Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas on the Woodlands Waterway - Lighting of the Doves 2009

On a dreary cool rainy day, our 2009 holiday season began. I'm sure many people did not come this year because of the weather. We were, however, fortunate at the end to have clear skies and cool temperatures. It felt like winter in the air. Even before the skies cleared, it felt like a snowy day here in paradise.

If you look close or click on the photo, you will notice the light snow. This was a truly an event that children adored! There was no doubt as one looked at the faces of these children.

As adults sloshed through the muddy grass, it was apparent that some wished it was a little drier, but the rain did not dampen the spirits of anyone I saw there. One lady in nice shoes was stuck in the mud and commented on her predicament, but even she was smiling and in good spirits!    

Employees of the Township with their families were here and there, enjoying the fruit of their labor. We know it takes a lot of work to put these events together and appreciate such quality in our community. Y'all did a great job again this year! Thanks!!! We are all family.

Have you ever eaten deep fried Oreo cookies? They are "to die for", quoting the M.C. of the event. I DO agree! A dollar a cookie and worth it!

At 5 P.M., the featured entertainment took stage - Needfire. What a show they delivered! Tremendous energy and superb Irish/American electric guitar music and songs.

This high spirited group  came offstage with their wireless instruments and mingled with the crowd while they played.

Sometimes, I could not even find the energetic young man playing the fiddle. He was simply spectacular with his showmanship!

In fact, here he is in mid air playing his music like he was on the ground. Incredible!

But he was not the only energetic performer! This year like last, the Irish dancing group showed off their energy. You can't help but clap and dance with them when you see these girls perform in their colorful costumes. The sound of their feet synchronized to the beat of the music is enough to lift anyone's spirit on a dreary day!

There were many young couples present such as these two lovely people.

Some families really did get into the holiday spirit. Sure it is before Thanksgiving, but then again, winter was in the air, and you just can't get much better than that to jump start the season.

Local ballet talent reminds us of the tradition we have in the arts, especially the Nutcracker, which many of us will see this season. The elegance of this young lady certainly caught the eye of those around the stage.

This lovely and talented "Woodlands Idol winner" prepared the youngsters (and adults) for the arrival of Santa - his debut for 2009! Her Christmas songs and beautiful voice could be heard throughout the park.

And there was of course Santa who attracted a very large crowd as he arrived in his traditional style, by boat on the waterway.

This family caught my eye, all having been to the face painting booth to be branded in the holiday spirit.

Many families enjoyed this evening. A few had to ride daddy's back to be able to see what was going on above boot level!

More photos of the event can be seen at this link.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Montgomery County Library System

The Woodlands enjoys the presence of two libraries from the Montgomery County library system.  These two libraries provide state of the art services, but there have been some recent county funding issues. One can check out paper books, videos, and e-books. Items are checked out for two weeks and can be extended one additional two week period, if required. 40% of county residents own a library card. I have had mine for 10 years and discovered recently that it had expired. Each card expires after 5 years, but it is renewed electronically. I renewed mine over the telephone. I needed it activated, because I checked out an e-book.

The library also offers free computer classes, use of their computers connected to the internet, with a fee for supplies like paper. Free tours of the library is offered to acquaint residents with what is where. They also have meeting rooms that can be reserved. There are story times for toddlers, babies and preschoolers. They offer ESL and adult tutors. The Genealogy Department is recognized statewide for its services. It ranks as the 3rd largest such department in Texas. Another popular services is the same-day library-to-library transfer service. One can request a book be transferred from one library to another in order to check it out.    

Two million items were checked out in the last year in a county with a population of only 400,000 residents. They have an agreement with Lone Star College to exchange technology books for non-technology books, so that each library system can stock more efficiently. That brings the ability to loan technical books to residents without any additional cost  burden to the county. There are several programs available to help the library. In The Woodlands, one is "Adopt a book". Another is the "Friends of the Library" organization.  The "Friends" raise funds by operating a used book store at both libraries, a semi-annual used book sale and from donations.

An interesting trend away non-fiction to fiction material has been occurring over the past few years. A typical book must be replaced after about 46 uses. The library needed to replace some 879,000 books  last year but only was provided enough funds to replace 300,000. This is also a trend. The county is reducing the library's annual funds. Next year, the library will be provided with $50,000 less than 2009! We have empty shelves at some locations.

South Regional Library: 2101 Lake Robins Dr., 77380 Mon-Thurs - 9AM-9PM, 9AM-5PM on Fri-Sat
936-442-7727, 936-788-8372

George and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Library: 8125 Ashlane Way, 77382, same hours as above
936-442-7728, 281-362-0772



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Before putting out the trash

Doing it every week! Do you? Just like clockwork in The Woodlands, like every other urban area these days, we make a trip to the curbside. Trouble is, we have to make decisions what goes where and when. In my neighborhood, once a week, we must put out our recyclables first thing in the morning or the evening before trash pickup day.  To organize the little green bin takes some doing, but more stressful than trying to be orderly, we ask ourselves, what exactly is allowed in that green thing? I look at our bin in the garage and see all this stuff my family has presented me in our container. I must take out what does not belong. Nope, no bottles. Nope, no plastic bags. Nope, no Styrofoam. There are a bunch of nope's! Yep, I can leave the plastic milk bottle in the bin, but need to take the lid off. Ugh! Wish the family had rinsed it out first. That is nasty! Bet it was put in here a full week ago!

Well, most of us want to be do-gooders, but when it comes down to execution, maybe we are not too thrilled or knowledgeable about the task. Tonight, our community sponsored a lecture about the recycling process here and generally how it works in Texas and globally. I have to thank Lynn Aldridge from the association for organizing the little very informative presentation. Everyone in the community was invited, but the little room in the library was only half full of spectators. Not much interest on this Monday night, but generally, there is not a lot of enthusiasm to attend these presentations. What few people do attend are definitely interested though. There were plenty of questions and plenty of answers. I do wish more residents would take an interest in these lectures. Lynn manages to have guest speakers who are subject matter experts at each meting. Many of us know her from Environmental Services as she is one of  the senior staff who works full time to make the environment be part of our lives, on our platter of concern, and the quality of our lives better.

On this particular occasion, I saw flaws in our recycling process. The association staff are quick to point this out. Like so many other recycling communities, we fall far short in our attempt to reclaim what can be reused. If we are diligent, we leverage not only curbside pickup of reusable trash, but we also take some items to the local recycle plant and grocery store. Most residents don't go that far. Curbside yes; retaining and delivering stuff elsewhere is not so popular. Much of it gets put into the trash can, to help fill our diminishing land fill areas.

