Simply ordinary observations from an ordinary person - sometimes having to do with health care issues, sometimes not. Topics will change as my attention wanders. Yours probably will too....

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ta Da! 2010 Blog:


It's up: Paper, Plates. My new blog which is all about eating and reading. Two things which I do best. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Abandoned Site


Alas, I finally admit that I have abandoned this blog. It was fun while it lasted. I do indeed have an idea for another one and might actually get it started this afternoon. When I do, I'll post a link.... not that I have any readers left. But 2010 is a fresh start!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Resurrection.

Good lord. It's been so long since I've posted that I forgot my log in. I'm not dead, BTW - just haven't been inspired to write. I didn't know a vegetable garden would take so much of my time, but it has been worth it. I've eaten fresh yellow wax beans, blue lake green beans, cucumbers, 3 kinds of tomatoes and some carrots. Dug up beautiful potatoes this weekend too.

Anyway, I've grown a bit bored with this blog. I have an idea for a different one, so will be working on that shortly. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by. Hope it's been a nice summer for you also.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Morning Harvest


Thank goodness for gardens. Tomatoes don't care about dental bills, worn out tires, cats throwing up hairballs, or laundry which has to be done. Sucha bright way to start my day! :-))

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rx: A Big Dose of Beano

In the beginning there really wasn't a defined system. There were a few dedicated bean providers and many bean consumers. Not everyone had access to the bean providers and not everyone had money for the beans. There was a lot of making-do and some consumers suffered and died from lack of beans. But the bean providers increased and became very skilled at providing and eventually most consumers were able to obtain the beans they each needed.

As the demand for beans increased, the providers became overwhelmed. They wanted to study beans, and to research ways to improve beans, and to spend their time dispensing beans. They were very busy and didn't have the time to develop bean sale and collection techniques. That's when they were approached by friendly associates who said, "Let us control and count the beans - trust us, it will be a much better system. We'll collect from the bean consumers and then pay you for your beans. Everyone will be happy!" And so the system was started.

For a while everyone was contented. The bean providers focused on their science, the bean consumers had access to dependable supplies, and the bean controllers hired bean counters and perfected their system. But bean demand continued to increase, and bean research & development proved to be very costly, and the spreadsheets of the bean controllers began to have areas of red ink.

So the controllers met with the counters and discussed the situation. The bean counters reported, "All is well with Consumer A - he consumes very few beans. But Consumer B is becoming a problem - she is consuming much more than her fair share of beans. Consumer C is not a problem now, but might be a problem in the near future." The controllers pondered this and instructed the counters: "In the future, we will screen and exclude anyone who looks like Consumer B. The risk is too great. And we need to watch Consumer C carefully and expel him as soon as problems develops. Consumer A can stay". They were pleased with this plan and voted themselves a substantial pay increase.

The following month, the controllers and counters met again. The problem with Consumer B was resolved, since she was no longer consuming earthly beans. And all potential "B"s had been rejected from the system. But the bottom lines were still not pleasing so the controllers said, "Well, it's unfortunate, but we must cut back on provider reimbursements and increase consumer contributions. We need more coming in and less going out. It's not personal, just business." So the letters were sent and the controllers voted themselves a substantial pay increase.

In the meantime, the B & C consumers were scrambling to find beans. They tried the providers directly but were told, "No, we can't take you. We know you can pay for your beans this time, but there's no guarantee of that in the future. And if we take you now, we'll have to provide your beans forever even if you can't pay. We're very sorry - it's not personal." They tried the charity bean dispensers but were told, "No, we can't help you. You are not poor enough to receive charity beans. We're very sorry - it's not personal." They tried various controllers and were told, "Yes, we can take you. But you'll have to pay 10 times more than our other consumers because you're a risk to the sytem. We're very sorry - it's not personal." So most of the B & C's stopped consuming beans, accepting that the system worked for some but not all. And the controllers voted themselves a substantial pay raise.

But all was not well with the sytem. Neither the bean providers nor the bean consumers were happy. Both sides began grumbling and eyeing each other as adversaries, not partners. The word "reform" began to surface and the Controllers and their counters were not happy. Committees were formed, debates were held, impossible solutions were scattered around like handfuls of loose beans. Bean recipes were developed but turned bitter and unpalatable because of so many cooks in the kitchen. The recipes grew to thousands of pages and no one bothered to read the ingredient lists or cooking instructions. Each committe claimed to have a blue ribbon bean pot but no one could explain how to actually make the dish.

The controllers sent messengers out to sow beans of fear, discontent, and confusion. They said to the consumers, "Trust us, you have the best system in the world! If you change it, you'll have to wait hours in line for sour, defective, expensive beans. You might not even get beans, if you're too old or feeble! Trust us, we will take care of you!" And the consumers forgot that these same messengers were already keeping them from getting beans, and in their confusion they began to turn against the reformers.

In the end, the recipes were ripped, torn, and shredded by committees which could not quell the arguing, shouting, accusing, criticising, and distorting. The controllers looked at the piles of confetti on the workroom floor and nodded to each other. They retired to their board rooms, hung Mission Accomplished banners, and promptly voted themselves substantial pay raises.

As for the bean consumers? They made-do and some suffered and died from lack of beans. The reformers went home, hoping to never discuss beans again. The system survived and adapted to it's chronic illness. Sales of Beano increased and no one lived happily ever after.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Garden Gloves


First harvest, other than lettuce and herbs: 2 lemon cukes, 5 pickle cukes, handful of yellow wax beans, and 6 SunGold tomatoes. And all it took was 6 weeks of soil, fertilizer & compost, mulching, watering, weeding, training, supporting, and protecting. Awesome. Next up: carrotts, green beans, big tomatoes, and potatoes. Awesome. And not a single, slimy, slithering slug. Really really awesome.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Slip Sliding Away


Planning, planting, and harvesting a backyard garden is such a learning experience! I've already learned that 18 lettuce plants for 1 person is about 15 plants too many. And I've learned that tomatoes will not stay in their tidy wire cages, preferring to sprawl over the edges and dominate shorter, more polite vegetables. I've learned that cucumber vines will cooperate only so far in climbing their shiny new trellis before becoming bullies of the raised bed - apparently they love shoving, fighting, and strangling the other kids in the sandbox.

