truth"

Driving home earlier this week, Raina and I listened to the Indigo Girls and, specifically, to the song “Galileo.”  Although Raina had heard this song multiple times, she had not processed the lyrics before and she had questions about “Galileo’s head was on the block / his crime was looking up for truth.”  Raina clearly did not know the story of Galileo, so I told her a brief version:  Galileo made scientific discoveries that challenged the Catholic Church’s explanation of the world and solar system; in essence, he offered a contrary truth that went head-to-head with the Church’s truth, so the Church charged him with a crime, convicted him, and imprisoned him for the rest of his life.    

Oh, man, was this ever shocking to Raina.  She was especially upset because Galileo was scientifically correct and it was an incredible injustice to be punished for telling the truth.  We then had a long conversation about the multi-faceted nature of “truth.”  Conceptually, she struggled to move past a black-and-white definition of truth; she firmly believes that something is true and therefore the opposing view must be false.  We talked a lot about how truth is sometimes relative; someone believes something to be true and how, depending on how much power that person has, she may try to convince other people to believe in the same truth and/or to prevent other truths from gaining ground. 

I chose the simplistic example of pizza.  Raina says that pizza is the best meal in the world, so it is true for her.  I think pizza is the worst meal in the world, so that is true for me.  Both statements are relativistically true but neither is absolutely true.  But, since I’m an adult, I have more power and can probably push for my “truth” to reach more places (like my dinner table) than she can. 
 
Of course, this example doesn’t exactly mesh because Galileo’s truth was absolutely true, but it took lots of time before it became the commonly accepted truth.  Galileo didn’t have my daughter (whose immediate response was “But it’s science!  Science is right!”) to defend him yet. 
 
I was proud of her for making the conceptual link with her next statement: “This is like how white people thought they were better than black people.  They thought that was true but it really wasn’t.”  Absolutely, Raina.  She brought up Dr. Martin Luther King and I countered with the stories of Abraham Lincoln, Elijah Lovejoy, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Susan B. Anthony.  We talked about how pushing for a different version of “truth” from the commonly accepted one requires a lot of courage and determination and, in many cases, the person will not be alive to see his/her truth become the commonly accepted one. 
 
Changing the status quo is so hard.  Raina noted that a lot of these people ended up being shot for pushing their version of the truth – an unfortunately accurate observation.  I didn’t know how to respond to that.  These individuals are heroes; the fact that they did NOT back down is a primary reason they are so inspirational.  I want my daughter to have the courage of her convictions in the face of adversity and outside pressure; to what extent she does that is her decision and the consequences she will face as a result are hers to bear. 

Raina’s follow-up question was even harder: “Mom, why do people shoot and kill each other?”  I thought for a long time before responding with a very honest “I don’t know, because I don’t understand shooting and killing or physically hurting someone else.  But my guess is that someone wants to hurt someone else so badly that they decide to shoot and kill them.”  I’m not satisfied with that explanation, but I don’t have a better one.  She brought up George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin and wanted me to explain why Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.  I didn’t have an explanation here either.  As a parent, I owe it to my daughter to show that I grapple with the same questions she has, and that over-simplifying with platitudes doesn’t really push for a better understanding of the situation.

We were both emotionally exhausted after this conversation.  Raina firmly believes in treating everyone fairly and equally and she, at core, does not understand cruelty or why someone would purposefully hurt another person.  She was rocked pretty hard by our talk; she cried a fair amount as she processed through it all.  I’m proud of her for asking the questions and for really participating in the conversation to think about answers.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Slides from our Summer Vacation

Eric and Krystal rarely spend time alone and had not taken a vacation -- just the two of us -- since our honeymoon.  That was a long time ago, for those of you keeping count.  The kiddos have grown up enough that we felt safe leaving them with another adult and we trusted that the kids would behave enough that the adult would still love us when we returned to take the kids back.  We experimented with this premise earlier in June.
 
The Whomptons rented a one-way car, loaded up, and headed to Nashville.  The kids spent a full week with their grandparents in Nashville, while Eric and I gallivanted in New York City.  This is a recounting of the NYC vacation; a future post will share the kids' vacation.
 
