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Shelter from the storm (or libraries save lives)

libraries, straight line winds, The Great Migration

I now know why straight-line winds are called “hurricanes of the prairie.” Only unlike hurricanes, they can arrive without warning, as this one did.

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The Garden Chronicles

Backyard Homesteading, Gardening, Growing Your Own Vegetables, Guy Stuff. Potatoes

Jill says that this year's garden has been the most productive ever.  Judging from the volume of produce that has all of a sudden materialized I am inclined to believe her.

Further evidence is I am about maxed-out on freezer space and have exhausted my inventory of quart canning jars.

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Wauwatosa Catholic's FIRST Kindergarten Teacher!

Spanish, International Baccalaureate, Catholic Schools, K3, K4, Kindergarten, Wauwatosa Catholic School

Licensed to teach our Kindergarteners on up to the “big” kids as well as Spanish, Roberta Kasper is another versatile gem among the faculty members at Wauwatosa Catholic School. Students of this UW Whitewater graduate have already been quoted as saying, “My teacher is awesome!” Wauwatosa Catholic School is happy to have Mrs. Kasper lead our “K5 kids” as its FIRST Kindergarten teacher.  She joins a great team of veteran early childhood educators:  Anita Buxbaum, Erica Ballard, and Lindsey Helt.

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The Governor, jobs, and the Neo-Nazis

Scott Walker, Neo-nazis, West Allis, Kumbaya, Labor Day

It was hard to tell some of the good guys from some of the bad guys in West Allis, Wisconsin, Saturday.

So many young men, both white and black, costume themselves to look dangerous, put on fierce faces, and swagger to make themselves appear larger than life. And I’m not talking about the SWAT teams, though they also fit the description.

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Suggestive Selling in the Doctor's Office

Pharmaceuticals, Health Care, Perpetual Economic Growth, Suggestive Selling

Years ago, when I worked in the food service industry, servers were encouraged to engage in something called "suggestive selling." "Have you tried our new cheesy jalapeno poppers?" we were supposed to ask our customers. "Would you like seasoned fries instead of regular fries with your burger?" This was a way for restaurants to increase profits and for servers to boost tips.
 
According to the consumer research firm Mercantile Systems, suggestive selling -- also known as "up-selling," or "add on selling," "uses value-added suggestions to add items to your customers' original purchase."
 
Not a bad idea, right? Take a willing customer ready to spend money on your products or services and coax them into spending a bit more on products they didn't know they needed, but might enjoy. Indeed, the above website mentions that despite its somewhat dubious reputation, suggestive selling is "one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to increase revenue, profit and customer satisfaction."  
 
Suggestive selling has become standard practice in recent decades, penetrating almost all industries. One of those industries is healthcare. The trouble with suggestive selling in healthcare is that there is a big difference, ethically, between suggesting a customer upgrade to innocuous seasoned fries and suggesting a patient try a prescription to an anti-depressant drug as a cure for the blues, or take an antibiotic for a mild infection a healthy body is capable of fighting on its own. 
 
Part of the problem with suggestive selling in the healthcare industry is that when a medical professional makes a suggestion to a patient for a procedure or prescription, most of us aren't armed with the knowledge to say no. We trust our doctors implicitly. We take what they offer and worry about how to pay later. Doctor knows best, right?
 
Further complicating matters is exactly who is doing this suggestive selling in the doctor's office. Is it the doctor, or an unseen player hovering behind the scene? Who gains from a patient partaking of a product (e.g. a drug) that might not be needed but that brings increased profits to…well, who, exactly? And how are patients to know whether purchasing a suggested prescription drug is really in their best interests? 
 
These questions beget other a more fundamental, serious question: Whom can a patient really trust if the bottom line isn't healing, but financial gain? How can we trust that a physician will aim to "avoid the trap of overtreatment" if overtreatment promises increased profits? 
 
The practice of up-selling by our most educated, trusted authorities is designed to go unquestioned. Its methods are much subtler and more successful than that of the restaurant server touting extra side sauces. At a restaurant, a customer knows that a server stands to gain from adding pricier food items to the bill, thus increasing his tip. You know that when the server begins suggesting expensive add-ons that you're subjecting yourself to the art of persuasion on the part of the sales person. Depending on how hungry you are and how much money you want to blow, you have the power to choose whether you want that side of guacamole or not. 
 
