Monday, August 31, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

For the first time in nearly two years, I went for a long walk in the woods today. I went with my friends, two tall, long-legged folks and I sent them on ahead with the dogs. Even if I walked as fast, which I don't, I would only cover half the distance. So I had a solitary, peaceful walk. Although never completely out of earshot of civilization, it was still very peaceful to plod along in an environment that man hasn't mucked up yet. Aside from a few trail signs, and stairs on some of the steepest hills, this urban park is largely untouched. It's humbling to see yourself as such a tiny fraction of the big picture.

I'd forgotten to grab my cell phone and I have no sense of time, especially in that environment. So I walked further than I expected and felt pretty creaky on the return trip. I only made one wrong turn, a missed trail turn-off, and discovered my mistake after I'd gone less than a quarter-mile. Still, it was a very long walk for me and I was a bit surprised that my friends made it back to the car before I did! (Moments before, they assured me.)

I'm going to try to walk more often, and for longer, and regain just a little stamina. Closer to home I have two choices: a very flat but very popular, congested "rails to trails" path, or an extremely hilly city park. Maybe long walks on the former, short walks on the latter. At any rate, I think the real criteria will be how -- or if -- I can move tomorrow!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain

by Garth Stein

This is the story of Dennis, a driving instructor and race car driver, told by his dog, Enzo. Enzo believes that if he's as good a dog as he can possibly be, he will come back in his next life as a human. (It is a testament to his optimism that he believes this is a promotion.) Enzo has developed his wisdom by listening to Denny talk about racing, and by watching television documentaries, racing tapes, and The Weather Channel. As you would expect from a creature who hears, sees, and smells everything but cannot speak, Enzo is a very good listener.

Denny is very much an average guy, transformed by the love of a good woman. Enzo and Eve regard each other a bit warily, but come to acceptance and understanding. When Eve gives birth to Zoe, Enzo is completely committed to safeguarding her; Eve understands this, and her affection for Enzo deepens considerably. There are lots of homilies about and metaphors to racing; Stein clearly likes the analogy to navigating life's surprising twists and turns.

I've heard about dogs who can smell cancer; Enzo is the first to smell something wrong with Eve. When Eve finally succumbs, Denny's life spirals into a tale of such tragedy and misery, it makes the story of Job sound like a Dreamworks plot. Enzo remains a steadfast force of love and comfort. He helps Denny maintain a fragile grip, committed to fighting the forces that are out to destroy him.

As I've said before, the only down side to sharing your life with a pet is that you tend to outlive them, and I suspected that would be the case with Enzo's story. As he ages, he suffers physical decay, but his mind is still sharp and his heart is still full. I'm probably giving too much away, but I promise that the writing is so lyrical, so moving, that it's worth a first-hand read. Even though the second-to-last page might make you cry for an hour. Molly was a bit distraught; I'm not much of a cryer -- unless I'm on steroids -- so I explained to her my distress and she was very understanding. (If she has to come back as a human, I think she should at least be royalty.) As Enzo explained...

"...My soul has learned what it came here to learn, and all the other things are just things. We can't have everything we want. Sometimes, we simply have to believe."

Mean Aunt Jean

Grandpa Harry's sister, Aunt Jean, was ... a terror, a bully, a battle ax. She had red hair, a deep, gravelly voice and carried a pocketbook as big as she was. She was barely 5' but in my memory. she was definitely "larger than life." Aunt Jean always drove a Mercedes and wore big, clanky gold jewelry. I think she bullied Grandma Flo, who never had a lot of self-confidence.

She and Uncle Bill never had children, and they often made the trip from Miami for visits, holidays, and birthdays. We were her grandchildren- by-proxy. Here's a typical Aunt Jean memory: whenever we went to a restaurant, the hostess would say, "I'll have a table for you in just a minute." And Aunt Jean would say, "Don''t be ridiculous, there's an empty table right there," and she'd grab our hands and march us right past the hostess, to the table she'd selected.

Uncle Bill came down with Parkinson's Disease in his 50s. He'd already made a fortune, and Aunt Jean burned through it taking care of him. I'm amazed when I see him in old home movies, laughing and talking, waving a drink and a big cigar. All my memories of him are in a wheelchair, staring vacantly into space, unable to talk. But Aunt Jean never even considered putting him in a nursing home.

We visited her in Miami once with the whole family, and a few years later, Bro 2 and I flew down to visit her. I was 13 at the time and the visit was agony. There was nothing for us to do during the day; Aunt Jean lived in an adults-only condo and we were constantly admonished to be quiet. It wasn't all bad; I insisted that I could wear a petite size, and for the first time, she took me shopping in a ladies' dress store instead of a children's department. Even though it was way too big, she bought me a super cool courderoy jumper and poor-boy turtleneck - something very hip that my mother would never have bought for me. Aunt Jean was capable of kindness and generosity, but she'd just wave off your thanks as if you were making a big fuss over nothing.

Aunt Jean had also taken in Uncle Bill's sister, Aunt Sarah, who was completely senile. The last straw was when Aunt Sarah went off the deep end and accused me of trying to steal her boyfriend. Of course, there was no boyfriend, but the depth of her rage terrified me, even though Aunt Jean was able to calm her down right away. Bro 2 and I went to a movie, and I somehow figured out how to call Mom & Dad collect from a payphone. "We want to come hoooooommme!" I don't remember what Mom said, but somehow she got us out of there in a day or two.