Sunday:  We fly into New York and take the M60 bus from LaGuardia into Harlem.  We walked a little bit in Harlem as we meandered to the A train stop, which would drop us next to our apartment rental.  The A train is an express train, which means there is a long stretch of time between stops.  We were treated to a breakdance show in the middle of the train car -- a standard NYC happening, I imagine. 
 
We checked into our not-exactly-Chelsea-or-Hells-Kitchen apartment, unloaded our stuff, and went in search of family, cereal, and peanut butter.  We found family -- Emily, Jerry, and Atticus had dinner with us at a vegan restaurant -- but mostly failed on the cereal and peanut butter front.  We found the items but were overall unimpressed with our options.  It's abundantly obvious to us now, but wasn't to us then, that finding a big-box grocery like Schnucks or Dierbergs is impossible in Manhattan.  No one can afford the land prices.  We returned our groceries back to the apartment and then went exploring.  We greatly desired walking around the island at an adult speed, unfettered by children.  Sunday night we walked through Times Square, found a nice place for dessert, and walked some more.  Eventually we headed home and made our plans for a rainy next day.  (Also, I discovered The Big Bang Theory on TV.  We watched it a lot while the other person showered at night.)
 
Monday:  Whomptons are exceptionally early risers in Central Time, which makes us only moderately early risers in Eastern Time.  We were up, showered, and out the door by 7 a.m.  Monday was scheduled to rain in the morning, so we decided to make it a "walk in the rain" morning, followed by lots of museums.  Our first stop was walking the High Line, which is a garden/park created on/from an abandoned elevated train line.  We first learned about the High Line from the children's book The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.  (This was the first of many children's book references we made that week.)  The High Line was lush and had great views of the Hudson River and the Chelsea neighborhood, and it still had a fair number of people walking or jogging through it despite the rain. 
 
From there we took the train up to the Museum of Natural History.  Taking the subway during morning rush hour was a surreal experience.  We were completely crowded by people -- standing room only -- and it was absolutely quiet.  Not one person was talking.  It was a perfect example of how people take their own time whenever they can find it.
 
Emily described the Natural History Museum as an homage to taxidermy and, goodness, she was absolutely right.  The number of stuffed and mounted animals astounded me.  My favorite parts of the museum involved trees.  First, there is a cross section of an incredibly old tree -- over 2000 years old.  The tree's diameter was the height of the room; it was so impressive and, in turn, so disheartening to see.  The death of that tree made me teary-eyed, but I held myself together.  We also examined four different models of how forests grow (fascinating item #2) and a North American map of all the forest types (#3).  We looked for a copy of the map to bring home, but it wasn't sold in the many gift shops.  We explored the evolution area, which really was cool, and then we started to droop.  We hadn't brought water with us and we were rather dehydrated.  Time to go!
 
Leaving the Natural History Museum; standing on the Central Park side

Clearly it had stopped raining, so we enjoyed a leisurely walk down the avenue.  We searched for the Ethical Society of New York (just nearby) and checked out its space.  We really wanted to participate in New York's ES community, but the timing didn't work for us while we were in town. 

Our next stop was the Museum of Math, which is just as described.  The museum was brand-new and had a focus on hands-on math experiences.  We played with tilings
 and rode bikes with square wheels
 and proved Pythagorean's Theorem.  We worked puzzles and mazes and generally had a good time.

We walked back home and traveled up and down 9th Avenue in the search of a great restaurant for dinner.  We finally selected a place, stepped inside, and watched in amazement as a torrential downpour started outside.  We enjoyed our absolutely decadent Italian meal in the comfort of the restaurant and then followed it up with even more walking.  We explored Times Square and 6th Avenue (our apartment was near Times Square so each visit wasn't intentional), picked up a Starbucks cookie for dessert, and then crashed at home. 

Tuesday:  Jerry is a New York expert and he had volunteered to give us a walking tour of Central Park AND a walking tour of New York architecture.  Oh man, we were excited!  We explored Central Park for about an hour on our own and found massive grapevines
 and pointed handrails down stairs -- why anyone would be so cruel, I cannot imagine
 and an absolutely breathtaking image of nature in harmony with human ingenuity.

