Billy Joel has long been one of my favorite pop singers. Part of our courtship included sitting with my not-yet-husband in the nose-bleed section at one of Joel’s concerts in the late 1980s. Where I sat didn’t matter. Joel put on a great show.

Over the years, I’ve read very little about him in the press. I knew he and Christie divorced. I knew of a series of car accidents. Coincidentally, a few weeks before I started this book, I saw the PBS program where he was honored by the Library of Congress with The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers and published by Crown Archetype gives a lot more of the famous songwriter’s story. (I received a free copy of the book for this review from Blogging for Books.)

Schruers portrait includes many familiar settings: absent father, raised by single mother with little money, poor school performance, naive trust in others all of which often result in bitterness and resentment.

Joel’s feelings pour out in the music and is able to stay on civil terms with most who have wronged him. He is wise enough, though, to walk away from those who don’t work for a common good – whether it be a show or a marriage.

The early pages present a few branches of the Joel family tree accounting for his grandparents emigrating from an unsettled Europe because of Hitler’s actions.

The bulk of the book explains the music business and the seminal moments of individual songs (The Stranger, Piano Man, Uptown Girl).

The story of any individual song emphasizes that most of what Joel writes is autobiographical, something that won’t come as a surprise to ardent fans.

What may surprise readers of this book is how much Billy Joel is a common man, looking for love and fulfillment, like his fans. Just with a tad more capital at his fingers.

A few days before Christmas, Husband, planning for a trip to the grocery asked, “How about lasagna for Christmas Eve?”

“Sounds good. Are you going to cook it?”

“Well, kind of.”

I knew immediately that meant he would be perusing the frozen food aisle of the store. I thought I could do better, so I said, “I’ll make it.”

I have a lasagna recipe that I found in a Good Housekeeping magazine in the 1970s. It was a “Susan learns to cook recipe” that I had never had any complaints about, but neither do I receive accolades the last time I served it to Husband and Son.

“It’s okay.”

Not what I want to hear after spending hours preparing a meal.

I knew immediately where to find a new recipe.

I had seen someone on a morning show make her recipe to raves from the rest of her cast members. I’d try that.

I sat down with my computer and googled, “Joy Behar’s lasagna recipe.” Of course, the result was hundreds of sites offering the recipe.

I started with the first, clicked on the link and started to read. The ingredient list appeared short; it didn’t even include lasagna noodles. I scrolled down to the comment section where the first one mentioned the abbreviated list.

Back to Google, I chose the second link. I read the list of ingredients which was longer than the previous one I had read. I did, however, come across something even I, the self-acknowledged recipe follower rather than cook, questioned. About half way down the list I found this: 1 oz. crushed italian tomato.

One ounce crushed italian tomato?

I felt sure it was supposed to be 1 ounce of capitalized Italian tomato paste or capitalized Italian tomato sauce or anything other than the teeniest bit of capitalized Italian tomato.

Back to Google and a third recipe.

This time, the ingredients list seemed complete and understandable.

I made a grocery list derived from the recipe and went to the store for the ingredients.

A couple of hours before supper, I started to prepare the sauce. Soon I called Son to help with preparing the lasagna noodles and chopping onions, parsley, and basil.

I then asked him to prepare the cheese and egg mixture.

I had what I thought I needed for the sauce at arm’s length so I could quickly add ingredients as the directions called for.

All went well until the directions” Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, basil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.”

I added the crushed tomatoes. I added the tomato sauce. I had Son help me with the tomato past since the easiest way to get the most from the can is to open both ends and push the paste through and then removing the lid from the top of the paste glob. Next oregano.

Oregano?

I asked Son if he could find oregano in the list of ingredients.

“No.”

I didn’t have the fresh that the recipe called for. After a quick examination of the cupboard, I found dried oregano. I dumped (yes, dumped) a bit in the almost sauce trying to compensate for the age of the herb.

Can no one get this recipe right?

I let the guys layer the ingredients. As they were ready to put the dish in the oven, another light bulb went on over my head.  I said, “We forgot about garlic bread.”

Fortunately, the grocery was open for about 40 more minutes, so Son and I took off in search of garlic bread.

Of course, while we were in the store, we thought of a couple of other things we’d forgotten. We split up to get what we needed and allow the Kroger employees to get out on time.