When Aunt Jean was near the end of her life, frail and in failing health, some distant cousin appeared and "helped" her spend whatever funds she still had. That probably happens a lot, especially in Miami. What's really sad, though, is that we don't have any of her stuff: photos, mementos, jewelry. I'm sure Aunt Jean had a softer side; I think she just viewed vulnerability as a character flaw.
Top - Aunt Jean with a birthday cake for Bro 1. Bottom - When I was 13, I looked 9 or 10 years old. I wore white knee socks with white sneakers, imagining that they looked like GoGo Boots.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stir Crazy Menus Online

I haven't found our story yet; I don't know if it will actually appear online, or if we're just getting a blurb in the September issue of Cooking Light, but they have published two of our menus online:
Landlocked Seafood Lovers
Stir Crazy Favorites
Thanks again to my dear Foodie pals; their fundraising efforts kept me in dog food and other essentials last year.
Nature's Tromp L'oeil: The Art of Deception

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What the Hay in the air? For the past three days I've been scratching my eyes out, and blowing my nose raw. I thought the little cold snap would have taken some of the crud out of the air; I'm not sure what the problem is, but I've been a regular faucet face.

I snorked and sniffled my way through a haircut yesterday. I treated myself to the Aveda Institute. (The Sorbonne of Style, the Harvard of Hair.) This has become my cut of choice. Even though it's students doing the cutting, they are closely supervised. First, you enter the mini-spa, a sort of temple of aesthetics. It's very dark with just a few twinkly lights and New Age music playing softly. You get a scalp massage and a gentle back rub. Then you move to the shampooatorium: you climb on a table and lay flat on your back with your head in the sink, Close your eyes and sink into a luxurious shampoo and conditioning, followed by a mini-facial that ends with a hot towel wrap. It's heavenly!

It's a bit jarring to go back into the salon, with its bright lights and techno-pop music, but that's where the cutting happens. After a brief consultation with the stylist and her supervisor, the chopping begins. The supervisor stops back several times, making suggestions and demonstrating techniques. All of this, including the cut & style... for $17! (And tipping is not allowed.)

Its a good idea to bring a picture with you, rather than depend on their photobooks and magazines, which show lots of wacky, avant garde styles (like Vanity Scare); it's enough to make anyone a bit anxious. I'm not a contender for blue eyebrows, or lip studs, or hair-as-sculpture. One model wore a large orange macrame-bra-sculpture thing, worn over a lightweight jersey baby doll dress. (I don't even remember what the model's hair looked like!)

The more my stylist cut, the higher my anxiety level ratcheted. Finally noticing my eyebrows had knit themselves together, she called over her instructor. "Well," the instructor offered,"I think we just need to shape this (snip! snip! snip!) and blend this in (snip! snip! snip!) and then zhoozh this with your fingers. " And somehow it turned into a non-horrible haircut! It's a bit long on top and in front. The stylist flat-ironed it at a temperature that should have turned my hair to molten ash but somehow, the hair survived, and the minute I stepped outside, it went boy-oy-oiing. And once again I am channeling Lucy Ricardo. But if I can learn to style it into submission, it will be big improvement. If not, it is a reminder that much of life is out of my control, that it's always an act of kindness to let a student practice on you. Everyone has to start somewhere.

The one time I had a really difficult haircut, I went back the next day and an instructor worked some magic.
At least I'm open to almost anything. Having endured total baldness, there's not much coif-wise that scares me anymore. I'm not one of those chicks who gets stuck in a hairstyle for 20 or 30 years. Most of those poor girls look worse every year, or at least more dated and less stylish. Remember: it's only hair, it will grow!

Monday, August 24, 2009


"The doctor came in the room and said, ‘You have cancer and you're gonna DIE!’ And he kicked me in the shins and called me fatso!"
Come on. I thought I had a pretty grim diagnosis experience. This is a slight exaggeration, but these commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America are so ridiculous, I think this must be a vicious, for-profit corporation that preys on peoples' fears and anxieties, rather than state their success rate statistics.
"Then he hit me in the face with a 2x4, and stole my wallet."

No Such Thing as a Free Ride

There's an old superstition in many cultures that celebrating any kind of good fortune is inviting bad fortune. To ward off this "evil eye," people spit (or pretend-spit) three times: ptu! ptu! ptu!

For a very long time, I had very good luck with cars. I drove an '84 Toyota Celica for more than a decade with one repair, a water pump. I drove Old Blue, the '94 Mistubishi Expo, for a decade with one repair, rebuilding the transmission (granted, a humdinger). I drove the Grannymobile, the '99 Mazda 626, for about seven years with one major repair.

Now, with Hondo the Rondo in my possession for just 60 days, it needs a monster repair: rotors. That shouldn't be a huge deal, but (a) they need replacing because of rust, not wear, but Kia still refuses to acknowledge faulty parts and issue a recall, and (b) they're outrageously expensive. The shade tree mechanic who I trust wanted $436, only $40 of which was for labor!

So I called the dealer where I bought Hondo and put the squeeze on them, tears and all. Yes, it's considered a maintenance item. Yes, you're under no obligation. But JEEZ, I have had the car 60 days! Their price was $350, a little better, but I have to drive 50+ miles there and back. No, they won't split the cost with me. But after a bit more sobbing (what, are they made of stone?) they agreed to knock $100 off the total. So $250 is a whole lot better than $436, but I sure had to work for it. I'm afraid my free ride is over, vehicle-wise. I should probably dump Hondo for a Toyota or Honda ASAP. ptu! ptu! ptu!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What'd She Say?