I've learned that tiny, pudgy, slimy slug babies love Bibb lettuce and I've learned the absolute meaning of "squeamish". The slugs have given me OCD. I start channeling Monk when picking lettuce - inspecting every groove and curve in the delicate little leaves. Then it's into the kitchen sink for a good soak and rinse under running water, where every groove is inspected again before a violent cycle in the salad spinner. It's highly unlikely that one of the slimy creatures could get past my Navy Seal worthy screening techniques.

And yet, every single time, about half way through eating my salad or turkey roll-up with fresh lettuce, I start thinking "what if?". What if a slug is still attached to this green leaf? Would I know if I bit into it, or could I have swallowed one whole? Would it crunch... or squish... or feel like the raw oyster I once tried to swallow in an attempt of culinary coolness? (Notice I say, tried to swallow.) What if I see one crawling along the edge of the salad bowl? What if, what if, what if. One time I added sunflower seeds to my salad and that was a nerve-wracking lunch. I had to watch each kernel and make sure it wasn't moving. Sheesh.
Maybe backyard gardening is going to be too stressful for me.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Drag Me to Hellthy

I'm not a fan of horror movies so won't be seeing the latest bloody blockbuster. Besides, having just completed our health insurance renewal at work, I've already experienced enough frayed nerves and screaming for a while. It was a two month process of receiving the annual premium increases, researching potential options, revamping the benefits package again (twice in 3 years), holding a general staff meeting to explain the changes, and then meeting with employees individually to make sure they understood the information. I'm telling you, it's draining.

It's coincidental that our renewal period is happening at the same time as the health care reform "debates". Although it's a bit masochistic, I try to pay attention to the issue because it affects me both personally and professionally. Sorting through the various voices and opinions is not easy - and no one, including the current administration, seems to actually have a solution. When I was in management classes (almost 20 years ago!) I was taught to define the problem and then keep backing away from it until I could identify a root cause. At that point, it was possible to start developing an action plan. But that technique doesn't seem to be working on a problem this massive. Perhaps it's because we haven't clearly defined the problem - is it that health care in the US is too expensive or is it that too many people are uninsured? Is it the chicken or the egg?

Some pp think the insurance companies are too greedy and profit motivated. Some pp think that doctors are overpaid and focused on "lifestyle" rather than health care. Some pp think the American public is to blame for their unhealthy addictions to junk food, alcohol, tobacco, and lazy-boy recliners. Some think it's the fault of illegal immigrants and the uninsured who are using the health care system and contributing nothing. Some feel it's the fault of Medicare/government programs for underpaying and forcing inflation by other payers. Some pp think it's Big Pharma, or research expenses, or elective, unnecessary procedures, or...or...or - it goes on and on with no workable plan in sight.

I read three columns in the Wall St. Journal recently explaining why Obama's plans won't work. After pondering those for a while, I reached the conclusion that those particular writers don't think there is a problem - the current system is working fine for them apparently. Several days later, in the same publication, I read a well written column on page A13 by the CEO of Safeway claiming that the company wellness program had eliminated premium increases for his company for the last 5 years. Impressive. But on page A11 there was a news article stating that extensive research has shown that wellness programs have minimum impact - companies report less than 5% overall participation and cannot show any measurable improvement in employees' overall health. So the "consumer-driven health plans accompanied by wellness programs" are not effective in keeping costs down. Which is it gentlemen? I'm confused.

My company carries insurance with United Healthcare, one of the largest providers in the USA. Depending on perspective, UHC is a life saver or a b*ll buster. Some of our local MD's won't work with UHC. According to Forbes magazine, the CEO of UHC earned $124.8 million in 2005 through a combination of salary, perks, and stock options. (I have no idea what my young, hardworking primary care doc makes, but I'm pretty sure it's not $125 million.) But at the same time, UHC is paying for my co-worker's cancer treatment and is providing close, personal support. His final bill for 10 days of immunotherapy treatment: $593,000. He was responsible for $1,500 of that. So, insurance company bad? or insurance company good? Depends on perspective.

I have more, but I'm tired of writing right now. I'm going to try not to think of health care reform today. I don't know what the solution is and I don't want US citizens to keep suffering. I would like to see some positive changes come from the reform process. Otherwise, we might as well be dragged to Dante's hell and "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dear Ms. Manners, can you provide advice on how to greet a casual business associate when the encounter takes place in a health club locker room? Oh - and the said associate is wearing only a birthday suit, not a business suit. The situation has left me awkwardly speechless, so I am hoping you can be of some etiquette assistance. Sincerely, the Spynster

Well, seriously, it was awkward! I walked around the corner and there was a woman I know only from business situations, standing at the blow dry station wearing not a stitch of clothing. Complete nudity is not that common at our health club, at least not on the women's side of the locker rooms. Who knows what the men do - spynsters don't want to know! Anyway, most of us females change quickly and efficiently and drape towels generously when going in or out of the showers. But occasionally some free spirit will forgo using draped towels and in this case the free spirit was someone who would have expected a social greeting from me!

I tried to think of a quick appropriate greeting like "Hi! Nice to see you!" - oh, that was soooo not true. or "Hello, gosh you're looking great!" Also not true - she's my age and we're both shaped a bit like sweet potatoes. (You know, tapered on both ends, plump & fleshy through the middle.) Or "Wow, I'm surprised to see you." Now that was true, but how could I say it when I'd be looking in every direction except towards her?

