Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why It is Good to be a Dog

I think the best part about being a dog or a cat is you don't have to deal with insurance companies.

I've been married almost three years now and  I got my new dental coverage card and it STILL  has my maiden name on it.  Changing one's name when one gets married is more work than most guys would realize, But think about all the different accounts where you name is at? It can be dozens. When I got married after 20 years of being single--I was excited for the change to go from the 30th something most common name in America to the 2nd. I was moving up in the world. Some folks asked if I wanted to hyphenate it.  But with a hyphenated middle name on my birth certificate, I would have been a double hyphenated name and people would think I was British.

4 Credit Cards- 3 bank accounts, one IRA and 72 different squirrel passwords (which you can't write down you must remember all of them so you can change them every 45 days), a few months left on a truck loan, and two passports.  I was done.

Except for my dental insurance.  For my very large and well known dental insurer  couldn't get the name changed, over two years despite a copy of the marriage license,  repeated requests, and one veiled threat to "actually find a dentist in my network even if they're all an hour away so you have to pay out big time". My regular health insurance - same company-- changed it and I they were awesome to deal with through the knee surgery and routine redhead upkeep and the coverage was excellent.  But the dental  division of the same insurer was a thorn in my side, to the point that even my periodontist staff (who I just love), says every time I come in-- "do you still have the same crappy insurance?"

Then, many, many months after my marriage, several calls and times I got so cross I was blue-- I get my new card after they said they fixed it.  It has my maiden name on it.
I called up the number on the attached paperwork  to be dialed if one needs assistance.  After being on hold a bit "Your call is important to us. ." I get a chipper person who I can express my problem and they fully understand it. I tell them I'm trying to get the name on my card changed to my married name so it matches my regular health plan card and the billing isn't messed up because patient and insured person don't match.  But they say I need to call a different number.  I call THAT number. After being on hold to the point I needed a haircut - I get a human being who I think was either named "Flo" or "Floyd" (it was hard to tell with the accent) who tells me no - I need to yet another number.  I politely say thanks and call.  I get a robot asking me to state my plan number and date of birth  I do so.  "A goat?"  A goat tent?"  No.  This goes on three times until  Robo-bot says I don't exist and I'm hung up on.

I go back to the original number which I'm pretty sure was in the U.S. - The nice lady explains that I can cancel my auto pay and when that's done ad I don't pay they'll cancel the policy.  So I call the number she gives me and get to listen to a recording on Obamacare restrictions and grandfathering at which point, at the end of the message it hangs up on me.  I call again and listen to the message again (seriously they really shouldn't play that recording so close to an election).  Finally-- I get a human. I'm so excited - a real human, made of carbon, with fingers that can type into a computer and fix my issue. Unfortunately I seem to have a computer in another country where scores of young people are drawn into new jobs with  "learn English, get high paying job manning shouting customer help desk!"
"John" (I think) and I have a conversation in which I explain my request - to cancel my insurance (because at this point I've just given up on the whole name change thing).  But after our conversation I'm not sure if it's actually cancelled or if I have  bought 45 cases of Xango juice and a cow.

At this point, I wanted to poke my eyes out with a pineapple and then call my general health insurance. They know my real name.

Finally - "John" says the automated billing is removed but I'm told I still have to talk to a health care "adviser" in my state before they can do so. They then ask me something "Statis?"   Static?"  All I can think of is that old SNL skit--"Is it SATAN?"  What?  Oh--what STATE do I live in.

I was tempted to answer "someplace between anger and a really sharp object" but I said my home state.
I get transferred yet again, get yet another foreign call center through which I finally get to "Jeff" which I believe is his actual name-- the health care adviser for my state of residence. Jeff speaks English and is kind and polite. Jeff asks what my plans are with no coverage with that tone that parents use on you when you tell them you're majoring in Romance Languages at Berkley.  Let's see Jeff--I could NOT pay the close to $250 a year for very basic coverage which means I won't get the $60 dollars a year you pay towards my $700 a year "I have bad gums" dental maintenance because there's not a single periodontist in my town that 's in your network.  Let me think about that.

