Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Career as a Cork

Winter in the desert is activity time. We do all the outdoor things we've been dreaming about while huddled around our air conditioners in summer. I finally caught on to that life rhythm this year--three years into my desert residency. Thoughts of blogging slipped into the background as I dashed about attending outdoor activities and reveling in our sunshine while the rest of the country shivered.. Now it's payback time. The temperature is due to be 110 degrees F  a few days from now, and I'm back inside. Blogging is starting to sound pretty good again.

I'm fortunate to have found a group of people who go to the outdoor pool at 8 a.m each day to paddle and chat before the killer midday sun appears. Fortunate, because by 10 or 11 a.m. anyone whose brain isn't already fried scurries back to their air conditioning, computers, and TVs. If one wants to socialize and get some sunshine here, one must do it early.

I like to swim laps, which is best done in the indoor pool because lap lanes are printed on the floor (I tend to wander like a drunken sailor in my lane when doing the backstroke) and because the previously mentioned social folks are randomly bobbing and walking all over the outdoor pool. I'm having to give my sore right shoulder a break for a while, so I decided to water-walk with the happy, chatting group.

The shallow part of the salt water outdoor pool is four feet deep. (You're aware of the buoyancy properties of salt water?) I'm 4'9" and so buoyant that many years ago my scuba instructor gave a certain part of my anatomy an unflattering name that referred to the near-impossibility of getting it submerged. He then loaded my weight belt with as much weight as one of the 6-foot tall guys.

My chosen flotation device for my foray into water-walking was a "noodle" (one of those of those long cylindrical Styrofoam flotation devices you can get at Walgreen's for about $3.) I was balancing precariously, trying to get a feel for it. Suddenly, I rolled backwards, my feet flew up, and I couldn't get stabilized. I flopped around, grabbed the edge of the pool, and fought mightily. I forced my stubborn feet down once--but then they shot right back up.

"Do you need help?" asked one of the water-walkers. I was embarrassed to say so, but, well yeah, I did. She came over and pushed my feet back down, righting me, but as she was walking away, I slipped backward again. By this time, all six women in the pool were watching, asking if they could help. I could not get my feet down! I also couldn't bring them within reach of  my hands in order to open the Velcro straps and take them off. Visions of myself upside down in the water with only the soles of my pink water-walking shoes visible on the surface flashed into my mind.

Thanks to the pool ladies, that didn't happen. They took the water shoes off of my feet for me, stood me upright and put my noodle on the side of the pool. I hoped they thought my face was red from the sun.   Later examination of  my shoes revealed foam in the soles, which combined with my salt-water-enhanced floating ability and death grip on the the noodle, turned me into a virtual cork. 

My career as a cork is over. From now on, no noodle; no little pink shoes. With my awesome floating capabilities, I should be able to navigate through just about anything--including one sore shoulder!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Evil Late Night Computer Gnome

I usually hate trying to do anything fancy on bank sites--like redeem my "reward" points. But Christmas is almost here and my money isn't, so when I saw that my bank (without notifying me) switched my card to a rewards card, I checked out the situation.

It looked so easy. They said I had many, many points. They said I could get a $100 gasoline card at a major oil company. They said just sign up here. So I did. And signed up, and signed up, and signed up.

I filled in the info, clicked to place the order, and was sent back to the beginning. The first time I thought, "OK, I missed something." The second time, I got irritated. I'm pretty sure I didn't miss something twice. By the third time, I began to feel an overwhelming urge to yell at someone or eat a pint of ice cream (I really shouldn't do these things late at night.) Unfortunately, no one is here but my little dog and me--he's sleeping and I'm out of ice cream.

I realized someone was messing with me when the screen displayed the information I'd entered. It looked very official. Just one little problem: tiny red letters proclaimed that I 'd entered my phone number incorrectly--not enough numbers, too many symbols that don't belong, yadda yadda. I checked. I double checked. I looked on my cell phone. Yep, that's my number, all right. Ten digits--entered correctly and in the right order. I suspect a computer jockey somewhere in the bowels of the bank activated an endless loop--to keep customers busy without actually accomplishing anything-- after the supervisors left for the day. I can just hear his evil laugh as he rubs his hands, crunching Fritos and guzzling Mountain Dew.

You will not beat me, Evil Gnome! It may be my bedtime now (well, it was an hour ago when I began this fiasco,) but as Scarlett O'Hara said, tomorrow is another day. I will have that gas card, doggone it!

C'mon, Toto, let's hit the sack. (Oops. Wrong movie.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The General Patton Memorial Museum

This post will soon be a guest post on another blog. I'll announce which one when it is done.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

900-Foot deep Mystery

Yesterday's paper said three million gallons of crude oil in the SS Montebello is gone. Vanished during the 70 years the torpedoed ship sat in 900 feet of water off the coast of California. I'm amazed.

Government scientists expected to find a substance the consistency of peanut butter and wanted to know how it would affect the underwater ecosystem if the tanks broke. What they didn't expect to find was: nothing, nada, not a thing, in those tanks. They hypothesize that it  leaked out slowly over decades (I'm reminded that as kids we always got "tar" on our feet when we went to the beach and had to remove it with gasoline or nail polish remover. Yuck.) Or...well, they don't have much in the way of other theories. Apparently, we don't know enough about the effects of that alien world--the ocean--on our landlubber substances to accurately predict what will happen.

Tons of old tires were piled in shallow waters during the 1970s to create "artificial reefs" and attract fish. They attracted fish, all right--but they also released toxins into the water. A lengthy, costly effort is now underway to remove the rubber reefs and replace them with something that won't  decay in salt water (how about rocks, guys?)

Since 1993, various businesses have been experimenting with iron fertilization of the ocean to promote phytoplankton bloom, which is supposed to produce all sorts of biological goodness. One can only hope they learn the side effects before they spread too much iron.

That being said, what did happen to the oil on the SS Montebello? I can think up lots of cool fiction stories with explanations that are probably more interesting than whatever did happen:
  • Sci-Fi: Dormant micro-organisms mutated to eat the oil, and now that it's gone they're slithering across the ocean floor, driven by the scent of oil at a nearby refinery...
  • Conspiracy theory: There never was any oil on the ship, which was a decoy to fool the enemy because a really important ship filled with [fill in the blank] had to get to [blank] to help create [blank] that was going to help end the war...
  • Greed: When the war ended, a military guy who became an oil guy figured out a way to siphon the oil out and sell it...
I know at least one of my writer friends comes up with some very imaginative paranormal stories, maybe he'll weigh in. How about you? Any stories come to mind?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I disconnected my TV cable about a month ago. Feeling pleased with myself, I looked forward to the many hours I would have to write, to think, and to interact with my fellow human beings.

Wrong. Didn't happen.

First, I received a gift of a Roku, an electronic box that connects to your TV and makes it possible to watch certain internet stuff on the beloved familiar box in the living room. I love Roku. I can watch Neflix streaming programming on my TV screen, see news podcasts, listen to music, and generally spend as much time on the couch as I did with cable. This, of course, makes my little dog Oliver very happy; his favorite thing is to snuggle up next to me on the couch, secure in the knowledge that I can't escape without waking him. He falls asleep, only moving when he has those odd little dog dreams that make them "run" in their sleep.

This season I discovered I don't even need Roku to watch a bunch of TV without benefit of cable. Both broadcast and cable networks are putting their shows on the web and you can watch whole episodes--every week. This provides me with even more TV than I had with cable, because my cable subscription was for broadcast stations only--no non-network channels. With my super fast FIOS wi-fi and my laptop, I can now spend my whole week watching TV if I so choose. I don't even have to sit in one place to do it; I can carry my laptop with me from room to room. But I won't, of course--or will I?

Just now I made a list of the shows I'd like to follow. OMG! Twenty hours' worth! NOT good. Hard to explain actually doing that without having to examine one's addictive tendencies. I'd like to get outside and do more things, but my part of the desert has been in triple-digit temperatures since June, with only a brief respite that was supposed to be our shift to the Fall season. It's not summer any more--just a"heat wave."A really long heat wave. The net result is the same: a strong aversion to going outside.

