Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Made of Sugar

In Isaac Asimov’s a short story Rain, Rain, Go Away, a strange family, the Sakkaros, move next door to the Wrights. They always seem to be sunbathing, they rush indoors whenever there is a cloud in the sky, and the process she goes through to pour Mrs Wright a glass of water is peculiar indeed.

The Sakkaros are rather reclusive, and the Wrights decide to try to be neighborly and invite them and their son to go to a carnival. They Sakkaros check the forecast, which says it will be clear, and they agree to go with the Wrights. Everyone seems to be having a good time (the Sakkaros eat mass quantities of of cotton candy and other sugary foods). But then, the sky starts to cloud up and Mr Sakkaros hears on his portable radio that it is going to rain. The Sakkaros insist that they really need to go home. Right now.

So the Wright’s drive them home and when the husband gets out of the car to let them out of the back seat, he thinks he feels a drop.
The Sakkaros tumbled out, faces drawn with tension, muttering thanks, and started off toward their long front walk at a dead run.

 “Honestly, began Lillian, “you would think they were….”

The heavens opened and the rain came down in giant drops as though some celestial dam had suddenly burst. The top of their car was pounded with a hundred drumsticks, and halfway to their front door the Sakkaros stopped and looked despairingly upward.

Their faces blurred as the rain hit; blurred and shrank and ran together. All three shriveled, collapsing within their clothes, which sank down into three sticky-wet heaps.

And while the Wrights sat there, transfixed with horror, Lillian found herself unable to stop the completion of her remark:

“…made of sugar and afraid they would melt.”

I t occurred to me when I read the story years ago that the Sakkaros family should have carried large umbrellas “just in case.” We should have had umbrellas last Sunday.

The weather forecast on Saturday was that Sunday would be “bright and sunny.” How fortuitous for our friends, who had planned a party for Sunday for the wife, who turned 86. It was supposed to be an outdoor party on their lovely deck starting at 2 p.m..

At about 12:45, I left the house and took the Mollywog to the park so we could get some exercise before leaving for the birthday bash. Yes, friends and neighbors, I can walk now, but my gait is very lurchy and I need the crutch – or at least I think I do – for longer distances (I believe the crutch is starting to become “a crutch”). I noticed as we started off that dark clouds were forming in the distance, and there was lighting flashing and I could hear thunder rumbling. By the time had I just about finished, the sky was very dark indeed. The first drops started to fall just as we got to the car.

As we were leaving for for the 14-mile or so drive to their house, the heavens had opened and the rain was pouring down. Pouring down so hard that Richard had to slow down on the highway because the wipers could not keep up. He  parked as close as he could to the long cement walk leading up to their porch (I don't do well on gravel) and looked in vain for the umbrellas that are supposed to be in the back seat, but they weren’t there.

I found myself thinking about the Asimov story as I opened the door and got out in the pouring rain and walked—slowly, very slowly—up to the porch. By the time I got there, I was soaked.

I like to think I am sweet, but I am happy to report that I did not melt. They got me a towel, and I dried my hair. The rest of me eventually dried, too.

And we had a lovely visit with these dear people (who were the pastor of our church) and other friends and family.

By the time we were ready to come home,  the rain had stopped, so we were able to stroll back to the car without getting any soggier. And perhaps Richard will remember to put the umbrellas back in the car.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

We Are Annoyed

Even though Blomkvist was used to Salander’s penchant for shocking clothing, he was amazed that his sister had allowed her to show up to the courtroom in a black leather miniskirt with frayed seams and a black top—with the legend I AM ANNOYED—which barely covered her many tattoos.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson
We do not have black tops with the legend “I AM ANNOYED” but if we did we would be wearing them.

We don’t often eat out at a sit-down restaurant with waiters, although I suppose the great pizza place in town does count, since a server does bring the food to the table even if you stand at the counter to place your order, but sometimes you want something else besides pizza (even if it the best pizza ever).

Unfortunately, we have had two rather annoying experiences the last two times we have had a meal in a real restaurant. In mid-August we had to go to Springfield so I could get the first injection of the new osteoporosis drug that the research studies say works very well with one I just finished. Although the drug is supposed to be administered in the doctor’s office, all of the doctors refer patients to hospital ambulatory infusion centers for the injection because the drug is too much of a hassle for them to take care of -- has to be kept refrigerated, would have to be ordered from the pharmacy in town in advance, etc. The doctor who prescribed the drug is in Springfield so we went to the ambulatory infusion center at one of the hospitals there. Had Not a Doctor Bob prescribed the drug, I could have gone to the local hospital, but that's okay -- I got most of the day off.

