Thursday, July 30, 2009

Health Care, American vs. Canadian and British Systems

As our president and congress attempt to push national health care on the country, polls show that currently only 23% of Americans now believe this plan, whatever it is, would actually mean lower health care costs for patients in America. Tomorrow night on the ABC television show 20/20, they are finally airing the segment on the Canadian and British Health Care System that was preempted when Michael Jackson died. I'm sure you remember that all other TV programming came to a screeching halt for days.

The program will begin at either 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., depending on your time zone. I'm lucky enough to get it at 9:00. If it's too late for you, I suggest you tape it. If you're technologically challenged, get a friend to tape it. Set up your DVR. Whatever. This is information you need to hear. What you think about it is your business, just as what I think about it is mine.

I was having a heated (way too heated) argument with my oldest son a couple of months ago, a political difference of opinion. He sits way on the left of the theatre. I'm not on the right, but am a very conservative traditional. I'm more likely to vote against an incumbent than for either party, but I doubt there's a Democrat on the hill right now who could earn my vote. I digress, as usual.

After the steam cleared from my eyes and ears, I realized something. Tighe and I had actually had a stimulating conversation. What makes me really angry, and with nothing to discuss, are those well-meaning friends who smile and say, "You know, the news just upsets me, so I don't watch it. What is cap and trade, anyway? No, never mind. I'd rather not know. All the decisions are made in Washington anyway. We can't do a thing about it."

I've heard that sort of statement from so many people lately. The more you allow yourself to remain uninformed (good grief, I almost used the word ignorant!) the more self-fulfilling your prophesy might become. There's a reason our Constitution begins with the words We the People.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Loveland, Colorado—Sculptures in Bloom

It's good to be proud of your city. Whenever we have visitors, we love to take them to town and show off our favorite park, Benson Sculpture Gardens. Loveland was the first city in Colorado to adopt an Art in Public Places ordinance of one percent of all the city's capital construction projects of $50,000 or more for the purchase of art. Sculpture is a huge part of the city, whether you're looking at public buildings or private residences, offices or parks. They're nestled in among the most beautifully appropriate landscapes imaginable. Sterling dragonflies rise above marshlands. A bronze moose kneels to drink from a real lake.

The last article I read showed that the City of Loveland owned over $7 million in artwork, 72% of it having been donated. The people here obviously approved of the ordinance. It shows that when government takes a small step, in this case, one percent of its own construction costs, people will add to those efforts. So yes, we're all proud of our parks, and Benson Park is our favorite place to walk. Every single time we go, we see a new statue. This time, as we took John's cousin Laura Mae and her husband Bill, there were several new ones, but I think I liked the giraffe best. He looks so stately.

The flowers were absolutely beautiful yesterday, too. I never fail to appreciate how green the grass is, and how lush and healthy all the plants are.

Tiger lilies are one of my very favorite flowers, and one of the few I can recognize on site. I wonder if the deer would eat them if I planted some up here in the foothills.

Somebody please tell me what this is, because I see it growing wild around here quite a bit, but never have been able to tell for certain what it is, other than beautiful.

I've been told that the bees are dying out in many places, but there were quite a few pollinating the various flowers in the park yesterday, so I guess our blooms are safe for another year.

These roses are of some very fragrant variety. I've been discouraged in recent years to see a perfect rose and lean over it only to discover that it has had the perfume bred out of its soul. I'd rather have the fragrance and a few wrinkles on the petals than perfection and sterile scent, but that's just me.

Here's another unidentifiable flowering plant. As they mature, the flowers cluster along the stem in little balls like this. I can't find it in my book. Maybe I need a new book...

Here are Laura Mae and Bill walking by the new giraffe sculpture. Laura Mae said she really didn't want to do much walking because of her arthritis, so we told her she could just look from the car. Once she saw what was out there, though, she couldn't resist, and ended up covering quite a bit on foot. Bill was entranced. Laura Mae said he's always loved statues, and never before found so many in one park like this.

This has always been one of my favorites because the kids look like they're having such fun. I also appreciate how the landscaping is done, with the white rocks giving the appearance of snow.