I took the cowards' way. Before my forward foot hit the floor I did a complete u-turn and walked the long way around to my locker. Past the toilets, and sinks, and sauna, and showers, and weight station, and private lockers. Anything to avoid having to stop and chat. Gosh, I added to my cardio workout by doing that. Maybe I should say "thanks" next time - only I hope there never is a next time. Please Ms. Manners, what would you say?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Liberry Blues

I have a bone to pick with someone in my town. And it's not just because I'm turning into a cranky old lady as my age increases and the people around me get more and more aggravating. No, this particular person really deserves a good dressing down by a sharped tongue spynster, or even better, by an old-fashioned librarian who should confiscate the cretin's library card as punishment.

Because this person is committing the literary sin of writing in library books. Not just once either, but he/she has made notations in every copy of one of my favorite mystery writers. It is incredibly annoying to be reading along, and then come across these notations - it's like fingers on a chalk board. Obviously this person has never been taught basic manners regarding public books - namely, that they are on loan to everyone and should never, never, never be de-faced or damaged in any way. What a right-wing, fanatical nut job!

Why am I accusing him/her of being right wing? Because the notations happen everywhere in the stories where the author has made a tongue-in-cheek observation about America or Americans. She (the author) is writing from the perspective of an Italian detective working in Venice Italy and there is equal opportunity to expose the weaknesses of Italian government. But my co-reader is highly offended by even the slightest, most creative phrases which seem to indicate disrespect or insult to the USA. Geeezz Loueezz - give it a break! And if the opinions of the ex-pat author writing mystery fiction are so offensive, why did he/she have to read every single book our library owns? At least this person has turned off Fox News and lowered the volume on Rush L. (is that technically possible?), but perhaps he/she should not be reading library books. Even if they are tax-payer owned.

So there's my peeve - there could be a brawl in the public library if the two of us are ever in the mystery stacks at the same time. This is America - I'm probably allowed to take a loaded gun into the library now that I think of it. Ka pow, you pencil wielding creep.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dough Nots

Part of my HR duties at the company includes coordination of safety training and, hopefully, preventing expensive worker's compensation claims. We have a pretty good safety record, so for the past year, I have alternated a Safety topic with a Wellness topic - assuming everyone wants to stay healthy and thereby avoid pain, suffering, and really expensive health care costs.

Attendance at the Wellness sessions has been moderate - pretty much the same core group each time. We've discussed nutrition, weight management, stress management, heart health, bones & joints, and infectious disease control. I'm always careful to use valid sources and to document my facts, so that the audience knows I'm not just making things up! I've become quite the little expert on all things healthy/unhealthy and on human behaviour. Here's my conclusion after 12 months:

That, given a choice between healthy weight, healthy blood sugar levels, healthy arteries, strong bones and good teeth - between those choices and a full box of fresh, local bakery doughnuts - well, the doughnuts win every single time! Standing on a scale staring at the dial, and still reaching for a glazed; or reading the latest lipid panel printout and grasping an old fashioned; or watching the blood pressure gauge while chowing down a maple bar - it's a human conundrum. We luv us some sugary deep-fried dough balls.

I may have to declare the pink boxes a safety hazard this year - although that's probably a safety hazard of it's own. Hey, how am I going to get this sticky sugar glaze off my keyboard!

Monday, May 11, 2009

C Stands for Ca-Ching

My friend is home from his second round of immunotherapy at UCSF and is doing well. He arrived shortly before the first invoice did and, thankfully, was already lying down when he opened the manila envelope. The 12 itemized pages included 5 days of ICU, 14 doses of interferon at $5,000 per dose, the PICC line and every other item needed during his fight for survival. Bottom line for those 5 days? $289,000. Doctor's fees not included - those will come later. As will the invoice for the 2nd week which includes another $30,000 for interferon and 3 days of ICU.

I know all this because in addition to being his friend, I'm also his HR go-to and will be helping him organize and track the expenses. He is very, very unlucky to have melanoma and is very, very lucky to have good health insurance coverage. When we talked today, I said "congratulations, you've spent more than the company's annual premium for 30 families in only one week. That's a record!" We both laughed - what else could we do, start crying?

It's my job now to make sure that he keeps that coverage, by keeping him compliant with the insurance eligibility requirements. That means he has to a) work a minimum of 30 hours per week (regardless of how he feels), or b) be placed on protected FMLA medical leave (12 weeks allowed in a 12 month period) or c) be moved onto COBRA if a and b are no longer options. Federal COBRA has a maximum 18 month enrollment. I refuse to even look at option d, where he'd exceed the 18 months and then be left with absolutely no coverage and no possibility of ever getting coverage again.

A few minutes after I talked to him, I read internet articles about the health care industry agreeing to work with the Obama administration on health care reform. I'm not sure where the changes will come, but I hope all the sides will finally come to a large table and work out some viable options. The system we have now works for many of us, but there are a lot of large, scary, black holes in the safety net. Hopefully within the next few years some of those holes will be filled so that cancer patients can focus on wellness instead of bankruptcy.

In the meantime, my friend and I are waiting for the second, third, and fourth envelope with a UCSF addresses to arrive. Overall charges for his health?: priceless.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Scrambled Huevos

I wonder if I'm becoming a racist.

I was stuck in normal 5:00 p.m. traffic on Friday, creeping along the highway at a snails pace which meant I had plenty of time to peruse the newest billboard in town. The more I looked at it, the more irritated I became.

The billboard is in Spanish and everything about it - colors, graphics, font style - is geared to young Latino males. It would blend right into the landscape across the Mexican border but here, inside an American town, it's a bit jarring to the senses. It's the first one I've seen that is completely in Spanish, not a bilingual translation. And I'm a bit surprised about how irritating that is - to see a huge ad in my community which is not in my native language.

Part of me is jealous because I would love to be bilingual. I've attempted to learn Spanish many, many times but still hablo como un bebe. Part of me is sympathetic to the new population, because I realize how difficult it is to learn a new language and adapt to new customs. And part of me is thoroughly irritated because "my" town and "my" country are changing to accommodate the new population instead of the other way around.