SO, trapped indoors. What to do? Clean out that closet? Organize that paperwork? Or watch pretty, well-dressed people solve all their problems in one-hour increments? I like to think of myself as well-organized and businesslike. So why am I leaning so strongly toward the flickering images on a screen--any screen? Could it be (horrors!) addiction? Is it possible that even when Palm Springs once again becomes that lovely warm winter playground for which it is famous I will still be trapped on my couch (or bed, or chair)? The thought is enough to chill my bones, even on this 102-degree day.

But there it is. That incriminating piece of paper. I really like some of those shows. Others are new and sound fascinating.

And that's how it works.

I think I need to get a life!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A 900-Foot Deep Secret

I was born in the first wave of Baby Boomers. I grew up in coastal Southern California where the leftovers of war were being surplussed and cleared away. New businesses popped up in leftover Quonset huts, hundreds of huge gray ships huddled together in "mothball fleets" in the harbors, and--most shocking to a small girl--constant reruns of the liberation of German concentration camps were shown on TV stations that apparently had nothing else to show between "Victory at Sea" episodes.

Our 1950s homes were the epitome of tiny modernity and everyone's dad had a shiny new car in the driveway. The dads all seemed to work at one of the many local aviation companies. My mother got excited whenever she saw a "Flying Fortress" overhead because she had helped build them. I thought everyone's mom could recognize airplanes in the sky.

I remember seeing piles of huge round black buoys at the Seal Beach (CA) Naval Depot. Boys at school swore they were explosive mines. "If they blew, they'd blow everything to kingdom come!" one male classmate said, eyes shining. I didn't then--and still don't--understand why boys liked to see things blow up.

One day when we were on our way to the beach, I pointed at the dark globes and asked my mom, "What are those?"She said she wasn't sure, but she thought they were floats to hold up underwater submarine nets. Oh, I said. But I always wondered: Did Japanese submarines come to California beaches during the war? It was weird to think about. My mom didn't know. Of course, she was only 14 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. She said there weren't any reports in the paper about ships being sunk off our coast. She lived in San Diego, where she and her friends visited the beach as a regular part of their recreation. They were too busy taking pictures of each other in bathing suits to think about Japanese submarines.

As told in an AP Wire story a couple of days ago, the Japanese submarines were there, all right. They even sank a few of our ships, one of which was a very large oil tanker named the SS Montebello. Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, it was torpedoed and sank off the coast of Cambria, near Hearst's Castle. The 39 crew members all survived, thanks to the residents of Cambria, who waded out through rocks and treacherous surf with ropes to help them ashore from their bullet-riddled lifeboat. It was big news in the local paper. But the story never made it to the national news . Why? Because, as the government admitted around 1988, they didn't want to create "hysteria" in the populace. Fair enough. People might have indeed panicked if they'd known enemy subs were close enough to watch through periscopes as they ate their dinners. Even with sturdy submarine nets in place, a couple of miles offshore seems uncomfortably close.

The danger of keeping a secret like that for too long was revealed in the recent news article. It seems the SS Montebello--and its three million gallons of oil--lies in 900 feet of water dangerously close to the Montery Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Government agencies are mounting an expedition to test the oil--which they think is the consistency of peanut butter by now--to see if it's a danger to wildlife if the tanks give way. (My thought is: how would it not be? But what do I know?)

My childhood question has been answered, and I don't like the results. My conspiracy-theorist friends are probably having a field day with this one. I chose to exercise my imagination in a different way: I wrote a short fiction story about a fifteen-year-old girl seeing a Japanese sub off the coast of her beach in 1941. People don't believe her because it wasn't on the news. Maybe I should give her a camera...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: No Such Thing as Closure--Just Moving On

I knew the 9/11 ten-year anniversary TV coverage was going to be gut-wrenching, but I had to watch some of it. I'd never seen the 9/11 Memorial and didn't know what they planned in the way of a ceremony. NBC did a great job of simultaneously broadcasting from Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and that peaceful-looking field in Pennsylvania. I found the ceremonies beautiful, tasteful, and touching. I dabbed tears several times as I listened to the reading of the names and the personal messages from the readers to their lost loved ones.

It was an uplanned moment that touched me the most, however. It was captured by an NBC cameraman with a discerning eye as he was panning through the Ground Zero crowd . An Asisan woman with her back to the camera leaned over a name, barely holding herself up with her hands on each side of it. She clutched a crumpled tissue in one hand. A small puddle slowly seeped into the pristine stone in front of her. Tears? She tried vainly to staunch the flow from her eyes with the soggy tissue.

That's when I got it: for me, it's been ten years. For her, it's still happening.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Drunken moose rescued from tree

This poor girl let her love of fermented apples get the best of her. This pose is not very ladylike--it's not even very mooselike. She must be related to the late Buzzwinkle of Alaska.

Imagine the surprise of Per Johansson of Saro, Sweden, when he responded to a noise in the neighbor's garden and found a moose in their apple tree! Overcoming his surprise, he and another helpful neighbor set about sawing a branch off the tree to free her. But still, the moose couldn't--or wouldn't leave. Emergency rescue teams used a crane to get her out of the tree, but she just laid down on the ground and fell asleep. Mr Johansson said she was still there in the morning. He figured she just liked it there.

Johannson's son, an enterprising young man with a camera, took pictures and sold them to the media. He probably figured the moose was doing this just for him so he could grow his college fund. Moose in tree = more of a sure investment than most stocks right now.

Apparently, moose love fermented apples and can smell them from miles away. Keeping the animals out of your apple trees is just a simple matter of housekeeping: no apples on ground = no moose in tree.

Still, I'm glad there aren't any moose (or apple trees for that matter) in my desert. I'm just not that diligent a housekeeper!

Friday, July 22, 2011

DayTimers, Smart Phones, and Yellow Pads

Did any of you used to carry a DayTimer and a gold Cross pen? It was the height of cool in the 80s and early 90s if you were a professional Important Person. I carried them because I was a professional Sales Person--probably the antithesis of cool, but the pen and the official calendar with 30-minute appointment increments made me feel important and very efficient.

DayTimer sent lots of specialized pages to fit my pocketbook-sized spiral calendar. Pages to track my mileage, To Do list, expenses. I loved them all but used none of them. It turns out that I'm most comfortable with just one list. I place check marks next to completed items and rarely used symbols to show the priority of each. Sorry, DayTimer!

I've had a smart phone for almost two years and I'm slowly transferring my calendar and notes to its little screen (hey, don't rush me, now!) My reasoning is that I always have the phone with me, making it likely I'll have the right calendar, list or address when I need it. What I didn't figure on was the visibility factor. That little phone gets put away and I can't see proof of my fabulous organizational skills. I forget the lists are there and my confused brain thinks I haven't done anything, causing alarm bells to sound.

It's almost time for my summer getaway. The Coachella Valley loses its "dry heat" distinction in July and August when the so-called monsoon season creeps up from the Gulf of Mexico, giving the desert the feeling of a Florida swamp. That's when everyone who can escape, does.

I've been trying to plan my trip by putting lists on my smart phone. I've been feeling frazzled and disorganized. Last night my friend Mel mentioned to me that there's nothing as satisfying as checking things off a big ol' list. I suddenly realized my old-fashioned self yearned for that very thing.

Tonight I picked up a clean yellow legal pad, feeling like I'd come home. I carefully wrote down a couple of things I've already accomplished--just so I could check them off. Ah, bliss! I now have three columns extending half-way down the page and I'm not nearly done. I leave the list on my desk, where the visibility factor reminds me that I'm in charge, Baby! I can't say I feel more important, but I do feel very efficient again!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Practical Approach

I've decided the ads in my newspaper encouraging me to pay lots of money to get rid of the purple lines on my upper legs have it all wrong. I think my purple lines are actually more attractive than some of tattoos being let out of hiding now that the skimpy clothes of summer are in.

In fact, one of my purple clusters looks a lot like the sky in Van Gogh's "Starry Night."

So, I'm taking the practical approach and simply considering them free ink.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"It's Really Easy, You'll See"

I love Verizon FIOS, I really do. I've been using it for two years and it's been mostly reliable. It's very fast. The customer service over the phone has been great. But today I'm thinking I may not be the customer they need me to be.

