Saturday, November 15, 2008

FISH = Death



I hope you're all having a good Saturday so far!

It's been a quiet morning at Nutwood, reading the paper, catching up on blogs, and watching a couple of early football games (ND vs Navy and Illinois vs. Ohio State). Tonight is our dinner event at Studebaker National Museum, and I'll probably start getting ready after the games are over. Tonight I'm channeling Hillary in my double-breasted pantsuit of medium blue. (I'll have to see if I have a flag pin for the lapel. wink) We're supposed to get 1-2 inches of snow tonight, so I definitely don't feel like wearing a suit with a skirt, or other dress. I'm hoping to get lots of dinner and museum pictures, especially of the utterly cool Packard Predictor.

I didn't hear from either Peggy at the Museum or Debbie at the caterers yesterday, so I'm assuming that everything is a go and that there are no problems. I was starting to wonder earlier in the week...after I took care of the balance of the catering bill, based on 100 guests, on Monday, I had an email from Ken when I got home saying that we needed to up it to 110. Now, the deadline was the previous Thursday, but people were still signing on Monday morning. You don't know how tempting it was to say, "Well, I guess they're just SOL, aren't they?" But I didn't...I called Debbie and she said it wasn't a problem, and "Just keep talking to me!" She said that a hundred extra people would be a problem, but not 10, and we could just pay the balance tonight. I told Ken that if all goes well tonight, and the food is great, I just might have to write some letters to both the Museum and the caterer, as well as the local paper. I've sure been impressed so far, and isn't it great to deal with people who are so helpful?

Along about mid-week, Ken informed me that he'd had a discussion with one of the guys at work who is coming to the event. Apparently, his wife has severe food allergies, and the guy wanted to call the caterer and talk to them about what she couldn't eat. (!!!) Ken said, please don't call the caterer directly, we'll check into it and find out more information. In other words, WE will deal with it, not you. The guy sent Ken an email, which Ken sent on to me, and the guy listed what she cannot eat and what would "be acceptable." The part that got me was when he wrote "FISH = Death." All dairy products cause "instant migraine," and processed wheat products are also out.

I put together a list of all the menu items and stated that there would be options, including the grilled chicken breast, grilled vegetables, etc., and that the chef would be available tonight, and Ken forwarded that email on to the guy. The guy wrote back again, detailing why or why not the various items would be acceptable. On the list of hors d'oeuvres, by the Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms, he typed "Almost certain death." [rolling eyes] Well, I guess she'd better skip those, huh? I wrote to someone that I had a mental image of her raising a Crab-Stuffed Mushroom to her mouth, and me smacking it out of her hand, yelling, "NOOOO!"

Well, come to find out, the guy had already called the caterer and talked to them about the dinner! Ken said he told him, "So why didn't you tell me that to begin with, and save my wife the time and trouble she went to?"

I'm truly not making light of food allergies--I know they're very serious. A former coworker found out that her daughter had several food allergies, and it's not easy to find things that you can eat. But isn't it kind of weird to expect a buffet dinner to conform to your dietary rules? Especially when someone has already sent you something showing that there are other options? And I think that noting that the Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms would mean almost certain death is a touch of hyperbole that wasn't really necessary. So don't eat 'em, already.

I think disaster was averted...but if Ken introduces me to this couple tonight, I'm sure I'll have that "FISH = Death" phrase running through my mind. I'm glad I've got a great poker face.

A Public Service Announcement

In the past couple of days, both Ken and I have received a couple of mass emails that contained some cute pictures and funny stuff. That's not a problem. However, that email list was copied by someone else to send out another mass email that contained a link to a website which apparently contained a virus. That resulted in another mass email, using the same email list, that included a website to get a free anti-virus program. Yet another mass email, again using the same list, stated that the anti-virus program had completely locked up their computer. I think there might be a couple more waiting for me when I check.

I respectfully submit that any mass emails we send out should use BCC rather than CC. Some people do not want their emails shared with the public at large. I do occasionally send out mass emails or forwards, but it's either an email group in which we just share with each other, or I send it to my own email address first, and everyone else gets a BCC. Think about how some of those forwards make the rounds, and do you really want your email address up there for people you don't know to see? Please don't subject others to spam or unwanted forwards and junk mail. It's bad enough as it is, and we need to respect each other's privacy.