I rounded a corner by the pharmacy seeing the pharmacist in the aisles. Having seen me earlier in the day with a very large bottle of cream sherry, she questioned if I’d run out already. (I wasn’t making that recipe until Friday.)

She shared that there wasn’t a drop of egg nog in the entire store. “It’s our family tradition.”

I suggested that she might make her own.

“How do you do that?”

“Well, when you get home, sit down at your computer, bring up Google, and type “e-g-g n-o-g.”

I’m willing to acknowledge, now, that I evidently suffered a disconnect from Google recipe experience.

The finished lasagna was a hit. Son had at least 3 helpings. Husband gave me better than, “eh, it’s okay.” I was content.

Stouffer’s might have been easier. Stouffer’s might not have tasted as good. But Stouffer’s wouldn’t have given me the family time nor this great story to accompany it.

Now, how much oregano do I need to add…?

No matter how easily my fingers fly around the keyboard, this blog won’t be easy to write. Better put, it won’t be easy to share. It’s personal. It’s very personal and has been for a lot of years.

Strangely, it’s easier to explain that I “suffer” from depression. I put the word in quotes because I now have more up days than down ones. I was willing to be the poster-person for depression. I know, as many do, that it is an illness. I couldn’t help it.

Okay. Deep breath.

I got an early Christmas present today when I read this headline in the New York Times: 

F.D.A. Lifting Ban on Gay Blood Donors

Why would I see this as a gift for me? Because I’ve been affected by that decision to ban made decades ago.

My father was often a blood donor. His donation was often prompted by a phone call that his type of blood was needed. My dad modeled. I followed his example for many years. Until I was asked one question which put to death my life giving gifting.

The question? “Have you ever had sex with someone who had anal intercourse with another man?”

My answer was yes. Someone I knew intimately had been raped as a youth. That was enough to disqualify me.

The first time that I was denied the opportunity to give blood, I tried to argue…

“I’ve been married and monogamous for years.”

It didn’t matter.

“I don’t have HIV or AIDS. Neither does he.”

It didn’t matter.

I remember the days when AIDS first hit the headlines. It included the time my husband and I started dating. I was anxious and said so to one friend. She counseled me that with him, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I remember coming back with “HE’s not the one I’m worried about. It’s who else he’s been with.” My friend was silent to my comeback.

To discover had a problem more than a decade later was astounding.

I guess, as shown by the ebola crisis this year, we are quick to fear and slow to investigate.

Will that ever change?

The article states the changes are coming in 2015.

It will be interesting to see how quickly I’ll be able to donate again.

Merry Christmas

A couple of weeks ago I was eating lunch at my favorite local diner. I always use that opportunity to read while I eat alone.
I decided to try to “drum up business” for the next book discussion at the library. I had set up something special and wanted lots of people to attend.

The waitress had not read “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat” and the book discussion group was going to be Skyping with that author.

I also mentioned that I was finishing the book from the month before which I was very emotionally involved with “The Light Between Oceans” so…

After my meal, I went to the library, checked out both books and brought them back to Laura, the waitress.

She read and loved the first book, but did not make it to the discussion. She then moved on to the second book.

Knowing the due date was approaching, I asked her about it last week. She was savoring it – delaying finishing it because she didn’t want it to end.

Today, I had a hankering for a cup of coffee, so I stopped in for a coffee to go. She greeted me, face aglow, telling me how much she enjoyed both of those books and then she told other customers how I had picked two fantastic books for her. “I’m ready for another Would you pick another one for me?”

She commented that she liked not knowing what she was getting in to. I took this opportunity to tell her about the postal book group I’m in that puts me in that exact position.

I was partially tickled, she was animated and excited as a child on Christmas morning, and dismayed. What had I started?

Now, what to pick next?

I trudged through Koch’s previous book, “The Dinner”, since I had immense trouble with the actions which were the basis for the dinner.
After reading this book, I really wonder about the writer’s mind. A mind that can write so brilliantly such a despicable tale.

Dr. Marc Schlosser is a general practitioner whose contempt for his patients oozes from the page, so much so I had trouble being pulled into the story. I detested Schlosser. Why would I want to read almost 400 pages about this sleeze?

