Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lies, damned lies, and the internet...

I'm home sick. I'm REALLY sick. Upper respiratory crud with headache, cough, chills, and fever, 'nuff said.

So I was really in no mood for a *$*#*@! "helpful" email that turned up in my inbox today, bashing Obama, purportedly giving the "real" story on his visit to Afghanistan, supposedly from a soldier serving in Afghanistan. The jist of the drivel was that Obama "shunned the opportunity to talk to Soldiers to thank them for their service" and "really he was just here to make a showing for the American's [sic] back home that he is their candidate for President". The writer finished by saying, "I just don't understand how anyone would want him to be our Commander-and-Chief [sic]". Uh-huh. That may be the only honest statement in the email. And while I'm at it, for what it's worth, Article Two of the Constitution establishes the President as commander-IN-chief of the armed forces, not commander-AND-chief. The icing on the cake was an Einstein quote at the bottom of the email: 'The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who do nothing about them'.


Not wanting to be included in that group,
I considered it my civic duty to find the Snopes article pointing out that the report is false and totally outrageous, part of a chain email campaign smearing Obama. The Snopes article is accompanied by photos (one of which I've included here) and a video that belie the accusations.

I cut and pasted the link, with a note asking people to please check it out before disseminating the misinformation any further, and hit "Reply All". And if that ticks people off...well, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

intimations on mortality...

I wear contacts, and about a month ago, when two lenses unexpectedly and inexplicably tore within a day of first using them, I realized I was down to my last pair. As it’s been a little over 2 years since my last eye exam, I knew that 1-800-Contacts was not going to send me any more lenses without a new prescription. Earlier this year I’d tried to make an appointment with the optometrist who’s examined my eyes regularly since I first needed reading glasses, about 15 years ago, but I gave up going back to her when, in response to my requesting that the office schedule enough time for me to be fitted with two different types of lenses, as they’ve done previously, I was told I’d have to make two separate appointments. This is the same office that overcharged me a couple of years ago when Chris was still on my insurance and both he and I had eye exams within a week of each other. At the time, I thought I was paying too much, but the receptionist insisted that was what I owed, so I didn’t argue. I learned I’d been overcharged over a year later, when I went in for another eye exam, and a different receptionist cheerfully told me I had a $150+ credit on my account. I like the doc, but she's open until 6:00 one night a week, and between the poor bookeeping and that, given her hours, the new policy of requiring two separate appointments to be fitted with two different types of lenses meant I’d have to take two afternoons off work or telecommute for two days to have an eye exam and be fitted for contacts, I decided it was time to find a new doc. My oldest brother has glaucoma, and one of my sisters has a serious eye disorder in one eye, so I decided to see an ophthalmologist instead of an optometrist. Looking through providers on my insurance plan, I found a board-certified ophthalmologist with real extended hours (Saturdays!) and an office a couple of miles from my house. I went to see her this week.

I didn’t like her staff any better than the staff in the optometrist’s office. After a long wait, I had a brief vision test with my contacts in place, then I removed them and we repeated the test, after which a twenty-something asked me to follow her through the maze of the waiting room to a long, narrow room in the back of the office. The room was like a narrow bowling alley, lined with chairs on either side, half of which were occupied by patients avidly watching Court TV, which was blasting from a television set at the end of the room. “Sit there,” the twenty-something said, indicating a chair next to a rather elaborate machine, “and tilt your head back!” She came toward me with a bottle of drops. I knew she was going to put them in my eyes, but I couldn’t resist asking, “What are those?” “Numbing drops,” she said, sounding incredibly bored as she squeezed them into my eyes. Uh-huh. They stung like crazy for a moment before they worked their magic. She then proceeded to clean the tip of a wand-like instrument that appeared to have a needle at the end of it…at least that’s what it looked like to me, because without my contacts in, although I can see across a room just fine, everything up close is a blur…and I was rather alarmed when she brought this needle-like object toward my eyes. Don’t move,” she commanded. Ha! No danger of my moving with that thing directly in front of my eyes. One eye at a time, she touched it to both my eyes and/or eyelids, with everything numb and unable to focus, I couldn’t tell which. To my relief, it didn’t hurt. “What does that do?” I asked, when she was done. “It measures your pressure,” she said. After that, she dilated my eyes and I sat with all the other patients, watching Court TV and waiting to be examined.

