Rocking today’s tooth extraction experience

I have never wanted to be a dentist. I can’t imagine anything ickier than looking into people’s mouths all day. While I appreciate the amount of education, technical proficiency and professionalism that’s required, dentists seem to be highly-trained mechanics who have chosen to work in a specific medical medium, with a different set of diagnostic equipment and tools with which to perform the work on living repair projects.

Of course, this is coming from someone who works at a funeral home and regularly runs into people who go out of their way to tell me they don’t know how or why I would do that. But those types of comments neither dissuade me nor make me ponder less about other people’s professions.

I wonder if mechanics envy dentists their ever-present dental assistants they have at their beck and call? My father stank as a mechanic, but loved drafting me to be his stepinfetchit when he was working on a repair job. Granted, dentists probably don’t drop as many parts that seem magnetically drawn to roll underneath a large piece of equipment and need someone to crawl down and get them, but I’m sure most mechanics would love to have someone on standby to do so.

A dentist friend of mine told me that even though there are breaks in the action when his dental assistant is idle, she provides him with someone with whom to banter and to laugh at his jokes, as the patient can’t very well do those things mid-procedure. My dentist solves that problem by not being funny. Although dentistry is very necessary and helpful, it looks to be a somewhat lonely, task-oriented occupation that involves chastising people for poor hygiene practices: hardly ideal for building great conversational relationships. I’m just sayin’.

Last week, I had the experience of accompanying (chauffeuring to and paying for) my daughter to an oral surgeon’s office. Our dentist referred her to have a front tooth extracted before he put braces on her.

If I thought dentistry seemed lonely, oral surgery represents one-night stands within the profession. The oral surgeon was pleasant enough, but it was like wham, bam, thank you for the payment, ma’am, and the process was over. We were immediately sent on our way. No time for relationship-building there. He greeted us minimally, explained the procedure and did his business with amazing brevity.

However, beforehand, we had a bit of a wait. And it was during that wait that I got some clues as to his personality, based on lobby magazine choices and office music choices. Time, People and Sports Illustrated were the only three titles there. No leisurely women’s magazine reads. I settled into an uncomfortable lobby chair with the Feb. 5 edition of Time just in time for my daughter to be called back. I was allowed to go and watch.

As interesting as the Time article on the women’s march on Washington was, it could not compete with watching someone else’s discomfort and potential pain. I had been to another oral surgeon for my pre-braces extractions, as well as for wisdom teeth removal, so I was certain this would be interesting to witness. Perhaps akin to watching someone struggle to pry open a pickle jar. However, everything went surprisingly effortlessly.

The only noteworthy aspect, really, was the rather loud, supposed background music to which they x-rayed my daughter’s mouth, numbed it and performed the extraction: Don McClean’s “American Pie,” Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” respectively. Interesting surgical soundtrack. Wasn’t sure if they were trying for pleasure or distraction. At least Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and John Mellencamp’s “Hurt So Good” weren’t included!

My daughter’s chief concerns afterward were if she could practice track later that day and if her mouth would be visibly bruised and swollen upon her return to school. I shared my story of having two impacted wisdom teeth removed the day before the man of my teenage dreams returned from the Air Force Academy for a rare visit. The most appropriate song would have been Steven Tyler’s “My Own Worst Enemy.” Comparatively, my daughter was a very lucky girl.


Crossing paths with the chronically unhappy

I want to talk about something that is near, but definitely not dear to my heart: chronic unhappiness. It could be argued that I frequently use this column to showcase some of the unhappy things that happen in my life; however, there’s a message in it. And it’s done intentionally, in a relatable manner where I unpack my burdens in a way that lightens the load for others.

Chronic unhappiness is different: it’s an unconscious and frequently contagious wallowing in misery where the only brief boosts in happiness for the sufferer come from how many others’ days he/she manages to spoil. Like cooties, chronic unhappiness can be passed on through close contact. In fact, nothing causes more acute grief than crossing paths with the chronically unhappy.