And one more point: be very careful when hitting "Reply All." Are you sure you want your reply going out to everyone on that list?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Being bookish

Sorry if I've been a little scarce today!

I ran some errands this morning, and I was pleased with my tank top score at Walmart! They had some clearance racks set out, and I browsed through them real quick. I got a few nice workout tank tops, including a Danskin one, for a really reasonable price--I even got one for $1! Can't beat that with a stick. I'm not sure if it will be warm enough in the workout area this winter to wear them, but they'll be great for spring and summer.

After some puttering around here (I still want to replant Mr. Lucky Bamboo), I settled in (as did Sheeba, on my lap) and read the next story in the new Stephen King book. Wow, I was enthralled! King has been accused in the past of writing weak female characters, and that's probably a fair criticism, but I think he started changing that several years ago. Jesse Burlingame in Gerald's Game was a pretty tough cookie, and so was Dolores Claiborne. In his story "The Gingerbread Girl," I think Emily is another brave female character.

I've also noticed that several people have their Shelfari bookshelf on their sidebar, and I kind of liked the looks of that, so I've put one up, too. I kept it small...I didn't feel like adding the ENTIRE BOOKSHELF of books I have to read! So I kept it at three for now. I made my bookshelf black. I think it fits in better with the decor of my blog, don't you? Ha!

I get headlines from our local paper every morning, and I was very disturbed to read about a recent robbery in our area:

Police investigate bra theft at mall

By DAVE STEPHENS
Tribune Staff Writer


MISHAWAKA — Police are looking for three shoplifting suspects who apparently needed some support.

Just after 7 p.m. Thursday, police were called to the University Park Mall’s Victoria’s Secret store, where the store manager reported one man and two women had walked out with 40 bras.

Police say the team apparently walked out of the store with two drawers full of bras. At $40 each, the bras mean a $1,600 loss in merchandise. The store manager was unable to provide detailed descriptions of the suspects to police.

That's really frightening. I wonder if they just got tired of hanging out at the mall? I'm sure our local police will stay abreast of the case. There was a tip that the bandits were seen stuffing their faces at Hooter's but it was a falsie. There was one witness, but she was unable to give much of a description other than all three thieves had "pastie" complexions. I'm sure when they catch these boobs, our community will find it very uplifting to have them separated from their life of crime.

Hee hee! How could I resist? Feel free to continue in comments, if you have a few gems of your own that occur to you!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Infection Connection



Are you under the influence? I hope not, but if so, get to bed and get some rest, drink lots of fluids, and next year, you might want to consider getting the flu shot.

That's right, I'm not talking about your over-indulgence in certain alcoholic libations, you party animals, I'm talking about everyone's least favorite winter-time scourge, influenza. Influenza is the Italian word for influence, and it is believed to have gotten its name, long before the causative virus was discovered in 1933, because illness was once thought to be influenced by the stars.

Influenza has been around for thousands of years, but pandemics began to take place with the development of large cities in the 18th and 19th centuries. Human influenza developed as a result of close proximity to animals such as pigs, horses, and chickens, and that is still the case. In general, pandemic flu occurs every 25-30 years. (By the way, the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is that an epidemic is more confined, e.g., to a daycare center or nursing home; a pandemic occurs over a large geographic area and affects the population at large.) It is widely accepted that there were three influenza pandemics in the 20th century, and the mother of them all was what is known as the Spanish Lady of 1918-19, and that is what I'll focus on here.

The 1918 outbreak is now realized to be one of the most widespread and lethal pandemics in world history in terms of deaths. In the United States, some 550,000 people died...more than the military deaths in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Combined. In beleaguered cities, social services ground to a halt as police officers, firefighters, telephone operators, and garbage collectors fell ill. Schools were closed and businesses were shuttered as public health officials tried in vain to halt the spread of the disease. Cities had to resort to mass graves, as the number of dead grew too large to accommodate individual graves. When both parents died from the flu, orphan children wandered the streets.

By the time the pandemic ended in 1919, it was originally thought that 40-50 million people had died worldwide. Current estimates are 50-100 million. At that time, influenza was not a reportable disease, and not tracked by public health agencies, so records are spotty. But based on descriptions of various illnesses at that time, and the widespread infection rate (up to 20%), it's certain that tens of millions died.