I've lived in the same neighborhood for 16 years now and have watched it transition not-so-slowly into a Spanish speaking area. All three of the corner grocery stores are now latino mercados. I can buy tortillas, salsa, beans, rice, bulk herbs, manteca (lard), mystery cuts of meat, mole sauce, pinatas, and muchas otras cosas de mexicanas. I can visit several taquerias for killer burritos, tacos, and enchiladas. But if I want a turkey sandwich on sliced whole wheat with lettuce, jack cheese, and hot-sweet mustard , then I drive 3 miles to the up-scale yuppie grocery where I can also get imported cheeses, wild salmon, applewood smoked bacon, and artisan breads. (I haven't had breakfast yet, can you tell?)

I also work in an industry which has a high proportion of Spanish speakers and my co-workers are wonderful people. But my company made the decision last year, with strong support from the HR director (me), to include "basic English required" in all our job postings. I suppose we could be accused of discrimination but we're doing it for safety, teamwork, and cost control. In California, if 10% or more of the workforce speaks a language other than English, translation of all employment materials must be provided. I work for a small company, so 10% is 5 employees. The translations can get very expensive after awhile. So, starting in 2008, we are requiring English as a condition of hire.

On Tuesday there will be Cinco de Mayo celebrations all over town, and many Mexican flags flying from cars and apartment complexes. That's OK, except I have a very strong suspicion than many of those celebrants do not see CA as their actual home - their allegiance is with Mexico and they would still live there if they had jobs and a living wage. In their own words they "go home" each year for about 4 weeks in December & January, and the school district here has adjusted the school calendar to allow for the students absences. Many of them own homes in Mexico - a new co-worker recently showed me pictures of his 4 bedroom, 3 bath house with a pool where he plans to return after working another 10 years in the US. He's worked hard for it - but there is no question that he is only here temporarily.

So, I guess my whole point is that CA has developed a two culture society and our immigrants, legal or not, are not fully assimilated into American culture. When I studied in Mexico 10 years ago, I learned a folk phrase: "juntos pero no revueltos". Literal translation: together but not mixed/scrambled. Or, together but not together. It's used when discussing whether a couple are friends or more than friends... but I think it also applies to our dual culture here.

The billboard won't keep me from drinking a cold margarita on Tuesday, but I still think it's inappropriate. It's a very large reminder that we are juntos pero no revueltos.




Tuesday, April 28, 2009

blogus interruptus

Life is what happens in between blog postings. Just like my other hobbies, sometimes I simply don't feel like writing. So, I apologize for the gaps in my posts but I can't promise it won't happen again. It will. Here's an update on the sypnster's life since April 6th

My friend is home from his first week of immunotherapy at UCSF. He managed to set an ICU record for # of doses received, but is now paying the price. When I talked to him this morning he was headed for another Aveeno Oatmeal Bath soak. His skin is peeling off in sheets, he has a black eye from rubbing his eyelid, his gums are bleeding, he's expelling 30 lbs of water weight, and hasn't eaten anything but miso soup and top ramen in 8 days. But he's still laughing and cracking jokes, so he's certainly not down for the count. He goes back on May 4th for round #2. F****ing Cancer.

The 3 Cats on the Porch Situation has been resolved. I finally rustled up some help from the local shelter and one very lovely, helpful, compassionate volunteer took them away one evening. Turns out both mom and daughter were pregnant! I had strong suspicions about mom, but the little one wasn't even a year old. It was like finding out a 13 year old was pregnant by the neighborhood bully! But all three are safe and sound now in the shelter and will be up for adoption after 7 days. The kittens won't be arriving tho - both girls had some medical assistance to remedy their unfortunate circumstances.

My recycled, black plastic, raised planter beds finally arrived, after being on back order for three weeks. Much to my surprise, they were made in Great Britain, not China as I had assumed. Hallelujah! I won't have to worry about lead or other substances in my backyard vegetables. Not to insult China or anything, but I'm thrilled to receive gardening supplies from the world's best gardening country. I have planted 3 types of lettuce, 1 Bush Pickle cucumber, 1 Lemon cucumber, yellow wax beans, Kentucky Wonder green beans, 2 peppers ( red & orange), 3 tomatoes (Early Girl, Mama Mia, and Sun...something), carrot seeds, herbs, nasturtiums, and zinnias. So far, my "free" vegetables have cost about $500.00. Not counting the water bill, which in a CA summer can be substantial. And not counting the replacement plants when some of these inevitably croak. But hey, hobbies are supposed to be expensive right?

I also managed to haul the dirt and plant everything while hobbling around on a self-diagnosed case of plantar fasciitis. My heel hurts like hell. And all my baby boomer friends tell me that's what it is. I've tried heat, ice, ibuprofen, foot stretches, new $100 workout shoes, new Clarks old-lady work shoes (hey, Great Britain again!), standing on a tennis ball - the entire treatment protocol. It still hurts. I think I need stronger drugs. A trip to my favorite MD might be in the near future. It's his fault anyway. He told me to start exercising - which I have done, and have now worn my feet out! Hmmmphh.

So there you have it - 2+ weeks of not much. Just life.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cat Astrophe

I seem to be well on my way to becoming the "cat lady" of the neighborhood. For some reason, a gang of 6 has selected my front porch and back yard as the favorite feline hangout. The absence of a dog and the presence of a bird feeder probably scored high on the selection checklist. Now, in addition to my two mostly-indoor calicos, I am playing hostess to one gray tabby with identical twin gray- striped offspring, plus two black & whites - one large, one small, plus another one who is all black. That's about six too many, as far as I'm concerned.

The 3 gray ones are my biggest concern because they are victims of the housing downturn and have been semi-abandoned. They sort of "live" 3 houses over, but the homeowner hates cats and just leaves food and water in the garage for them. Apparently they belonged to a niece who was recently evicted and forced to move to a studio apartment. At least that's what I've been told from another neighbor. But they're not getting enough food nor enough human contact, and the mama cat sits on my front step and cries. Of course I've given her food - how could I not?