Jerry and Atticus found us and we began our tour.  Notice that Atticus has a little scooter; he was wicked fast on that thing and he zipped around and gave the Whomptons mini-heart attacks as he approached each street intersection. 

We traversed the Park, walked up Fifth Avenue, saw Grand Central Station, walked through the Waldorf-Astoria (a similar feel to Eloise's Plaza Hotel), entered Saint Patrick's Cathedral, explored the New York Public Library (picture of the lion from the Library Lion below), saw skyscraper after skyscraper and heard stories about most, and ended up in Rockefeller Plaza.  Emily met us for lunch -- tasty streetcart falafel and roti -- and then we ventured to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art.  Turns out, the Whompton adults are not modern art fans.  Who knew? 


We returned back to Bryant Park, walked around, played a rousing game of checkers, and then headed home.  We were very tired after Tuesday -- we played tourist from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- and we were on our feet the majority of that time.  We estimate that we walked around 15 miles that day and it was lovely.  We capped the evening off with another Starbucks cookie and Dodgeball.

Wednesday:  Tom Wehling made this touristy recommendation:  "Eventually you're going to tire of the hustle and bustle of New York.  When that happens, you should go to the Cloisters.  It's so peaceful, you won't believe that you're still in the City!"  I wanted to check it out, so Wednesday was the time.  We aspired to walk there, from our apartment at 39th street to the north part of the island at 190th street.  We didn't make it; we traveled slower than we anticipated, so we abandoned the plan after 80 blocks and took the train. 

The Cloisters is set in Fort Tryon Park, which was stunning on its own. We enjoyed hiking though the park, looking out over the river, and experiencing the calm. 

The Cloisters is hard to describe; at core, it's a museum of churches and religious art but it's made from actual European church parts.  Doors and naves and altars and windows from all over Europe are built into and comprise the main Cloister building.  It was fascinating and, as described, incredibly peaceful.  My vertigo triggers when leaning my head back, but I wanted to see all the artwork; my compromise was to lie down on the church floor in each room so I could stare at the ceilings.  Needless to say, I got a lot of funny looks from other tourists. 

Delicious Thai food was for a late lunch that day, and we followed it with a venture to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.  The Intrepid is a retired aircraft carrier converted into a museum.  (I had lots of Battlestar Galactica connections while on the ship.)  In many ways, exploring the Growler submarine and the Intrepid was like exploring a train car from the turn of the century.  Of course, no train I've seen had this warning sign: DEATH IS PERMANENT.

Reading about the aircraft was really interesting and being up close to so many was a real treat.  The Intrepid was a highlight of Eric's trip. 

Peanut butter sandwiches and Starbucks cookies were on the menu for dinner.  (I had $80 of Starbucks gift cards, we don't drink coffee, and there was a Starbucks every three blocks.  We ate a lot of cookies!) 

Emily joined us for the evening, and we played Hanabi for a few rounds.  She learned the game and picked up the strategies so quickly!  It was great fun (as always) to play games with her. 

Thursday:  Thursday was designated the "south end of the island" day.  We took the train to Brooklyn and then traversed the Brooklyn Bridge back.  It was challenging to grasp the magnitude of the bridge while actually on it, but reading through the tourist signs and explanations certainly put it in perspective.  Really, human ingenuity is so inspiring.  And, of course, we had a stunning view walking into the city. 


We arranged for a docent led tour of New York City Hall and it was fascinating as well.  The architecture was beautiful, the history was multi-layered, and the docent engaging.  We were the only Americans in the City Hall tour, which was interesting on its own to hear the questions other folks had about the government system. 

We made it into a fantastic Indian restaurant at exactly 12 noon, just 2 minutes before the massive lunch crowd.  The peshawari naan was absolutely decadent and I would have worshipped at the chef's feet if they would let me.  As it was, they just wanted our table back. 

We went to Saint Paul's Chapel and the 9/11 Memorial.  The displays in the Saint Paul's Chapel were very emotional and connected with us much more than the 9/11 memorial itself.  From there, we walked over to Wall Street, saw the NYSE, and this adorable little hot dog.