Our curbside process in The Woodlands only supports plastic #1 and #2. We have what is called a single stream  of recyclable materials. We can put folded boxes at curbside, other cardboard boxes, newspaper, magazines, and some plastics in the green bin. On arrival at the processing center here, the materials are baled to be sent to another location for sorting and packaging as a commodity for a third party to purchase. This is simple and archaic, with a relatively low overall material recovery rate. In The Woodlands, we should have a much better process. I wish we would be recycling on a much higher plane. In my opinion, we do not exhibit sufficient environmental responsibility for this day and age. Lynn tells us that it is a financial issue and that the staff in the association has the same desire and long term goal to do much more. I ask that it be brought forward to residents to decide if they want to expend more to take on a higher level of responsibility on this subject. Maybe we need a special interest group to push this in the Township.  

Plastics are graded by their chemical makeup and melting point. They have to be fairly "clean", of low contamination, to be considered a valuable commodity by the marketplace. There are seven grades of plastic that can be recycled. We process only two of them in our single stream processing system. Do you know you need to take plastic bags to the grocery store for recycling? What do you do with glass? That should not be placed in the bin either but delivered by you to the county's recycling plant at 1122 Pruitt Rd, easily accessible from The Woodlands. What else? Look at the definition of the plastic grades.1 What I want to do is put every plastic out for curbside pickup, but we do not have the technology to process them. A new contract is being prepared by the association, soon to be the Township. In about a year, the current contract will end. We need to rethink where we are and where we want to go with recycling here.  In this economic climate, it is generally felt that we should not set out on anything new, but maybe that is exactly what we need to do. Start-up of something new always requires cash, but hopefully the Environmental group here will be challenged to come up with a strategic plan, a road map to achieve true partnerships with service companies that can help us get unstuck and free us to move forward in this 21st century. I am happy we added folded boxes to our curbside pickup. We however need more, much more. Bottles, Styrofoam,  aluminum cans, plastic bags and other recyclables need to be part of the curbside pickup. We also need a larger container for some families.

The list of plastics that can be recycled are cited from earth911 1. We process only #1 and #2 plastics. On many containers, the type of plastic is actually printed on the bottom of the container. So look for PET or HDPE on the bottom for helping to sort it out. I looked at a few bottles in my frig; Hunt's Catchup had PETE on it as did another product. RAGU had nothing, but I would guess PETE. I will put them both in the recycle bin when they are empty.

#1 PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) (normally called PETE) – Fizzy drink bottles, oven-ready meal trays and water bottles
#2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene) – Milk bottles, detergent bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners and grocery, trash and retail bags
#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) – Cling film (plastic food wrap), vegetable oil bottles, loose-leaf binders and construction products such as plastic pipes
#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) – Dry cleaning bags, produce bags, trash can liners, bread bags, frozen food bags and squeezable bottles, such as mustard and honey
#5 PP (Polypropylene) – Ketchup bottles, medicine bottles, aerosol caps and drinking straws
#6 PS (Polystyrene) – Compact disc jackets, grocery store meat trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, foam packaging peanuts and plastic tableware
#7 Other - Three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles, certain kinds of food containers and Tupperware

So how about bottles? These days the value of glass continues to be high enough to produce recycled products. There is substantial savings to recycle glass, but it needs to be prepared, just like other materials for selling as a commodity. Colored glass must be separated. We used to have curbside collection of glass and it has been discontinued. We just don't have the facilities to safely and efficiently sort it out and deliver it to a processing manufacturer.

And paper? We miss a great deal of paper products to sell. There are many types of paper we do not process. I will put telephone directories, pamphlets, magazines and newspaper into the bin.

And cardboard? paperboard and cardboard can be placed in the bin. It should be clean from food.

And aluminum cans? Yes, they should be placed in the bin.

Further information on recycling or trash pickup, please refer to the association website.

On the back side of our routine, we must remember to put the bin and garbage can back out of sight from the street, before the next morning. That is a requirement here, and we agreed to do that when we signed our covenant when we purchased our home (or rented it). That makes our community more aesthetically pleasing and believe me, residents appreciate their neighbors doing that. No one wants to see a garage can on the curb more than 24 hours! And we don't want to see it in front of the garage either. It should not be a part of the landscape. 

1 Earth911 website - plastics
2 Earth911 website - paper

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yellow Mellow - Fall is here

Have you ever been taken back by what you see in nature? Here on the pond near my home in The Woodlands Texas, I noticed this last week an unusual scene. Everything I saw seemed to be yellow! Well, today cool air has put it all into perspective. It is fall! This weather has brought a mellow feeling from my childhood that definitely includes Halloween and the beginning of the yellow leaves. Yellow is a harsh color to me in the summer. It reminds me of heat! By golly, we have had plenty of that this year.

What caught my eye this week was the yellow reflection on the surface of the pond. Then and only then did I become very interested in the color. Now I could see the departure of summer and coming of cool weather. On closer inspection, I found nature in change.

Honey bees were gathering honey by the bucketful.

Busy as a bee has real meaning on the pond right now. Winter is approaching and the last opportunity to collect honey in abundance will wane in the coming month.

One needs to look closely at the life on the pond  to appreciate what is going on. Small and large butterflies are also in abundance, preparing for migration to southern winter habitats. Look at the yellow reflection under the wings of this little guy. This is the hardness of the summer sunlit yellows of the flowers. This will be replaced by the more subtle colors of autumn very soon as the trees change color.

Various other butterflies are abundant as well. The pond is simply teeming with wildlife, seeking the nectar of the wild yellow flowers.

When the Monarchs suddenly showed up, their size and magnificence seemed to eclipse the colors of the other creatures. I had to say to myself, it has been a long difficult summer for many creatures, but look what is happening before my very eyes! The pond is full of creatures celebrating the coming fall and the drought has been broken.  Yellow is not so extremely hard after all. It became absolutely beautiful!

So mellow yellow? That it is!

"They call me Mellow Yellow.
Born-a high forever to fly.
Wind-a velocity nil.
Born-a high forever to fly.
If you want your cup, I will fill.
They call me Mellow Yellow"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What to expect in the mail for 2009 taxes

Your "association assessments" this year will arrive with your county tax bill. There will be one payment to the county for all your local taxes. Therefore the payment expectation will be earlier than the past. This is part of the new township method of collecting assessment dues for our local services and amenities in The Woodlands. You should receive your bill in October and pay by January 31, 2010.  Your township tax payments of residents and businesses will fund the operation of The Woodlands for the calendar year 2010.

Please call the Community Associations of The Woodlands, Assessments Department, at 281.210.3974, or e-mail, for any assessment questions during this transition period. Transition and governance information can also be reviewed on

Monday, August 24, 2009

Go Texans! Professional Football is back!

The Woodlands is not very far from Houston, but you can't get to the Texans Reliant Stadium ball park in 30 minutes! Not much more than that on a good traffic day, it was nevertheless our recreational destination this week. My friend has PSL seats, so we get to view the game from a terrific vantage point. Definitely an amenity, I am so glad we live here. Our neighbors to the south host football, baseball, two basketball, hockey and soccer teams at a top professional level. This time it was the preseason opener at home for the Texans against the New Orleans Saints. I took my camera to share the event with readers.