Everyone's childhood is peppered with incidents of "misheard" words and phrases. And when we finally learned what it was people were saying, a giant high-beam cut through the fog, and language suddenly made sense again. Here are just a couple of my favorites.

Like most kids, I learned to sing the alphabet song before I saw the characters and made the connections. And I thought that "allamano" was one letter, a letter with a long name like "W." Aich, Eye, Jay, Kay, Allamano, Pea.

I thought "brock" was a verb. The soap opera, right before Casper the Friendly Ghost came on, always ended with, "The Eeeedge of Nnnnight has been brock to you by...Duz for Dishes!"

Gosh, who would have written, "Ugly, isn't she?" across the bottom of this photo? Could it have been... Satan? (I believe this was near the apex, the acme of my adorableness.) No, this was clearly the work of a sibling, and there was only one sibling who could read and write when I was this size....

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Cheez

From the sister site,

The Big Limb-owski

I was laying (lying?) on the sofa Wed. afternoon, in a pain-killer stupor after my big State Fair outing. I was drifting in and out of naps when I suddenly awoke to a major thunderstorm. It took me 15-20 seconds to come awake enough to realize...poor Molly was outside! I scrambled up and ran to the door to let her in. I really don't think the storm had been going on for long - maybe a minute or two - but Molly was completely drenched.

She scampered inside and proceeded to spend the next half hour playing, "I'm a Crazy Wet Dog!" You dog owners know what I'm talking about: alternately rolling on her back on any absorbent surface, punctuated by zooming around the room like a pinball. The storm lasted about a half hour and when it was all over, a very large limb from my Norway maple had set itself free. This poor tree has been trying to die for a decade, and I just keep lopping out the dead parts. It's now a very strange shape, and the four (now three) surviving limbs are all quite top-heavy.

It's about 16' long and as big around at the crown. I spent much of Thursday calling around to get someone to come chop it up and dispose of it. I was very lucky that it missed the fence and the house; it just glanced off the gutter and did very little damage. Unfortunately, all the tree guys are madly busy; there are whole trees down all over town. But with a little pleading, I think I actually have two tree guys who will come and price the job.

Last night was a sleeping pill night; after about 1am, I was dead to the world. Today, to my surprise, the big limb had been turned 180º and in the process, bent my bird feeder pole and smushed two planters. This was not an act of nature. But who would do it - and why? Perhaps a well-intended neighbor was assessing the job? A couple of phone calls dismissed that remote possiblity. Besides, they would have knocked on my door, and they wouldn't have done it in the middle of the night.

So, I believe, the obvious answer is the Bim's beaus. I saw and heard them heading for the bars around 12:30 am. Maybe they thought it was a hilarious prank. I guess I should count myself lucky that they were too drunk / stupid / lazy to make more of an effort, and that they didn't do any real, permanent damage. But I'm out for blood now. No more Miss Nice Cranky. I've tried catching flies with honey, now it's time to pull out their wings.

What, me, crazy?
Scraping eggs, omelets, entire souffles off my face. DUH. Thanks for trying, Josh. (When in the HECK did you move it?? And why didn't you call/knock?) And yes, I do have awesome neighbors. I just hope they appreciate having an olympic conclusion jumper nearby...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Girl Who Cried Uncle

1. The IR Pricks: After six months of the hospital's "Patient Representative" doing nothing, I moved up the food chain. The next guy claimed he was horrified at my treatment, and at the Rep's complete inaction, and promised to get right on it. Three months later, my email is unanswered. Four months later, two phone calls are not returned. I finally called him on my cell phone (no name on his Caller I.D.) and oopsy, he picked up the phone. "I was just going to call you!" he said. Sure. The short version: they don't care, they don't believe there was any inappropriate treatment or behavior. After a few minutes' back-pedaling, I got "Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We really care what you think." I almost puked into my phone. Okay, uncle, I give up.

2. DieSuckah Health Insurance will not approve my requested Rx. After two levels of appeals, I give up. They will pay for an expensive sleep study to justify the prescription, or they will approve an alternate drug which costs twice as much as the one I'm requesting. Tell me how that makes sense.

3. A very large tree limb got zapped by lightning last night. Luckily it missed my house, but it's a big honkin' thing and I'll need help getting rid of it. I called my homeowner's insurance and they said I have a $1,000 deductible... for anything. Except I remember that about 10 years ago, my house was hit by lightning. My computer was plugged into a surge protector, but my laser printer got fried... and they paid to replace that. I guess I'll have to make my case in person and try to understand this new policy.

4. Hondo Banal is going thumpity-thump when I hit the brakes. My mechanic says the rotors are rusted, and there's no way they should look this bad on a car this new. So I'll have to go to a dealership and see if there's been a recall.

5. After jerking my chain for 2+ months, I gave up on my current mortgage holder and started trying to refinance my house through another bank. I've faxed them everything they've asked for... and then faxed some pages a second time. Now I'm waiting for a return call; they probably need it all again.

I know none of this is huge, major, life-threatening traumas but it does seem I've had a slew of annoying issues. On the other hand, here's my new theory. We're not very good at celebrating our everyday joys and successes. We don't wake up and think, "Hooray! All my arms and legs work! My back doesn't hurt! My teeth are fine! My family is well! I have a job! My car is dependable!" No, we take these things for granted... until something goes wrong.

