Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting Ready for Surgery

There's a lot more to it than I thought. I expected the pre-op checkup, of course. In case anybody wasn't sure, I passed. I'm healthy enough to find out just how sick I might be. Ironic, huh?

I couldn't get in to see my regular doc, but the clinic got me an appointment with another on the staff. After checking everything out, ordering labs, x-ray and EKG, he offered to pray with me at the end of the appointment. I declined, saying he could if it made him feel better, but he's not the one doing the surgery, so him I'm not that worried about. If my surgeon wants to pray, and it makes him a bit better prepared to do his best job, then go for it by all means.

I'm more concerned about what kind of music he likes in the OR. If I'm really lucky, it'll be classical, not rock or country western or jazz or.... Remember, they say even if you're unconscious, your ears register what's going on, even to the point of waking up depressed if negative comments are made about your condition on the table. So, Beethovan please, or Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Rodrigo, Vivaldi.... Or maybe ear plugs, eh?

Steve's pre-surgery orders were different from mine. Nothing about diet, just the nothing-after-midnight thing. The gave him some special antiseptic wipes to use the night before however, which still makes no sense to me. He was to bathe, then wipe down each limb with one and toss it, same for the torso. What was the point? All the normal bacteria were in the environment he remained in for hours afterward, including the ones on the clothing he dressed in afterward. He still got "sterilized" just before going in to surgery, as well as sterilizing the cutting field before the first knife cut.

I still don't get it.

I did get orders to stop taking ibuprofin and low-dose aspirin for 5 days before surgery, in other words, starting the next day. Ooohhh, fun. I get to work without any painkillers helping my knees? He did say I could take Tylenol, but that does liver damage in high doses, and I never found it helpful before. I was told for 5 days it wouldn't matter, as long as I took no more than a total of 8 extra-strength pills, spread out 2 at a time , 4 times a day. I've been doing that. I agree that there is a need to keep my platelets as sticky as possible. Don't want to lose any extra blood on the table. The first day it wasn't bad, likely because the ibuprofin and Tylenol were overlapping a bit as the first wore out of my system. I did note my blood sugar levels have been lower these five days given my usual eating patterns, and wonder how much ibuprofin has to do with it. I know it kicks up the blood pressure a bit, but never heard about blood sugar levels.

I still need to pack. They need my photo ID, my insurance cards, but leave the billfold home. Take off my rings, and bring no valuables. (So what do you call my driver's license?) I was given printouts of my xrays and EKG, along with a three-page medical history summary to bring. The doc was to fax these over to the hospital, but these are in case they don't connect. I'm bringing books, and a case for the glasses I'll need to read them. Toiletries are coming along, plus my cell and charger. (I wish I could give my cell to one of the OR nurses and ask for a picture of what they take out. Doubt it'll work.) The blood sugar test kit comes along. It'll be interesting to see how it goes with the combination of fasting, IV lines with whatever, and hospital foods. They said loose clothing (duh!). I'll wear out what I wear in, since the two hours I'm in it will hardly get it dirty enough to need changing, even the undies.

There was a call from the hospital OR staff explaining all the possibilities for parking. Not really necessary since I'll have Paul drop me off and go. He's looking forward to shopping at his favorite bookstore in Minneapolis as long as he's down in the cities and taking the week off work. But the whole call was necessary because the circle drive at the front entrance will be under construction. I could have him drop me across the street and walk in from there but there are steps, and I'm not planning on doing any since I'm not supposed to be taking anything by mouth after midnight tonight, so no painkillers for the knees. Oh, but then they changed that to mean I still take my blood pressure and allergy prescription meds. Just as little water as possible, please.

And then they changed it further to remind me not to eat anything the day before. That's today. Liquids only. The surgeon never mentioned it. Oversight? Or skipped due to the diabetes? But since the hospital staff mentioned that this doctor always requires it, I guess I'll work on compliance. Of course my definition of liquids includes yogurt, since that's just milk with bacteria added, and I just happen to have a supply socked in. I think pudding qualifies as a liquid the same way. Coincidentally, I have that too. Cottage cheese might be pushing it, however. All the other liquids in the house are extremely low in calories, so I'll be monitoring the blood sugar pretty closely today. After all, if it hit 83 on Friday with a normal diet, well.... Otherwise, coffee, tea, boullion, water.... BORING! At least I cooked the turkey for lunch yesterday so I got two meals out of it.

Steve joked that he wasn't going to call me today, that I'd be too cranky to talk to him. Well, he's part of what keeps me from being cranky. And yes, he already called. He's recovering in the one nursing home in Cokato, getting physical therapy for the knee. Today the dressing comes off, and he's looking forward to that. The knee implant feels more stable than the loose implant it replaced, so he's optimistic for a full recovery. We'll be recovering side-by-side, a hundred miles apart. I'm the lucky one who gets the two dogs, however.

It's time to go strip the bed so there are fairly clean linens to come home to. I won't want to do it when I get home!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Reclaimed 6: Thoughts on Stuffing a Turkey

I've been trying to get my daughter to learn to make stuffing, but she insists that she just can't do it the same way I can. I suspect, since she's a fully competent and experimental cook, that she really just doesn't want to go through the work since she can talk me into making it for the family holiday get-togethers. After I retire and move to Arizona, maybe she'll get acquainted with the charms of a box of Stove Top.

But recently my son Paul, the one who was a cook in the National Guard and painstakingly translated the best of recipes for 100 into recipes for a normal family after he finished service, the same one who picks the backyard fruit and cans jellies as gifts for everybody, asked me how to make stuffing, and turned out a batch as good as anything I've made.

Back in 2009 I'd quit experimenting with it and stabilized how I made it. This is what I said about it then:

* * * * *

One of the first things my new mother-in-law taught me in order for me to be considered a PROPER member of the family way back when was how to stuff a turkey. It made no difference that I had been doing it with my own mother for years. It made no difference that there was a new product on the market for instant dressing called Stove Top. Sacrilege! I was to be shown the RIGHT way. I’ve made it ever since, making small adaptations but always following her core principles. It’s the one food my children expect from me every Thanksgiving, X-mas, and Easter. It’s now the one food I actually still cook, since my busy lifestyle lends itself to prepared, heat-em-or eat-em-cold fare. It became so ingrained that it was a total shock to me to find out after her death that the last years of my mother-in-law’s life she had actually started relying on Stove Top! (Now that arthritis has started attacking my hands, I’m more tolerant.)

I’ve tried writing it down as a recipe, so my own daughter can take over the tradition, but she tells me it never comes out right for her. While I consider that it might be just an excuse so that she doesn’t have to make it, since she is an excellent and adventurous cook, it’s possible that it’s simple truth. Later today I’m going to be in my kitchen, showing my other son and his teenage daughter all the steps and explaining the do’s and don’ts, in hopes that some day they can take over, and I can relax. Heck, I might even consider Stove Top.

The biggest problem with writing down my stuffing recipe is that the answer to every question about ingredients is “It depends.” So rather than writing a recipe, I’m going to attempt to guide you through all the different ways it depends and how to make your own choices.

Start with the bread. How much? What kind? How dry? What size? It all depends. How big a turkey? Will you cook the stuffing inside the bird or separately? How many do you want to feed, and do you want leftovers? I’ve found about 1-1/2 pounds of bread is fine for a 12–13 pound turkey, whether inside or out. Add more for bigger, more mouths to feed, leftovers. What kind varies, but always the more whole grain and less white, the better the stuffing. You can buy it right off the shelf, or save up for months with the heel ends and other bread scraps nobody in the family wants. In our family, one son loves raisin bread but hates the heels, so saves them up for his contribution to stuffing. It’s delicious! We also notice that the number of buns in a bag never matches the number of brats in the package, and the leftovers are stale before the next brat roast. For whatever tag ends, dry for a day, then re-bag and freeze. When you pull the bag out to thaw, open it briefly and knock out the frost that has accumulated inside the bag. Otherwise you have a nasty soggy mess. Even our dog won’t touch it.

All this bread has to be torn into bits. Not cut. torn. Anything between the size of the store croutons prepared for stuffing and the salad croutons served in a restaurant will do, but the smaller they are, the more the flavors mix and spread evenly. A very large mixing bowl or 10-quart roasting pan usually holds the smaller batches, but you'll find out as you go. I often spill over into two mixing containers, and then it is a challenge making the ingredients distribute evenly. While moist bread makes a better start and is easier to handle, if dry is what you have, just remember to add more moisture later. This will wind up being a moist dressing.