First there was the Tailgating party. And partying was what the fans was doing! First game of the season at home. The real fans show up at this. These two photos were taken at a Tailgate bus whose owner sounds a siren each time a toast is to be made and passes out a beer to everyone in the crowd. The beer is to be chug-a-lugged on the spot without spilling it all over you. It is opened at both ends. I told the guy after the first time, I need a lesson on drinking a can of beer from both ends at the same time. Well, the guys in this photo showed me that you drink from the bottom. So "TOPS UP!" or "BOTTOMS DOWN!".

You might see Texan ladies in shorts with high heels like this one. For those who don't know, the little lady is all dressed up for a Texan game, and it was very hot outside! She was just fine. Party time!

You will run across Tejanos (if you are unfamiliar with this word, you can look it up. It means a native Texan who has a Mexican heritage.) "Tejas" was a state of Mexico and is Spanish for "Texas". Remember that Texas was at one time part of Mexico and then became a nation with mixed Tejano and gringo blood lines.

Part of being there is to watch the game, but part is to cheer them on as well. Ya gotta watch the cheerleaders to do that part, so we were good boys and did just that! Meet Brandi, one of 29 fabulous 2009 Texan Cheerleaders. She danced good too! Then there is another aspect of the game to appreciate - the fans themselves. Cute ones, wierd ones, young ones, old ones, ... you name it, that type of fan was there!

To see more photos of fans, cheerleaders, players and the festivities, I have quite a few for you to enjoy at this site:
Woodlands Photo Studio (Woody's Photography).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Morning view of outdoors from inside

Many of us in The Woodlands Texas can relate that it feels better to have breakfast these days inside. I do it both ways, outside on the patio and inside depending on my mood. August and September typically are hot and humid months. So on this Saturday morning at the breakfast table, I looked to the west from my chair and this is what I saw. I thought, "this is why I am here". Many homes in The Woodlands have such views, because the forest surrounds the home. A home with many windows reaching high in an open house is a practical and desired design for being a part of nature. In many locations however, especially new subdivisions, this is not the case. Trees were not as valued in construction. Builders liked to remove them. Custom builders do a much better job than the traditional large companies. That is a shame! If you want such a view from inside your home and have no trees around your home, please plant them. In any home, you need trees around the house. Some people have a phobia about trees and hurricanes. The pleasure you or any new home owner will have is beyond words. Looking through glass panes to the outside world is what living should be in The Woodlands. This is the reason I am here. The squirrels are visibly playing in the trees; we have two families of fledgling Cardinals growing up in the yard, two families of Sparrows, one family of Mockingbirds, and one family of Hummingbirds. The bird feeders are apparent and I watch them as I pass through the house every day. Woodpeckers and Blue Jays are regular visitors in the yard. At times, we also have Crows. This is a great place to live and enjoy nature.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Remembering the Gardenias

Today I took photographs after the rain and was thinking about the love my mother had for gardenas. Now we always pronounced that like it was in Spanish - Gardiñas.

Mother, I remember when you told me you would love to have Gardenas because of their bright white flowers. You and I loved their smell, but you said we could not grow them well in Corpus. You could not get enough iron to their leaves;they yellowed and produced little flowers when they produced anything at all. The plants were in reality ugly, sickly. You certainly tried over and again by adding iron supplements. We have a lot of iron in our soil here. In fact we have an iron clay soil that gets harder than a rock sometimes. I bought these two Gardenas because of your love for them. Now I have two large plants and they bloom over and over in the summer. I love them. Look and see some blooms! I don't know if I ever told you some of these things.

I explained to Maria (my daughter) once that I believe it is important to say what you think and feel. That is an obligation, not an option. The other person deserves to know. You, Mother, instilled that in me. I have known it all my life but not always practiced it. I thought many times it had to be obvious. You never thought your mom loved you but she did. You were insecure in love and I don't blame you, but you were very loved by me, my brother and my sister. These flowers live and thrive; they are for you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Galveston Island - It's back!

Guest writer, Laura Jardine, Woodlands Texas resident

I just returned from a trip to Galveston this weekend. Occasionally, I need a dose of sea air and a place to escape the summer heat. We are lucky to have such a place close to The Woodlands. It is one of the reasons we looked forward to returning to the Houston area. I start feeling landlocked if I am too far from the ocean, any ocean, and it is just minutes (okay an hour or so) away from The Woodlands.

I am happy to report that Galveston is back. The island was packed with people looking for summer fun. The economy, the drought conditions in the hill country’s lakes and rivers, and the excessive heat must surely have contributed to the masses on the island. However, I was happy for the local businesses, as they have really had a rough year trying to renovate and stay in business. George Mitchell was instrumental in returning the Strand to its former glory and, although the entire area was hard hit by the hurricane, progress is being made everywhere you look. The Strand is a jewel that holds much historical, cultural and architectural value. In the 1850s Galveston was considered the Wall Street of the South. It had the state’s first bank, electricity, and phone system. I have lived in the Houston area most of my life and still learn something new each time I visit the Strand, nearby museums or tour one of the lovely old stately homes lining Broadway Boulevard. The Grand Opera House has completed renovations and has posted listings for its upcoming season. A trip to the Grand makes for a great couple’s weekend by adding a stay at one of the charming period hotels or bed and breakfast inns, dinner, and an evening carriage ride. Although not all businesses are at 100%, they are certainly open and ready for your business. There are also many extra outings for children when visiting the island other than the obvious beach activities. One of my favorites is the airplane museum. I found it fascinating and informative even though I know nothing about airplanes.

While we lazed on the beach and read our novels, we did dip our toes in the water. You might ask how one could cool off when the water temperature is 91 degrees. The water temperature does vary a bit at different locations on the island, and perhaps the 10-20 mph winds and 89-degree air temperature helped. The water did not feel as warm as it did in 2005 when Katrina and twenty plus storms formed during the hurricane season. That year one could feel the overly warm water and know something was not quite right in the world. I am happy to report the water did not feel as warm as it did then but I’m not an expert.

While I was concerned the sea birds might find a new place to flock after the storm, they have returned in great numbers. I was particularly delighted to see the many brown pelicans. Every afternoon they fly in geese-like formation following the coast westward to roost for the evening. Pelicans were almost extinct on the Texas coast when I grew up, so seeing them is always an affirmation that we are doing something right. Typically Texas had 1,500 to 4,000 nests. However, by 1968, only two nests were found, and by 1970 there were none. In 1970 they were put on the Endangered Species List and two years later DDT was banned for domestic use. It appears that they have recovered and are now crowding out some of the other species on some islands. I call that a success story. I even saw two Roseate Spoonbills on the island. These birds are pink like Flamingos and it is always a treat to see them. It’s also a testament to the health of the environment.

