Escalators, ER Visits, Airplanes, and Heartfelt Gratitude

October 13th, 2017 8 comments

It has been a hectic few days to say the least.  On Monday, my son Max told me it was the worst day of his life and he was certainly correct (and we hope he doesn’t have a worse one anytime soon).  But, it is in the midst of difficulty that you gain an appreciation for true nature of humanity.

Here is a run-down on what happened (Note: If you don’t want to read all the details, please skip down to the end – that is the most important part):

Max and I were in the US for a couple weeks (work for me, visiting grandparents for him).  We were schedule to leave on Monday.  We had to return the rental car to Louisville airport and then fly to Chicago to catch our flight back to Swaziland.  Even though our children are phenomenal travelers, the logistics of travel can be a bit much.

We were already a bit under pressure because I had miscalculated the time zone changes, but we were going to catch our plane no problem.  After dropping the rental car off, we loaded up our luggage.  Max had his little backpack and I was pulling two 50-pound suitcases as well as a heavy backpack and my laptop bag.  He followed me up the escalator to the ticket counter.  About halfway up, one of the bags which had a strap wrapped around my wrist slipped down a step and pulled me off balance.  Between not having any free hands, and the heavy backpack, I tumbled over backwards with me and bags landing on Max.  Someone hit the emergency stop on the escalator and several people rushed to help.  Max was crying and scared and that is when I noticed a deep gash on his foot.

I sprinted up the stopped escalator with him and was quickly joined by police and the EMS.  There was a good bit of blood and it was obvious the gash was more than superficial.  While Max was obviously in pain, he quickly gathered himself and let the police tend to his wound.  One of the officers brought him a stuffed animal to distract him while the others focused on providing first aid.

At this point the reality of the situation started to set in.  We were 9,000 miles away from home and were obviously going to miss our flight and our connecting flight (and then bus to Swaziland).  We were going to have to get medical treatment somewhere and I had an injured son, nearly 200 pounds of luggage, and no transportation.

The police offered to watch my stuff while I carried Max to try and figure out the details.  First we went to the ticket counter and canceled our flight.  Then I went back to the Hertz rental car to see if there was any way I could get my rental car back.  I could have ubered to the hospital (the police wanted me to take an ambulance), but that presented crazy logistics with luggage.  I told the people at Hertz what happened and they immediately got on the phone and pulled the car I had used back out for me and even delivered it to the door. (More on Hertz later).  From there I headed to the nearest hospital.

The next several hours moved very slow compared to the chaos at the airport.  We checked in the hospital and were triaged.  At this point, Max is calm and we are just waiting for our turn to go back.  This relative downtime gave me a chance to think a bit more about logistics.  In particular the fact that our international health insurance doesn’t cover the United States.  I had no idea how much this trip to the ER was going to cost us.  The time in the waiting room also gave me a chance to make some phone calls.  Obviously I was updating Beth and the family in the states.  Beth took care of rearranging all my transport and everyone else reached out to offer help however they could.  I called Hertz back and talked to a manager who was incredibly sympathetic to our situation and told us it would be no problem to extend the contract for a day and that we could even return the car to O’hare in Chicago since our plane tickets would cost nearly $500 to rebook.  I asked how much it would cost and he said “not too much more, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

At this time I also got in touch with my cousin Jana who lives in Louisville, has traveled extensively internationally, and who is a physical therapist specializing on hands and feet.  We talked about our options and she suggested an urgent care would be cheaper and most likely quicker.  She set out to call around to see what was available while also arranging for us to stay at her place.  She found an urgent care with no waiting near her house that was going to cost $250 to get Max stitched up.  At this point, Max was completely calm and relatively little pain.  I asked triage nurse an estimate on time (I am sure she hates that question), and was told “when you checked in there was one person in the queue ahead of us and nothing has changed.”  That made it easy to decide to head out of there and go to urgent care.

At Urgent care we quickly got taken back to a room and the nurse was very attentive to Max and his needs.  The Physician’s Assistant on call came in to take a look at things.  Both medical staff let us know from the very beginning that there was a chance they couldn’t treat Max due to his age and the location of his injury could have caused nerve, tendon or vascular damage.  At this point it had been about 4 hours since the accident and when they took the bandage off it was still bleeding.

The PA was incredibly gracious when reviewing our options.  He recommended we go to the children’s hospital (there was a branch close by), but also understood our situation with insurance and travel.  Basically he told us that he could probably stitch it up, but that really an expert should look at it.  At this point, I called Jana to ask if she could come over to help me think through our options. There was some concern because Max was not moving his toes very well.  We agreed to put some topical painkiller on it and see what should be done next.  During this time, he also called around to see our alternate medical options.

The longer we were at urgent care the more obvious it was that we would be heading back to the Emergency Room for treatment.  The PA came back in the office and said that his attending physician had told him he couldn’t do the stitches due to the complexity.  Additionally, in calling the nearby children’s hospital branch, he learned that even they wouldn’t accept the case because Max needed a place where a pediatric orthopedic surgeon could consult.  Due to the location and depth of the injury there was a possibility of tendon, nerve or even vascular damage. Our only option was to go to the main branch of the Kosair children’s hospital.

It was obvious that the PA was going above and beyond to help us.  In additional to his medical care, and the time he took to consult with doctor’s across the city, he told us he would work it out so that the entire visit to urgent care would be free. Holy Cow… what a relief!

So off to Kosair we headed.  Jana called ahead to her friends in the medical community to get advice and information and I followed her to the hospital.

We checked in, were triaged, and found our place in the waiting room.  Interestingly enough, a family friend from my hometown was sitting in the waiting area as well.  Throughout all of this Max was a trooper.  At this point it was past his bed time and despite his injury, he was incredibly calm and patient.  His biggest complaint was that he couldn’t eat or drink due to the possibility that he would need anesthesia if surgery was required.

