Thursday, December 29, 2011

All I want for Christmas is an.....

Friday, December 23 was a crazy day. I picked Eldest up from school and brought her home. She complained of a stomachache while we rode home. I assumed it was from anxiety due to wondering whether she was going to get coal in her stocking this year. After we arrived home, we sat on the couch together to chat. The pain must have gotten worse because, all of a sudden, she gripped my arm in a death grip, dug her nails into my flesh, and let out a low moan.

My wife and I decided a trip to the doctor was in order. So, Eldest and I went off to see the doctor. After explaining the situation to him, he looked at my arm, applied a little antibiotic cream, and said I would be fine. Then he said I probably should take Eldest to her pediatrician. I called my wife and told her what my doctor said and that we were on our way to the pediatrician’s office. There was dead silence on the other end, then she said, “Wait, what?”

When we finally made it to see the pediatrician, he sent us off to Strong Memorial Hospital Pediatric Emergency room. There she was asked a hundred questions; although it was actually the same five questions asked twenty times. “Where does it hurt? What is your pain level on a scale from 1 to 10?  What is your birthday? Do you have any allergies?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

After a while, when someone new would enter the room, Eldest would blurt out, “I am allergic between 7 and 8, it hurts July 2, I was born on the lower right quadrant and it hurts due to seafood and peanuts. Oh, and I am allergic to cats too.”

The doctors explained there would be a couple of imaging tests to determine what was going on, although they were ‘fairly certain’ it was appendicitis. The first test was an ultra sound, which apparently was not ultra sound, since it did not show anything definitive. The next test, and the most concerning, was a cat scan. As I already mentioned Eldest is allergic to cats. When I mentioned this to the wonderful technician, she just laughed knowingly and said she was sure my daughter would be fine.

The rest of the evening was long on waiting and short on activity. Doctors came and went, nurses took blood, and Eldest finally was moved up to the 4-3600 unit of the hospital, the “Pediatriac Surgical” unit. I had previously thought I had three daughters, when I actually have three pediats. This revelation, which came at 3 a.m. with no sleep, was quite disturbing, but not as disturbing as realizing my eldest pediat was going to have her appendix removed.

After a short nap, Eldest was wheeled down to pre-op, and by 8 a.m. was in surgery. The surgeon informed me that everything had come out fine.

“Everything?!” I asked.

Not everything, he assured me, just her appendix.

Eldest returned to her room, and we joined her. There we waited some more. What a way to spend Christmas Eve. Middlest, in her best radio announcer voice began to intone as a TV announcer advertising the latest Christmas album, “For your enjoyment this year we have some of your favorite holiday songs; ‘I am dreaming of an appendix less Christmas’, ‘I’ll be home for Christmas, just without an appendix’, and of course, everyone’s favorite, ‘All I want for Christmas is an appendectomy’.”

Eldest laughed, clutched her stomach and moaned, “Stop; it hurts to laugh.”

It was a pain sitting in the ER, waiting for surgery and waiting for her discharge to come home late Christmas eve night. My family and I are thankful for the doctors, nurses, and patient care techs in the ER, surgery, and especially on the 4th floor of Strong, for their wonderful care for our precious Eldest.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Olive oil, politicians and vegetable oil-- the uncommon thread.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, I found myself having to prepare an hors d’ouevre for a party. I rummaged through the recipe book and found a likely candidate. The list of ingredients included Virginian Olive oil.

The word Virginian is an interesting word. It comes from the words virgin and Ian. Ian is the Scottish equivalent of the name John. Therefore, Virginian or virgin Ian, is a variant of virgin John, or John Virgin, who is most notably mentioned in the first stanza, third line, of "Silent Night" where it is sung, "round John Virgin, mother and child.”
While it is interesting to note the hysterical roots of the word Virginian, I was more interested to find out that Virginia was a major producer of olive oil. I knew olive trees were prolific in the Mediterranean, but had no idea they were prevalent in Virginia. Consulting a map, I discovered that Athens, Greece and Richmond, Virginia are at very similar latitudes, thereby explaining why olive trees grow so well in both places.

