Blog: March 2012

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Baldur update

Baldur got another X-ray and an ultrasound today. (We were hoping the traveling ultrasound docs would be available and they were. I had to drop him off for the X-ray in any case.) The pleural effusion is much reduced and they told me to cut the dose of the medicine he's taking for that. The ultrasound told them that his mitral valve is leaking; this is caused by old age but the hyperthyroidism isn't helping. So they said to boost the thyroid medicine to a rate that I understand to be somewhat astonishing (20mg/day of Methimazole, up from a high 15). I asked if I should spread that out (giving it to him three times a day instead of twice); they said no, increase each dose.

Last night and this morning he lapped up tuna juice but didn't eat any solids. They reported that he ate "a couple bites" of canned food while there today. When I got home I gave him some gravy-laden food and he showed actual interest for the first time this week, so I take that as a good sign.

Baldur update

Baldur is still lethargic -- a lot of lying around, barely moving, not eating -- but last night he came upstairs and jumped up on the bed. So, mixed signals there.

The blood tests came back today. The CBC is all normal -- no anemia (yay! the fluid isn't internal bleeding!), no elevated white-cell counts (infection). His BUN (kidney number) is slightly up (45, vs. 38 a few months ago); for comparison, Embla and Erik were both into three digits at the end. Kriatinine (the other kidney number) is normal. T4, the hyperthyroid number, is high at 5.4 (his highest reading so far), despite the fact that he's getting 15mg of Methimazole a day (this is abnormally high). That's transdermal, though, because something in the pill makes him throw up, and transdermal doesn't have perfect absorption. But still...

The drugs he's on are Enalapril (the heart medicine) and Furosemide (the diuretic).

I talked with both vets tonight -- the one who saw him yesterday and my regular one. My vet is going to find out whether imaging his heart would tell us anything we could use. Other than that, we keep doing what we're doing and give the drugs time to work.

Thanks for all the replies to yesterday's post.

Poor Baldur

Yesterday Baldur suddenly became lethargic and uninterested in food (but was and is drinking water). He'd been fine Saturday, jumping into my lap and gobbling up food. Then, Sunday, nothing, and when I picked him up to put him in my lap he jumped right back down. I wondered if he'd had a stroke or heart attack; Dr. Google didn't seem to think so so I didn't go to an emergency vet last night, but today I took him to my vet's office. My vet wasn't in, but I saw another one in the practice who has seen Baldur before.

They took his blood pressure and the readings were astonishing; this high-blood-pressure kitty had below-average readings today. A chest X-ray showed pulmonary edema and pleural effusion -- fluid in the tissue of his lungs and in the chest cavity. (There was actually enough fluid that we couldn't see his heart.) The good news is that there are no tumors; the bad news is that, well, he's got fluid where it shouldn't be. Heart disease is a possible effect of hyperthyroidism (and old age). The tentative diagnosis is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Blood tests should tell us more tomorrow, including how his kidneys are doing.

So he's on some new medicines now, a heart medicine and a diuretic to try to draw out some of that fluid, and I'm pushing vitamins and watered-down food into him via syringe so he gets some nutrients. This vet didn't talk with me about prognosis; I assume my vet will.

I did ask the vet about the sudden onset, since it sounded like he was describing progressive diseases (and the net agreed when I got home and looked). He said that cats are really good at hiding problems until they become so overwhelming that they can't any more. So Baldur has probably been feeling unwell for some time (days? weeks? dunno), and I couldn't tell. Poor guy! I hope the meds help.

How does your congregation raise money?

I'm interested in answers from all religions/denominations. (Please identify which you're talking about.)

I grew up going to a Roman Catholic church. Collection baskets were passed at Sunday services -- once for the church and, often, a second time for a special purpose (ranging from helping $disaster victims to buying a pipe organ). Members of the congregation were issued envelopes with an identifying number (not name) on the outside, so you could put cash in and still get a tax receipt at the end of the year. Children in religious school were also issued (small) envelopes; they were also numbered and I assume our coins were tallied with our parents' envelopes, but I never asked. Of course, some people (like visitors) just put cash directly into the basket, too.

This always struck me as dicey; how could an organization with regular expenses like heat and salaries and a building manage finances that way, other than by assuming that this year will be like last year? It occurs to me now that there might have also been a pledge system that I, as a child, never saw, but I'm just guessing here.

One of the things I found really refreshing about synagogues is that they have dues. When I found out about this I did a little happy-dance. Yay, no more guesswork! Join the congregation, get a bill, pay it, and everything's good. Right? (Aside: we couldn't pass a basket at Shabbat services even if we wanted to, because doing business and handling money are forbidden on Shabbat.)