My internet went down for no apparent reason. They worked with me on the phone, but bounced me back and forth between a couple of departments, including one young woman who couldn't find my account, said she couldn't put me through to a supervisor because she couldn't find my account, and hung up on me when I told her that sounded crazy.

On my next odyssey through the phone maze, I got to a sympathetic young man who helped me get my internet connection back on my desktop. My in-house wi-fi remained DOA . In the hierarchy of home technical needs, internet connection is #1 because it's crucial and everything else depends on it. I, however, have no less than four devices that require wi-fi.

I had no idea I had become so dependent on my laptop, TiVo, Roku, and iPhone. It's like Reefer Madness. These things were introduced to me by my kindly and well-meaning husband, and now I'm hooked. I'm having withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, even though I'm technology-dependent, I'm not very technology-savvy. I need someone to tell me what wire to plug into which cable and what obscure string of numbers to enter into the gaping, blinking fields on set-up screens.

The nice Verizon guy decided I needed a new router. He ordered one for me, gave me a tracking number and told me it would be here in a day.

"Who's going to set it up?" I asked.
"You are."
"You're kidding."
"It's really easy, you'll see."

Yes, well, you know what that means.

In the meantime, my internet connection went down again.

The new router appeared on my doorstep. I remembered that Verizon guy told me I just had to plug in the new router the same way the old one was, and then put in the magic "In Home Agent" disc and follow the instructions. I plugged everything in, turned on the router, and inserted the disc into my computer. I got an immediate error message. Driven by my addiction, I bypassed the message and got into the first screen of the disc. The instruction sheet told me I would get a an "install" screen and would be given step-by-step instructions. No such luck.

OK, back to prehistoric methods. I dialed the FIOS support number and navigated the two different phone trees with four choices each, and finally got to a female Cylon voice that said, "Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to process your call at this time."

Still desperate, I tried opening Firefox because I saw the internet light was lit on the new router. Viola! Enough internet to write in my blog but no wi-fi to watch TV. (Wait, it just occurred to me that there really isn't a downside to that!)

I could be feeling really inadequate right now, except that I'm really proud of the brilliant job of attaching the router to its cheesy little stand that I did without any help from anyone. It took real brain power, I tell you; I had to figure out how to use a screwdriver from the backside to push down two little tabs....

Holding on to this little point of pride, I'm taking my frustrated, cranky self to bed. Things are bound to look better in the morning, especially if I can bypass Cylon lady and get through to sympathetic young Verizon guy. The return of my wi-fi would, at that point, just be gravy.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An Appreciation of the Absurdities of Life is Imperative

What are we looking at here? A raggedy prescription bottle and a tiny wedding cake? Remnants from my recycle bin? Oh, would that we were.

This, my friends, is a company's well-meaning attempt to give good customer service, despite a total lack of competence. It's also, in a weird way, really funny.

A mail-order pet medication company, who shall remain nameless, is supposed to have a note on my dog's records to send his meds in non-childproof containers. (Remember those? You could just twist off the cap without getting red-faced trying to press hard and twist at the same time.)

It seems like a pretty simple request--and they actually succeeded, once.

This time, the pills came in the manufacturer's bottle, which apparently doesn't have a non-childproof model. It was sealed for all eternity from everyone--except clever children--with a large cap. (See this marvel of modern engineering in the picture, bottom right.) I called the company and asked them to send me a non-childproof container, or at least a cap. The Unbearably Cheery Customer Service Rep apologized and promised to send a container.

Today I received a Fed Ex package. It was a sturdy little box that contained about two feet of bubble wrap and a zip-lock bag with one little round cap in it. I was bemused. But not as much as I was when I put the cap and the bottle together. The cap was waay too small. (See picture, lower right. It's on top of the previously mentioned childproof cap.) In fact, it's so small that it could've only been sent by someone who'd never seen the bottle.

So, a Fed Ex trip, a sturdy little box, two feet of bubble wrap and a zip-lock bag--all to transport a teeny little plastic cap. The wrong size teeny little plastic cap. Incredulity short-circuited my brain synapses.

Then I did the only thing I could. I put my hand on my forehead and laughed until tears came to my eyes. Then I wiped my eyes and put my teeny little plastic cap in the cupboard with the bottle. It oughta be good for another laugh tomorrow morning.

Maybe then I'll have enough energy to call the Unbearably Cheery but clueless Customer Service Rep again.

Or not. I could just pour the pills into the old bottle and hand write the new expiration date on it. But I really don't want to try to explain that to TSA when my dog and I board an airplane in six weeks. They might not appreciate absurdity as well as I do.

Monday, June 20, 2011

That MUST be it!

The Desert Sun is my local newspaper here in the desert. It's a skinny little thing, especially in summer after the snowbirds leave and it's just us locals they're advertising to. Having a skinny little newspaper tempts me to read every little article just to have enough reading material to get through my morning coffee.

I recently found a four-inch article (that would have only merited an inch in a larger paper) saying that my Del Webb retirement community made the short list in "Where to Retire" magazine's "Fifty Best Master-Planned Communities in the United States," which has a circulation of 200,000 nationwide. That's a jump up from its 2008 rating in the top 100.

I wonder what changed? The development hasn't added anything major and doesn't seem to be doing anything differently. Oh, but of course. 2009 is when I moved here.

That must be it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Princesses Forever!

I watched highlights of the Royal Wedding in London and was charmed. Everyone loves a Princess, especially one with a handsome Prince at her side. For one bright shiny day, I was able to feel happy and hopeful, despite headlines of terrible natural disasters and violence seemingly everywhere else in the world.

Who knew Prince William's name was "William Charles Louis (pronounced 'Louie')?" Or that the name tag on his flight suit says "Will Wales"? Who could help but smile when Princess Catherine did a little grin and slightly shrugged her shoulders after that second kiss on the balcony? Charming--and perfectly executed, all of it.

Seeing them drive off in an Astin Martin driven by the Prince himself made me want to applaud. No Charles and Diana, this couple. These two are smart, modern, savvy, and won't be pushed around.

Diana did this dynasty the biggest favor anyone has ever done: she threw beautiful genes into their pool. Then she raised her good-looking sons to be humanitarians with a sense of fun. The British Monarchy will never be the same--and that's a good thing.

Little girls love the idea of being princesses. No matter how old we get, most of us remember giddy moments pretending to be princesses in sparkly play dresses and little plastic tiaras. A good and beautiful royal wedding is just the thing to take us back to the days when we believed anything was possible.

I'm grateful for the magic. It made me forget--for a few brief moments--everything I know about the darker side of royalty and the harsh realities of today's world. Thank you, William and Catherine. Thank you, Diana.

I'm going to look for my little plastic tiara now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bees in the Verizon Box

I think Pooh Bear has nicer bees than I do. A.A. Milne wrote about bees who live in hives they've built themselves, and they only seem to bother people (and little bears) who disturb those nests.

The bees in my neighborhood prefer Verizon phone boxes that are buried near the property lines between houses. Last year the neighbor to my left had the problem. He somehow got Verizon to come out and dispatch said bees, then he battened down the lid so tight I fear Verizon technicians may never be able to open it again. This year the house to my right has acquired a bee colony. The house is foreclosed and empty, so I thought I'd be a good neighbor and report the bees to Verizon. (I suppose my phone service is supplied through one of those boxes, but I don't seem to have one inside my property line. A fact for which I am now extremely grateful.)

Why, you wonder? Come visit Verizon Online Customer Service Land with me:

Verizon Customer Service Online Chat

Your Question:

Help! A swarm of bees has taken up residence in the in-ground Verizon box between my house and the one next door.

An eCenter Representative will be with you shortly. Thank you.

Agent Jean has joined.

Who do I talk to about a swarm of bees in the Verizon box outside my house?

Jean: I will connect you with tech support.

This session is transferred to Dinesh.

Agent Dinesh has joined. (12:54:05)

Dinesh(12:54:20): Thank you for contacting technical chat support, My name is Dinesh , I see that the chat has been transferred to me and I will be glad to help you. May I confirm your telephone number as xxxxxxxxxx?


Dinesh(12:57:04): I understand that you wish to move the Verizon box installed at your place. Am I correct?

What? No! I want someone to come remove the swarm of bees that has taken up residence in it.

