Friday, May 9, 2008

LASIK Post-Surgical Update...

I have been meaning to update the blog with regard to my post LASIK surgery recovery, but kept forgetting.  I can think of one word to sum up the experience: wonderful!  When I returned to Tylock’s office 2 weeks after the surgery, everything was good.  I was noting some dryness in my right eye and was still seeing halos and starbursts at night, but my vision was great!  It has been a little over two months since my surgery and things are looking great.  I returned for another post-operative visit recently and my vision is now 20/15.  The halo and starbursts are just about gone…either that or I don’t notice them as much.  The only time I have dryness in my right eye now is when I have been driving for a while with the convertible top down or if I haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before.  A few saline drops and I am good to go.

 

The doctor said my flaps look great and that the eyes are doing so well that I don’t need to be seen again for another six months…unless of course things change between now and then.

 

Everyone who has LASIK comments about being able to see the bedroom clock at night, and they are right.  It is awesome to be able to see the clock sitting across the room in the middle of the night.  But there are so many other times that make you relish your new & improved vision.  Like being able to see the numbers on the scale (or maybe not, depending how it reads), or seeing pin-points for stars at night instead of fuzzy blurs.  I am enjoying being able to read the fine print from quite a ways away, whether on signs, posters or just seeing the TV clearly from out in the yard.

 

A few words of advice, though.  As all of the surgeons are offering 20/20 or it’s free guarantees, if you feel your vision is borderline 20/20 or worse, you may want to get a second opinion.  Studies have shown that the greater the initial correction, the greater the likelihood of needed one or both eyes “tweaked”, or corrected again.  Sara, my lovely wife, needed her right eye tweaked some months after the original surgery.  She still doesn’t feel like they are quite 20/20, but we are outside the warranty period.  So, if you get LASIK and aren’t happy with the level of correction, A) tell your doctor and B) maybe have another, unaffiliated doctor give you an eye exam to determine where you are.

 

I heard recently that the FDA is investigating the safety of LASIK and I hope they do a very thorough job, because there have been problems.  Most of these appear to surround patients who were not suitable candidates for LASIK in the first place.  Fortunately, I heard that 95% of LASIK patience are satisfied with their experience.  Count me among them…

 

Economic Stimulus Calculator...

The IRS has their Economic Stimulus Calculator here: http://www.irs.gov/app/espc/, but it is fairly in depth. Here is an excel spreadsheet I threw together to get an idea of how large (or small depending on your income) the stimulus payment would be. Note that this calculator is overly simple, but assuming you paid taxes in 2007 it should be pretty accurate.

Here is the Excel Spreadsheet. 2008_Economic_Stimulus_Worksheet.xls

The Excel formulas are somewhat complex because of the nested IF statements, but the bottom line is this:

$300 per child
+
$600 per adult (e.g. $600 single filer, $1200 for married, filing jointly)

5% of your income over $75000 for single filers, or 5% of your income over $150,000 if you are married, filing jointly.
=
your Stimulus Payment

Now the question is: if you are getting an Economic Stimulus Payment, are you going to spend it on goods and services, thusly stimulating the economy or are you going to pay off debt? I think I will do mostly the latter, but given that the money will be put back into the banking industry’s hands, that should ultimately stimulate the economy as well, right? And I may buy some landscaping bricks too…

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Taking the LASIK plunge...so far the water is fine!

I come from a long line of myopes. I have vivid memories from when I was young of my father wearing Coke bottles for glasses. My mother, father and both sisters all wore glasses. However, somehow in the toss of the genetic dice, my eyes were not nearly as bad as the rest of my family's.

I tried a brief stint with glasses in 9th grade and boy was that a fashion mistake. So when I changed schools in 10th grade, I left my glasses behind. I thought for sure when it came time to get my driver's license at 16, I would fail the vision test and be doomed to wearing glasses again, but through the magic of strenuously squinting, I passed. So I remained without four eyes through the remainder of high school and all through college. My eyesight gradually became more myopic, but not to the point of causing problems. It wasn't until I started my full-time career with MCI in 1993 that I took advantage of the Vision plan and got glasses. I have been wearing glasses ever since, going on 15 years now.

As laser eye correction became more mainstream, I began to consider the alphabet soup of procedures to "free me" of my glasses or contact lenses. However, since my eyes weren't "that bad", I chose not to. However, my wife's eyes were about as bad as the rest of my family's eyes, so a few years go we set aside money in our Healthcare Reimbursement Account and she had her eyes done. I had read a lot of good things about Dr. Gary Tylock and the research he had done in this area, so Sara had her CustomView IntraLASIK done there. The results were nothing short of incredible. As part of Dr. Tylock's "20/20 or it's free" guarantee, she did have to have one eye "tweaked" a couple months later, but the end result is that she is glasses-free for the first time since she was a very young girl.