The answer is that one of his patients dies and the reader is slowly manipulated into hanging on to find out exactly what the doctor did and then why he did it. It quickly becomes clear that the doctor was seeking retribution, but for what?

Not everything in the books or about the doctor is repulsive. The love and affection he has with his family, especially his daughters. He would do anything to protect them.

Still, Schlosser does tend to think of himself and his needs and desires first even if no one else in the family goes along with his decisions.

The book may have started slowly, but the last half of the book I read in marathon fashion. Hang in until the end and see the just or unjust desserts.

In 1969, for most occasions, I gave up eating potato chips. That simple effort accompanied by an increase in bicycle riding resulted in my loosing about 25 pounds. I was amazed at my results.

This does not mean that I do not eat potato chips ever, but I’m in enough control that I won’t devour the entire bag – even Lay’s.

Even though the weather hadn’t become autumnal, critters have been seeking asylum within our walls. During the month of September, thanks to live traps, we have relocated seven mice from our kitchen to the river. We patted them down prior to the trip to make sure they weren’t packing any breadcrumbs to drop, a la Hansel and Gretl, to find the way back to us.

Son had a stare down with one more the other night. Son at the counter, mouse in the cupboard. I made plans to get all packaged good into glass or plastic.

Last week, I had a hankering for chips. I grabbed the bag from the top of the refrigerator and took the bag to the living room. I was sure from the number of times the bag had been folded that I was probably only going to have chip crumbs. I was right. I was very surprised to discover that these remnants were not crisp. They were stale.

I held the chip bag up to my chin to catch crumbs, but was soon surprised to have crumbs on my shirt. On the other end of the bag. “How the…?”

That was when I found a hole in the bag. I quickly lost my appetite for chips. I was pretty sure how the hole got in the bag. (When I told husband, he commented about having had stale chips a few nights before.)

Tonight, I heard a very loud rustling of paper in the dining room. I was home alone, so I tried to ignore the sound. I concentrated on answering the questions on Jeopardy. The rustling was hard to ignore, but I stayed in the living room. There were too many places in the dining room overflowing with paperwork to check out and from the living room I couldn’t pinpoint the location of the noise.

It didn’t take long after Son got home from school and settle behind his computer in the dining room for him to question, “Was that you?”

I had done such a great job that I hadn’t really registered that I had heard the rustling until he asked the question. I said, “No, that came from the dining room.”

I asked if he could tell where it came from.

“Near the waste basket, I think.”

The waste basket was on the floor next to the table where we accumulated our paper recycling.

A few more rustles tempted Son away from the computer to investigate the continuing distraction.

He turned on the overhead dining room light. Shortly he was laughing uproariously and inviting me into the dining room to see what he had found.

“Where?” I asked tentatively.

“In the waste basket.”

Before I got close enough to look in to the container I could see the top of a tossed potato chip bag. It was wide open.

I looked into the trash receptacle around the chip bag, but saw nothing. I looked into the snack bag without bending over. What I did see looked like mouse leavings, but not mouse.

Son came over, picked up the chip bag and rearranged to I could see the blind corner. Our rustler was in that corner. It tried to jump up and out, but it couldn’t jump high enough to escape the slick sides of the potato chip bag.

So this mouse has proven my theory that eating potato chips is hazardous to ones health.

Meanwhile, there’s another trip to the river in our future.