Dinesh(12:58:49): I understand that you wish to have a technician to remove the swarm of bees in the Verizon box. Am I correct?

…Umm, yes.

Dinesh(12:59:14): I would be glad to help you with the concern.

<This has gotta be an android…>

checks my name, address and phone number, thanking me politely for each answer. For some reason, I remember Miss Migliazzo, my first grade teacher.>

Dinesh(12:55:17): Perfect! thank you for the confirmation.

Dinesh(12:59:45): Could you please let me know if all the phone and FIOS services are working fine?

Yes, they're working fine. I'm just calling about the bees in the box outside.

Dinesh(13:00:36): Thank you for the confirmation.

Dinesh(13:01:12): Please be with me while I check with the network to provide you the best solution. Sounds good?


Dinesh(13:01:31): Thank you.

Dinesh(13:02:54): Thank you for staying online.


Dinesh(13:03:24): Could you please confirm me if it is the box inside your premises our outside your house?

It's in the ground outside between my house and the one next door.

Dinesh(13:04:38): Thank you for the confirmation.


Dinesh(13:05:19): Ideally we need to first contact the exterminator to remove the bees from the house.

Yeah, that sounds logical.

Dinesh(13:05:40): Once we are done with it, our technician will be able to check the status of it.


Dinesh(13:05:59): Thank you for understanding.

Dinesh(13:06:14): I appreciate your knowledge.

What knowledge? I don't know anything about bees!

Dinesh(13:07:49): I am sorry, I mean you are very understandable.

Dinesh(13:07:24): I have already updated it in my notes, so once you contact the exterminator and remove the bees, I will dispatch a technician to check the box. Sounds good?

What do you mean, once "I" contact an exterminator?" What happened to "we?"

Dinesh(13:09:03): I am really sorry. Our technicians will be able to fix the technical issues.

My neighbor had the same problem last year, and your company got rid of the bees.

Dinesh(13:09:54): We are always here to fix any issue related to the technical.

System Error: The network connectivity is temporarily lost. Retrying to connect…

All righty, then! I've been duly thwarted in my attempt to be a good neighbor. On the upside, there's a whole swarm of bees that is safe for now. No exterminators, no little bears. Pollinate to your hearts' content, my little friends!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Saturday Morning Full of Good Intentions

Darn. Another Saturday morning full of unrealized good intentions.

My short list had at least four semi-important items to be completed by 11 a.m., when the desert temperature climbs above 90 degrees (OK for hanging out at the pool, not so good for dragging propane tanks to the gas station for refill.) All I've actually accomplished is walking the dog. I watched a fun new TV show I TiVoed last night ("CHAOS," if you're interested, but don't get me started talking about it) although I'm not sure that counts as an accomplishment. It might even be an anti-accomplishment.

How does this Saturday morning sloth happen? Maybe 49 years of Monday-through-Friday have permanently altered my bio-clock to the point that I'll never be able to take Saturdays seriously again.

The only thing I can think of is that I must feel like I've already accomplished a lot today, including plenty of social interaction. For that I blame my computers, iPhone, FaceBook account, NetFlix, TiVo, Roku, and even my lowly landline phone. I'm so busy, busy, busy I must be accomplishing something, don't you think? Apparently, some part of my psyche labors under that misconception.

I do have a meeting to go to today that requires real, face-to-face social interaction. It's a roundtable my writer's guild is putting on about self-publishing. I'll hustle myself down there, hope I can remember how to socialize in person, and learn how to publish my writing--if I ever get away from said electronic devices to do any!

Friday, March 25, 2011

So THAT'S Why they Made Us Buy Flood Insurance!

I should stop going to lectures about the geology of the Coachella Valley. I don't think they're good for my high blood pressure.

In the last lecture I learned my home is built on an ancient lake bed about 48 feet below sea level. The gigantic lake filled and emptied several times; the native Americans say the last time it emptied was about 600 years ago. You can still see the water lines on the hills, which is kind of fascinating. Or ominous, depending on how you look at it. The lake was 100 miles long, 35 miles wide, and 100-200 feet deep.

Tonight I learned that the site of my present home was 100 feet underwater when prehistoric Lake Cahuilla* was full. (*Not to be confused with the current man-made reservoir of the same name, which is totally wimpy compared to its massive bygone big brother.) The lecturer told us how the Colorado River keeps changing course, altering hundreds of miles of landscape each time. Apparently the Gulf of California at one time extended to Sacramento. At other times, freshwater Lake Cahilla covered this area.

"Could it happen again?" I asked the lecturer.

"Sure. If we have a huge earthquake and the Colorado River reconfigures the delta, we'll have something like the tsunami that just happened in Japan."

Not what I wanted to hear.

My friends remind me that anywhere you live has some sort of natural disaster capability. Theirs is a " can run, but you can't hide" philosophy. Mine is more Chicken Little: Hide! Hide! The water is coming! (Okay, maybe not just yet. We might have 600 years to find good hiding places. But you just never know...)

I think the news footage of the recent Japanese destruction jolted a lot of Southern Californians. We live with constant admonitions to have disaster preparedness kits and be ready to evacuate on a few moments' notice. Sales of five-gallon emergency water bottles are up; so are chemical toilet and tent sales.

I can see the San Andreas fault from my back door and my house is built on sand (despite the Biblical parable.) This isn't the right place for someone who is worried about geologic unrest. And, generally, I'm not--as long as no one points it out to me. I do what most of us Southern Californians do--rush around updating my emergency supplies after an earthquake gets my attention, then settle back into life as usual.

My aunt and uncle bought one of the first houses in our development. They were befuddled by the requirement to buy flood insurance. By the time I bought my home the homeowners had rebelled against the requirement, pointing out to the Homeowners' Association that we live in a desert, as evidenced by the fact that we get six to eight feet of annual evaporation in exposed bodies of water, but only three inches of rainfall.

I guess I won't mention the ancient lake/earthquake-induced-delta-reshaping/tsunami scenario. One Chicken Little in the neighborhood is enough.

Sunday, March 6, 2011, aka Skrill, aka lost in the 70s

If you want to be labeled uncool, just talk about something you're proud of from the 70s. Such an odd era, when guys dressed in ruffled shirts, women rebeled against uncomfortable underwear, and everyone thought they were groovy if they went to "encounter groups" and knew the latest dances. And, of course, there was the women's movement.

The world has moved on and the gains made for women in the 70s are now part of the daily fabric of our lives. Or are they? I think most of us Boomer women who were vigilant in upholding the "Women's Liberation" principles are too tired to do it again today, but I see things that make me wish we still could. Five-inch heels and skin-tight clothes on young women make me cringe, but I'm glad that thanks to the legal gains made in the 70s they're free to wear them without being labeled "sluts" or having it assumed they "deserve it"if someone attacks them.

I thought the title "Ms." had become traditional. I mean, it's had about 40 years of common usage--isn't that a tradition? Today I signed up with a European emoney, aka Skrill--similar to (and better than, according to their press articles) PayPal. I was asked to put a mandatory title before my name--the choices for which were Mr., Mrs., and Miss. I called customer service and was told there was no way for me to sign up without using one of those titles. I told the woman with the lovely European accent that it was discriminatory, because it doesn't give women a choice that doesn't reveal their marital status. I asked her to send my concern to the people in charge, and I signed up as "Mr."

Self-congratulatory as I felt for my clever work-around, I was still baffled. Did "Ms." fall out of usage while I was busy aging and not paying attention? Do any young women go by "Ms."? Do they even care?

I suppose using "Ms." before my name does keep people from knowing my marital status, but maybe now it's revealing something else--that I'm an archaic throwback to the 70s. How very ungroovy!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writer's Lament

I just finished a short story for my Writers' Guild annual short story contest. The exercise taught me at least one important thing: I'd rather write several blog posts than one short story. Blogging is like chatting; short story writing is like doing a term paper. I had to use words that show the reader what'is happening( instead of telling them;) I have to look in dictionaries, thesauruses (is that a word? See--in a short story I'd have to look it up. Here, I just depend on you to know what I mean,) and the Chicago Manual of Style. I'm exhausted.