Before this, I only knew that Virginia produced tobacco and presidents (William Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee—who was not a president but wanted to be, and George Washington). There is the famous story of George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree. Which causes me to wonder, was it really a cherry tree that he chopped down, or was it actually an olive tree? This is also the first record of a politician “stumping”. In this case, Washington could not tell a lie, but confessed to his escapade, in turning his father’s olive tree into a stump. Now, while stumping, politicians take just the opposite tack and cannot seem to tell the truth.

Getting back to olive oil, I rummaged through the cupboards and pantry, searching for the Virginian olive oil that the recipe called for. That is when it caught my eye-- a bottle of olive oil; not just any olive oil, but Virginian olive oil, and not just Virginian olive oil, but “Extra” Virginian olive oil. Apparently, my beautiful, intelligent, thrifty wife had not just found olive oil, but found surplus Virginian olive oil, being marketed as “Extra”, since that fine state produces so much.

A final note about cooking with olive oil; Confine its usage to light applications-- such as dressings and the like. If you want to fry something, use vegetable oil. The amazing thing about vegetable oil is a vegetable and it passes that vegetarianism onto whatever it fries: Fried chicken—now a vegetable, doughnuts (which my grandfather always referred to as fry cakes)—a vegetable, fried twinkies—a vegetable. Great stuff...right?

Friday, December 16, 2011

What if Christmas were today?

 If Jesus birth were today, what would it look like? Imagine with me, as we stroll through the events recorded in Luke chapter 2. It may go something like this…

...and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clean shop cloths and placed him in a new oil pan, since there was no room for them in any of the motels.

There were truckers staying out at the local truck stop. Keeping an eye on the scales, they weighed their loads. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were scared stiff, saying to themselves, “It must be the Highway patrol's eye in the the sky.” But, the angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in shop cloths and lying in an oil pan.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to god in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom his favor rests”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the tinny speakers of the CB radios crackled to life, “Let's roll on into town and see this thing that the Lord has told us about.”

The diesel engines growled to life, and air hissed as brakes released. The drivers formed a convoy as they rolled down the hill. The roar of jake brakes ripped through the stillness, and startled people asked what the commotion was all about, and were amazed at what the truckers reported.

They arrived at the small service station and found the babe, wrapped in shop cloths, lying in an oil pan. They rejoiced and glorified God. Mary, amazed, and slightly taken aback at the commotion and sudden appearance of these men, treasured these things in her heart. The truckers, however, not known for their timidity, loudly spread the word of all they had seen and heard.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Congratulations to my little sister on her black belt.

Just recently, my little sister tested for her Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, which is not to be confused with Karate. Karate is Japanese and means ‘open hand’; Tae Kwon Do is Korean and means (make sure you ask sis what it means before you post this). Other than the subtle difference of a few hundred miles and an entirely different language, they are very similar: spectacular kicks, ruthless punches, and loud ear splitting yells.

The test, which was being held in the middle of nowhere, started almost promptly at 5:30 pm, but apparently, the Medical Doctor was lost on her way and showed up a few minutes late. I was conflicted about this Doctor coming. Conflicted is a good psychological term meaning: having mutually inconsistent feelings. Microsoft Word suggests that I use the phrase ‘had mixed feelings’ instead of conflicted, but I like to be concise and not rattle on and on, therefore, I will stick with conflicted.

 I was glad there was going to be a doctor present in the event of any unfortunate mishap, because it was my little sister and I do not like to see unfortunate mishaps happen to her. She is my little sister and I am a bit protective. When I asked my sister about the doctor, she answered that the doctor was a friend of hers from work. This was plausible, since she works in a hospital.

The head instructor announced they were going to start with forms. One of the black belts began to say things I could not understand and then count in Korean. Counting in Korean is apparently just like counting in English, except completely different since the languages are different. While she counted, the two women who were testing for black belt moved up and down the floor, punching and blocking and kicking into the air. These kicks and punches had some crazy names, like the spinning back roundhouse kick of doom, the flying straight punch of disaster, and the whirling double whammy crescent stomping kick of death.  While doing these maneuvers they hissed and yelled a lot. I, however, did not see them filling out any forms. Then I saw the table of black belts, sitting at the front of the room, around a table, conferring and flipping through papers. It was then I understood, they were filling out the forms and the testee’s were demonstrating how frustrating and angering filling out forms can be, by punching and kicking the air, while hissing and yelling.

