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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Dog Is Smarter Than Me

Here it is a beautiful fall day, sunny with a light breeze and comfortable, only slightly-cool temperature.  About as perfect a day as you get in the Ohio River Valley, at least if you don’t count grass and ragweed pollen.  Of course, I do count those.  But Schatzie, the dog, does not. 

I sit at the computer, reading and writing, returning phone calls and emails, checking with a few friends on facebook. Hardly a substitute for real interaction.  At least a dog knows that.  He all buts gets his leash and puts it on me to take me out of the house, across the street to the park for a walk. 

The day is spectacular.  The interactions are impersonal but pleasant.  A nod and a smile to the two young women who have finished their tennis game.  A look at the woman dressed in dark, heavy clothes, more suited to another climate or several months later in the year.  She walks the path with her head buried in a hardback.  Well, that is another way to read and get a little fresh air.  Another couple of young people pass with their cell phones to their ears.  And an older couple head off briskly in the opposite direction on the path.  The woman in running shorts with a mechanical leg jutting out of the left side of her shorts opening. 

I pass some cars parked along the park road.  A match game.  Who drives the Toyotas?  Could be anyone.  The Chevy truck?  Maybe the tennis players.  They would look good in it.  The new Caddy with the fancy-schmantcy wheel covers?  I am guessing the white haired, athletic-looking man who alternates running and walking.  Or is that type casting?  I could sit on a bench and watch when they leave.

My dog may be smarter than me but he has not yet mastered an Obama-like “cool”.  The bull dog behind the iron fence bordering the park barks and snarls, trying in vain to chew his way out.  Apparently he has some unknown score to even with Schatzie.  Schatzie has avoided chasing the runners, approaching the tennis women whom he is curious about, or even barking at some earlier dogs.  But the bull dog is too much. The insults just must be returned in dog-land etiquette.

I think Schatzie is saying, as much for my benefit as his, “Hold me back.  I don’t want to have to go over there and teach him some manners.”  I hold him back.  One of the passing runners chuckles at the sight.  If I am going to teach Schatzie the art of the impersonal walk I suppose I need to get him a book or some headphones.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Feathered Entertainment

All during the summer drought birds paraded in front of our kitchen window.  Robins splashed as if the bird bath were their personal Saturday night tub. Delicate finches, gold, grey and scarlet, sipped delicately from the edge of the bath. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, he in bright crimson, she in grey with just a hint of scarlet, joined the drink fest outside our window. Mourning doves and robins took their turns.
An occasional blue jay swooped in, shushing all other birds from the bath.

No need for entertainment during breakfast, as the constant flurry of feathered activity outside our breakfast window provided endless entertainment.

Now the drought has ended. Water is plentiful and the birds no longer share our mornings. I'm tired of the rain.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Obama's On Right Track

Paul Krugman of the NY Times is right when he concurs with Obama's call for millionaires to pay a fairer share in taxes. Middle class Americans struggle to pay for housing, food, medical care and other necessities. Well educated young folks and baby-boomers nearing retirement age compete for the same low-paying jobs. Some of the unemployed have just given up hope.  Meanwhile luxury goods are the only items flying off the shelves.  As Krugman reports, income for the very rich rose 480% compared to 21% for middle income Americans between 1979 and 2005. All I can say is WOW!

Krugman is wrong when he says we don't have class warfare going on.  It's been ongoing ever since the Republicans last took the White House. George W. Bush took us into two wars, at least one on false pretenses, at the same time he cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans. He and irresponsible anti-government no-nothings eliminated the types of protections that keep our financial institutions in sound condition.

Obama took office with the horrendous mess left by his predecessor. He has made mistakes, primarily in  believing the opposition party would behave rationally and compromise in the best interest of the  greater good.

Our infrastructure is crumbling.  Look at  Kentuckians and Hoosiers who can't cross the Sherman Minton bridge on I-64. Two old bridges left to try to handle traffic that was outstripping all three. And that is just one of many examples you could consider. We need more government spending on some of these public structures and services  rich and poor alike use.

About time someone considered the greater good and looked out for a class other than just those with millions to hire high-priced lawyers and lobbyists already fighting in this class war. 

Let's cheer for Obama asking millionaires to pay a little bit closer to their fair share in taxes.  Maybe we could even have another bridge to cross the Ohio River,

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Celiac Disease: the Alien Within; Gluten Free the Answer.