I knew an elderly woman who, when asked what was new, would always reply, "Nothing, thank God!" I think I'm starting to understand.

Coot goes to the State Fair

With a free coupon for admission (thanks, Chris), I went to the State Fair yesterday morning. The people-watching was as delightful as ever. First, it is clear that we deserve to be counted among the most obese states in the country. And second, the 80s are alive and thrivin' here: you'll never see more Rooster Bangs in one place, or more stretchy clothes on bodies that should not be wearing stretchy clothes (see #1). The Rooster Bangs do not seem to be from the rural element, but rather a feature of the urban white trash, which attends the Fair in impressive numbers.

The theme this year -- and I don't know why the State Fair needs a theme -- was The Year of the Tomato. There were tomato plants everywhere, inside and out. Ironically, this has been a terrible year for tomatoes: a record cool July followed by a blistering heat wave. People who are usually giving away bushels are now hoarding their harvests, one scrawny tomato at a time.

My first stop was the Agriculture/Horticulture exhibits. I usually try to see the Dahlia judging: incredible flowers 8-10" across. I missed that particular event this year, and the arrangements on display had been judged a week ago, so they were looking mighty puny. They moved most of the 4-H displays to a different building so I would decide later if I would include that on my tour. I still got to see the state beekeepers' and wineries' displays, and the tallest sunflower, biggest pumpkin, etc. Across the street is the Pioneer building (the seed company, not the ancestors) with displays from our largest ag/hort university as well as the state chicken, lamb, soybean, pork, beef, egg, cheese associations. And not a single free handout, except for coupons for canned tomatoes. I've never stayed to watch, but several times a week, the university demonstrates a live spay or neuter operation.

Just down the road is my favorite stop, the Family Arts Building. On the way there, I check out the food stands to see if there is anything I can stomach -- and afford! -- for lunch. Every year, the food vendors seem to come up with another disgusting thing to deep fry. I'm not sure of the reason for this; it may be just to generate publicity. I really can't imagine eating a deep-fried Twinkie, or Snickers Bar. This year, they actually figured out a way to deep fry a slice of pizza. I guess it wasn't greasy enough? At any rate, I'm not tempted by the usual Fair fare, plus it seems that the average price for a sandwich, burger, etc. has gone up to an outrageous $8 (plus your $3 soda, of course). I don't begrudge those folks a living; it can't be easy standing all day in a hot trailer. But if they can't offer food at a reasonable price, I'd like to see them just stay home.

Ahhh... the Family Arts Building! All the sewing, knitting, crochet, quilting, needlepoint exhibits. Upstairs is the photography exhibit, and I know I'm on cranky overload now. I'm so disappointed: the exhibit seems to be one painfully trite visual cliché after another. It is divided into professional and nonprofessional, and they both share the shame. If they can't exclude these completely, they should at least segregate them into a separate exhibit: old rusty trucks or tractors, weathered barn close-ups, dead leaves, reflections in a water droplet, ancient wrinkled faces, trees silhouetted on a horizon, pouty adolescents, and Yorkies. I would also add a category, something I might call... Saccharine Hyperpatriotism: lots of lightly screened US flags, helmets, dog tags, etc. Let me hasten to add that some of the nature/scenic and travel photographs still took my breath away.

In the basement is my other perennial favorite: paintings, drawings, sculpture, furniture, jewelry and calligraphy. The overall quality here has taken a nosedive, too. I would add a new category here called Shameless Pandering and include all of the artwork that featured tomatoes. Which was a lot. (Or as they say here, "a real lot.") But I'm a lot more tolerant of clichés and questionable subject matter in original art than in photography. I also took a turn through the decorated cakes, which were okay but didn't compare to the quality I've seen in past years.

Well, that was it for my stamina, especially since I couldn't find anything both affordable and edible for lunch. I missed all the animals, the 4-H exhibit, the DNR, the entertainment, and more. It was a big disappointment compared to years past, but I may be guilty of sentimentalizing just a bit. Speaking of entertainment, their big concert line-up must be a Tribute to Diversity: everything from Journey, Heart and the Oak Ridge Boys (are they wheeled on stage, or can they all still walk?) to Demi Lovato, some chick I've never heard of, who looks about 11 years old. Maybe the latest Disney machine product?

At any rate, I was done, done, done. My back was killing me and I would spend the rest of the day recovering, until the lightning woke me up. That's another story; if it stops raining, maybe a picture, too.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Hyperbole & Hysteria

There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress -- I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.
Republicans Propagating Falsehoods in Attacks on Health Care Reform
Propagating Falsehoods = TELLING LIES

Limbaugh is not alone in making the Hitler analogy. Demonstrators disrupting town hall meetings on health care reform have brandished images of President Obama with a Hitler-like mustache and signs with "Obama" written under a swastika. Earlier this year, the president of the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County in Maryland wrote on the group's Web site that "Obama and Hitler have a great deal in common."

...First they brayed his middle name, Hussein, and noted that Obama sounds a lot like Osama. Then they called him a Muslim. When that didn't stick, they accused him of "palling around with terrorists," and then of being a socialist and a communist, all to no avail.

That was conventional politics, albeit of the gutter variety. By comparing President Obama to Hitler, however, Limbaugh is sending his national audience a subliminal but clear message of a wholly different sort.

