Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mother Nature Will Win Every Time

When you live in the woods, you live close to nature. We have no grass and have carefully selected our plants. We have plants that are native to the area and generally not attractive to the deer, rabbits, and other nibblers.

There is an exception. I love camellias. I have loved them all my life. We live in an area that is not ideal for camellias. They are not native to the area. But I love them so we have them.

Every year we have tons of buds on our camellias. And every year they freeze, turn brown, and fall off. Fortunately, there are almost always three or four buds that make it to flower and warm my heart as winter comes to an end. This year we have six or seven flowers and more buds that might open.

The leaves of the camellia are a lovely green so even if we have no flowers we still enjoy the bushes. Not this year. I was too late with the deer deterrent and the lovely little beasts spent the evening munching on my camellia, stripping one side of this bush. I'm sure the leaves will return with no permanent damage.

I don't blame the deer. I'm sure they are grateful for the delicious treat I provided. They will no longer be interested in my camillias when I spread the deterrent and I will enjoy the few blossoms I have. Logic would tell me not to grow these lovely plants in our area. But logic doesn't appreciate my love for them. Every day I go out to admire the few blossoms. And sometimes, that is enough.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fridays are Golden

I'm still mad at her. So today I'm posting photographs of Lucy (AKA Lucifer) in order to try to appreciate her sweet qualities, and recognize that she is still an adolescent. Most of all I need to keep in mind that just because my back and shoulder muscles are quite stiff and sore this morning, Lucy has no idea why and certainly not that she had anything to do with it.

When we are out walking, I put the dogs in a "sit/stay" whenever we encounter other people on the street. They remain in this position until I release them. Only then are they allowed to approach other people. After all, some people do not want to be approached even by the friendliest of dogs.

Our neighbors often stop their cars to chat for a brief while and the girls go into a "down/stay" and do not approach the car at all. Yesterday a red car approached us and stopped. The dogs were at a "sit/stay" when the man got out of the car. Abruptly and forcefully Lucy broke the command and lunged forward to meet the man. I was totally unprepared for this and was pulled forward and twisted. It was George and Lucy was so happy to see him that she forgot all her training and went to greet him. George is our dog walker who walked the girls daily when I couldn't leave our injured player for that long. He is wonderful and the girls just love him and hadn't seen him for a while.

When I recovered my balance, I grabbed Lucy and pulled her right back to the position she had before she bolted. I carried on a conversation with George without allowing either dog to break the command. Once again, poor Ellie had to "suffer" from Lucy's bad behavior.

Today, I will take her out and we will do some practice sessions. I'll have one of my friends approach and speak to Lucy, even calling her while she is in the sit/stay. With some corrections and some treats, our training will be reinforced. We'll do this every day for a while.

When your dogs are well trained, it's so easy to forget that one of them remains an adolescent more intent on her own desires than any desire to please you. Lucy is a dog. She will occasionally break the rules. And I will still love her. But I really wish she were as obedient as Ellie.

Lucy manages to position herself in ways that look so uncomfortable. Here she is leaning against the chair with her neck bent in an awkward position.

Here she is on the chair rung. How can she sleep like that?

And she does have a thing for shoes. Canvas ones:

or leather:

I do hope you have a wonderful weekend. Life will be relatively quiet around here as we plug forward toward normalcy. Oh, I have a new favorite phrase: "This is a big f**king deal."

And I must congratulate all the winners remaining in the basketball tournament, most especially BUTLER UNIVERSITY in Indianapolis, my son's alma mater and the recipient of a lot of tuition money from our family. GO BULLDOGS!
Have a safe and wonderful weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

At Least Three

"How many books ARE you reading," asked my husband. He reads one book at a time along with his favorite periodicals. I, on the other hand am reading at least three books at a given time, and often more than that.

Learning to read was one of the most exciting events of my life. I do not remember exactly when that happened, but I know that I instantly became an avid reader from that day forward. As a child, I devoured the Lois Lenski books, the Nancy Drew books, and the "Little House" books. All right, I admit it...I'm so old I also read the Bobbsey Twins. But I was really young at the time.

