Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to say "no" to a customer.

This is another non-rant. Sort of. I do complain, but mostly, I want to point out a retail practice that makes for good business.

The blood-testing apparatus.
It will come as no surprise that the supplies for my diabetes care are covered by our supplemental health insurance. It also won't surprise you that the little strips that are used every time I test my blood sugar cost just shy of a dollar apiece. I test my blood about 3-6 times a day.

That adds up to almost $200 per month.

Recently I had some confusion about how those strips could be billed directly to my insurance, with me only having to pay the co-pay.

Here's what I experienced at two different pharmacies, and why I will hereafter shop at Pharmacy #2.

Pharmacy #1 - near where I work
Despite my printout of a message from my insurance that stated that a doctor's prescription was not required, the pharmacist insisted that he would need one. He asked me to wait while he called the insurer. Not surprisingly, this took a long time and it ended inconclusively. He got off the phone and said he would have to follow up with the insurance company's main office. I left feeling frustrated and with little confidence that the pharmacist would actually follow up. In any case, he had made no effort to gather my contact information.

Pharmacy #2 - near where I live
Also insisted that she was unable to submit a claim without a doctor's written prescription. However, she asked if she could keep a photocopy of my message and call the insurance company later. The following day, I got a call from the pharmacy asking if it was okay for them to fax the insurance company a copy of my message. (Yes, it is odd that the insurance company couldn't get that information more directly, but health information has all sorts of reasonable access controls around it.) I agreed. About an hour later, the pharmacy called me back and explained that the agent had given me incorrect information: I did indeed need a written prescription.

While that won't happen until I have a regular appointment with my new doctor (in late August), I so appreciated the second pharmacy's courteous approach and respect for my time that I will continue to buy my prescriptions and supplies there.

Both suppliers had to tell me they were unable to fulfill my request, but the way in which they did it left me feeling completely different. And that is worth paying for.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Operation Family Doc

The military member
of whom I am so proud.
Good news! The Canadian Military Family Resource Centre in Ottawa has started a program to help support families like ours who don't have a family doctor. (Note to my American friends: in Canada, because we have universal health care, military dependents are not eligible to use military health services.)

We received a mailing yesterday about "Operation Family Doc," which said, in part:
What is “Operation Family Doc”? 
This program facilitates the families of Canadian Forces (CF) members to obtain a family physician in a timely manner.  
Why is this program needed? 
CF families, because of frequent moves to accompany the serving member throughout his or her career, find it difficult to find and maintain family physicians. The average posting is 3 to 4 years, during which time the family may not find a regular physician and may have to rely on drop-in clinics or hospital emergency rooms. Operation Family Doc aims to link families with their new doctor as soon as they arrive at their new post. 
Amen. It's about time.

The member does have to submit an "application," and it isn't clear how long it will take to connect a member's family with a doctor, but it most certainly has to be less than two years, which is what it's taken me.

This, coincidentally, comes about six weeks after I sent a letter to the Director General of Personnel and Family Support Services (DGPFSS - cuz you juts know there is an acronym!). Here's what I wrote:

I am a proud military wife writing to let you know about an issue that you may not be aware of: access to consistent health care for families of military members upon return from an out-of-country (or even out-of-province) accompanied deployment.
The Canadian Forces has already ensured that military dependents are not subject to the usual three-month waiting period for provincial health coverage. That gave me tremendous peace of mind when returning to Canada!
I would like to see something comparable for access to a family doctor whereby a medical practice would be obliged to accept military dependents as new patients on a priority basis. I appreciate that this would require negotiation with the provincial health systems or the Canadian Medical Association, but I consider this an extremely high priority for the wellbeing of military dependents and the likelihood of military personnel to accept accompanied out-of-province or out-of-country postings.
Here is our story. I doubt that it is exceptional.
In 2005 my husband was deployed to NORAD in Colorado Springs. It was an exciting posting for our family and well worth the upheaval. 
However, upon returning to Ontario in 2010, we learned that our previous family doctor had moved to a different city. This was critical as our family has several chronic health conditions that require ongoing, consistent medical supervision: I have Type II diabetes which at the time of the move was diet-controlled and required no medication.
Furthermore, given the shortage of doctors in the province, Ontario had established a central registry whereby individuals could “register” to go on a waiting list. I did not learn about this list until more than a year after we moved to the province. 
In the meantime, I was “rejected” by several practitioners. My diabetes soared out of control and one doctor at my local walk-in clinic refused to prescribe medication. Finally, I found a walk-in doctor who would prescribe medications for my diabetes. There are more twists and turns to the story, but I’ll leave it there.
Recently, through word of mouth, I learned of two doctors who are accepting new patients. In August, I will meet my new doctor. I hope she will also take on other members of my family.
As I said, I am grateful that, despite all my difficulties, I had confirmed health coverage immediately upon setting foot in Canada. In these times of doctor shortages, I think it is appropriate to extend that assurance to include access to a dedicated family doctor.
I haven't received any reply from the DGPFSS, but I can't help wondering if my letter actually made a difference. Wouldn't that be nice? Or perhaps I'm not the only one to speak up about the issue. 

In any case, I'm pleased. Military families should absolutely not have to go through what I have.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Lost Weekend

Don't you hate it when your weekend is just a big . . . dud?

On Saturday, I succumbed to the magnetic lure of my pillow and slept until noon. Even as I drifted back into my dreams, I knew it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway.

And then I refused to drink any coffee because that would only compound the difficulty of falling asleep at a reasonable hour ["reasonable" in this case being around midnight]. So I passed the day feeling sluggish and occasionally sighing.

But I did get to sleep around midnight.

On Sunday I ended up in the emergency room, worried that I was having a heart attack or an angina attack. [Spoiler alert: it was neither.]

My chest/neck pain started shortly after I got up and seemed to get worse as I went about my day preparing for our guests who were to arrive later Sunday afternoon.

Finally, I decided to call Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000) and I spoke to a nurse. She ran through a series of questions then told me she was going to transfer me to an ambulance! Since we live only five minutes from a hospital, I told her I would rather my husband drove me in.

She made me promise that I would go to the hospital immediately. I did.

I also told Steve that, should anything dramatic happen to me, he should lay on the horn and just DRIVE.

We made it to the hospital without incident. Over the following five or six hours, I learned the following:

  • Angina does not last for hours. It lasts for minutes.
  • The diuretic I take to reduce my blood pressure can cause low potassium.
  • Low potassium can cause muscle pain.
  • The enzyme by-products of heart injury can take up to eight hours to show up in blood work.
  • Chest/neck pain like mine can also be cause by GERD (reflux) or muscle spasm. (Or lung problems, but I had a clear x-ray.)
I was sent home still in pain, which seemed to have gotten worse, but at least confident that death was not imminent. 

Our visit with friends was postponed until Monday morning (which I had already taken off).

When I meet my new doctor in August, I will follow up on this. In the meantime, this weekend totally sucked lemons. I'm glad I have Monday off! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Letting go

Welcome to the world, Emily.
This post is more in the vein of "advice you never asked for."

From the moment we meet our babies, their floppy, squawking heads on our chests, we begin to say goodbye. The rest of parenthood is letting go.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, the challenges get significantly scarier as the children get older. Instead of kissing scuffed knees, we watch our kids navigate the Internet or get their drivers' licenses.

Our goal, of course, is for our children to grow up to be healthy, reasonably happy, independent adults. But, oh, sweet Jesus, there are pitfalls along the way! Really, really scary, deep, deadly, bottomless pitfalls.

There are three things Steve and I have found we can do:

  • Pray.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Take care of ourselves.
That's it, folks. That's all I've got.


I believe in the power of prayer, especially when two or more people pray together. I believe that specific prayers are especially powerful.


I think we all benefit when there are clear parameters about what is expected and what is permitted, along with clear consequences. This gets a trickier with adult children, but I use the roommate test to evaluate whether I'm treating them as children or as adults: would I ask the same of a roommate who was not related to me?

For example, I would certainly expect a roommate to clean up after cooking or to clean other shared areas. On the other hand, I would not expect a roommate to tell me when she'll be getting home (unless we had plans to do something together). This is a hard adjustment for a parent to make. [Understatement.]