After a couple hours we were taken back to a room.  The resident doctor took a look at Max and did some initial cleaning of the wound.  He confirmed that tendon damage could be a concern, but they wouldn’t know until they could look at it further.  The attending doctor also came and checked the situation and called for an X-Ray, so I carried Max off to radiology for three pictures of his bones.  The initial report looked clear, but the radiologist came back to say he saw a hairline fracture.

Now it was time for the tough part – exploring the wound and stitches.  Max was given a nasal dose of medicine to reduce the pain, but it didn’t seem to help much because even the cleaning process caused him deep distress.  With the attending and resident doctor both looking at things, they told us that tendon damage didn’t seem to be an issue and there also wasn’t any obvious nerve damage.  Next step then was actually getting the stitches.  Despite the topical pain killer already applied and the nasal painkiller, Max did not react well to the numbing injections.  This was certainly the most traumatic part of the process for him.  Eventually, the doctor was able to start sewing.  Even though Max was crying through the whole process, he never flinched his foot and let the doctor do his job.  In the end, it only took 3 stitches to get him put back together.

At this point it must have been about midnight and Jana headed back home while we wrapped things up.  The doctor told us that because there was a minor fracture and an open wound, it was technically a compound fracture and we would need IV then oral anti-biotics.  I already knew Max was not going to be a fan of more needles.

As you could imagine, Max was exhausted and fell asleep in my arms.  The nurse came in to give the IV and he was so sleepy, I couldn’t even rouse him.  The nurse found a vein in his hand and applied an aerosol pain killer and then inserted the IV.  Thankfully Max didn’t wake up during the procedure, but unfortunately the vein the nurse was going for blew.  He then found a vein in his arm, but Max woke up for the second stick and was none too happy.  Once again the vein blew and we would have to try again.  A different nurse came in and despite Max’s protests, successfully put the IV in.  It was hooked up to some antibiotics and we began the waiting process.  After about an hour the IV was removed and we were presented with our discharge papers.

After taking care of the paperwork, we finally head over to Jana’s house to get some rest.  When we got there, it was about 2am – 12 hours after the accident had initially occurred.

The next morning we were able to sleep in a bit and also take care of the logistics like repacking and getting Max his prescription.  At around 1pm after some lunch, we began the drive to Chicago to drop off the rental car and catch our flight.  Thankfully the drive was pleasantly uneventful, but it did give me a chance to think about the logistics of actually getting from the car to airplane.  Somehow, I was going to have to carry two backpacks, two 50 pound suitcases, a bulky duffel bag and an injured 4-year old.  No problem!  Thankfully my parents called ahead to try and work out the details, but unfortunately there wasn’t a clear solution and I was going to have to wing it.

Upon arriving at the Hertz return office, I ran into what seemed like a problem.  The guy checking in the cars said he couldn’t do anything because the contract had been closed.  Essentially I was driving a car without a formal agreement from the rental company.  He told me I had to go downstairs to talk with the office.  That is when I realized the only way down was by escalator.  You have got to be kidding me!

At the counter I talked to one advisor who said there was nothing he could do and I was going to have to work things out through Louisville AND the national Hertz office.  I had gotten to the airport more than 3 hours early, but didn’t really want to spend time negotiating contracts.  I was then directed to another representative who looked more into my situation.  After punching a few keys he outlined the situation:  Essentially the Louisville manager had kept my contract closed rather than extending it.  While that initially looked like a problem, what it really meant was that the guy had loaned me the car, and arranged for the drop off in Chicago, all on his own.  It seems there weren’t going to be any additional charges for our big change of plans.  WOW!

At this point I went back up the escalator and began dreading the next challenge: getting all my stuff, with an injured kid, down the escalator, to the bus, and up to the ticket counter.  Quietly this was the part of the whole ordeal I had been dreading the most.  As I was loading up my bags and thinking about options such as throwing my bags down the escalator and then dealing with them later, the car attendant offered to go get me a luggage trolley.  Excellent!  Why hadn’t I thought to ask for that!  Oh, and he mentioned there was an elevator I could take!  First complexity handled!

Next came the bus.  Thankfully the bus was already waiting for us when we got to the ground floor to take us to the terminal.  I was able to carry Max and get the first bag on the bus.  But then, the bus driver quickly got up and grabbed my other bags to help load up.  No problem at all!  Once on the bus, it was just a matter of waiting.  Once we got to the terminal, before I could stand up with Max, the driver was back there to help me unload.  I set Max down, grabbed a trolley and loaded up our stuff.  From there I headed into the terminal, found a quiet place, and repacked our bags for the journey home.

After we made it to the ticket counter, the complexity of our travel was greatly reduced.  We checked in, dropped our bags, and Emirates arranged for us to have a wheel chair to get through security.  Despite some juggling required to get through the scanners, it all was a pleasantly uneventful process.

On the first flight from Chicago to Dubai (14 hours), we ended up with an aisle/middle seat combo with an empty seat between us and then another guy on the other aisle.  Beth had called ahead and told them of our situation and Emirates agreed to flag our seats to try their best to keep things open.  It turns out that there were actually a couple empty seats available and the guy in our row willing to move so we ended up with a whole role of 4 seats to ourselves.  That meant that Max could fully lay down to sleep!  What a relief!

Our original plan was to spend a long layover in Dubai doing things in the city.  One of the only non-injury-related things that Max cried about was the fact that he wasn’t going to get to see the dinosaur skeleton at the Dubai Mall.  While on the plane, I was chatting with Beth (inflight internet is amazing!) and we realized that since our flight was ahead of schedule, if everything worked out, there was going to be enough time to still make it into the city.  I did all my calculations and set alarms on my phone so that we could try our best to give Max some distraction during the downtime.

At Dubai, things went flawlessly.  We were through security and in the cab even before we were originally scheduled to land.  With Max on my shoulders, we were able to quickly see all the things I had promised him (dinosaur skeleton, water show, tallest building in the world, aquarium, and the biggest candy store in the world).  We caught a cab back, and were able to get quickly through security with enough time to take advantage of the lounge (having frequent flyer status is such a blessing) to get a quick bite to eat and more importantly a shower.