While my taste in books has become more sophisticated over the years, my love for reading hasn't diminished at all. When I was working full time, I bought books throughout the year to read on vacation. Now that I have retired, I can read almost as much as I want. It's wonderful.

Right now I am reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It is the first book of a trilogy, and Larsson died shortly after completing the three manuscripts. Translated from the Swedish language in which it was written, this book is a barn burner. The plot is absolutely engrossing with great characters and delightfully twisting plots. It is definitely not a book to read at bedtime. I am loving every page.

Another book in process is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a non-fiction book by Rebecca Skloot. I have known about HeLa cells since my days in college, but until recently I had no idea the origin of the name, nor the background information of their existence. HeLa (named for the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks) cells were the first cells to continue to grow and divide outside the human body. Discovered in 1951, they have been used for scientific study to benefit all of us.

While not the best-written book I have come across, the story is nonetheless quite interesting. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and gives a good view of medicine and our culture in the '50s. The cells of Henrietta Lacks live on, continue to divide, and continue to be used in research. For years the family was unaware of the use of her cells and the controversy regarding the ethics of the use is central to the book. There is a monetary issue as well, since HeLa cells are grown and sold commercially with no remuneration to the surviving family.

Finally, my "pick up and put down but don't take with you to a doctor's appointment" book is Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The book details the 2008 presidential election. If half the book is true, it will dramatically change some of your perceptions about politics in general and the campaign in specific. The book confirms many of your opinions about the individual players, and some of your heroes may be portrayed as shrews.

The weekend was good for reading. After a glimpse of warm spring-like weather, the temperatures dropped and we had three inches of rain. And this morning we have SNOW on the ground!!! Strange weather indeed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fridays are Golden

Very much like children, our two dogs play together a lot. And like children, one almost always seems to be far more interested in the game than the other.

Lucy grabs the blue tug with an idea in mind.

Ellie is not at all interested and tries to walk away.

But Lucy persists, pushing the blue tug into Ellie's face.

Very quickly Ellie gets the upper hand and Lucy is lying submissive on the floor. But Lucy doesn't stay down long.

I have no explanation for the picture here. Both dogs raise their heads as if sniffing the breeze and the tug lies forgotten on the floor.

At the end of the day, the tug-of-war ends like it always does. Lucy always gives up even when she is the instigator. And Ellie always wins.
Here she flashes her broad smile in victorious possession of the blue tug.

And so it's Friday again. And a memorable Friday as well. IT'S THE LAST DAY OF WINTER!!! I haven't looked forward to the coming of spring so much since I left Wisconsin. We're expecting beautiful weather today and tomorrow, followed by a twenty-degree drop in temperatures accompanied by more rain. Our thoughts go out to those in flooded areas of the Midwest as they wait for rivers to crest.
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. Stay safe and do something nice for yourself and something nice for someone else.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Never Too Old to be Surprised

I was a rather naive teenager. I was surprised when I went to college to find the extent of sophistication and intelligence among my college peers. And I had thought I was so smart.

I was rather naive as a young nurse. I thought that I would save lives on a daily basis and be the personification of Florence Nightingale herself. I was surprised to find that many nursing duties did not involve heroics.

I was rather naive as a young mother. While an experienced babysitter and competent nurse, I was surprised to find how difficult mothering could be.

As I grew older, I became more skeptical and less naive. I had begun to think that nothing could surpise me after all that I had seen and heard.

Action for Children in North Carolina published a report last week about corporal punishment during the last school year. I was not only surprised, but totally appalled. Corporal punishment is still allowed in schools in 21 of these United States!!! Striking a child, prohibited in juvenile detention centers is perfectly fine in many public schools throughout the U.S. I am sorry to say that North Carolina is one of those states that does not prohibit paddling in public schools. Our legislative code leaves the decision to the local school boards. Twenty-six school districts in NC allow spanking of children from kindergarten through high school. Most of them do not exempt special needs children from the spanking policies.