Richard's birthday was coming up ,and he said he wanted to have lunch after the appointment at the Mediterranean restaurant, where we have had lunch twice before and thought it was very good. 

The appointment was at 11:30 but I had to wait about 2 hours for the injection because they wanted to make sure my calcium levels were good before they could give me the shot in the arm and it took that long for the laboratory to run the test. My calcium levels were very good indeed, so I got jabbed and we left to celebrate his birthday.

One of my favorite things on the restaurant's lunch menu, which I had both times we ate there, was Greek spanakopita (spinach pie). I frequently make the wrong choice at restaurants – ordering something that sounds good but doesn’t turn out to be good after all – but this was not the wrong choice the first time I ordered it, and it was wonderful the second time as well.

Yes, indeed it was.

Unfortunately, when we went there this time, Greek spanakopita was not on the lunch menu. One time at another restaurant our favorite thing to eat was not on the menu but we asked specifically if we could order it, and we could. I didn't think to ask the waiter if the spanakopita was still available, so I settled for seafood lasagne, which I admit was good—but it wasn’t what I wanted.

Richard had spaghetti with marinara sauce Italian sausage meatballs. We don't have spaghetti and marinara meat sauce very often, so he was happy to order that and he enjoyed the food, but grumbled, “Why is it that Italian food, which is mostly pasta, is so cheap to make and so outrageously expensive in restaurants.”

So we were both sort of annoyed, him by the price and me because I didn’t get what I really wanted. He said he didn’t think he wanted to eat there again. Neither did I.

Yesterday we drove to Arkansas for my follow-up appointment with the surgeon, and we had lunch at Chili's – a popular franchise restaurant in this area (it may be nationwide, I dunno). We have had several good meals at Chili’s restaurants in the past and were looking forward to our lunch.

There was a small electronic tablet on the table with all sorts of choices on the touch-screen (games, menus, etc), and I thought it might be fun to play one of the trivia games while we were waiting… and waiting… and waiting… so I punched the screen for the trivia games, but before I actually selected a game and started playing, I stopped.

We have seen so many people sitting at tables in fast food restaurants and in waiting rooms, and even in real restaurants, ignoring each other while they fiddled with electronic devices – and not just teenagers but geezers as well. I realized I was being sucked into doing the same thing – ignoring my husband while fiddling with an electronic device. So I pushed it away.

The food arrived and it was great.
The texture and complexity of flavors, the aromas and commingling of ingredients, the act of masticating and swallowing- food is a sensual act, not mere science. Annelies Zijderveld
I mentioned to Richard as I was eating this wonderful combination of lime-flavored rice and black beans and corn salsa, grilled peppers and onions, and chunks of prime rib, how wonderful all of the flavors were and what a wonderful sensual act eating really was and we talked about the wonderful eating scene in the movie Tom Jones, and then we finished and paid the bill – using the handy dandy electronic device to swipe the credit card and print the receipt. How convenient.

And then about an hour after we got home, he noticed that tucked in there on the charge slip for $38 plus change, which included food, tax, and tip, was an additional charge of $1.99 because I fiddled with the electronic tablet. I don't remember seeing anything on the screen that there was a charge for this. I never would have touched it had I been aware doing so was going to cost us extra. He was uhhh… angry…  Me too.

We are very annoyed (but don't have the t-shirt to wear), and Richard says we will never eat at Chili's again. I pointed out that the food was good there and we weren't compelled to use the electronic device, but he says he won’t patronize a restaurant that uses those sorts of tactics to gouge a few extra dollars out of customers. I am cringing a little because I can’t say absolutely positively that there was no notice that using the device cost $1.99 but as my brother would say, “there you have it…”

It’s a done deal.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A bit of fog would be nice


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Carl Sandburg

It is a sweltering afternoon of a typical Missouri summer day, where the heat continues to increase as the day wears on and by about 5 p.m., walking into the microscopic great room of our house (kitchen, dining room, living room) – which is not air conditioned – from the office where I work, with its little window A/C unit, is like walking into a blast furnace.

Just about then my sweet sister, 1,500 miles away on the left side of the country, sends me an e-mail with a picture of the beach at Morro Bay, along the central California coast, that her daughter took when they went there for a wedding.

Stephen King wrote a story (which was made into a TV movie) about a fog that settles over a town and horrible monsters appear out of the fog and kill people.
Nothing horrible happens in this picture though, just a couple of curlews going about their business and staying just ahead of the waves that roll in, looking for sand crabs and other things to eat in the wash zone before they bury themselves in the sand.

We camped at the state park at Morro Bay sometimes when I was a kid. And that brings back another memory of fishing with my father off the pier at Morro Bay and catching a red snapper, and of being frightened one night by an owl hooting in a tree near our campsite.