If you ever come to see us, be prepared to either stand in the circle of children to have your photo taken, or listen to John moan and whine. I think he's planning on making a collage some day of all our friends playing ring-around-the-rosy with the bronze children. We've had quite a bit of fun coaxing friends and family to grab the hands of the kids and "look like you're running!" So far everyone has (eventually) cooperated. John is happy.

By the end of our afternoon in the park, Laura Mae and I went to sit in the car while John took Bill down the hill with the camera, so he could contemplate one last sculpture. As they disappeared together I heard John say, "You owe it to yourself to see this one last statue, Bill."
They didn't come back for quite awhile.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Showing Off Rocky Mountain National Park

The elk were certainly out enjoying the scenery as we spent our Saturday driving the Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. Well, at least the males were out. We didn't see a single female during the entire day. Their women are hiding. Right now it's boys' night out, but soon they'll be bellowing and fighting over who gets which mates and the herds will split up again. Then we'll see them come down into our foothills.

It was one of those wonderful days where you could enjoy the park for it's beauty, the storm adding drama on one side of the road while the sun sparkled down on the other. It's the contrasts in Rocky Mountain National Park that always get to me: the huge elk lying next to the road full of cars, the glacier withstanding the glare of the sun against the tundra sprinkled with wildflowers.

We enjoyed seeing other kinds of wildlife as well. John's cousins from Albuquerque had finally come up to spend a weekend with us. Laura Mae and Bill were laughing about the way the young families were scrambling up the rocks, so I thought I'd take a photo for them. They looked like wildlife to me.

Half of the fun of an outing like this, of course, is taking far too many photographs. I'll just share a few more here. The first is one of the glacier. We spent quite a bit of time looking at it and reading the signs about its formation. It's peaceful up there, and a soft misty rain had started to fall. Laura Mae was amazed that John and I were still in our tee-shirts, without a jacket or anything. They live in Albuquerque, so they're used to being hot, I guess. We were comfortable in the mist. It was a beautiful day.

Not too much further along a person can look down and see the subalpine lakes and valleys below the tundra as you snake along the winding road. It's an ever-changing vista, different from turn to turn as well as day to day. Each time we return it's new to us.

I was taking pictures of John with cousin Laura Mae and Bill when a gentleman came up to me and asked if he could do the honors. I handed him the camera and his group stood around speaking in a foreign language while he took our picture. I was pretty sure it was a Slavic language, but didn't want to guess and sound stupid. The only thing I can say in Russian is "Ya devochka," and since I figured they already knew I was a woman, even if they were Russian, I'd look stupid saying it, it was better to just ask where they were from. When everyone else returned to the car, I took their group photo with their camera by the same sign and then walked with them back toward the vehicles.

They were indeed from Russia, and were very nice people. I told them we were getting ready to take our first trip to Europe to see our son and his family. The one who had taken the photo wanted to know what our son's family was doing there, and I said he was transfered with his company. "What company?" "Priceline." "Oh, very good company. Very good." He said we'd love The Netherlands, and I told him about our circle trip through Belgium, etc. to Cologne and back during the middle week and he said it sounded like a perfect trip. I think so, too.

We spent so much time at the National Park that we decided to save the sculpture park for today. I'm charging up my camera. It's seven o'clock in the morning, and although I've been up for three hours, and John for two, our guests are still asleep. I think I'll go have another cup of coffee and wash the blueberries, then see about starting the bacon. Some things can be done in advance. Some can't.

Friday, July 24, 2009

If National Health Care Passes

Today I got a political humor email I thought was too funny not to share. Here it comes... Thanks, Betty!

What are the top ten signs that the proposed National Health Care bill has been passed and implemented?

10. Your annual breast exam is done at Hooters.

9. Directions to your doctor's office: Turn left when you enter the trailer park.

8. The tongue depressors taste like Fudgesicles.

7. The only proctologist listed in the plan is Gus from Roto-Rooter.

6. The only item listed under preventive care is "an apple a day."

5. Your primary care physician is wearing the clothes you donated to charity last month.

4. You learn that "The patient is responsible for 200% of out-of-network charges," is not a typographical error.

3. The only expense covered 100% is embalming.

2. Your medications come in colors with little M's on them.

And the number one reason you know Obama's health plan got shoved through Congress and now dictates your medical life:

1. When asking for Viagra, you were given a popsicle stick and some duct tape.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Can't Hear You Now

There's no pretending I didn't see it coming. In fact, last week I purchased wireless television headphones that allow me to actually hear what they're saying on the TV. Today I found out why they help so much.

