Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I sure must like my dentist, I drive two hours to see him

And why do I drive two hours to the town where I previously lived to see the dentist I started with in 1983? Because, if you manage to find one medical professional that you don't want to strangle you are very, very lucky and should reward that luck with fidelity.

First off, I speak from experience. I tried a local dentist. He installed a crown that is still sensitive to pressure four years later. Sooner or later I'll have to have the thing removed and replaced, at my expense. Another dentist stopped half way through a root canal on my husband and ejected him from the office with the explanation that he couldn't finish it and my husband needed to find an endodontist. Without even referring him to a specialist or another dentist. A real sweetie, that one. His current dentist can't seem to get the novocain injected in the right place to actually numb the tooth. Ever had a root canal without the proper anesthesia? You don't want to.

Physicians? Not much better. My last internist had the personality of a doorstop. He probably said three words to me during an entire physical exam. The doctor before that could get through a consultation and examination without once looking you in the eye. And that was after you finally got out of the waiting room, where there were always 15 or 20 people ahead of you. She never kept to any schedule, and I suspect she double-booked regularly. The one before that prescribed Zantac for two years without bothering to investigate what actually was causing my stomach pain (turns out, it was gallstones, but he never thought to check, I guess).

So when I stumbled on my current dentist (who happened to be located about 1/2 mile from my old house) and found he was competent, talented, up-to-date, innovative and kind to boot, then and there I decided unless I move to the West Coast or something, I'm sticking with him. The last three moves have taken me farther and farther from his office. It's a two hour drive now. But I still make the trip.

Now, the trick is to find a general practice doctor that lives up to my dentist's precedent. I have an appointment Thursday with my husband's GP, who seems to be an actual human being. The doctor doesn't know what a recommendation that is.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Let there be Christmas!

Ok, "White Christmas" was on TV last night. It is officially the Christmas season. And it's fine with me. I love that movie.

I freely admit that, except for "It's a Wonderful Life", "White Christmas" is the motherlode for schmaltz and corn. But I don't care. Everything about it is perfect, from Rosemary Clooney's velvet voice to Danny Kaye's goofy dancing. And when Bing sings the first line of the title song, when everyone's on stage and the snow is falling, if you don't melt into a warm sentimental puddle, there's something wrong with you.

Now, if they'll just play Alastair Sim's "Scrooge", I'll be one happy girl.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The holiday homeowner curse

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone (and left a pound or two behind, soon to be joined by its Christmas cousins) and, as night follows day, I didn't get through the holiday without something trying to break at the house.

You see, I have a curse on my household. If something is going to break, it will only do it on a national holiday. This curse has followed me through three houses. Septic tank backs up? On December 23, of course. Refrigerator dies? December 24. Washer drain floods the crawlspace? Thanksgiving day. Heat pump dies? New Year's day. Flooded basement? Martin Luther King Day. Air conditioner bites the dust? Labor Day (an anomoly -- the curse likes cold holidays). I have had roof leaks, plumbing leaks, dead cars, dead appliances. This of course in addition to the other annoyances like being sick as a dog with the flu or something very like it the last two Christmases running. Some years I just want to jump straight from Columbus Day to Fat Tuesday and skip all the winter holidays entirely.

I didn't move the car out of the garage from Wednesday morning (turkey pick-up) until Saturday afternoon. We were having Thanksgiving at home and I'm not a crazy woman. By Wednesday afternoon the local talk radio station was reporting two mile long traffic backups on the interstate through town. I was snug at home and very happy to be there. But by Saturday I hoped that the road madness had subsided and needed to run a few errands. So, I loaded my car and hit the garage door opener button. The door glided open smoothly. I pulled out of the garage, fastened my seat belt and tapped the door opener button again.


Irritated, I pushed it again. Maybe the battery was getting weak. The door did a little jerk-jerk-shudder and the light on the front of the opener responded, with its three-quick-blinks signal, meaning that something was keeping the door from closing. Grumbling, I put the car in park, unfastened the seat belt and jumped out of the car to check whether a leaf had blown in and blocked the path of the safety cutoffs at the bottom of the door.

They were clean. Nothing was on the threshold in the path of the beam. The stupid thing just wouldn't work. I hit the button on the wall. Jerk-jerk-shudder-blink. Then nothing. Well, this is just peachy, I thought. I was dressed to go out and wasn't in the mood to drag out the stepladder and diagnose a cranky Sears garage door opener. (And, did I mention that the ceiling in the garage is almost ten feet tall? So it's WAAAAY up there.)

I'll deal with it later, I decided. I'll just unlatch the door from the traveler, lower it by hand, and lock it -- OH RATS! Why won't the garage door lock? The old wooden door had undergone some warping / shrinkage / sagging / whatever and now the lock bars won't align with the holes in the latch. A quick check revealed that the bars are guided at each side by a bracket attached to the door with two screws, one in a hole and the other in a slot. If I take out the screw in the hole, I can slide the bracket on the slotted screw until the bar will align with the latch. A quick trip to the tool box for a screwdriver, and the door is locked. Finally, I'm on my way.