Even with her success, I still couldn't bring myself to have the procedure done. Not out of fear of the procedure, but out of the lack of desire to spend several thousand dollars on my not-so-bad eyes. So, I stuck with glasses. However, the last pair of glasses I got was an aesthetic mistake. While I liked the overall look, they were too small for my wide head and the temple pieces were too short. The last straw was screws coming out of my glasses. I tried to replace them with the correct screws, but the threads were too messed up. The only thing that worked was a larger screw that was too long and didn't thread in all the way. Well, at this point in my career, I didn't want people focusing on my crappy repair job instead of what I was saying, so I decided to investigate having LASIK. And I am sure glad that I did.

My wife setup the consultation for me with Dr. Tylock. I went and they did all kinds of tests on my eyes. With regard to LASIK, Dr. Tylock only does CustomView IntraLASIK now. This means using a Excimer laser to create the flap in the cornea instead of the mechanical microkeratome. Further, the CustomView part involves not only determining the extent of one's myopia, it also detects and corrects higher-order aberrations in your eye. Being a Network Engineer and not a eye surgeon, I can't provide examples of those high-order aberrations, but it is good to have them corrected as well.

After all of the tests and consultations, I was bracing for the financial bad news. However, since my eyes were within the "not-so-bad" range, my surgery would be the cheapest they offered, at $2222 per eye, or $4444 for both, before various discounts for seminars, paying cash (or rather not financing the surgery with them) and surprisingly a Verizon corporate discount. So, my total was $3440, or $150 for the exams and $3290 for the surgery. I scheduled my surgery for a week later.

On the day of my surgery, I was admittedly a bit nervous. After all, these are my eyes! But I have known many people who have had wonderful results from laser eye surgery and none that had major problems. When I arrived I had to wait about 35 minutes before I was called back with a group of others. We were given our procedure bags containing our medications and post-surgical goggles and then given an explanation of the procedures.

Next they gave us each 10mg of Valium, "if we wanted some." I figured, I'm paying for it, I'm taking it! Only one or two of us (including me) were there for LASIK only. The others were having PRK, which while a shorter procedure, had a longer post-op recovery period. After the description of PRK, I was glad I was having LASIK.

Next they called us individually and took us to the surgery queue. We lounged on recliners and the techs put covers on our shoes and hairnets on our heads. Nowthat I shave my head daily, I probably had more hair on my clothes than I did on my head, but the rules are the rules. Peridically a whirring sound came from another room followed by a barrage of popping sounds which reminded me of electrical arcs. I assumed this was probably the laser doing the corrections, and later found I was correct. I could hear a good selection of music coming from the surgical theater and, with the valium kicking in, I had a hard time not singing along...

Next they called me in. I was taken to a chair that reminded me of a dentists chair. But it was hard to tell because of all of the medication and anesthetics they had put on my eyes. They laid me back, put more stuff in my eyes, made marks on my cornea and had me wait my turn. By now there was a series of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and John Fogerty songs playing and I was having a good time. Then it was my turn to move again. This time it was to a recliner near the Excimer laser station to wait my turn.

Shortly I was told to get in the chair where the femptosecond laser was. I did and they lay me way back. I asked who picked out the music and was told that Dr. Tylock did. I told him that it was great! He said that John Fogerty had just come through town and it was a great concert. They placed more anethetics on my eyes and began with my right eye. They placed a device on my eye to hold my lids open and then lowered the device down to put pressure on my eye. They warned me that I would lose sight temporarily in that eye while the pressure was applied, but I knew it was coming. When I was a kid, bored in class, I used to put pressure on my eyes to make myself temporarily blind. Lots of fun! The laser then began to cut, but I couldn't see anything because of the pressure on my right eye and a patch over my left eye. I could, however, feel the pressure of the cutting as it moved in a circular path around my eye. They repeated the procedure on my left eye next.

Once complete, one of the techs told me that she would take me to the next chair. However, as I could see (even with flaps cut) I was able to get in the chair. I have to say though that I couldn't tell which was the heads or tails end of the chair... :-) This was the chair where they corrected the myopia. As they prepared me for the correction, they moved the flap out of the way. Previously I could see a white ring of light and a pulsing orange light. Once the flap was moved, it was just a blurry pulsating light that I could see. They said to hold still as the machine whirred to life and the arcing sound started. I could see what seemed to be light blue arcs of light all round the center of my vision. Then as they moved to the center of my vision, things got dark, except for that orange pulsating light. As before, they did the right eye first, then the left. As each eye was completed, they would put the flap back down and I could see the light ring and pulsing light clearly again. I thought this was pretty cool.