Speaking of moisture, that's the second item that requires advanced prep. Of course you could just open a can of chicken broth, or more if needed. But I like to take a couple of roasted chicken carcasses, including skin, bones, and remaining meat, and boil them in a pot full of water for about an hour. The broth will be dark and you will need a colander to separate the broth from the bits. Do whatever with the meat. The broth can stand in the fridge overnight to separate fat from gel, since gel is what your broth will be once cold. It can also be poured in leftover containers and frozen well ahead of time. You might just skip that whole bit if you're doing the stuffing in the bird, since that will provide plenty of moisture. Nowadays, however, worries about salmonella, or the desire to use pan drippings to make gravy, generally lead to the decision to cook the stuffing outside the bird. The moisture doesn't actually get added until just before the stuffing goes into the oven, and after all the other ingredients are added. How much to add then depends on what it still takes for a dressing that is moist and sticky, almost like bread pudding, before cooking.

The third thing taking advance prep are the cranberries. I have fallen in love with Craisins, the orange flavored variety. Orange peel has long been one of my secret ingredients, and this accents it. A few hours ahead of time, even overnight, the Craisins need to be rehydrated. I use the smaller 6-oz. pack for a 12-pound turkey. You can use orange juice, chicken broth, or in a pinch, just water. If you haven't used raisin bread, add some raisins to the same bowl to soak, just enough liquid to cover. If you have dried orange peel, sprinkle that on top. It all goes into the stuffing later. The fruit adds a special holiday touch to the turkey. If you like, you can also add blueberries, cherries, and/or apple pieces. My mother-in-law informed me that she always added apple to stuffing for ducks and geese, as it helps abate the strong gamy flavor that many people don't care for.

I usually add one large onion, chopped and sauteed in a pan with a stick of butter. Again, amounts are approximate for stuffing a 12-lb. bird. Sometimes the onion is cooked until it just goes translucent, sometimes browned for flavor. While that is cooking, I throw sage, celery seed, dill weed, and a bit of garlic in to flavor the butter. (Don't burn the garlic!) I don't add salt. How much again depends. Sage should be the predominant flavor, and I often add more after everything is mixed and I've tasted it. I start with about 2T sage, 1 tsp of each of the others. Mixed in the butter, the flavor spreads more evenly through the stuffing, eliminating pockets of overwhelming flavor and large pockets of blah. When the onions are done, the mix gets poured out of the pan over the bread, and I use still-dry bread crumbs to mop the pan and soak up the last of the butter and spices.

Half a stalk of celery gets washed, chopped, and added straight to the bread crumbs while the onions are cooking. You can use the heart if you prefer, but it really doesn't matter. I have learned, in order to save the rest for celery sticks that don't get nasty in a few days, to wrap and seal them in aluminum foil. Don't know why it works, but it does. Plastic lets them rot.

Through the years I have learned what I don't like to add. Wild rice sounds good, but it upsets the flavor balance for me, and I haven't figured out a way around it, don't care to try. Giblets can be OK in stuffing. but personally I love to munch heart and gizzard myself, having no competition from the rest of the family. And liver is fit only for the dog, who has learned to love when I prepare stuffing. Heck, when I prepare anything, actually. Slivered almonds are another thing that sounds better then the result, and I haven't bothered to check pecans to see if they fare better. Walnuts give canker sores to some members of the family, so I didn't ever try those either. Some years I have added blueberries and cherries, but their flavor tends to get lost in the mix, so I seldom bother anymore. Since they're not in season when turkey dinners are traditionally prepared, you need dried or frozen, anyway.

Now that all the dry ingredients are prepared, they and the onions/butter get thoroughly mixed together. It always takes a much bigger pan/roaster/bowl than I planned on, but I figure what spills on the counter is fair game for nibbling (aka taste test), so long as I've scrubbed the counter well first. This is when you check sage levels, since you are not risking your health over uncooked proteins. If it's not the predominant flavor, add more, cautiously, until it tastes right.

This is now the time for those final decisions. If cooked in the bird, your stuffing is pretty much done, ready for, well, stuffing. My mother-in-law would disagree, because she insisted the last part was unskippable: adding eggs. Whip up 2-3 eggs and blend them into the stuffing, and your end product holds together on your plate rather than falling all over after serving. If for any reason you can't commit to cooking your stuffing immediately after adding the eggs, leave them out completely, or keep them around cool and whole for adding at the last minute. And if you chronically undercook your bird, leaving the stuffing at best lukewarm, no eggs. Nada. Better yet, don't even eat that bird! It the meat's not falling off the bones, it just ain't done.

After adding eggs or deciding not to, check the stuffing for all-over moisture. If it cooks in the bird, not to worry: there'll be plenty of liquid soaked in by the time it's cooked, added to the moisture in the fruits and veggies. If you cook it separately, then add enough broth to make your uncooked stuffing moist and sticky. You will know this because by this time you will likely have given up on mixing your concoction with a large spoon and have resorted to digging in with your (clean) hands to evenly distribute the flavors. As a bonus for this practice, not only do you already know about moisture levels, you get to lick those hands clean before covering the cooking pan with aluminum foil, ready to be cooked. Well, unless you're paranoid about salmonella from the eggs you used, of course. But, hey, nummy!

Cooking temperature id 325F, with our without the bird. Slow but dependable. Turkey gets tender, stuffing doesn't dry out if properly covered. Stuffing alone in a single pan takes about an hour. In the bird, follow the cooking time directions that come with the bird, adding time for the extra weight. Better, use a good thermometer. Regardless, I'll repeat: if the meat doesn't fall off the bone, it's not done.

If it's a small bird, I like the paper bag method. First, go shopping at a grocery store that offers (clean) paper shopping bags. Set the bird in a standard 11x13 cake pan, set the whole inside the paper bag, close the ends by rolling them tight. The thermometer gets poked through the bag so you can read it without disturbing the bird. The skin browns nicely this way, while keeping much of the moisture in. After cooking, tear open the bag and toss, preferably not where the dog can get into it.

A large bird goes into a roasting pan with a cover, removing the cover for the last bit of cooking to brown the skin.

Since I always make more stuffing that fits inside the bird, I bunch the rest in the bottom of the pan around the bird to soak up pan drippings. No gravy, but the best dressing in the world that way! And no, I don't do gravy anyway, Ever.

This year we took making stuffing to a new level, and I'm not just talking about teaching the next generations. We made a super-sized batch, increased the egg proportion further yet, and cooked the stuffing in muffin tins. We used two different sizes, adjusting time accordingly, generally 25-30 minutes, depending. Smaller muffins got paper liners, larger ones got no-stick spray. (Buttering the pan works too.) The point was not just to avoid the hassle of cooking on the day, but taking a bag of already cooked muffins and a serving bowl saved the mess of hauling cooking dishes, and cleanup instead of conversation. Leftovers were no problem, since the muffins were simply left behind at my daughter's house (our host) to go with other leftovers for future meals. We had plenty at home. After cooking, the muffins were bagged in the now-empty bread bags, and either refrigerated or frozen, depending on plans for use. A bag could always be pulled out of the freezer for the next holiday meal, or a few pulled out at a time to go with a roasted chicken. They can thaw on the drive to the party, and get microwaved for warming just before serving. In case you are wondering, the batch started with 4 lbs. of bread, 3 large onions, etc., etc., and got topped off with 8 eggs. They worked like a charm, and will likely be cooked and served that way often in the future.

Reclaimed 5: Religion Hunter Bites the Dust

The following was inspired by headlines a couple years back. By this reposting, the leader responsible for the deaths has been charged and sentenced. I'm not sure whether I think it's a fair sentence or not for the situation. Make your own decisions.

* * * * *

Five days a week I’m a news junkie. On weekends I take a complete break. Come Monday morning, I’m again ready for the news, catching up on whatever happened over the weekend. The first thing that slapped me in the face Monday morning, even before the every-five-minute repeat of the weather, was this story: a local woman had died after traveling to Arizona to participate in somebody’s idea of a sweat lodge ceremony. After keeling over from excessive heat (possibly literally biting the dust), she was taken to a hospital and later died. Authorities stated homicide charges were pending.