Our next flight went just as well as the first.  We had an open seat next to us despite it being an almost full flight.  The people around us were very friendly and Max once again traveled like a champ.  When we got to the Johannesburg airport, we got our luggage and a trolley and had some time to grab a bite to eat (who doesn’t like calamari for breakfast!).  We caught our shuttle back to Swaziland, which thankfully had a lot of empty seats.  We both got some sleep on the ride home and were met by a staff member who had us home by afternoon with enough time to decompress and get cleaned up.

We started our journey on Monday morning and by Thursday evening we were safely back home – exhausted and a bit frazzled, but overall in great shape all things considered.

Looking back on the situation, I realize just how fortunate we were and how thankful I am for all the strangers and family/friends who helped make a chaotic situation so much more bearable.

So now for the main reason I am writing this post:

All the people I want to give thanks to:

  • To the staff and bystanders at the Louisville airport who quickly responded, pressed the emergency stop on the escalator and attended to Max and I before I could even comprehend what was happening.
  • To the police and EMS of the Louisville PD who provided immediate and competent care. They were primarily concerned about our wellbeing, but also understanding of our situation with the lack of insurance and the need to get home.  In all at least 4 people gave their time and attention to our situation providing excellent first aid and evaluation as well as emotional support.
  • I don’t know the name of the main police officer who helped us, but he was absolutely incredible. He watched our stuff while I sorted out the logistics.  He carried our luggage to the curb.  He even came back to ensure we not only got his foot checked out, but also kept an eye out of head trauma.  Most of all, he made sure we got the care we needed without incurring unnecessary costs or taking unnecessary risks.
  • To the Hertz people at the Louisville airport. I simply cannot say enough about how compassionate and helpful they were.  The people at the desk ensured I had transportation even though I had already closed my contract.  They could have easily told me to just take an Uber or made me fill out paperwork for another car.  They were primarily concerned about Max’s wellbeing instead of processes and procedures.  The fact that they even arranged the car to pick us up at the curb shows their level of detail.  When I called to sort out the paperwork, they were more concerned about us than about the rental details.  At this point it seems they even comped us our extension and are working out the details on their side.  Above and beyond!
  • To the random guy waiting in the hospital ER who offered Max and I a gift card for dinner after overhearing our ordeal.
  • To Beth who did an amazing job at handling her son being hurt 9,000 miles away. She handled all the details of changing our flights and ensuring we had open seats around.  But more importantly, she stayed calm and was there to help where she could without panicking.
  • To my cousin Jana who completely dropped everything to help us and give us a place to stay. She helped us think through our options and the implications.  She made countless phone calls to friends in the medical community to explore our options and get recommendations.  Her expertise in PT helped us get straight answers and understand the risks.  She spent more than 7 hours physically with us to help with the details and logistics of moving between medical centers and ensuring everyone was comfortable.  The next day she helped research pharmacies and other optios.  Also thanks to Curtis and Knox for letting us crash on their couch and disrupt their lives for a couple days.  We were so fortunate to have friends and family in the city where this happened.
  • To the staff at the Urgent care, especially the nurse (don’t remember her name) and to Travis the PA. They expertly balanced the concerns about travel and insurance with what was in the best interests of Max.  Travis in particular fully commited himself to looking into all the options and ensuring we had a clear path forward.  The fact that our medical services were provided free of charge is absolutely amazing and goes a long way in helping us process through the secondary struggles of this ordeal (financial).  What a compassionate and commited staff – especially at the end of the day on a bank holiday).
  • To all the staff at Kosair hospital for providing calm, professional, and expert service. In particular to:
    • The billing lady for understanding that financial issues can provide additional strain to already hectic situations.
    • Grant for always being straightforward with us and taking the time to talk with Max when he was scared. He did his absolute best to ensure Max got the care he needed and minimized the trauma.
    • Star for giving her attention fully to Max even during a very busy night.
    • The radiology staff for focusing so much on Max and making sure he was comfortable and the experience was as simple as possible.
    • The intern(?) who came to Max with an iPad so he would be calm during the IVs and even left it with him so he could watch during his treatment.
    • The nurses who took care of all the details and did their absolute best to make sure Max was comfortable. Even bringing a slushee after his IV stick.  The late night nurse also make sure that we were informed not only about post-discharge care, but also our options for payment reduction.
    • To the billing department for working with us on the finances and also explaining the situation in details when I asked specific questions.
  • To all my family to checked in with us and offered to help. In particular to my parents who helped to arrange the details around our transition at the Chicago airport, even being willing to fly back with us if we needed them.  Even extended family reached out to check on us and offer any help we could use.
  • To the Walgreens pharmacist for working with us to reduce medication costs and “Adjusting” procedures so that I could get a partial prescription in the states and then get the rest in Swaziland where it is cheaper.
  • To the random country lady at McDonalds who saw Max’s foot and offered to get him extra chicken nuggets if he wanted them.
  • Again, a shout out to the Hertz people. In Chicago the check in guy ensured I had a cart and access to a trolley.  The associates at the desk helped me figure out the logistics of the rental.  The bus driver went out of his way to help with the bags.  Spectacular service at one of the complicated legs of the journey.
  • To the Emirates and O’Hare staff for arranging for a wheelchair and helping through immigration and security.
  • To the guy on the plane to Dubai who moved seats so max could have a whole row to lay down on
  • To the flight staff on all our flights for going out of their way to ensure Max was taken care of (and that I was able to rest when possible).
  • To the random Arab guy on the escalator in the Dubai Mall who talked to Max and told him it was going to be okay when Max was hesitant to take an escalator.
  • To the receptionist at the Emirates lounge who let Max in even though my status did not allow guests. She also went and got us a stroller so we could move around easier with Max.
  • To all the security officers at all airports who didn’t hassle me for taking a bunch of liquid (medicine for Max) through the screening areas.
  • To all the friends and family who reached out with genuine offers to help however they could and to make sure we were taken care of.
  • To all the medical experts who gave their input and advice through friends to help us process our situation.
  • And finally to Max for being so brave and strong during this ordeal. He went through so much and was an absolute trooper through it all.  Getting hurt would overwhelmed many kids, but he not only handled that, but also spend the next 2.5 days on a crazy travel schedule and never once complained about anything besides the taste of his antibiotic.