After filling out forms, the black belts decided to ask the testee’s questions. Many of these questions had many Korean words in them, so I have no idea what they were asking. The only phrases I caught were “yucky socky upchucky”. I can only surmise that this is why Tae Kwon Do students are barefooted. It must be that socks are so stinky that they can cause violent vomiting.

The testing session began to break up at 8 pm. Literally, break up. This was the section of the testing where the testee’s broke boards. First, they broke two separate boards at the same time, one with a punch and the other with an elbow. Next, they moved to breaking four boards in sequence and then they broke four boards, taped together, all at once. This skill, as near as I can ascertain, is important due to the high number of random attacks on people by lumberyards.

I am sure that you are all wondering if, now that my little sister has a black belt, I will continue to uphold the big brother code of ethics. The answer is—of course, I will continue to pick on my little sister, because that is what big brothers do. However, when she comes to visit, I will make sure all our socks are clean and lock up all my lumber to ensure no breakage.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I survived Black Friday, by not shopping.

Ah, the joy of the season, not the Advent season, but the shopping season. These are two very different seasons, although they span roughly the same time on the calendar. Stores and advertisers use Black Friday savings to bring out the primal, caveman, hunter, survival instincts in people. Thousands of years ago, people could track wild game over vast frozen desert tundras.  Today people smell the savings that can be had, and they pursue with cunning viciousness.

Shopping is rough, even in the best of circumstances. A few years ago, on a lovely warm spring day, the kind of day that begs you to get outside and enjoy it. Shortly after lunch, I walked to the nearby Big Box Stuff Mart. This was a mistake. No, not going for a walk, but going to the store. I only needed three or four items, but it seemed that I would have to tour the entire store to find them. It would be an amazing thing if a store could figure out how to put all the items I need to purchase in one easy-to-access aisle. Then I would not have to see the store’s inventory of periwinkle penny whistles, or their latest snack craze of Queso con Fromage, or walk through 15 rows of Chia pets.

After I found the items I needed, I stood patiently in line waiting my turn to be cashed out. While I was waiting, the very important head cashier huffed and puffed up to the lines of people waiting with me and announced, “I cannot have this, there are too many of you in line. Please come down here and use the self-checkout lanes. They are fast and efficient.”

I blinked--I blinked a few times. All the while trying to process why I needed to check myself out. Was the store going to ask me to stock their shelves next? Or unload their trucks? Or shovel the walk? Where would this madness end? I contemplated these things as I tried to get the beepy thingy to beep when I swiped each item over it. Eventually, everything was beeped and bagged, and I swiped my credit card and signed the screen. Then it happened. The checkout lane spoke. In that gentle authoritative, slightly stilted mechanical woman voice, “Please wait for attendant to check your signature.”

The attendant came over to check my signature and I asked her, “Why do you need to do this?”

“To verify that you are the cardholder.” She answered.

This seemed odd to me, since I was obviously holding the card. It was right there in my hand, and since I had wanted to wait in a line for one of those human cashiers, but I was told to use self-checkout instead. Thus far, I failed to see how this was faster or more efficient. Especially, since I was watching the steady stream of people walking out the door that had been cashed out by a real live human being.

Finally, I was ready to leave the store. I began to walk through the door when lights began to flash and claxon alarms sounded like there was a prison break. I froze. A woman from the service desk said she had to look at my bag. Dumbfounded, and my patience starting to wear thin, I handed her the bag. She pulled out an item, exclaiming, “This is it!” and proceeded to show me how I hadn’t swiped it properly across some nondescript pad to deactivate the security device. “This is how you should have done it, you need to do it properly to deactivate the security tag.”

I grumbled in response, “This was never covered during my training; I hope you don’t expect to dock my pay over this.” 

She gave me an odd look as she handed my bag back. I left the store, hurrying home in the dusk of early evening. As I walked, I realized she had never looked at my receipt to verify I had actually paid for the item I hadn’t swiped across the pad properly. I could have stolen the item and she would have been aiding and abetting me in my malfeasance! I found this maddeningly funny.

 When I got home, I was still fuming, so I went to the Big Box Stuff Mart website to find an email address to send my complaints regarding my experience at their store. I found no address, only an online form to fill out. I filled it out, and hit the submit button.

My browser crashed, giving me some error about bad code in the webpage.

Epic fail.