When I started working as a technical writer twelve or thirteen years ago, I attended a professional tech writer meeting and was stricken with panic at the thought I might become one of those people I met at the refreshment table debating the proper use of em dashes. (Didn't happen. Turns out I like em dashes, but not enough to debate about them.) I thought fiction writing would be different. But no--today, my critique group had a heated discussion about Point of View in writing. Heated! About grammaresque stuff! And I was right in the middle of it. Damn. I should just get my personalized GRMR GEEK license plate now.

The cool thing about fiction writing is that I get to create my world and characters. The uncool thing is that I have to juggle a lot of grammatical variables to make sure my lovely visions translate into readers' brains. Nothing brings me back to reality faster than having one of my fellow writers say, "I wasn't quite sure what was happening in this paragraph...." What? Why not? It was really clear in my mind!

Cool or uncool, it is true that since I became a writer, I haven't been able to read a sentence without trying to improve it. I almost can't force myself to use text-message-speak. Someone has to physically remove my hands from the keyboard to keep me from staying up all night, editing and re-editing my work. One wise writer told me, "At some point, you just have to say 'It's finished,' and send it off." Wise words, those.

I do my best with blog entries, but they remain easier to part with. One click of a button, and my piece is "out there," published in cyberspace. Easier to deal with at first, but more painful later when I see my errors in the finished product.

You're about to write a smug comment asking why I write if it's so painful for me. OK, I'll go with that. I write because... I can't help myself! There, I said it. I'm obsessed. I love the feeling of words falling into place to form a rippling paragraph of beauty. I love forming the pictures from my head onto paper that then transmits them other brains.

If there is a 12-step program for obsessed writers, please don't tell me about it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Get that Credit Card Away from that Kid!

I thought 24/7 shopping from home was the coolest thing ever. And it probably is, for normal people--a category to which I appear not to belong. I like the feeling of power I get being able to reach out to the world through my computer and get things delivered to my door within days. Sometimes I even still like the stuff after the thrill of shopping is gone and I'm stuck with whatever lit up my befuddled late-night brain.

I've discovered a really big drawback to my latest impulse-laden activity. Much like people who take sleeping pills and then sleep-eat and sleep-walk, I appear to have the ability to order things and completely forget about them until they arrive. Sometimes I get a clue when I print something during daylight hours and find a printed internet receipt on the printer. Sometimes I don't. Take, for instance, the hubcaps.

My venerable Camry lost a hubcap during one of my misadventures, and I decided the internet was the only logical place to look for a replacement. Or four replacements, as it turns out. (The price was great! They were coming right to my door!) I found a set of fancy hubcaps but didn't order them--I thought. Then I found the Greatest Deal ever on a set of generic imitation Camry hubcaps, with free shipping (!) Of course I ordered the Greatest Deal Ever.

My hubcaps arrived within two days and a helpful neighbor installed them for me. They really spiffed up my car. I swelled with pride at my brilliant coup. Two days later, the next box arrived. I blanched when I opened it and found the fancy hubcaps of my late-night web surfing adventures. But wait...I didn't press that "order" button...did I? In the dim recesses of my mind I seem to recollect an inner voice saying "Oh, go ahead. Get the fancy ones--you know you'll love them!" That must have been my inner child, because the fancy ones cost twice as much as the perfectly fine Greatest Deal Ever ones did. I don't remember an inner adult saying, "Stick to your budget!" (Oh, I get it. Shopping is more fun when the inner adult is asleep and the inner child has the credit card.)

My outer adult had to tape the box back up today, take it to UPS, and pay shipping and a restocking fee. She wants to have a talk with that inner child. Too bad they seem to operate on different shifts.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Move Over, Uri Geller

Sometime in the 1970s, a young guy named Uri Geller got a lot of press for his apparent ability to bend spoons with the power of his mind, never touching them with his hands. He was famous.

I might have done him one better today. I managed to break the unbreakable--a Corelle plate. I didn't use my hands to do it. I didn't drop it on the floor, either. But I''m not likely to get famous.

As I have done hundreds of times before, today I placed two corn tortillas on a dry paper towel on a plate, then covered them with a damp paper towel. I set the microwave for 30 seconds and began to rub my hands in anticipation of warm, soft corn tortillas with cheese. I was so enchanted with my vision that it took a second or two for my brain to register what was right in front of my eyes. My microwave was flashing like lightning in a far-off cloud bank. Or maybe a the embers of a dying fire. I couldn't fathom what I was seeing. I knew there was no metal on that plate; it didn't even have metalized trim. It couldn't be metal--maybe my microwave was leaving this life in a blaze of glory! I hit the "off button" and opened the door.

After the wisps of smoke cleared, I saw that my tortillas were pretty badly burned around the edges. I considered eating them anyway. (What? I was tired!) I decided against the Cajun-blackened-tortilla opportunity, sat the plate on the counter and removed the paper towels and tortillas. At the exact second I found half of a burnt metal twisty-tie tangled in one of the paper towels, a big "Crack!" noise made both my dog and me jump.

Bemused (as usual), I scanned the counter for the source of the mystery sound. Once again, my brain had trouble interpreting the image it was receiving from my eyeballs. Why was my plate split down the middle? And what was that big white sliver between the two pieces? And look, there's the other half of the twisty-tie, melted onto the shiny white Corelle!

Yeah, I eventually figured it out. Probably would've figured it out sooner if the dog could speak English--or wasn't hiding under the table.

I've learned two things from this: 1) Take tortillas out of the bag they come in as soon as I get them, put them in a zip lock bag, and throw away the twisty tie! 2) Uri Geller could have impressed a lot more people if he'd used a microwave.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Girl and Her Dog Named Hitler

I like stories about history. And stories about dogs. Getting both in one story while drinking my morning coffee is better than having a doughnut.

Could I resist this headline: "Papers: Hitler-mocking mutt dogged Nazis"? Of course not. The story only lasted through half of my coffee (much like a doughnut) but was as tasty as a chocolate mint.

It seems Tor Borg and his German wife, Josefine, in Tampere, Finland, had a Dalmatian-mix dog named Jackie who greeted people by raising his paw high in the air as Nazis did when crying "Heil Hitler!" This was not delightful to Josepfine, who hated Nazis. She started calling the dog "Hitler," which was not delightful to the Nazis.

What did the Nazis do about it? What Nazis did best--got spies to tell them the dog was mocking their psychotic little fuhrer, created 30 files, wrote diplomatic cables, considered destroying Tor Borg's pharmaceutical business, and in 1941 called the man in for an inquisition about his dog.

Borg assured them the dog was not named Hitler and that the paw raising only occurred a few times in 1933. The diplomats wrote to Berlin that Borg was lying.

In an American-made movie, pounding on the door in the middle of night followed by death and destruction would have occurred. Fortunately, it was real life in Finland. Apparently the overly zealous lower level diplomats were diverted in their crazed report writing by something else (the invasion of Russia, perhaps?) Tor and Josefine and the pharmaceutical company survived the war unscathed, according to the article by Kirsten Grieshaber in the Associated Press.

Tor lived until 1959 and Josefine until 1971. No report about Jackie. I assume he lived a long doggie life, well- fed, well-loved and posing for pictures wearing Tor's sunglasses as long as he lived.

Such a nice story.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Terrorism on the Pfizer Boomer Express

Who gets depressed watching the Rose Parade? Usually nobody--until this year. The Alzheimer's Association and Pfizer may have created a whole new parade-viewing experience for a few hundred thousand boomers--if said boomers were paying attention, which I hope they weren't.

So there I was, sitting on my couch in my jammies with my dog and a hot cuppa tea, watching the pre-recorded televised Rose Parade on my DVR. I groaned at Al Roker's corny patter, admired the equestrians, and oohed and ahhhed at the ingenious floats. Then Al said, "here comes the Boomer Express from the Alzheimer's Association and Pfizer." A float shaped like a train passed the camera.

It took a moment for the intimation to sink in. I thought the name "Boomer Express" was a bit odd and wondered why they chose it. "Boomer Express...Alzheimer's...Pfizer..." No, it can't be. Did they make a cute little faux train and convince people to ride it and wave at the camera for the express purpose of telling us boomers that Alzheimer's is likely to be in our future and Pfizer drugs are the answer? I think I actually gasped.