Sometimes at first, you may fail to recognize chronically unhappy people. It’s not as if they wear hats or badges proclaiming it. Initially, you might attribute the negativity you detect as either proportionate to the presenting circumstances or just fellow citizens on planet earth who are having a bad day. However, were you to witness a chronically unhappy person’s behavior on a regular basis in multiple contexts, you would identify a pattern of ongoing negativity: inward misery projected outward. And it’s rarely productive.

Therefore, early diagnosis of chronically unhappy others is crucial for self-protection purposes. Communications professor and trainer Preston Ni of Foothill College in Silicon Valley lists the following eight negative attitudes displayed by chronically unhappy people as what to look for:

  1. Self-Defeating Talk – Always having themselves coming up short, even before encountering a problem.
  2. Negative Assumptions – Habitually connecting the dots in ways that lead to negative conclusions.
  3. Negative Comparisons with Others – Feeling slighted or cheated in contrast to everyone around them.
  4. Negative Ruminations about the Past – Dredging up old resentments and failures verbally to anyone unfortunate enough to have to listen.
  5. Disempowering Beliefs about Difficult People – Feeling as if certain other people or entities (i.e. “the company,” “the in-laws” or “the government”) are always trying to get one over on them.
  6. The Desire to Blame – Being so other-focused that they take no personal responsibility.
  7. The Struggle to Forgive Self – Continuing to beat up on themselves for a myriad of things.
  8. The Fear of Failure and Making Mistakes – Perfectionistic demands on themselves that lead to placing unrealistic demands upon other people and circumstances.

You may have noticed (if you are someone who is able to shift the focus on something other than yourself ) that the above characteristics are either deeply self-centered or shallowly other-focused. Nothing in-between, where emotionally healthier people live the majority of their lives.

It’s important to identify chronically unhappy people by their negative attitudes early so you can avoid them when possible. For instance, if one works as a cashier at the grocery store, you can consciously go through the other checkout line; or if one owns a business, don’t patronize it. But it’s impossible to entirely avoid rubbing elbows with the chronically unhappy.

Sometimes the chronically unhappy people we must deal with are our family members, co-workers or customers. We all know someone who walks into a room like a dark, sunshine-stealing cloud, a chronic complainer or a conspiracy theorist who believes everything, down to the heavy traffic around a football stadium on game day, is part of an eternal plot to ruin his/her life.

To steel yourself against these strong sources and forces of unhappiness, remind yourself it’s them, not you, who has the problem – unless you let them get to you. Resist the urge to react, no matter how personal, accusatory or pervasive their negativity. On your best days, try to look beyond the negativity to the potential causes of it and treat the person with the compassion, grace and mercy you’d like to receive from God and others when at your own negative, jerky worst. Hard, I know.

If the negativity becomes unbearable, you may have to state, “I don’t want to hear any more of this.” That may lead to stony silence, but at least silence beats chronic unhappiness. Let it reinforce why you need to become a more positive person whom others like to see coming.

A hangnail is nothing to hang one’s hat on

I am suffering with a hangnail. Languishing would be a better word, and I exaggerate not! It’s been hanging on for a handful of weeks, stubbornly refusing to completely clear up and go away.

For the unenlightened, I should probably define what a hangnail is. Like pornography, I can’t necessarily describe it, but I surely know it when I see it, especially when it’s on my finger. For explanation purposes, let me cite from that urban oracle known as Wikipedia , which describes a hangnail as a “small, torn piece of skin, more specifically eponychium or paronychium, next to a fingernail or toenail.” That’s confusing because a hangnail is not a nail at all.

A hangnail in itself is not a problem, it’s when you get the bright idea to get rid of it by means other than a sharp, sanitized nail clipper that it becomes a problem. And it’s not the bright idea that actually leads a person astray, but the unconscious act of picking at the skin or unthinkingly gnawing like a rat on it that rolls out the red carpet for infection.

