Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The solution for Route 28 rockslides

The Valley News Dispatch today had a discouraging headline "PennDOT says when it comes to stopping the Route 28 rockslides once and for all, the Cost is too steep."

It got me thinking.

Surely a product that can stop meteors would be a cost-effective solution.

Ad for Glad Forceflex bag, demonstrating its ability to stop meteors

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Overview of my Cardiac Rehabilitation program

For the last several weeks the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at the Alle-Kiski Medical Center has been an important commitment for me three days a week. For the benefit of my readers who may never have experienced a cardiac rehabilitation program, I thought I would try to describe what I am doing with that time.

The Cardiac Rehab staff team has three members: a nurse and two therapists. They are super people. One of the therapists has special expertise with diabetes; because diabetes is one of the risk factors for heart disease it is not unusual for some of the users of the program to be simultaneously managing their diabetes. Because of my Type II diabetes, there are some extra things I do in the rehab program.

My medical insurance covers participating in the cardiac rehabilitation program because the cardiologist prescribed it for me with a diagnosis of Myocardial Infarction. My insurance approved 36 sessions, which is more than what some other insurance programs approve.

I go to rehab on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On the days when I have rehab I make a point of testing my fasting blood sugar first thing in the morning.

When I arrive for my class, I go to the locker room and change into clothes that will be comfortable for exercising. I put four electrodes on myself: two right below my collar bone, and two lower down at each side. I briefly visit the main room to pick up a heart monitor transmitter, and make sure one of the therapists knows which transmitter I will be using. I go back to the locker room and attach the leads from the transmitter to the appropriate electrodes. I put on a harness to hold the transmitter snugly against my chest, and slip the transmitter into the pocket on the harness. By the time I return to the main room the computer monitors are showing my heartbeat.

Because of my diabetes, I immediately go to a desk at the far end of the room, test my blood sugar, and leave my glucometer there. Because of the blood thinners I am using, my fingertips bleed longer than they used to, so I end up putting band-aids over the spots where I did the finger-stick.

I then return to the main desk, find a chair to sit in, and tell the staff my fasting blood sugar and my pre-exercise blood sugar. On Wednesdays everybody gets weighed, so I would also tell them my weight that morning.

I wait until one of the staff members takes my blood pressure and tells me that they have recorded a strip of my EKG. Then I start my exercise routine.

All around the room there are posters showing the RPE scale. RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion and it is a totally subjective measurement. The pieces of exercise equipment all have displays and meters to show various measurements of what I am doing, but I am the only one who can tell where my activity falls on the RPE scale. Periodically the members of the staff will ask me how hard I am working, and they will make a note in my file. My goal is to work between an 11 and a 13, and definitely not to go beyond 13.

At some point in the middle of my exercise routine one of the staff members will take my blood pressure.

I am using five pieces of equipment at this point. I have the freedom to choose the order in which I use them, subject to whether someone else is already on the particular piece.

The first piece of equipment I usually use is a Monark Upper Body Ergometer. This machine sits on a table-top and I sit in a chair to use it. I need to adjust it to the appropriate level of resistance and then I work on it for four minutes. (When I was first introduced to this machine I used it for 3 minutes.)

The second piece of equipment I usually use is a Schwinn Airdyne exercise bike. I have to make sure the height of the seat is right for me before I get on. I need to remember to set the timer that will count down how much time is left. I use this piece for 15 minutes, but I think I started out using it for just 12 minutes.

The third piece of equipment I use is a NuStep recumbent stepper. When I use this one I need to adjust the seat to get the leg extension that would be appropriate for me. I also need to adjust the length of the handles for exercising my arms. Before I start I need to adjust the load using a lever under the seat on the right side. When I first started using this machine I set it to the first level of load and used it for 12 minutes. Now I am using the third level and going for 15 minutes.