Here is the NC code about corporal punishment in public school:
Principals, teachers, and others may use reasonable force in the exercise of lawful authority to restrain or correct pupils and maintain order; local boards may not prohibit use of such force but are to adopt policies governing administration of corporal punishment, including at a minimum: notice to students and teachers; teacher and no other students present.

I honestly thought our nation had progressed beyond allowing teachers to assault children and teens with wooden paddles or canes. Worse, according to "Action for Children," students with disabilities received corporal punishment almost 300 times in 2006 here in the State of North Carolina. And those were only the reported instances.

This post is not in any way intended to criticize parents who spank their children, especially a swat on the behind with the open hand. But to allow teachers to spank a child with a wooden paddle? Do you really want your teenage daughter spanked by her male teacher? Or any teacher? No, the purpose of this post is to remind us all that there are laws and regulations that we thought were long gone from our states. That we remain naive and uninformed about many aspects of our society.

Proponents of spanking in schools will begin with the oft used quote, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." School district officials will begin by telling you that many times the students or parents themselves choose spanking over other alternative punishments. What they are not likely to tell you is that most of the alternative punishments involve suspension or "in school suspension" in which the student is not allowed to attend classes for several weeks at a time.

It should come as no surprise that most public school spankings are done in the "Bible Belt" states and most of the spankings in North Carolina are in the western mountains. I leave you with photographs of real paddles actually used in public schools. I honestly believe that a parent using one of these paddles to routinely discipline children at home would be reported to Child Protective Services.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fridays are Golden

It's been such a long time since we were out on our local trails. Sheltered from the sun, they have been covered with ice and snow since early December. Fortunately, we have a couple of short trails on our property and the dogs can run and run in our back yard.

Regular readers are familiar with Lucy's wont to share Ellie's space, often using Ellie for a pillow. In this rare instance, it is Ellie who put her head on Lucy's back. I don't think she liked it much because she very quickly stretched out.

Our dogs (like most others) spend a lot of the day snoozing. The only way Ellie can rest by herself is for her to wait for Lucy to fall asleep and then move. If she moves while Lucy is still awake, Lucy will follow her to the new space.

Sometimes the dogs will whimper, move their legs, and make funny faces when they are sleeping. We always assume they are dreaming. If that's true, I suspect they are dreaming of the sunny days when the trails were dry and we could go lickety split at full speed, laughing all the way.

Our dogs do indeed laugh and smile. Here is a smiling Ellie running on the Ticoa during a late summer day.

And Lucy's happy smile the same day.

Our weekend will be rainy and foggy but far from dreary. The Tar Heels lost their "play-in" game for the ACC Tournament. They will not be invited to the NCAA Tournament and may not even get a bid to the NIT. Actually, we'd be happy not to have to watch any more of their games. Never has such talent with such a great coach not been able to get together and play great basketball. So we are all smiles that Coach Williams may have a respite from his frustration. We are all smiles at the milder temperatures and lack of snow. And, like the Golden Girls, we are eagerly looking forward to the day when our injured player casts aside his cane and we can all romp on the trails once again.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. Remember it's not the weather that makes or breaks your weekend fun. It's your own attitude. Have some fun.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Giving 'Til It Hurts

Over the years we have donated to many different charitable groups. When friends or neighbors lose a loved one, we honor their wishes for memorial donations to a favorite charity.

Now it seems that every one of them continues to solicit donations from us. Sometimes it's a phone call. Other times it is a letter, often including free greeting cards or address labels. Do they want me to feel guilty about receiving the gift and obliged to send money? Why can't they understand that I have my own favorite charities?

In 1992, we made a memorial contribution in honor of our neighbor's mother. We never once donated to this charity before 1992 and we have not once donated to this charity in the 18 years since. We continue to receive letters from this charity. (Yes, they found our NC address)

I resent these letters and interruptions into my life on many fronts. They are wasting time and money that could be used for providing the services they offer. The amount of paper used is staggering. I wish I knew how to stop them, but there seems no way. I have to assume that this method of solicitation must be cost effective, but surely there comes a point when they begin to realize that this family will not continue to make donations to them, noble though their work may be. This problem will not discourage us from making memorial donations, but I always cringe a little as I write the check. I know that in so doing I am placing myself on yet another contact list.