The headline is mine, so if you find it disrespectful, facetious, obnoxious, and judgmental, blame me, not the local news outlet. The story and what I took from it pushed so many of my buttons that every one of those adjectives fits what’s behind the headline. And I will confess right up front I’m reacting to very few facts.

I refer to her as a religion hunter. It’s not exactly a compliment. To me it’s more of a sickness, and it’s endemic in this society, perhaps throughout our species. I do understand the need to find something outside of one’s self, something bigger, hopefully wiser, something to fix whatever is ailing, whether in me, loved ones, or the world. We seek something to be worthy of our awe. Religions fill this need for most of us, offering answers to those questions. Sometimes the answers are easy, sometimes impossibly hard.

What bugs me most about religions lately is that religiosity itself has become sacred. It’s the same way nationalism has become sacred to some people. To me, as I understand sacred, that concept should be reserved for God, or Allah, or whatever higher being or ideal. To make the trappings that surround the group-think teaching, that describe the divine and set down rules to follow, as themselves sacred just succeeds in driving us a step farther away from the divine. Admittedly, they can be helpful, but so can a vacuum cleaner. While cleanliness is next to godliness, I’ll never call a vacuum cleaner divine.

Possibly one of the better arguments against making religiosity itself sacred is the number of people who are driven away from whatever the religion espouses in search of some new, different religion. I’m not talking about those turned off completely from the concept of religion. I’m talking about those actively hunting a new religion. This woman apparently was one of those, participating in some very minor (“fringe”) sect, adopting a Native American ceremony in search of meaning. If the Native American religion had been adopted (i.e., a context given to the ceremony to supply meaning) I’d have expected different skin tones and facial features on the group’s leader, and perhaps a name like Yazzie or Two Bears. But apparently they took the quickie route, not bothering to learn about harmony and beauty–or sensible, safe precautions–but going for the gimmick: the sweat lodge. I have to believe that’s as offensive to Native Americans as someone coming into a Catholic church, dispensing with reading the Bible or going through confession, and presenting themselves at the altar for confession. Voila–quickie Catholic on the half shell.

Since religiosity itself has become sacred, nobody questions what others do to “find” religion, or what they do in order to serve their particular brand of religion. So folks go along with the stupid, the selfish, the dangerous, as long as somebody tags it with “religion.” Another recent story points this out. A teenager with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was denied standard medical treatment by his parents in the name of religion, until the courts stepped in to order treatment. Nobody questioned the sincerity of the parents religious beliefs, even though these beliefs didn’t manifest themselves until AFTER the kid’s first course of chemotherapy, when the kid quite understandably hated the pain and discomfort of the treatment’s side effects and protested having to go through with round two. So is it still religion when the prime precept seems to be keep my kid comfortable even if it kills him?

Being a religion hunter says a couple of things about you. First, you are likely sincerely seeking that something outside yourself. Unfortunately, the longer you look without finding, the more you are likely to become prey to the grifters, the charlatans, the greedy, and the idiots who just might kill you. Second, it says you are looking to others to give you what you are unable to give yourself. If you hunt out religions, you must carry the belief that other people know something, hold some secret, that you haven’t found yet–and that it’s something that they can share.

I’ve long since had a problem with that. Being around groups of other people works against growing religious feelings in me. Partly it’s a trust issue–too few of them have earned it. Partly they’re a distraction from whatever I’m trying to achieve. We are such a gregarious species that it’s difficult to be in the presence of other people and ignore them, but that’s what I’d need to do in order to find something I’d call divine. I’ve concluded that religious groups are enforcers of the group-think necessary to keep the leaders in power and control the masses. That idea alone is a further turn-off for me. Finally, I’m simply not convinced that others know some mysterious secret, or that they can share it. I’ve had the distinct displeasure of working with somebody who KNEW that he knew exactly the right words to ensure his own salvation. He also KNEW that knowledge of those words was limited, and he was one of the select few and I wasn’t. Others haven’t been so obnoxious about it but still cling to the firm belief that there is only one way, and theirs is it. It apparently comforts them.

So, personally, I have to get away from other people to explore my own spirituality, to examine my conscience, find my values, discover whatever is worthy of awe. A quiet couple hours in the woods, watching waves pound the shore, watching storms build and pass, letting my eyes devour the mountains, or really listening to a Beethoven symphony–these are things that help. I don’t expect to find all the answers, nor even most of the questions. I doubt I’ll ever be a religion hunter, though I can manage a smidgen of sympathy for those who are.

And a part of me appreciates the irony that our local religion hunter already has found out the answer to the question all of the rest of us have: what happens after death? While I’m really, really interested in that answer, I’ll wait for it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reclaimed 4: Two Towers, Part 2

It only slowly really dawned on me just how much courage my daughter has. To the casual observer, the life she lives doesn’t seem to require much courage, though we can never really know another’s demons. But the primary reason is that I never really had to struggle with a phobia as she has, and thus, never really understood it.

I’m not saying I wasn’t irrationally scared of something, although I dispute the irrational part. To me it’s rational, knowing that when I was four, observing in innocent curiosity the little black spider crawling towards me on the stick I held, it really did bite me on the webbing between my fingers, and I had the mark of it for a long time after. So my fear of spiders was from experience, not a phobia, and didn’t fall into the same league as a genuine phobia, at least to me. After all, when my kids were growing up, I conquered it long enough to “show them” that spiders were mere nuisances in the house, nothing to be afraid of as THEY squished one or captured it to be released outside. That way, you see, I didn’t have to go get close to one again. The kids did. It worked perfectly.

Not the same thing at all.

But my daughter had the family phobia, on her dad’s side: acrophobia or agoraphobia; there were long discussions as to just which it was by the family members who had it. It was definitely a fear of heights, compounded by the wide open spaces that revealed just how high the height in question was. Low, flat open spaces? No problem. Being high up in an enclosed space that hid the actual height? No problem.

It wasn’t my phobia, and I had trouble giving credence to it when my husband demonstrated his problem while hiking a clear, level path on the side of a low hill, or being near a high window. I knew these places were perfectly safe, and I’m afraid my empathy got somewhat replaced by silent snickering. Then I became pregnant, and the family brought me into the problem: what if the baby had the same phobia? Can one raise a child not to “get” the phobia by not talking about it and never acknowledging it? They thought it was the best way to go, as if it were contagious and no exposure, no problem. Being ignorant, I went along. I certainly couldn’t expose a child to fear of heights, since I gloried in them–as long as there was something to hold on to.

My first indication that this lovely theory was just so much wishful thinking came when she was two, and we were on a field trip to the state capitol building. We were climbing this beautiful marble staircase, which had a lovely marble railing supported by marble columns with–uh-oh–spaces in between where a child could look out and down and see just how much farther away the floor was getting with each step. Her steps slowed, then stopped. I tried the ignore-it bit, urging her to come along like she was just an ordinary dawdling child. We did finally get her to the top of the staircase by switching her over to the center railing where the view was mostly other steps and people’s legs.

We took the elevator back down.

The next opportunity this phobia had to display itself was a trip over the Blue Ridge Parkway when she was around eight. It’s a beautiful place, low, rolling mountains, bluer with the haze of distance. The highway is cut on the edge of the slopes, so land rises above you on one side and drops off on the other. I was entranced, pulling off at nearly every opportunity to park and gaze, soaking up the experience without driving right off the road. My daughter, on the other hand, was soon riding curled up down on the floor in front of her seat, despite the ironclad family seat-belt rule, so she didn’t have to look out the window and see so much “down” extending all around her. I wanted the drive to last forever. She just wanted it over.

The fact that she preferred to sacrifice this vision of timeless beauty for the opportunity to see nothing farther away than she could reach with her hand finally helped it soak in. My daughter had a real, genuine phobia. While I couldn’t achieve the full empathy of understanding how it felt, I did finally get that it was real and powerful.

During the next couple years, it was easy to forget it existed, as few things in her usual environment triggered it. In fact, she willingly climbed up the rope ladder into the tree house we put up in the back yard and showed no discomfort on our high backyard deck.