The fourth piece of equipment is a treadmill on which I can set the pace and the elevation. I like this machine the best because I don't have to keep looking at gauges to see if I am working at my targeted pace; I simply keep up with the track. When I first started on this piece of equipment I was walking uncomfortably slowly (it was actually harder work for me to slow up) and no elevation. Now I am going about 3.3 miles per hour with a 3% grade. I use this machine for 15 minutes.

A little over a week ago they started me on a fifth piece of equipment: a rowing machine. I am now using this machine for 5 minutes.

When I finish my exercise routine I go back to the desk where I left my glucometer, test my blood sugar again, and then go back to the waiting chairs by the main desk. I tell the staff my post-exercise blood sugar (which often is 100 points below my pre-exercise measurement). They make note of my blood sugar, take my blood pressure and tell me when they have recorded my post-exercise EKG, and I am ready to go.

Once a week, usually on Fridays, there is a lecture given to us while we exercise. The lectures are on various heart health issues, and there is always a hand-out summarizing the points of the lecture.

Before I leave I pick up a voucher for a parking token, return the transmitter, take off the electrodes, and change into my street or working clothes. I usually stop at the hospital cafeteria for lunch, and sometimes I make a hospital call on a parishioner before I get my car from the parking garage and head back to work.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

A couple of cool things

There were more than a couple of cool things that happened in the Valley during the past month and that I have not mentioned on my blog. In the interest of catching up I want to give at least a brief mention to two of them.

Torn ticket for OklahomaFirst, last weekend the Highlands Middle School put on its production of "Oklahoma!" This was the third of the middle school musicals that I have seen and it was quite good.

I've been used to schools having a tradition of high school plays and musicals in other towns, but this is the first place where I have seen middle school young people given the opportunity to put on such significant shows.

Poster of Dr. King used at memorial serviceSecond, on Sunday, January 28, the First United Presbyterian Church in Tarentum hosted the Fortieth Annual Allegheny-Kiski Valley Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service. It was a very snowy day, especially at the end of the service, but there was a good turnout, showing that there were people in the Valley committed to continue working for justice and equality.

The VND had a nice story on this service the following day here.

This was the first time that First United Presbyterian had hosted the service. They went the extra mile for the reception following the service; they not only provided tasty refreshments and a comfortable setting for fellowship, but they also decorated the fellowship hall in ways that were appropriate for our observance.

Centerpiece for refreshments at MLK serviceThe centerpiece on the refreshment table was a display of books about Dr. King.

On opposite walls in the fellowship hall there were displays of news clippings telling the story of the struggle for civil rights.

This was the first time I had seen a church prepare the reception area to facilitate the continuation of the worship service they were hosting, and it was appreciated.

"We shall overcome!" display of civil rights articles and stories

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Bower Hill: C. The KDKA conversation

At the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on February 8, 2007 at the Bower Hill Community Church, Pastor Jim Mead reported on an upcoming conversation between representatives of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Presbytery, and KDKA. Christian Associates had written a letter to KDKA asking for a conversation with KDKA about the Marty Griffin incident that led to the suicide of pastor Brent Dugan. (The local media had stories about this request for a meeting in the Post-Gazette here and in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review here.)

The meeting happened yesterday, February 20, but the outcome of the meeting is unclear because of separate statements issued by Christian Associates and KDKA. (Compare yesterday's report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review with today's report in the Post-Gazette.)

I wish for more clarity about what was accomplished in yesterday's conversation. The original incident has left a very bad taste in my mouth. So bad that a couple of weeks ago when a program I was watching ended, the station identification that told me I was on KDKA was enough to get me to stand up and change the channel.

I don't support boycotts as a rule, and I certainly don't recommend that anyone follow my example, but KDKA has a double burden to overcome with me. The first burden is to convince me that they understand the impact of what they did in paying an investigative reporter to set up a pastor. The second burden is to convince me that their news department has a genuine nose for news. I don't like how I feel, but even when I set my emotions aside as best I can, I am left with the sense that I stand a better chance of hearing actual newsworthy news on any other local station than on KDKA.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Bower Hill: B. Worship

Wood carving on pulpit at Bower Hill Community Church, "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth"Worship was an important part of the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Bower Hill Community Church on Thursday, February 8, 2007. In addition to the main worship service at the beginning of the meeting, we had many special, brief acts of worship throughout the meeting.

