Take a Cup of Kindness and Say Goodbye to 2021

It’s been a quiet day around here. It’s New Year’s Eve. I got a great message from a former resident who has started his own Psychiatry Consultation Fellowship training program in Bangkok, Thailand. Dr. Paul Thisayakorn and his wife are welcoming 2022 with their 2 lovely children and hoping 2022 will be a better year, as we are. The Covid pandemic has been hard around the world.

Paul also looks forward to establishing a C-L Psychiatry academic society in Thailand in the coming year. Paul did his psychiatry residency at University of Iowa and his C-L Psychiatry fellowship in Cleveland. Sena and I wish him and his family all the best in the new year.

Today was quiet, but tomorrow the big snowstorm will come. We’ll be digging out all day because the forecast is for 5-8 inches, high wind gusts, and ice. It’s Iowa, after all.

But for tonight we’ll take a cup of kindness and say goodbye to 2021.

And if you like MacLean’s version of Auld Lang Syne above, you might have a listen to another with the Scottish lyrics translated.

Covid-19 Omicron Variant Update

This is just a short message wishing a safe and happy holiday to all. I’m passing readers a couple of links to update information on the Covid-19 Omicron variant and how to stay as safe as possible this winter.

First is the Rounding@Iowa link to the Omicron Variant update. It’s an interview with University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (UIHC) infectious disease expert, Dr. Patricia Winokur, MD. It’s about a 16 minute interview. Highlights are that it’s important to get the booster for solid protection against variants including Omicron and that the Covid-19 vaccine is, in general, likely to turn out to be a 3-shot vaccine similar to others, such as the Hepatitis and Shingles vaccines.

The other link is to UIHC infectious disease specialist Dr. Daniel Diekema, MD and his thoughts about the Omicron variant. They echo those of Dr. Winokur and the emphasis again is on the importance of getting vaccinated.

Lastly, there is some guidance by UIHC in a graphic below on how to stay safe from getting infected with Covid-19, (whatever the variant) during winter activities. Happy Holidays!

It’s Iowa’s 175th Birthday; Get Out and Shovel Snow!

Today is Iowa’s 175th birthday. It’s also the first day of snow this winter. I had to get out there and shovel. I can celebrate Iowa’s 175th year of statehood by rubbing liniment on my sore shoulders. The Iowa statehood anniversary will be a year-long commemoration. If it snows anymore, I’ll be bathing in muscle cream for at least that long and will likely miss many of the events.

It was a wet, heavy snow. I pushed it around for hours. While sweeping snow from the front porch, I slipped off the first step and came down hard (but on my feet!) on the sidewalk instead of the second step. I was unhurt, but it was jarring. It reminded me of one of last year’s big snows which left enough ice on the driveway to make me slip and fall on my butt. The next-door neighbor, who was also out shoveling, saw it and looked at me a long time—but I bounced right back up. No need to call an ambulance. I’m good!

And then the city snow plows came through and did what they did last year. They left snow droppings in our driveway, which wasn’t really plugged but looked unsightly.

The only excuse I have for not going back out to clean it up is that it was raining steadily, and my winter coat and gloves were still soggy from sweat. It’s not like it was a couple of years ago, when we lived another part of town and the plows banked in drifts the size of small cars across our driveway. However, I have modified my shoveling technique. I no longer twist my back and throw snow over my shoulder (the John Henry model). I bend my knees and keep my back straight.

There will be more snow tomorrow, later in the day. Maybe it will be late enough that it will be too dark to shovel. Or maybe all the shovels in our garage will meet with some sudden, mysterious accidental breakage that makes them useless. The roads will probably be too icy and impassable from snow drifts for driving to the hardware store to buy replacements.

That’s how things go in the winter around the Midwest, especially in places like Iowa, ravaged by 175 years of snowstorms, freezing temperatures, shovels, and oceans of liniment.

On Christmas eve, when it looked like there would be no snow for Christmas Day, I remembered my blog on WordPress had a setting that would make snow fall and blow across our websites. It looks like that stopped about 6 or 7 years ago to allow a sharper focus on the business aspect. A lot of bloggers were unhappy about the change. You had to pay to play to get the Holiday Snow, which means you had to purchase the Business Plan blog and a special plugin, which could then be exploited by hackers.

