Monthly Archives: August 2008

Customer (No) Service

I like to keep things light and positive, but yesterday’s customer (no) service really ticked me off.

I take two prescriptions. They’re not much, a little estrogen, a little thyroid. But they’re expensive. Finally, both prescriptions are for generics, down from $75 per month to $34 per month. I’ve been paying $34 per month for my prescriptions, with my insurance, now at RiteAid for about two years.

Yesterday, I said to the pharmacist: “You know, Wal-Mart sells generics for $4.” He said. “We’ll match their price.” I told him to make it happen, and it took him a couple of minutes to back out the claim against my health insurance and to repackage the pills. While I waited, I seethed. All this time, I could have been paying $8. “So,” I said, when he was ready to ring up my purchase, “how long have you been doing this?” “The whole time,” he said. “And what about your advertised personal service? Seems to me the customer-friendly thing would be for you to offer me this.”

“Oh, we don’t volunteer this information,” he said.

“Nice,” I replied.

“When you call to refill, now, you’ll have to press 3 and tell us…”

“No need for that,” I replied. “I won’t be coming back.”

What a bunch of crap.

On the other hand, I had a little problem with both my phone and cable tv service because of the rainstorm, and Comcast was on the spot with the fix and a smile.

Rite Aid no more; Comcast forever.


Filed under Social Consciousness, Truth

February is in the bag

I picked blackberries today.

My friend Keri and I each filled up two half-gallon yogurt containers, enough for two pies or two cobblers. At least one of those will be made in February, when it is cold and raining and I can remember the hot, hot sun and the sweet berry-juice smell of the place down by the river where we pick. Al and I will probably go again before they’re over, and then we’ll have a cobbler immediately for our trouble and there will be three more half-gallons in the freezer for those winter blahs.

Wild blackberries are the blessing and the curse of the Pacific Northwest. Blackberries grow everywhere, and they are impossible to eradicate from your garden, mostly because they are tip-rooters. This means that the thorny canes grow long, bend over, and where the tips touch the ground, will root, and now you’ve got twice the problem. Blackberry thickets are world renown for being impregnable–in fact, isn’t that what surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s castle?

But there’s another side to the blackberries, and that is that they grow along the rivers, and the berries are big, fat, sweet and taste like the heaven-sent fruit that they are. The most delicious thing in the world, for me, is blackberry cobbler with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Herewith then–even if you have to buy blackberries where you live–is my recipe:

In a bowl, gently mix: a half gallon of berries, 6 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 cups sugar. Let sit.

In another bowl, mix: 1-1/2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup milk.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Put the berries into an ungreased casserole. I use a 9×12 square pyrex dish. Let stand. Mix the topping and then drop it on top of the berries by the spoonful.  Bake for 30 minutes and let cool before serving.


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Filed under Blackberry cobbler

Great reading

Well, you all know how much I love my Kindle, but as I’ve had it now for seven months or so, I’m discovering one of my favorite uses: Magazines. I read books on the Kindle, and have at least a dozen “samples” that I’ve downloaded–the first twenty or thirty pages or so of books that I might want to buy and read–but for my night time reading purposes, I’m now reading the best short stuff the world has to offer.

Let me say that I’m not reading Cosmo, and also that my time–even this summer–has been quite taken up with textbooks for school (currently reading Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to
Beliefs, Customs, and Rituals
). So for the years I’m in school, my fiction reading habits have been and will be wildly disrupted.

But for $2.49 a month, I get Forbes automatically downloaded to my device. For $1.49, I get Opinionated, one of the most stimulating collection of opinion pieces published to my  knowledge. Their sections are from the Liberal viewpoint, the Conservative viewpoint, the Independent viewpoint and the Worldview. Fascinating.

But my fave comes for only $1.25 per month. The Atlantic Monthly. Holy smoly. This month’s issue is the best yet.  The best short fiction I’ve read in years. Each morsel is sublime.

Of course there are other magazines and newspapers available on the Kindle, from Time to Asimov, but this is not a Kindle advertisement. This is an advertisement for the Atlantic Monthly and a joyful shout that someone is still publishing brilliant short fiction.

I would never subscribe to these paper magazines. Too much paper. Too much guilt when I don’t read them. But electronically? When I go to bed at night and pick up my Kindle, I feel like I’m in a bookstore, browing through the best for my tastes.

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Filed under Reading, Short Stories, time

Ahhh. A summer’s dream

I read an entire book the other day. I read “Sister Noon” by Karen Joy Fowler. It was an incredible book, unputdownable, if you know what I mean.  I’ve been a big fan of Karen’s since I first read “Sarah Canary,” and that book still resonates. Karen is a master wordsmith.

