Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Loose Change

Last year when I was helping Maggy clean up her apartment I came across a bag of loose change - complete with coin wrappers, earrings and odds and ends of hardware. I've long held a slightly guilty theory that money found in the laundry and on the floor belongs to the person doing the cleaning. I'm not sure that applies to change sequestered in its own container - but in the name of uncluttering Maggy's life, I took possession of the bag.

Last week, in my endless effort to conquer clutter in my house, the bag of change surfaced again. Maggy and I are not that far apart in clutter control.

This pile of coins also stirs that kid-like sense of the of finding a treasure. Sunday afternoon I couldn't resist sitting down with Prairie Home Companion on the radio and sorting through the coins. It seems to be about $50. There's a Euro and some miscellaneous European coins, a Sacajawea, at least one wheatie penny, several FDR dimes and Washington quarters to fill blanks in my collection and the little purple charm that says "I love you."

I got through the quarters and dimes. But the pennies and nickels are still on the table. I think I'm still missing something in the clutter control concept.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


On the off chance you don't have enough books cued up in your reading list, this Best of 2006 list is in Rebecca's Pocket. Best of 2006 includes links to "Best of..." lists from the American Library Association, the Library Journal, the New York Times, Publishers Weekly and many more. I'm happy to find that I've already read several books that appear on one or more of the lists. My book group's current selection, The Inheritance of Loss, is on several of the lists.

But I'm haunted by the thought that if I only read one book a week and I'm lucky enough to have my eyesight hold out for thirty years, I'm going to have to be pretty selective. I've only recently learned that if I'm a couple of chapters into a book and it's just not doing anything for me, ditch it - or at least move it to the bottom of the list.

Bill, with his depression-era frugality, is irresistibly drawn to bargain books advertised in junk mail. This week he gave me one of those books that inspires me to ask, "Is it possible that publishers are paying people for books this bad?" Success with Organic Fruit is packed with misinformation and incredibly bad photos.

So, things that are open right now on the end table, bedside table and kitchen table:

The Eternal Frontier, An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples, Tim Flannery
The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
The End of Faith, Sam Harris

Some of the books working their way to the top of the pile:

Collapse, Jared Diamond
Crimes Against Nature, Robert F Kennedy, Jr
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant (okay, I'm way behind in fiction)
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (ditto)

Things I may have to buy soon:

John Adams, David McCullough
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Jimmy Carter
and a number of books recently featured on CSPAN's BookTV

Saturday, March 17, 2007


This email says it all about my life in general and today in particular.

10 Minute Guide to Planning sounds like just the kind of book I'd grab in the library. Sadly, I have no recollection of it.

I hope it's here somewhere. Maybe it will help me figure out how to remember to return library books on time. Maybe it will help me prioritize the dozens of things I want to (have to?) do today in preparation for having friends here for dinner tonight. Sigh. I probably shouldn't take time today to look for the book - much less to read it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Fire and Ice

The Monday night weather forecast was for very low temperatures. So, I stayed up late to keep the fire going (and to whip Babylon in Civilization Conquests.)

I was making many trips to the kitchen to add wood to the fire and paying attention to the outdoor temperature. So I took the opportunity to put some ice candle molds outside the kitchen door. 'Til now, it's generally been too warm or too cold outside to succeed. Since the ice forms first on top it's hard to catch the moment when the sides are thick enough to hold up but the liquid center is still large enough to create a cavity large enough to hold a candle.

This is usually a winter solstice ritual. But this time I added some green color to celebrate spring.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Evidence-based Medicine and Skepticism

Yesterday was the kind of cold day that makes it seem like a good idea just to stay home. Although I did shovel the sidewalk and go to the library with Bill, I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on magazines in the overflow basket.

Here's one I just can't get out of my mind. Time magazine, in an article headlined Are Doctors Just Playing Hunches? writes:

Increasingly, doctors seeking to provide their patients with the best possible care are exploring what is known as evidence-based medicine--a hard, cold, empirical look at what works, what doesn't and how to distinguish between the two...

...Whatever the merits of evidence-based medicine, it got off to a rocky start. When Guyatt began championing it back in the 1990s, he called it "scientific medicine," but he learned quickly that if you want to start a revolution, it helps to pick the right slogan. Many of his colleagues were outraged by the implied insult to their expertise. So he quickly went with "evidence-based," and tempers cooled.