She was about ten when the family trip took us to Itasca State Park. My family had lived nearby while my brother and I grew up, and it was a regular destination for us. This was my kids’ first visit. One of the mandatory stops was the forestry tower, open to the public for the long climb up flights of stairs, to squeeze through a hole in the floor and emerge in the observation room, windows on all sides to view lakes and trees and, if you were a real forestry employee, watch for and report fires.

The boys were up it in a flash, loudly proclaiming their enjoyment of every step and every viewpoint. Somewhere in the 2nd flight of stairs I paused, realizing my daughter was not keeping up. Not only that, she was curled up in a ball on the landing below me and crying.

All my kids had grown up on my stories of climbing the windmill tower and how glorious it was. They’d also been prompted during the planning stages of this vacation that this forestry tower would be their closest chance–and safest–to live that kind of experience. She so badly wanted to know what this would be like, but her two bouncy, active brothers sent vibrations all through the tower structure and her phobia kicked in, overwhelming her.

She couldn’t go up. Nor, just one story above the ground, could she go down.

I sat next to her and talked to her, trying to find out what she really wanted and to figure out how, or even whether, I could help. What she wanted was to go up to the top. She needed support and encouragement and always the safety of the choice to change her mind. Most of all, she needed her brothers off of the tower, and staying off for however long it took. Not only did they make it wobble, but they would laugh at her, and under the circumstances, that was intolerable.

We talked it over, putting together a plan while the boys had their fill of the tower. Once down, they were soundly enjoined not to set foot on the tower until my daughter and I got back down. They were also not to wander anywhere they couldn’t see the bottom of the tower. Knowing them, I figured that had half a chance of working, at best, but right then, my daughter needed my full, undivided attention.

It worked like this: she would hold the railing with one hand going up and hang on to me with the other. She could close her eyes any time she needed and still feel her way up. At each landing I’d ask if she wanted to continue, and it would be her choice. She could sit down and rest at any time. If she needed to, she could bury her face in me, and I promised to make sure she got down safely even if I needed to carry her.

We started up. And she doggedly, determinedly, kept heading up. We paused occasionally, while she gathered herself and her resources for the next step, the next flight. Finally, a somewhat shaky but triumphant daughter stood in the top of that tower, looking out over the trees, pointing out lakes and matching them to the information inside the walls for identification, seeing how rolling hills made for rolling treetops, and spying birds and clouds above it all, everything she’d heard about from me. She stayed long enough to really savor the experience.

Then, together, we made it back down.

We even found the boys again, after about five minutes of looking and calling. It seems their definition of staying in sight of the bottom of the tower was, well, about what I’d thought it would be.

A lot of years have passed, and she’s done a lot of things to make me proud, make me wonder at the person and the package of skills and talents. But nothing ever matched this.

Reclaimed 3: Two Towers, Part 1

To be completely fair to my parents, it simply never occurred to them that they might actually have to TELL me not to climb the tower. Who might have thought that a five-year-old would suddenly get a yen to see the tops of the trees? It never occurred to me either that this long-abandoned windmill tower set behind the main house on our eight-cabin resort on Second Crow Wing Lake was anything but just another thing in the landscape….

Until the day it did.

I think it started when I stood at the base of it and looked up its length and saw that it kept going up through the oaks that surrounded it. What was up there?

We had an old A-frame swing set which, when I was five, was still a challenge to me physically. No, not the swinging part, the “treat the frame as a set of monkey-bars, grab the side bar and somersault around to hang by your knees, pull up and stand” part. My older brother could do it, and it was something to ridicule me for that I struggled with it.

These braces, all triangular construction for stability, even at their largest near the ground, were closer together and nowhere near so intimidating to my shorter limbs. Plus, it looked like they got smaller and closer as they got higher. I should be able to do this. All I had to do was put this hand here, then this foot, then that hand, then that foot, and back through the cycle, moving just one at a time, in order. Only one. The other three stayed put until the fourth was solidly secure in its new position. At five, I was smart enough to know that.

It wasn’t scary. A few steps up led to a few more, then more, each ease of success breeding more. Finally I was nearing branches, and looked back down at how far the ground was below me. I had never been this high before and the world started to look different. This was great!

Moving up through the trees, my world narrowed to the bars and braces and the branches and leaves of the trees. It was like my own secret world up here. Suddenly I had the power of knowledge of a place nobody else had ever been. Well, certainly nobody else in my family, and at five, that’s pretty much the world, except for the customers of the resort. I knew THEY had never been up here!

Gazing raptly through the maze of zigzagging oak branches, I could imagine myself as a squirrel in the most marvelous playground ever, running, jumping, hiding, finding all the secret places available to something of that size. It was one of my favorite imagination games, telling myself if I were tiny, I could….

It got lighter as branches grew sparser, and suddenly I was above the tops of the trees! What a view! And what a surprise! The tree tops, in my imagination, would be spread out flat around me, but here they were in rolling hills and valleys, occasional tall ones poking above the rest. Oh, of course, the ground was hilly, especially around all the lakes, and the trees just followed the land. I got it. And there was our lake, what little I could see of it, since I wasn’t that far above the trees. The tower’s braces were significantly smaller at this point, and it was less comfortable finding hand and foot holds to climb higher. Not that there was much “higher” left on this tower.

Let’s see, over there, that lake must be Palmer Lake, where my dad would go fishing when he could get away from the resort. Almost nobody fished Palmer, and the crappies and bluegills were enormous compared to what came out of Second Crow Wing, with three active resorts surrounding it. I was nowhere near tired of the view, when….


It was my mom, missing me. Oops. Maybe if I didn’t answer, she’d stop calling? Not a chance!


Oh-oh. Somehow, I knew that even though nobody had ever told me not to climb the tower, I’d be in trouble if they knew I had. Maybe I could wait until they went away so they wouldn’t know where I’d been? But I’d be in so much worse trouble if I ignored that call. Mom was a champion worrier, and every minute that passed was fuel to another disaster scenario, me drowning in the lake, lost in the woods, eaten by bears, run over by a car…. Realistic or not, the longer she got to worry, the more I’d get to pay for it. The problem just wasn’t going away, because now my Dad had joined in.

“I’m here.”

“Where’s ‘here’?”

“I’m up here.” I was climbing down, even as I spoke. Still safely, one foot, one hand, other foot, other hand.

As you might imagine, once they located me, they freaked out. Of course, nobody’d ever heard that expression yet, but it really fits. The more they insisted I come down immediately–I already was, wasn’t I?–they more they also got scared I’d fall, and told me so. What’s the big deal? I figured out how to get up, I can figure out how to get down. Can’t they see that? How stupid do you have to be to fall off one of these things with all these great places to hold on to, anyway?

Well, while there apparently are people that stupid, since those kind of falls happen, I wasn’t, and arrived in one piece on the ground to face my punishment. I didn’t complain too much over it, figuring I must have earned it even though I wasn’t really breaking the rules. It was much like when I wasn’t really breaking the rules–except for wasting things–when I lifted a box of strike matches to see how they–and the oak leaves next to the house–would burn, in ones, and twos, and head-to-head… Nobody had thought then to tell me not to play with matches, either. And by they time they did, I’d learned that fire isn’t as easy to control as you’d think.

But that’s another story.

I never did either again. I also never forgot the glory of climbing that tower. Even as a parent when I told my kids the story and told them that they must never ever do what I did as a kid, I never conceded for one minute that I had ever been unsafe up on that tower.

I still haven’t.

Reclaimed 2: The Picture

The actual picture is shown on Quiche Moraine at the end of the story. I don't have a copy of it handy to add here.

* * * * *

The Picture

It all started when Steve and Gene met back in third grade. It was the early 50s in Greeley, Colorado, high plains ranching country with the Rockies on your west and sky in every other direction. It was when everybody liked Ike and school kids practiced duck-and-cover drills under their desks. Steve’s family had just moved into town, and of all the possible other kids to pick from, these two became friends.

Considering the times, you might think these two played cowboys and Indians after school, or war games, or maybe even ranchers and rustlers. Everybody else did, at least if they were boys. But these two developed their own game, an after-the-war game, and not even WWII, recently ended, but the Civil War. They never actually gave it a name. It was just the game they always played with each other.