Our trip back certainly did not go as planned, but it could have been much worse.  When I think about it, I realize just how fortunate / lucky we were.  My 4 year old son had over 350 pounds fall on him on a moving metal escalator and he escaped with only 3 stitches.  While the logistics and challenges of having all this happen so far from home were a bit overwhelming, the kindness and generosity of friends, family and strangers made things so much better.  I am so grateful for all the ways people reached out to help – some in small ways, some in large ways, but all where meaningful.

And just so you know, Max and I are now safely back home in Swaziland.  He is on the mend and most concerned about not being able to go to school yet.

This event will change my thinking on many things, but for now, all I can think is how grateful I am for the generosity of those around me.  I only hope I can return the favor to those I find myself around in their times of need.

Kickert Pancake Recipe

February 3rd, 2017 No comments

When we first moved to Swaziland, we spent many weeks investigating the best pancake recipe.  After many attempts, this is the recipe we finally decided on as the best.  It has been tried and true for years and is finally ready to be named as our official family pancake recipe:

Kickert Family Pancake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2  2/3 Cups Sifted Flour
  • 2 TBS Baking Powder
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 4 Eggs, beaten
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Cooking Oil
  • 1 tsp Vanilla (optional)

Instructions

  • Wisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl
  • Separately mix beaten eggs, milk and oil
  • Adding vanilla will give pancakes a more “cakey” flavor note, but this can be omitted
  • Add dry and wet ingredients, stir just until moistened
  • Don’t over mix, will be lumpy
  • If mixture is too runny add flour; if too thick add milk
  • Bake on the stove top with a small amount of butter in the pan.
  • Recipe makes about 16 pancakes

I wish I could give credit to the original inspiration for this recipe, but multiple web searches have failed to yeild a source and it has been slightly modified based on experiance and preference

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Why I am voting for Hillary

August 3rd, 2016 No comments

It has been over 2 years since I last posted on my blog.  However, given the ridiculous state of the upcoming political discourse around the 2016 election, I figure it is a good time as any to break the silence.

A very good friend of mine posted on Facebook “How can anyone vote for Hillary?”  I took that inquiry seriously and decided to take the time to fully flesh out why I am voting the way I am.  It seems (from my limited perspective) that this election has devolved into visceral reactions and soundbites.  Instead of resorting to generalizations, I wanted to actually address the validity of each candidate.  Below is my (much too long) response to the original post:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I have actually been looking for a reason to flesh out my thoughts on this election cycle (which by the way, is fascinating to watch from an “outsider” perspective here in Africa).

In my opinion, elections are primarily about voting for someone who shares your ideals and whom you think is mostly likely to advance the causes you believe in.  Unfortunately, very little of this election cycle has focused on policies and instead has been emotional and personal.  There is a place for that, but I think it should be secondary.

With that in mind, the main reason I am supporting Hillary is because she most closely represents my political values.  I would list the following as issues I care about (in no particular order):

1.) I support gay marriage and including sexual identity among protected statuses

2.) I support the end of the “war on drugs”, the legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of some other drugs

3.) I am never in favor of abortion, but I do think it should be a legal option for women in the first trimester (I also believe we should invest in things that decrease unwanted pregnancy like free access to sexual and reproductive services and efforts to reduce the impact of poverty on young women)

4.) I would advocate for a decrease in military spending, especially interventions in foreign matters

5.) I think our national budget should always be balanced and that national debt should be paid down

6.) I would maintain our current levels of international development support

7.) I support a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants and for loosening the immigration requirements (while still maintaining strict background and risk checks)

8.) I am for a gradual increase in the minimum wage over at least a decade to return it to the purchasing power it had when first passed

9.) We should have basic universal health care for all people while also allowing people to pay for private insurance in order to obtain higher level services

10.) I am a strong supporter of first amendment rights, particularly allowing for religious freedom and protection

11.) I would like to see the supreme court depoliticized (but have no idea how that would happen)

12.) I am in favor of term limits for congress

13.) I generally prefer federalism over state’s control

14.) I think there is a way to increase gun control without going against the second amendment

15.) Just like universal health care, I also think basic access to higher education should be universal, but that doesn’t mean everyone should have free access to everything

16.) I am opposed to the death penalty

17.) I am in favor of allowing for physician assisted suicide in some cases

18.) I am generally in favor of more government oversight, but not to the level of Europe or Australia

19.) I support stronger environmental protections (as well as things like protection of national parks and forests)

20.) If given the choice or more taxes or more services, I would generally choose more taxes

21.) I am for progressive tax brackets (and think there should be higher tax brackets)

22.) We should make the drawing of congressional districts a bi-partisan affair

23.) I think the electoral college is a dated model that should be re-evaluated (at a minimum, we should go to either proportional electors or votes based on congressional districts) in order to reduce the power of only a handful of swing states

24.) I am not a favor of affirmative action in its strictest sense, but I do think there should be safeguard to ensure equal consideration

25.) There should be more restrictions on corporate rights – the wishes of a corporation should not trump the wishes of individuals (i.e. imminent domain) and corporations should be taxed on earnings

26.) I think our international interventionism has increased the risk of terrorism instead of decreased it

27.) I think the federal reserve is too powerful in its influence, but don’t recommend disbanding it

28.) White collar crime should be dealt with more harshly

29.) I am in favor of a two state solution in the middle east and think we have not been critical enough in our support of Israel

30.) Social security should be saved, reformed, and returned to its original intent and design

So there are 30 political stances I have.  Looking at them, none of them seem to me to be too extreme.  I would imagine at least a third of American agree with me on all of them.  And more importantly, I think that reasonable people on the other side can disagree with me and we can have a civilized conversation about why we disagree. (That is to say, I don’t automatically demonize people who don’t share my views on these issues.)  In fact, I would expect a mainline republican to disagree with me on many/most and thus would expect and respect them to support a different candidate than me.