Eventually, it was my turn, and I went into yet another room where I met the ophthalmologist. In spite of the wait and the impersonal attitude of her staff, I liked the doc immediately. She introduced herself using her name rather than her title, and was very matter of fact and down to earth. She examined my right eye first, and then, as she examined my left eye with the ophthalmoscope, she asked how long since my last eye exam (a little over 2 years), whether my eyes were dilated then (yes). She said, “Your left optic nerve is a lot bigger than the right, did you know that?” “No…what?” I asked. She said, “There’s a deepening of the cup, with a widening of the cup-to-disc ratio, in your left optic nerve…” When I got home and googled it, I learned that the textbook term is “glaucomatous changes in the optic nerve”. She tried to reassure me. She told me not to be alarmed, that my IOP 's (intraocular pressures) were normal. She didn’t tell me that there’s a kind of glaucoma called “normal tension glaucoma”, but she did ask me to find out whether my brother's pressures were normal when he was diagnosed, and she said that because pressures tend to fluctuate in accordance with circadian rhythms, and be lower in the afternoon, she wanted me back in a week or so first thing in the morning, to check my pressures at that time and also to do a couple of hours of visual field tests, etc.

Uh-huh. We made the appointment then and there. At work the next day, I told my boss and said I’d need to go back for another exam. She said fine, but I couldn’t miss a meeting she’d scheduled…of course, it conflicted with the time of the appointment, so I called to reschedule and learned the next available is in a month. I took that, and come hell or high water, I’ve blocked out the time on the office calendar and I’ll be there.

Changes in the optic nerve…shoot. I haven't noticed any changes in my vision, and that's good. Best case scenario is that I don’t yet have glaucoma; next best is that we’ve caught it early, and that with regular monitoring and meds, we can slow down any changes and keep them from progressing. And that said…I’m grateful it’s one eye, not both. I’m grateful that this didn’t happen when I was younger (there are children, even babies, born with glaucoma). And I’m grateful to live in a time when there are ways to slow down and maybe even prevent the vision loss that used to be inevitable with glaucoma.

Monday, July 21, 2008

so boho...

Big house, big car, back seat, full bar.
Houseboat won't float. Bank won't tote the note.
Too much stuff. There's just too much stuff.
It'll hang you up, dealing with too much stuff.

Hangin' out on the couch puttin' on the pounds.
Better walk, run, jump, swim. Try to hold it down.
You're eatin' too much stuff, too much stuff.
It'll wear you down, carrying around too much stuff.

Hundred dollar cab ride, fogged in, can't fly.
Greyhound, Amtrak, oughta bought a Cadillac.
Too much stuff. Too much stuff.
It'll slow you down, fooling with too much stuff.