It always starts the same way. Gene is the Union soldier, Steve the Rebel. (Steve says he picked that part, not out of sympathy for the cause, but because he’s always felt a bit rebellious, and it sounded good to him.) The war has just ended, both are finding their way home on foot, still in uniform, bedraggled, soul-weary. The only thing keeping them putting one foot ahead of the next is the thought of home and family. Meeting on the road, they recognize each other through the grime and dust for the brothers they in fact are. There follows a reconciliation, joyful that each has survived, each forgiving the other for taking the part they did in the war. United, they return home to their family.

They find that not all is well after their absence. And here is where each day’s game really gets fun. Now the boys fight together to save their family from the evil enemy du jour, whether it’s carpetbaggers, bands of marauding soldiers, wild animals, fire, weather, or anything else a well-informed imagination can bring to bear. And it is well-informed. As the boys grow older, they read and do research, and each bit of knowledge improves their game, makes it more sophisticated and more fun. And of course they always triumph. It is, after all, their game.

Nothing lasts forever. Families move, seldom for reasons having anything to do with childhood friendships. First one left the area, then the other. Both lived several places around the country, never the same place and time. Both married, had children, divorced, formed new attachments, developed hobbies, gained grandchildren, and managed, somehow, to keep in touch.

It was mostly by phone calls, perhaps as often as weekly through the years, sometimes skipping years. Recently they stopped to figure out that it had been 45 years since they had actually seen each other and were starting to give up on its ever happening again for real. Both were finally retired. What had been work and family commitments keeping them apart had now become a seemingly insurmountable financial obstacle. Steve was living in Minnesota and Gene in Florida, both surviving on Social Security and Medicare. Neither owned property. Neither could afford an internet connection. Both had debts. Only one had a car; only one had teeth. Life had etched itself on their faces, on their souls.

Still, they both had a dream, kept alive through the years. They would meet again, somehow, and when they did, they’d get a portrait taken. It wouldn’t be an ordinary picture, no, not for them. They would go to one of those costume portrait studios, where you can pick out your favorite period costume, pose with campy accessories in front of a period backdrop, and pretend you lived way back then, or just had ancestors who strongly resembled you. The two of them, of course, would be dressed in Civil War uniforms, commemorating that moment where their childhood game had started each time, meeting on the road.

More and more, it was looking like it was just a dream.

Then one year, Steve’s lady friend, desperately needing a vacation from both work and winter, decided the budget could be stretched just a wee bit more to cover a second plane ticket, if juggled with a shorter motel stay and car rental, and Gene’s city would suit as well as any other warm southern place. She promised to put up with Gene and his lady, whatever they turned out like, as long as Steve promised her a day for just the two of them. Merry Christmas!

In the actuality of it, everybody had a great time. All were friendly, good folks, each just enough of a character to keep the days spent together interesting. The weather cooperated, highs hovering around 70 and not enough rain to fill a thimble. There was plenty of Spanish moss and ocean in the scenery and sufficient local wildlife and birds to satisfy any camera-ready tourist. Steve and Gene kept conversation going almost nonstop. It wasn’t catching up on family, since they’d done that through the years. It was a combination of “Do you remember —— from school and whatever happened to them?” and discovering they could talk for literally hours about all the movies they had seen and collected, and books they’d read.

Turns out that several years after the boys split, Louis L’Amour wrote a book about two brother soldiers reuniting after the Civil War. Both Steve and Gene had read it at some point. Both agreed, no matter how great the author was, it just wasn’t as good as their game had been.

But what could have been?

Getting the portrait taken was the high point of the reunion. It took a whole day, involving a road trip to old town St. Augustine, an address with no directions or map, and a maze of streets with one lane and no parking. Gene, always striving for authenticity, tried to find the rattiest, thread-worn uniforms, as they would have looked after years of battle, but had to settle for the higher standard the portrait studio prided itself on. He was also the one who kept pulling his hat down to cover his forehead, as soon as the photographer finished adjusting it up again to show his face and turned back to the camera to take the picture. Gene had his own ideas of what was important.

In the end, the pictures turned out quite well. Each chose his favorite pose to keep, matted and ready to frame, and they bought the disc and rights for the whole shoot. There is one in there, after all the formula shots were taken, where the photographer let them chose how they wanted to pose. In it, the two of them are shaking hands, meeting on the road. You can still see the boys-that-were in their old-man eyes, ready to start the game once again.

Reclaimed 1: Goodbye, Toby

I'm not feeling particularly creative right now, so I thought it would be a good time to reclaim some previous writings from where they were posted on Quiche Moraine. They all go back to before I was writing my own blog, but then that was Quiche Moraine's point. If they published from people who weren't doing their own blogging yet, they might be inspired to actually start one on their own. I guess I'm one of their success stories that way.

I did link to these in my opening post, but since Quiche has been inactive for a while now, though still present, I decided to post these on my own blog as well, keeping them against the day when Quiche might be abandoned. You can still find them there, although my name is nearly impossible to find. Mostly I'm listed as "Special Guest." But they are mine. They range from February, 2009 to November of that year. Their acceptance persuaded me that I had to write.

* * * * *

Goodbye, Toby

I asked our vet this morning whether she thought our pets somehow understood that we thought we were doing them a kindness when we brought them into the vet to be euthanized. I thought it was mostly a rhetorical question at the time, a way of stalling, a way to avoid crying, which I hadn’t thought I was going to do but did anyway, and a way, maybe, to beg for absolution.

After all, there was the same old perkiness in his step this morning, the same tugging-on-the-leash excitement he always had at going on a road trip, the same unquestioning loyalty and snuggliness, and even though he could no longer get into the car himself like he could just the year before, he gave every appearance of having a great ol’ time. Every bit of him this morning belied what I knew to be true, that the seizures were coming more and more often, that they twisted his little body into impossible contortions that would have done Linda Blair proud, and that each time wrenched a howl from him that broke my heart when I heard it, even jarring me from a sound sleep with only the memory of it in my ears and the dread knowledge of what it had meant.

I wasn’t expecting a real answer from the vet, but she surprised me by taking a couple minutes to answer fully and thoughtfully what she believed our pets—and hers—comprehended of what was going on in their final moments, and to state firmly and unequivocally that they sensed the caring and concern of their owners. And in this case, no doubt, the caring of the attending vet as well. I love my vet, not just for the year-round care, but because she never shirks from this last responsibility or tries to guilt me into expensive and pointless tests and treatments, though she lets me know when these might be a realistic option. She knows she has two patients in the room this final time, and manages to give us both what we need.

Goodbye, Toby. You were our “rescue dog,” a nine-year-old Shih Tzu given to us by a family who no longer had room in their lives for you but needed to find you another good home. You were the sweetest dog I’ve known, even if you did like the guys best. You hated the cold outside, and loved finding the warmest thing you could snuggle up to, even if it meant begging to be lifted up onto the chair. It was a privilege knowing and caring for you. If there is a doggie-heaven, look up Sam and Bridget and have a good romp. Then snuggle down between them; they’ll keep you toasty warm.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Health and Garden News

So, the latest weigh-in has me down 21 pounds from April. That's good news. There has to be some, right? The men's work shirt uniform our company provides, to men or women, which I had to leave unbuttoned at the bottom because it tapered in just where I tapered out, now not only gets fully buttoned but is loose enough to slip over the outside of my shorts without pulling. So it's demonstrable good news. Some shorts I bought recently without drawstrings in the waist are no longer something I can wear without risking embarrassment. It may be fashionable among urban young men, but not in the circles I run in.

I wish I could tell you my knees are better with the weight loss. I'd love it. But when you're down to bone-on-bone.... 'Nuff said.

The blood sugar is being managed fairly well with just diet, since the exercise part of diet-and-exercise just ain't happening, so that's another good thing. I'm testing it less often these days, but the amounts are in line with what they were before, and I will increase the testing back to the three-times-a-day level next month so my diabetes person can have a full record for the 30 days before my next check on the 31st. Thirty days is how long the meter stores the memory. There may be some surprises through August, however.

The allergy shots might be doing some good but it's hard to tell. If my symptoms were sniffling and sneezing, it'd be more obvious what's happening. With the doubling of my Zyrtec, the dermatographism is pretty well under control anyway, and I'm not ready to back off and see whether I'm still driven insane by itching. Not yet. It is still my goal, however. I can tell that the post-nasal drip and cough have lessened, but it's summer and it always got better in summer. Since that increases molds and pollens, it's kinda perverse, but.... Anyway, I'm up to the green level of shots. I started out in silver, the color of the cap on the vials, with that being the weakest dose. Green is second, and I may be through them soon. We'll have to see how long I have to stay off them for the surgery, and what it takes to return to current levels. I can still get two more in before surgery.