I noticed a lot of the inner island historical homes are receiving long overdue renovations. Much of the island’s architecture is invaluable and deserves preservation. It was a bit shocking and sad to see the potential loss of most of the large Live Oak trees that line Broadway Boulevard. They are now leafless skeletons against the sky and a reminder of the sea water that inundated the island. These trees will be last on the tree removal list to give them more time to recover. They were planted after the 1900 storm and are more than 100 years old. It will be sad to lose them as they give the boulevard its southern charm. However, I am sure, with a little patience they will be replaced with something equally as lovely. So, if you need a place to entertain the kids, a quick weekend interlude, or just have the urge to feel some cool summer sea breeze, I would recommend a trip. It was good for my soul, and Galveston’s economy, to see the island booming.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Before Coffee

Hot climate does not equate to being indoors, well, some of the time. We all know it has been super hot this summer, although a little cooler the past two weeks. Heat can impact our choice of recreational activities. Sure, we all know this, but we may need just a little encouragement to brave it outside. It is difficult to acclimate to temperatures above 100 degrees, so I am finally getting out of the chair, away from the computer, in sports shorts and committing to some exercise. Do you shut down when the heat gets unbearable? I do. Yet there is at least one solution. Just get going earlier in the morning. make it number one and forget having a cup of coffee.

Sure, harder said than done I started the motor this morning even before I could see. It worked. No coffee, just some stretching and getting the heck out of the house. After a full month of "rest", I finally started back again by running (I really can't call that running, more of a jog) three miles.

We do have to look out for our health, even in the severest of climates. The gym? That is one answer, and I plan to go there as well, but the outdoors is beckoning all the time, regardless of the temperature. The gym is a good alternate if you can;t take the outdoors. I suppose if you know me, you already knew I would be out there somewhere, but I have not been running for an entire month!

Personally, I am hoping to see more faces on the pathways here. There were some this morning but not nearly as many as there were in June. I came home, showered, had breakfast and yes, I had my coffee! The day just feels better after a run! Try it for one month. Don't put it off and don't abandon it after a week. In one month you too will feel much better for the entire day and you can improve your health as you set out to do this long term.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Woodlands Texas does rank among the best

The Woodlands was just ranked 14th by Forbes in The place to move. We beat out all but four other Texas locations on criteria mostly related to "relovilles". In other words, we rank high on the list of ultimate living destinations for people outside of this area. Other Texas locations on the top 25 include #6 Frisco, #9 McKinney, #12 Carrollton, #19 Allen, #24 Roundrock, and #25 Plano. Large metro areas of Texas represented include Houston(The Woodlands), Austin (Roundrock) Dallas(Carrollton, McKinney, Frisco). Sugarland was close to being in the top 25.

Forbes article

Monday, July 6, 2009

Have less money, looking for coupons?

Some of us are in this boat, some not. The good news is that businesses everywhere are offering more coupons and deals these days. So what do you do with less money? You spend less money, but doing it wisely is another story. One way to help ourselves is to spend a little time looking for what we need, getting the best deal and consciously prioritizing what we wish to purchase. One place that fascinates me is the website below where you can search stores for coupons. I have found a couple of deals there lately worth a few dollars.

I'd be interested in any other ideas you may have. Other readers would probably also.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pesty House Flies - declaration of war

We asked ourselves, "where are all these flies coming from?" I have not thought much beyond that until today when a friend, clear out of the blue, said exactly the same thing. This is a bad year, caused by lots of water at just the right time, followed by a lengthy dry season. House Flies live for three weeks. That is a long time to have them tickling the hair on your arm! I have decided to do something about this around the house. I am not a person who avoids all pesticides, but I do not like to use them either. Flies like to find places where there is food (our food does just fine, thank you), and where the temperature is more comfortable. You guessed it. Air conditioning! Yes, they love temps about 80 degrees, right along with other household pests, such as mealworms and roaches and such.

So you have a few options. Put all exposed food in the freezer or fridge below 60 degrees, put the heater on in the house to live in 100+ degrees, freeze the home by keeping it below 60 degrees, or maybe use a pesticide and maybe clean up everything outside and put traps inside. Some people will say go totally with the traps. That is fine if that is what you want to do. Maybe you have guessed what I am going to do.

Stop chasing and swatting. If you insist on swatting, do to it music. It is a lot more fun that way. I had one of these bothersome creatures land on the tip of my nose. My kids got even with me and swatted it. Trust me, it is better to manage the situation a different way!

So pesticides are on their way to the porches (they hang out there waiting for you to open the door - cool air here I come), the pantry boards (waiting for an open package), on the windows (they hang out there looking for a crack to get in), around the lights outside (fools them - they think it is air conditioned).

I will spray around and inside the garbage can and the compost pile. Then put pout some fly traps in the house. I am trying not to change the bird feeding. My wife insists that the sugar in the hummingbird feeders is THE source of the problem. Sorry, I disagree. Never seen a fly on the feeders, not once. I want to minimize the impact to the environment but war is war and I have declared war!

I ran across some interesting websites but nothing that substantiates any reason for the this years number of houseflies. I did confirm my own knowledge before I wrote this, but don't know which sites had the pertinent information. Although a naturalist, I am not a fan of houseflies. They are just a human pest! Going to get the cannons and set up a fire line right now.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Digital Television in The Woodlands

This also pertains to Tomball, Spring and probably Conroe, Texas. Today I jumped into this ocean of digits and found that I like it! I sort of stumbled into it by buying a converter and then a digital antenna. Since my daughter was moving in back with us for the summer or even longer, her HDTV was the first experiment. As it turned out, all I needed was a small $30 antenna, just rabbit ears essentially. At first I thought this device did not work, because when I programmed the channels, I got noisy reception just like before. It looked the same - static reception, because we are so far away from the Houston broadcasting towers. But then I tried something, just out of intuition and curiosity. Wow! I found another signal source on the menu of the television set that was digital. The other source was the old analog broadcast method. The world of TV changed in an instant! Now I have perfect reception for those channels which have already converted to digital broadcasting. And when I mean perfect, I mean perfect! Essentially cable TV through the airway!

Expectations are soaring. Could this be the end of cable TV for us? There will be many questions to be answered soon. Will the value of having piped-in digital reception be significantly lowered? I believe so! Now the question for residents in our area will be, "do I need to have the hundreds of channels provided by my cable TV supplier?" Movies might keep us tuned in, but my son has already found an alternative to that. He has connected his wide-band internet to his TV and now watches on-demand streamed movies from Netflix for a fraction of the cost of cable. I just looked at my cable bill which includes about four paid movies. It is $150, but that includes wide-band internet.

What else might be on the plate? I just looked at my $60 bill for a house phone service. I can purchase equipment for less than $300 to move that service to the wide-band internet without any monthly charges. The house phone will have two lines (two telephone numbers) and one will be the same as I have now. There will be free calling to anywhere in the USA and low cost international call services available, as well as all the telephone amenities we are accustomed to such as call waiting, conference calls, and CallerID. In these times of frugality, I can see equivalent or even better service at much less cost.