Today, I got all the snow I would ever need. Happy Birthday, Iowa!

ADDENDUM 12/29/2021:

Today I used an ice chopper to clear the snow blobs from my driveway, which had been frozen into ice blobs overnight. I also chopped the ice from the curb ramp on my sidewalk which the city snow plow had also plugged yesterday. An official city truck was driving by and witnessed me clearing it. Will it make a difference? It started snowing again this evening.

My Definitive Journey Revisited

A couple of days ago, I got my retirement gift from The University of Iowa. It’s a about a year and a half late because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s welcome nonetheless. Normally there is an Annual Faculty Retirement Dinner, but it had to be cancelled. It’s a stunningly beautiful engraved crystal bowl with the University logo on it. It came with a wonderful letter of appreciation. It reminded me of my blog post in 2019, “My Definitive Journey.”

It’s a definitive symbol of the next part of my journey in life. For years I’d been a fireman of sorts, which is what a general hospital psychiatric consultant really is. The other symbols have been the fireman’s helmet and the little chair I carried around so that I could sit with my patients. I have changed a little.

I still have my work email access, which I’m ambivalent about, naturally. I check it every day, partly because of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), but also to delete the junk mail. I still get a lot of it. I get a rare message from former trainees, one of whom said it “pained” her to learn I’m now Professor Emeritus.

I have not seriously considered returning to work. That doesn’t mean I have not been occasionally nostalgic for some aspects of my former life.

The poem, “El Viaje Definitivo” by Juan Ramon Jimenez evokes mixed feelings and thoughts now. I have gone away. But in looking back at the past, I now see now that the birds didn’t always sing. The tree was not always green.

I don’t miss my former home, the hospital, as keenly now, which is now a much harder place to work since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

And there is little that is definitive about my journey forward from where I now stand. I’m a little less afraid than I was over a year and a half ago. And the birds sing where I am now, sometimes more clearly than before.

El Viaje Definitivo (The Final Journey)

… and I will go away.

And the birds will stay, singing

And my garden will stay

With its green tree

And white water well.

And every afternoon the sky will be blue and peaceful

And the pealing of bells will be like this afternoon’s

Peal of the bell of the high campanile.

They will die, all those who loved me

And every year the town will be revived, again

And in my circle of green white-limed flowering garden

My spirit will dwell nostalgic from tree to well.

And I will go away

And I will be lonely without my home

And without my tree with its green foliage

Without my white water well

Without the blue peaceful sky

And the birds will stay


                                –Juan Ramon Jimenez

Merry Christmas to My Wife…and to You

Christmas will be here Saturday and there’s no snow. At least we won’t have to shovel. I want to say a big thank you to my wife, Sena. She has put up with me for 44 Christmases. That’s asking a lot.

Here’s hoping for a better New Year in 2022. Happy holidays!

Let’s Play Chicago Cribbage!

Sena and I just went through a marathon of tries over a couple of days to make a YouTube video of a demo of how to play Chicago Cribbage (a variation of cribbage) and finally made it. We think it might be the first YouTube video of how to play Chicago Cribbage. You have to know basic cribbage to follow the gameplay, although you can still appreciate our antics whether you know the standard game or not. You can learn basic cribbage from my post “Kitchen Table Cribbage,” and the rules for Chicago Cribbage are posted on the web.

You need to know basic cribbage to play the Chicago Cribbage variation

No doubt you’ll find mistakes, but they’re nothing compared to the bloopers we made earlier. We forgot basic cribbage skills! And it was the best time we had playing cribbage in a while.

One thing we noticed was that it was a lot easier to play standard cribbage after trying to keep track of all the nuances of Chicago Cribbage. It takes longer to play but you don’t notice the time pass. We actually skipped one video segment to get the length of show down to about 15 minutes.

As usual, Sena won. You got me, babe!

Proof Out There for Paranormal?

I get a big kick out of watching TV shows about the paranormal, and I’ve seen something weird happening in the past few weeks. I watch a couple of programs fairly regularly: The Proof is Out There hosted by Tony Harris, and Paranormal Caught on Camera.