The audacity! The tastelessness! The great big downer in the middle of my beloved parade! Really, guys? Fear tactics in the middle of the Rose Parade? I backed up the DVR recording and watched it again. Oh yes. Terrorism on the Pfizer Boomer Express! A banner near the top of the float said, "Estimated 1 in 8 Boomers at risk."

You know what, Pfizer Dudes? Those of us who have lost a parent to Alzheimer's don't need to be reminded that something worse than the Grim Reaper might come for us. And why terrorize those whose families are as yet unscathed? Do you have a solution for them? An answer for any of us? Nope? Didn't think so. Until you do, I suggest you take down your big Pfizer banner and stop spreading fear on flower-encrusted choo-choo trains. Honestly. Did anyone at either organization actually think this through?

I stopped the DVR for a while because suddenly I had no interest in marching bands and pretty girls in long dresses. I got up from the couch and paced a little. My tea got cold and the disgruntled dog wandered into another room. I vowed to express my indignation somewhere, to someone.

The somewhere is here, and the someone is you, my two faithful readers. Did you watch the parade? Did you notice the Boomer Express? No? Oh. And I bet you're not grateful that I pointed it out, either.

Sorry. I guess I forgot my manners in my sudden fear that I might be the eighth boomer.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Crease in My Heart

I took my wedding ring off about a year ago. Sometimes, when I felt sad or vulnerable or lonely, I put it back on for a few days. But mostly it's been off. Oddly enough (or perhaps not), I still have a little crease where the gold band encircled my finger for 18 years.

When I notice it, I wistfully remember what was and is no more. The indentation is fading slowly, acknowledging the unbuilding of a life even as a new one rises tentatively. There is no calendar deadline, no indication of when the process will end. Maybe it won't.

I'm moving forward, staying positive, trying to create a tomorrow worth striving for. But the little crease on my finger reflects the one in my heart, and I know each of them will end only in its own good time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

At Last, Someone Pays Attention

We've all experienced it: the waiting room with the little chairs pushed up against each other, leaving even less room between humans than the stingy airlines deem sufficient.

You see one empty seat. On it is a purse, a shopping bag, and a jacket. The women on either side of it have their faces buried in magazines. You focus your laser eyes on them. Which of them is keeping your aching feet from relief? Aha! There it is--one of them is working hard to keep her eyes averted, pretending not to see you. Yes! She's the one.

I once signed up for a college class on Cultural Anthropology because the classes I really needed were full. It turned out to be one of the more serendipitous events of my academic career. I learned that people from different cultures have different needs for personal space, with Americans considering 3-1/2 empty feet to be their God-given right. Britishers need up to 4-1/2 feet, and Mediterranean people require only 18-24 inches, according to my professor, who grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Chicago with "garlic on his glasses".

The Prof showed us a movie in which people arranged themselves on benches as precisely as if they measured the space between them. I was convinced the people in my class and I were the only ones who ever saw that movie. Certainly not the folks who plan human containment areas.

But when I walked into the medical imaging office of my local clinic last week, I felt a shock of recognition (see picture above--doncha love it?) Somebody was paying attention! Just look at all that people-friendly space between the seats!

What a relief not to have to pretend I don't see you standing there, needing the space occupied by my stuff!

Friday, November 5, 2010

There Be Dinosaurs Here

Being in my gated retirement community is like living at the edge of an ocean. No waves, of course, (we have that hot, dry desert thing going on) but there is a definite line of delineation between species of air and water.

Species 1: working folks, mostly Hispanic, trying to make ends meet and raise their children. Species 2: wealthy outsiders, mostly white, with a strong sense of entitlement. I live on their side of the line, by freak circumstances involving the current recession..

For the most part, each species stays within their preferred environment. Well, except for daylight hours, when an army of service industry workers invade the compound to clean, polish, trim, and prune the wealthy folks' homes and gardens. I admire the invading army. They work hard and they have jobs--a commodity I still lack.

At a committee meeting today, someone noticed I was wearing scrubs and asked if I'm a nurse. I told them no, not a nurse. I'm training to be a Front Office Medical Assistant (the person who checks you in, verifies your insurance, makes your next appointment, and bills your insurance company.) I told the inquirer that I'm studying Spanish on my own and will take a class at the local community college next semester because I think I need to speak Spanish to get a job in the Coachella Valley. And I would really like to have a part time job.

A woman wearing a golf hat and a pinched expression said, "That's just the way it is now; no jobs for real Americans. You have to speak Spanish."

An actual dinosaur rising up in front of me would have stunned me less. Dinosaurs once ruled the world but evolution changed that. Wealthy old white people may still control much of the country's wealth, but I think they're losing out to the inevitable, just as their metaphorical counterparts did. I didn't tell her I'm half Hispanic. I didn't ask where her grandparents came from. I probably said something lame like, "Oh."

I did, however, think I might be running toward the wrong side of the line at the end of the day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to Divide a Lake

The story about the couple who were jet skiing on Falcon Lake on the U.S./Mexico border sent me into paroxysms of bemusement for two reasons: 1) I didn't know we had a lake that sat over the border, 2) I wonder why we haven't divided this lake up and protected our side? The Navy blocked whole California harbors from submarines during WWII--what's one little lake? An outing by a young, exhuberant couple was cut short by violence, and I just can't get over the idea that it didn't have to happen.

Re #1: who thought an open body of water right over the border was a good idea? Didn't they hear that our government wants a fence, not an open lake? After the lake was created, did they send written invitations to the drug lords, or did they just depend on them to figure it out?

Re #2: I remember seing mounds of buoys and chain at the Seal Beach Navy yard when I was a kid. I asked my mom what they were and her answer was like a fantasy adventure tale. She said the Navy used chain link nets strung across harbors on buoys to keep out Japanese and German submarines during the war. I was creeped out at the thought of an enemy submarine rising from the water where I jumped waves and screamed for joy in the summer. I was really glad the war was over.

I remember thinking there was enough chain in that Navy yard to block most of the ocean (my idea of "the ocean" at that time was Belmont Shores in Long Beach.) Why can't we do the same to Falcon Lake? I suspect those chain nets are still in Seal Beach, somewhere under the mounds of grass-covered dirt. (What? You think they're corroded by now? I dunno--some of that WWII stuff was really well-built. After all, it was American made!)

I shake my head like a dog with ear mites and hope this idea of a borderless, open lake between the U.S. and Mexico will make sense to me. But it just doesn't. We should probably ask "The Greatest Generation" how they think we should handle it. After all, they held off half the world--they just might know what to do about violent marauding gangs who use American citizens for target practice.

"Hey, mom, remember those chain nets...?"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Universe Speaks

My purse was stolen tonight. It was ancient but beloved, dilapidated but functional, and I'd been debating whether to try to find a new one or ask the shoe repair guy to replace the zipper and stitch the hole in the front section one more time. But now the Universe has spoken, and I must find a new purse.

I am very particular about the organization of the object I carry everywhere and use as a file cabinet, lunch box, and communication center. I hate rummaging in an undivided space, and am happiest when there is a compartment for everything. Not easy to find in this era of glitzy "hobo bags" that are as large as airplane carry-on bags. For now, I'll make do with my travel purse, my back-up credit card, and a printed appointment confirmation for my Department of Motor Vehicles appointment (in case I make the unexpected acquaintance of the local constabulary under unfortunate circumstances.)

Worse than contemplating carrying a less-than-perfect purse is the feeling of being incommunicado. My iPhone and Daytimer with everyone's phone numbers, addresses, and some gmails, are gone. If someone isn't in my gmail contact list or on my home phone, I may have lost them for all eternity. Sad. I like my contact people (almost as much as I like my purse.)

I spent the last three hours talking to my bank, credit card company, the police, getting my ancient flip phone charged up, and leaving a message with the locksmith to get my home locks changed. (Yes, I had duplicates of house and car keys in my purse. I've had occasion to feel smugly intelligent about that when I misplaced said keys. I'm not feeling so smart about it now.) Maybe tomorrow I'll have enough energy to set in motion the arduous process of replacing insurance, Costco, and AAA cards--and a bunch of others I can't even think about now.

