Saturday, August 29, 2009

Little League World Series

Normally this Saturday, championship weekend at the Little League World Series, we would have arrived at Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, PA very early to set up our chairs on the hill. For years we've stayed over there for the last several days of the series and just lost ourselves in the purest form of baseball and happy children.

The last couple of years we went, though, the crowds had grown so large that we came back to our chairs near game time to find them in a sea of chairs and blankets and running, hyper kids. You'd fall over six people trying to get out to the rest room or concession stand, and another six on the way back. And after the rain we've been having since yesterday afternoon, I'm sure the hill is slippery and muddy. This year we decided to watch on TV.

Having said all that, I encourage anyone who loves baseball and/or children to go to the Little League World Series at least once in their lifetime. The complex is magically transformed into a community of people who smile and laugh and have a wonderful time. They watch 16 teams from around the world compete. The baseball skills are amazing; sometimes it's hard to believe the kids are only 11-13, and the 13 year old kids must have had their 13th birthday after May 1st. The only time you remember their age is when there are a few tears because of an error or a loss, but shortly after the game those same kids are happy and having a great time again.

Admission is free - that's right, free! Parking in the complex lots is also free - free! Everything is handled efficiently by volunteers, people who do this year after year, and it runs like a well-oiled machine. That's why concession stand prices are so low you can take your whole family, eat well, trade pins, and see some good games. My husband has Parkinson's and I have COPD so in the last years we parked in handicapped parking, walked a short level distance to the security checkpoint, then were shuttled up a steep hill in a bus or golf cart to the stadium.

We loved to see the mascot, Dugout, getting the players and umpires dancing on the field. By the way, those officials are also volunteers who pay their own way. The Williamsport newspaper puts out special editions each day of the series and kids wander the complex yelling, "Little League Extra. 50 cents!" One year we had to laugh at a very small boy whose older brother had conned him into selling the papers for him. The boy couldn't pronounce it right, so he yelled "Wittle Weague Exta Fitty Cent." I think he sold more papers than anyone else - smart brother.

Well, today we'll settle down in front of the TV to watch Texas play California for the U.S. championship, and Mexico play Chinese Taipei in the foreign championship. Tomorrow the winners of those games will play for the overall championship and the weather is supposed to be perfect. We'll wish we were there but must admit it's more comfortable watching from home. We still have our memories.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sen. Ted Kennedy

Since I learned of the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, I've been puzzling over what to say. Knowing this was coming doesn't make it any easier; I'm relieved that his suffering is finished, but I'm devastated at this great loss. To say I admired and respected him just doesn't do justice to what I feel.

Kennedy was a giant of a man and his faults were also huge. Around this part of Pennsylvania Chappaquiddick is never far from people's thoughts of him since Mary Jo Kopechne, his passenger in the car who died, was from PA. I heard an interview on television yesterday though in which I think the interviewee had a real insight - that Chappaquiddick and the Florida rape trial of his nephew were turning points in Kennedy's life, and thereafter he devoted his life and political power to doggedly fighting for John Q. and Jane Public in attonement for those tragedies.

Whatever the case, he certainly did fight for us, using every bit of that Kennedy charm and his political savvy to make our lives easier. He didn't care about the wealthy. They didn't need his help. He cared about the rest of us. When the Senate reconvenes shortly, he will be there in the minds and hearts of his colleagues from both sides of the aisle. I can only hope the Senators will be prompted by his memory to cooperate, negotiate, and find common ground to pass a health care reform bill that will really help the American people.

Other families have suffered tragedies like the Kennedy family, but Kennedy tragedies were played out in the public eye, beginning with aviator Joe's death when Ted was only 12. Anyone who knows anything about Joseph and Rose Kennedy is aware that their children didn't have an easy life despite their weath. Their parents expected impossibly high standards, but I believe their daughter Eunice exceeded even their expectations. Her devotion to mentally and physically challenged young people and founding of the Special Olympics is one of the greatest Kennedy legacies of all.

The world won't see the likes of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sen. Ted Kennedy again. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No Social Security Raises for Two Years?