So what made this strain such a killer? Take a look at this chart of deaths by age group. See the U-shaped curve with the dotted line? That's how influenza normally behaves. It kills more children and the elderly. The 1918 strain affected those groups as well, but also seemed to target the young and healthy, as shown on the graph by the solid line. The virus spread like wildfire through military bases, killing many young men in the prime of their life. After the pandemic ended, the strain of virus seemed to vanish into oblivion, with the same symptoms never occurring again. For many years, the virulence of that particular strain was a mystery. All influenza viruses have the usual virulence factors, such as Hemagglutinin, a protein that causes the viruses to stick to the host cell, and Neuraminidase, an enzyme that aids in allowing a virus to enter the host cell; it also aids in the release of replicated viruses produced in infected cells. If you see the notation H5N1, for example, that is how avian influenza is characterized. But there had to be more there in the 1918 strain than the typical virulence factors.

In the late 1990's, a team of scientists found the body of an Inuit woman, a 1918 influenza victim, buried in a mass grave in Alaska. They found well-preserved viral material in her lungs, and they recovered enough viral RNA that they were able uncover the complete gene sequence of the strain that for decades they thought was gone from history (it is characterized as an H1N1 strain). Using this "reanimated" virus, another team of scientists was able to conduct tests (in BioSafety Level 4 conditions--suits and air hoses--of course) that resulted in the discovery of at least one virulence mechanism: in the host, this strain triggers an immune response that is often called a cytokine storm. Massive amounts of chemicals and disease-fighting cells pour into the lungs, resulting in such an accumulation of cellular material and fluids that the victim literally drowns. A similar mechanism has been found with avian influenza, which fortunately is not easily passed from human to human. For now. There is still much to be discovered about the 1918 strain, but what an amazing start, and a possible clue to how to respond more effectively to current strains.

This is one of the reasons I get a flu shot every year! Now, if such a killer strain emerges again (and in my humble opinion, I believe it will), it will be an unexpected strain that has mutated via antigenic shift. The flu vaccine will not fully protect against such a different strain. But there may be enough protection to keep you from the worst case scenario. (That would be death.) That's one of the reasons influenza is such a nasty and unpredictable bug--it's the mother of multiple mutations. If you get a particular strain of influenza, your body puts up a good fight and triggers an immune response...hey presto, you've got antibodies to that strain and won't get it again. But the virus changes from year to year via antigenic drift. These are subtle changes in the virus's RNA makeup, but they are enough that your body is unable to recognize it as a strain it's encountered before, and thus the antibodies from the previous strain aren't released. Still with me? There is no such thing as a natural immunity to influenza. To a particular strain, yes, but that particular strain isn't going to exist next year...it's going to change its makeup just enough so that your immune response won't be full and immediate.

The flu vaccine isn't 100%, and the production depends upon the trends of the previous year. Scientists and doctors do their best to track various strains and figure out what will be the prevalent strains the following year, and include those in the vaccine. This doesn't always work, and last year, we saw a strain that wasn't included in the vaccine. Some of my work pals got it and were laid low for quite a while. But a flu shot can help protect you, your loved ones, and the community in general. Call your doctor, or your county health department, for more information. The county health department should have low-cost or no-cost options for you.

Stay healthy this year, and may all your influences be good ones!

Sources:

University of Wisconsin-Madison (2007, January 17). Lethal Secret Of 1918 Influenza Virus Uncovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 13, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/01/070117134419.htm

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (2007, July 4). Scientists Describe How 1918 Influenza Virus Sample Was Exhumed In Alaska. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 13, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/07/070702145610.htm

Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Fourth Horseman. London: Phoenix; 1993

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1999

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My own personal Patriot Act



Thanks to those who left comments on my previous entry about Goshen College. A quick synopsis: a conservative talk radio host, Mike Gallagher, criticized Goshen College (one of our local colleges) and accused them of lacking patriotism for not playing the national anthem at sporting events, and wondered why they are accepting federal student aid. There were some questions, and I would like to address this a little further. I've been thinking, you see. (RUN!)

In his Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce had this to say about patriotism: "Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first." If you recall my commentary on Bierce in the past, you'll remember that Ambrose could be a little...harsh. However, unbridled patriotism results in extreme nationalism and jingoism, and a feeling of "my country right or wrong."