It's been eighteen months since my last hearing test. I thought it had only been a year. I was off by six months. In that time, my hearing in the middle to higher frequencies has decreased by 30% in the right ear, and 20% in the left ear. It's nerve loss, which means it's normal loss from aging. Cool. I didn't know I was doing that. I don't feel older than I did eighteen months ago. In fact, I feel healthier than I did. Oh, well.

As the doctor explained, that type of hearing loss means that when you turn up the television, you also turn up the lower frequencies, which you can already hear very well. They drown out the voices, so you still can't hear them, no matter how high you turn up the volume. That's why I still couldn't understand what they were saying no matter how often I rewound the DVR.

Regular hearing aids won't help. I'll need programmable hearing aids that allow the audiologist to adjust the volume on only the frequencies I've lost. They're expensive. Time to start saving. (Send donations to the Mama Wants to Hear You Fund at

We're still going to Europe. We'll just ask the kids to talk loud. After all, John won't wear his hearing aids, so even if I had a set, one of us would still be saying, "Huh?" The worst problem is in church. I wonder if I could get them to go wireless and take the TV headphones with me... I could always ask, I suppose.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wireless Television Headphones

It seems like yesterday that I could hear just fine. In late November of last year we took a trip to California, and as has happened before, my ears plugged up when we got down to sea level. This time they stayed plugged up, and I finally saw a doctor about it. It was driving me crazy. I realize that's not a long trip, but I'd rather drive somewhere else.

The doctor put me on steroids, didn't laugh at my joke about no longer being eligible for the Olympics, and sent me on my way. My ears kind of cleared up. They no longer sounded like I was underwater within seven to ten days, but the hearing never quite came back. I talked to the doctor here and he said it was probably a process, and to give it another few months. If it didn't correct, then I should talk to the audiologist. Meanwhile, we had to go back down to sea level again.

Not being able to hear isn't always a bad thing. At night, for instance, John's snoring doesn't really bother me anymore. Let's see. There's bound to be another example of when it's not a bad thing. I can't hear in church. That's not a good thing. I can't hear the TV. That's a problem. Well, you can certainly hear the commercials. You could hear those from the basement. (There ought to be a law...)

Our annual appointments with the audiologist are next week, but if he tells me to buy hearing aids, it's not going to be something I can do immediately, so I'm trying to find a few solutions to tide me through. Also, I have to realize that even if I got hearing aids, John would still refuse to wear his, so if I turned the TV down, I'd have to listen to his complaints.

This week I went online and did some research on wireless stereo headphones that connect to the television and enable people to actually hear what's being said on TV. I wondered if they really worked. One thing I like about shopping online with Amazon is that you can read all the customer reviews. I picked out a set that customers had reviewed very well, and they arrived yesterday.

For the first time since November, I listened to an evening of television programming without ever once having to say, "What did he say?" or rewinding it to see if I could figure out what they said. I was really happy with that. I've been glad to have the DVR so I had that rewind option, but when you rewind three or four times and still can't understand them, even after turning the volume up, it's very frustrating.

For those like me who've lost the edge on their hearing, or others who simply don't want to wake someone up if they watch nighttime television in the bedroom, I highly recommend these. I got the Sony MDR-IF540RK headphones, although there's another pair about $20 less that looks like it would have been just as good, with just a couple of less options. I got the one with the vibrating bass and surround sound function for when you watch stuff like Star Wars. They were just over sixty dollars, are rechargeable, very comfortable, light weight, include the transmitter and work great. If I look like an old lady—that's just too bad.

Now if I could just have figured out how to make them work in the meeting I was in today, where none of the women talked loud enough for me to hear. Try sitting still for four hours while two dozen women take turns saying important things you can't hear and then expect you to respond... intelligently.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Identifying Colorado Wildflowers

Driving home from the store yesterday, my husband and I had one of those interesting and oh, so memorable conversations.