We do donate regularly to our favorite charitable organizations. While we give money to several organizations, our favorite is Doctors Without Borders, Medecins Sans Frontieres, (MSF). This group is not politically aligned and provides medical care to people all over the world, regardless of nationality, race, or any factor other than need in time of disaster. It is one way in which we recognize that we all share the planet and to honor the worth of all humanity.

So other charities...please take the message. We gave a one-time memorial gift. We value your work but we have our own favorite charities and unfortunately we cannot give to everyone. So please save the time and energy you expend soliciting money from us. You're making our giving hurt!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Looking Back at Last Tuesday

Impossible as it seemed this weekend, we had 10 inches of snow the previous Tuesday. It started early in the morning and snowed like crazy all day long.

This Cardinal was clearly as unhappy as I was to see all the snow falling. She glared at me as if I were to blame. Don't blame me, Ms. Cardinal. I'm the one who filled the birdfeeders for you this morning.

She sat on the deck rail for quite a while. She was waiting for the male to leave the sunflower feeder so she could have a turn.

Compare the size of the goldfinch to the snow he is sitting atop and you can appreciate the depth of the snow early in the day. More snow fell throughout the day.

The goldfinch gets a mouthful of snow along with the seed.

There was plenty of snow the following day. Looking back upon the scene, it was rather pretty. That's one good thing about looking back. It certainly wasn't very pretty when the snow was still falling with the wind blowing it in my face while I shoveled the driveway.

The yard birds stood looking very cold indeed.

This weekend was sunny and warmer than usual. I sat on the deck reading and soaking up the warm sun. I didn't need a jacket when I took the dogs for a walk. It was hard to imagine that I had been shoveling snow only a few days before. The sun does a body good after a freaky late snowfall. BTW: this season almost made records for snowfall, coming in a close second. Let's not try to break the record.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fridays are Golden

I'm often asked what we feed our dogs to keep them looking so healthy. I'm sorry to admit that we do not cook for them nor feed them fancy foods. Ellie and Lucy eat high-quality dry dog food. We must carefully control their portions relative to their exercise since Golden Retrievers generally will eat as much as you will allow. They don't seem to have a satiety center.

We feed them twice daily at the same time each day. Three times a week they get an extra treat...a teaspoonful of olive oil over the dry food. Breakfast timing is's when they come in from their first walk of the day. Dinner is always at 4:30 and this is often cause for concern. Beginning around 3:30, the dogs do not let us out of sight. They aren't quite sure what time it is, but they seem to know it's near dinnertime. As soon as we approach the door, they go into their room to wait for dinner.

They stand near the bin that holds the dog food. Even with the lid open, they would not dare to peek inside or try to grab a bite.

In addition to the dog food, the dogs do receive a few carrot pennies when I make our own dinner. They get little "Charlie Bear" treats while they are being groomed, and ice cubes whenever anyone makes a drink. Because they've never had people food, they do not hang around the table when we are eating. They do not beg if we are snacking in our chairs. It's fine if you want your own dog to do that, but personally, I do not want my dogs sniffing around the people food.

Another couple of photos of Lucy and even more shoes. I can't speak to what she might do with high heels or dress shoes (you hardly ever find them around here), but she loves sneakers and slippers. She thinks they make fine pillows. If you visit me and take off your shoes, she will likely give them a trial to see if they are good pillows. But I will vacuum them for you when I give you the roller tape to remove the dog hair from your pant legs.

It's a beautiful Friday here. The heavy snow has become almost like a bad dream and most of it has melted. We are expecting WARMER than normal temperatures for the weekend and that will be glorious indeed. The birds are singing their little hearts out and I can just feel spring coming!
Have a wonderful weekend, filled with hope and anticipation. Keep smiling even if you have to force it. With enough practice, it might become genuine.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

First Sighting

I heard him early Monday morning as I was walking the dogs. I stopped to listen to the wonderful sound and tried to see my little friend. He kept out of sight, but I knew I would see him soon. The beautiful song made me feel as if spring would really arrive.