Why can’t we leave well enough alone? Why can’t we stop taking our fingers into our own hands and making things worse? Why can’t we wait for the right nail tools to cleanly remove a hangnail? Because we are impatient, impulsive and stupidly human. Hangnails are symbolic of the things we habitually don’t think about until we make the mistake of mishandling them, causing their evil properties to rain down upon us. They remind that something seemingly insignificant can cause extreme suffering. Especially to piano players.

According to a prudent source, the healthy lifestyle section at, we need to avoid the following behaviors that lead to fingernail issues: biting fingernails and picking at cuticles; pulling off hangnails; using harsh nail care products, such as nail polish remover, any more frequently than necessary. And oh yeah, ignoring nail-related problems, especially that don’t seem to go away. Duh. But I’m guilty as charged.

Biting nails and picking at cuticles can damage the nail bed and allow bacteria and fungi to enter, lectures the Clinic. Therefore, I gather that watching scary or suspenseful movies is a no-no, as they often incite nail-biting. Not pulling off hangnails is easier said than done. Typically, the hunk of dead skin you casually pull off is rooted in live tissue. Yanking out live tissue is any format greatly irritates the area from which it was extracted.

This can lead to the dreaded condition known as “paronychia” or infected hangnail. Doesn’t that sound extra special?! Try using that word to impress your friends the next time you’re dealing with this issue. Ongoing infection is where things get interesting for the paronychia sufferer. How do I know? I’ve been nursing that condition on my left hand ring finger for several weeks.

At the risk of sounding like a laundry stain-removal product commercial, I’ve tried rubbing it, soaking it and poking it, but the infection stubbornly refuses to leave. Such a small thing causes such a big annoyance. Anyone who has been there/done that knows what I mean. If you doubt the seriousness of my plight, please note the condition is real enough to have mention on the Cleveland Clinic website. So there!

According to that source, an infected hangnail area may throb and redden. Check. And the skin around the nail may swell. Check. Pus may collect under the skin in that area. Double-check. I should soak the finger for 15 minutes several times a day. Not sure how to achieve that while having to work. Having a doctor “lance” the area to drain the infection is recommended.

To save time and money, I went instead to youtube, where I found hundreds of physicians and laypeople happily demonstrating this procedure and capturing it in oozing glory on video. Thanks. I will never eat split pea soup again.

When that failed, I stumbled upon a mostly full, refilled bottle of antibiotics in the back of the bathroom cupboard. I desperately used my good hand to open it. Several days later, my paronychia was cured – until the next time I pick at a hangnail.

Finding the message in the monkey business

Some weird online dating service, which looks like it caters to military personnel looking for mates, keeps sending me friend requests on Facebook. Each profile features a handsome guy with a cool-sounding name, typically with membership in or ties to the military. There is little background information, except some of the men have impressive credentials, as well as really cool hobbies, such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving. All have no friends or next to no friends.

To date, I haven’t been stupid enough to accept these digital advances. I used to click on them out of curiosity, but they’ve grown so tiresome I quickly delete them. The idea that these sexy service guys are seeking to hook up with middle-aged women is laughable. Why don’t they just cut to the chase and respond to some of the equally annoying Russian mail-order bride friend requests? Wouldn’t that better meet some mutual needs?

If the requests turned out to be legitimate, not cyberspace spamming efforts, I would necessarily have to conclude the military digital date candidates were only after me to use me for money or perhaps for domestic favors, such as laundry, cleaning and home-cooked meals. And God only knows, I’m already wrung dry in those categories.

The whole idea of dating right now, when I’m operating day-to-day in survival mode, makes me smile, wryly, as there’s not much time for much else. Dating falls in the non-essential column of my life. The high spot in my schedule lately, as I struggle to juggle work, family, church and community responsibilities, is the comic relief of my giant sock monkey, Winston. It’s now been three months since I first started scripting, photographing and posting on Facebook his daily adventures and antics.

While I get as much a kick out of the Winston thing as anybody, the concept would be hard to explain to a potential date. How would I word it in an online dating profile and who would it attract? “Hi. My name is Kristy. I’m a 53-year-old single parent who takes a giant sock monkey with her most places, takes pictures of him and posts them on Facebook to entertain myself and others, while promoting community participation.” Huh?