Delbert McClinton, Too Much Stuff

I got this online ad from CB 2 and I have to admit, it took me back, to the days when I was a bride, living so boho in a coach house that we'd rented, behind a row house on State Street, in Chicago in the early 70's. We had brick walls that I'd painted white like the wall in the ad. Very rustic and pretty, but incredibly cold in the wintertime...no insulation. There were bars on the windows of the coach house, and they were essential because our front door, a heavy metal door (also uninsulated) opened onto the alley. We gave a lot of dinner parties in those days, which is interesting when I look back on it, as heaven knows I didn't know how to cook...but that didn't discourage me. We served lots of liquor, and the conversation was always lively, and if anyone noticed I couldn't cook, they were polite enough not to mention it. One cold, rainy November night when we were throwing a party, one friend making his way through the rain-soaked alley to our front door spotted what appeared to be a puppy, gamely swimming in the fast moving, icy water in the alley. Horrified and intending to rescue it, he stooped down and made kissing sounds, trying to encourage it to come to him...which it did...no puppy at all, but a big, fat, very much alive Chicago rat! Yipes! He narrowly escaped getting bit. But back to CB 2...all of us were broke in those days. There wasn't much in the way of inexpensive but stylish merchandise. Pier I existed, but there was no IKEA, and if Target was around, it wasn't anywhere near us, right in the city. Crate and Barrel existed, too, in a small, two story building on Wells Street in Chicago, where the merchandise really was displayed in crates and barrels filled with sisal...and upstairs were bolts and bolts of beautiful Marimekko fabrics.
I remember buying remnants and sewing a tablecloth and napkins. Our furniture, and the furniture of most of our young married friends, consisted mostly of things cast off by others that still had some usefulness. Our kitchen table was an old drafting table that we'd polyurethaned to protect the surface, but still, it was nothing more than a piece of wood on a cast iron pedestal, and a cat jumping onto the surface in the middle of the night would never fail to send the toaster and anything else we'd left out on it crashing to the floor, along with the cat, as the table top slammed into a vertical position. That always brought both of us bolt upright out of a sound sleep. Our tv (no cable, it goes without saying) sat on a metal milk crate. (On Sunday nights, we never had anyone over because we ate dinner quietly, watching Masterpiece Theatre.) Our dining room table was actually a rather nice oversized desk, but as it was too short for anyone to sit comfortably at, it was inevitably stacked up on books, to make it higher, and if a guest had too much to drink and slammed a fist on the table, making a point, it wasn't unheard of for a corner of the table to topple off the stack of books, to the general hiliarity of everyone present. I don't remember ever feeling deprived by not having lots of pretty things. If anything, I enjoyed the occasional splurge at Crate & Barrel that much more...I treasured the 4 onion soup bowls we bought one Saturday afternoon (my early ventures in cooking began with soups), and in fact I still have them in a cupboard.

Times have changed. Most young marrieds in this country begin their lives with much more material stuff...and with stuff of course comes debt...neither of which any of us had when we started out. Today I have a house filled with beautiful things, and cupboards filled with beautiful dishes and glassware, and yet I never give dinner parties anymore, nor do I know anyone my age who does. Do the young people who frequent CB2 and IKEA and Target invite their friends in, to eat and drink and talk into the night together? I hope so. Because when I think of those times, sometimes it seems to me that people were more connected, and despite (or maybe because of) the lack of STUFF, we spent more time simply enjoying each other's company.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Great Mandala...

Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time
Win or lose now
You must choose now
And if you lose you've only wasted your life...
The Great Mandala by Peter Yarrow

How can it possibly be Sunday night again? I feel as if my life is hurtling by at breakneck speed...and I wonder what I’m doing. Friday I telecommuted because in the afternoon I needed to take my car in to have keyless entry and floor mats installed. I’ve never had keyless entry, and I admit, I think it’s really cool, and I’m glad I got it. I got the dealership to do it for free quite by accident...the salesman wanted to sell me the car on the spot, and I said I wanted to think about it. We were close on price, just wheeling and dealing details...he asked what it would take to seal the deal then and there, and I suggested he throw in keyless entry, a $600 option. To my amazment, he did. Who knew? But Friday morning was endlessly frustrating, because I could not get my laptop to connect to the VPN at work. It’s always connected in the past with no problem, but in the past few months we’ve received endless security patches at work, and a colleague said that she’s had trouble connecting remotely since IT has been installing all these patches. I called IT, and we did all the usual...meaning, shut down both my laptop and PC as well as router and modem...disconnect everything...wait a few minutes...reconnect...reboot...my PC was fine, but nada with the laptop. Finally, the IT guy told me I needed to call my internet service provider. I refused, because I could imagine that conversation with Time-Warner: “What’s the problem, ma’am?”
“Well, I can’t connect my laptop to the VPN at work”.
“Can you connect your PC to the internet?”
“Yes, no problems there”.
“Is your cable working?”
“Yes, just fine.”
“And we can help you how, exactly?”....