So there will be no cost of living raises in Social Security payments for the next two years. Well, that's just great. Go ahead, kick us while we're down, won't you?

"They" say we won't need it. For those of us on the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that just ain't so. My husband and I both fall into the infamous "donut hole" by midsummer. Then we pay 100% of the bill until January. Don't try to tell us the meds we need to keep going don't cost more every year. That premium will go up too, the amount deducted from our Social Security checks, a double whammy.

Every time I see a full page ad or a TV commercial for Spiriva or Advair, for instance, I feel like I'm paying for it. (We have a friend who works for a pharmaceutical company who tells me they NEED those ads. We've agreed to disagree.) All we can do is wait for a generic version to come out. How long do those patents last anyhow? Meanwhile, if I want to breathe, I'm stuck paying for these brand names.

Apparently "they" haven't been grocery shopping in years either. My grocery bill gets higher and higher but I get less and less for my money. Even the soap we bought for 40+ years is so scooped out, we've switched brands in disgust. Quality of name brand products used to keep me loyal, but quality went the way of quantity so I buy store brand now. I won't even get into the pathetic quality of the "fresh" produce in the supermarket. Thankfully at this time of the year we can buy from a farm stand.

Do "they" buy auto, homeowners, and life insurance? Even here in a rural area our premiums are terrible. And don't get my husband going on taxes - school and real estate taxes, state taxes, federal taxes all beat us down. Still our taxes are lower than friends 20 miles away in NY state pay.

Well, "they" say not to worry, we'll get along just fine. Sure thing - just try living my life for a while.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hazy, Hot, and Humid

The only good thing about hazy, hot, and humid weather is that it provides an excellent excuse for finding a relatively cool spot and reading the day away. Last week was just perfect for reading mystery novels and letting the chores slide. Now of course I'll have to pay for that neglect of reality, but that's a small price to pay for reading time.

I had stocked up on mysteries at the recent book sale, so I read J. A. Jance's "Justice Denied" and Martha Grimes' "The Grave Maurice." This Richard Jury novel is about the abduction from a stable of a young woman who loves horses. Actually I had read the Grimes novel several years ago but could only remember the story as I read so I enjoyed it all over again. There aren't many authors I could say that about, but Martha Grimes is a wonderful novelist who just happens to write mysteries.

J. A. Jance writes two series, one about a detective named J. P. Beaumont in Seattle and the other about Sheriff Joanna Brady in Arizona. I love both series. This one was a Beaumont story I hadn't read that begins with the sudden murder of a young man who has been released from wrongful imprisonment. He had been working at a charity and caring for his mother so his killing was all the more shocking. Although I figured out some of the solution early on, there were several surprises at the end.

One of the things I like about mysteries is their settings especially when I'm familiar with the area. For instance, I used to love Sara Paretsky's stories set in Chicago but apparently she's abandoned the series in favor of her other work. My love for Boston has a great deal to do with my love for Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, but who wouldn't love his characterizations and plots? It's strange but I enjoy his concise, spare writing and I also enjoy someone like P.D. James who writes lush description and goes deeper into stories.

I've also been catching up on magazines but how I love to settle in with a good book. Summer and mysteries - they just go together like sand and surf.

Friday, August 21, 2009

COPD: The Bane of My Existence

For the past year (OK it's only been a week) I've been reminded constantly that I have COPD. In hot, humid weather I use up most of my energy just breathing, and my COPD is "moderate" at this point. Since the humidity is unusually high today, I'm tired from going to the fair last night (a story for another post), and I'm having too much trouble breathing to do much else, I decided this is as good a time as any to talk about my disease.

I quit smoking in 1968 after smoking for about 12 years, so as years passed I thought I escaped any consequences from that vile habit. Then about 10 years ago I started having days where I couldn't seem to get a deep enough breath. As time passed those episodes got longer until they were lasting almost 3 days. Still, doctors told me it was simply stress.

Then 5 years ago I complained once again to my doctor and he sent me for yet another x-ray. That time there was something to see - a "shadow." He sent me to a pulmonologist who ordered a CT scan which showed a nodule in my left lung. Thankfully, 2 years of follow-up CT's proved the nodule is scar tissue from pnemonia, but on my first visit to him the pulmonologist had diagnosed COPD. Finally I knew why I had been having those episodes of breathing difficulty!