But to take the time to read an entire book in a day is to hearken back to that summer between seventh and eighth grades. I alluded to that odd summer a few days ago, when talking about the biking summer between sixth and seventh grades. The summer between seventh and eighth was when I fell in love with reading. Fiction caught me in its trap and I have been ecstatic about being its prisoner ever since.

That summer I spent entirely in my swimming suit (don’t ask me why). I would wake up in the morning, and with both parents gone to work, I would get up, brush my teeth and then go back to bed and read. I slept with a pile of library books, and when I finished each one in the stack, I put them in the basket of my trusty bike and went back to the library for another pile.

That summer I devoured everything I could find by H.G. Wells, everything by Edgar Rice Burroughs including all the Tarzan Books, the Pellucidar series, and some of the Mars books, everything I could find by Heinlein, Serling, and Ian Fleming, and then became magically transported to the dark side of Edgar Allan Poe.

It was an incredible summer. I read every possible waking moment. With no one to nag me about taking out the garbage or “go outside, it’s a beautiful day,” I had the luxury of feeding my soul.

Perhaps that summer has taken on some mythical aspects in my memory. Perhaps it wasn’t precisely as I remember it, but that’s okay. What I do know is that I read all those books in those short months, and that I have never been the same since.

Would that every child had such an opportunity.


Filed under Reading, Summer

“If you want something done…

…give it to a busy person. ”

When I wrote the words “I don’t have enough to do” the other day on this blog, they haunted me for the rest of the day and night. I must be insane to think that. The truth is, I have plenty to do, I’m just not doing anything.

So this morning I got into action. I went back to work. And suddenly, life is brighter. I have a great pot of beans in the crockpot. I have finished writing a short story that began its life at the ghost story weekend in April, and then I sent it out. I got a reference book for my class this fall, and read it, and have marked the pages I will use. I went for a bike ride and did laundry and cleaned up the kitchen. I have dusted off the novel that is still 10 pages shy of “finished first draft” and think I might review what I need to review in order to finish those pages and then get going on the rewrite.

This isn’t a list of my daily activities, just a kind of apology for believing for a moment that I didn’t have enough to do. I have lots to do. If I do nothing but sit in gratitude for my embarrassment of riches, that will be a good day.

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Filed under Bean soup, Discipline, Short Stories, time, Writing


Copies of my new book, The Northwoods Chronicles, arrived in the mail today.

There are many golden moments in the life of an author — when the call comes that a book has sold, when there is a line at the bookstore waiting for you to arrive for a talk, when that first check shows up that tells you that it’s not a dream after all.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of sucky moments in the life of an author, too, but we won’t go into those today.

But of all the golden moments, opening that first carton of hardcovers, to see what the book actually looks like and feels like in your hand has got to be one of the most sublime. 

That’s a good day.


Filed under dreams, goals, My New Novel, Writing

Attention all writers…

Now this is promotion!

John Saul’s Latest Book

And it’s a good read, too!

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Filed under Promotion, Writing

My new bike

I have a new bicycle. It’s a sweetheart.

I’ve been in love with bicycling since my parents bought me a used blue Schwinn girl’s bike when I was about 8. I graduated to a 3-speed when I was about eleven. The summer between sixth and seventh grades I was never home. I had a bag of essentials strapped to my bike and I just went from friend’s house to friend’s house on my bicycle, sleeping over with this girlfriend or that. Always on my bike.

(The summer between seventh and eighth grades was even more bizarre, but that is a blog for another day.)

Anyway, biking wasn’t easy in Hawaii, so I put the bike away for many years, and then when I lived in the Oregon countryside it wasn’t practical. But when the Navy sent me to Washington DC during the first Gulf War, I bought a mountain bike and rode it everywhere from Maryland to Virginia and all places in between for seven months. The summer I came home from there I retired my car from April to October, doing everything on my bicycle, even grocery shopping.  I bought only two tanks of gas during those months.

I just sold that bike, 17 years and thousands and thousands of miles later, trading up to a Trek street bike. Sweet.  I love this bike.

My friend Jackie made me a custom messenger bag for my current essentials, and I’m out and about, feeling fit, saving gas, and smiling.

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Filed under Bicycle

Taking the Summer off

Taking the summer off seemed to be such a great idea back when I was overextended. In reality, it’s not so great.

I’m not bored — probably if there ever was a sin, boredom is it — but I don’t have enough to do. I’ve been reading, and gardening, and watching too much television, making jobs for Al to do around the house, poking my nose in affairs that aren’t mine… I’m eager to get into a project, but now it’s too late to take on anything large, as we’re going to be traveling the first half of September, and then it’s just a stone’s throw to school starting, work starting, and I begin teaching a new class on Writing for Veterans at LCC.

But whatever I thought this summer of leisure would be like isn’t it.  I’ll remember this next year.

I need to keep busy, or I’ll get myself into trouble.

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Filed under Gardening, Summer