Monday, April 25, 2005

Hospital e-cards

The local hospitals have introduced a commendable use of technology that helps people express care and concern for their hospitalized friends and loved ones. From the hospital website it is possible to send an e-card to a patient. The e-card is printed out and then hand-delivered, usually by a volunteer, and usually within 24 hours.

In an age when insurance companies and their case management services limit the length of a hospital stay, or abruptly require the transfer of the patient to other institutions providing different levels of care, it is increasingly difficult to predict that a patient will still be in the same hospital when a mailed card arrives. E-cards, on the other hand, make it possible for a tangible and attractive expression of support to arrive at a person's bedside much more quickly than if the friend were to mail it through the postal service.

Unlike those animated and noisy e-cards internet users have been mailing to each other for years, the hospital e-cards do not require the recipient to have downloaded any software, or to have a computer, or even to have an email address. The sender designs and writes the card on a website, the hospital's own equipment produces the physical card at the hospital, and a human being hand-delivers the card.

Local hospital systems providing this service include the West Penn Allegheny Health System and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospitals. They each allow the sender to select a picture to feature on the e-card, to choose the name of the proper hospital from a drop-down list, and to compose one's own message for the card.

I have noticed minor differences in the format of the resulting cards. The UPMC card I saw looked like a full-page email to the address of the office where it was printed, and had my chosen artwork in the top half of the page with my message printed in the lower half. The West Penn card I saw was quarter-folded with my chosen artwork on the front, the message inside hand-signed with my name by a volunteer, and the finished card sealed in a hand-addressed envelope. Each card I have sent, regardless of the format, was very well-received and appreciated by the patient.

Both systems sensibly give a warning to the sender not to send confidential messages because they might be read by someone other than the patient in the course of printing and delivery.

I praise the hospitals who have made this simple use of technology available to their patients and to the network of family and friends who are ready and eager to support the healing of their loved ones.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

How I spent my spring break

vacationI just got back from a week-long vacation with my parents and most of my siblings with their families. The week in Myrtle Beach was marked by temperatures colder than those I left behind in the Pittsburgh region. Nevertheless, it was a nice time of refreshment and an opportunity to see many special people I see all too rarely these days.

Sunday morning I went to the Murrell's Inlet Presbyterian Church, which was walking distance from the place we were all staying. My parents were aware that the church had been in the process of seeking a new pastor and were curious how the search was going. I noticed that the bulletin identified Thomas J. Thornton as the church's pastor-elect. When I pointed this out to my sister Donabeth, she started wondering aloud how she knew that name. Two church members in front of us turned around to tell us about their excitement that the church had called a new pastor and that he was from the Pittsburgh area. Then Donabeth remembered that he was the pastor of the Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church.

That morning the guest preacher was Erika Rembert, a first-year student from Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta. She preached a fine sermon entitled "Following the Master's Lead." It was nice to start this week of distance from daily responsibilities with a reminder of what the path of Christian discipleship is all about.

During the rest of the week I enjoyed the sunshine and fellowship, while reading a number of books for my enjoyment and edification.

I was delighted to read Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation by Lynne Truss.

I finally got around to reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. So now, at long last, when my friends ask me if I have read it I will be able to carry on a conversation about whatever issues this piece of fiction raises for them. I enjoyed the book as an adventure story, noted with approval that the author wanted to support the recovery of what he called the "divine feminine," and was disappointed by the apparently monolithic version of the divine feminine he worked so hard to bring into the open for public discussion. I have noticed that the novel has spawned a vigorous opposition, the fervor of which almost makes plausible the book's premise that the institutional church would be so threatened by the existence of living biological offspring of Jesus Christ that it would be driven to centuries of oppression, theft, destruction, and murder. I don't think I live with my head in the sand, but I honestly don't see why the possibility of a living bloodline would have any positive or negative effect on the the faith of those seeking to follow Jesus today. Perhaps one of those who find this idea so threatening will teach me someday why it matters to them.

For a little more fun, I read Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen. I've always enjoyed the idiosyncratic characters in Hiaasen's books, and this adult morality tale was no exception.

I rounded out the week by starting Stories of Emergence: Moving from absolute to authentic, Mike Yaconelli, general editor, a collection of autobiographical essays by fourteen different authors who each describe their journeys of faith as they come to terms with postmodernity. I find each of the individual stories to be invitations to hope and renewed vision.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Portrait dedicated to an anonymous artist


This portrait of me is dedicated to an anonymous artist:

  • to the creative young person who was busily applying paint to the mural being made at the Highlands Art Festival,
  • to the courteous young person who asked me for permission to take a picture with my digital camera,
  • to the trustworthy young person into whose paint-smeared hands I readily placed my Vivitar ViviCam 3350B,
  • to the generous young person who, with the freedom to photograph anything or anyone in sight, chose me as the subject and took a single picture before returning the camera,
  • to the photographer with steady hands for whom just one shot was enough to capture a blur-free image,
  • to the portraitist who, due to the lack of a display on the camera, never saw how the image would appear.

Thank you.


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Highlands Arts Festival

Following up on this post and this news story, I visited the Highlands School District Arts Festival this afternoon. I found that the Art department of the Highlands School District had organized a marvelous afternoon for appreciating the many creations of middle school and high school students. In addition to the large areas in which the students' art was on display, there were a number of opportunities for creating artwork that day.

mural in progress
Outside, a number of children were painting a mural. A teacher had encouraged them to paint a large surface, and they were actively involved in placing color on color.