The suburb of Los Angeles where we grew up was about 10 miles from the ocean, and in the late afternoons the breeze would come up off the ocean and often the fog would roll in, cooling everything down, and then gradually burn off in the mornings. They started coining terms for it “May Gray” and “June Gloom” almost in a complaining way.

Oh, for a bit ocean breeze and some late afternoon fog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Paying the Bill

The last time I took the dog to the vet, there was a young man with a very sick pit bull who was concluding his visit while I waited. The vet gave him detailed instructions and said she wanted to see the dog again in few days to see how the dog was getting on. And then the discussion turned to how he was going to pay the bill. He wanted to arrange to make payments, and as part of that process, they asked him for his driver’s license.

Well, there was a problem: he couldn’t give them his driver’s license because the police had confiscated it. He promised to bring the money when he came for the follow-up visit.

Somehow, I was not very surprised when he got behind the wheel of the SUV parked next to my car and drove off… so in addition to whatever he had done to lose his license, he was now “driving while revoked.”

Taking a sick pet to the vet can get very expensive very quickly:

My husband’s sister spent $15,000 or more on her dog.

My niece spent $5,000 on her cat. 

So the $156 it cost us to treat Mollywog that day and the $300 vet bill we just paid when my husband took the Squeaker in a few days ago don't seem quite that bad.

It is not hard to imagine the emotional turmoil people who are poor or who are living on a fixed income must go through when their beloved pet is sick and they have to figure out how to pay for it, or simply not take the pet in for treatment and hope it gets better.

We began taking Squeaker to that vet 16 years ago, and she was probably already 2 years old when our son gave her to us in trade for the miserable cat I had rescued from the vet, who hated us but loved him.

So she is old, and she is declining, and we don’t think she will live very much longer. So why bother? Why not let nature take its course?

Well, we have never forgiven ourselves for neglecting to properly take care of our first dog—we failed to get his teeth cleaned, an infection developed in a tooth, which made an abscess that formed a fistula into his nasal cavity, and infection spread throughout his body and caused his organs to start failing and we had to put him down—so we have to make sure for our own conscience that anything that is wrong with her that can be reasonably treated is taken care of.

So we now we know she does not have diabetes and she does not have a thyroid condition, and other things that can plague a cat are being treated.

She may indeed drop dead tomorrow, but at least we have done what we could.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Serious Booty

On Wednesday, for the first time in 2 months, I was able get in the house by walking up the stairs without him having to push me around the house in the wheelchair so I could use the ramp. Our house is on a slope, so pushing me around the house was a strenuous ordeal for him and rather scary for me (he ran me into the side of the house twice). What a relief!

Walking in the “boot” is not exactly easy, however, even with a walker. Imagine wearing a 2-inch platform-type shoe on one foot and a perfectly flat shoe on the other. Aside from the extra height, the bottom of the boot is slightly rounded to distribute the pressure evenly, which creates a rocking effect. So in addition to some added stress on the joints from having legs that are two different lengths, it is easy to loose one’s balance.

I have visited with two women recently who had similar operations on their feet and were supposed to wear a boot neither of them could do it. I understand why.

I don’t have a 2-inch platform shoe to wear on my right foot, so I initially thought wearing the boot that Richard wore after his Achilles tendon repair might be a solution.

I thought walking would be a little easier because both feet would be about even. And at first it was. But after several hours though, I realized that plan wasn’t going to work. His boot came up too high on my leg and made it difficult to bend my knee when I wanted to stand up or sit down. And with two “rocking” feet, I almost fell several times trying to get up.

The muscles in both of my legs have atrophied because of lack of use for 2 months so I tire easily. That’s okay though. I’ll get my strength back.

He did indeed hear the words he did not want to hear: I will be in the boot for 3 weeks before I can transition to a regular shoe with a brace, so he is not done with his dog walking duties. But I am happy to report that he did not become homicidal when he heard the news (see the previous post), and the surgeon survived our visit with his throat intact.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Decision-Day Approaches

He returned early this morning from taking Molly the Moron (as he has taken to calling her) on her walk, with thunder on his face, and I think he must have brooded about what went on during the walk most of the morning. He has been a trooper taking over for me with her during the past two months, but he does not like walking the dog.

She is a very difficult dog to walk if one is intending to make it a “power walk,” which is what he wants to do. If one wants to just stroll along with plenty of stops on the way, then all is good.

She only weighs 15 pounds, so it isn’t like one has to try to control a big powerful dog like a Labrador Retriever or a German Shepherd that wants to do what it wants to do and drags the hapless owner along behind.