Not so in the doctor's office, where subtle suggestive selling starts before you even see a doctor. Enter a doctors' offices of any stripe (general practitioner, dentist, even veterinarian) and you'll undoubtedly find yourself a captive audience for 10, 20, 30 minutes or longer with little to do but be taken in by propaganda disguised as informative posters and brochures on a variety of health concerns. After this period of indoctrination, many a doctor enters her office ready to hand out costly prescriptions to frightened patients.
 
Case in point: recently, I brought my five-year-old golden retriever in to the local vet for a rabies booster. I also wanted the doctor to take a quick look at a self-inflicted wound my dog incurred while being cared for by relatives when we were on a recent vacation. My dog has separation anxiety, and he has a perplexing habit of licking and biting his hip when we're away. This behavior caused a small wound that, at the time of our vet trip, was just beginning to heal. 
 
When we first arrived at the vet's office, the receptionist reviewed our files. She said that in addition to a rabies booster my dog needed a laundry list of other services, from boosters to a fecal exam. The full cost of these services was $120 or so. I opted out of one or two but accepted the rest, simply because they sounded important. 
 
We were then led into the doctor's office, where, naturally, we had to wait for about 10 minutes. That's not terribly long – it was just enough time for us to be able to take in the half dozen "public service announcements" plastered to the walls. Every single one of them (including a few models, e.g. a plastic dog heart with plastic heartworms pouring out of the center) was sponsored by a pharmaceutical company.
 
One striking ad involved roundworm. Did you know that your dog's untreated roundworm infection might cause your small child to go blind, or your infant to contract a horrid skin disease? To prevent this frightening parasite from ravaging your perfect children and killing your dog, remember to treat your canine friend with brand X roundworm drug. That is what the poster would have you believe, anyway. Of course, I am guessing the odds of a child getting a roundworm infection from the average dog are slim. 
 
I had just enough time in the doctor's office to read the scary informational posters before the doc came in to examine and immunize my dog. One of his first questions was whether I use an anti-flea medicine such as brand Y. I told him I did not. I used to pay for these products by default, simply because, well, the vet told me to. And who wants fleas? The thing is, though, I'm not comfortable putting an expensive pesticide strong enough to repel fleas and ticks for a whole month on my dog's skin. And since my dog rarely socializes with other animals, I figured doing so was probably unnecessary. I made that decision years ago. Our five-year-old puppy has never had fleas. 
 
The doctor then took a look at my dog's separation-anxiety-induced wound. He couldn't really get a good look at the scab under the dog's fur, so he asked if he could shave the dog's bottom. I agreed. He removed a round section of fur about the size of a dinner plate and then examined the wound. "It's infected," he said. "You'll need both an oral and a topical antibiotic."
 
Knowing how often antibiotics are needlessly prescribed by doctors, I stared at him in disbelief. 
 
"Really? Is an oral antibiotic really necessary?" 
 
I looked at the wound. The 10-day-old scab was almost gone and resembled an irritated abrasion. It appeared to be healing.
 
"Yes," the doctor said. "If you don't give him an oral antibiotic he could get a blood infection."
 
A blood infection? Yikes. That sounds pretty scary.
 
I was quiet for a moment. Was I the worst dog owner in the world for asking the next question?  "How much is that going to cost? I'm already spending over $100 just for the vaccines. I didn't expect to spend that much today."
 
I could tell he and the vet tech were uncomfortable. He didn't answer my question. Instead, he kind of back-peddled. "Do you have Neosporin in your house?"
 
"Yes."
 
"Just put that on the wound."
 
Wait, what? First I was potentially subjecting my dog to a horrible-sounding blood infection if I didn't consider medicating him. Next I was told that a little Neosporin applied twice daily would do just fine.
 
It's not that I wouldn't have paid the money for my dog to be treated with an oral antibiotic if he truly needed it. But my gut told me he did not need the extra medicine. 
 
The doctor proceeded to inject my dog with two syringes full of expensive vaccines and sent me on my way. I paid for the visit and left, my wallet $108 lighter.
 