Have you ever noticed that the number to call for a lost credit or debit card is on the back of the card, not on the bill? I hope you don't have to find out the way I did. One more telephone tree, and I was going to have to have to have a temper tantrum.

But life goes on and I must plod forward, if ever so slowly. Good-bye, battered old leather purse! We had some good times and some truly weird ones. I suspect you'll wind up in a dumpster somewhere with everything still inside you except the cash. So sorry. You deserved better!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Thought it was Teal...

When you live in a planned retirement community, all the houses and yards are almost fanatically groomed. Not because people are in accord about how homes should look, but because they are all in the clutches of the evil HOA (Homeowners' Association.) If you live or have lived in one of these places, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you might want to talk to a LOT of people before you consider it.

The rules are strict here. I like the uniformly maintained landscaping and not having cars parked on the street at night. I like that everyone else has to comply, of course, but I'm so darn perfect I can't understand why they want me to follow some silly rules!

For instance, yesterday it was HOT outside and I came home exhausted. There was an envelope in my mailbox from the HOA telling me I have to paint my shutters to maintain uniformity in the complex, and a separate letter telling me I have to replace the bulbs in the placket around my address. And I must do this things in 15 days, OR ELSE! (Or else what, I don't know--but I suspect it has something to do with citations, fines and possible property liens.)

I want very much to be a good citizen (a good citizen with no citations, fines or possible property liens), so I visited the HOA office and asked what manufacturer made the lovely teal paint for my shutters. One of the office Administrators looked up my model and shutter color (green), and told me I need Frazee's Strong Hunter color. "That can't be right, I said. My shutters are a lovely teal color."

The ladies in the Homeowner's Association office looked at me with pity. "Your front door and your shutters are supposed to be Frazee Strong Hunter." (What? That dark color associated with British hunts and sports cars?)

"Yessss," I said, the door IS hunter green, but the shutters voice trailed off as I realized the front door is in the shade but the shutters are in the sun. I suddenly got a mental image of what color Strong Hunter wooden shutters would be after five years of baking in the desert. They would probably be...teal. I got the mental picture at the same time that the HOA ladies started laughing.

"Sorry, honey, your lovely teal shutters probably started out as Strong Hunter, and you're going to have to paint them that color again," said the manager.

I wonder what would happen if I pretended I hadn't asked. If I just go to a paint store and get some teal paint. (Citations, fines and possible property liens, probably.) Ah, well. All I have to do is stick it out for another five years and I'll have lovely teal colored shutters again.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Seattle, Doctors, and Job Training

We were refugees from the brutal heat of the desert, so my little dog and I required very little in the way of entertainment from the friends who hosted us on our four-week odyssey in Seattle. One couple, who were immersed in one of those incredibly stressful life situations that pop up like scary monsters in horror movies, apologized for not being more available during our visit. My mouth probably dropped open in amazement. "Hey, " I said, "It's 115 degrees at my house. I live alone. I'm stuck in the house from 7am to 8pm if I don't want to wind up a pile of bleached bones along the highway. This is heaven!" They appeared unconvinced. Maybe I should try to get them to my desert in summer. They would have no doubt after a day or two of instant sweat and near heat exhaustion each time they ventured outside during the day.

There is no place in the world more beautiful than the Puget Sound region when the sun is shining. I'm glad I had a month there, because even in July and August, sunshine is not guaranteed. A one-week vacation could wind up being a gray experience. I got my share of gray days and rain--enough to remind me why I had Seasonal Affective Disorder when I lived there. I loved being with my friends and I loved the gorgeous greenery and lakes all around. But I was glad to get back to my desert sun, even in the heat. I am a fortunate person; loving two different places and being able to spend time in each of them.

While there, I visited a naturopathic doctor who has helped a friend of mine with a difficult and serious illness. I try not to get my hopes up when someone tells me they can help me with my Crohn's Disease; I've had my hopes dashed so many times. My body is not partial to the introduction of chemicals--synthetic or natural--and all drugs and herbs are essentially chemicals. The one the naturopath recommended is well tolerated and is given in small doses. What could go wrong? (I should have known better than to wonder that.) I've been taking the medication for a month now. It's hard to tell if it's working, but I have been very hopeful. Then, a couple of nights ago, I noticed my skin felt like little tiny bugs were crawling on it about an hour after I took the medication. I looked in the mirror and saw exactly what I hoped not to see: little hives breaking out on my face. This is not a new pattern for me. So I shouldn't have been surprised by it. But hope induces selective amnesia, and I'd forgotten about it. Go figure.

The only things mainstream doctors have to offer me to stop the destructive intestinal inflammation are immunosuppressants, which will--as the name suggests--suppress my immune system. "You'd better get a flu shot and a pneumonia shot before you start these drugs," said the doctor conversationally, as if he wasn't delivering truly alarming news.

I just started a training program to learn to work in the front office of a medical practice. I cringe when I think of working face-to-face with germ-laden persons who may not have a clue about infection control (Don't sneeze at the receptionist! Don't cough all over the counter!) Making myself vulnerable with some crazy drug and then going into that situation just seems wrong, somehow. But the medical field is more appealing to me than the only two other industries that are hiring in the desert: retail and hospitality. (My friends know why those aren't a good fit for me. Let's just say I' of a strong personality.)

So there you have it. I'm suffering from PTIO--Post Traumatic Information Overload (OK, so I just made that up. It fits, though.) My life is now officially a suspense story. Will the body hold out long enough to finish training and perhaps even get a part-time job? How long will an immunosuppressant work to keep down the inflammation? (Internet discussion boards suggest five years. At my age, five years whooshes by at the speed of light. I must refrain from thinking, "What then?")

I still believe good things can happen at any time. I'm not as omniscient as I once thought I was, and the Universe constantly surprises. I'll figure out what to do, move forward, and find out later if it was the right decision. It's better than tossing and turning and writing whiny blog entries at three in the morning!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Boris and Natasha

Am I the only one who noticed the weirdness in this picture of the world's most laughable Russian "spies?" Maybe everyone else is too busy looking at the sexy redheaded spy. Or wondering if it's really possible an entire country spent so much money on a few young people who couldn't bring them any information that wasn't available on the internet.

I have a daughter who worked in the movie industry and she taught me to look for the tricks in pictures. Product placement, for instance. Did you notice that every condiment is American circa 1950s and every label is turned toward the camera? Did you notice there is no salad with baby lettuces and oddly colored leaves? (When was the last time you visited a couple in this age group who didn't have one of those salads? And where's the imported beer?)

Manic smiles and 1960s style clothes may reassure the Comrades back home that they are fooling Stoopit American People into believing they are All-Americans, but they wouldn't have made it past my daughter for a minute. We probably need more movie people in the CIA.

Better yet, maybe we need cartoon people. Surely these real life Boris and Natashas could have been picked up by a good cartoon editor. (Unless...possibly all this ineptitude is an act and something more sinister was going on? Out of respect for the Russians, that's what I'd almost rather believe.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cheese, or the Lack Thereof

OK, I've been told I'd better blog or you'll all think I'm dead. I'm not dead, but I'm definitely living in an alternative universe. One in which I am not allowed to eat anything dairy, wheat, spicy, salty, or sugary. No eggs. No fiber. Also no raw vegetables, no fruits or vegetables with skins and/or seeds. "What's left?" you ask. My question, exactly.

Well, I can have cantaloupe, bananas, avocados, soft-cooked vegetables, and white rice. I can have chicken breast, turkey breast, and fish--if grilled. A little salad, if it's bibb or Boston lettuce. No coffee, tea (except herbal,) or cocoa. I could create a brave new world in my kitchen and design some sort of diet without all those things. (OK, I'm lying. I tried. I can't.)

SO...I'm searching for alternatives. I've found a vegan mayonaise that I haven't tasted yet. Nix on the white rice bread (dry and crumbly) after I almost choked on a piece of it the other day. It had almond butter (the consistency of epoxy) on it. Crumbs held together with glue. Yum.