Two hours of TREMENDOUSLY HORRIBLE traffic later, I returned home. So much for subsided road madness. Time to dig out my work clothes and tackle the garage door opener. I cleaned, I lubricated, I dusted, I poked and prodded. Nothing. Jerk-jerk-shudder-blink. This opener is DOA. I decided to at least fix the lock properly, so I got the drill and reinstalled the screws into the guide brackets on each side.

I stared malevolently at the frozen traveler on the overhead bar and pecked petulantly at the control button. Didn't help, just made me feel better. Well, at least the door was disconnected and locked. I could use the side door to go in and out, and leave the car in the driveway until Sears sent a repairman. . .

Suddenly, the opener shuddered to life and the traveler glided down the rail and clicked into the catch on the door. What the heck? I knew it was nothing I had done, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth etc. etc., so I unlocked the door and grabbed my car keys so I could put the Subaru safely in the garage. Except now it won't work again.

Time to take a break. I went into the kitchen and got a Diet Rite, my drug of choice. Leaning on the counter, I considered what could be wrong. Whatever it was, I probably couldn't fix it. I returned to the garage, deciding to disconnect the door again, hoist it by hand and put the car in from the impending rain. Just for giggles, I gave the opener another push. AND IT OPENED. And closed again. And opened again. Just like it should. Just like it had never stopped working.

It's now Monday and the garage door opener is still fine. It's just playing with my head.

To quote Charlie Brown, "I can't stand it. I just can't stand it."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The birds that work for Merry Maids

There I was in the "computer room" (third bedroom for the rest of the world), me on the laptop and the husband on the other computer with the 28" flat panel monitor (I ain't lyin', people, the thing looks like a drive-in movie screen) comparing the virtues of Fuji's itty-bitty camera with the other itty-bitty cameras -- besides, of course, that Overstock has it on sale and he has a 10% off coupon. I look up and see that two streaked sparrows have lit outside of the window, clinging to the brick, and have methodically begun to pull down spiderwebs and clean all the bugs and spiders out of them. Yum, yum. They're even reaching behind the shutters and cleaning all the webs out of the cracks.

This of course is a great service to me, since the one thing I can state about my house is that I have more spiders per square foot on this quarter acre than any other property I've owned. Well, I've also got gnats in the spring, but that's more of a regional thing -- anyway, I hate, hate, hate spiderwebs in the corners of the windows, and the way I clean them is to hold onto the tippy-end of a broom handle and try to fish them down while standing on the ground. Because ladders are pretty much a no-go with me. Too old, too clumsy, too fat. No. Just no. So anything that gets me out of this job is a Martha-Stewart-worthy very good thing. They finish with the third bedroom window and flit away, hopefully to the kitchen window because there's some really big webs in that one.

Besides being a great service, this is good because we, the cat and I, like to watch birds and lately I've been feeling guilty about the feeders in the back yard. Not about having the feeders or the cost of filling them, but about the fact that a hawk has scoped out my yard and figured out I have a higher than normal bird concentration. I've seen him circling and I saw him get one sparrow (on my patio, no less). He actually flew into my sliding door yesterday morning while I was sitting 6 feet away from it reading the web news. Scared the spit out of me -- made a huge bang. He was unhurt and flew away to perch in the dogwood and shake his head a little, like what the heck was that?

It's a bad thing to put the birds in danger's way just because we like to look at them, but I have to give the little feathered critters more credit. They've not been as plentiful in the last few days, like they know even with the veritable Shoney buffet out there it's not a safe place. We should probably put the feeders away for a month or so and let the hawk find another hunting ground. Hawk's gotta eat, but I would rather not have a relationship with his dinner.

In the meantime, the birds can check out my front porch light. I must have 20 pounds of bugs in there.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tale of a shoe

No good deed goes unpunished. I start back on my morning walks and am rewarded with a blistered heel. What the heck is going on here? I have worn this style walking shoe since 1988. There was a short gap where they were hard to find (but then I discovered online shopping!) and they always fit the same. The last pair I ordered to replace the worn-out (or, in my words, the well-broken-in) tan ones I had relegated to garage cleaning and outdoor work seemed just a little, well, short. I wore them on jaunts to the grocery and such to soften them up. They still seemed maybe a little smaller than usual. Shoes always stretch, I told myself, and these always have.

So, I donned them this morning and drove to the park. About three laps of the park later, my left heel is starting to smart. I make it several more laps, and call it a morning. Sure enough, when I get home I have a doozy of a blister on the back of my heel and my toes feel scrunched. Have my feet grown?

In a word, nope. I had them measured at the shoe store today while on the hunt for a new pair of walking shoes and they still size out at a healthy 11B. So why are my new size 11 walking shoes short now? And why are my other new size 11 dress shoes and loafers just fine? Why can't we have consistency?

Let me tell you, finding size 11 shoes is no picnic any day, and certainly not where I live. If you wany any variety and selection you are forced to do mail order. Sites such as Zappos do provide the service of user reviews, which give you an idea of how the product is going to fit and perform, but shoe fit is so personalized you can't tell until you order them and try them on. And return them and swap them. Over and over. To illustrate how often this has to happen, my husband calls the UPS the "shoe delivery man". Ouch.