Lucky for me, I’d logged over 40 hours when I left work on Thursday, so I’m not turning in PTO for Friday, but I will be calling the service desk first thing tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, on the homefront, I did laundry, including ironing (yeah, I still iron...I wear a lot of linen in the summertime)...ran errands, picked up a prescription...and reminded myself I need to transfer all my prescriptions to mail order...I loathe going to the pharmacy...picked up a new soak hose for the east side of the house...stopped by Crate & Barrel, where they were dumping the remainder of their summer sale items, and bought two outdoor sconces for the patio that I’ve been wanting for a couple of years, but they were too expensive...I got both for less than the price of one, because I got the two remaining floor samples. I love to shop, but only if I can get a good deal. My house is furnished almost entirely with Pottery Barn & Crate & Barrel floor samples. I think in another life I must have been a hunter-gatherer...I think shopping for bargains uses all the same instincts.

Things are changing at work. The company’s been bought by another Big Pharma, and there are new people in place at the top. There are lots of rumors and a great deal of discontent. I’ve been asked to lunch almost every day in the past few weeks, by various colleagues, and most of the time I’ve gone...but I don’t know if I’ll continue to do so. I’m sort of “lunched out”. I’m such a grind...usually I just go to work and work straight through. I have a high volume of work and there’s no other way to keep up with it. Not that I haven’t been keeping up since I’ve been going to lunch, but it means staying later to make up the time...and I’m sort of tired of that. I’m a little discontented myself. What I do seems so pointless...I guess that’s what really troubles me. I shouldn’t complain, I know. There are many people who don’t have jobs at all, or who certainly don’t have positions where they can, if need be, telecommute on occasion...in so many ways, this is a “good” job...but empty...incredibly empty...and so maybe it’s not so surprising that I dislike Sunday nights, the eve, always, of getting back on the merry-go-round...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

all that Jazz...

So Saturday evening I bit the bullet and bought a new car. I bought a 2008 Honda Fit, known in Europe as the Jazz...and I have to say, I think I'm going to like it. Here it is, in front of my house...well, that's my neighbor's house in the background...I was standing in front of my house to take the pic. No sunroof (because that's not an option on this car), but I did get a stick, and the 1.5 Liter, 16-valve VTEC 4 cylinder engine is peppy...and get this, there is NO TIMING BELT! Is that cool or what? (There's a timing chain instead...different beast altogether). 34 mpg highway, 5 star safety rating, and it made Car & Driver's 10 best list for 2007 & 2008...

I have to confess, this is a big change for me. Emma is a convertible...and a loaded convertible (albeit a VW!) at that. Heated leather seats, alloy wheels, yada yada yada...but, like me, Emma is getting old...as in, 9 years, over 150,000 miles old...and it's time to let her go. Still, having driven Emma all these years, there was a certain expectation as to what I'd buy next. Xander put it best (of course): when Kath told him I was getting a new car, he said hopefully: "Is Judi's new car gold with no top?" Well, no, but it came very close to being chili pepper red with white racing stripes and no top...I'm smitten with the convertible MINI, which also gets great mileage...but after some soul searching, I decided the MINI is not really a commuter car, and I need to go with practical this time around. I test drove a MINI on Thursday, and although I loved the way it handled (they DO drive like go-carts!) there were some things that gave me serious pause. For starters, I was lower to the road, and the interior of the car, plus the pizza shaped side mirrors, although cute, didn't begin to provide the driver visibility of either Emma or the Fit (which I'm thinking I may call Ralph). With the miles I drive, I want the best visibility I can have. There's no question the MINI is a cooler, sexier car than the Fit, but price was also a consideration, with base price for the convertible MINI a whopping 50% higher than base price for the economical Fit...and my backyard still needs to be landscaped, and the siding on my house needs to be replaced or, at the very least, repaired, sooooooooo...in the end, I decided to be practical. The MINI is on hold for now. Who knows, in a couple of years, maybe I'll find a used one with low mileage to tool around the neighborhood in...but for now, I'm going to enjoy my Fit. Did I mention it has a CD player? One that doesn't turn up its nose at American CD's? And it has working AC...hallelujah! It was blowing cold air on my toes as I drove around this afternoon. And look at all the room in the back: this is Kath, who's just under 5'11", checking out the cargo space, without engaging the Magic Seat, which, when flattened, provides 41 cubic feet of cargo space...handy for hauling home loot from IKEA, as well as Crate & Barrel & Pottery Barn floor samples, with which my house is abundantly furnished...

Soooooooooo...happy driving.