I don’t think I would respond favorably to a profile like that. Admittedly, it sounds kind of like it was written by Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens. In the 1980s, he hosted that weird “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” TV show for kids and ended up getting busted for indecent exposure at a movie theater and later for another obscenity charge.

Rest assured, my relationship (if you can call it that) with my giant sock, Winston, is pretty wholesome. Although recently, I had someone question me repeatedly, bordering on interrogation, regarding where Winston sleeps at night. I didn’t catch the innuendo in her tone at first and honestly reported that I either leave him on a dining room chair or sometimes out in the car. It was only later that her insinuation sank in and I became retroactively disgusted. Eeeew!

My activities with Winston mostly involve promoting and attending community-based events where I humorously photograph and caption him exploring and reacting to his surroundings and interacting with people. Winston’s chief disability, which doesn’t net him anything special, from a service dog to a closer parking spot, is that he’s not real. Neither are most of the people we meet in day, so no communication barrier there. However, Winston’s certifiable un-realness lets him objectively comment, without actually speaking, on life: therein the humor.

They also appreciate Winston’s perpetual smile. Granted, it’s actually just a Fox River Mill Red Heel Sock, but it renders him positively up for anything life throws his way. While he habitually gets himself into interesting situations, Facebook followers like to see him get himself out or to watch the under-monkey gain the upper hand over what’s monkeying with him.

Bottom line? Winston appears to be living real life more fully than the rest of us. His heart’s in the right place and he takes action to back it up, although he often messes it up. He keeps trying, regardless. That’s the hopeful message that hopefully doesn’t get lost among the monkey business.


Avoiding losing out in life’s leftover lottery

“Whole or half?” I asked my daughter as I was grabbing bread to make a sandwich for her school lunch.

“Never mind,” was her response, “I’ll just take the pork chop.”

What?! She was referring to the only remaining of the four, inch-thick pork chops that had graced our dinner table the night before. She, her brother and I had all eaten one and I’d plastic-wrapped the extra chop and stuck it in the refrigerator; however, not before picturing myself eating it for the next day’s lunch.

Over my dead body! I thought it so loud I might as well have shouted it at her. Instead, I changed my approach and tone.

“What made you conclude the pork chop was yours for the taking?” I asked with all the sweetness I could muster.

“Because I was the one who grilled them,” she said.

“Well, I was the one who bought them,” I countered.

“And if it weren’t for my talent on the grill, you’d still be oven-baking them into shriveled brick messes (a more sanitized substitute for her unprintable, actual words), wouldn’t you?” She could be more vicious than a wild animal when there was freshly-cooked meat up for grabs.

“You leave your paws off of it,” I said. “If I hadn’t purchased those pork chops, there would have been nothing for you to grill or for me to bake to death.” We stood there glaring at each other until she called me “selfish”, turned on her heel and stormed out of the room.

That episode reinforces the deliciously practical power of leftovers. When I was a kid in our family of six, there were rarely leftovers. Sometimes you had to fight just to get your share of first servings, particularly if the meal were something everyone liked, like spaghetti or pizza. Plus, in the years prior to microwaves, it took a while to oven-warm or stovetop-reheatable leftovers, so we’d settle for a next-day cold meatloaf sandwich.

Over time, with the convenience of the microwave and improved microwavable storage containers,  this busy, working mom has come to love leftovers. In some cases, I like them even better than first-run meals, which poses that considerable, universal problem: you first have to cook something in order to have something left over.

What’s not to like about initially preparing extra food to net a quick and easy go-to later? I did a fast digital literature search about leftovers. Wikipedia’s description of them was so basic it sounded like explanation of the concept to an alien who had no earthly eating experience:

“Leftovers are the uneaten edible remains of a hot meal after the meal is over, and everyone has finished eating. Food scraps that are not considered edible (such as bones or the skins of some vegetables and fruits) are not regarded as leftovers, but rather as waste material; In order for something to appropriately be classified as ‘leftovers’, it must a constitute a meal by itself, and therefore should not be limited to just portions of the original (side-dishes, garnishments, etc.).