Earlier this year I visited my doctor’s office where I was asked to step on the scale. Next, I was invited into an examination room where my blood pressure was taken. At that time, I suggested that if the medical staff wanted to be happy with one of those numbers, they might consider switching the order for those parts of the exam.
Now, I have a new suggestion for a medical visit.
Anyone who has ever visited a medical professional is familiar with filling out an amount of paperwork that would have Leo Tolstoy crying, “Uncle!” Followed by signing forms allowing release of information to those designated plus the HIPAA paperwork.
I’d want to see one more signature – the doctor’s on a form that says the paperwork I painfully and meticulously filled out was read.
I had intended to drive about halfway back to Ohio from North Carolina, but I began having more than usual trouble focusing my left eye, so I found a motel and called it an early night.
Waking up this morning, I knew I had a problem and suspected my diagnosis because my eyelid was crusty. “Aw! I bet I have pinkeye. How could I have gotten that?”
The mirror reflected an eye so red that either my guess was right or I’d had one heck of a party last night and didn’t remember (and cleaned up afterwards).
I put my sunglasses on over my prescription lenses before resuming my drive home. Kentucky was overcast, but the light bothered my eye.
With several stops, I made it back home and went directly to the local urgent care clinic since I’m between doctors. I complimented the office staff because I only had to fill out one side of one sheet of paper for information.
I didn’t wait long to be called to the back. True to form, I was asked to get on the scale (I asked to have it moved away from the wall but did not explain it would have made me feel claustrophobic otherwise). Disappointedly, the scale proved I’d had a good weekend in Asheville.
Next, on to the sphygmomanometer for the blood pressure check. This one, electronic, inflated the pressure cuff on my upper right arm automatically until the squeeze hurt. I’m not averse to short term pain and have certainly proven through many surgeries that I have a high tolerance for pain, but my hand went numb. It deflated and I thought, “Thank goodness.” but the attendant stayed at her laptop inputting while the machine started to inflate again. Once again, my hand went numb and tingled and I asked her to take it off.
She got a smaller-width cuff, put it around my lower left arm while she held it on. My hand went numb. I told her.
She replied, “That’s because it’s electronic.”
I stayed silent despite having had many blood pressures taken over many years even with electronic devices and never had a numb hand before.
She questioned my health history. I included 2 broken legs, 3 rods in my back, torn meniscus, rotator cuff and removal of my right eye.
The last was the only thing she questioned an I told her, “I had a tumor and they took it out when I was 3 weeks old. Retrolental fibroplasias, I think.” trying to remember the exact diagnosis. She typed on the laptop.
She asked about medicines and a couple of follow-up questions about those and then left the room.
Shortly, the doctor came in the room and asked about my symptoms. He asked if I had double vision.
“You can’t have double vision with one eye.”
He quickly opened my chart, I thought to see what he had missed. He said he wanted to give me an eye exam and I told him that I just had one.
“When?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“What was your vision?”
I worked to recall, “20 / 30.”
I pulled both sets of glasses onto the top of my head so he could look at my inflamed eye.
He questioned whether I could see well enough to drive. I told him that I was pretty good at catching the county number from Ohio license plates (as long as I wasn’t in heavy traffic at 70 m. p. h.)
He smiled and said he would write a prescription for eye drops, told me I was contagious for the next 24 hours and would write me a note to get off work and left the room.
I opened my ever-present book and read about 1-1/2 pages when the woman came back in and advised the doctor wanted to test my vision. We went into the hallway where she pointed to the eye chart at the end of the hall and tried to hand me a white spoon-shaped tool and said, “Place this over your right eye and look down the hall…”
I interrupted, objecting, “But I don’t have a right eye…”
She interrupted me, “You still need to put this over your eye.”
I pulled both sets of glasses onto the top of my head, tapped my prosthesis thrice with one of my fingernails so it “click, click, clicked” and said, “It’s plastic. I can’t see out of it. It comes out.” and used my thumb to prove the last part true then held my plastic eye in front of her face.
“Well, you don’t have to get rude about it.”
“I am not being rude.”
She relented and did not force me to use the white spoon-shaped tool and asked me to read the chart. I knew I got the colors (red and green) correct and after I asked, she told me my vision was 20 / 30.
This incident is more than two women not seeing eye-to-eye. She wasn’t listening to me. She was operating by rote.
I never take my eye out in front of anyone who is not sleeping in the same bed with me. Taking my eye out is tantamount to standing naked before another.
Is it too much to ask the medical personnel to use their eyeballs to look at the paperwork that seems so necessary to them?
I said something to the receptionist on my way out. All she said, “It’s the way we’re used to doing things.”
That still hit me in the eye.
I am very specific about my wording. I always say to doctors, “I don’t have a right eye.” never “I have no vision in that eye.” There’s a difference.
In my mind’s eye, there are a lot more people who would say the latter than people similar to me. Wouldn’t my situation be a tad more memorable. Or am I asking too much for someone to remember let alone understand the words that I’m using.
It is difficult to have an eye for detail, but I hope this might be an eye opener for some. Perhaps we could all go on strike and refuse to do paperwork at the doctor’s office unless the doctor agrees to read what is written down. That would be an eye-catcher, wouldn’t it?

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