I miss cheese the most. I read an article in which Nia Vardolous (of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding") says she lost weight when she "broke up with cheese." If hers was a breakup, well--mine's a divorce. With all the grief and lamentation that entails. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful to the companies who have spent so much time and money developing alternatives to cheese that supposedly taste like cheese and "melt great!" But I gotta tell ya, the stuff that claims to be soy cheddar just leaves me scratching my head. On what planet does cheddar cheese taste like that? Wherever it is, Scotty please don't beam me up.

So far I've added almond milk, soy creamer, a rice crispy cereal with a touch of cocoa, almond butter, and the aforementioned cheese alternatives (for which I am grateful, really I am) to my arsenal of foods designed to keep me from throwing myself in a vat of enchiladas. I can also have vegetables that steam in the bag. Some of them can actually be steamed to the prerequisite softness in said bag. But sometimes cooking them longer just makes the bag blow up. I'm about ready to bring the hose in for use on the microwave.

So you see? All is well here. I'm still alive, still trying to whack the Whack-a-Mole, and still bemused. C'mon down. I'll make you a quesadilla with some yummy soy cheese. (You're drooling, aren't you? I thought so.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Whack-a-Mole Within

I spent the last two hours crying and reading What to Eat with IBD, a book by by Tracie Dalessandro, MS RD CDN (and IBD sufferer herself). IBD stands for "Inflammatory Bowel Disease," I think. Whatever, it includes Crohn's Disease, which was supposed to have much less control over my life after my surgery last August. I spent years of painful trial and error finding out which foods it was OK to eat and which exacerbated the pain and other symptoms of this puzzling auto-immune disease. Now there is this great book that distills everything I learned, and then some. I've tried for the last nine months to forget what I knew, but I was unsuccessful, and it's all rushing back.

"You have no restrictions on your diet now!" crowed the Seattle surgeon on my follow-up office visit after the surgery. He was SO wrong! Inflammation in the digestive tract can show up anywhere at any time when you have IBD. Even removing badly affected areas doesn't mean the inflammation won't just whimsically pop up in that very spot. It's Whack-a-mole, only I don't have a mallet.

Since August I've been joyfully eating things you probably take for granted but that I had not experienced in years: grapes, peas, big salads, sesame seeds, berries, whole grain foods--in short, most of the foods that have been found to be healthy for most of you. I thought they were now healthy for me as well. It's been so nice not to feel like a freak waiting for the Mother Ship to come take me home. I started having pain and fever about six weeks ago. My new desert gastroenterologist informed me on Friday that inflammation has shown up in places it never was before, that I need to stay on medication for the rest of my life--which may be shortened if I don't take meds--despite the fact that I have severe reactions to almost every medication the ingenious drug companies have devised to save your lives.(Would it be bad form to call that Northwest surgeon and tell him just how wrong he was? Yes, I know it would. I just want to yell at someone.)

I've been feeling sorry for myself for three days now. I think that's enough. It's time to go back outside at night and look for the Mother Ship. At least the nights are warm here in the desert, so keeping a lookout isn't such a chilly business. And now I'll slip back into restrictive eating patterns that will lessen my symptoms. Yep, I'm taking responsibility for myself instead of railing at gods and doctors (who sometimes think they are gods.) Maybe it's because I'm old and too tired to make a big fuss. Maybe it's because feeling better is more important to me than insisting I don't have to follow ever-changing rules. Or it could be that I finally recognize that I'm blessed in all the ways that count, among them good health care, caring people in my life, and so much food to chose from that I can eat healthily, no matter what my dietary restrictions.

Actually, this is progress. Only three days of whining and self pity! When I first found out I had Crohn's Disease about 25 years ago, I went into denial and didn't give up foods that hurt me (tomato-based foods, nuts, pepper, spicy foods, etc.) for three years. I was cocky for 20 years thinking I was getting away with something because I didn't seem to have many symptoms without medication and I didn't have to have surgery. But chronic inflammation is insidious and comes after you with quiet persistence until one day it leaps up with a "Bwah hah haha!" and drags you into the hospital.

I thought my reward for going through surgery was that I would get to eat berries again. I guess not. ("No, no, my Sweet--you get to do all that hospital stuff and you still don't get berries and fried chicken! Bwah hah haha!") Actually, the reward was that the doctor was able to remove enough damage to keep the Whack-a-Mole creature from shutting down my digestive tract completely. I could have had the wailing ambulance experience and emergency surgery--which I may or may not have survived. (OK, maybe I should be calling that Northwest surgeon and thanking him.)

Well-intentioned people have been sending me articles and news blurbs and suggesting alternative medicines since I was first diagnosed. I actually tried some things before I realized that natural or synthetic, most of the treatments involved ingesting something--and they all made me sicker. I thought I'd learned not to get my hopes up. But did get them up this time around. Having them dashed hurts. And yet...and yet...these nine months have been glorious. I had a reprieve. I savored the giant, juicy strawberries of California spring. I reveled in blueberry buckwheat waffles. I felt happy and hopeful that my life would be so very different. It was a good run.

Now it's likely that I'll have to eat the same few well-cooked foods over and over to minimize pain and inflammation. If the past is any indication, I'll spend about a third of my time too fatigued to do anything but move from the bed to the couch and the computer. That's just the way it is with auto-immune diseases.

It's not such a bad life, all things considered. Maybe I'll just lie back and read (or write) a good book while doctors search for a mallet to knock out the Whack-a-Mole.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Of Energy Shots and Smog Certs

In an amazing show of efficiency, the AAA -recommended gas station that Smog Certified my car completed the task within their 45-minute time estimate. Lucky for me, because they had no waiting room and it was 95 degrees outside. The guys from the garage graciously placed a folding chair in front of the boxes of beer inside the air-conditioned Mini Mart for my dog and me. They must not like unconscious clients littering the gas pump area.

"What?" I said, "I can have my dog in a food mart?"

"Yes," reassured the clerk, "because we don't have any open food here" (Or anything that can really be classified as food, I thought. But being old and finally getting wise, I said nothing.)

Little Oliver was content with his head on my shoulder and I was left to admire a wall. As I sat there, bemused as usual, I realized what an amazing wall it was. On five 5-foot shelves and three rows of hooks, this wall held pretty much everything people need to live their lives--or survive a disaster. It even had four rows of baseball caps up by the ceiling in case said disaster was a big wind that knocked everyone's USC and UCLA caps clear into Arizona. Instead of getting an earthquake kit, I may just take up residence in the Mini Mart.

The bottom shelf held cans of something called "Energy Shots" (clarify this for me, anyone who has been brave enough to ingest one of these), instant lunches and packaged meals that require no refrigeration. The shelf must have sagged dangerously at some point, because someone cut a broom handle off and nailed it to the center of both lower shelves with its tip resting on the floor. The second shelf had all the things you need but don't think about until you don't have them: toilet paper, bar soap, feminine hygiene products, eye glass repair kits, baby wipes, dish soap, and hand lotion. The largesse of comfort items made the mom in me practically giddy.

Lighter fluid (a must in disaster situations--especially if you have a lighter), pocket tissues, shampoo, mousse, shaving cream, teeth whitener, and toothpaste filled the third shelf. The fourth and fifth shelves were a miniature pharmacy, with cute little packages of everything from band-aids and eye drops to aspirin and every non-aspirin pain reliever known to man. My admiration for the person who stocked these shelves grew by the minute.

The three rows of hooks above the shelves were masterpieces of architecture and ingenuity. Hanging from a variety of industrial and homemade fasteners were knit gloves, playing cards, extra brushes for electric toothbrush thingies (well, what do you call them, anyway?), batteries, lint removers, fun cameras, razors, condoms, hand sanitizer, and something called "Stain Gone."

All this, and beer too. My, my. I was having a great time imagining people gathered round my little wall after a disaster, eating packaged meals, shaving, and listening to battery-operated radios while drinking beer and waiting for FEMA. But then the guys in the garage called my name. My car was ready and it was time to relinquish the folding chair and the great view of the wall.

With many thanks for the great hospitality, I paid my bill and drove out of there in search of a place with real food that isn't preserved in fat and salt for posterity--and future archeologists. The wall is great, but it didn't entice me to buy and consume anything on its shelves. I think it might take a good strong disaster to make that stuff look more attractive to the average female shopper.

BTW, my car passed the smog certification. Just one more step in my metamorphosis back into a Californian!

Energy Shot, anyone?