This is not the first time I've been offered possibly unnecessary meds by doctors within minutes of entering their offices. Every time I go to the vet I end up being talked into vaccines, designer foods, and procedures I don't really think my dog needs. Our beloved dentist has suggested on more than one occasion that I pay to have a protective plastic coating put on my kids' teeth, even though the three of them rarely drink pop and have never had cavities. I've always declined. I once had a doctor so enthusiastic about pharmaceuticals that by the end of the visit she had arranged for me to have about four different prescriptions, all of which seemed unnecessary. The worst was when a former general practitioner offered one of my children a prescription for Ritalin and almost insisted that I take him up on the offer because my daughter would "go from Cs to As in school" by using the cocaine-like drug. I opted for behavioral modification techniques and two years later she seems to be thriving.
 
Let it be known that I am not against Western medicine. A very capable surgeon saved my life two years ago when he removed my cancerous thyroid. Without a thyroid I will have to rely on synthetic thyroid hormone for the remainder of my days. Levothyroxin is something I can no longer live without, and frankly, I feel it has done me a lot of good. My thyroid level, unlike before, is now regulated. I have been able to lose some weight as a result, my concentration is better, and I have more energy than I've had in years. I am thankful for modern advances in science and medicine.
 
And I don't mean to entirely dismiss, on an individual level, the hard work of medical professionals, nor even those who engage in pharmaceutical sales. I know a couple of folks in the business of selling pharmaceuticals, as well as a few pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, and I respect them a great deal. I don't even blame the patients who accept or, sometimes, beg for the drugs doctors often distribute like candy. We're all part of this problem. Each of the aforementioned groups is an important cog in this machine. What fuels the machine are two American ideologies operating in tandem: perpetual economic growth and comfort as an inalienable human right. I would argue that both of these ideologies are illusory and damaging to a healthy, sustainable way of life.
 
When will we say no to suggestive selling in the doctor's office? When will we ask our doctors to say no to pharmaceutical sales people? When will sales people say no to the corporations pushing them to increase sales without regard for ethics? When will we, as consumers, as addicts, stop assuming that we need pills to satisfy every aspect of human discomfort and protect us from every ill, even the most remote? 
 
My dog's doing much better now, by the way. Below are before and after shots of his wound. The first was taken on Friday, August 26, just after I returned from the vet: 
 
 
We applied Neosporin to the wound for about two days but stopped when we realized he almost immediately licked off the ointment every time. Despite this, he seems to have healed almost completely, as revealed by this photo, taken today:
 
 
I monitored him for signs of blood infection throughout the healing process and he never exhibited any abnormal behaviors or symptoms – all the while he was his same energetic self. I think he's going to be just fine. 

How to Make Crispy, Crunchy, Sweet Pickles

Backyard Homesteading, Dangerous Kitchen Experiments, Gardening, Home Canning, Pickles, Vinegar

Last summer I went on a tour of a lighthouse and happened upon an itemization of the perks that the US Congress alloted keepers employed by the Light House Service back in the 1800's.  Aside from lodging there was an annual salary of $600.  There were also consumable provisions including sacks of potatoes and onions.  A barrel of salted pork, sacks of flour, dried beans, sugar and salt.  Coffee, tea - and of all things - barrels of vinegar.

Which reminds me - what do you call a cat that drinks vinegar? 

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Where Were You?

Reminiscing

Ten years ago on September 11th, I was going through a major life transition. Just the day before, I had given notice to my employer of 17+ years that I was retiring to be a stay-at-home mom, full-time. Because I loved my job, it was a tough choice and so I was still reeling a bit on that crisp, fall morning.

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Friday Morning Music

British Techno Music, Friday Morning Music, Soft Cell, Tainted Love,

It's the start of weekend people.  Crank-up the volume and let the festivities begin with this 1981 hit From Soft Cell... 

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Building

Wauwatosa, Redevelopment, Houses

One of the things I love about this city is that it’s a mature, fully built community. With the exception of the County Grounds, whose fate is always precarious, you know pretty much what you are going to get when you buy a home here.

Big trees and human-sized houses with dependable characteristics are the norm, with few scraped landscapes or startling oddities that builders introduced during the mortgage/bubble-housing/boom—disproportionate windows, bizarre angles, bathrooms bigger than living rooms, and design elements that don’t reflect anything structural. We should have known something was wrong with the whole mess just by the way its products looked.

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Guess the Critter

Arachnids, Guess The Critter

I found this arachnid while out for a walk with the dogs.  It's a hefty size as far as spiders go - more than an inch from the tip of the forelegs to the end of the hind legs.