The main gathering in worship featured a sermon by Pastor Judi Slater on "The Great Banquet". We sang "Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns ABove" and "Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ".

Communion elements at the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery, held at Bower Hill Community ChurchWe shared in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. As frequently happens at Presbytery meetings, we received by intinction. I wonder how often that method is used in particular congregations throughout the presbytery. But whatever happens in the local churches, the presbytery seems to be very comfortable with receiving the sacrament in this manner. It is very meaningful to have communion at the first meeting of the year, and to be fed by Christ as Christ's community, whatever may be the tensions among us.

During this main worship service we received the Hunger Offering of $1,232.

But we did not stop worshiping once we resumed our agenda. Moderator David Green appointed vice-moderators: the Rev. Carmen Cox Harwell and the Rev. Dr. Gail King. The presbytery then continued to worship God in a ceremony of installation of the Moderator, the Senior Vice Moderator Kears Pollock, and vice-moderator Harwell.

Near the conclusion of the meeting, there was another brief act of worship: a Service of Recognition of Honorable Retirement for the Rev. James Miller, who has had a fascinating ministry connecting the scientific community with the religious community. Rev. Miller shared three quotations with us. One was from Teilhard de Chardin:
The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

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Cleaning up Tarentum: February Borough Council meeting

Tarentum Borough Council met last night, February 19, and in a short meeting with unanimous votes moved ahead several pieces of business that had been discussed at the previous week's agenda meeting.

Council voted to advertise Ordinance 07-04 concerning trees. (The VND reported last week on this ordinance's consideration at the agenda meeting.)

Council voted to advertise Ordinance 07-05, which will allow attorney fees to be collected on Sheriff Sales.

Council accepted the revised dock lease for 2007. A number of changes in the lease are intended to ensure that the people docking their boats here keep the banks and the area around them clean. (The VND reported last week on the dock lease's consideration at the agenda meeting.)

The Council voted to begin condemnation proceedings on three properties on West 6th and West 7th Ave.

Council President Magnetta announced that Tarentum was now officially part of Allegheny County 9-1-1. There have been minor (non-emergency) problems since that transition, and the county has been very responsive in resolving those issues. Mr. Magnetta encouraged such problems to be reported to the Borough Manager.

Borough Manager Bill Rossey announced that the borough was developing a new website at www.tarentumboro.com. (As of this writing you won't find anything there yet, not even a parking page to tell you it will be the website for the Tarentum Borough.) Mr. Rossey distributed refrigerator magnets to those in attendance at the meeting. The magnets give various telephone numbers for emergencies and non-emergency situations; these magnets also will be mailed with the next water bill.

Meanwhile, in the citizen comments at the meeting, citizens came forward with concerns about the ways their neighbors are not maintaining property. There was citizen support for the Tree Ordinance from a resident who said that a neighbor's tree was leaning against her house.

There was a citizen concern about the slowness of the process of getting a neighbor to rectify a serious pet odor problem that could be smelled a large distance from his house. Borough Manager Bill Rossey acknowledged the problem, and said that the offending property owner had been in court before the magistrate two weeks ago. Rossey said that the property owner himself smelled so badly that day that he was not allowed the use the magistrate's waiting room in advance of the hearing. (I would guess that the property owner was also unsuccessful in convincing the magistrate that the complaints were baseless.)

There was also a citizen comment asking where confidential reports can be made of people soliciting drug deals. The police department is very open to receiving such reports, and does keep them confidential.

This struck me as a quiet meeting, in which the Council moved ahead on some important efforts to clean up the town, while facing the fact that there was still a lot to be done.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Bower Hill: A. Overview

Bower Hill Community ChurchOn Thursday, February 8, Pittsburgh Presbytery met at the Bower Hill Community Church in Mt. Lebabon. There were 108 ministers and 128 elders from 92 churches, and the meeting was only a little over three hours long.