I called the local no-kill rescue center on Friday and was told that they currently have 191 cats in residence, although they only have space for 100. It's raining cats and dogs. They're being dropped off night and day by people who have lost housing and can't keep pets. The shelter is overwhelmed and the woman I talked with practically begged me to keep providing food and a warm porch - and possibly taking Mom Cat to the $35.00 low cost, spay clinic to prevent a spring batch of kittens. OMG.

I'll do what I can, but this situation is not good. I don't want to be a cat lady. Would anyone like a sweet, affectionate, friendly, lonely little friend?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Clouds

I can see now that's it's difficult to write a blog when feeling distraught, sad, angry, and afraid. We've had several disturbing events in my area lately: the tragic death of a talented eye surgeon and his beautiful young family in the Montana plane crash; the tragic shooting deaths of 4 Oakland police officers; the tragic murder/suicide of a family in a South Bay condo - bad news followed by bad news. It's been enough to make me stop reading the papers for awhile.

As sad as those stories are, they happened to strangers. It's possible to fold up the newspaper and walk away from the heartache a bit. But when something bad happens to one of my favorite friends, the heartache doesn't go away and taking time to write a blog post doesn't take high priority. That's where I've been the past 3 weeks.

Two years ago, as soon as he had stable health insurance, my friend went to have an ugly mole checked out. That one was fine, but the "freckle" on the side of his neck wasn't. The biopsy came back positive for early stage melanoma. He had surgery two weeks later and all the docs were confident about the results. He has followed their instructions to the letter - no sun exposure, regular chest x-rays and blood tests, and twice a year skin checks at the UCSF melanoma clinic. All has been well.

Last month he felt a petite pea sized lump at the site of the original surgery. He received varied opinions from "it's not a concern" to "wait and see" to "let's be cautious and take the d*#n thing out, even tho it's most likely fat or scar tissue." He had it taken out and it was a lymph node positive for melanoma. F*#K!

He went back to UCSF for a series of scans and discussions of treatment. Everyone was confident that the scans would be negative and they scheduled him for another round of surgery to remove all lymph nodes in the general regions of the petite pea. The scans were not negative. He has systemic melanoma in the lymph nodes and multiple pin-point lesions in both lungs. All of us - my friend, his doctors and family and huge circle of friends and coworkers - feel as if we've been slammed against a wall. These microscopic wayward cells have caused unmeasureable amounts of tears and fears and anger and brave reassurances and gestures of generosity. We're going through the exact same patterns as all the other millions of people who get a cancer diagnosis, but this diagnosis is ours and it hurts.

And the worst part is - he SO does not deserve this. He is an amazing person; happy, positive, always making people laugh, enjoying life and helping everyone else enjoy it too. The first response from all of us when we heard the news was "OMG, this is so unfair!"

So, he will be going to UCSF in 2 weeks for an intense 5 day bombardment of immunotherapy, followed by one week of rest, and then another 5 days of treatment if it can be tolerated. In the meantime he's getting the garden ready for summer, planning ahead for adjusting his work load, celebrating Easter with adoring 4 year old twin nephews, and focusing on each 24 hour period.

I'm leaving now to go to Target to buy an iPod shuffle, so he will have some soothing sounds when the fever, shaking, and fatigue begins. OMG, this is so unfair.




Sunday, March 15, 2009

Say Yes to Less

I woke up this morning thinking about something I watched on TV Friday night. No, it wasn't a thought provoking Frontline episode or an educational PBS documentary. It was my favorite Friday night fluff, "Say Yes to the Dress" - the NY bridal salon reality show! I love pouring a glass of wine, curling up on the couch with the 2 cats, and spending an hour watching women try on elaborate white gowns while their (so-called) friends and family critique every square inch of the dress and the brides' own fashion sense.

It reminds me of my pre-teen/teen days, when my sister, cousin, and I would spend hours pouring over dog-eared copies of Brides magazines, discussing the pros and cons of satin vs lace, straight vs full, train vs no train, short veil vs full length. (Too bad we didn't invest as much time discussing characteristics of good husbands - that would happen in our late 20's, after a couple of whopping mistakes!) Anyway, the dresses we dreamed over were completely out of reach for 3 blue-collar family girls. In the end, all 3 of us walked down the aisles in dresses hand sewn by our mothers, from McCalls or Simplicity patterns not Vogue or New York designers. I still have mine, packed away in a trunk along with other keepsakes from a long, long time ago. I suppose the divorce papers are in there somewhere too - not sure if I saved those. : - )0

But I'm getting off track. In the episode on Friday night, a young woman pitched a fit over her self-designed bridal gown and ultimately decided it wasn't the dress for her. She switched over to a designer gown and brought in her father for approval on the 2nd dress - because he controlled the checkbook I assume. And she wanted alterations to the 2nd dress which the bridal shop said should not/could not be done.

In short, she was a spoiled, over indulged brat. The first dress, which she rejected, had a price tag of $18,000 and the 2nd one (before alterations, which she got) was $27,000. In order to keep the sale, the salon agreed to split the difference between the gowns but that still presented the dad with a $40,000 +/- bill for his baby's dress. Just a bit excessive in my opinion.
She reminded me very much of a pre-schooler. You know, the ones who keep pushing the limits just to see how much they can get away with, asking for things they don't even really want just to see what will happen and throwing tantrums to torment wishy-washy adults. It was not a Cinderella story, despite the yards of satin, lace and tulle.
So my Friday night fluff has provided lessons to me about child rearing, budget considerations and excessive spending, and predictions of a not-very-successful marriage. None of which are useful at this stage of my life, except the budget considerations. Can't wait until next Friday.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Spring Forward

It's a spring beautiful morning here. The window next to my desk is filled with sky, cotton ball clouds, a peach tree just beginning to push pale pink buds, and a lemon bush struggling to hold up it's tart little fruits. The mockingbirds are practicing riffs for the upcoming spring dances and hummingbirds are sipping nectar from the feeder. So am I content and happy?

No. I am crabby, grumpy, annoyed, and irritable. When I opened my eyes this a.m, I had to reach over and set the clock ahead an hour. That was followed by 2 other digital clocks, the DVD, oven, battery clock, watch, and coffeemaker. Now it's 12:00 noon and I'm already an hour late for everything. I don't like this.