They both have roughly similar formats. They solicit videos of the weird from viewers and provide commentary from a panel of experts. Usually the Proof Panel has physicists, anthropologists, video processing pros and other scientists assessing the evidence. The Paranormal Panel is usually made up of those with such titles as Paranormal Investigator, Paranormal Researcher, Folklorist, Dowsing Rod Salesman, and Bigfoot Personal Trainer.

I’ve seen the same 3 videos evaluated on both shows. That was puzzling. Do the people submitting the videos lose all rights to their videos? Anyway, all 3 were validated by the Paranormal Panel, and all 3 were debunked by the Proof Panel.

The first video is of an alleged Yeti running across a snow-covered road in Russia. The Paranormal Panel members all seemed in favor of calling the creature an unknown cryptid, probably a Yeti. However, the Proof Panel members thought it was a hoax, even saying that the observers who made the video started yelling “Moose, Moose, Moose!” seconds before the creature was even visible. One Proof Panel member went so far as to suggest the video makers were in cahoots with a guy in a monkey suit. She also pointed out that the “creature” tripped over the edge of the road, something a real Yeti probably wouldn’t do. The Paranormal Panel validated the video. The Proof Panel debunked it.

The 2nd video was of some animal streaking across the yard of the person who caught the image on a home security camera. It was incredibly blurred and appeared to be dragging something. It was the middle of the night. The Paranormal Panel basically agreed with the person who shot the video, saying that it was probably some kind of dinosaur. The Proof Panel said there was a lot of smearing artifact in the video and that it was probably a dog running across the lawn, dragging its leash behind it. Once again, the Paranormal Panel validated it and the Proof Panel debunked it.

The 3rd video was a shot of something big, possibly an aquatic animal, making a big wave somewhere off the Florida coast and racing toward the boat of the people who shot the video. There wasn’t a lot to see, just a large black shape. The Paranormal Panel validated it as possibly a prehistoric sea monster. The Proof Panel debunked it, saying it was a large snake wrapped around its equally huge prey, attempting to both throttle and eat it, even though the “snake” was not visible.

So, what’s going on here? I like watching these shows because I like mysteries and the unexplained. There a lot of shows like this nowadays. I tend to think of The Proof is Out There with Tony Harris as being the more scientifically based program, but even Tony got fooled by the video shot by somebody speculating it was evidence that reality is a simulation, when in fact it was a cool smartphone camera trick which people have been fooling around with for years.

I think both shows are fun to watch and they’re best thought of as entertainment. What do you think?

The Art of Picture Hanging

We’re hanging pictures at our house. You need the right tools for this and a good sense of proportion, the latter of which I lack. You also need a picture, which should be rectangular. I’ve included a snapshot of what you should have on hand.

The spackling compound is essential, because I guarantee you’ll mess up your wall trying to find the exact spot to pound, screw, or glue the fasteners. Don’t try to get them right by measuring the first time. This is going to take a while.

You’ll need a calculator and a little time to search your memory for the long-lost grade school algebra skills. These might help you place the picture on the wall so that it symmetrically aligns with the boundaries of the wall itself, the toggle switch plate, the coat closet door frame, and the edges of the expanding universe compatible with the time frame following the big bang.

The formula for finding the place on the wall such that there are equal spaces are on either side is width of the picture plus 2x= width of the wall (w+2x=W).




Of course, this doesn’t work for your wall, usually because there is some kind of fancy bevel or other contour the architect thought would be suitable for torturing homeowners trying to hang pictures.

The next step is to consider your picture-hanging kit, which is designed by aliens who are always running their fool experiments on earthlings. The parts are made of durable plastic, which break when you breathe on them.

After you have tossed the kit and the worthless instructions in the garbage, go to the hardware store and buy something called Hangman picture hangers, designed by Bear Claw. After your careful measurements, you will completely fail to screw the hangers in the exact spot which should correspond with the brackets fastened on the back of the picture. Don’t worry, at this point it’s completely normal to have explicit thoughts regarding the word “hangman.”