Hurricane Sandy caused havoc throughout New York; as a result of the damage, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were closed.  The closest we got was on the Staten Island Ferry, which we took there
and back.  Ferry rides are very zen, and I would enjoy making it a regular part of my routine, if I lived in New York.

Jerry, Emily, and Atticus invited us out to their home in Queens for dinner.  (That's four boroughs in just one day, folks!)  We immersed ourselves in Atticus's imaginative world, had a lovely dinner with family, and then headed home in the rain. 

Friday:  A tropical storm came through Friday, so we endured a fair amount of rain.  We had a slow start to the day -- lounged around, played Lord of the Rings -- and then walked over to Grand Central Station.  We had a date with the suburbs!  We took the train out to Katonah and then had an absolutely wonderful visit with Caroline Leonard.  I cannot express how lovely it was to see her and to meet her son and to bask in her presence again.  I really miss her and I wish she was back in Saint Louis with me.  (Eric had to endure a continuous barrage of "I miss Caroline" statements for the next few days.  He was gracious about it.)

Commuting by train takes a long time.  We returned back to the City around 5:30 p.m. and it was pouring outside.  We did the reasonable thing: we ate at Grand Central's food court.  We paired soups with a luscious bread from a local bakery and warmed up as best we could.  Then we sprinted home and splashed and splashed through puddles.  Thank goodness for Tevas!  (Eric searched for a Starbucks cookie.  We saw the Starbucks at Grand Central but he couldn't find it again to get his cookie.  Alas.)

Saturday:  At this point, we felt we had really tackled being a tourist.  We had no desire to see shows on Broadway (although we walked up and down Broadway MANY times) .... the only things left were pure bonus.  We decided we should get better pictures of the High Line for the girls. 


Look, real train tracks!  So cool!

We walked through Chelsea proper, through Greenwich Village, through Washington Square Park, and then it was time for our last tourist outing.  Again, we pulled out inspiration from children's books (Mermaids on Parade and Donnatalee: A Mermaid Adventure) and headed out to Coney Island!

Emily, Eric, and Atticus enjoyed Nathan's Hot Dogs and then we walked the boardwalk.  Mermaids on Parade describes the actual Mermaid Parade, which occurs every June.  (It will happen tomorrow, actually, to as an official start to summer.)  But Luna Park and the rides are all mentioned and it was fun to see how loyal the book was to reality. 
 
Atticus experienced his very first ride.  He was so jazzed!  He ran past the woman collecting tickets, jumped into a boat, and smiled gleefully as it went around and around. 
 
Atticus happily dug in the sand for a long time; Emily, Eric, and I had a pleasurable talk as a result. The main character in Donnatalee describes exploring the sand and collecting sea shells.  I collected one for each daughter so they could experience the sea too.

Atticus attacked his ice cream cone head-on; you could not contain that enthusiasm!  He's adorable. 

And the only picture of the two of us together, all week, and it was taken in the subway.  Apparently taking pictures in the subway is an illegal action now, as a precautionary measure against terrorism.  We didn't know when we snapped the shots.  Sorry.

Saturday night, the Whomptons split forces.  Eric, Emily, and Atticus stayed back at our apartment and ate cheap pizza; I went and enjoyed the company of Naomi Cohn.  Afterwards, we packed up, cleaned up, and got ready to say goodbye to New York.

Sunday:  We gathered up our belongings, caught the train, transferred to the M60 bus, and arrived at the airport.  Eric's pocket knife was confiscated at security, oops!, and then we settled in for a morning of reading and waiting.  (Eric read a whole book on this trip, folks.  An actual book.  It was very exciting.) 

On every flight I've ever taken, headed back to Saint Louis, I've always run into someone I know in the airport or at the gate.  That did not happen here and, I admit, I was disappointed that my streak had ended.  Imagine my surprise when I saw one of my students sitting right in front of me on the plane!  She looked mortified, but I was absolutely giddy.  The streak continues!

We arrived back to Saint Louis and enjoyed peace and quiet at home for a little while.  Papa Bill deposited the girls back at the house around 4 that afternoon and we rejoiced to be back together again. We spent the rest of the evening sharing stories about our collective adventures and giving lots of hugs.