 "I'm going to pay for it out of pocket".

Silence.  And I mean silence.  The phone goes dark for several  minutes at which point I say "are you there?".  I get a gentle sigh and he says, kindly, "you could get on your husbands plan"  and I feel for Jeff - somehow I sense he gets several of these phone calls a day and like the first lady, he just wants to help.  He gets it handled and I thank him.

I love my husband  - but they need to add "foreign call centers" to the vows.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Say Cheese

 Mom - what are you doing in there?
 Mmmm, Mom got out the bag of cheddar cheese.  I LOVE cheese.
 Can't you see how hungry I am, it's been 30 minutes since supper, that's 5 years in dog meals.
 What do you mean I don't get any because if I eat cheese on a full stomach I Toot!
It's Dad, I tell you, Dad made those noises last night that drove you two out of the den!
Sure, blame the DOG.
I'll sit here all cold and lonely and cheeseless.

I got a little bit of cheese!  thanks Mom - I promise I'll sit downwind tonight!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why Abby Doesn't Live in the Suburbs - Life From an Old Porch

This found it's way into The Book of Barkley though I did edit some of it for the final.  But I had a saved Word document of the original chapter and am posting tonight for someone who views subdivisions much like I do.  For you K.

Moving truck information lay around me on the table.  I was transferring to another location, in another state, as our workplace downsized and my particular position was being eliminated. I could stay at the small physical location I was in, in a different job I knew I would not particularly enjoy.  Or I could transfer to another, bigger office where I could continue the same work, and have better promotion potential.

I had been thinking that buying such a big house had not been the best of ideas.  The housing market in our town had tanked badly, the biggest employer in town shutting down. Keeping this house as a rental was not a good idea.  It was too big for the average renter, and if the market continued downward, I’d soon be underwater, even with an $80,000 down payment.  It was time to cut my losses and look ahead to what I hoped would simply be a new adventure: Barkley.

Fortunately, there were several opening, in varying parts of the country. I accepted the one that would keep me in the Midwest, which I loved and in which I had made friends.  Leaving the house would be tough, the walls I’d textured and painted myself, the pictures of happier times with family, pictures of Barkley, jumping up to catch a ball, making me laugh, even on the most stressful of days. But I was finding out the fancy subdivision lifestyle was not for me, everyone seemingly trying to outdo one another in possessions that many could scarce afford. Never into fashion, I had Yoda pants but no Yoga pants, which all the women seemed to wear, and the first time I dropped the “bodily fluid clean up kit” on the ground out at the collective mailbox, I realized I’d likely not be asked to a block party.

Dad was proud when I bought this place, my first home all on my own.  But I won't miss it at all, that big, crowded subdivision house, with rooms with no personality, and a front facade as closed off as most people are to the world, and to one another. I bought it thinking, as many young professionals do, that this is how I'm supposed to live, I go to college, get a job, work a few years, have a family, buy a house bigger than I want and retire to a gold watch to stay home and watch game shows until the final answer is death.  Now I look at people living like that and can't help but think of horses, penned and standing, but asleep.

But back then, I thought it was what I wanted because everyone told me that is what I wanted.  So I stood in that brand new house the first week I owned it and felt like a stranger in a place where people's reaction to the customary was different than what I'd assumed.  For frankly, my house was a perfect carbon copy of every other house (no one dare incurring the wrath of the housing association by painting their front door Winchester Repeating Arms Red). People gushed about my 20 foot entryway (make sure you don't look at it in the light so you can't see how crappy the drywall work is), the fancy roof (done by the labor of those I'm certain, were not legal laborers) and the plastic, cheap fixtures that had all the personality of a Stepford wife.
So when I moved in, more from curiosity than welcoming, the neighbors wandered over to meet the new neighbor and, too brightly to be real, exclaimed over the beauty of the mundane, many likely going home to their flat empty spaces, shutting the blinds, fearful to the discovery of what lies behind the cheap construction that makes up a life.