Limbaugh's Dangerous Rhetoric
Always at the front lines of ratcheting up hysteria and "misinformation"
Still, it's time to call for an end to the pollution of the debate with Nazi analogies that simultaneously trivialize ultimate evil while poisoning our national dialogue. We've got enough crackpot and conspiratorial clunkers on the road without manufacturing more. The problems that ail our country won't be cured by pernicious hyperbole.
Neither Bush Nor Obama = Hitler
"Outrageous, offensive, and inappropriate"
From a succinct commenter:

The GOP has this drill down cold:

  1. Use apocalyptic rhetoric with Christian religious and Caucasian racial subtexts to inflame fear, bigotry and extremism among the uneducated and intolerant.
  2. When liberals object, say you were only joking and accuse them of being humorless.
  3. Keep turning up the heat and act surprised when somebody finally heeds your calls for extreme action.
  4. If violence occurs, be sure to say you were only speaking figuratively and you are being unfairly blamed.
  5. Keep your subsequent celebrations behind closed doors.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One Slumlord: There Goes The Neighborhood

Once upon a time, the Villa was a fairly pleasant place to live, but one slumlord can ruin everything. For 18 years, my next-door neighbors were an elderly couple. They put away an impressive quantity of vodka, but they never bothered me and I never bothered them. When they died, we learned old Bill had mortgaged the property for much more than it was worth. Their kids couldn't walk away fast enough and the bank ended up with the house.

Then Squidgie the Slumlord swooped in and stole it bought it and turned it into a rental. He added two more full baths (which I'm sure are not on the tax assessment) and asked an outrageous amount for rent. The only tenants willing to pay that amount were three immature little frat-brats who wanted to be able to crawl home from the neighborhood bars. And so I lived next to the Three Little Pigs for two years, who woke us all up regularly with whooping and door-slamming and dog-barking. Yes, they brought with them a 50 lb. male Pit Bull who was not neutered. Really, everybody's ideal neighbors, eh? Squidgie made it clear from day one: he doesn't care. As long as they pay their rent on time, Squidgie doesn't care if the Pigs are stacking dead bodies in the basement.

The neighbor on the other side of the Pigs, Poor B, had it even worse. The Pigs set up a giant hot tub, basically right outside of Poor B's bedroom window, and the party got louder, later, and wetter. Occasionally, Poor B would go out at three or four in the morning, and ask them politely if they would please keep it down a little. Their reply? "F___ you, Motherf___er!" Charming.

For reasons that aren't clear, Squidgie finally decided not to renew The Pigs' lease for a third year. I do know that he spent weeks cleaning and repairing the place... only to rent to the three Bimbeaux, who have turned out to be as horrible as the Pigs. The Bims are very young and very pretty (and very, very stupid), so they draw flocks and flocks of Pigs, like the previous Pigs but worse: they're just visiting and care even less about disturbing the neighbors. I have asked them several times, politely, if they would please keep down the noise between midnight and 6 am. Six hours a day: that's all I'm asking for, and yet like the Pigs before them, the Bims are incapable of even that much consideration.

They started up again last night at 3am, and I threw on my tatty cotton robe and marched over there, my crazy curls standing out from my head like corkscrews. All that racket from just two Bims and a Pig! I offered no more apologies, no more polite requests. "Go inside the house now. You can't keep waking up the neighbors."

"Uh, we're rully sorry...we'll keep it down," they started.

I was having none of it. "No, we've asked you several times to be considerate of your neighbors, so now we're going to start calling the police every time you wake us up. And then you're going to get evicted. You're going to lose your deposit and you will get sued for the balance of the lease. Go. Inside. Now." I stood there and waited for them to go inside. Much of the problem stems from the fact that Squidgie has told them they cannot smoke in the house, so they come outside to smoke, and forget that they are drunk, and loud, and stupid.

I'm tired of being the crank on the corner, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to get those six hours of quiet. City codes actually designated 11pm - 7am as "quiet hours," but the trick is getting the police to show up, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. I understand: they have better things to do. But being woken up 3-4 nights a week, when sleeping is already a challenge, when restful sleep is especially important to me, is just driving me insane. I don't believe in heaven and hell. I'm not sure I believe in Karma anymore, but if there are such things, I would have to try very hard not to be absolutely gleeful about what's in store for Squidgie.

(*To come: more about Crazytown and Poor B's attempt to sell his property.)

Friday Cheez, delayed

Oh, such memories! "I smashed Bro 2's finger in the door, but it was an accident. Really..." "The fish flipped itself out of the bowl and the dog started to eat it..." Just get mom, ok? More kitty fun at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I've started a half-dozen posts this week but can't seem to focus on anything long enough to finish it. The good news is that DieSuckah Health Insurance is now reviewing my second appeal of their decision to deny me a prescription that's supposed to help with my fuzzy-brain.

On Wednesday, after being off steroids for almost 6 weeks, I went for my monthly Zometa fix. I asked Nurse R if my veins would have improved. Her eyes spun around like slot machine wheels as she tried to decide on an answer. "Um, sure, I guess that could happen," she finally replied. Then she failed to hit a vein on the first stick, and blew a vein on the second stick. They follow a strict two-sticks-per-nurse policy, so she called over Nurse L, who managed to hit a live one on her second stick. I guess my veins are not going to get better. Although I don't look forward to it, I think it's much harder on the nurses than it is on me

I finally got the okay to have some dental work done and Thursday morning was my dentist's first available. I would finally (!) get my bridge, after living with a big hole and chewing on the other side for more than a year. I would have crawled there on my hands and knees if I'd had to! It was a marathon 2+ hour appointment and I left with temporary crowns; in two weeks I'll get permanent ones along with my new little bridge. I would have named it The Bridge To Poverty, except that my dentist is still treating me for free, bless her heart. I'm pretty sure this bridge will be the last of her largesse, but it's probably saving me $2,000 or more. (Like I haven't already put all three of her kids through college!)