Sure, I'll be very happy tomorrow when I leave the gym at 7:00 p.m. and it won't be dark. And I'll be happy tomorrow a.m. when the cats don't get me up at 6:00 p.m. (clock time) to fill their bowls with food and water. (Which they won't eat or drink until after I've left the house, just on principle.) And I suppose I'll be happy when it feels like I'm leaving work an hour early.

But in the meantime, I'm feeling pushed for time and guilty for sitting at the computer for 15 minutes. Too much to do! Too little time! Hurry up, it will be dark soon! Oh. Actually, I guess it won't be. Whatever.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tool Academy

Do you ever keep tools or utensils long past their expiration dates? I do. For instance, my 4 cup glass measuring cup is so old that all the red ink has worn off - which means it really doesn't even qualify as a measuring cup. It's fairly easy to pour out 2 cups and 4 cups, but 1 and 3 were estimates rather than measurements. That's OK when cooking, in most cases, but not so OK when baking. Then, there was the ancient potato peeler and the bacteria laden can opener, both very ineffective but familiar.

However, while I was running errands on Saturday I happened to drive past the incredibly wonderful kitchen store downtown. It's like an old hardware store but better- wood floors, hand written receipts, shelves stacked to the ceilings, and full of kitchen gadgets, knives, bakeware, cookware, utensils, and more. It's one of my favorite places in the world. So I quickly drove around the block, parked, and bought 2 new Pyrex measuring cups, a vegetable peeler, and an ergonomic, stylish, hand-held can opener. The measuring cups are grand, the peeler is as smooth and fast as a floating bullet train from Vegas to Disneyland but, alas, the can opener is a nightmare. It has to go back. Still, 3 out of 4 successful replacements is OK with me.

I'm keeping my 1960's rolling pin and flour sifter tho - those two just can't be replaced. And I still have an electric frying pan which I received as a wedding gift in 1969. Let's see... that means it outlasted the marriage by 36 years! It hasn't been used much in the last 10 years, since fried chicken and/or chicken fried steak is not really in my culinary repetoire anymore. But it's staying in the cupboard for old times sake, along with my grandfather's cast iron dutch oven and some brownie pans that were sort of a parting gift from a deli where I once worked. To be honest, I guess they were partly stolen, partly gifted. That's another story.

Anyway, my kitchen now is a very nice mix of new, effective tools and old, reliable pieces. Seems just about right to me!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Week That Wasn't

Once in a while, when I've had a perfectly ordinary week, I measure success by what didn't happen rather than what did. For instance, this week:

I did not get rear-ended by the little punk gang-banger driving his Mercedes at high speed while completing a call on his hand-held Blackberry. (Which is illegal in CA now. The hand-held device, not all Blackberries.) Fortunately for me, he finished the call just in time to notice that traffic had stopped in front of him. He didn't look like someone whose auto insurance premiums are up-to-date, even though his diamond stud earrings would cover about 3 of my mortgage payments. That's how close we were - I could see the diamonds shooting firey rainbows in my rear view mirror. But the accident didn't happen! And,

The crawl space under my house did not flood because I remembered, after 16 hours of rain, to plug in the sump pump which immediately kicked in and started whoooshing water out the side drain. And,

I didn't have to pay full price at the movie theater yesterday because all Oscar nominated films were offered at the "bargain" level - thereby leaving me $3.00 to apply towards the purchase of the most drastically overpriced, unhealthiest product on earth: movie popcorn. And,

I did not lose any data or e-mail addresses or favorites folders or work-in-progress during the software upgrade at work. Judging from the sounds coming from other offices, some of my co-workers were not so lucky. Granted, it did take me 1 hour & 45 minutes to complete a document which should have taken 20 minutes but I'm sure it'll get easier before it's time for the next upgrade. And,

I did not have to stand in line at the lingerie counter at Macy's behind the woman who wanted to know which was a better price: the bras which she bought 3 weeks ago at the "buy 2, get 1 free"special or at the current 40% sale. Neither she nor the sale clerk could figure it out. Now, I'm not known for my math skills but I do know that 40% off is a bigger discount than 33.3333% off, which is what you get on a 3 for 2. But the main problem was that she wanted the new price on merchandise which had no tags, and that was a big no. The customer stomped off, the clerk popped an Advil, and I slid my debit card through on the other register. It seemed like a lot of effort to expend in order to save $4-5, but I guess today every penney counts. And,

I do not have to drive anywhere in the rain tonight for Oscar night, because my friends are coming here, to my house with the unflooded crawl space. Gotta go make some appetizers now and chill the sparking wine. Hope you also have a week in which nothing happens.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In More Ways than One

Although the headlines right now are dominated by layoffs and business closures, my company is actually trying to fill three positions. Since I’m the one-person HR department, I’ve been accepting and screening resum├ęs and applications all week. It starts out fun, opening each e-mail like a package, never knowing if it will contain gem or dud. But after several days of this, I have some advice for job seekers – and I’m not trying to be mean here, just helpful.

Don’t submit a resume if the posting says “must live within commute distance” but you live in India, China, Spain, Italy, Slovenia or Brazil. You may hit “send” but I hit “delete”.

Don’t use a resume as a creative writing project. It’s not a good thing when the HR director has to get out a dictionary. Maybe I’m ignorant, but reading that someone has an interest in “autodidactic pursuits” makes me wonder about the potential of a workplace lawsuit.

Don’t apply for a position simply because you “have a passion” for the product. For instance, I have a “passion” for my iPod but I don’t have a clue how to make one. We need workers willing to do hard manual labor, put in long hours and get dirty, which is not the same as having a fun & romantic job! Being a passionate consumer of wine does not a winemaker make.

Don’t submit anything without proof reading or spell checking. I tend to be skeptical if you tell me you’re “effishent, rganized, and througho”.