I've had lots of people ask me about gluten-free eating, which is what i do.  So here is the back story of why, how and how great it is.

Celiac disease, the result of a serious immune reaction to gluten, has increased dramatically in the last half century according to recent research by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

I am one of those statistics.  Several years ago, after surgery for a spinal problem, a breast cancer scare that proved to be an error, and in the midst of my mother’s final decline, I developed serious gastrointestinal issues. 

As in, whatever I ate produced the feeling I had swallowed the Alien from the movie of the same name.  And the monster was attempting to crawl out through my chest wall.  Furthermore, unlike Sigourney Weaver, I did not have the strength to fight the Alien if it should emerge.  I was fatigued.  Every body part, even my eyes, hurt.

 The first episode occurred after eating Mexican food at a new restaurant.  I considered the usual suspects.  But food poisoning was unlikely given my then three-year-old granddaughter had been eating off my plate and was as bubbly and healthy as ever. 

Repeated doctor visits and medical tests indicated a stomach irritation and the appearance of some tell-tale signs of celiac disease.  However, the biopsies for ulcer and celiac came back negative, as did the test for reflux.  The doctor suggested, since celiac disease would mean a major life-style change, we should first try to rule out other things.  He put me on an expensive acid reducer, of which my insurance company reluctantly reimbursed a portion.  The doctor also suggested a low-acid diet, which I followed.  All to no avail.  I continued to feel as if the Alien had taken up residence in my chest cavity and I was barely crawling through my life. 

Of course, I denied any of my stomach problems could be the result of stress or the fact I was making regular long distance trips to visit my dying mother while I still had not fully recovered from the problems necessitating the spinal surgery.  But with all the things going on in my life, my psychologist-husband thought stress as a possible cause should not be overlooked.  I figured, of course, what would a psychologist-husband say?

After several months, the medications and low acid diet still did not show any results except my getting closer to meeting my deductible.  My gastroenterologist suggested I try a gluten-free diet.  Even though the biopsy had not confirmed celiac disease, he said the best way to find out if gluten was the culprit was to avoid eating gluten.  I said, “What, no medication, no magic pill to cure celiac disease, if that is what this is?”

His reply was “No. It is entirely treated with a gluten-free diet.”  The doctor suggested I check on-line and I would find plenty of information about celiac and gluten-free eating.  I thought I knew what gluten free meant and stopped eating bread, pasta, and anything with wheat obviously in it.  I followed that diet for two weeks.  I still felt awful.  The only good thing was I was losing weight.  I was afraid to eat anything because everything I ate fed the Alien life-form within me.

So, I did what I should have done to start with.  I undertook more thorough research on gluten.  Turns out gluten free does not just mean no pasta and bread.  Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other common grains, is in almost everything packaged or canned, unless it specifically says “Gluten Free”.  Campbell’s canned chicken broth contains gluten.  As do many salad dressings, sauces, mixes, soy sauce, vinegars, beer, alcohol….You name it.  If it comes in a box, can, or jar and does not say “gluten free” it probably contains gluten.  So again, I began a two week gluten-free trial.  But, this time, it really was gluten free.

After two weeks I still did not feel well.  But I was so desperate I kept with the gluten-free diet another week.  And I finally started to feel better.  Along with feeling better came the realization that I did, in fact, have celiac disease.  For the first week I let self pity wash over me: mourning the pizza, cakes, sweet rolls, bagels and fresh breads I would never eat again.  However, the self pity did not last long.  The longer I avoided all gluten the better I started to feel.

 Contrary to some of the hand-wringing, hardship accounts of living with celiac disease, and my doctor’s prediction of how difficult it would be to eat a gluten-free diet, I learned in a relatively short time to love the gluten-free life.  You may have heard people say illness or difficulties can turn out to be a blessing.  Yeah, I know, the amazing power of rationalization.  So you probably think that is what is going with me when I say, I’ve never been healthier than since I “came down” with celiac disease, had it diagnosed and changed my diet to gluten-free foods.  But it is true.

  There are gluten-free mixes, breads and pastas.  The pastas are OK but the breads for the most part are unpalatable.  Rather, I have learned the easiest way to eat gluten free is to prepare my own food.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free.    Not only are the meals I prepare gluten free, but they are lower in sodium, which recent reports indicate is vastly over-represented in the typical American diet.  I now often and easily fix meals with fresh ingredients, even fresh herbs and spices, but without excessive salt, added preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, or excessive or unhealthy fats.  And the food tastes better.