Perhaps we all have different perceptions of what is beautiful, people lobbying the word about so loosely, beautiful carpeting, beautiful dog, what a beautiful election speech, so when truly face to face with the beauty that is form and truth, they cannot recognize it.

Before I moved though, I knew I should go visit my Dad out on the West Coast, to explain the change, making sure he understood that career-wise, it’s possibly a good thing, for myself, as well as him. My Stepmom whom he married after Mom died, a wonderful lady herself, was recently diagnosed with cancer that had gone to the lymph nodes and he had made mention of maybe living with me if she passed soon.  This house then, would not work, the bedrooms and full baths, all upstairs, stairs he could no longer navigate—having trouble with them a year ago, on his last visit. 

I’d hate to see him leave his home, our childhood home, with so many memories there. Walking into the house, I could see the marks of our lives there, framed pictures on the walls, things we crafted for our parents when we were kids. There is the ceramic squirrel I made in grade school with a teacher overseeing the firing, a small statue that looks more like zombie than squirrel, yet still to this day, sits on Dad's desk.  There is a tiny pitcher Big Bro made. Then there are other things, other memories, one of Dad's many hats perched next to a pair of boots, curtains my mom had sewn, their shadows lingering on the wall where the family found comfort and acceptance around the family dinner table. 

When our small family gathers, we share the memories without even speaking of them, as they are woven into the fabric of our lives. Those things we loved as children remain fixed forever in our memory, and will, until we cease to breathe. Wherever we are, wherever we live, our fondest memories haunt those places where we remember comfort given, the sound of laughter, those places that contain our happiest moments.

I wander around my house today, cataloging what needs to be sold or given to charity as I downsize and stage the house for sale. I see an old photo album.  It was one that was at my family’s home, one of Mom and Dad’s youthful days, which Mom had handed me before she died.

Children tend to think of their parents as always having been old, of not experiencing life, its heartaches and its joys.  Certainly I was no exception to that thinking growing up, at least until I found the photos. There was a framed photo of them there at home when they were first married: my parents seated on a prim and proper chair that looks about as comfortable as an old Lutheran church pew. Dad's hand was resting on her folded hands, not as an expression of ownership, but as confirmation of the love that shone from his eyes. There was a photo of their Silver anniversary, Mom looking tired but still beautiful. But the album of their youth was something I had never seen before that day.

In it were pictures of Dad's family, some of whom I had never seen. One was that of my grandfather, looking enough like my uncles that I knew instinctively who he was.  Dad never once spoke to me of his dad, who died long before I came along. Mom said not to ask about him, alluding to things we knew enough, even young, not to ask further about.  It's hard for me to imagine my loving, laughing dad, coming from a background that was anything but happy.  It was as if he was miscast for a time and knowingly accepted that role for reasons worth his enduring it, but not of sharing it.

Mom simply said that he, his siblings and mother, were dealt a harsh reality in that home and to leave it at that. Dad still has a picture of his mom on his dresser, a woman whose eyes had seen so much, a look I later recognized, yet she still looked proudly into the camera. Her jaw was set, her mouth a thin, tired line, features forged in the heat of soul or environment, eyes alive and determined in a face of fired clay. He did not mention her often, but the picture of her was carefully framed and dusted, where he could see it as he got up before dawn to dress and go to work to care for his family.

A picture, but few words. But decades after she was gone, unknowingly driving him past the place where she was accidentally struck and killed by a car while walking, he broke down and cried.  It was a sound I never expected to hear from him, an echo of heartbreak that sounded from that trammeling memory, never to be mentioned again. 

As I box things up, I come across that old photo album. I remember it as being in one of the deep drawers at home, something Mom gave me to preserve and protect when she was gone.  I peeked into it at the time and saw small squares and scraps of time, and a whole bunch of young people I did not know.  I looked at it for a bit, but then, with the casual disinterest that is youth, I put it away.  Now here it is, perhaps I’d best look through it, to see if it is something Dad would want to have back.