Technology continues to offer useful alternatives to quality living, right here in The Woodlands. I am looking forward to the new technology television when the local stations all change their broadcast over to digital on June 12th of 2009. I need to find a place to dispose of my antenna in the attic. I have not used it for years but now it will be worthless. It just takes up space. I will research that issue and share the information with my readers... ps ... after receiving a comment from one of my readers below, I have added a reference on antennas.2 Apparently the old antennas will work. I will try out ours in the attic and update this article later.

Now the even better news. We have channels available right now which broadcast only in digital and never have been available for analog TVs. The Houston area is large and there is a wide variety of broadcasters available now. Each analog channel can and will broadcast sub-channels in addition to their current analog mainstream channels. For example, we will have 24 hour weather. I don't have that with my AT&T service except for an application they provide, a slow alternative to direct broadcasting. Of course we will not have a DVR service unless we take the broadcasts through a state-of-the-art home entertainment system or equivalent.

I wonder now how far away from the city one can be and still pick up these channels? There is more research to do. We will point our digital antennas South. I am not sure yet how much we might have to tune up direction to pick up all the channels.The standard network channels all will retain their channel numbers. ABC channel 13 will remain channel 13 for example. Some broadcasting may be on different channels until June 19th. I just previewed all available channels and am having a difficult time picking up channel 45. All others seem to be working just fine. There are three sub-channels for channel 2. Channel 13 had a dedicated sub-channel for the weather. They cover more than just local weather, sort of like the weather channel on cable. I noticed some temporary interference on channel 39. Maybe the weather will affect reception. The television set seems to adjust to fuzzy signals when it loses signal. I checked on reception grade using a website 1 that will characterize the reception expected in any given zip code; it shows we can expect a "strong" signal, so we qualify for indoor reception. There is a lot to learn. We will dedicate one of our TVs to this new technology and see where we will go from here with the others.

1FCC Information
2Antennas with digital TVs

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vinyl Gloves - Extra Large

Have you ever had an "extra large" moment? A few weeks ago, I walked into my family doctor's office to get the ole annual checkup. I got through this one just fine, so I first thought. By this old age, I have had plenty of practice being checked out! The difference this time is that the doctor had something to say. He said, 'well buddy, I am going to send you to a Urologist. You have an enlarged prostate, nothing very serious, just need to get it checked out." "Well doc", I responded, just like any other God fearing adult male, "why do I need to go if there is nothing to worry about?" "Cause of your family history and your age and you just need to go." ... "ok then, whatever the doc thinks is appropriate to do."

In comes Indian Springs Guy to the Urologist! This is a first. I had to learn how to spell and pronounce that and then go for my visit. OK, I am placed into a small room like other doctors provide. I look around the inspection office. Two pair of vinyl glove boxes! Over the years I have grown accustomed to understanding what those things are used for. Then I notice in smaller letters - "EXTRA LARGE"!!

Oh no!!! My mind is going nuts. I hate these inspections! A truck might as well run over me. But "extra large"?!#%@$ After the inspection, the doc explains to me that indeed I have a problem of some sort although it probably is not serious. "OK, doc, if it is probably not serious, I think I am done with this." (thinking that maybe an inspection with extra large gloves will be a one time occurrence in my life). Doc responds, "you need to have a few more things done. You are not through yet" This is getting to sound like EXTRA LARGE in every way. "But doc ..." "But nothing... you need to have more tests. Tell you what, we will treat your PSA level with antibiotics first, then take a look at the issue again afterward. Sometimes this is caused by an infection." I could tell he did not really believe that. His eyes had vinyl gloves written all over them. Honestly, I saw an "Extra Large" reflection in them!

Today was "afterward" day. Here I was at the Urologist office again (see, I did learn to spell that). I review things in his office again, since once again I am waiting for him. I am reminded of his gloves as I see the same two boxes. I think to myself, here we go again. Extra Large! Please just don't do that again, realizing that the meaning of "extra large" may be totally different today. I get blood drawn - no problem, anything but the gloves. Then the doctor comes in. I grimace. He says, "have I explained to you the biopsy process?" Nope, not to me. He hands me a brochure and explains it. He makes out that there is nothing to it. Then no vinyl gloves today - whoopee! "We will get the results of the tests today in about a week. Then I will be able to advise you if you need to have the biopsy. We have to drop your PSA level 2.5 points for you to get out of this." I thought "but if I had known that earlier, I would not have run, or done anything else to aggravate the issue. I want as many percentage points as I can get."

Oh well. Now I know what the "Extra Large" really means and I am cringing on the thought of a next step at this very minute. So do you have your vinyl glove moments? I wish I could get out of this one.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Country Marathon and Half Marathon in Nashville

Some Tennessee people asked me "what's it like running 13 miles?" Well, for one it is 13.1 miles, and I guarantee 0.1 miles makes a difference! Real living is to put health and stamina into your life. That is what I try to do, that is, take a talent that I have been given and make it something to look forward to and enjoy. So what is there that makes an agonizing run something enjoyable? I guess that is a matter of definition. I can't say I really enjoy the "pain" while on the 13 mile course. Normally, there is no actual pain. It is all simply hard work and sweat. Isn't that what we must do to live? Life is full of hard work and sweat. Some say, "no pain, no gain". Well, I go for that. Running in competition is running for self improvement, not to "beat" someone else, but in retrospect, I always compare myself with others to benchmark my own performance. I never set out to "beat" the time of anyone.

This time around, the race was not local as in my past races. I went to the third largest marathon race in the country - Nashville, Tennessee. They call it the "Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon". And that it is! Music that is. In its 10th year of existence, there was a country band on stage every mile, and added to those, there were private bands of bars along the way, also playing for the runners and spectators. And were there specators and runners!! 31000 runners on the course and no telling how many spectators! The streets were lined with them the entire half marathon, during the time I ran. We were cheered by high and intermediate school cheerleaders (in competition themselves), families and residents along the way. Many wanted to give "high fives", and I accomodated them. It helped push me a little. Some said "almost there" - big lies, yet I tried harder each time to get me quicker to the finish line.

Managing 31000 contestants could not possibly be an easy task. There were 32 corrals each containing about 100 contestants, leaving the start line about 2-3 minutes apart. Some people had to wait an hour to start the race! I was in the sixth corral, determined by my projected time to complete the course. At the start, there was a sudden energy rush, knowing that it had actually started. You are now on the clock I thought. I watched my heartbeat rate and keep it under 170. My doctor says to keep it under 160. I don't tell him that I factor up his limit. Maybe he already knows that, but I think I am pulling the wool over his eyes. So I press the button on my watch to start monitoring the heart. It starts a little high because of the adrenelin, but settles quickly as I pace myself as I had trained on the little hills of The Woodlands.