I left with major headache, jaw ache, and a face full of novacaine. I should have gone straight to bed, but I had an afternoon appointment with a counselor at the cancer center. After smearing a half-cup of yogurt across my numb face, and wiping most of it off, I dragged myself downtown for the appointment. This is my third counselor: the first was a brilliant grad student, but the grant for her services ended. The second was a brilliant counselor on staff; unfortunately, her position was eliminated. I'd met Counselor 3 once before; a very nice lady, but no rapport. This appointment was actually sort of a thanks-but-no-thanks; I felt I owed her face time for that. (Why? Why do I feel I owe her anything?) So, With tingling nose, with fat, flapping upper lip, looking and sounding like a stroke victim, I tried to let her down gently. "I zhuth doe thick I knee hep rhye now." She seemed genuinely surprised, which sort of confirmed my decision: she was really not on my wavelength.

Intermittent crankiness aside, I think I'm remarkably well adjusted for someone with an incurable cancer. But that's just my opinion.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Love Letters

There is a box of love letters in Mom & Dad's basement - letters between Mom's parents. Some marriages are all about friendship and companionship, some are financial arrangements, and just a few are life-long romances. Harold was seeing another girl, quite seriously. When he called to make a date for a serious conversation, she was sure that a marriage proposal was on the agenda. Instead, he broke up with her. He'd just met Sophie at a cousin's party, and that was it: zing, zing, zing went his heartstrings!

I wasn't really aware of this as a kid, but I did notice that they always treated each other kindly and tenderly, and always put the other's needs first. There was nothing
they would not do for each other, and they enjoyed, they relished being able to make each other's life better and easier. I guess that's a pretty good definition of romance, isn't it? It's not grand gestures of roses and gifts and champagne; it's the small acts of thoughtfulness that really demonstrate affection and respect.

It was a stark contrast to Dad's parents, who seemed to be together out of habit, and out of affection for us. I'm sure that in ways I never saw or appreciated, they probably felt more kindly toward each other than they showed. But their relationship involved a lot of hollering. I remember once asking my mother, if they hated each other, why did they stay together? They don't hate each other, she said, that's just the only way they know to talk to each other. If there were any love letters that passed between them, they have long since disappeared. (What I still think is hilarious, is the fact that they yelled at each other in Yiddish, as if we wouldn't know they were fighting.)

In my dating heyday, I did a lot of out-of-town dating through friends, personal ads, etc. It wasn't unusual to send cards and letters back and forth; long distance phone calls were still a bit of an extravagance and generally saved for emergencies. I probably still have a few of those notes, from the two non-jerks I dated. (I had a history of picking inappropriate men. Not Bad Boys, per se, but self-involved, immature, commitment-phobes. I'm sure there is a reason I picked them.)

I was thinking about that box of love letters: lightly scented heavy papers sending affections back and forth. What will the archives of the present generation look like? Will they have scrapbooks with ticket stubs and menus? Are they saving text messages and emails? ("What r u wearing?") Will they even have archives? Will they be saving anything tangible?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Good Food and So Much More

It has not been a great week here in Lake Woebegon, but I was privileged to enjoy two delightful meals, one with the Foodies, and one with the Hoodies.

On Thursday, my cooking club* pals got together for one of my favorite meals; we call it the "Land-Locked Seafood Lovers' Favorites." Thai crab cakes with peanut sauce, roasted red pepper soup with shrimp, summer squash casserole, Caesar salad, shrimp ceviche, and a heavenly banana cream pie. The weather cooperated and we were able to dine al fresco under the pergola, enjoying our hostess' beautiful back yard. With her homemade wine, a fresh summery Gewurtzaminer, it was a delightful feast.

Last night the Hoodies enjoyed a great pitch-in. A blistering heat wave has settled in, so we shared our meal indoors. There were eight for dinner, including a couple of new faces, and a couple of drop-ins after dessert. The hostess' five cats and visiting dog were joined by Molly and Gracie; they are always happy to join the festivities. The Hoodies are also fine cooks and there is always more than enough good food and wine.

Both groups really enjoy and appreciate fun, casual entertaining. Sharing a meal, a glass of wine, and a few stories, jokes and pleasant conversation is more than just a great way to pass an evening. It's an expression of involvement, connection and caring. It feeds relationships and nurtures friendships. I think I'm so lucky to be part of two different circles, with vastly different personalities, interests, etc., who share this appreciation. Not to mention, great eats.

*Stir Crazy originally connected through the Cooking Light website' bulletin board. We've been told our club will get a mention in the magazine's September issue, and a more in-depth article online, with links to all these recipes.

If I Were In Charge of the World

by Judith Viorst

If I were in charge of the world
I'd cancel oatmeal,
Monday mornings,
Allergy shots, and also Sara Steinberg.

If I were in charge of the world
There'd be brighter nights lights,
Healthier hamsters, and
Basketball baskets forty eight inches lower.