Today I went on a flesh-and-blood shopping trip (as opposed to my usual point and click in my jammies shopping trips) and finally found some walking shoes I hope will work. It must be something about walking shoe construction nowadays but all the 11's seemed short. I needed an 11 1/2. Hah! Try finding that. Most of the shoe store clerks blush and avert their eyes when you ask for an 11. It seems that they get just one pair of each style in an 11 and they go fast. Meanwhile, multiples of 7's and 8's are languishing on their shelves. It's a fact that women's feet are trending larger. The stores should stock accordingly.

My solution wasn't optimal, but it will probably work. I bought, gasp, a size 12. Admittedly, it was a very skimpy size 12, more like an 11 1/2. They have enough room for my toes and won't cram my heel back against the shoe. They're also the size of canoes. And they're white. I kinda hate them. But if they will keep me from blisters, I'll wear them.

As white and canoe-sized as they are, these sneakers were head and shoulders about the other shoes I saw, appearance-wise. It's probably the most telling statement I can make to reflect my age when I say, when did all the athletic shoes get so butt-ugly? Color combinations I swear they told me in home economics class didn't go together. And not just two colors. Three or four, with swooshes and silver piping and mesh and funky spring heels and flared soles that look like hooves. And a lot of technical-sounding hoo-haa about ergonomic research and energy return. It's a shoe, people, not a rocket to Mars.

Remember when sneakers looked like Converse Chuck Taylors? With that flat rubber sole and the little circle patch on the side its only ornamentation? Of course, Chuck Taylors are all spiffed up nowadays; they have one with a double upper, which looks like the shoe ate another shoe, with two sets of laces and everything. Another one has a cluster of three eyelets at each spot where there's usually one. Kind of looks like the suckers on an octopus tentacle.

I didn't need any of that. I just need consistently fitting support for pounding around the park, not shoe bling. Like my new big white Nurse Ratched shoes. Thank God I have no vanity.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I don't have dinner parties, I feed people

If you come to my house for a meal, don't expect fancy. Which is not to say that you'll ever be presented with a paper dinner napkin at my table. I just don't believe in it. You'll have proper table linen, and you'll be eating off the Spode plates with a nice glass for your iced tea or whatever. I just don't get all formal about it. If it's only one guest, we'll probably be eating in the kitchen.

Our good friend came by the house for dinner last night. This guest proved problematical when it came time to plan the menu. He's limiting the carbs for medical reason. But he's a real meat and pasta person. Not big on the vegetables. Never met a bean. A hunk of meat and a baked potato suited him just fine, or anything with tomato sauce.

So what could I make last night? I had some lovely steaks, so the "hunk of meat" portion of the menu was set, but what for a side dish? All my America's Test Kitchen cookbooks called to me from the shelf, but I was stymied at every turn. Potato galettes? Nope. Glazed carrots? The honey nixed them. Something peas or corn? High carb vegetables, can't do that. Zucchini? I can't do that, too much zucchini this summer. Ditto tomatoes. Not sure if he eats squash, not sure I can eat beets. The friend won't eat beans. The greens were looking a little sad at the grocery. My husband is not a fan of cauliflower. Rice is out, although the arborio has been whispering "Risotto, risotto" to me from the pantry for weeks.

This was all so much easier when I could make the friend a big pot of pasta and we'd all go into a carb stupor after dinner.

Finally I settled on broccoli. Steamed, with balsamic-basil vinagrette sounded temping, but I wasn't sure. Certainly steamed but how to dress them for a picky eater? Of course, cheddar. A wonderful, silky cheese sauce. For my money, you could put cheese sauce on a brick and make it palatable. I rounded it out with a garden salad with lots of peppers and mushrooms and carrots and tomato. The guys drenched it with blue cheese dressing (evidently, fats aren't a problem) and I wrinkled my nose and reached for the lite ranch.

But, I couldn't help wondering, why does the idea of cooking for someone, even a friend we've know for 30 years, send me into a paroxysm of worry? Preparing food for someone is so personal, so intimate, that it feels easy to screw it up. You are preparing nourishment for their physical bodies, and hopefully giving them pleasure and warmth and welcoming. If all goes well, they leave your home feeling cared for, catered to and coddled. It's a big undertaking. But it feels so nice when it works.

I especially like to make dinner for our male friends who are single or employed away from home and travel a lot. I honestly don't know how these guys don't come down with beri beri or something, the way they eat. They seldom or never cook. One single guy met with the realtor in her office when he sold his last house, and when she asked if it had a gas or electric range, he didn't know! I'm not kidding here. The only food I've ever seen in his kitchen is a bag of Pecan Sandies. Another one eats every meal in a restaurant - breakfast, lunch, dinner. His range was broken for a year and it didn't impact him at all.

The friend that was here last night is working 100 miles from home and living in a rented apartment during the week. He usually gets home on the weekends, but recently, work has been 10-12 hours a day/7 days a week. It made me feel good when he said that was the best meal he'd had in a month.