I can't go as far as Bierce, and believe me, I love our country and believe I am fortunate to live here. But I do wonder at some of the concerns in our country about "lack of patriotism." First of all, patriotism is not a concrete entity with a set definition; it is a concept, a feeling that one harbors for one's country. To provide what I think is a fair example, it is similar to faith: it cannot be held in the hand, but it is an idea that is real to many. Outward manifestations of patriotism, such as flying the flag or singing patriotic songs, are symbols of that feeling, not requirements or evidence that someone is displaying appropriate enthusiasm.

Because patriotism is an ideological concept, the government cannot legislate patriotism--OR faith. It is a feeling that is unique to the individual, and there are no guidelines for what makes a "good patriot," any more than the government gets to decide who is a good Christian, or a good Jew, or anyone of any other religion. Who would make those guidelines? What would those guidelines entail? If the guidelines were not followed, what would be the punishment? There is no legislation stating that in order to be patriotic, certain laws must be followed and certain songs must be sung, or that certain behavior must be exhibited. There is also no cause to question someone's (or some college's) patriotism because they choose not to play the national anthem. That is their choice, and for whatever reason they have made that choice, their decision must be respected. No reason is necessary or must be given. The government cannot regulate or legislate ideas. We're edging dangerously close to 1984 territory there.

Federal student aid is not predicated upon whether or not a college falls in line with some nebulous definition of patriotism, let alone the definition of some jackbooted talk radio host. Goshen College is not a church, it is a college. It is not run by the Mennonite church, it was founded by people of that faith, much the way Cornell and Johns Hopkins were founded by Quakers, Liberty University was founded by Baptists, and Notre Dame (and many other universities) was founded by Catholics. Any such college or university, and the students who attend, is eligible for federal aid.

Just as we all make our own decisions regarding faith, Goshen College has made the decision to not play the national anthem during their athletic events. I don't question why (although it seems to be based upon the pacifist nature of the founders of the college), and the reason is not important. It is their decision to make, not mine, not our government's, and certainly not Mike Gallagher's. I stand by my statement that Gallagher was way out of line in his remarks against the college, and if any Goshen College students or faculty members happen to read this, I say, "GO MAPLE LEAFS!"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm conscious, and I object, your Honor!


In today's online edition of our local paper, I was a little pissed off disturbed to read a story about one of our local college's turn in the national spotlight.

This was thanks to conservative talk radio host Mike Gallagher, who questioned the patriotism of Goshen College, because they do not play the national anthem during sporting events. From the South Bend Tribune story by Dave Stephens:

Gallagher questioned how Goshen College could say the "Star-Spangled Banner" is undesirable and still accept federal student aid.

"How does a college like Goshen deal with, like, teaching history, or teaching about the Revolutionary War, or World War II?" Gallagher asked.

Gee, I don't know, Gallagher. How do YOU deal with, like, talking about religious tolerance? Oh yeah...you DON'T! Because it doesn't exist for you!

Goshen College is a Mennonite college. The Mennonites, along with the other Anabaptist religions (including the Amish), are pacifists. They do not believe in war, and they are conscientious objectors in times of war. This doesn't mean that they can't teach about it in their history classes, you numbnuts. Not all Mennonite colleges choose to not play the national anthem at sporting events, but this is Goshen College's policy, and it is based on the tradition set by the group that founded the college. They believe in the separation of church and state, and for the 114 years of their existence, this has been their policy. It is their choice, and to imply that they are not patriotic or that they should not receive federal student aid is intolerance of the worst sort. The Amish and the Mennonites are a large and important part of our community, very kind and decent people, and I find this guy's comments incredibly offensive.

Check this, Gallagher...you can still love your country and not love war. To question this religious group's patriotism because of their personal relationship with their God is abhorrent to me. I had hoped that the rejection of hate-filled propaganda and venomous rhetoric in the recent campaign would have sent a message to Gallagher and others of his ilk, but apparently not. Conservative talk radio seems to be about furthering hate, disseminating misinformation, and generally telling all of us that we are dead wrong if we don't fall into goose-stepping line with their own beliefs.

What's next, Gallagher? Planning on assaulting an Amish guy? Bitchslapping a Buddhist? Hitting a Hutterite? Clouting a Quaker? Big man.