"I love seeing all the different wildflowers out this late in the year. It's because of the rain, right?"

"Right. Did you ever learn all the names? Didn't you buy a Colorado wildflower book?"

"I did. Well... I kind of learned them."

A period of silence followed while I waited in vain for him to ask me what "kind of" meant. Finally I explained without him asking.

"There are some yellow ones with black centers. There are some big white ones. There are the gold ones. There are the tall purple ones. I see the little gold ones, too."

"Sounds like you're learning the names really fast," he said. He never even cracked a smile.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Planning and Anticipation: Europe

If I'd been asked a year ago to place bets on whether or not I'd ever see Europe, I would have said it wasn't in the cards for me. All that history would have to be enjoyed by others. My life would pass by without me ever getting to indulge in that particular experience.

Whoopee! Hold the presses. Everything changed when Ben and Ruth decided to accept his proposed job promotion and move to The Netherlands this year. In typical Ben fashion, he put family first and negotiated his contract to include free round trip airfare for both sets of his kids' grandparents. After all, he reasoned with his employers, it really wasn't a good thing for his daughters' grandparents to only see the girls when they were cranky from traveling so far. They must have really wanted his talents in Amsterdam, because they agreed.

Ruth's parents have already enjoyed their trip over there this year. John and I are planning our trip now. We'll be leaving in just a month, landing on Kate's first birthday. She's the youngest of the girls, with Ashley being two and a half. Ben's been such an incredible help with planning the details. He found us a great little car to rent the 2nd week of our trip so we can see some of the sights. He even gave us a suggested itinerary of where to go with the car. Want to see it? It's so perfect we don't want to change a thing.

Wednesday, August 26, we would drive to Bruges, Belgium in the morning, just John and me. It would take about two and a half hours to get there, and we could spend the whole day wandering around and looking at the historic little town, then spend the night in a hotel there. We'd take lots of photos, of course, find neat little places to eat, and probably pinch ourselves regularly to make sure we're really not just dreaming.

Thursday, August 27, it would only take us about 45 minutes to drive to Ghent, still in Belgium, where we could spend the day doing roughly the same thing we did the day before, smiling and taking photos, eating and wandering around holding hands. Again we'd spend the night in a hotel.

On Friday, August 28th, we'd wake up and say "Happy Anniversary" to each other and have a grand breakfast before leaving to drive to Brussels, a three hour drive, on our way to Luxembourg. We'll get a hotel in Luxembourg and have dinner there, and meet Ben, and Ruth, Ashley and Kate there the next morning. From there we'll drive to Cologne, Germany together (in two cars) and spend the day there. But first we'll wake up in Luxembourg. I've sure looked at a lot of web sites while planning this trip.

These are a few photos I found of Luxembourg that make me really excited to be spending our anniversary there.

Waterfalls, bridges, and castles? Does it get any better than that?

The trip back to their home in Amstelveen, Netherlands from Cologne is about a two and a half hour drive. By the time we get home that night, I'm pretty sure we'll be a little ragged around the edges, but very happy.

I can't help but remember my sister Ellen taking me to the Plaza Resort in Reno many years ago. I'm not sure which birthday I was celebrating, but I think it was the big 5-0. She still teases me about my awe when I saw the room. It really was magnificent, and I'd never stayed anywhere even close to such a spectacular place before. In fact, I've rarely seen such a nice place since, either. I told her that up until that trip, I thought the closest I came to luxury accommodations was when we bought the new two-room tent with the screened porch.

She still doesn't understand. I was used to camping. That tent was luxury to me. Suddenly, here I was in a huge two-room suite with a jacuzzi I could lie spread-eagled in without touching the edges, it was so huge. It was situated in such a way that I could watch the basketball game (it was early February) on the big TV. I nearly turned into a prune. There were wall to wall windows that showed the beautiful night lights of Reno spread out below. John was home with all three boys—and I was in heaven.