Looking at this election and my views above, it is obvious that Hillary is significantly more aligned with what I believe than Donald Trump is.  So, to answer you original question “How can anyone vote for Hillary?” the simple answer for me is that she shares more of my views than Trump does.

Now policy isn’t everything because at the end of the day you have to vote for an individual.  Personally, I would rather vote for a moderate (even a republican) whom I believe would be able to compromise and work across the political spectrum than an extremist on “my side” who causes more division.  (For what it’s worth, I would most likely have voted for Kasich over Hillary if he had won the nomination for that exact reason.) Unfortunately, as we have seen, this election has not primarily been about policy or compromise, but has been more about the candidates themselves.  There is a place for that discussion, but I never think it should be the primary content of election discussions.

That being said, given the political climate (and the particular nominees) of this election cycle, I do think there is a place to talk about issues we have with the individuals.  Let me start by addressing what I don’t like about Hillary.  Most significantly, I don’t like that she represents political dynasty – we don’t need 6 (or 7 if Hillary is two-term) of the last 8 (or 9) elections to go to only two families.  I don’t like that she voted for the Iraq war.  What she did with the email servers was just dumb (although I don’t think it was malicious).  She represents career politicians, which while not being automatically bad, I do think raises questions.  I don’t find her to be a particularly likable person and her communication style often seems disingenuous.  In my opinion, she acted like she was entitled to the nomination (and you could argue the presidency) and that doesn’t sit well with me.  I am not a fan of the connections she has with Wall Street and her reliance on such a large “war chest” of political donations.

For what it’s worth, I wasn’t a fan of Bernie either.  While his views were probably more aligned with mine, I was never convinced he had a plan for advancing his policies.  I think it would have been too big of a shift politically and it would have caused more division.  I also don’t think another old white man was the best representative of a political revolution.

Now, what do I like about Hillary as a person?  I like her international experience as Secretary of State.  People like to point to Benghazi, but her overall service record was excellent and she did more to represent the US overseas than any other SofS I know.  She visited 112 countries in her time of service and I think that international perspective will help her.  She also has experience in the Senate.  That combination of domestic and foreign experience will help her govern.  I think her faith is authentic.  She hasn’t been too vocal about it, but my impression is that it has been consistent and depoliticized.  It is shallow, but I like that she is a woman – I think we are ready for a female president (although I would never vote for a person just for that reason and I can think of several women I would rather see as our first female president).  I think she has a more positive view of the situation in America and that resonates with me more than other candidates.  The Clinton Foundation has been a force for good in the world.  I can personally attest to the strong impact their work has done in Swaziland and in Southern Africa.

Even with similarities in policy views, Hillary is far from a perfect candidate for me.  I would have preferred a different representative, but the critiques I have of her are not enough for me to dismiss her as a prime contender for my vote.

Now on to Trump…

Most importantly for me is that fact that I disagree with many of policies that Trump has put forth (although admittedly there hasn’t been a lot of formal policy outlines), but I also have to realize that there are people who politically align more with Trump, yet still have to deal with him as an individual candidate so it is important to also look at his personal character.

I think what has bothered me the most watching the rise of the Trump candidacy has been how inconsistently Republicans have judged him in comparison to the standards they have held previous Democrats.  The same people who crucified Bill Clinton over infidelity are supporting a man who has been married three times, has admitted to multiple cases of infidelity in marriage, has a wife who posed nude in his private jet, and who owns strip clubs.  The same people who criticized Kerry for flip flopping on policy are supporting a man who has been a democrat, an independent and a republican.  He has changed his view on essential party issues such as abortion.  There are also significant discrepancies in the standards Trump is held to versus what Hillary is held to.  People are okay calling Hillary a liar, but the fact checkers show that Trump has consistently been looser with the truth than Hillary. People are okay calling Hillary corrupt, but multiple examples of shady business deals have emerged with Trump that have gone unacknowledged.  People criticize Hillary for not supporting the military, but Trump has openly attacked war heroes and POWs.  I don’t want to contribute to the blanket statements against either candidate, but I do want to point out that that criticisms raised against Hillary can often be equally or more so leveled against Trump.  Many many candidates in previous cycles have been dismissed for much much less.

With Trump…

I can appreciate that he is not a career politician, but I think his absolute lack of political experience will hurt him in the long run.

I can appreciate his concern for national security, but I think his rhetoric puts the US at greater risk of attack and retribution.

I can appreciate that he speaks his mind, but I think that the commander in chief should be more nuanced

I can appreciate that he talks about issues that matter to middle America, but it rings hollow for me to hear it coming from a man who revels in the fact that he is so wealthy and privileged.

I can appreciate his business background, but it has been shown that simply investing in a market fund would have yielded greater returns.

I can appreciate his willingness to identify issues that seem to be concentrated in certain ethic / religious groups, but I think his approach is leading to a justification of stereotypes and bigotry.

I can appreciate that Trump best represents the historic republican values, but the fact that he won the nomination in the first place is concerning.

I can appreciate that Trump stands up to his critics, but his tendency to resort to broad personal attacks seems immature and reactionary.

In terms of singular issues that may disqualify a candidate, there are a few things worth talking about.  I think that Benghazi was extremely unfortunate, but I have yet to see any evidence that Hillary was personally responsible (she was cleared by a bi-partisan panel), nor that she made decisions inconsistent with any other previous Secretary of State.  I think her use of a personal email server was incredibly stupid and probably an example of her sense of entitlement, but I have yet to see any evidence that her actions were intentionally malicious, nefarious or ultimately dangerous.  Lying about the sniper fire in Bosnia was dumb, but isn’t reason to disqualify a person for office – many more have said much worse with much less criticism.