Don’t
assure me on paper that you’re fluent in English as a Second Language, and then provide a voice mail number in which the prompts are not in English. I did try to leave a message, but since you haven’t called back yo pienso que no hacerlo. Lo muy siento.

Don’t ask your girlfiend to call and check on the results of your submission. If you want the job, do your own follow-up. Then again, we might hire your girlfriend since she obviously takes direction well and is willing to pitch in.

OK, job seekers, that’s it for now. I’m not complaining. At least I still have a job.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Time's Up

"Three weeks ago, Barack Obama was seen as a beacon of hope for change throughout the world. Today, the world knows that the greatest need for immediate change is in the Oval Office and the man in charge there."

I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. That statement is lifted verbatim from a rather lengthy letter to the editor in this morning's San Francisco Chronicle. The rest of the letter details why, after 3 weeks in office, President Obama is failing to meet expectations. At first I thought maybe it was satire but then quickly realized the author was serious.

Geez. I've started new jobs where I was still learning co-workers names at 3 weeks. And trying to remember the new password to open my computer. Gosh. I usually don't have the boxes unpacked at 3 weeks after moving - and that's been just across town, not halfway across the country. Of course, the Obama's had a large staff to unpack for them but that might be even worse! Imagine having to ask someone where they put your socks and underwear. Of course, he is male so maybe that's not unusual. ha ha.

But seriously. Is our American attention span so incredibly short that we expected 3 week fixes? That kind of scares me - maybe people really did expect a miracle worker. However I believe that if President Obama fails, as apparently some people are hoping, then it will be because we, the American people, fail to do our part - not the other way around. I'm willing to wait another few years before passing judgement. Are you?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Counter Culture

Disclaimer: while I don't have a large reader base, this blog has had a FEW more than 70 hits! For some reason the counter went haywire around New Year's and once I got it reinstalled, it reset at 000. Was it trying to send a message about my blog content? Whatever. I've been too lazy to correct it. So you can still feel sorry about my pathetic reader count, but it's not really as bad as you might think. : - ))

Weather or Not

Somedays it's hard to not feel guilty about California weather. Yesterday I was begrudgingly pushing the lawn mower around the back yard, pruning my climbing rose, pulling grass which was sprouting in the wrong places, and cutting the oranges which hang over my side fence from the neighbors tree. It was between 65 & 70 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky. Meanwhile, the residents of Kentucky were shivering and shaking in the midst of an ice storm which has wiped out their heat and power.

Location, location, location.

We will pay for this sunshine later in the year though. Even as I was working my way around the yard, I was doing drought triage - which plants will have to die of thirst in August, which ones might survive? The warnings have already been coming about water rationing so unless we receive an abnormal amount of rain and snow in the next 8 weeks, I know it'll be a parched summer.

But in the meantime, the daylilies are sprouting and the peach tree is already pushing buds. I don't know how to tell them - "Stop! there won't be enough for you to drink!" I think I'd best stock up now on buckets to keep in the shower and at the kitchen sink.

BTW - those are "sunshine cupcakes", not deviled eggs. Aren't they incredibly cute? Lifted off the internet of course....

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Just So Wrong

We've started our annual health insurance review at work early this year, anticipating the usual bad news. It's worse than we expected. The premium increases haven't been posted yet but we were told to expect somewhere between an additional 15 to 30%, on top of the age related adjustments. Also, the out of pocket maximums have doubled, mental health coverage has decreased, prescription drug coverage has decreased, HRA contribution limits are cut by 50% and the HRA payment arrangement has been restructured. Bottom line - less coverage for 30% more money. It's just so wrong.

By coincidence, this bad news arrived in the same week as the SoCal octuplets. After a sleepless night worrying about our employees and their benefits, I got up to news about the medical accomplishment of a multiple-multiple birth. A birth which required 46 doctors, 4 delivery rooms, unlimited support staff, and an open ended NICU stay for 8 premature babies.

I was not planning to write about this, because I do believe in privacy rights and in the woman's right to choose. But as the details of this situation trickle out, I only have one thought: it's just so wrong.

I feel sad for the young, single mother because I belive there are mental health issues involved. Why else would a single, unemployed mother of 6 children under the age of 8 choose to deliver 8 more? It's either extreme irresponsibility or mental illness. I'm trying to be kind in choosing the latter.

But I also think it provides part of the explanation for our increasing health care costs. While my co-workers and I scrimp and save - setting aside money for the high deductibles, seeing only doctors within the network, getting our generic drugs via mail order, using a cut-rate lab where we're never sure we can trust the results, and self treating until illness is really, really apparent - while we're doing all that, one woman can be implanted with 8 embryos and then use huge amounts of health care dollars to bring fragile, sick babies into the world. The medical advances of our time have been phenomenal. But they are not always used for the greater good and situations like this only increase the burden for those of us leading boring, normal, middle class lives.

Health care premiums are strangling the company I work for and the new out-of-pocket limits will place some of our employees at high risk for financial disaster if a serious illness or accident strikes their family. It's depressing, discouraging, and complicated. We have a system which doesn't seem to really satisfy anyone - except the rare case like the one above. I only have one thought today - it's just so wrong.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Joe the Realtor

I recycled an 18" stack of catalogues right before Christmas, but they still keep coming! It's like a plague - order from one company, and get placed on the mailing list of 5 others. Some days I have 3 catalogues from the same company in my mailbox, each with a different cover. I don't see how that can be worth the printing/marketing costs but apparently it is, or it wouldn't be happening.

Anyway...as I was waiting for my tea to brew this a.m., I started flipping through one of the more recent mailings, which promised "a showcase of catalog best sellers". (If your taste runs to slogan tees and gadgets, maybe.) On page 23 is the "St Joseph Home Sellers Kit" for only $12.95!