That’s because no matter how often you measure using a precision-calibrated tape measure, you will end up using terms like “skosh” to adjust the position of the picture and the hangers to fit the hangers into the brackets. The scientifically proper use of the word “skosh” (which comes from the Japanese word “sukoshi” pronounced “skoh shee” meaning a little bit, although I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it this way) involves telling your wife, husband, friend, or whoever is assisting in the picture hanging fiasco, to sagely advise that person to “Move it just a skosh to your left—other left.” Remember that most of us pronounce skosh as just plain one syllable skosh with a long “o” and absolutely nothing rhymes with it in plain English. I think I first heard it from a guy who was from Texas.

The reason the skosh is so essential is that you will have to move your fastener or your picture just that exact distance or you will screw your hanger into the exact same hole you started with and which is hopelessly wrong, whether it’s in the dry wall or firmly in a stud.

You are required by Federal law to use a level to make sure the picture hangs straight and doesn’t slant even a skosh to the left or right. There will always be people who will judge the picture is not level just by eyeballing it, even if the level is absolutely spot on with the bubble exactly centered. The only way to counter this tendency is to offer them enough beer to make them tilt in the opposite direction.

You’re welcome.

The Park

It’s balmy for December. Sena and I went for a walk on the Terry Trueblood Trail and ran into our neighbors doing the same thing! Seabirds were diving headlong into the lake. We’ve never seen them do that. Maybe they were fishing for minnows. About a week ago we saw a hawk. It might have been a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. It had a yellow spot at the base of its bill, so I’m going to say it was a Cooper’s Hawk.

We also saw a small brown creature in the lake on a stack of tree limbs. It was eating something. I couldn’t see its tail, but it could have been a young beaver or a muskrat. Its nose tapered instead of looking blunt and boxy, so maybe it was a muskrat.

Last week a squirrel chattered at us almost nonstop. It was pretty grumpy for some reason. We sure know a bald eagle when we see one.

Sometimes it’s more fun to enjoy a little mystery than to hunt for all the right answers.

Chicago Zombie Cribbage!

We finally got our Zombie Cribbage game the other day. We also got a Chicago Cribbage set, which doesn’t come with a board or pegs, but has a gorgeous full set of 52 in-pack cards along with wild cards allowing you to get an edge on your opponent—maybe.

The zombie pegs themselves are pretty small, but fit surprisingly well in the peg holes in the folding 61-hole plastic peg board. The zombie figures are in various dramatically spastic attitudes which zombies typically have when fighting over who get the brains. One of them is missing an arm, but that’s completely normal for zombies. The face cards have brightly colored zombie heads.

We’re still trying to figure out how to play the jokers included in the deck for the wild card gameplay variations, which include Lowdown Zombies, Reveal Your Zombies and Zombies, Run!

However, it’s not hard to mix the Chicago Cribbage wild cards with the Zombie cribbage game. You can find the rules for using Chicago Cards on the web, which like the cards in the included 52 card deck, are decorated in a colorful a 1930’s style gangster theme.

You can tell from the names of the Chicago Cards what they allow players to do: Deal Again, Cut Again, Reverse Counting, No Fifteens, and Trade Hands. When you play the Reverse Counting card, you can tell your opponent, “Walk like a zombie—only backwards!”

The makers of the Chicago Cribbage game variation say you can play it in 30 minutes. It took us over twice that long to finish a game marked by back and forth sniping with the Reverse Counting cards (each player gets one of these) on every deal. You might be surprised at how seldom that works to set your opponent back, especially if you counter with the No Fifteens card. We sometimes end up inching forward and backward only a few peg holes.

You have to know how to play regular cribbage to play both Zombie Cribbage and Chicago Cribbage. As someone once said, cribbage is a game that takes an hour to learn but years to master. Opinions differ on how much luck and skill are involved. Some say it’s 50% luck and 50% skill. Others who play at the tournament level, like those in the American Cribbage Congress (ACC), say there’s a lot more skill involved than you think.

Sometimes, playing all your Chicago Cards might not give you the edge that you hope for. In order to get the perfect hand, you can use both of your Deal Again and Cut Again cards–and not get much. Then what?

Play the cards you’re dealt.

Brains! Braaaaains!
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