I looked ahead of me and behind me - a sea of humanity. There was no end to people dressed in shorts and funny looking stuff for as far as I could see. That is where the big question was asked - "What have I got myself into?". Too late to stop! Shortly into the race, I ran up on two guys wearing long stockings and asked them directly "what is the story behind those things?" "We lost a bet with his mom. We have to wear her stockings as a result." Sorry I asked. Thought I might learn something... Now ISG, grind it! Let's get on with the race. One foot ahead of the other. That is what I was told. What I was not told was much more important however. Tennessee has real hills. Now that translates to real pain! Why am I telling you that anyway? I guess to justify the outcome. I have to set expectations here. It would be silly to let you think I was going to be a real athlete, be awarded a prize, be on TV and all that stuff. OK, now that you know I did not win the race, I will be more apt to tell the truth.

Geez. I found out there were people running with me from all over the world. I am running in a world class race? Yep. $20,000 to the first one who crossed the finish line first. Well, one thing I know for sure - that aint gonna be me! Maybe a Kenyan, maybe an American lady. The ladies were given an 18-minute head start to compensate for the normal capability differences between genders. As it turned out, many women passed me about mile 10, and I started getting a complex. Some 2000 women crossed the finish line before me. As it turned out, the Kenyan outraced everyone. I saw him heading towards the finish line a little after I arrived halfway in the half marathon. There were two Kenyans at that time running and accompanied by a motorcycle in front of them with a camera mounted on the back of it for the media. That made me feel like an athlete? NOT! There was no cameraman in front of me or the 5000 people ahead of me! Just imagine that. Cameras zooming in on the grimace on my face and the panting with my tongue hanging out!

I have to say, I enjoyed the bands along the way. You could probably see me on local TV dancing to the music like some crazy fool. I can't help it. I like to dance! Well, maybe I should confess to mile 9,10,11,12 and 13. I know I did not dance in front of those stages. I don't even remember hearing the bands. I remember the water stands and the fruit and that refreshing water being sprayed by the residents, but music? I remember the hills really well along those miles. Three of them won! I could not run to the top of those steep inclines without walking, especially those in downtown Nashville. I have never walked in a running race before! How embarrassing! Felt like hiding from everyone.

Sadly, there were contestants who did not fare as well as I. One literally did not live to see another day. A 25-year-old soldier competed in the half marathon with me and collapsed after crossing the finish line with a heart attack. This was a very difficult course under challenging conditions. The young man died in the hospital a short time after being carried there by an ambulance. It was the first fatality ever in the history of this 10-year-old event. He crossed the finish line after I did, so I was completely unaware of his family's tragedy until the evening concert. I witnessed one young lady, twenty something, also who had collapsed on the course. An ambulance was summoned. I said a little prayer for her. The temperature was in the 70s, about 15 degrees higher than expected. I felt it and was totally cognizant of that fact throughout the race. Even though I was highly hydrated the day before, the race obviously dehyrated me at a rapid pace. I drank at the water/energy drink stations, consumed fruit where I could, everything I could think of to cool myself and maintain some sort of momentum. Yet I nearly collapsed at the end myself.

I hate to admit this, but when faced with the cameras at the finish line, I went into full stride at full speed so that I would look good on camera. It was the 400 yard dash! Now I imagined what it would be like to be the first contestant to break the ribbon and cross the line. That is pure ego of a dreamer, is it not? Sure, I passed a few people while doing that, but face it. That made no real difference at all and only threatened my health. As it turned out, there was little space to cool off, so I was faced with overcoming the consequences of that little act in very little space. I am going to complain about that. What were these people thinking anyway? I need to jog for 0.1 miles to cool off, but I had to abruptly stop right after the finish line! Even my tongue felt like it was going to cramp. My calves were cramping and thighs wanted to cramp as I searched for a place to stretch out the muscles. This sensation with the tongue was completely new. I immediately started to think my throat could cramp up, and I could lose the critical ability to breathe. Trying to eat was also a risk it seemed, so I tossed the bagle and ate only fruit. I wanted desperately to have a free beer, so I got in the only long line I could find. Turned out to be the exit line to rendezvous with family and friends. After exiting the runner protected area, a contestant could not return. Wish I had asked what line I was in. I just assumed it would be the beer line! Oh well, now I could go home without my free beer, but where was the truck? When I got there at 5am, there were not 1000's of cars in the parking lots and all I could think about then was racing. Geez! But I got lucky. I parked close to the exit and found the truck without any trouble at all. Got in the truck and wham! Immediately one of my calves locked up in a cramp. Dangerous I thought - to drive in this condition. So I took the keys out of the ignition and waited for another 30 minutes (with stretching) until the muscles stopped their insane twitching and cramping.

Was it worth it? It was! I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and got to enjoy much of the race and the included concert that night. OK, time to brag! Even with all the issues, I still finished in the top 15% of my age group among people accustomed to running on HILLS! Of course we could be extra egotistical and say fame and excellence is just a part of our expectations, but that would be a little white lie. I was pleased at finishing number 33 in my age group of the 220 contestants in that group. I also can say finishing number 5112 of the 31000 runners was also not too bad. Now I can say I did enjoy it and it was worth the while.

All in all, counting the children, there were 36000 runners in this marathon. Running with predominately local Tennessee folks was a privilege and a pleasure. I love country people and these folks were friendly as well as polite on the course. If you get the chance, take up this challenge, meet these people, run this race. You will be liv'n as I am, with great satisfaction of accomplishment among folks who respect you and what you are doing. I once thought it would be impossible for me to do this. My recommendation? Do it! Make a realizable goal and work until you reach it. Then make another goal. Eventually and in not much time at all, you will be able to do the same. Also, do it safely. Make sure the doctor gives you a physical in advance but not far in advance of the extreme exertion dictated by running competitively. Take precautions and monitor your vital signs. I do not receommend listening to music. I recommend listening to your body when under extreme exertion.

Related Links
1. Family Athletics Blog - notebook of keeping fit
2. Newspaper report on death of sargeant
3. Official site of the marathon race

Monday, March 2, 2009

Generations of Texans - Happy Birthday!

Today, some 172 years ago, was born a proud, unique and independent nation on the North American continent. Diversity was its trademark. Vastness was its reputation. A door to the western frontiers was opened for the USA making it have a great impact on the entire world. As a nation, it subsequently earned the right when voted into statehood, to fly its flag alongside of the USA flag. There is no other state that has such a profound privilege.

Texas became the state of the cowboy, with prairies having such a huge expanse of sky that the horizon appears to have no end. Texans are Texans if they live here and will pledge allegiance to the flag of Texas. If they do not pledge that allegiance, they are simply visitors. If born in Texas and living outside of Texas, they have not abandoned their state. They will return. Like John Steinbeck said, "A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner,". Who wants to be a foreigner? We do return to our native place, even if we leave it for work. Yup, we are a different people. We talk difrant; we eat difrant; we luv difrant; we live difrant. We eat Haumburgers, not hamburgers. We proudly deliver our words with a drawl. We eat Barbecue from our ranch heritage. Our state food is called "Mexican Food" but it isn't really Mexican. It is TexMex, derived from ancestral Indians, Tejanos and Anglo Americans. It is a Tejano food, or "Texan" as the name implies (Tejas was the original name of Texas).