For the record, I'm not a pacifist. I believe there are times when a show of force is necessary. But I will never ridicule or question anyone's patriotism because of their religious beliefs, or because of their own personal moral code. The guy was way out of line on this one.

Veteran's Day and a new book



I may not be thrilled with the wars we're involved in right now, or with war in general, but that doesn't mean that I don't honor and value each and every person who has served, or is serving. Today I thank them all for their service, and for those serving now, I hope they will be home with their loved ones soon. I have a very special place in my heart for several veterans, including my cousin Greg (a Marine in the first Gulf War), my brother-in-law Tom (a Marine in Vietnam), and of course, my Dad (Army in WWII). My nephew Steve is currently in the Marines, and has not been deployed. I don't think it's selfish of any of us to want the situation to stay that way, but we'll deal if and when we need to.

I ran some errands this morning and of course, spent more at Target than I'd intended. One of the things I've been looking for was a shallow glass bowl to put my bamboo in. It's actually getting several leaves, and I haven't killed it yet, so I wanted to get a bigger bowl for it. I found one today...but it's a little bigger than I wanted, so now I'll have this lone bamboo stick plopped in the middle of a wide expanse of emptiness. Does anyone know if they send up shoots elsewhere in the container, or would I have to buy a couple more to stick in there?

Big excitement at Target...the new Stephen King book is out! And there was much rejoicing at Nutwood! It's a collection of short stories called Just After Sunset. Ooooo, scary! This picture doesn't do it justice, but the cover has a way cool prismatic effect. Ooooo, freaky! I'm looking forward to reading a story called "The Cat From Hell." I didn't know Big Steve knew Sheeba! (Totally kidding...as Sheeba likes to hear us say, he's the best kitty in the whole universe. He's sacked out on my lap as I type.)

Then it was a quick trip to the grocery store, then after I put stuff away, it was a little time on the elliptical and a little bit of handweights for my arms. Nothing major, but I'm easing my way into it, trying to work up to a little more each day. Feels pretty good so far...I'm liking the elliptical, especially when I get a nice rhythm going. I don't know where the day has flown to, but I have yet to read any blogs, and I still have another entry bubbling away in the cauldron of my mind. I don't have to make dinner tonight, though, since Ken has a dinner meeting, so that will give me some extra time.

More later, and I'll catch up with you all, don't worry!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Are you well? Plus poll results!

Today I went up to Buchanan, Michigan, to Ken's workplace nuclear generation headquarters. AEP sponsors a wellness program for employees and spouses, and you get a cholesterol screening, glucose, and several other tests. Also a free flu shot. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that while my cholesterol is slightly above normal, and my LDL (the bad stuff) is a little high, my HDL (the good stuff) is so high that my ratio is "good to ideal." My triglycerides are also normal. The person we talked to about our results said that my HDL levels are those of someone who works out every day. What the heck? I don't work out at all! She said it can also indicate a high metabolism, so that must be the deal. That runs in my family, so thanks, Mom and Dad!

My bone density is also still low, so she mentioned a couple of supplements I think I'll try to find. My blood pressure is great. My Body Mass Index is "desirable," but my percent body fat is "poor," so it's time to start using our home gym! And I did indeed start using the elliptical today. Good grief, I thought my legs were going to snap off! I've got some work to do, that's for sure. However, I'm glad about getting started, and I'm glad I did this screening. And I got my flu shot, to boot! I give AEP huge credit for offering this program. As added incentive, if you sign up for their wellness program and go through this screening, they give you a $100 gift card. Is that sweet, or what? So Ken gets one, and I'll get one, too. THEN, if we enroll in health coaching, and meet two goals, we each get...another $100 gift card! The woman we spoke with said they're pretty easy goals, too, like eating more fruits and vegetables. I've already decided to start working out, so there's one right there. I wonder if finding a calcium supplement I can tolerate will count, too?

I have only one complaint about the whole thing. They did fingersticks! Ugh, I hate those, and they hurt worse for me than a needlestick. I have great veins, I'm not afraid of needles, and I'd be happy to take a poke in the arm over a poke in the finger!