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Art is in our Heart @TosaCatholic!

Wauwatosa Catholic School is proud to offer a dynamic art program.  Mrs. Mary Beth Fox is eager to share her years of teaching experience with students in Kindergarten through eighth grade!  In her own words:

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Nobody Here But Us Chickens

Backyard Chickens, Backyard Homesteading, Critters, From the Mailbag, Local Government, Reader Contributions

From time to time I have to remind myself to check the old mail bag.  If you were to email the staff here at  Gas Pains (quercusbicolor@yahoo.com) there is a reasonably good chance someone might pick-up your message within the next week or so.  It's a small staff but we are committed to eventually responding - so your forbearance is appreciated. 

Lest you be hesitant to contact us with a question or a comment I would also point out that your anonymity is assured.  Unlike the resident constitutional conservative over at the Brookfield home page we here at Gas Pains have a deep and abiding respect for the First Amendment.  You have our solemn guarantee -  we will not fink on you.  Just think of us as your cyber confessional.  We strive to be exceedingly circumspect. 

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, Hot Women, Hunting, Just Like Heaven, The Watson Twins

It's the start of the weekend people.

For me it is family, dogs, a car show and the bow opener.  It just doesn't get any better than that!  Unless, of course, there are the Watson Twins...

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The Garden Chronicles - The Tomato Avalanche

Backyard Homesteading, Gardening, The Best Bloody Marys In Tosa, Tomatoes

I was reading the news over at The Mothership yesterday and noticed that there was coverage of the 5th Annual Tomato Romp, Tomato Fight and Best Bloody Mary competition on Saturday.

What a profligate waste of tomatoes. 

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Dancing in the Street

One of the highlights of my growing up in Wauwatosa has been the tradition of our annual block party. Usually falling in the last weeks of summer or the first few weeks of September, it has always been kind of like a last hurrah before falling (no pun intended) into winter.

Some of my favorite memories of my neighborhood and those of my childhood are from our block parties.  For instance, I will never forget the time that one of my friends was roasting a marshmallow and set her hair on fire, or the karaoke that was probably always incredibly bad, or the time that I won the “guess how many pieces of candy are in this jar” game.  

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Undy Sunday

St. Bernard’s Gift Giving Club  

September – “Socks and Undy Sundays”

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Blogging About The Blog

Backyard Homesteading, Blog Housekeeping, Canning Tomatoes, From the Mailbag, Gas Pains, Groundhog Aggression, Growing Your Own Vegetables, Home Canning, How to Can Your Tomatoes, How to Make Crispy Crunchy Sweet Pickles, Mennonites, Tomatoes

I had some email back-and-forth earlier this week with the person in charge of the NOW homepages.  Seems that ever since The Mothership performed their 'update' of the community web pages there have been issues.  As is the result of all great bureaucratic updates lots of things didn't work anymore.

For instance - if you had previously bookmarked any of the blogs on your smart phone and clicked on the link you would automatically be redirected to JSOnline.mobi.  That's all well and good but I already have a link for this and a few of my 80-odd readers that use wireless devices like an iPhone, Droid or Blackberry found it annoying.  And they sent me annoying emails to that effect.

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Friday Morning Music

Hey Nineteen, Steely Dan, 1970s Pop Jazz

If you're old like me you'd remember this band - and this song - before it became something that is played while you are on hold with a call center.  The antidote to disco.

Steely Dan.

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Street Smarts To Help You Avoid Becoming A Victim

  • Walk with authority and always make eye contact with those around you
  • Try to walk with a friend or two
  • Be alert to the surrounding environment outside and in, avoid tunnel vision
  • Know your route and try to use a very well lit route for night time activities
  • Don’t use earphones or ear buds
  • Dress casually and comfortably yet appropriately for the activity and weather
  • Leave your expensive and even expensive appearing jewelry at home
  • Avoid carrying a purse or handbag if possible
  • Carry important items including your cash in your front pockets
  • Do not flash anything of value
  • Carry a cell phone. Inexpensive ones for just emergency use are available
  • Avoid texting, it does distract you more than you think
  • Only carry the key(s) you need.
  • Carry a Whistle to help summon help when needed in an emergency

Roaring Twenties @Tosa Catholic!

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