Let's set aside for the moment what medicine might have been before Canadian Dr Gordon Guyatt began using the terms "scientific medicine" and "evidence-based medicine." One aspect of evidence-based medicine demonstrates that many widely accepted medical tests lead to unnecessary biopsies, false positives and incorrect, often damaging, treatments. [Some of my friends will be rolling their eyes by now - I've been saying this for years and they think I'm just nuts to resist every available test.]

There are lots of things doctors do very well. I don't hesitate to go to a doctor when I have an infection that I think will benefit from antibiotics. I can recognize critical injuries that require a doctor's attention. But our expectations of doctors' abilities to diagnose and treat chronic ailments is hugely overblown.

Most of her life my mother was thought to have tuberculosis. She was treated variously for asthma, emphysema and chronic respiratory disease. Did some of those treatments help her? Maybe. Did some of them hurt her? Definitely. In the years that she took prednisone, for example, she was never told of its affect on bone density 'til after she broke her hip. In the last weeks of her life in the hospital, visitors were expected to wear masks because of the risk of tuberculosis. I never did 'cause who, in the last days of their life, wants to see their loved ones wearing masks. Autopsy results never found any evidence of tuberculosis.

I can't even describe the regimen my father got into with blood pressure drugs, cholesterol drugs, blood thinners, memory drugs and prostate drugs except to say that he was never able to manage to take the right drugs at the right times.

My daughter had jaundice in the first few days of her life. It's the inability of an immature liver to filter dead red blood cells. I had it when I was born, too. The hospital wanted to keep her when they discharged me. With a firm, "I'm not leaving here without her!" I asked my wonderful general practitioner what he'd do. And, bless his heart, he told me frankly that he'd take her home. It's because of liability issues that he and the hospital have to try to keep her. Once in a while a baby dies of causes possibly related to the jaundice. But the hospital's treatment was an ultraviolet light and daily blood tests. So, I put a plant light over her playpen and took her to the hospital daily for the blood tests. Can't say for sure if either of these things helped. But the jaundice went away, as it normally does, and she's just fine.

So, I'll remain a skeptic. I'll go on searching for a doctor who will talk to me as if he/she recognizes that I understand complete sentences. In fact, I can understand a lot of medical explanations. And I can make evidence-based decisions. And that the risks of some treatments are sometimes just as great as the risks of illness.

[ed. 3/8/07. Thanks to Belinda for this link to a CNN story describing the failure of lung cancer screening. It does not escape my notice that she probably sent the link not so much to support my argument, as to encourage me to quit smoking.]

Monday, March 05, 2007


My writing is sometimes influenced by the people I know read it on a regular basis. One friend reads every Saturday. (Hi, Ros.) A couple of friends often say they like my writing. (Hi, Leslie and Susanne.) And there's my family. (Hi, Cyn, Maggy, Sarah.) Even some political colleagues. (Marty, is that you?)

But I wish more of my friends had blogs to share. It's easy. At the top of this page, toward the right, is a button for "Get your own blog." Blogger will ask you to make up a user id. Don't agonize over this - it's never visible to the public. Then you have an opportunity to name the blog and choose a template to control the appearance of the blog. Again, no need to put too much effort into it - it's changeable.

And you're off. Writing the posts is no more difficult than writing email.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


It's a tough day when my major accomplishment is to turn the page of the calendar. I spent the morning at the forum on the County budget yesterday. I learned a lot about the budget but the forum stopped painfully short of providing an opportunity for meaningful input.

So, I needed the afternoon to set things in order for the coming week. This year I bought one of those terrific blotter calendars so I'd always have an easy place to write stuff down, to encourage me to keep the top of my desk clear and to reduce the need to wipe coffee spills off the desk. It functions great for objectives 1 and 3. But keeping the surface of the desk is still a disaster. Good grief, I'm a procrastinator. And I'm a serious victim of, "Out of sight, out of mind." My idea of prioritizing is to keep the important stuff on the top of the pile. Or start a new pile.

Co-worker: Can I put this here, Cathy?

Cathy: No! That's the doomed pile.

Cathy: New mail goes in this little pile that I can still deal with...One-week-old mail goes in this little pile.

Cathy: The doomed pile is for things I've avoided, ignored, rationalized and hidden from for so long that I can't even look at them without getting sick.

Co-worker: If you're never going to do that stuff, why don't you just throw it away?

Cathy: It would seem so unprofessional.

So, despite getting sidetracked sorting the coins in my purse (I found several keepers, including a 1944 wheat ear penny - and I had just read that it's estimated that 99.9% of all wheaties have been pulled out of circulation - can't think why I have 1.02 Euros), I now have the March calendar page to write on and only one (well, really two) tiny piles of stuff and three dirty dishes on the desk. And it's only March 4!