Inside, a team from the Mattress Factory was demonstrating how to make art with soap, a project that was based on a current installation at the MF of work by Ángel Delgado. Many children were actively engaged in fixing various objects into bars of soap around the room.

wallpaperAlso inside, a team from the Warhol Museum was showing how to create art in the style of Andy Warhol's silkscreens using a sheet of acetate and pieces of construction paper.

In another area one of the classes displayed silkscreened wallpaper inspired by the Elephant Wallpaper they had seen on a field trip to the Warhol. The students had made silkscreens of common objects and had made large pieces of posterboard with the repeating images in random locations.

sun mask
There were displays of masks, bottle sculpure, paintings and drawings, all accompanied by statements from the artists describing what they had learned in the course of making the various pieces.

In an auditorium students were showing films they had made.

The Path to the PSSAThrough the middle of a hallway there was an installation entitled "The Path to the PSSA." PSSA is the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, an examination administered to students in grades 5, 8. and 11. Within two long areas cordoned off with yellow hazard tape were documents produced by the students: journals, assignments and notes.

I appreciated the vitality I observed at the Arts Festival. It was good to see so many people exploring different modes of self-expression.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Nelle poured

When the Central Quilters take a break from stitching to have their lunch, Nelle likes to end the meal by carrying the almost empty coffee carafe around to warm up anyone's cup and make sure the coffee otherwise does not go to waste. She frequently quips that now they can write in the newspaper that Nelle poured.

It's a regular joke among the quilters who remember the day when the social page of the local paper would include descriptions of various social gatherings, reports that would include the name of whoever poured the tea. These news stories probably seemed quaint to the quilters even in the days when they were teenagers and would read the local page news stories that told who had gone to visit her sister out of town for a week, or who had come back to Tarentum recently to visit family.

I imagine that the details of these social interactions probably looked like so much trivia to many even at the time the stories were published. And today when the news is filled with descriptions of the lives of the rich and famous, the details look quaint to us as well. After all, when we can give attention to when Prince Charles was spotted with Camilla and how their wedding plans are developing, or questions about whether Jimmy Carter was snubbed in the formation of the official delegation to the Pope's funeral, why should anyone care about who poured tea at the church social?

These details and the ways they once were reported seem quaint to me, but I wonder now whether we lose something in not viewing the facts about such social events as newsworthy. People voluntarily and graciously made themselves servants to their peers, and their peers with a matching graciousness would recognize the service they had given.

The quilters are very comfortable with each other and with others who come to join them at their weekly meal, so comfortable that today I heard the blunt, direct, and informal request, "Kenny, get the pot!" And the coffee appeared. I should not allow the friendliness and informality to conceal the fact that there were important social interactions around that table, gracious giving and gracious receiving.

Therefore, let it be known that:
On April 7, 2005 the Central Quilters gathered in the Social Hall of the Central Presbyterian Church for luncheon. Volunteers from the Tarentum Genealogical Society were among their honored guests. If the food got cold it was not because the preacher prayed too long. And Rachel, Kenny, and Nelle poured.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Sometimes the only things you save will be those you've given away

I'm recovering from a total failure of my hard drive that happened Sunday night. I had to get a new hard drive and start reinstalling windows and software. A crisis such as this gives me a painfully fresh perspective on my backup procedures on my computer. Yes, I should have known better. Yes, I should have backed up regularly.

I've put the failed drive back into my system as a slave drive in hopes of retrieving any useful data that still exists on it. Windows keeps telling me the thing needs to be formatted. I've tried to retrieve data using software designed for that purpose and it actually found a few small things on the drive (without offering to format it). But practically all of my working data is no longer accessible ; gone are the documents I was writing, the digital pictures I'd taken.

Except for the pictures I had decided to share with others and posted in one place or another on the web. Except for the things I had written and posted for someone else to read. Except for the documents I had emailed to others for their use.

But the data that I never shared with anyone - the email drafts I never sent, the working documents I was keeping to myself, the pictures I never gave to anyone else - that is the data that is probably gone for good.

One by one I am finding things that I liked so much that I wanted someone else to have them, and those are the treasures that keep coming back to me.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Arts Festival

I just got word that the Highlands School District Art Department will host an Arts Festival from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Sunday, April 10, 2005 at the Highlands High School in Natrona Heights.

Teresa Emeloff writes:
The day will include an exhibit of student visual work from grades six through twelve. Professional artists working in media such as paint, ceramics, wood, metal and much more, will be exhibiting their work and demonstrating their techniques. Performances in dance, music, and drama from many talented Highlands students will take place as well as a special guest performance by Attack Theater, a modern dance company. Many Pittsburgh Art and Cultural organizations will also be present to provide information about their programs and also conducting a variety of children's art activities. Refreshments will be available. The event is free of charge and the perfect Sunday afternoon family event.

It looks exciting.

Update. The school district has an announcement on their website.

Far away in the desert

This story about a new church where some friends of mine worship pushed me to ponder a hard question. That small fellowship gives away 60% of what they raise. So I ask myself what changes would need to happen in an existing congregation to have that kind of lifestyle?

From my virtual park bench I can see a church building that shelters the worship space of a congregation that is generous but does not come close to giving away as much as Spirit of the Desert does. I see the children rushing to our weekly programs, and realize that in comparison with a church that appears to have only retirees, we are rich in having children participate so regularly. I see the weekly activities of a congregation that, so far, has had the space readily available whenever the Spirit has guided us into new ministry or outreach. But I still wonder how close we could come to giving away 60% if we really tried.