Since then my lung function has deteriorated very slowly. I'm fortunate, but I was alarmed to discover COPD is this country's 5th deadliest disease and deterioration is inevitable.

Right after my diagnosis we sold our woodstove and got a gas stove to supplement our electric heat. Since neither of us smoke and none of our friends do, my exposure to second-hand smoke is minimal. However, the doctor told me anyone who ever smoked for any length of time is a ticking time bomb. Yes, quitting decreases your risk tremendously, but some damage remains. I think of all the years I worked in smoke-filled offices, ate in smoke-filled restaurants, met friends in smoke-filled bars. It's a wonder I made it so far without suffering consequences.

Despite the fact that my case is still moderate and I don't need oxygen, this disease has changed my life greatly. I'm affected by the weather but also by anything that requires upper body strength. Running the vacuum cleaner used to just be a mundane chore, now it has to be done room by room resting in between rooms. I can only pull weeds for a few minutes at a time - and my flower garden gets out of control earlier each year. We're thinking of digging it up and planting small bushes that don't have to be trimmed - that is another thing I can only do for short periods of time.

In short, COPD makes me feel old and though I'm not young chronologically, I don't feel old mentally. Now that COPD inhalers are so prominent on TV it seems like just another "disease of the moment" but if you know someone who has it, please take it seriously. This isn't something to laugh at like a Billy Mays "but wait there's more" spiel, and those inhalers help but they don't cure. The people in the commercials appear to be well after they start using them, but unfortunately it just ain't so.

If you would like to join the fight to find a cure for COPD, you can donate to the COPD Foundation, info at Also, please ask your congressman to join the Congressional COPD caucus. Thank you on behalf of all of us who have the disease.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Saga of Brett Favre

Not again! Just as we thought Brett Favre had grown up and retired, he signed with the Vikings.

Why is it that so many athletes just cannot live without the adulation and the applause and the life of fame? He's only the latest in a long line of unretirees. Not only that, he has a small rotator cuff tear which will soon become a large rotator cuff tear. After going through my husband's rehab from rotator cuff surgery twice (thankfully he's run out of shoulders to abuse), I just can't imagine Favre going through the immobilizing cushion, strap, etc.

I'm a football fan who just recalled why I prefer college football - in college it's more about the game and less about big stars with huge egos.

End of Life Counseling

One of the more misunderstood provisions of proposed health care reform concerns end of life counseling. This is not a "death panel" to decide who lives and who dies.

The proposal is an attempt to do what doctors and families are often unable to do - have a rational discussion with terminally ill people about their wishes and give them facts to help them come to an intelligent decision on their own. We've all had dying relatives who obviously needed to talk to someone about what was happening to them. Usually the doctor, who has sworn to help people live, is reluctant to discuss the subject. The people who should be talking honestly with the patient, family members/loved ones, just keep saying, "Oh don't talk like that. You're going to be fine." Right?

I remember when my own mother was terminally ill. She desperately needed to talk about it and say her goodbyes. My father simply couldn't handle that sort of discussion, and I'm an only child so it was up to me. Mom and I spent most of every day together for many weeks as I helped take care of her and it was emotionally draining. She adored my husband and was very happy that he flew down to see her and say goodbye. They lived in Florida; once a day I would walk on the beach to pull myself together. During that time we drew closer than we had ever been and we had many long and deeply satisfying talks. When she died, she was at peace and ready to go.

I think perhaps families either convince themselves that the patient will survive because they can't come to grips with reality themselves, or they think the patient will be traumatized further by hearing the truth. Whatever the case, they need to realize the patient's real need to say goodbye. Hospice workers sometimes are able to help in this way; they do such wonderful work.