With Trump, my biggest concern is his personality and approach to governance.  He has said some very dumb stuff, but I generally chalk that up to a total lack of filter and a complete unwillingness to admit being wrong.  I have been amazed at his willingness to make such aggressive statements about groups like women, immigrants and muslims.  But at the end of the day, I don’t think he represents the best of America and that he has an approach to power that concerns me.

Looking at the major political parties, Trump is much more of the surprise.  In the democratic camp, we didn’t have great options – there was Hillary (who is not a popular choice), and Bernie who was so far left that he would have alienated the general electorate.  On the Republican side, there were significantly more options that ran the political gamut.  You had Jeb if you wanted to keep it in the family, you had Kasich as a moderate, you had Rubio if you wanted strict conservative, you had Cruz if you wanted a neo-con, you had Rand if you wanted a tea-partier, you had Carson if you wanted a representative Christian.  When people complain about Trump being the only conservative option, it doesn’t really make sense to me because the representatives of the party intentionally selected Trump over all the others.  The final candidates suck, but at least the Republicans had more options to begin with.

Given the situation we are currently in, I can see two main reasons why people would vote for Trump: he still is the most conservative candidate that has a chance to win; and, a vote for Hillary will most likely result in a more liberal supreme court – I recognize that is very significant.

As for me… why am I am voting for Hillary… mostly it is because she most represents my political ideals, but I also I think the flaws of Trump are more significant than her flaws.

Categories: Random Tags:

Baby Names

September 22nd, 2013 3 comments

I was going through some files on my computer and came across the excel spreadsheet Beth and I used to help narrow down baby names. I am sure you can guess whose idea it was to use a spreadsheet!  And in case you were wondering, yes it was color coded and included weighted averages to rank the names; it also listed name popularity and trends based on recent Social Security Administration information.

For some reason it was much tougher for us to pick boy and girl names this time than it was with Mikayla. (I wrote about picking her name a while ago.)  Looking back at the lists of names reminded me of all the thought that went into the process.

Even though we decided to find out the gender with Baby #2, there was initially some ambiguity about the sex so we had a boy name and a girl name. If we had had a girl, the name would have been Elsie Bellissima.  We liked the "throw back names" that were familiar but unique, but it was the middle name that has the most meaning as it honors two children we were close to who were taken well before their time: Bella Shoemaker and Simo Dlamini.  When the names were put together, it just so happened to be the Italian word for ‘Most Beautiful" which we thought was appropriate.

Other girl names we considered were:

  • Ainsley
  • Amelia
  • Arabella
  • Avery
  • Briley
  • Elsie
  • Gabriella / Gabrielle
  • Harper
  • Lindiwe
  • Macy
  • Madeline
  • Mallory
  • Sophia/Sophie
  • Sydney
    Obviously we did not have a girl so Baby #2 was named Maxwell Simo – a name we had originally picked before the gender confusion.  We liked the name Max from the beginning, and it also is a way of honoring Bella since Max is the character in her favorite book "Where the Wild Things Are."  We had always considering giving our child a Swazi name, and after the death of Simo last Christmas, we didn’t think about many other names.  The meaning of Simo is also appropriate.  It means situation/character(istic).  Since being born in Swaziland will be one of the qualities that makes Max unique, it is a fitting name.  And while a name can mean a lot, it is a person’s character that is most important.

In case you were wondering, here are some of the other boy names we considered:

  • Crosby
  • Fletcher
  • Hudson
  • Max (Maxwell, Maximus, Maximillian)
  • Micah
  • Paxton
  • Quinn (Quinton, Quincy)
  • Sebastian
  • Tate
  • Thaddeus
  • Theodore
  • Xander
  • Xavier
  • Zachary

And just because I can… here is a gratuitous shot of my kids:

River, Max at 2months 076

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Mikayla and Daddy go on a Photo Walk

September 14th, 2013 3 comments

DD Photagraphy 279

We are about to start a very busy month here at Cabrini.  We have a Medical Team coming in from Australia next week.  We close out a grant year at the end of September.  All of our major annual programming reports are due in the first couple weeks of October. And, we have a quarterly board meeting along with a strategic planning session scheduled.  On top of all that, we are doing a major database upgrade that includes launching a new system to keep up with all of our recent work in Social Services.  Needless to say, my spare time is going to be limited and my stress level will probably be a bit higher.

In light of the upcoming weeks, I wanted to make sure I spent some intentional time with Beth, Mikayla and Max.  So today, while Beth and Max were at a meeting, Mikayla and I went out into the bush behind our house to do a "Photo Walk." 

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Mikayla’s ability to actually compose a picture in the viewfinder has only developed in the last couple weeks.  Before that, she would just indiscriminately press the shudder button regardless of what the camera was actually point out.  Considering that, her skills now are pretty impressive.  All of the pictures below came from Mikayla.  Not to shabby at all if you ask me.  I think some of her flower pictures are amazing by anyone’s standard!

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Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Family Pictures

July 5th, 2013 No comments

UPDATE: I made this blog post into a page so I can add more pictures along the way.  Please visit http://kickert.info/blog/pics/ to access the new pictures.

I wanted to upload a few high resolution photos in case people in the states wanted to get them printed.  You will need to click on the ones you want to get the full size image and then save it and get it printed where ever is easiest.

Let me know if there are others you have seen on facebook that you would like uploaded.