If I were in charge of the world
You wouldn't have lonely.
You wouldn't have clean.
You wouldn't have bedtimes.
Or "Don't punch your sister."
You wouldn't even have sisters.

If I were in charge of the world
A chocolate sundae with whipped cream and nuts would be a vegetable
All 007 movies would be G,
And a person who sometimes forgot to brush,
And sometimes forgot to flush,
Would still be allowed to be
In charge of the world.
It was a toss-up between this and the equally delightful Happiness (Reconsidered), but considering the first line, I chose this poem.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Big C Update

I guess I've been fairly lucky all my life: I breezed through school (what little I attended); I got every job I ever wanted and almost every man. Even my previous experiences as a medical anomaly at least ended well. My very first hospitalization was in high school: I got a bug bite and my face blew up like a balloon; something called cellulitis (not cellulite!) that was successfully treated with IV antibiotics. I survived a half-gainer through a windshield with no permanent injury. And I'm one of the few Toxic Shock Syndrome survivors (remember that?). Although it was misdiagnosed as Scarlet Fever, I was put on antibiotics that probably saved my life.

So I don't have any experience with failure on this scale. Maybe failure's not even the right word. Whatever it is, I feel like everything under this headline always falls in the neutral-to-bleak area. I haven't really had any good news to share since this whole ordeal started.

Well, let's give me points for consistency, at least. Once again, after just 4 weeks of chemo-vacation, the numbers are moving in the wrong direction. Some are taking baby steps, some are moving a little faster than that. And the Doc quickly offered me another month of freedom -- I'm sure he senses that I'm not yet even willing to discuss more chemo. But I'll bet that will be on the agenda next month. The worst of it, to me, is feeling that I'm letting down everyone who's cheering from the sidelines. I just can't get a first down, can't get a hit; pick your sports metaphor.

The pain has not gone away, but it is manageable, at least for now. And I'm starting to get my life and (whats left of) my mind back: no more 'roid rage and hysteria, no more diabetes, insulin shots, yeast infections, and all the other delights of the chemo/steroid-go-round. So psychologically, I'm feeling better than I have since before the diagnosis. I'm not sure I want to give this up. I think I'd rather have quality of life, for however long I can, than quantity, if it means going back on chemo, because chemo just sort of takes my life away from me. It's lost time.

Friday Cheez

Friday again already? I just love this cat's stink-eye! More kitty hijinx at (Thanks to former hoodie Doug who sent these.)

What, me, Paranoid?

NUMBER A) I'm trying to refinance my house, and use some of the equity to complete much needed repairs and upgrades. With a credit score most people dream of (and which I was able to maintain last year, thanks to Bro #2) and the fact that I'm refinancing with my current mortgage holder, it should be a walk in the park. But there have been several hiccups and screw-ups, and I've had to do all the legwork to set things straight.

The latest is that the new title company claims my deed lists an incorrect lot number. Really? It's the same lot number that was used when my original mortgage was sold three times, and it's the same lot number that was used when I refinanced in '93, but suddenly it's not good enough. Well, this time I called my contact at the mortgage company, Princess Commission, and told her to figure it out. She was taken aback: "You want me to... do something?" Yes, Princess, you have all the same paperwork as I do: hoist up thine caboose, pretend thou art grateful to be employed, and do your freakin' job.

NUMBER B) I am once again trying to slay the dragon. The DieSuckah Health Insurance Company is refusing to cover a drug that is supposed to help with chemo-brain. I'm on the second level of appeal: a written letter detailing my position. I sent it to the address they told me to use in their original refusal... and two weeks later, the post office has returned it as "undeliverable."

With apologies to John and postal workers everywhere who actually perform the job for which they were hired... that is often not the case here in this large urban metropolis. Starting in the mid-80s, many mid- and low-skill level State and Federal jobs were filled with people booted off the welfare rolls. People who aren't particularly motivated, or grateful to be employed, or in possession of even a minimal skill set. It has become clear that literacy is optional, and perhaps so is a pulse. So I'm very ready to believe some moe-ron at the P.O. put this sticker on my envelope and returned it to me by mistake.

Just to make sure, I call DieSuckah, and they confirm that I sent the letter to the correct address. I hopped in Hondo Banal, loaded for bear, and went to the Post Office. One hundred and thirty-seven years later, I am told that the Post Office was correct, that DieSuckah closed that post office box and did not think to forward the mail to the new address. Post Office! DieSuckah! Post Office! DieSuckah! My moral outrage has whiplash.I'm sure it's just my warped perspective, but I feel as though every letter I open, every phone call I answer, is going to be one more screw-up, problem, mistake, ordeal, something that will vex me, and require time, energy and effort that I just don't have to spare. Am I being paranoid? Or just plain old anoid? I can't tell -- but just in case there is any balance at all in the universe, I think it's time to spring for a lottery ticket.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blueberry-Peach Crisp

A wicked storm line blasted through here today. Lots of flooding, downed trees, homes without power. I escaped any damage, though Molly and I had a few thrilling moments, watching sheets of rain race each other across the yard, as day turned to night and winds gusted up to 60 mph.