Now, I was raised Roman Catholic so I can write about this. I know my patron saints and their personalized intercessions. St. Joseph, with his contractor/carpenter background, is the patron saint of house sellers and buyers (and numerous other situations including fathers and whole countries). According to this catalog, "burying a statue of St. Joseph on property to be sold dates back to medieval times, but...became widely popular in the U.S. in the 20th century..." Widely popular? Are you sure? The kit contains an 8" resin statue, instruction card, prayer card, and interesting background information about the origin of the practice. OMG!

I know the housing market is in dire straights but I didn't know it was THIS bad! But hey, if burying St. Joe in my backyard will bring the value of my house back up to 2002 levels (when I purchased), I'm all for it! It would be great Return on Investment - spend $12.95 and get back $50,000. Maybe I can research "patron saint of the postal service", who can then help me get off the mailing lists. Don't laugh... I'm sure he/she is out there.

I'm saving the catalog. If Obama can't get property values restored, Joe the Realtor is going down - into one of my flowerbeds that is....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mr. President


The past few weeks have been an eye-opener for me. I supported Barack Obama from the very early days because I liked what I was hearing. I found his racial background interesting and liked the thought of having a black woman and her daughters in the White House, because of the example they could set. But race was not a major factor in casting my vote, and it wasn't for any of my pro-Obama friends as far as I know.

However once the votes were cast, I began hearing the same message over and over and over from blacks and minorities: "I never thought this would happen in my lifetime!" The joy and pride and excitement and relief and tears have taken me by surprise. I have completely, totally underestimated the psychological burden our minorities have carried. If someone had asked me the same question - will we ever elect a black? - I would have answered, "Of course, if he/she has the education and leadership skills needed to do the job." I believe the same for gender - that's it's only a matter of the right person before we elect a woman to the position. But it's obvious now that that was naive on my part and that millions of dark skinned citizens did not believe American would do so. I'm so happy that they're finally, finally wrong.

And I confess to blatantly "lifting" this photo from someone else's blog. I couldn't help myself.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Grazie, but no!

I've just come back from a Sunday shopping trip to Costco. It's amazing how many families were there, just browsing through the aisles of stuff and partaking of the free food samples. I was headed into the food section when I overhead an earnest, energetic worker offering samples of the "new, imported, Italian salmonella pasta"! She was referring to her note cards and following the cues perfectly..... except I'm quite sure she meant "semolina" pasta, not "salmonella".

But who knows, maybe I inadvertently discovered the source of the recent outbreaks! I passed on the pasta sample, even though I'm quite sure it was delicious. I'm just getting over one illness, no need to risk another!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chips, no dip

Continuing on with bowl fever, I watched the "Tostitos" Fiesta Bowl last night. I was mildly rooting for Ohio due to 1) an aversion to all things Texan because of G.W.Bush and 2) a very tenuous connection to OSU (my ex-husbands' younger brother attended Ohio on a sports scholarhip 35 years ago. Tenuous indeed.)

But it was hard not to love those Longhorns - from the ridiculous, ginormous longhorn steer, and the kitzy-cowboy band uniforms, and the Texas football fever in the stands. But, know what I loved most of all? The color of the football jerseys!

That is an impossibly beautiful color for a football team! I couldn't decide whether to call it Roasted Pumpkin, or Burnt Sugar, or Caramel Cream, or Nutmeg Spice, or Autumn Haze. And to pair it with rich cream helmets and accents - perfection! I would choose that color for a fall wedding, if I was young and had a Prince Charming, maybe paired with cream color roses and deep brown velvet ribbons.

I suspect it is meant to duplicate the color of a Texan longhorn steer, but it gets my vote for Favorite Football Jersey of All Time. That's how much I like it!

Oh yeah, the Longhorns won the game too. As if that matters....

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bowl Me Over

As it turned out, I could have skipped the shopping excursions for cold medicine because I didn't have a cold. After acknowledging to myself that I needed a doctor, I was diagnosed with "right lower lobe pneumonia" and promptly placed on antibiotics. Guess that explains 15 days of coughing, fever, chills, congestion, and pain. The miracle drugs are working and I'm well on my way to recovery now. I called in sick this morning tho, after two weeks of "vacation". Fortunately, I am the HR department, so don't have to provide documentation.

Since I was already laying around on the couch, I caught quite a few of the college bowl games over New Years. It wasn't just my low oxygen saturation level or general malaise either, I do enjoy watching these once-a-year matchups. I prefer the traditional names of course. I like the history and cache behind a Gator Bowl or Sugar Bowl or Cotton Bowl or Rose Bowl. But please, who actually wants to admit to watching the Chick-fil-A or Autozone or Capital One Bowl? I know I don't.

It's not completely honest though, to pretend that the football game is the main attraction for me. I understand the basic framework of the game so I can follow the action - but here's a list of the things I really like to watch:

  • The intensity and concentration of the (usually handsome) coaches as they pace the sidelines. I like how they never concede defeat until the game ends and how they congratulate the other side before leaving the field.
  • The energy and exuberance of the marching bands. Those kids are awesome - having so much fun in such dorky outfits!
  • The beauty, athleticism, and perfection of the cheerleaders. I know, it's probably an outdated sexist gender-diminishing activity but come on - have you ever seen anything so SoCal as a blonde, ponytailed, USC cheerleader in her little pleated skirt and white appliqued sweater? If I had a daughter, I would totally allow her to be a USC cheerleader. As long as she kept up her GPA in a realistic career path major.
  • The spontaneity and spirit and enjoyment of life displayed by the students, parents, and alumni in the stands. I like the "game faces" and colors and loyalty and camaraderie in the crowds.
  • The goofy, illogical mascots. That Georgia bulldog pouting on the sidelines was hilarious, as was the giant orange Clemson tiger and the gaudy USC "Trojan". Roman centurions are rolling in their graves I'm sure, hopefully in laughter.
  • The unpredictability of what happens on the field. (Yes, I do watch parts of the game too. ) Even tho many of these players go on to professional sports, they're not there yet. These games seem to contain just a bit more risk and more surprise than the NFL ones - making them more fun to watch.


So, bowl me over. I have pneumonia and bowl fever. Looks like I'll be watching the BCS championship game Thursday night!