Max Arrives 027Max Arrives 041Max Arrives 048Max Arrives 086Max Arrives 089Max day 2 012Max day 2 016Max day 2 026Max day 2 028Max day 2 035

4 year pictures 0364 year pictures 0544 year pictures 0664 year pictures 0924 year pictures 1054 year pictures 1194 year pictures 153

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Sex, Drunk Driving, and a call to Polygamy

April 29th, 2013 1 comment

It is no secret that Swaziland’s main newspaper The Times is more akin to The Weekly World News than to the New York Times.  It is also common knowledge oddities are often a part of daily life in Swaziland.  But occasionally, you find an article that really makes you shake your head and say “Did I really read that?”  Today’s paper included one of those articles.  Here is a scan, but you can also click the image to read the online version.

sex drunk driver

This article really has some gems (or you could call them glimpses into depravity).

MANZINI – A drink-driving soldier told the court that he committed the offence after his wife refused to have sex with him.

Sifiso Dlamini (33) of Ngwane Park, who is employed by the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force and is based at Mdzimba, said this during his appearance in court on Thursday.

“Your Worship, I was refused sex by my wife and I was so angry I decided to go and drink with the hope that I will get a secret lover (makhwapheni) at the drinking hall.”

Ahh… the classic sex-depravation justification.

But thankfully we learn that this gentleman’s needs were met:

He said when he was arrested by the police, he was on his way to a secret place with a makhwapheni he had managed to snag at the bar.

So how does the court respond to his self medication with drinking and infidelity?

Magistrate Dumisa Mazibuko applauded him for not trying to rape his wife because he would have been sentenced a heavier fine than that of drink-driving.

Mazibuko also told him that it was better to go and buy sex from sex workers than raping. “If you have the money, go and buy instead of raping,” he said.

I don’t even know how to comment on that.  At least there is an acknowledgment that marital rape is not a good thing, but how in the world can a judge recommend the utilization of sex workers as a viable solution?

After he was found guilty, the defendant asks for mercy:

He asked the court to be lenient because he was a first offender and had a wife and two children to look after.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget that wife and family he has to take care of.  I am actually surprised that he didn’t ask for a waiver of the fine so that he could have enough money to pay sex workers in the future.

Instead of being leniant, the court offers a long-term solution.

After telling the court that he traditionally wedded his wife, the court advised him to take a second wife.

“The law allows you to have more than one wife,” said Magistrate Mazibuko.

The accused also agreed with the court. “After what happened, I will now consider taking a second wife,” he said.

You  just can’t make this stuff up!  I understand that polygamy is a recognized part of Swazi culture.  But we are in a whole new realm when multiple wives are being recommended by the judicial system as a way to solve issues of varying libido in a marital relationship.

At the article’s conclusion, we find that Mr. Dlamini is in fact sentenced for his crimes:

He was sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of E2 000.

In case you are not up on your currency conversion, this gentleman was given the choice of either spending two years in jail or paying a fine of $220.  That is the typical judgment against drunk driving which brings up a whole other set of issues.  If you are rich, you can break the law and easily afford to pay the fine without even flinching.  However if you are poor (and remember that 70% of the country lives on less than $2/day), you either give up over a month’s salary, or you sit in jail for a long long time.

I will let you draw your own conclusions and judgments, but this article was so over the top, I just had to share it.

Boy or Girl?

April 25th, 2013 4 comments

Things have been busy since January.  We have had visits from my cousin Jana (and her friend Olivia) as well as from my Parents.  I went to Ethiopia (and Dubai) for a week in March.  And, Beth is progressing in her pregnancy.  But, let’s face it, if you want regular updates on the Kickerts in Swaziland, you have to go to my wife’s blog for that.

Now, back to that pregnancy.  The good news is that both mother and baby are doing great.  Everything looks normal and the pregnancy is low-risk.  That means we will probably be delivering in Swaziland if everything continues as plans.  All of that is great, and what really matters.  However, we have encountered some frustration with Baby Kickert #2. 

If you will remember, at the 16 week ultrasound, we saw "definitive" evidence that our new baby was a boy.  Here is the picture looking up between the legs.  That is definitely a penis.

Ultrasound-Jana-and-Liv-visit-075

So with that knowledge, we set out to decide on boy’s names.  It was a much more difficult process for us, but we ended up settling on a name everyone liked: Maxwell (Max) Simo Kickert.  It was great to have that decision out of the way…  that is until our 28 week ultrasound.

Here is the picture from that one (sorry it is not as clear because it is a scan of a printed image):

28 week scan (2)

For this picture you are again looking up between the legs from underneath, but the baby is facing the opposite direction.  Also, instead of seeing a penis, you are seeing the three lines that indicate a vagina.  Even more telling, is that when the doctor continued the scan up the body, there was no evidence at all of a scrotum.

Both doctors said that if their respective ultrasound stood on their own, there would be no question of what the gender was.  The problem is that each ultrasounds points in a different direction.

It is possible that the first image is actual of the umbilical cord, but when I look back at it, it certainly looks like a penis to me.  It is also possible that in the second image, the baby was positioned in such a way as to hide the penis. 

So where are we?  We really don’t know.  It could go either way.  We are leaning towards girl since that is what was indicated in the most recent scan, but we won’t know for sure until we have another ultra sound (some time in the next month).

Again, the most important information is that the baby is healthy.  But this ambiguity is frustrating.  We have gone back to the drawing board on names to try and come up with one of the female variety.  It has been just as tough as deciding on a boy’s name, but we think we at least have an idea for a first name.

We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, you are more than welcome to submit your own guesses based on your ability to read the ultrasounds above.

Categories: Family Tags: , , , ,

18 Month Reading List

January 17th, 2013 No comments

Beth, Mikayla and I are approaching the 18 month mark of our time in Swaziland and that means it is time to do another update of what I have been reading.