Barkley grabbed a kitchen towel off the counter like it was a baton in a race, and went shooting up the stairs, probably to see if he could find a pair of underwear to go with it.  The photo album would have to wait.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Abby Lab's Recommendations for Unique Pet Accessories

There are so many toys and accessories for your animals, it's hard to find one that's really unique  So I, Abby Lab have taken the time to do a little shopping for you.

First up, the cat bonnet.  A modest cat keeps those ears covered and you know you're going to have SO much fun putting this on your clawed best friend.
You don't have to drink alone anymore.  Catnip wine!  Now the cat and you can curl up and watch the latest Lifetime movie while relaxing with some vino.

Poop Freeze.  Who cares about our carbon footprint, use some propellant to freeze your dog's poop. 
Never touch your pets again, the automatic pet petter.  If you're that kind of pet person you needed to get a pet rock.

The leopard print bra dog toy.  Sure it's embarrassing when Fido drags out one or your unmentionables in front of company. Just distract your pet with this.  Your guests will be uncomfortable but you won't be.

Can't wait to sleep with one eye open from now on?  The cat Tierra, their look says it all.
The horse head squirrel feeder.  So your neighbor gets a restraining order - think of the fun you'll have.
 The mullet wig.  Your dog missed the 80's, now he or she doesn't have to!
 The dog treat Pez dispenser.  Holds six treats.
 Nothing says good nap like a bed shaped like a hamburger.
 The humping USB device.  Impress your friends AND your boss.
The Kim Jong Un cat scratching post (only $7300 on the internets) handmade by genuine political activists
The Nasty Dry Crap mat.  I had one but I refused to eat off it. I can't eat unless I can spray the water and food around on Mom's nice hardwood floor.
 The Super Mario Brothers cat play center.
 Give your cat a new reason to feel renewed disdain for you.  The cat pirate costume.
 Every cat has aspirations on being a tiny pilot.  Please be responsible and spay or neuter so no "mile high club" action results in a surprise litter.
So, the mailman says he's not afraid of dogs.  Just put on this lion wig and see what he says NOW.
Every dog needs a pair of plaid pajamas.  Mom has one like that.  She calls it "warm", Dad calls it "Scottish Birth Control".
You can't take too many selfies.  Use this handy app to get your pet's attention.  Or be a cheapskate like my Mom and tape a treat to the phone.
 Every dog park needs at least ONE stegosaurus.
Have a horse, add a unicorn horn.
Tired of people you don't know coming up to pet your dog without asking first?  Just put on the werewolf dog muzzle and there will be no more of THAT.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

80's Flashbacks!

Abby Lab here - Mom was all excited as she got a special pressie.

Mom doesn't care much about fashion, but she loves her girly beauty and bath products.  I swear she has more bottles of bath goodies than I have stuffies.

But even though she has some scents she really likes, she missed her favorite from her college years.

Babe by Fabrege.

It was an era where more and more women were entering the workforce as other than secretaries, teachers, or nurses and taking risks.  Mom remembers people telling her "women aren't airline pilots" at which point she'd spray on her Babe, climb into that little Spam Can and  take off, dreaming of swept-wing jets.  She had a good example, her Mom was the first female Deputy Sheriff in her county, and though she was happy to quit when she and her husband adopted Mom fairly late in life, she was proud of that accomplishment.

After college and some employment flying for Uncle Sam, my Mom was not just an airline pilot, she was the Captain,
Babe and Charlie was about all of the fragrance she ever wore.  The Charlie that's in the US now is not exactly the same scent as from the 70's but the version she can get in the UK is.  But sadly, the original Babe has been gone for over 20 years and the the knock-off ones she tried did not smell the same.

It was woman's  fragrance of the year in 1977 and discontinued in 1992 with worldwide sales of $50,000,000 (in retro dollars). Actress/Model Margaux Hemingway was in the ads, doing something daring or wearing a wonderful evening gown out with a handsome man in a tux.