What other state defended their country like our Texans did? A lad from South Carolina fought to his death on March 6th at the Alamo to make the Mexicans pay the price for their ethnic cleansing of our state. He killed as many Mexican soldiers as he could to weaken their confidence of eliminating the national pride of Texas. Where would we be without the determination and sacrifice of William B Travis and Stephen F Austin? From that time forward, we Texans have cried "Remember the Alamo". That has great significance to a Texan! The slaughter of 417 Texans (as recorded by the Mexicans) by Santa Ana's troops on March 17th raised the cry for Goliad also. Side-by-side, Tejanos and gringos alike, fought for their rights to live here and determine their own destiny. The Mexicans enraged the Texans at the massacre near Goliad; the Mexicans failed to honor a written agreement of truce by murdering those 417 brave Texans who surrendered to an army six times their size. Col Fannin did not ever manage to join up with Sam Houston as he dies there, but was instrumental in bringing to light a cause and a determination to fight the Mexicans to the bitter end. That generated a fierceness in the troops of Sam Houston that certainly made headlines on April 21st when the Texas yelled out in an attack on Santa Ana at 3:30PM, "Remember La Bahia" and "Remember the Alamo". Vengeance is mine, proclaimed those warriors. They took them in 20 minutes and killed 630 soldiers and captured 700 in the process.

So today we remember our nation now state, and fly our flag proudly. Texans we are. Texans, we stand. We are, not we were.

Remember the Alamo! Now you see why we fly the Lone Star flag. Happy birthday Tejas!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why live in The Woodlands Texas?

Every once in a while we have to ask ourselves, "Why in the world do I live here, instead of some exotic place in the world?". Well, maybe we don't normally ask about exotic places, but at least we do have choices locally.

I have lived here or called this home most of my life. Near the coast and in the forest, The Woodlands is what I call "home". It is north of Houston, not in Houston! I still consider Galveston reasonably close for a day trip. I also have easy access to Freeport and other coastal communities where there are plenty of birds and a number of bird sanctuaries. Although the ocean water is warm in the summer, the seashore provides many neat things to do whether it be fishing, crabbing, boating, sailing, bathing, etc. It is all there, from bike rentals to shopping to about anything you can do on and near the water. That barely touches what I like about this area.

Here I like the weather. Coastal weather is humid, but that is not too much of a reason to say it is horrible in this part of the country, like some people do. Up here some 60+ miles from the coast, the ecology, weather and just about everything totally changes. It is hot at "high noon" but normally mild in the evenings. We go outside in the evenings to enjoy the outdoors even on very hot days. There are some days which we prefer to be inside, especially when we have mosquitoes and high humidity, but we learn to deal with that. In the winter, we can have a week of 70 degree days. That has certainly been the case this year. Even cold days are not very cold, at least in recent years. One year that I recall vividly, we had a rare week of temperatures lower than freezing. You do get rain, wind and coldness when the climate goes south. It can be uncomfortable outside. So there are days we prefer to be inside.

We love these piney woods north of the big city. Just recently, I went to observe our Bald Eagles in a short sleeve shirt early one morning. Two days earlier, I went to watch migrating birds. Yesterday, I went to watch some deer in the evening. Our kids like to watch and play with the ducks on the pond. We have one of the best concert pavilions in the nation right here in The Woodlands, and we are making it bigger and better. There is simply no end to what we have available for recreation and dining.

Sometimes, we like to go to the big city. One member of my family likes to go to a Discotheque there sometimes. There is plenty of nightlife in Houston. We all like to go to the zoo or planetarium or museum in Herman Park. We like to go to an opera or a ballet or a concert. For bargain hunting, we sometimes go to the city. One of the best medical facilities in the world is found in the medical district of Houston.

I consider the Houston area to be the best place to live in the country, but of course it depends on what you really want. I want it all and believe I have it. I fish right here and have three big lakes nearby - Conroe, Livingston and Houston for skiing and water sports. I have a lake right here - Lake Woodlands for kayaking, canoeing, sail boating and fishing. Really, I cannot imagine anywhere on earth as good as it is here, and I have lived, worked and visited diverse places all over the world and the USA. We like to think of ourselves as a secret. I do not like to "sell" our secret place. I am afraid too many people will find it.

But then again, we don't have hardly any snow, nor do we have mountains. Remember that when you think about living here. It is a good reason not to come.

Will your checkbook be stimulated?

I see cities and states squabbling over getting a piece of the $787 billion pie while I'm sitting here wondering about people on fixed incomes who have lost so much money over the past couple of years. Spend money fast and stimulate the economy! It is looking more like engineering and construction companies will prosper as they get get the lion's share of the money. There is a lot to be done to repair infrastructure of this nation. Shifting the cash flow from housing construction to that infrastructure may help stabilize the country. The trickle down will come to cement truck drivers, concrete companies, steel, and other construction related jobs and services.

It is American business in general where I am hoping for a comeback. Those who are on fixed income worry about many things, but right now, loss of income from the economy crisis combined with the rising cost of living is a huge issue. Tax relief will help, but we must see a recovery of business before we can take a deep breath. Those in retirement are holding on tight while those who have bought bigger homes than they can afford are given special consideration to help save the banking system. Hopefully we can come out of this without a full blown depression. There seems to be a spiraling wind that only accelerates in this climate of desperation. Maybe the economic trickle will come home without inflation. Let's at least hope for that!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Sunday - Family and National Day

It just can't get better than this! Some call Superbowl Sunday a national holiday. And in reality, that it is. Who can miss the show's television preamble? Some can but it gets a lot of attention by sports fans. It is the time for the best of the beat singing of the national anthem, the best of the best salutes to our military, the best of entertainment in twelve minutes you will get anywhere. A day of national pride and excitement. OK, we may have a gender issue here, but that has been gradually changing in this country for decades. So families get together, eat snacks and sweets, drink beer and wine, send text messages, if some are out of town, and generally tease each other and root for opposing teams as much as possible. Save your voice for Superbowl day; you will need it! Popcorn, chips, hamburgers, hot dogs, cookies on top of beer, what a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! What do you use for your stomach recovery? I could not even sit down during the last quarter! But I kept shoveling it in.

Now there is DVR! What a great invention for a Superbowl game! I can watch the game twice now, but I am not inclined to watch the game itself on the second viewing. I will replay the commercials! Yes, you heard me right. I love super commercials and only got a taste of them. I did what I had to do during commercials so that I would not miss a moment of the game itself. I am freezing the game in "do not delete" mode, to protect my game from my wife and kids. No soap opera can write over it now.

How about that tribute to our troops? As the jets flew in formation over the stadium, my wife saw the excitement in my eyes. She said, "I am going to buy you some Superbowl tickets one day." That I cannot argue against. Remember when we had the Superbowl here in Houston? My entire family went downtown the evening before the game, like many of you did, to enjoy the crowds and their enthusiasm as the big day approached. That was well worth the trip and time!