Before I get into my reviews, a couple things I noticed about my list:

  • I read less books in this period than the prior two periods, but this is probably due to the fact that I read next to nothing for the month and a half we were in the states.
  • I have to thank David Altmaier for shaping my reading list the last six months. He turned me on to Bill Bryson (through A Walk in the Woods) and also recommended How I Killed Pluto and Why.
  • Speaking of Bill Bryson, as you can see, I really got into his writings. I would have probably read even more, but I wanted a bit of variety (you can expect more in my next posting).
  • Looking at what I have read in the past 12 months I realized everything was on the Kindle. I haven’t read a hardcopy of a book in over a year. Doesn’t really surprise me because I actual prefer the kindle, but I found it noteworthy.
  • I also noticed that I everything I read in this period has been non-fiction. Obviously this is what I am drawn to.

Okay… on to my reviews of the books I have read in the last six months.

  1. A Short History of Nearly Everything – This was probably my favorite of the Bryson books that I read. It is what it says it is… a sprint through the history of science and what we have learned about where the world has come from. It was like 400 pages of clicking through Wikipedia articles without ever finding a bad one.
  2. A Universe from Nothing – I started this 6 months ago and set it down. I picked it up again two weeks ago and forced my way through it. The book focuses on super-interesting topics like particle physics and quantum mechanics, but the author is exceedingly arrogant and instead of sharing fascinating discoveries, he prefers to bash religion. It ends up being an unfortunate diversion (regardless of what your theological beliefs are).
  3. A Walk in the Woods – The first Bryson book I read and I loved it. It is a great mix of candid revelation and literary brilliance. The fact that I have walked parts of the Appalachian trail (and am now ridiculously out of shape) really made the book resonate with me.
  4. Ada BlackJack – I read this book because it was cheap and a bestseller on Amazon. It was a good read, (especially if you like polar exploration books) and covered some history I was unaware of (an Eskimo woman who survived an exploration trip no one else did).
  5. At Home – Another one of Bryson’s wandering inquiries into the history of stuff. If you are a linear thinker, this book would drive you nuts, but it was a great book to pick up and read for 10 minutes or two hours.
  6. Bill Bryson’s African Diary – Super quick read about Bryson’s trip to Kenya. The writing was great as I have come to expect, but it was short and lacked a unifying direction.
  7. How I killed Pluto and Why – This book is the polar opposite of A Universe from Nothing that I mentioned above. It is another “science” book, but the author is incredibly humble and prefers to explain topics rather than talk down to his audience. It is a great walk through of his career in planetary astronomy and the massive changes that occurred during the time period. Well written and fascinating.
  8. How to get away with Murder in America – This was one of several short non-fiction read after finding it on the Amazon best seller list. A bit of conspiracy theory mixed with mob sensationalism, but the result was not great.
  9. John McAfees Last Stand – This was an interesting read and I found it to be a foray into a new style of literature: long-style current event reporting. It covered the unfolding events around the curious life of a tech giant turned nuts. You can read my full review here.
  10. Journey to Ki – a short book about a journey to a Tibetan temple. Simply put, this was not worth the time. Free on Amazon, but it was more of a college personal narrative assignment than a real read.
  11. Lost at Sea – ughh… it took everything I had to finish this book. I found the author recommended amongst several of my favorite authors, but the book ended up being a rambling collection of short articles that had nothing in common.
  12. The Devil in the White City – This book has been on my “to-read” list for quite a while and I am very glad I finally got to it. It is a great blend of excellent writing with an interesting subject matter (Chicago world’s fair and a crazy serial killer). The conclusion was a bit short, but the overall quality of the writing easily made up for it.
  13. The Last Explorer – I think this was a free (or cheap) book I found on Amazon and it was actually very interesting. It was about an Australian adventurer / explorer who despite amazing contributions ended up on the sidelines. Very interesting.
  14. The Violinist’s Thumb – I love Sam Keane’s writing style. The Disappearing Spoon was one of my favorite books for last year and I was excited to read his newest work on DNA and heredity. I didn’t think it was as good as his first book, but he still presents a top-notch blend of interesting science and crazy back-story.

So what books ended up on top? Well to be honest, I had a harder time deciding than usual. The books spanned a pretty broad range of subjects and writing styles and they tended to fall into two categories. Those I was glad I read and those I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on. Here is how those designations flesh out:

Worth Reading: A Short History Of Nearly Everything, A Walk In The Woods, Ada Blackjack, At Home, How I Killed Pluto And Why, The Devil in the White City, The Last Explorer, The Violist’s Thumb

Not Worth Reading: A Universe From Nothing, African Diaries, How To Get Away With Murder In America, John Mcafee’s Last Stand, Journey To Ki, Lost At Sea.

So there you go. You can look forward to the year-end summary of Ben Kickert’s reading in July.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

Catching up

January 6th, 2013 No comments

When I started blogging again several years ago, I rarely went a month without putting a post up.  Unfortunately, it looks like I got out of the habit and have gone almost 6 months with a post.  Whoops! 

Looking back at the last six months, it has been anything but uneventful.  In fact, there has been so much going on that it probably contributed to the blog-silence.  So, here is a quick run down on the big things that have gone down:

  • There has been a lot of traveling with the Cabrini crew – both coming and going
    • 3 staff members went to the states for the AIDS 2012 conference
    • Five "sisters in training" came and stayed with us for spiritual development
    • We had a fundraising trip in the states that all the Kickerts plus Sister Diane went on (more on that later).
    • The sisters have been all over the place doing "sister" work and taking some down time
    • We have had two short-term volunteer come and go
    • Joe has gone to the states for some time with Family
  • We were able to spend 6 weeks in the US and it was very busy time
    • I spent time in New York, Philadephia, St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville
    • It was great catching up with friends and family
    • I became an uncle on my side when Tim and Chel had their first baby
    • My grandmother passed away
    • We got to enjoy some down time together as a family and see the sites in NYC and London
  • We wrapped up our funding year and took some time to look at all the accomplishments happening in Swaziland
  • Simo, one of the twins we watched was killed when his house collapsed on him.
  • We found out we were pregnant!

If you really want scoop on what has gone on with the Kickerts in the last six months, be sure to go to Beth’s blog… she even does pictures!  http://beth.kickert.info