You might think dining out is a problem.  I have found, on the contrary, most restaurants readily will serve a gluten-free meal: fish or meat, simply grilled, with vegetables and salad, leaving off the extra sauces.  I just need to make the request and make clear gluten is a serious health issue for me, even in trace amounts. 

In my research about this autoimmune disease, I have learned there is much more gluten in our diets now than there was a generation ago.  People of northern European ancestry often have a predisposition towards developing celiac.  Times of stress, physical or emotional, frequently will trigger the development of celiac. (So, much as it pains me to admit, my psychologist-husband was right.) 

Once you have celiac disease the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.  Untreated celiac disease can produce a variety of symptoms and serious health issues.  And the average time from onset to diagnosis is often much longer than the six months it took to identify my illness. 

Now, after more than a year on a gluten-free diet I have never felt better.  I have easily maintained the weight loss even though I eat an abundance and variety of foods: fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and dairy.  Not only can I walk in the park, swim laps at the pool and keep up with an exercise class, but I ENJOY those activities and fully partaking of life’s adventures.  Perhaps coincidentally or perhaps the combination of weight loss, increased exercise and a more healthful diet, but my blood pressure has dropped so dramatically my internist has taken me off the two medications for hypertension she previously had prescribed.

I count myself lucky to be one of the “sufferers” of celiac who has immediate and strongly adverse symptoms to gluten.  As a result, I have no desire to cheat on my gluten-free diet.  A bite of even the most wonderful bread or donut does not compare with how good it is to feel strong and healthy.  How much nicer it is to have celiac disease.  Really.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


A man and woman in bed, man sitting up, obviously awake. Woman on her side, sleeping.
Man: “Honey, are you awake?”
Woman: “Huh? What?” Pause. “What do you want?”
Man: “Are you awake?”
Woman: “I am now.” Pause. “I was just in the middle of a dream. It was so real. I was playing an insect on stage.”
Man: “What did it sound like?”
Woman: “What did what sound like?”
Man: “Playing an insect. Is it like a trombone, or more like a violin?”
Woman: “I wasn’t playing a musical instrument. I was an actor, playing an insect, on stage.”
Man: “Oh.” pause. “So, if you are awake when are you getting up to make breakfast?”
Woman: “How about some grass?”
Woman gets out of bed and starts to pull up grass from around the bed.’
Man: “We had that yesterday.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happy Feet

Skele-Toes or Stilettos?

I’ve had a strange day.  I suppose it actually started to be strange the night before.  Excited to hear from a friend and fellow reader that Scott Turow recently had released a new novel, I downloaded to my Kindle a sample of “Innocent”, the sequel to “Presumed Innocent”, a Turow thriller made into the memorable movie with Harrison Ford and Bonnie Bedalia. 

Actually, Turow’s “new” book is not so new after all.  I not only had bought it in hardback and read it, but that had occurred so long ago I had forgotten the title.  At least I didn’t buy the book twice.  One good thing about Kindle—the opportunity to try a sample before buying.  And if I already had bought the book on Kindle and archived it, some magic memory in the device or elsewhere, tells me I already have bought it.  So I guess that makes two good things about Kindle.

Today I drove to the Zappos outlet store in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.  My Internet search had revealed this outlet store as a good place to buy heavily-discounted, comfortable shoes.  I should have known what to expect when the huge parking lot for this very out-of-the way outlet store was crammed packed. 

Walking into the store I was agog.  I had come looking for a pair of walking shoes for an upcoming trip.  Only to be greeted by rows and rows of greatly-discounted, supremely-unbelievable and extraordinarily-unwearable high-heeled shoes.  One prettier than the next.  

Even though I had no intention of buying or wearing something that uncomfortable, of course, I had to try on a few of the four and five inch heels .  The bad karma for my hubris was just waiting around the corner for me.  Silver, baubles, satins, suede and every type and style of heel, row after row, grouped only by size.  An occasional ugly duckling, which might be wearable, hidden in between.  Like looking for a plain needle in a pretty hay stack. 

To make the hunt more difficult, I was looking for 7 and a ½ wide.  Bone chips or a deformity, depending on which orthopedist I choose to believe, makes the ball of my right foot hard to fit into a medium width.

