Sunday, August 11, 2013

Breezing Through the Dog Days of Summer

Dear George,
As everyone knows, we’re smack in the midst of the dog days of summer.  The ancient Romans classified July 24 to August 24 as the dog days.*  They believed the sultry weather was due to the ascendance in the morning sky of Sirius, the Dog Star, and they sacrificed red dogs in the spring in the hope that that might appease Sirius's rage.  The conviction that the summer dog days are an evil time has continued over the centuries in many cultures.  According to John Brady's Clavis Calendaria (1813), "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies." 

We’re definitely going through the dog days here in Cincinnati.  Though we're not near enough to the ocean to check whether the surf is boiling, almost everything else is in a state of chaos.  At our house the disruptive effects of the dog days became obvious a couple of weeks ago when I tried to open our motorized garage door and nothing happened.  I got a stepladder to climb through the garage’s rear window and check on the problem.  However, there was about a seven foot drop from the window to the garage floor, too high for a comfortable jump.  I’d left a second stepladder inside the garage near the window, but it was trapped behind a 4-foot by six-foot piece of heavy plywood.  To get access to the ladder, I pushed the big piece of plywood over onto the garage floor.  However, I hadn’t noticed that our tempered glass patio tabletop was leaning against the plywood.  The glass hit the floor and shattered into a zillion pieces. Horrified at what I’d done, I gritted my teeth and climbed through the window. I looked the garage door over, jiggled it a few times, then went back out and tried the on-off switch again.  No luck.  I called the garage door company in Kansas City, but, after forty minutes of telephone troubleshooting, we were unable to solve the problem, and the consultant said I would need to get some local help.  Katja was perturbed when I told her about the glass tabletop since she’d bought the patio set from the most expensive furniture store in town.  I checked on the Internet.  It would cost $350 to replace the glass top.  Within seconds I lapsed into a painful case of the phrensies.   

By coincidence our handyman, Nat, showed up the next morning to finish painting the patio deck.  He took a look at the garage door motor and concluded that there was something amiss with the electrical line that ran from the house to the garage.  Nat shook his head and said it looked pretty bad (since the line went underneath our paved patio).  He recommended an electrician friend of his to check out the problem – a good Christian man like Nat, fair, honest, reliable, and inexpensive.  Hmm, I nodded, but held off on a clear commitment.  Katja asked Nat to look at a drainspout problem, and, as he did that, he determined that some tiles had come off from our roof near the chimney.  Katja asked him to go ahead and fix that as well.  Later in the day Katja mentioned to a friend what an expensive day it had been.  When she mentioned the specific amount of the bill, I nearly fainted.  Basically Nat had charged us about eight hundred dollars an hour for his morning’s worth of work.  We might as well have been robbed.  I already had a case of the phrensies; now I was being overcome by hysteria as well.

It was Saturday, and, emotionally exhausted, we decided to just stay home and have a quiet night of TV.  When we tried to tune into an HBO movie, however, we discovered that none of our “on demand” premium movie channels were functioning.  We’d just switched cable providers two months before, and, when I called, our new company scheduled a technician visit for a mere five days later.  The cable guy found that they’d used the old original cables in installing their new system, and the cables were defective.  He replaced them, and the TV started running again.  A couple of days later the cable company made a “courtesy call” to see how things were going.  I calmly explained that this had been the fourth service call we’d needed in two months, we’d also had to get remote technical help from the company an additional three or four times, and I’d rebooted it myself a couple of times.  I didn’t say it explicitly, but our supposedly state-of-the-art new technology had been a nightmare.  I asked the guy on the telephone if our high frequency of problems was abnormal.  “Oh no,” he said.  “Your problems are actually quite low.   Some of our accounts need four or five times as many service calls as you.”  Hardly reassured, I asked if they were likely to iron out the bugs in our new installation.  “That’s hard to say,” he said.  “You’ll have to wait and see.”  He didn’t seem the slightest bit worried.  I wondered if the dog days were making me overly hyper.

About the same time our sheepdog Mike started developing a pronounced limp.  The dogs are getting older (11.3 years), and they’re creakier than they used to be. Recently, though, I’ve had people shouting from their car windows to ask why my dog is limping so badly.  We took Mike to the vet who diagnosed it as an arthritis problem and prescribed a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug.  We started last night and hope it will help, but the dogs’ aging problems weigh on our hearts.  Their infirmities are more disturbing than the combined effects of broken table tops, nonfunctioning garage doors, being cheated, and erratic cable TV.  This summer’s difficult dog days are literally difficult dog days.   

I myself hadn’t yet suffered any “burning fevers” from the dog days of summer until I went in for my semi-annual blood test to check the effects of my cholesterol medication.  According to the test, my liver and cholesterol were in fine shape, but the doctor said that my blood sugar was high.  My blood sugar has been on the high side as long as I can remember, but now he said it was creeping into the “pre-diabetic” range.  I didn’t like that idea at all.  He prescribed some test strips that I could use for self-monitoring and asked if I would like to meet with a dietician.  I made an appointment, and Katja came along.  It was interesting and helpful.  The dietician said my diet was very good already, but she had suggestions for “tweaking” it.  As a result, my already Spartan diet is now more enjoyable because I’ve added stuff like almonds, cottage cheese, hummus, black beans, sliced turkey, lots of berries, etc.  Though I still have a ways to go, I’ve shed some pounds and my blood sugar seems to be gradually dropping.  All this gives me an excellent new life project, allowing me to keep daily lists (i.e., food diary, blood sugar readings, weight), strive for easily quantifiable goals, and track my progress.  Energized by a new mission, I’m optimistic that all this good health activity will sustain me through the remaining dog days of summer.
*, "Dog Days"

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