No, the problem is that what she wants to do is to stop every 10 feet or so to sniff and check out the area for something to hunt.

Thus, for your walk, we took ourselves, and went
Out by the hedge and the tree to the open ground.
You ran, in delightful strata of wafted scent,
Over the hill without seeing the view;
Beauty is smell upon primitive smell to you:
To you, as to us, it is distant and rarely found.
Harold Monro

And if she does find something interesting, then she will dig in her heels and refuse to budge from that spot. If one isn’t careful and has forgotten to attach the safety strap that connects the harness to the collar, it will pull right off, leaving her loose.

It is particularly bad along the rights of way where he walks her because the grass is tall and teeming with small mammals and snakes.

He came back one day marveling at her athleticism. "She knew there was something in the tall grass alongside the road," he said, "and she stood there and cocked her head, listening for it, and then leaped 6 feet to get it, but it got away."

The breeds that were combined to create the Schnauzer (which she almost certainly is) were highly motivated to hunt, and she has all of their genes operating at full force in the instincts that drive her to obsess about catching and killing things. I have stopped trying to keep a tally of things she has killed (or almost killed if we were quick enough to rescue it) but the list includes shrews (at least 2), a squirrel, voles, mice, lizards, and several birds, and attempts to kill at least 2 snakes, which brought my heart into my throat worrying that it might be a copperhead she was going after.

He wasn't marveling at her today, though. Over lunch he turned to me and said,

“If he tells you you can’t walk for another 3 weeks I am going for the guy’s throat. I am becoming homicidal.”


It is too much to hope that I will be fully bipedal after tomorrow’s visit, but if I am allowed to at least partially walk with the boot and crutches, I might be able to get myself and the knee walker to the park and resume walking the Mollywog.

Keeping fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kindness of Strangers

Once upon a time I started reading the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books by the author writing under the name of Lemony Snicket about three children whose “lives are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched and will most likely fill you with deep despair…” and this quote from the author’s Web site is totally accurate. I started checking them out from the library. I read a few books in the series but finally quit because they really were just too depressing.

When unfortunate events befall our friends, however, we just can’t “quit” because what has happened to them is sad and depressing. Last summer a series of unfortunate events befell Judy, the woman who I consider my best friend. Her husband died of cancer on August 21. Charlie donated his body to a medical research institute, and she began to plan his memorial service and set the date in October.

However, those plans came to an abrupt halt because at the beginning of October, she fell off a step stool and broke the bones in her lower leg. She thinks she fell because the bones actually broke first. The break was very bad. The operation to permanently fix her leg had to be delayed because of the swelling, so during the first operation a temporary “erector set” was attached to her leg to keep it stable. Her leg was permanently repaired some weeks later... plates, pins, bone grafts. It took the orthopedic surgeon 9 hours to do it.

She was in the nursing home from October 2 until a day or two before Christmas. I became part of the cadre who went to her house during this time and fetched and carried and did “stuff” and visited her at the nursing home, where I met some delightful folk. I think it quite a remarkable testimony to Judy’s personality and how she affects people that her many friends were not just “fair weather” friends. They did not put her on the shelf, so to speak, because of the depressing things that were happening to her. She was not abandoned. In fact, two separate sets of friends invited her into their homes after she left the nursing home for some further rehab before she finally returned to her house.

And so Judy once again began planning Charlie’s memorial service, and we gathered on Saturday to honor his memory. It was quite a lovely tribute to him. She and the friends who helped her did an amazing job of presenting Charlie’s life in pictures and in displays of the things he was interested in, including books, the pottery he made, and the Native American artifacts and arrowheads he had collected along the way.

One feels that it is not quite right to say they had “fun” at a memorial service, but there were some very lighthearted moments after the service was over and the buffet was served.

Richard and I were among the first people through the buffet line, and we were sitting at a table by ourselves. I don’t know how long the table would have remained empty except for us, but I’ll never know because a woman named Marideth Sisco, a member of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship Charlie and Judy belong to, got up from where she was sitting at another table and came over and sat across from Richard, saying, “You shouldn’t be sitting by yourselves. You need someone to talk to.”

We knew who she was, yes indeed we did, but she had no clue who we were. We were strangers.

Marideth Sisco is a local celebrity. She has a regular program on the local National Public Radio station, and she gained some national attention by performing some of the music on the soundtrack of the film Winter's Bone, which won the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival the year it was released.

And because she was sitting at our table, others from the UU Fellowship, who probably would not have sat there otherwise, also drifted over, and lively conversation erupted.

Her act of kindness, which I appreciated very much, meant we did not spend the meal isolated and feeling awkward. I'm thinking this is a "go and do likewise" situation for the future.