After an hour’s efforts and reshelving the rejects as the store’s signs requested, I had selected three pairs as possibilities: one pair, mid-heel black pumps for upcoming parties and events; one pair, Mary-Jane flats with cradle soles and comfortable inner soles; and one pair of tan moccasins, sort of dressy and more or less comfortable. 

 I kept on the moccasins, about which I was still undecided, and went off to check out the extra-marked-down racks of athletic shoes.  The sale shoes were in no particular order, even by size, so it took some hunting.  A couple might fit, so I took them back to where I had left the two pairs I had decided on, as well as the tennis shoes I had worn for this adventure.  And they were all gone.

After some searching and panic, I found a store clerk who confessed he probably had reshelved my selections in an effort to keep the store tidied.  And he also had put my used Easy Spirit walking shoes with $90 orthopedic inserts, into a box and somewhere onto the racks.  The next 45 minutes or more were lost in a blur of frantic searching to find at least my own shoes and expensive inserts.  By then the store’s moccasins were starting to hurt.  At least I had decided not to purchase those, assuming I could find my own shoes again.

All’s well that ends well.  No one had purchased my Easy Spirits so I was able to leave in my own shoes.  After another exhausting search, I found the two other pair that had fit.  They actually were size 7w, not 7and a ½ w, as I had thought.  I bought those two pairs, at the advertised 50% discount, with the clerk graciously giving me his additional “friends and family” 10% discount.  A fairly happy ending to my shoe-shopping expedition.  

On the way home, I decided to take a short detour to Shoe Carnival, another discount shoe store.  “The Carnival” appeared closed as they had no outside tables, no obnoxiously loud music blaring into the parking lot and their windows were almost dark.  On entering I discovered Shoe Carnival is still open, though all the pretty, unwearable stilettos seem to be in Shepherdsville.  I tried on a few pair of sensible shoes, keeping close track of my own shoes now that I was alerted to the possibility store personnel might decide to add them to the inventory. 

Nothing grabbed me as being particularly noteworthy, unusually comfortable or worth my spending more money on shoes.  But, as I headed out, I spotted some very unusual looking shoes: Skele-Toes.  They were totally different and as far removed as is possible from the pretty stiletto swans of Zappos: about as ugly, strange contraptions with molded rubber soles as I have ever seen; the toes separated into four neat compartments and defined by bright markings.  Though they did have all black pairs which deemphasized the strange toe pockets.

I tried on a pair of Skele-Toes, with purple highlights.  I figured if I was going to wear something this ugly I might as well own the look.  I have worn them ever since.  Their name reminds me of Skeletor, the villain who took on He-Man, when afternoon cartoons amused my sons many years ago.  Wearing the incredibly comfortable Skele-Toes I think I could take on He-Man too.  What a strange and fun day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kudos to David Jones

Humana’s co-founder, David Jones, has stepped up and offered a $10 million loan to get a new bridge built across the Ohio River.  He is quoted as saying “Sometimes one must do what is required.”  Let’s see some of our civic and public leaders also now do what is required and take him up on his generous offer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You Won’t Be Crossing this Bridge When You Come To It

The Sherman Minton Bridge’s suddenly closure due to the discovery of serious cracks created a crack in the fabric of commerce and community of the 1 million plus people of Louisville, Kentucky and southern Indiana.  Not to mention all the other folks who are just passing through.

The result: traffic in and between Louisville and its neighboring community across the Ohio River has become a nightmare.  Of course, much less of a nightmare than it would have been if the first indication of the compromised status of the bridge had been its collapse.  Lots of suggestions and finger-pointing about the failure to have another bridge or two constructed in the last several decades also has resulted.

Everything from the quaint but somewhat impractical suggestion of redeploying ferries across the river to the solution of telecommuting for those who can utilize high-tech options, are among the suggestions.  Bicycling and walking are great ideas while the weather is as pleasant as it is today.  But both will lose their draw for all but the hard core once the weather turns cold or wet.  And, despite all the talk, if the bridge cannot be readily and quickly fixed, traffic will continue to be a mess as people try to cross the river for essential destinations like work and school.  Other commerce between the areas is bound to suffer as people choose to avoid non-essential travel.

I was and still am in the camp that does not relish tolls for a new bridge.  Tolls are another method of slowing traffic, annoying travelers and imposing additional charges for things government should provide to its citizens as part of the package of services anyone but a Libertarian expects.  But in this limited circumstance, perhaps a stiff toll for those crossing the river by bridge in a single-person vehicle would be the incentive needed to encourage car-pooling and use of public transportation to cross the river. 