Mom really missed it when it was discontinued

But guess what.  A company in England is making it again, and it smells exactly like the original. Dad found some in London, but you can order it online.

Mom smells so good, and she's having flashbacks to the 80's I think.

She's out in the kitchen with an apron on singing "I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. . . ." WTD is up with THAT??

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Singing For Your Supper - Doggie Dining

My husband feeds Abby Lab in the morning since he gets up before I do, liking some quiet time while I just throw on clothes and race out the door to beat the Chicago traffic.  I feed her at night. He's not home from work yet, and on weekends, without exception, he is in the shop while I get her fed and organize dinner ingredients so we're not tripping over one another in the kitchen.

Abby and I have a routine and a ritual, which includes getting some warm water on her food to make "Gravy."

I'm not sure where it started but I started singing this little dinner song to her when she was a rescue and was so scared.

It's sung to the tune of La Cucaracha and it's essentially

It's Dog Food, Tasty Dog Food

Tasty Tasty Dog Food

It's Dog Food, Tasty Dog Food


And I do this little dance, which gets her dancing.

Unfortunately the other night, my husband decided to stay in the house during doggie dinner time.

I quietly fed Abby and sat down at which point Abby laid on the floor just staring at the floor, not eating a bite.

My husband said, "what's wrong, she seems upset and isn't eating."

I sheepishly looked at him and said: "I didn't sing her the song" and explained.

At which point I had to sing it, doing the little twerky dance along with it while my husband busted up.

He just shook his head and said "I love you"

And Abby danced and ate her dinner.

I'm just glad the pastor and his wife weren't over for dinner.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Weekend Eats - Late but Good

With Fall here, it's the perfect time to go pick some apples at a local orchard or pick some up at the grocers.  But this time, when they ask "Paper or plastic" go with the paper, because you're going to bake your pie in it

That's right, baking the pie in a brown paper back, makes a perfect, crunchy but flaky crust and a perfectly cooked filling, not too hard, not too mushy.

My husband spent most of Sunday  afternoon working out in the yard and flowerbeds before winter, so the least I could do for him was bake him a pie.
To start LB's foolproof pie crust. (makes 2, one for now and one to freeze)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups shortening (or lard for my non-veggie friends)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 egg
1/2 cup very cold water

Add flour, shortening, sugar, and salt to a large bowl. Get out your pastry cutter.

Mix flour and shortening with the pastry cutter until it looks nice and crumbly, crumbs should be much small than the size of peas. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, egg, and water.
Add to the flour mixture, stirring in till well-moistened.

Shape it with clean hands into a ball of pastry dough. (Don’t overhandle.)

Divide the dough into four equal-size balls.

Wrap each ball with plastic and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before using.These will keep a week in the fridge or a couple months in the freezer in freezer bags.

On a work surface lightly dusted with flour, roll out 1 disk to a circle about 1/8-inch thick. Keep rolling until the circle is at least 2 inches larger than your pan. Line the pie pan with the dough, letting the edge hang over a bit. Roll the second disk, place it on a sheet pan and chill it until you're ready to build your pie.

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thickly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Equipment: 9-inch aluminum pie pan, 1 medium-sized brown paper bag

Here I am Mom, neglected and Pie-Less

Make the Filling:
In a medium bowl, toss the apple slices, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg together. Transfer to the pie shell and dot with the butter. Brush the overhanging edges of the dough with water. Carefully cover with the rolled-out top crust and pinch the edges together, turning them under all around to make a thick edge. To decorate the rim, press it all around with the back of a fork, or just pinch it to seal. With a knife, cut a couple of small v's in the top crust.
Slide the pie into the brown paper bag and fold the top down. Staple bag shut and place it on a sheet pan. Bake for 1 hour.
Remove the pie from the oven and cut a large circle in top of the bag. Return to the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 15 minutes more.
Let the pie cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.