And that brings us to the BIG news. It's definitely surgery. No embolization. no laser treatments, no other options left. Just surgery. I finally got resigned to it by the time I got around to calling the gynecological oncologist, so the rest is just carrying through. The appointment was yesterday. His office is across from United Hospital in St. Paul, where he'll be operating. August 1st. Check-in 8AM, so none of this 4AM wake-up crap.

It's funny how everyone assumes that the OB-GYN I visited recommended him. No, she could hardly be bothered to even give me the results of the ultrasound on-line, and only when asked several follow-up questions (at the prodding by my primary care physician to ask them of her) did she reply with a recommendation for the category of specialist I should see. I looked him up in the book that U Care sends out covering who is covered by their plan. I could have picked the U of M, but parking there is horrendous! And Southdale is too far. And actually, it was a different doctor listed at that clinic in the book, but they put me over to his office instead. He's covered though: I checked.

If the clinic gives you the code for that month, there's a free parking lot next to his building. No shade, so you return to your portable sauna after your visit, but that's SOP. And his office, of course, is at the exact opposite end of the building from the parking lot entrance. Also SOP, it seems. But there's a restroom halfway down the corridors, so a chance to sit a minute. And whatever.

I was the only one in the waiting area when I arrived. Another woman showed up and was quickly escorted back, and then three people came in together. They were there "for _____", who apparently was the woman just sent back, and were told to wait a few and they could go back and talk to the doctor. When it was my turn, among the long list of questions I was asked was whether I was (actually!) there on my own? It was said in such a concerned tone of voice that I gathered it was usual to bring a cheering squad/support group to these visits. Hadn't occurred to me. Been doing my own doctors' visits since, what? forever? Well, adulthood, anyway. Apparently I was supposed to be overwhelmed, distraught, incapable of digesting information, whatever. This was supposed to be scary.

Oh shucks, sorry to disappoint. Scary is facing the bills, and I've developed a plan, including checking myself back out of the hospital after two days to keep the costs down. There are enough healthcare professionals wandering through my house on a daily basis these days. I'm sure they can change a dressing, note inflamation, reassure me whether symptoms are normal, etc., if needed. Scary was not going to be something the doc said that day about what I was carrying around, since I already knew what it was or could be, and there would be no real news until after the surgery when my "football" was examined by the pathologist. That might or might not be scary then, but it'll be dealt with on an outpatient basis, and the insurance kicks in again.

What's your choice of "-oma"? I heard about five different terms, or at least I think there were five. He rattled them off so fast. It could be a myoma, a jargon-jargonoma, a jargon, a jargon-jargonoma, or carcinoma. I caught the first and last for sure. Actually, it helped that he wrote them down. The myoma is what this started out as: another word for fibroid, the "my" part of the word referring to smooth muscles, what the uterus is. Carcinoma, of course, is the worst possible case, and is exactly what you think it is. There are other levels and varieties in between of what stage it might be. They won't pull any lymph nodes until they get the pathology report requiring it, and that means I'll be "open" on the table while they wait. Hope they pick soothing music. Just not too soothing. I shouldn't have any problems with lymphodema (fluid buildup) if they do pull them, but on the rare occasions that happens (you hear about it with mastectomies) it's usually in combination with radiation therapy.


After he examined me, I asked him how much weight he thought he'd be cutting out. Since I'd just lost a bunch, may as well take advantage when I can to lose more. He thought 10 to 15 pounds. See? That's another good thing. Of course, I may have to throw out more pants that'll suddenly become too big to stay up. Or just sew in darts and wear them out. Not like I'll have money to burn for a while. He said I can be out in 2-3 days - I told him 2 - and can drive again in 2-3 weeks. That will also be 2. There'll be weight restrictions for lifting at first, till I'm fully healed. Doable.

I've been working on arrangements. Steve can't visit or help with Dad, because he'll be getting his own surgery this Monday for a better knee replacement. He's agreed to spend a couple weeks in a nursing home TCU to recoup before going home. I'm heading out Sunday both for a visit and to pick up Fred. He can spend three weeks with Koda, chewing his Milk Bones and romping through the back yard. He's visited before, just not without Steve. Work got told I'm taking two weeks off for vacation. (I could have told them I need a rest cure from ___ .) As an independent contractor, I can tell them, not ask. Jessica can come early the day I go in, drop in on weekends if necessary either for me or for Daddy, and Paul can take a couple days vacation with fairly little notice right now to drive me in and pick me up.

Maybe he'll even take an extra day or so just to harvest fruit from the yard since the weird weather has put everything ripening at once instead of spread out over the calendar. Usually it's cherries for a couple weeks in late June, ending just as blueberries start, and raspberries get going a week or two later and last through much of August. He picked all three tonight. At least the apples haven't gone nuts yet. Nobody's looked at the currants, the Nankings, or the chokecherries. Don't know how the grapes are doing, but lots of fruit started, earlier this summer, and Paul tells me the mourning dove nest in the arbor is now empty, presumably from fledging. He hasn't said anything about the grapes, but they run late in the season if I remember. And speaking of fledging, the phoebes in the front entryway are getting ready for their second brood to fledge. Somebody's having a good year.

I need a pre-op physical, including a chest x-ray and EKG. I suspect labs go with that, but nobody said so to me. I just know what kind of pre-op tests Steve just had. We now know we share the same blood type.

There's a week to think about packing. I know which author I'm taking with me for light but fun reading. I think I know which clothes I'll wear, and yes, the shorts do have a drawstring. I need to remind Paul to bring a small pillow when he picks me up: a buffer between the incision and the seat belt. I've got a week to show Jessica where the coffee filters are and run her through the parts of Daddy's routine that I usually do before she gets here. And apparently I get to sooth a lot of the people who are freaking out around me.

I'm waiting to see how lucid Daddy can still be before I decide whether and what to tell him. If I do tell him, "female troubles" ought to cover it.

I've been toying with taking a black Sharpie and drawing either a zipper or a scissors and dotted line down my midsection just before surgery. You know, just to make sure they're cutting in the right place for the right thing. There aren't a whole lot of spare parts left.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Florist's Tale

My last run of the day was a stop at the florist to deliver a bouquet of red roses. I noticed they had no "from" on the card, and made a comment that I hoped they were a welcome delivery, not something from some stalker. I was half in jest, but only half. Lovely as they were, I had once delivered something similar to a woman who wanted nothing to do with the flowers. Me? I'm kind of a "Heck with whoever sent 'em, they're gorgeous flowers" kind of gal. Sure it's better if they're from somebody special, but hey, just send them.

The florist gave me a first name for the sender, and then filled me in on a relatively new law. Anyone who sends flowers these days has to give a name to the florist, and it can be given in turn to the recipient. It was enacted as part of anti-stalking legislation. Shortly after it went into effect, she had an order where the law made a difference.

The flowers arrived as requested, and both the recipient and her best friend were excitedly wondering who could have sent them. After making several guesses, they finally just had to call the florist to find out who the sender was. Both were absolutely shocked to find out the sender was the best friend's husband!

Some time later the errant hubby called the florist, demanding to know why his name had been given out, and yelled at the clerk that it was her fault that he was getting divorced!

She informed him about the law, and said that no, it was his own fault for trying to cheat on his wife with her best friend.

Fortunately for my delivery, the sender of the roses was the right guy and she was beaming as I left.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blue Cross-Eyed

This problem is so old, we thought it had been resolved months ago.

Apparently not.

Daddy is on Medicare. That doesn't cover everything, so he's also paying for what is affectionately called "Medigap" insurance. Blue Cross is the carrier.

Over a year ago - I've lost track now of just when - we ordered new checks from his bank. They got lost somewhere, since the bank sent them to his old address, even though they sported his new one. The bank recommended for security's sake to switch to a new account, with of course a new account number. (They also sent the replacement new checks out ASAP. And free.) This meant we had to contact those who either had direct deposit from the old account or had automatic withdrawal. It sounded simple: Social Security, Blue Cross, and his pension.