As for consequences, again, you have to use the roommate test. You can't "ground" a roommate, so we don't try to ground our adult children. But I would certainly ask a roommate to take on an additional chore (clean the bathroom?) if I had to clean up after his kitchen mess.

[Steve actually went to the length of calculating how many hours per week we each had committed (to work, school, volunteer, lessons, and travel) and allocated chore hours accordingly. But that's probably a little too OCD for most.]

When needed, it is appropriate to put these in writing, in the form of a family contract.

Taking Care of Ourselves

New mothers receive constant advice to take it easy on themselves, especially when the baby isn't sleeping well. In my experience, that is a piece of advice that mothers of young adults should take to heart. And it is as important now as it ever was for Steve and I to put effort into our relationship.

All I need to do now is take my own advice. I'll, uh, let you know how that goes. In the meantime, do any other mothers of adult children out there have advice for me? Do share!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Driveway Drama

This is a re-post from a long, long time ago (fall 2010). I think. But I ran across it and it brought back so many memories . . .

I'm a nervous passenger, and it drives Stephen crazy. I try, really I do, to keep the gasps and yelps and nagging within reasonable limits, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

It really comes to a head in two locations we've encountered so far:
  1. Switchbacks on mountain passes - and there are PLENTY of those in Colorado! In winter, they are generously sprinkled with icy patches.
  2. Crazy high-speed traffic in L.A.
What can I say? I just hate that feeling that you're going to fall off the edge of the planet or occupy the same physical space as another vehicle. And it just FRUSTRATES ME to no end that there are no brakes on the passenger side of our cars.

You'd think, since I'm so here-let-me-tell-you-how-to-drive, that I'd be a pretty decent driver myself. Well, while it's true that I haven't had any insurance claims in decades, I have had a few mishaps.

Most of them in my own driveway. How pathetic is that?

I once ran over a metal post while backing up the long driveway at our cottage. It pierced a small hole in the trunk. At the time, I was trying to avoid running over my friend, so I think that was a fair trade-off. [Never mind that I was never closer than 10 feet from her.]

I once backed out of our garage while the car's hatchback was wide open. You'd be surprised how loud a noise a hatch makes when it strikes a garage door. You'd be even more surprised to see that neither was damaged.

I once broke a water spigot off the wall of our house while trying to maneuver - again, backing up - around another car in our driveway. Astonishingly, the car was not damaged at all, but my ego was damaged as my friend watched me do it; she generously attributed my poor skill to "pregnancy brain."

But my favourite most memorable happened shortly after we moved to Colorado. While driving into our garage, I marvelled at how incredibly tidy and well organized the space was: canoe paddles in their rack, storage bins in custom-built shelves, gardening supplies tidied away. It was a little moment of OCD bliss until I heard the crunch and grind of the side of our van scraping along the garage opening.

As I backed out of the garage, I knew that this was going to be an expensive screw-up, and it was. (For his part, Steve would've been happy to drive around indefinitely with a smashed-in door and missing side mirror, but I found it too humiliating.)

So, while I am very good at getting from point A to point B, it is safe to say that valet parking was invented for people like me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Salade Niçoise, take three

Following two failed attempts at photographing salade Niçoise, which is one of our favourites around here, I did a very small amount of research into how to photograph food.

Here's what I posted last time.

Yuck. Think I'll stick with a good old PB&J.

Coincidentally, on Sunday evening as Steve and I wilted in the heat, I realized that we had all the fixings in the fridge for salade Niçoise. It's a perfect summertime meal: packed full of nutrients and served cold, so it won't heat up the house (assuming you've boiled the eggs and potatoes, and lightly steamed the beans at a time when the house is not already stifling).

This time, following a couple of blogs I read, I decided to photograph incrementally. I didn't apply all the tips I read (I have no intention of building a light box or becoming a professional food photographer; I just want my cookbook to look more appetizing). 