This was not a meeting at which the Presbytery voted on any controversial matters, but the Presbytery was kept aware of the fact that there were tensions below the surface. The Presbytery did take a number of votes to elect officers, appoint members of committees, and approve calls. Worship was a priority for the meeting. There was a special observance of Black History Month.

The directions to the church distributed with the meeting papers gave directions from only two starting points: from downtown or the south. The unstated message was "Why would you want to come to Mt Lebanon from the Alle-Kiski Valley? You should start somewhere else." Although it had been a while since I last navigated across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, I succeeded this time, and the directions from the tunnel were good.

The folks at the host church were very welcoming. From the time I arrived at the church parking lot there was no lack of assistance in finding out which way to go. There were some very nice refreshments available before the meeting, featuring coffee from the Presbyterian Coffee Project.

The sanctuary was unavoidably chilly as a result of the recent very low temperatures. The furnace had been working non-stop over the last few days but still had a problem bringing the temperature up to a comfortable range. Alas, we did not have any of those debates generating more heat than light.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Space for God

Last night at Grand Central Station the lesson was about the importance of putting God first. The leaders did an exercise with the kids in which we let a quart jar represent the child's day.

"The golf ball is God" was what the leader said. I groaned a bit inwardly, thinking that the Sunday morning golfers probably agreed with her. But she was asking the kids to let the golf ball represent God, and she told each of the groups to put their golf ball into the jar.

Golf ball in quart jar. Plenty of space.

Next the leader asked the young people to let a bunch of small stones represent the big things in their day, school, homework, tests, chores, after-school activities, etc. The groups each put the stones into the jar with the golf ball.

Stones and golf ball in quart jar.

Finally the leader asked the young people to let a pound of rice represent all the other stuff in their day. The groups poured the rice into the jars and there was still space at the top of the jar.

Rice, stones and golf ball in quart jar

Next the leader asked the young people to empty the jars and separate the ingredients. They put the rice into the jars first, then the stones, and then the golf ball. There was not enough space this time, even though we lost more than a few grains of rice in the process.

The group I was watching had to make two tries before they could even get the golf ball to sit on top of the jar.

Trying to get all the stones and golf ball into the jar with the rice

Almost a success, but the golf ball is still outside the jar.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I admit that I am not that brave

fiery stained glass pane at Central Presbyterian Church, TarentumSaturday morning at the "Words of Praise" service at Central Presbyterian Church we discussed the story from Daniel 3 about the image of gold and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace.

The Biblical story involves an edict requiring idol-worship on cue, and an accusation made against three Israelite exiles who refused to bow down. The three show their courage and determination by telling Nebuchadnezzar that the God they worship is capable of saving them, but even if God were to choose not to intervene they would not engage in idolatry. When they are thrown into the furnace, God's angel miraculously protects them from the flames and they survive unscathed.

We discussed whether and how we experience pressures anything like the pressures brought to bear in this story. Some felt that there was a cultural pressure to greed and selfishness from which their faith has freed them. My own thoughts went to the pressures I experienced a few years ago when the drumbeats of preparing for war in Iraq were building all around us. There was a particular stridency in the rhetoric at the time, and attempts to portray those who would oppose going to war as disloyal.

I could not make sense of the rationale, such as it was, for going to war against Iraq, but I was new to this church, new to this area, and unsure how the people of the church were thinking about the relation of their faith to this new major development. Prayer requests were being made every time someone learned that a young person they knew was being mobilized or deployed in preparation for war, and I did my best to relate the Christian faith to the issues people were presenting. But I don't think anyone at Central Presbyterian Church ever knew the depths of my misgivings about this particular decision to go to war. I was silent then - silent about the faith issue that had the greatest weight for me about this national issue. I was not one who stood up and announced that I would not bow down to this golden image on the national scene.

So I have been asking myself what kept me silent, what fears or values held me back from speaking out at the time.