The first two were straightforward enough. Blue Cross sent paperwork requiring info and Daddy's signature. Social Security required Daddy's info plus him on the phone to verify this is what's happening for real. It took waiting for a "good" day, one where Paul was home and could handle the details - like dialing the phone and fighting his way through the voicemail system to get a human. The third involved waiting until we got some kind of mailing from the pension company. We hadn't a clue who or where they were, and the info the bank had was next to useless. Luckily something arrived within a few months, and the bank was patient about transferring over the $18.29 to his new account each month.

Yeah, don't want to miss out on those pension payments.

That all took a while, but it was finally all accomplished before the end of last year. Whew!

About the first of June, we received a letter from Blue Cross. It notified us that they had successfully completed the changeover to the new bank account. What? Really? After all this time, finally? Can you really be that incompetent? And just what have all those monthly premium withdrawals been about this past 6 months if not an indication that the switchover had gone as planned way back when? I filed it in the "ignore me" pile, one step away from the "recycle me" pile, and went on about my business.

The next day's mail brought three more letters from Blue Cross. The first one informed me that they had been unable to make the withdrawal they needed for the premium payment from Daddy's bank account, and we needed to make sure it got paid pronto or his coverage could lapse.

Really. I kinda thought not, after yesterday's letter.

The second was a lengthy form to fill out and have Daddy sign giving the new account information and authorization for them to withdraw his monthly premiums.

Hey, guys, been there done that, check your files, I'm busy.

The third was a duplicate of the letter from yesterday informing us that they had successfully completed the transfer over to his new account and we could expect to see his premiums deducted from it on a monthly basis now.

Oh goody. Imagine my excitement. Whee.

I put all four letters in my lunch cooler, fully intending to call Blue Cross and ask them just what the heck they thought they were - or weren't - doing, and rub somebody's nose in the mess. But, hey, I got busy, and they sat. And sat. It's not like I don't have enough life in my life these days, after all. Maybe not just how I envisioned it, but....

I just finished balancing his latest bank statement last night, and there was another withdrawal from Blue Cross at the expected date in the expected amount. Apparently my actions were sufficient, except for my anticipated satisfaction for rubbing somebody's nose in their incompetence. Oh well, we all make those little sacrifices sometimes. It was time to pull those four letters out of my lunch cooler.

Well surprise! Now that it's summer and I'm carrying canned ice again and the humidity is climbing, they seem to have started mildewing.

Oh shucks, something else to clean. And mildew or no, they've earned their way into the recycle pile.

I wonder if Blue Cross would fit in there as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Border Crossings

I refer to crossing over to Wisconsin. Much as we are alike near the border, there have long been reasons to cross, benefits to gain.

Back in high school, it was common when on a date and "going for a drive" - as opposed to "parking" - for the guys to drive across the border from St. Paul to fill up their tanks. Not only was it scenic enough that the boys hoped it would turn out to be romantic, but at the time there was a gas war going on, and prices were often around the $.33/gallon rate. I had no clue what prices were on this side, not being a driver at the time, but I knew these were much cheaper. And often going for a ride was much preferable to parking anyway.

I understand that property taxes push some folks across the border to live, while commuting to work back on our side. I wonder, however, how much of that is made up in the cost of gas for the commute. This time, however, they fill up their tanks over here during their commute, because their gas tax keeps their prices higher. Do the high school kids drive their dates across this way too these days?

For a long time there was also a difference in legal drinking age, with Wisconsin allowing 18-year-olds to drink, and Minnesota requiring one to be 21 first. College fraternity formals often were held across the border, including the one I went to with Paul before we were engaged. I do remember little about the formal, but more about the hangover the next day, spoiling what should have been a perfectly wonderful hike through Interstate Park.

These days there is another reason to cross the border, and I'm told anecdotally that Wisconsinites are quite happy not only about us doing it, but how many of us are. I refer to buying lottery tickets. With the state shutdown, those who still want to play and are near the border just jump across to the nearest convenience store and stock up. As a matter of fact, I happened to have a run across the border this morning....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Delayed Connection

It was nearing 11:30, the time I was to find out from Steve just when his first knee surgery was to be scheduled. I was well aware of that as I walked into the Secretary of State's office in St. Paul. I knew from experience that my phone got no signal inside that office. Experience also told me I could be in there quite a while.

It was the usual run to their office. Some company sent documents there for verification or whatever other procedures they performed while we, the couriers, waited for the documents, now including a fancy certificate signed by Mark Ritchie or whoever the office holder is at the time, to return to the company. In this case it was one of the really big name Minnesota companies, and a good run because they always sent it via the fastest service and it had to cross most of the metro in a round trip.

I had amused myself on the way in by wondering what the sending company knew that I didn't. After all, the state is shut down, and that was one of the offices listed in one of the endless reports covering what would be and/or was shut down. Perhaps they knew it was open anyway, perhaps considered a vital service, though it seems nobody else's important documents, licenses, or whatever merited that label. At any rate, I wasn't about to turn down good money. If they hadn't bothered to call ahead, well, not my problem. It's not my job to second-guess whether the destination will be closed, but to try to deliver wherever they send me.

Envisioning turning the corner and finding an empty parking lot, I was surprised to find it fairly full. The were open. Cool. (Great restrooms in that building. Long drive.)

The waiting room was fairly empty of customers, however. Perhaps the word hadn't really gone out that the office was still open. But they made up for it by having only one person staffing the front counter. I took my number and prepared to wait. And people watch. And eavesdrop. All favorite occupations while sitting in this office. Once called, there's another wait for someone to come from the back, pull "my" documents out of the tray, do whatever to them, and return them to the front, where I'm called by the company's name. That wait was unexpectedly short. They returned the documents to me untouched, explaining that the company had forgotten to have them notarized!

Ooooohhhh, somebody's gonna be pissed!

Returning to my car, I called in to HQ. Mine, not theirs. Luckily, Donna answered. Brains, efficiency, and common sense all on the end of one little phone line. I told her somebody was going to have to call Company X and tell them their document were refused because nobody notarized them. Meanwhile, I'd be heading back with them. She handled it. And yes, I'm sure somebody upstairs in that company really was pissed!

Just as I hung up, my phone recognized that it now had signal, and a message waiting. I started to hit the buttons to pull up voicemail when it rang. This time it was Jessica, who was taking care of Daddy. She wanted to know what I wanted her to do since he'd been moaning that something hurt for a bit now, but wouldn't tell her what it was. Should he get Tylenol? Could he? Or something else? She thought it might be about the pressure sore on his behind, but he wasn't communicating well. I asked her to put him on the phone so I could talk to him. Some days I think I'm the only one he'll talk to or trust. Not that it always helps.

"Hi, daddy, how are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm fine."

"Really? Jessica tells me that you've been saying something hurts."

"No, nothing hurts."

"Are you in any pain? Jessica tells me you've been moaning for a while."

"No, I'm not in any physical pain. Mental pain, maybe, from all the earlier... mumble mumble mumble."

Huh? I have no clue what he's talking about. (After I get home tonight he talks about his motorcycle accident, and I reassure him that, at 97, he just has not been out riding a motorcycle. It must have been one of his wonderfully vivid dreams. )

"Does anything hurt? Jessica thinks maybe it's the sore on your behind and you're too embarrassed to tell her about it and ask for help."

"Oh, I'm not embarrassed about anything."

"Well, how about putting Jessica back on the phone so I can talk to her?"

After listening on her end of the conversation, we agreed that there was nothing needing doing right now, but that if he started complaining again, feel free to call me back. She reminded me that with her CNA certification, she's officially qualified to dispense medications if they were needed.

So, now it's half an hour since I got out of the building, driving for most of that, and it's finally time to listen to my voicemail ("This is Steve. Call me." As if I can't tell his voice after 25 years!), and call to hear Steve's news. His first knee surgery is scheduled for the 25th. I'll stop by the 24th and pick up Fred Basset and bring him home until Steve can care for him again. Koda will love a playmate again. He hasn't seen Fred for weeks. We'll just have to put his favorite ball up out of Fred's reach. Fred thinks it's meant to be chewed up like rawhide.

Political Tidbits

1: The case for raising taxes? Population growth.

2: One of the "joys" of living near the Wisconsin border is getting to watch the political ads for their recall elections. One goes on and on about how the opposing candidate wants to extend healthcare benefits for - gasp! - people who neither work or pay taxes in Wisconsin.