I was glad to get my flu shot, too. I'd always gotten it for free at the lab, so when I saw that it was $30 at a local clinic, I was bummed. Thank you, AEP! Everyone IS planning on getting their flu shot, right? Even if you aren't in a high risk group--and since I no longer work with patient specimens, I'm not--if you're around someone who is, protect them from getting the flu from you. (For example, my parents are in their eighties, so they are at risk.) It can also stop the transmission of the virus and reduce the risk of an epidemic or pandemic. Influenza can be a killer, folks. Uh-oh, looks like I've got an entry to work on! Spanish Lady, anyone?

After I got back to South Bend, I stopped by the catering place and paid the balance for our dinner this Saturday. It looks like we'll end up with 110 people, so it's a good turnout! The woman I had met with before wasn't there--she'd just stepped out to run a business errand--so I met with a very nice young man named Travis. He ran the card, then we chatted for a moment. He said he'd probably see me Saturday, because he's the chef! After I got home, I had an email from Ken to up the number of people, so I called and talked to Debbie (who I met with last week). I said that Travis had been very nice and took good care of me, and Debbie said, "Actually, he's my son!" So that was pretty cool--sounds like a family-owned business, and I couldn't have been more impressed with both Debbie and Travis. I hope his cooking will be equally as impressive!

One last thing for now. The other day, I put up a poll asking if Obama's pick as his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is a hottie. Feel free to keep voting because the poll is not closed, but as of this evening and after 75 votes, America has spoken: Rahm Emanuel is officially a hottie. Results were overwhelmingly in favor of his hottie status, with a whopping 84% thinking yeah, I'd do him...and 16% saying, nope, not my cup of tea. I thank you all for participating, and I have to say that your comments were very entertaining! I hope you don't mind that I had a little fun with this, because I think it was good for us all to get a chuckle out of it. I hope that Congressman Emanuel wouldn't mind my little poll, either, but based on the results, I'm sure he'd be fairly happy about it.

So...who's next? Will Indiana Senator Evan Bayh get an appointment? Doubtful, but he's definitely a good-looking guy. George Clooney and Matt Damon were big Obama supporters...will there be spots for them? Can foreign-born people serve on the Cabinet or be appointed to government positions? If so, I'd like to lobby for Daniel Craig. This administration could be a dream come true! (wink)

With apologies to my dear husband...you know you're my one and only, dear!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A narrow escape

We had a lot of fun last evening, at the little birthday party for my sister Sue. Her daughter, my niece Jana, and Jana's husband Brian had it at their house. Their house used to belong to Sue and my brother-in-law Dave, and when Sue and Dave bought a new house, Jana and Brian bought theirs. Still with me? It was neat to see what Jana and Brian have done with it--really warm and interesting paint colors, a corner fireplace on the main level, a home theater on one of the basement levels, and Brian works from home, so he has a really nice office. Jana has done a great job with decorating, and definitely has the knack for it!

Jana made manicotti, and it was very good. We all brought various other things, and had a nice time visiting and eating together. My youngest great-nephew, Hunter, was there, and he's gotten so big! He's a doll, and reminds me very much of my nephew Steve (his Dad) when he was a baby.

I got there a little early at Jana's invitation, because I didn't want to stay late since Ken was getting back from Iowa last night. Also, my night vision is terrible, and I try not to drive at night. Well, that didn't work out so well, because I'd forgotten how quickly dark falls at this time of year. I drove home in the dark, and it was also raining lightly, so that made it worse. I even wore my glasses instead of my contact lenses, but wow, it bothers me to drive in those conditions! I made it home safe and sound, obviously, but I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when I got home. I'm not sure why it's so bad...I guess my eyes are just bad in general, and bad night vision is a part of it.

My Mom called early yesterday afternoon to see if I wanted them to pick me up. I thanked them for the offer, but explained that I'd be leaving earlier than they would probably want to. I hadn't talked to Mom yet about the election, so we chatted about that for a bit. She's hoping that Obama does well, she likes him a lot, and believes he's an extremely intelligent man. I said I was happy I got to talk to her before our get-together, because I figured that it wasn't something that I was going to bring up that evening. She laughed and said, "Yeah, that's probably not a good idea."