I have a feeling this trip is going to leave me overwhelmed in the same manner, like I've stepped out of my normal life, become queen for a few days. I'll be counting my blessings. Some things you don't earn. They're just gifts that come along in life. Thanks, Ellen. Thanks, Ben and Ruth. Thanks, John.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Or You Could Watch a Snake

Because I play the accordion, people tend to question whether or not I have good taste. My friend Sherrie has been telling me for years about a television station she and her husband John really enjoy called RFDtv. We recently found that it had been added to our lineup, but just tonight I finally tuned it in for the first time. What did I see?

I watched a band called Whoopee and the Dairyland Dutchmen playing their accordions and tubas, along with assorted other wind and percussion instruments, on a show called The Big Joe Super Show. I actually couldn't look away. It actually kind of reminded me of the band "Da Yoopers" from Northern Michigan. People were dancing the polka. There were old ladies dancing together. There were little kids dancing with their mothers or each other. Little kids with old ladies. Old ladies with old men. Actually, there were probably representatives of every age there except teens. I don't think I saw a teenager. I think I can figure that one out.

Tomorrow I'll have a surprise for John. Yes, I recorded it for him. I figure it's the only way he'll believe me. I'm not going to let him erase it, either. I figure, if we ever need to encourage someone to leave (which admittedly isn't likely) we'll just play it during dinner every night.

I wonder what Sherrie watched on that channel. I have a feeling this might not have been it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Still Wanting A Smoke

I was going to call this "Still Wanting to Rip My Face Off," but figured it would only make sense to someone who's actually quit smoking as well. After all, June 16th, my quit date, was (to the rest of the world) only a little over three weeks ago. To me, it's been a very long time, full of extremely long days.

Today I followed two lists through three stores. One list was for Ben and Ruth: things to bring to Holland with us, because they can't get them there. What kind of country doesn't sell Cheerios? How can a child survive without them or graham crackers? Grandma to the rescue. I'd include Grandpa in that, but he sits out in the car listening to his HAM radio while I follow the lists up and down the aisles. Deodorant, baby socks with lace, paint with water books.

There's her list, and then there's my list: Salsa, eggs, birthday card. Easy things. The hard part lately is being in the store alone. They sell cigarettes. Nobody knows me in there. I could sneak right over and buy some. There's a side door, and I could... never mind. You know what I mean. It's just very hard getting in and out of the store with my decision intact.

So far so good, but today was particularly difficult. I hope you're all still praying for me. Some of you probably don't know it, but I quit once for six years. One smoke, and I was back at it. That was twenty some years ago. I never admit exactly how many. I've tried to quit too many times since to count. I've made it as much as a year and a half. Pretty bad, huh?

Everybody thinks once the first couple of weeks are past, just say "congratulations," and forget about it. If you do, you'll probably wind up catching me smoking in the garage some day. I hope not. Just being honest.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lemon Custard Pie

I always hate it when I forget a promise. Not too long ago my friend John M. said (on Face Book) that he was getting ready to enjoy a Nectarine Pie. That sounded so good to me, that the fact I had just put one of my Lemon Custard Pies in the oven didn't sound so special anymore. Nectarines are my favorite fruit. There isn't even a close second, although I truly love lots of different fruits and pies.

Since John is in California and I'm in Colorado, it was obvious that we couldn't exchange pies, so I offered to trade recipes. He admitted that his came from a Farmer's Market, so I wouldn't be getting a recipe from him, but I did promise to post my recipe on the blog. It's an original, made up of a combination of other similar pies, and more like a Key Lime Pie than anything else, actually, so I figured I'd just go ahead and put it here before I lose it. We had company then, and I lost track of time. I seem to do that more often than not.

So here you go, John. Hopefully you and Marrianne haven't been thinking I didn't want to share it with you.

Lemon Custard Pie
(I make this with a chocolate graham cracker crust.)

Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 Cups Chocolate Graham Cracker Crumbs
(Buy Chocolate Graham Sticks and put them in your food processor. Don't have one? Put them in a baggy and hit them with something.)
6 Tbsp Butter, Melted
2 Tbsp Sugar or Splenda (I tend to use Splenda now. Since I can't tell the difference, why not?)