In December right after the death of Gerald Ford the word came out that Ford had deep misgivings about the decision to go to war against Iraq, but had withheld that viewpoint from the national debate. On December 28 Wynne Everett, a former reporter for the Valley News Dispatch, wrote a column about Ford's silence. I am sharing it here with permission.

President Gerald Ford picked a fine time to tell us what nearly everyone now already knows - the war in Iraq was a bad idea.

Ironic that the man who is most famous for doing the right thing when it was spectacularly unpopular would choose to keep private an opinion that might have _ just might have _ swayed public opinion or official policy two years ago.

Most analysts now accept that the results of last month's mid-term elections mean Americans have concluded that the war is wrong. Either it's wrong because it was always a bad idea or wrong because it's been so poorly executed by this administration or wrong because there is no end in sight. But in most political conversations these days, the idea that it's wrong is no longer in debate.

When Gerald Ford secretly told Bob Woodward in July 2004 that he believed President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq was bad foreign policy that was still arguable. Also, when Ford shared his thoughts on the matter, about 900 American servicemen and women had been killed in Iraq.

Today, that number is nearing 3,000

Shame on Gerald Ford.

There is a tradition among American ex-presidents of not publicly criticizing their successors. Jimmy Carter, of course, famously ignores this tradition. He's earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his troubles.

It's understandable if Ford felt bound by that tradition. But then he either should have used his access to Bush or Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney _ both of whom served in the Ford administration _ to voice his concerns privately, or he should have stayed silent forever.

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe that the private advice of the only never-elected U.S. president could have stopped the invasion of Iraq. "Oh, the invasion is a bad idea? Ok, thanks for the call Mr. Ford. We nearly made a big mistake!"

But public criticism from Ford might have loosened the tongues of more influential figures. If you know the war is wrong and you have a voice people will hear, you have an obligation to speak up when it matters. Not when you're dead and so are 3,000 other Americans who didn't get to live to be 93 and die peacefully in their sleep.

I can see now why Ford was the first of several unsuccessful presidential candidates who would earn my vote. But I am very uncomfortable with my own choices about silence in the face of what looked like a grave impending mistake.

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A single extra irritation on top of the low temperatures

This is as close as I want to get to the cold temperatures on Third Ave. in TarentumThe last few days have been painfully cold, and I have been putting to good use the advice in my cardiac rehab programs to be very careful about breathing cold air. I have been bundling myself up well, and covering my face with a scarf so that I don't directly breathe in the cold air. I have been pretty successful, but even with the best of care I have found that my lungs were irritated after only the shortest periods outside. I am looking forward to the temperatures coming back up into a milder range.

But while I have been contending with the health effects of the cold, I have realized I face an additional irritation throughout this period. The TV meteorologists keep talking about the temperatures as "single numbers" when they mean that the temperatures will be measured in single-digit numbers. It is as if they don't realize that 60 is just as much a single number as 2.

When the local forecasts are for these bitterly cold temperatures, the word choices of the local meteorologists give me one more reason to cringe.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pajama party

Pajama party at Central Presbyterian Church, Tarentum, PAYesterday afternoon Central Presbyterian Church kicked off Grand Central Station for 2007 with a pajama party at 5:30 PM.

Grand Central Station is our mid-week Christian education program for elementary school aged kids. We were pleased that we had thirteen youngsters who came to the first day.

Pajama party at Central Presbyterian Church, TarentumThe youngsters were encouraged to wear their pajamas and to bring a favorite stuffed animal.

Sidney & NormanAfter a parachute game ice-breaker, we began the afternoon with a reading of the book Sidney & Norman by Paul Vischer. It was a great illustrated story that retold the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. It might have been aimed at an audience younger than some of the kids there who were about to finish elementary school, but I thought it went over well.

We had a simple supper of "pigs in blankets" and jello salad. The dessert was a Ho-Ho sheet-cake, and I rather suspect that it was neither transfat-free nor sugar-free.

After supper the kids went on to some further creative activities. We had our closing prayer at 7. It was good to see the energy these kids have.

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