And here's what I got this time:
That looks much more appetizing to me. Hope it does to you, too.
(There are potatoes under there - they are kind of the main ingredient!)
UPDATE: I just read that genuine salade Niçoise does not include any cooked vegetables!
That is the picture I'll use in the cookbook, but I actually like the following one better. 

But it doesn't include the dressing or the eggs, so it isn't really accurate.
It does, on the other hand, show the potatoes, so maybe it's more accurate after all?
Because I wasn't sure if the salad would photograph well with the dressing on it, I photographed the dressing separately also.

I wish I'd started my herb garden early enough to have fresh herbs for this!
And, for your patience, here is the recipe we use for salade Niçoise. Last time I served this, everyone who tried it asked for the recipe. It is delicious served with crusty slices of baguette or a nutty multi-grain loaf.

Salade Niҫoise (pronounced nee-swahz)

Cover with cold water, bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and just simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are tender:
6 medium potatoes or 8 “new” small potatoes
4 eggs (in shells)
Rinse potatoes and eggs in cold water, drain, then refrigerate. The longer, the better. The potatoes will have better texture if they're allowed to chill thoroughly. 

½ red onion, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 cans tuna
15 black olives
2 cups green beans – either frozen beans thawed or fresh beans lightly steamed (fresh tastes better)
Chilled potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Shake in shaker:
2/3 cup olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp dried parsley
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
Combine all ingredients, EXCEPT the eggs. For a salad that looks like my "styled" picture, line the bowl with lettuce leaves, then layer the ingredients, rather than tossing them.

Garnish with sliced eggs. (Because of food sensitivities in our house, I usually keep the eggs in a separate bowl for people to add as desired.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Frank's Home-fried Potatoes

Home-fried potatoes a la Frank Simpson.

By popular demand (okay, one person asked!), here is my dad's recipe for home-fried potatoes. It was never written down anywhere, and I have only successfully replicated it after many, many years of mediocre homefries.

These are perfect on a Saturday morning when you have lots of time.

Start with potatoes that have been boiled and then refrigerated for at least 12 hours. The starches in the potato change after cooking and cooling, and the potato will be denser. If the skins are falling off, remove them. Otherwise, leave them on.

Slice the potatoes into disks approximately 1/2 inch thick. If they are not quite dry, place them on a paper towel to remove surface moisture. (Moisture will prevent the browning that makes them so perfect.)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter (Dad used margarine, but I prefer the taste of butter) over low heat in a heavy skillet. Place sliced potatoes in the melted butter. Make yourself a cup of coffee. Yell to get the teenagers out of bed.

Be patient.

After five or so minutes, flip the potatoes. If they do not flip easily, they are not ready.

Add butter as needed. Do NOT raise the heat.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve with ketchup.

(While the potatoes are turning golden, cook your bacon in the oven.)

Note: my dad died of heart disease. This recipe and others like it should not be consumed on a frequent basis. ;)

Home Cookin'

Home-fried potatoes, the way my daddy made them.
Over the past few months I've been compiling a cookbook to give our children. It contains our tried-and-true favourites, the recipes that they will probably hearken back to as part of their formative years. 

As I've worked on it, I've come to realize that these recipes are not just a list of ingredients. I've added notes about how much time a sauce needs to simmer or it will be watery, how the stew must not reach a rolling boil or the meat will become tough, and how you cannot rush bacon or home-fried potatoes. I've included tips such as always making a double batch of spaghetti sauce so you have enough to make a lasagne for later in the week.

The cookbook includes a lot of recipes that have been handed down through Steve's hand-written notebook, which he started when he visited his parents who were living in Israel at the time. 

Along the way, I've been photographing the food. Food, I have discovered, is not always photogenic. Especially a lot of the good, home-cookin' type meals. 
Our salade nicoise. Delicious, but not so pretty.
I think I'll do a re-shoot. Actually, this IS the re-shoot.
Others, however, are just waiting for their close-ups.
My favourite salad, waiting for its dressing and feta cheese.
It's a fun project, and I'm enjoying rediscovering some old food friends along the way.

In the meantime, I may have to do a little research into food styling and photography. As this video shows, the food is not necessarily photographed au naturel.

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