Soooo...a few hours later, we're all sitting in the basement, having our dinner. Jana is to my left, and Brian is across from me. The rest of the family is at the larger table to our left. Brian and I heard Susie saying something like, "I have to say that with this election...." Brian and I looked at each other, and Brian said, "Oh no, did she just mention the election?" I said, "Yeah! I told Mom earlier that I wasn't going to bring it up!" Jana missed this part, and asked, "Are they talking about politics? I told Grandma [my Mom] that we can't do that to my Mom on her birthday." Brian said, "Your Mom is the one who brought it up!" I'm laughing about it now, but I suspect that both Brian and I had a moment of panic, where we thought, "Oh no, this could really hit the fan." Brian started talking about seeing deer in their back yard, and he was effective in distracting me from the conversation at the other table. I'm happy to say that no voices were raised, and it seemed to be a civil discussion. I look forward to getting past this initial stage, so that I can feel free to discuss politics with my family again. I think emotions are still a little too high right now.

So once again, you all can be proud of me for not stirring the pot. You don't know how tempting it was, but it will keep for another day.

The Wall That Couldn't Stand

On August 12, 1961, East German guards and workers began to erect barbed wire barricades during the night. When Berliners awoke the following morning, they found that they were now living in a divided city, East Berlin and West Berlin, and there was no longer free passage between the two sectors. Families were separated, workers were unable to reach their places of employment, and students could not attend their classes. The barbed wired was eventually reinforced with steel and concrete, and more than 300 watchtowers were built along the border, as well as 65 miles of anti-vehicle ditches, more than 20 concrete bunkers, and the whole works was patrolled by several hundred dogs and more than ten thousand guards. In this no-man's land, it is estimated that almost 200 people were killed trying to escape East Berlin, although one victims' group claims that at least 1,245 people were killed over the course of the Wall's existence. Recently discovered documents prove that the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic gave orders to shoot and kill those who attempted to escape, including children.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet sector of Berlin and Germany found that there were massive emigrations of Germans to the Western sectors. In an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging, the Berlin Blockade nearly resulted in increased military operations between the East and the West during the high tensions of the Cold War, but the Berlin Airlift brought supplies to East Berliners and the Soviets stood down. But the outflow of East Berliners and East Germans continued, and Nikita Khruschev and East Germany's leader, Walter Ulbricht, decided to seal the breach and close off East Berlin from the Western world, and concocted the Wall and made it happen. The city remained divided until 1989.

At that time, the unrest was growing in East Germany, and large demonstrations took place in East Berlin. In August, the border between Hungary and Austria was opened, and East Germans had a new path to the West. In three days in September, some 13,000 East Germans took the Hungarian route to freedom. Communism was crumbling, and freedom for the East Germans would not be denied.

On November 9, 1989, Politburo member G√ľnter Schabowski spoke on television and announced that East Germans would be allowed to travel abroad. The plan was for this to take effect the following day, but Schabowski had been on vacation, and did not receive a full briefing. When a reporter asked when this would be possible, Schabowski said, "Immediately." In a matter of minutes, crowds had gathered at the border wanting to cross, and to avoid violence, the East German border guards allowed the people to pass. The celebration began in both East and West Berlin, as their city became, for all intents and purposes, reunited.

With the opening of the checkpoint gates, people gathered at the wall with sledgehammers and pickaxes and began to destroy the wall one piece at a time, chipping off souvenirs and eventually destroying large parts of it. The dismantling of the wall was continued by military units and lasted until November 1991. A few short sections and watchtowers were left standing as memorials. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the beginning of East and West German reunification, and on October 3, 1990, the two countries were formally designated once as again as Germany.

This subject came up recently when Shane reconnected with some friends that were in his group for his trip to Germany. Shane and I sometimes talk of our feelings as we watched on live TV as Germans took sledgehammers to the Wall, and destroyed what had physically and mentally divided them for so many years. The Wall has now become a symbol, an icon of the barriers between countries and ideologies. The Cold War (at least as we knew it) that was so real and so pervasive during our youth is now a memory, and we have moved on to perhaps even greater challenges. When I see pictures or video of the Wall coming down, I believe that any barrier can be broken and that all wounds can be healed, if only we have faith that it can happen and if we work to make it happen. It also reminds me of just how precious our freedom is, and how fortunate we are to live in a free society. On this anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, please take a moment to give thanks for that freedom, and be happy for the families and friends who were divided for decades in Berlin, and were able to once again become one.

Shane will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the German at the end of this video reads, "Eventually every wall falls."