“. . . Home cooking leftovers are often saved to be eaten later. This is facilitated by being in a private environment, with food-preserving facilities such as airtight containers and refrigeration close at hand. Some leftover food can be eaten cold from the refrigerator, while others may be reheated in a microwave or a conventional oven, or mixed with additional ingredients and recooked to make a new dish such as bubble and squeak.”

Wow, I didn’t realize there were leftover rules, or they must come from hot food, or that some people mistake scraps as leftovers and try to eat them. Who are these people?! It was also news to me that a “true” leftover must constitute a meal. I’m not going to let that technicality prevent me from enjoying next-day side dish delicacies, such as twice-baked potatoes or the remaining brussel sprouts that were cooked with bacon. Rules, schmooles!

I declared a truce with the pork chop. It got cut up and re-purposed over leftover tossed salad, in a time- and cost-saving move that made everyone salivate. At the risk of sounding hokey-pokeyish, that’s what it’s all about!

“Be Humble Day” is worth bragging about

I have long been cynical about “Hallmark Holidays.” You know, occasions like Grandparents Day and Sweetest Day, which seem to have been trumped up by merchants to help sell more greeting cards, not to mention boosting flower, candy and restaurant sales! So I occasionally glance at online special days calendars to amuse myself over the latest manufactured holidays.

I know, I know, I’ve written on this topic more than once, but as long as they keep pitching up ridiculousness, I am going to keep swinging at it. Besides, it’s not like I keep writing about same special days, over and over. No, I’m definitely an equal opportunity mocker who is always on the lookout for new topics. It’s no different during the month of February.

Bored, while one of my kids was getting a haircut, I went to a favorite source for who-cares-kinds-of-information: It did not disappoint.  I noted February 5 had been declared “National Weatherman’s Day” and February 6 “Lame Duck Day.” February 9 was “Toothache Day” (who in the world would want to celebrate that?!) and February 11 was recognized as “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day.” I laughed perhaps hardest at February 12, which was dubbed “National Lost Penny Day.”

At a loss for how to observe National Lost Penny Day? The website offers suggestions:

  • Seek out lost pennies. Make a game of it. Be sure to include the kids in this scavenger hunt.
  • Flip a coin (a penny) to help you make decisions today.
  • Donate your pennies to a good cause.
  • Roll up and cash in your horde of pennies.
  • Start a penny collection.
  • Throw pennies in a fountain and make a wish.
  • Give someone a penny for their thoughts.
  • Take a few pennies and buy some penny candy.

Clearly busywork for people who have too much time on their hands! I thought “Be Humble Day” on February 22 had much more life-changing potential. A February 22, 2016 article about Be Humble Day on addressed the issue of healthy pride versus unhealthy pride. Its author Whitney Seibold shared some practical wisdom:

“The problem arises when that pride becomes your daily fuel. I’ve seen it happen. You have too,” Seibold said. “A friend on Facebook gets a little too passionate about a political issue or editorial stance, and you begin to suspect that the argument is less and less about them making sure their point is communicated, and more and more about they, themselves, ensuring you that they are right, right, right. There is a whole section of humanity that, bolstered by the internet, thrives on argument. Not on changing people’s minds, or engaging in healthy debate on a serious topic, but bickering. Argument for the sake of the arguer is not argument. It’s ego in action.”