Little did I know that I would see him during a snowstorm the very next day. Yes, dear reader, we got dumped on with another 10 inches of snow! However, I did see my little friend yesterday. He came to our feeders early in the morning and he came back several times during the day. Normally a ground feeder, my little Eastern Towhee ate sunflower seeds and warmed my heart a little.

Isn't he a gorgeous bird?

When we see the towhee by himself, we admire his beauty and don't appreciate how big he really is. He shared the feeder with the goldfinches and once again, I was amazed at his size.

The snow continued most of the day and finally ended around 6:00. Unlike past storms, this one will not be accompanied by days of freezing weather, so it will leave us sooner. THANK GOODNESS! In the coming days I will hear and see my towhee friend in his usual spot. He nests there every year. And very soon I will see his lovely mate. I can hardly wait.
Amazing what the sight of one bird can do to lift your spirits. Now I know for sure that winter is almost over.

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's Way Past Time

For many years we relied on our health insurance for physical examinations and preventive screening. This year we learned what it is like to be a hospital patient and to deal with those pesky bills. We have good insurance but it has been a nightmare to sift through the charges and payments. Even our "good" insurance gave us some obstacles.

Our insurance pays maximum for "in network" providers and we have a significant co-pay if we are out of network, unless the services are for an emergency. This summer I had a severe GI bleed and the nearest hospital is out of network. No problem, says my insurance. It was an emergency. I spent six days in Intensive Care. My insurance determined that after the third day (when I was still receiving medicines to maintain my blood pressure and was not allowed even ice chips by mouth) my care in the ICU did not constitute an emergency, so they paid the out of network payment for the remaining days. Guess I was supposed to pack up my IVs and travel 25 miles to another facility.

Last year, my physician's group joined the local hospital. My physician is still in network for my insurance, but the hospital is not. Since the hospital does the billing under its own billing number my insurance no longer recognizes my physican as in network.

In December, my husband had major orthopedic surgery at an in-network hospital. The hospital bill alone (not anesthesia, physicians, radiology, transport, etc.) was well over one hundred thousand dollars. Our insurance paid the discounted contracted fee to the hospital, far less than the actual bill, and we had no liability for payment.

In January I had a screening study at the same hospital. The insurance statement explained that I was responsible for a significant co-pay because the hospital was not in-network. I called the insurance and discovered that the hospital had refused to re-negotiate a contract with our insurance. Coincidence? Perhaps, but the hospital had been under contract for more than 10 years and suddenly decided not to participate.

Both my husband and I are healthy with no major diseases. Prior to my GI bleed, my only hospitalizations had been for childbirth. We carried good insurance because we could afford to do so. But what about those who cannot? The simple truth is that our hospital bills this past year represented payment not only for our care but for those who did not have insurance. If people believe they do not have to worry about the uninsured, they are quite mistaken. We all pay for their care.

I bring forth these examples to show that providers and insurance companies have methods for increasing your out-of-pocket expenses. I am truly thankful that we are able to absorb these costs and I feel terrible for those hard-working individuals for whom big medical bills send them so deeply into debt.

A word of advice...please carefully compare your insurance statements to the bills you later receive. On Friday we received a sizable bill from an anesthesia provider. Our insurance statement indicated they were a contracted provider, were paid according to the contract and that we had no responsibility for payment. I called the provider and after an lengthy conversation received this reply, "Oh, someone made a mistake. You are correct and we will 'write off' the payment." No explanation, no apology, just "a mistake." Thank goodness we keep track of these things. I have little doubt that others simply pay the bills without questioning them and that is terrible.
Impossible as it may seem, we are under a winter weather advisory with predictions of yet another snow storm. Hey, isn't this March? And in sunny North Carolina not in the high mountains?