In short, end of life counseling helps not only the terminally ill person but his loved ones as well. No one is going to "pull the plug on grandma" or decide whether she lives or dies. The counseling is an attempt to make this inevitable time less traumatic for everyone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guns Plus Alcohol = Huge Trouble

It's August, we're in the middle of a heat wave, I'm already grumpy, and now I hear news that really makes my blood boil. Tennessee has legalized carrying concealed weapons in bars and restaurants that serve liquor. How dumb is that?

Have the powers-that-be in Tennessee lost all common sense? I know, I know - I'm a person who wouldn't have a gun in the house if someone paid me to, but I also know I'm in the minority and people have a right to own weapons. Gun control is something gun owners and I will never agree on, and in this area I'm surrounded by deer hunters. So be it.

Just this morning, though, I saw a picture of a man carrying an assault weapon at a rally for health care reform attended by President Obama. It was actually legal for anyone to be there with any kind of gun! Unbelievable. The security people must be going nuts.

At least that man was sober, or appeared to be. Now put a man (or woman of course) in a bar with a pistol in his belt and a few belts in his belly . . . Does that make sense to anyone except lawmakers in Tennessee? What if that person has an anger problem - ever see a mean drunk? Of course you have. We all have. The next sound you hear will be likened to the shootout at the OK Corral.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Uncivil Discourse

I am outraged at the conduct of some of the people at what are intended as informative town hall style meetings held by our senators and representatives during their "vacation" from Washington. Those who attend to learn about the proposed plans for health care reform and ask questions may as well stay home. Only the person who can shout the loudest will have the floor and no one will learn a thing.

These red-faced, arrogant idiots ride roughshod over everyone else in the apparent belief that their opinion, right or wrong, is all that's important. The other taxpaying citizens in the room don't even exist for them, even if they happen to agree with that particular view. Meanwhile, the shouters are the feature of media reports about the meetings in lieu of anything constructive because reporters can't learn anything either.

For many years my self-employed husband and I paid ever-increasing health insurance premiums for ever-decreasing coverage, and I fought with our insurance company many times - sometimes successfully because I was polite but persistent. The last few years we've been on Medicare and a supplement and happily so. Heavens, a government-run health insurance program! We chose our own doctors and hospitals and enjoy excellent care. The scare tactics of people who obviously have employer-paid health insurance don't bother us at all.

I had thought that I would attend if a town hall meeting were held in our area, but after seeing such travesties on television and reading about them, I won't go. I would want to learn something and that obviously wouldn't be in the cards.

Whatever happened to civil discourse? People seem to make up their minds by listening to the most ill-informed, biased, so-called expert they can find and then refuse to listen to reason. We've become a nation of "sides" with nobody willing to discuss, listen to another viewpoint, compromise, or negotiate to achieve a common ground.

When I have a strong opinion about government policy or programs, which is often, I write or call my senator or representative or even the president. If I'm angry, I say so, but keep my comments reasonable. I usually get an explanatory messsage in reply. Don't these shouting boors realize no one ever listens to them? Their way guarantees that they won't get their point across. Unfortunately they may also manage to keep needed reform from being passed.

I can only hope civil discourse will come back into vogue in my lifetime, but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

See "Julie and Julia" for Good Laugh

Who of us doesn't need a good laugh in these uncertain times? Solution: See "Julie and Julia" ASAP.

Meryl Streep is brilliant in this and I very much liked Amy Adams as Julie as well. Despite some critics' unhappiness with the casting of the two husbands, I thought they were just right. I don't know how long the movie is but the time just raced away and before you could say "Bon Appetit!" it was over.

It brought back nice memories of my father. We shared a few physical characteristics, a love of learning, and an offbeat sense of humor, but he was impossible to get close to, silent, and standoffish. Every week, though, we watched Julia Child's TV show together. No sooner did she open her mouth than we were laughing, and we didn't stop until after her signature close of "Bon Appetit!"

Finally I developed a pretty fair imitation of Julia which was guaranteed to make my father break up. We loved her clumsiness, her "careful measuring" of the wine, flour all over her kitchen, and the way she absentmindedly patted a chicken as she explained what she intended to do with it.