I love this guy! He just described one of my biggest pet peeves. Seibold also shared the famous observation from beloved author C.S. Lewis, that, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” That’s a great theme to build a day around. I came up with a list of 10 humility-reinforcing engagement activities:

1.       Give someone else more credit for a project in which you both participated.

2.       Refuse to accept credit or a reward for something you did.

3.       Don’t interrupt someone else’s point with your own (which you obviously believe to be more important).

4.       Avoid saying “in my humble opinion” because that always signals an arrogant statement is about to follow.

5.       Publicly admit a mistake or misjudgment you have made.

6.       Refrain from giving unsolicited advice verbally or mentally.

7.       Underestimate instead of brag when telling a story about yourself.

8.       Tell someone he/she was right and you were wrong.

9.       Post on Facebook something embarrassingly foolish about yourself.

10.   Recognize a consistently helpful, unsung hero in your life.

I’m guessing most people will humbly decline my “Be Humble Day” activities. No doubt, most will pick the lower-hanging fruit on “Open That Bottle Night” (February 25), “No Brainer Day” (February 27) and “Public Sleeping Day” (February 28). Because, Lord, it’s hard to be humble. To that I can attest!

Terrible teen stage results in staged protests

My kids have begun protesting a lot lately. By that I mean making statements or engaging in actions that express disapproval of or objection to something. Usually it’s me. Or anything resembling work.

While some people might take part in an organized social movement, for instance, a political rally, that kind of activity requires research, planning, materials and an actual purpose. My kids aren’t much for things requiring extended thought or advanced preparation. Their method of operation typically consists of spontaneous refusals to go somewhere, wear something or to help with something, especially household chores.

This is not really something new, but something that’s been building for years and has finally peaked, along with their hormone levels. I can’t recall either of them having gone through the “terrible twos,” characterized by saying “no” to everything safe, sane and productive, so perhaps they were simply saving up that negative energy for the “terrible teens.”

Last weekend, in conjunction with Kellogg Community College’s Black History Month activities (which I read about on Saturday), I decided we should attend the Sunday afternoon Hymn and Spiritual Sing at the college. Silly me, but I thought it would be a good family activity, seeing as all of us are singers. And, as a piano player, it’s nice for a change for me to be the one being accompanied.

But things went south quickly and I was accused of being the Wicked Witch of the West, trying to take them on a North Pole quest. Apparently, I should’ve been sent east of Eden for the audacity of trying to round up (for “stupid entertainment purposes”) two very busy teenagers who clearly had more important things to do with their respective Sunday afternoons.

My son flat out refused to go. My daughter, being the sly diplomat she is, told me she really would have loved to go, but I had not given her a full 24-hours’ notice regarding the event. What?! She ended up going, but it was only because I informed I would not be able to take her to Follies practice later that day if she were not already in the car with me. And I threw in a Taco Bell value meal to spice up the deal. However, once we got to the auditorium, she refused to go inside and sing with me. Nice move.

Two weekends before, I had given plenty of advance notice of my intention for our family to go to the Farmland Jazz Band Sunday afternoon concert. My son had also flat out refused that invitation, so I stood there and simply stared at him. I could tell he was trying to figure out what kind of consequence he might be facing for not going, so he reversed his position and reluctantly agreed to go.

Now, being schooled in the art of reading rebellious teenage behavior as it’s played out passive-aggressively in the chess game of life, I already knew the next two moves ahead of his executing them. It was so textbook! Predictably, he refused to shave his scraggly chin hairs and went and put on something that was inappropriate for the venue (the concert was held at a church) and the audience (mostly semi-formally-dressed older people) and for the season: short-sleeved t-shirt with no coat. He took his sweet time doing this, to make us as late as possible. Grrrr. I ended up turning around halfway there and dropping him off back at home. Didn’t want a sullen teenage boy ruining an otherwise delightful concert.

As long as they’re stuck in the terrible teen years, I think my children should consider expanding their protest activities. For instance, instead of nastily complaining about what I fix for breakfast, they should stage a hunger strike. And instead of being embarrassed by what I’m wearing, they should tie themselves to my closet rack or throw red paint on my outfit, ala anti-animal fur activism. An even better idea would be self-immolation, or setting themselves on fire, perhaps outside of the grange hall on a meeting night, to protest being made to attend the potluck.

But I doubt they will change. No need to when you’ve already fine-tuned your terrible teen terrorism.

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