  • Mix it all together in a bowl.
  • Pour it into the bottom of a 9" pie plate
  • Use the edge of a rounded measuring cup (or whatever) to press it firmly and evenly in place along the bottom and sides.
  • For this recipe, set aside for now. (For normal recipes, bake 15 to 20 minutes in 325° oven and allow to cool.)

Lemon Custard Pie Filling:
Preheat oven to 325°F.

4 Eggs, separated
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk (This is not the same as evaporated milk...)
1/2 Cup fresh Lemon Juice—from real lemons, preferably, but I've used concentrate in a pinch.
2-3 drops yellow gel food coloring makes it look nicer, but doesn't add to the taste.

  • In medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. (Save whites in fridge for tomorrow's omelette.)
  • Use a stainless steel, glass or ceramic bowl. There's something in plastics and some metals that reacts with the acid in the lemons that can ruin the pie.
  • Gradually whisk in Sweetened Condensed Milk until smooth, and then whisk in lemon juice.
  • Stir in food coloring gel (works much better than liquid) if you want to pretty it up.
  • Cover the mixture and set aside to thicken, about 30 minutes.

Now you can preheat your oven to 325°

  • When the oven is hot, bake your crust for 15 to 20 minutes, timing it to come out 30 minutes after you finished whisking your pie filling. The crust must still be warm when the filling is added.
  • Pour the thickened filling into the warm pie crust and bake until the center is firm but still wiggles a bit when jiggled. This should only take another 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool at room temperature.
Refrigerate until well chilled. Top with whipped cream to serve.

It's pretty much a no-fail pie. It's not too tart, not too sweet. You can easily adjust it for your own family's taste. You could always serve it with ice cream instead of whipped cream, I guess. I hope you enjoy it as much as my John does.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, America

I always offer one piece of advice before the 4th of July. I realize that most of my friends don't really need to hear this, and will just take it for the humor value. However, it is an important message:

Don't go out on the fourth with a fifth, or you might not be around to go forth on the fifth.

Someone sent me this little video, asking that I share it for the 4th of July, and I thought this would be the best way to do that. I loved it. Thanks, Sherman.

We're still deciding what to do on the Fourth of July. Since that's tomorrow, we don't have a lot of time left to decide. Let me explain how these decisions are made in our house. I explain to John about a week or so early what I want. He thinks about it for a week or so and then, at the last minute, tells me what we're actually going to do.

The last two years we have climbed the hill behind us, up the ridge behind our neighbor Doug's house. From there we can watch the tiny firework displays spring up in about eight or ten tiny little towns spread out on the plains and valleys beneath the foothills where we live. It's pretty cool. You can't hear them, and they're very far away, but there's no traffic. When they're done, you just climb down the hill and you're home. I understand John's appreciation of the ease of it. He's also not an overly social person, so I know he's more comfortable without the crowds of strangers.

However—and to me this is a big however—it's been about seven years since he's taken me to see them in person anywhere. In fact, it's been longer than that since he's done it. I went with someone some of the kids about six or seven years ago. I like to sit close enough to feel the booms and smell the sulphur. I want to hear the crowd go "ooh" and "aah" around me. I've learned that I don't have to have this every year, but I guess I need it occasionally. This year I've been pretty upset about the political situation, and maybe that's why I need it.

So tomorrow I'll stand around and ask, looking hopeful. I do have a trump card. I can always offer to drive myself. He hates that.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Power and the Glory

Tonight a thunderstorm is flashing around the heavens, crashing amid the rain, the crown on a spectacular day. For some reason, weather like this always makes me think of the Biblical expression "the power and the glory." It's like an expression of God's might to me. We're all aware, or should be, that weather can be violent and dangerous. From the comfort and safety of home, though, it's beautiful beyond belief.

Some wonderful things happened today. My cousin Joe and his wife Wendy were here from Wisconsin. This is my Aunt Cookie's oldest son, and we shared bison chili and memories, sat outside and breathed in the beautiful 82 degree weather. It was a fine day, made all the sweeter by their rare visit.

When the day had ended, and promises made to other friends necessitated their departure, we piled into the car together. As we drove past the house next to ours, we passed several does and a few young bucks. There, tucked into their midst were the two baby fawns, curled up by their mama for a rest. All is well in Bambi's thicket.

I love a Hollywood ending.