Traffic is already stalled--so a toll collector would not slow the flow of otherwise speedily moving traffic.  And info on Tarc bus routes and schedules as well as car-pooling could be provided by the toll collectors.  Maybe the additional cost of the toll and the info would be the encouragement enough people need to make the choice that will benefit them and the rest of the crowd.  

Car pooling creates a little extra hassle for those who do it and very little reward—that is, unless a lot of people choose to participate.  But if we add an additional incentive, such as a toll for non-car-poolers, enough people might choose to take on the extra effort to join a car pool, resulting in easing traffic congestion.  I’m sure economists could put this in some high sounding technical terms about incentives for the public good where there is a disincentive to the individual.  However you label the proposal, it’s common sense to find a way to encourage car pools, particularly under these circumstances.

This toll proposal in no way endorses a long term-toll on a new bridge.  Nor does it excuse the civic leaders who could not get their acts together and build another bridge or two, or some other public transit option, to traverse the Ohio River sometime in the last century. 

We have about half a million more people living in the Louisville metro area than we did when the Sherman Minton Bridge was built.  It’s common sense we now need more ways to cross the Ohio River than when that bridge was built.  The immediacy of this latest problem just makes it more urgent that we exercise some of that common sense.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Parrotheads and Polkas

Where have I been lately, you ask?  Well, not writing on my blog.  But the good news is I have a few adventures to write about.  For starters: concerts: Jimmy Buffet and Gillian Welch.  Different music different venues and different audiences.  But both lots of fun.

Buffet is loud, fun and all –round happy.  Welch is more melancholy and sweet.  Audiences for both are diverse and multi-generational. And we heard both in Cincinnati.

To paraphrase Jimmy, don’t try to describe a Parrothead concert if you haven’t seen one.  And the Parrotheads were out in full force at River Bend and surrounding parking lots.  Along with pirates and beach styles, and all the sorts of festivities you might expect at the infield of Churchill Downs on Derby Day, which is to say sort of a frat party with a beach theme. 

A couple near us, much older man and much younger woman with a youngster in tow, struck us as particularly unlikely Parrotheads.  The child in particular seemed out of place, bored and sort of miserable.  His sleepiness, despite the loud music and boisterous crowd, stirred a long-forgotten memory of accompanying my parents and their friends to German beer halls for polka dances.  I learned the polka as well as a number of other standard dances, twirling on my father’s toes until exhaustion overcame me. Then I and the other kids would find a pile of coats on which to sleep in a relatively quiet corner.  This child had no such luxury as there was no pile of coats or relatively quiet corner. Instead his adult parents/ guardians/ whatever, gave him various electronic devices to try to amuse him while they swilled beer and perhaps ingested other substances.

The Welch concert attracted a different but also interesting mix.  In the smaller Moonlite Gardens venue, mixed groups of multi-eras, some toted babes in arms or trailed toddlers.  The crowd sat at tables and in the balconies, and stood on the floor, clapping and participating in the music.  No less enthusiastic than Jimmy’s fans, the Gillian crowd did not come in costume, unless you count the young women in maxi- or mini-skirts, wearing cowboy boots. 

One young blond in tight jeans invited my husband to dance.  And all I could do was smile and laugh.  You see, she was very young, thirteen or fourteen—months, not years.  She toddled over several times, extending her hand to my spouse of almost forty years, and waited for him to twirl her around in time to the music.  All evening the sweet toddler had been exploring the dance floor, the tables, and everything of interest, followed closely by one or both of her watchful parents.  And just when I expected the toddler to drop from exhaustion she decided to pick a dance partner and start twirling. 

While I have not been writing the last couple of weeks I also have enjoyed a visit from one of my sons and his family, complete with two beautiful young grandchildren.  And I had the fun of helping another grandmother take her toddler grandchildren swimming.  All of that exquisite fun resulted in my need to sleep nearly around the clock for several days to regain some semblance of strength.  

Dorothy’s Idea of the Day
While resting it occurred to me: If we could successfully harness a fraction of the toddler or child energy bubbling forth in our midst we would have no energy crisis.  Maybe we need to rethink the child labor laws.  And also consider which concerts are good for children and which it would be better to leave the children at home with a babysitter.