My project du jour was a Blueberry Crisp. Just as the last rose of summer is the most beautiful, the last blueberries are the biggest, plumpest and sweetest. I had a 2 lb container of blueberries, plus a couple of peaches to use. I decided to make a crust-less dessert. Here's what I came up with:

Fruit Filling:
2 lbs. blueberries (less a cup saved for cereal)
2 big peaches, pitted, peeled & sliced
3 Tbs flour
2 Tbs sugar
Dash of cinnamon
Mix all together & divide among (4) 2-cup ramekins or baking dishes.

1C cereal remainder*
1/2 C rolled oats
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 C melted butter
1/2 C chopped nuts
Mix first 4 ingredients together. Pour melted butter on and stir to distribute. Add chopped nuts & toss gently. Spoon lightly over the fruit, dividing evenly. (Don't mash it down.)

Bake uncovered at 375º for 30 minutes.

*Every time I finish a box of cereal, there's 2-3 Tbsp of cereal "crumbs" at the bottom of the box. I've saved these because I read that it's great to use for crisps, crumb toppings, etc. Most of my crumbs are from cereals that have some natural sweeteners, so I didn't add very much sugar. You could change the rolled oats to 1C and add a couple tablespoons of flour.

I may still buy one more pint of blueberries... to keep in the freezer.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Colder Than Cold

Last night I watched New in Town with *Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. It was a sweet story (if a bit plodding and predictable) about a corporate cutthroat who comes to downsize and then close a small factory, but ends up saving the factory and being saved herself in the process. A lot of the humor is good-natured poking at the culture of cold climates, particularly Minnesotan, don'tcha know.

My home town was pretty darned cold. We had what seemed like a lot of snow. But it was nothing like this! Garrison Keillor is fond of pointing out that one benefit of cold climates is that they tend to weed out whiners. Another, I believe, is that a character-building winter gives us a deeper, more profound appreciation for the beauty of the other three seasons.

One of the special features on the DVD was a sort of "The Making of..." The cast mostly discussed the challenges of working in this bitterly cold climate: it was filmed in Winnipeg during a particularly vicious winter. Harry Connick lamented, "Ah'm from N'Oleans. We don't even have ice in our drinks!" The temperature -- not the wind chill! -- was often -50º. The cameras often stopped working at -40º so that slowed production even more. Renee's character was usually in very high heels and suits with short pencil-skirts. They were all good sports, laughing about it later, but I'm sure it couldn't have been much fun at the time.

Other special features focused on the art of scrapbooking, and homemade pudding. Overall, I'm not sure if I liked the movie better than the special features. And with the two of them together, well, I recommend it -- especially to you poor folks in places that are experiencing blistering heat!

*I might have liked it better with a different actress. I like the idea of Renee: the girl who, even when whippet-slim, has a big, round face, the girl who is not a classic beauty but finds success in Hollywood anyways. I just don't care much for her acting, and I kept wondering how the story would have looked with Sandra Bullock or Janeane Garofolo or almost anyone else.

More winter fun: Crying Wolf, Winter Getaway, Now That's Snow!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Sweetest Ear

It's almost State Fair season. That means we're nearing the end of sweet corn season. We're a little smug about our sweet corn here in the midwest. Is Ohio's better than Michigan's? Iowa's better than Illinois? It's all good, especially the "I" states. Florida grows some great produce, as does Texas, but their sweet corn just doesn't even compare. (The stuff they call sweet corn in Texas would be fed to cows here... if the cows were starving.)

Sweet corn will be eaten here at the Villa at least 2-3 times a week when it's in season. It should be eaten as soon as possible; the sugar starts disintegrating (or whatever the word is) as soon as the corn is picked.

When I lived in Iowa, I was invited to a client's house for dinner. As expected, the table was groaning with goodies from their own garden: tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, sweet peppers, summer squash. The wife asked me if I'd ever had fresh sweet corn. "Of course! I'm from Indiana," I said, somewhat indignantly. "No," she said, "I mean really fresh." She said to her husband, "I think we're ready." To my surprise, he ran out the door. We watched from the window as he went to the back of the garden, picked three ears of corn, and shucked it as he ran back. His wife lifted the lid on a pot of already-boiling water and he dropped the corn in. It was less than a minute from picking to boiling.

I think it only boiled for a couple of minutes when she fished them out and put them on a platter. "Now, this is fresh corn. I think you'll be able to tell the difference." Tender, juicy, delicately flavored...corn? I thought it was candy!

I still buy and enjoy sweet corn, but that ear stands out in my memory as what real fresh corn is supposed to taste like.

A Trip to the Farmer's Market

Dear Inconsiderate,
The stall owner is there to make money, not to be your new BFF. If you find it absolutely necessary to have a 20-minute conversation about how to take care of your organic mushrooms, please step aside occasionally so the stall owner can actually wait on customers and make a few bucks.

Dear Thoughtless,
Hiring a babysitter for a couple of hours is not child abuse. Making your three- or four-year old walk for 20 minutes is not child abuse. Bringing a stroller the size of a space shuttle to our tiny, overcrowded farmer's market is thoughtless and inconsiderate.

Dear Piggy,
I'm sure there are many good reasons why you drive a Suburban/Expedition/Denali. They will make wonderful bedtime stories in the homeless shelter. In the meantime, please do not drive that monstrosity in the tiny parking lot of our tiny farmer's market. All you do is increase the traffic jam exponentially. Just park on the street and {{{shudder!}}} walk a half-block.

The Coot

Dear Coot,
Everyone else is enjoying a very leisurely amble through the market. If everything and everyone is going to piss you off, please do us all a favor and just stay home.

The Coot