2009? It was a great year. In a couple of weeks, we can start thinking about 2010! When is Congress finally going to make this a national holiday anyway?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Do What Mom Did - drink coffee!

In this society, we are often over zealous on what and what not to drink or eat. Today, I am remembering my mom (or "mother" as she preferred to be called) and her living habits. She listened but did not change her living habits when a news article came out saying - don't eat this, do drink this, that is bad for your health, etc etc. What she did do was give me a pattern that seems to work out in the long run. She told me when she was 86 years old, when I was telling her I needed to cut down my intake of coffee - "Hey, I am 86 and I drink lots of coffee every day. You like coffee? Drink it. Your body says it is good for you." Keep in mind that my dear wife says - "don't drink so much coffee; it is bad for you." Well, I can go to sleep on several cups, sooooo .... Different strokes for different folks.

Today as I was reading the news, I came across yet another scientific study that says coffee has its possible benefits (isn't it odd that there is such a reluctance to commit to a conclusion?), so that is my motivation for speaking out on this. Give me coffee. I got a cup in my hand right now!

So I am sharing the news with you. Starbucks is a health joint(maybe I should be a bit more politically sensitive - there are other health joints out there). If you want to avoid Dementia - drink coffee. If you want to lower your risk of Parkinson's disease or lower your chances of arterial disease, drink coffee. OK, now I am stretching this a little, yet I have read several articles on the subject this morning and the conclusion is that coffee is perhaps not bad for you and in fact perhaps good. See? I can be non-committal also. Java now, Java tomorrow, Java forever! My pot of java is mine to drink.

You can Google this yourself, but I will give you the New York Times story that started all of this today. "Coffee Linked to Lower Dementia Risk" If you want to see a pretty nice summary of health effects, you might look at this web page - Coffee Science Information Center - summary of findings

Monday, January 12, 2009

Intensive Care (ICU) - procedural issues, hope for the future

Intensive hospital care over the years has become an increasingly important specialty in the medical profession. It is staffed by folks who are under significant stress and who typically aim to make the patient comfortable while administering procedures to improve and stabilize body functions to a state of self sufficiency. While under the care of these special people, a person will be constantly monitored and there will be a rapid response to discomfort and any threatening change of condition. However, I have an experience to tell, as many of you probably do as well, where there are serious issues with the processes and procedures.

In my case, a fairly healthy somewhat weak elderly person incurs a fall, perhaps due to a mild heart attack. She is unable to rise but crawls to an emergency call button in the middle of the night and attempts to get help but passes out just before she gets to the button. Her distress is not discovered for more than a day.

When discovered, she is transported to the hospital and treated in the emergency room where her condition is stabilized. Then she is taken to the ICU unit to be treated and monitored until she can be moved to a regular room. In the ICU, the family is solaced to see her being cared for intensively. She is connected to a heart monitor and a breathing monitor; she is apparently comfortable. Now her family sees and hears that her vital signs indicate that she is OK. One day later, this person is conscious and able to discern what is happening around her. Things are looking up!

In two days, she looks better and is moved to a regular room. She smiles and is happy to be around her family. The heart starts to beat at a high pace, so she is moved back to the ICU. Now after two days, new problems surface. Her skin is damaged by laying on the floor. She is beginning to suffer more from the weakness of being bed ridden along with the trauma of the fall and laying on the floor.

In a day or so, due to her skin condition, a special mattress for burn patients is ordered. That would seem to help and it probably did. Yet the burden of weight on those same damaged tissues presents a serious threat to her health, sustaining the wounds, even though she is turned every two hours. She is on some serious pain killers for her skin. Nurses keep saying that they are trying to make her as comfortable as possible. That is their goal. Then I am approached by the doctor. Levels of care are explained to me by the attending internist. He says she is in serious trouble and that we need to know the levels of care the hospital offers: (1) All emergency care needed to sustain her life, (2) All care to improve her health but without certain life saving procedures such as heart electrical stimuli should her heart fail, (3)Discontinue life saving techniques altogether and give her everything to make her comfortable until she passes, (4) Take her to a facility for the terminally ill, away from treatment facilities.

We chose the first level. This lady (my mom) had elected to live to the age of 90 or beyond. She was mentally competent and was able to live independently. She had events coming up that she did not want to miss. She wanted to live! So we gave her our full support.

Over the next three weeks in ICU, her health bounced around with good days and bad days. At one juncture, the internist wanted to talk to her and see if she still maintained her posture of recovery irregardless of the pain and difficulties involved. He took her off of sedatives with our consent. He told her to our surprise, that her condition was grave and she had less than a 5% chance of living through this. She could not have surgery because of her weak condition, and it appeared that she would need the surgery if her colon did not start to function very soon. He felt that her colon would never restart. In tears, my mom agreed to go to level two support. I intervened telling the doctor to at least tell her she had a fighting chance! Now I could tell that she was beginning to give in to the illness. She would never recover from this declaration by the doctor. No superman saving techniques would be allowed now.

The next day, dramatically her colon starts to function. She is recovering and able to eat now. Off with the intravenous liquid feeding. This afternoon, the doctor changes his prognosis to a 60% chance of survival, but is unable to tell her so under the same conditions as before. He does say the words, but in my estimation, she does not understand what he says. She does not respond. We remain at level two support.

A few days later, her lungs can no longer sustain her. She has liquid in her lungs and even though she is not running a temperature, the doctors say she needs breathing assistance. She has been on oxygen for a couple of days. So as an emergency procedure, her family decides to put her on a respirator. This is not considered a level one procedure but must be administered as such, because we waited until the last minute to allow it. Now she is on a respirator, a liquid food diet administered by tube, a kidney dialysis machine, and bi-daily skin care.

Her health gradually deteriorates.

Finally, after one month of intensive care, we honor her written request to be taken off of life support systems. She passes away hours thereafter.

In retrospect, I can see very significant opportunities for improvement in the processes and procedures I saw during this long time in the ICU. For one, I feel she needed to be floated, suspended in a water type bed where the medium would be about the same density of the human body. She needed to be removed from the consequences of the gravity of this earth. Medicine apparently does not offer such support systems. I ask the question, why not? Isn't such an invention available? It is an obvious solution to the problem. When we are in water, there is great relief by flotation. Then we look at the other obvious and related part to this. Should not there be some way for a person to get exercise in this environment? Is the ICU patient supposed to abandon all exercise? Is the patient capable of some form of exercise? Isn't exercise supposed to be part of maintaining the human body?

I had this general topic on my list of things to write about, but until today, I had not seen anything supporting this thought process. Today I just read one in the New York Times (see link below). This is a good start towards improving the ICU. I plan to respond, supporting this study on exercise for those in an ICU, especially for those with extended stays (more than 2 days).

It is my sincere belief that my mom died before her time, even though she was 87 years old, because of ineffective procedures and archaic thinking in the ICU. Her age and the related ICU strategies is another subject that I will write about some another time.

New York Times article - A Tactic to Cut I.C.U. Trauma: Get Patients Up