Best of all, Julia Child was herself, no matter what, which is what makes Meryl Streeps's characterization of her so funny in this movie. I also appreciated how the movie showed the fact that she and her husband Paul absolutely adored each other and were always supportive of each other. Strangely enough, I hadn't realized Paul Child came under suspicion during the McCarthy era and how his diplomatic career went downhill afterward even though he was cleared.

The parallel story of Julie Powell and her husband was charming and funny. Having tried a couple of Julia Child's recipes myself many years ago, I know how difficult they are. I can only admire someone who managed to cook every recipe in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" while holding down a full-time job, a husband, and a cat. Bravo!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Favorite Book Sale

All year I look forward to the first Friday in August. The Blueberry Festival in Montrose, PA runs that Friday and Saturday as a benefit for the county library system and historical society. The blueberries aren't the big draw for me although I love them. We have plenty of berries on our own bushes, especially in a rainy summer like this one has been. We do always buy raffle tickets for the quilt made by local ladies; this year's is the prettiest ever I think. Haven't won in 14 years but you never know. That isn't really the big attraction for me either.

No, the attraction that pulls me to the town green early that Friday morning is the giant book sale. I learned shortly after we moved here that this area is populated by mystery lovers. I fit right in. That means many residents do the same thing I do - stock up on mysteries at the book sale and then donate them right back the next summer. We have quite a recycling program going. There are also boxes of books by other popular writers, but the majority of boxes are full of favorite mystery writers such as Robert L. Parker, Martha Grimes, Sue Grafton, P.D. James, Marcia Muller, and others.

Each year I try a few new authors. If I don't like the books, it's no great loss for me and I've made a donation to a cause I care about. The problem is that I also buy some nonfiction books that I keep, adding to the overflow in my own library. I'll bring home something like four large tote bags full, and donate three.

In November I go to the Putnam Publishing Co. annual warehouse sale in the Binghamton area and come home with a box or two of new books. Some of those will get donated to the Blueberry Festival, but many of those as well stay on my shelves.

Years ago my husband built a library for me in a spare bedroom. It has floor to ceiling shelves on two walls. I remember him saying at the time that I'd never fill those shelves. I just grinned. Sure enough, he had hardly finished building them when they were full. Still, I have stacks of books around, and more bookcases downstairs filled.

At least I'm not alone in this situation. Every time I go to a book sale I'll overhear people talking about the overflow of books in their house and how they absolutely must do something about it. Our library will soon break ground on a new building near the high school so the historical society can take over the old building on the green. Both are in dire need of more room. In Susquehanna County people do read. Not all of us can afford to buy new books, but we certainly make good use of what books are available to us. I think that speaks very well of the people of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Harsh Penalties for Poor Judgement

So former President Clinton is in North Korea to negotiate the return of the two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who strayed across the border to investigate a story last March. It was a story worth pursuing, certainly, but to knowingly go into North Korea illegally was one of the worst examples of poor judgement by journalists in recent history. These are not stupid women; they knew how unstable North Korea's dictator is and yet they took a chance, thereby setting up an international incident that could have plunged us into war and, incidentally, getting themselves sentenced to a labor camp. What in the world were they thinking?

I hope they have learned that there are limits you just don't cross in investigative reporting. Meanwhile I feel very sorry for their families who have been put through hell.

Now we have another instance of very poor judgement. Who in their right minds would decide that Iraq was a good place to take a vacation in 2009? Apparently four young Americans thought it was a great place to go hiking. One didn't feel well so he stayed in the Iraqi hotel. However, the other three ignored warnings by hotel management that the nearby border was unmarked and easy to cross accidentally. Off they went, blithely hiking through the countryside. They have been arrested in Iran. Oops, they crossed the border. Once again, poor judgement by young people has put them, along with the U.S., in a terrible position.

I remember feeling immortal when I was young too. Nothing could possibly happen to me. Fortunately my adventures were mild in comparison so I survived to grower wiser and more cautious without suffering the consequences of taking chances. These five young people defied common sense and, I'm sure, knowledge of the danger involved in their actions. When they are all safely back in this country, I think they should be held accountable for what they did to U.S.-Korea and U.S.-Iran relations.

I hope their example gives others pause when contemplating similar adventures.