Now that I've been part of congregational life for a while, though, I've realized that that's not the end of it by far. There are still special appeals, of course (we help $disaster victims too, after all), but there are also endowment campaigns, special appeals to supplement dues, fancy fund-raising dinners (with ad books, to draw contributions from non-members/businesses), and a myriad of other fund-raising activities. (I know that some congregations have a building fund with its own rules for member payments; we don't, so I don't really know how this works.) There are also fees for certain activities; the biggie here is religious school, which is a separate payment on top of dues.

My congregation -- and I assume this is true pretty much everywhere -- never turns anybody away for lack of ability to pay dues. We'll negotiate a reduced rate, sometimes quite nominal. Some of the other fund-raising is specifically to offset that. A draw from the endowment each year also offsets some expenses. I don't know if the proportion of our expenses paid for by dues is public information so I won't say, but we try to reduce that proportion by building the endowment -- through fund-raising, of course.

All of this makes me wonder when we risk hitting the point of "fund-raising fatigue" for members (I didn't grow up with this as normal so my perspective is unreliable), and what the mix of dues to fund-raising tends to be like elsewhere, and what other (fiscally-responsible) approaches are out there. What do others do? Are synagogues unique in having dues, or do churches have that too (perhaps packaged differently)? If you're a member of a church, does someone sit down with you and say "we expect you to donate $X this year"?

So, readers who belong to congregations of any sort, how do your congregations pay for expenses?

Lots of interesting discussion in the comments.

Tishrei in Adar

The rabbis say that in the time of the moshiach (messiah) Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, will be like Purim. (There's word-play there.) No moshiach yet, but something along those lines (in reverse) is coming up.

I'm part of a group that's doing a pilot evaluation of a new machzor (high-holy-day prayerbook). Tomorrow night we're sort-of having a Kol Nidrei service for the evening of Yom Kippur. Should be interesting! Years ago our morning minyan piloted the new siddur Mishkan T'filah (over several weeks) and I found that process very engaging for me. I'm looking forward to seeing what the new machzor has in store for us.

(Well ok; I have an advance copy of just this part of it and I paged through it tonight. But going through it with a congregation is different.)

Added later:

Pico-review: a lot of nice updates, some translations are at first peculiar but settle in, typography/layout needs serious work. Interesting observation: as with early drafts of MT they added back the full Sh'ma; in MT they recanted some of that (kept tzitzit, killed national reward/punishment), so it'll be interesting to see what happens with that here. Somebody is obviously determined to try. :-)

I'll be writing a more-thorough analysis/reaction to submit to them, but it will take at least several days. I'm reluctant to share that before this round of the piloting is over, lest I prejudice others.


First, a midrash:

"On that night King Achashverosh could not sleep": On that night nobody could sleep -- Esther was busy preparing the banquet for Haman, Mordechai was busy with his sack-cloth, and Haman was busy with building his gallows. So the Holy One blessed be He summoned an angel and said: "Look! my children are in danger and that evil king sleeps! Go disturb his sleep!" So the king was unable to sleep and he read of the righteous from the books of account, which led to Mordechai being exalted at the expense of Haman. (I learned this from Sefer Ha-Aggadah, which cites Esther Rabbah 7:13 and 9:4.)

My congregation didn't read the megillah last night; we had a Purim spiel (humorous play) instead, which I didn't go to. But a few years ago our rabbis instituted "Esther's banquet" for the adults after the spiel, with food and alcohol and study, and I always go to that. My horilka (apple/brandy/honey/spices, aged) is a big hit, and I really need to queue up some more before I run out. So that was fun and educational, as I expected.

Today was Thursday, the day I lead the morning minyan at another congregation. We established last week that I didn't need to do anything special; someone else was taking care of the megillah reading and that part of the service. This turns out to be the first time that I have heard the megillah all in Hebrew and chanted with the special trope; I'm used to reading, not chanting, and mostly English. I enjoyed this more-traditional experience. I also believe that being able to follow along in a small booklet was an essential part of that. (Follow along, because just listening to extended Hebrew is hard if you're not fluent, and small, because it needs to be held with one hand so the other hand is free to hold a noise-maker to blot out Haman's name.)

This may be the first time I've drunk vodka before 9AM. The "little something to help fulfill the mitzvah" was stronger than I was expecting.

My own congregation reads the megillah in the morning, so I felt obligated to go support that. (So I did hear the megillah twice like you're supposed to, but it wasn't the usual distribution in time.) This year our reading really clicked; different people took it in turns, in English (except Hebrew to open and close). The readers were all engaging with the story, not just reading words on a page, and that made a big difference for me. I got the insomnia chapter, which is a lot of fun. (Esther chapter 6; you can look it up.)

This may be the first time I've drunk scotch before noon.

Both services had exactly ten people present, so my redundant-seeming attendance helped make a minyan for each.

Now, on to Pesach!