Yeah. Those people are called "children."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why the Republicans Choose the Women They Do.

In a word, it's misogyny. They actually hate women.

So you're scratching you head, thinking, "How can they hate women when they so strongly promote Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann?" If you examine these two candidates, you'll see how they embody exactly how little Republicans value women.

They think women should be eye candy. Think trophy wives. Young, attractive, good slim figures with lots of bust on top, even features, good hair. It's all about appearance. That's all we're good for: showing off to the next guy so you can imagine his erection while he's drooling over your wife, your status symbol.

That's all they expect of us women, so they don't pick for intelligence, spunk, character, experience, talent, education, ideas. And if you look at Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann, it shows. They pick exactly what they think women should be and are.

And if you get old, or get sick, the Newt Gingriches of the world will cast you off for the newer, younger, prettier, healthier version of eye candy to parade on their arm. She won't be any smarter, more talented, or have any other wonderful qualities either.


I'm still feminine enough - no, make that human enough - to change my mind. I decided not to wait quite so long to see the oncologist. So I'm heading in on the 21st.

Partly it's because it's twanging on a nerve or two somewhere, and that signals to me that something's changing, perhaps even growing. Not necessarily a good thing.

Partly it's because the Minnesota shutdown can't really last forever - can it? - and if the Republicans win, I won't have to worry about a cap to my health insurance. The new cap, their style, will be zero. They want to eliminate Minnesota Care. (Along with Meals on Wheels, and a few other pointless programs because all they do is keep poor folks alive longer to bother them.) Right now a judge says they have to continue my coverage. If a budget agreement is reached the way the Republicans want, I'm SOL. So hang there, Governor Dayton.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


One of our customers is a medical supply company which sends its equipment out with us to the patients, wherever they may be: hospital, nursing home, or home. On occasion, they send us to pick it up again.

Yesterday I got one of those return runs. It was a huge complex, one of those places where the main building is a large "C" enclosing their parking lot on three sides. Finding the main entrance (they had signs with arrows) among the many, I walked up to the main info desk and asked for the specific location I had been given. The instructions went something like, "Go down that hallway, take the first left down a long corridor, pass through the blue double doors, well maybe they're green or blue-green, and the nursing station will be on your left." I enquired whether this was the closest entrance to that nursing station and was assured it was.

You wonder how some people hold their jobs. I walked. And I walked. On my way I passed two more entrances, and through many double doors, none of them blue. Or green, for that matter. Finally I stopped at the first nursing station I found and asked where the blue doors were, since that was my landmark. She was very puzzled. She knew nothing about any blue doors. However, this was in fact my destination, and she had the case of equipment I was there to pick up.

"But I just called twenty-five minutes ago, and they said UPS was coming out tomorrow. I haven't even had time to find it a box."

I assured her that sometimes they sent us instead of UPS, that it was all enclosed in a case and thus didn't absolutely require a box, that I could get it there safely without one.

"Well, they said you'd be coming with a UPS label for it. Do you have a UPS label?" This was said with a look that assured me she was checking my bona fides, and she wasn't going to let the case go out the door with just anybody. I patiently explained that UPS sends all its packages to a big central distribution area, and ships out from there. It's handled by lots of different people. I, on the other hand, was delivering it straight to the company requesting it, and didn't need a label to know where I was going. After about another second of indecision, she suddenly decided and thrust the case at me. But just in case I was somehow pulling a fast one on her (how would I have gotten the information on what and where to pick up? I'm psychic?) she asked for my name. I gave it to her along with spelling the company name and giving her my driver number.

Then I left via her entrance door and took the short path across the parking lot.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Big Question

Talk about elephants in the room!

I'm not in denial, really. I just think sometimes there's a processing limit, and when you're completely snowed under by one thing - or a whole set of things at once - then some other things can slip through without their due attention, or at least what everybody else thinks is their due attention. And everybody else thinks this is MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR!

They haven't said it's cancer. They just said they can't confirm that it's not.

We're talking about my "football" here. You know, the uterine fibroid that's grown a bit since 2007, my last untrasound check on it. I read the report back when I finally got the summation of it from my OB-GYN. I concentrated on the details like centimeter size. I also read the parts about not being able to distinguish the midline, hard to tell exactly where the edges were, rapid growth, and all of those combined meaning they cannot say with certainty that it's not cancer.

They didn't say it is.

Meanwhile I'm dealing with everything else, taking care of (or managing care of) my dad, monitoring blood sugar levels, monitoring and planning every bite of food, working, arranging allergy shots, trying to find time to get back to poisoning the weeds in the garden without nailing the flowers, shopping for two, sending Paul to the vet with the dog for his latest ear infection and accommodating that treatment in the schedule, finding time to work on wedding plans....

That plus trying to figure out what to do when "choosing" to afford to do something looks suspiciously close to courting bankruptcy. Or if not that, then just putting myself in a position where when I retire there'll be no funding for it. I've been working for years on being able to look forward to something other than poverty when I retire. I paid off the house, back when there was enough money coming in to do that. Good thing too, since commission cutbacks make it impossible to afford a mortgage these days. Any loan against the equity in the house is the same as losing the house, since there's no budget to pay it back. I quit paying into IRAs because I'm trying hard to whittle down my credit card balance so it's not choking me once I retire. Gas prices aren't helping. Having to leave work early to relieve Daddy's caretaker, or start late due to medical appointments, well, they're not helping either.

And frankly, I'm one of those people who get more scared by poverty than the idea of cancer. Except at this point, the idea of cancer means poverty. So, how long can I delay doing anything about it? Or how can I perhaps find out whether there's any problem or any urgency? And how much will that cost? Embolization includes an overnight hospital stay. A hysterectomy requires longer. The first may help, but also postpones the second for a couple years at best, and that's if there's no cancer. The hysterectomy gets rid of the problem, and saves "wasting" time and resources on the first, but bites a much bigger hole out of the budget. Can I wait for Medicare to kick in?

I checked out the possibility of a biopsy, but the problem is the fibroid is huge, and only part of it may have begun changing. What if they stick the needle in six places and it's the seventh that's turned?

It's almost funny how everybody else freaks out by the word "cancer". I think folks fear it more than another 9/11. Me? Not so much. It's just not something that's been on my radar. Even a request for a repeat mammogram for better detail doesn't phase me. I don't worry about it. I know people who've had breast cancer, died from it. I know people who've died from liver cancer, and I'm aware that my years in the dry cleaners puts me at elevated risk. But, so? I'm just thinking finances.

Well, I'm also wondering what I'll do with my "hair" for the wedding if I'm bald from chemo or radiation. C'mon, something to think about.

There's grim irony in finally having health insurance but with such a limiting cap, and such narrow qualifications regarding my income level. Suppose I cash in some of my IRAs to help pay the bills. The money then counts as income, puts me over the amount to qualify for my insurance, and off the plan I go. So, pay my bills, and wind up losing the house or the insurance or both. Don't pay, declare bankruptcy... another undesirable end. Can we make it not be cancer or not grow fast enough or metastisise so that it can be ignored for two more years? I can afford it better then.

OK, dream on.

I made two phone calls this morning. The first was to my insurance plan, asking just how close to my annual cap I was. There was good news: the $10 grand limit is for inpatient treatment, and since everything I've done so far has been outpatient, I still have $10 grand left! Plus, I can still keep on with the other things I'm dealing with, like the allergy shots and the diabetes.

Whew! It's not a complete solution, but takes care of a chunk of the bill. It's enough that I feel better, irrational as that is. There'll still be tens of thousands of bill to pay afterwards.

The second call was to a gynecological oncologist in St. Paul, the nearest to where I live. Yes, he takes my insurance. He's only available in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays: which would I prefer? Well, allergy shots are Thursdays, so can we try Tuesdays? Sure. This next Tuesday is filled, and, hmmm, let's see... Oh dear, the first available appointment is the 26th. Am I sure I can wait that long? It's waited 4 years, what's an extra week or two?

They want a list of my meds brought in, and a copy of the ultrasound faxed to them ahead of time. Faxed? What kind of detail can you get over a fax machine? Really, faxed? I can tell I'm gonna have some questions. But the appointment is made, and the rest is waiting. And working to rearrange my life so if I need to take a few weeks off from it, I can do it.

Nothing like another challenge.