When I was finished, I stood up and could see. It looked as though I was seeing through a fairly thick fog, but otherwise things were clear. They took me to a station within the surgical theater where they checked to ensure the flaps had seated appropriately. Once satisfied, they took me to a dark room where I was to recline with my eyes closed for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes, they put my post-op goggles on and walked me to the lobby where Sara was waiting for me. Sara drove home and I went ahead and took one of the sleeping pills, since it was already 7PM and the best post-op care for my eyes was sleep. The neatest thing was briefly lifting up my goggles and being able to read signs. The correction is effective that quickly.

The next day I awakened and could see everything. It is incredible. There was no pain. The only postop pain is when I put the sterioid drops in my eyes. Otherwise, everything is great! I figured now that I was glasses-free, I needed to go get some cool shades since I could no longer rely on my transitions lenses in my old glasses. So, I got what I thought were the coolest looking sunglasses that WalMart had. Now, my oldest tells me they look like my old glasses... Oh well, it was worth a try. I guess I'll have to keep looking for "cool" glasses. My kids recommend aviator glasses, but I don't think so... :-)

So, downsides to the surgery. The first is the cost, but that is coming down. My only complaint thus far is that I am likely a bit overcorrected. I'll find out for sure when I return in two weeks, but I find it difficult to read things up close. It is almost like when you cross your eyes, your eye muscles straining. But that could change over the next couple of weeks.

So as of this writing, I am VERY pleased with my decision to have LASIK and the wonderful job Dr. Tylock and his professional staff did. I would highly recommend this procedure to anyone who wears contacts or glasses. I never did well with contacts so I stuck with glasses. The difference is incredible! I no longer have to look through two small windows to see. Now, everything is in focus, even my peripheral vision. Can't beat it!

Lastly, if you are considering LASIK (or any medical procedures), make sure and use a Healthcare Reimbursement Account if your employer offers it. You can use pre-tax money to pay for your procedures instead of using money from which Uncle Sam has already taken a chunk. Depending on your tax bracket, it can be an additional savings anywhere from 15% to 35%.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

HOA Hell

I am sure I am not alone in this line of thinking, but what was I thinking moving into a neighborhood with a Home Owner's Association? On the surface, HOAs seem valuable. Their number one job is to maintain the homogeneity of our neighborhoods. This means no pink houses for you and me, which is a good thing...sorry Mr. Mellencamp. But often the benefits of HOAs are undermined by mismanagement, gestapo tactics and misuse of enforcement by petty neighbors.



We purchased our house in the fall of 1998. We were the fourth house in a new neighborhood in Rowlett, known as Mariner Park since we sit on the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard. About a year after we moved in, we had a patio cover installed in our backyard to shelter our den and postage-stamp-sized patio from the harsh South and West sun. A couple years later in 2001 we wanted to build an outdoor storage shed to house our lawn and garden implements. We checked with the HOA to determine the appropriate dimensions according to the HOA rules. That was when we discovered that we should have received approval for our patio cover. So, we applied for belated approval for the patio cover and the storage shed. Shortly thereafter we received approval and constructed an 8x12 shed which backs up to the alley.



Recently we were contacted by our HOA, who is evidently doing a compliance sweep, requesting us to repair our recently damaged wood fence and to paint the shed to match our house. According to the management company, SBB Management, we had been contacted back in August (i.e. 6 months ago) about said infractions and had ignored their requests. However, we never received the purported first attempt. On February 2nd or 3rd we received the Second Notice, dated 2/1/08, which stated we had 10 days to rectify the situation or face dire consequences. Interestingly, the fence had already been repaired. The shed still needed to be painted and I did so the following weekend, within their 10 day period. Then on 2/15/08 I received a much stronger letter, via regular mail and certified mail, saying I had another 10 days to comply or face legal action. Considering the shed had been painted on 2/9, I was a bit put out. They give a 10 day period and then assume I blew them off.



Interestingly, at the same time, one of our neighbors received a similar letter regarding their lack of approval for the small deck they had in their small backyard. The funny (haha, strange, you name it) thing is that the BUILDER put that on the house, not my neigbors, and did so before they purchased the house almost seven years ago. Further, the deck cannot be seen from outside the backyard. Makes you wonder how they knew about the deck at all, doesn't it. Either the HOA is peeping over fences or petty neighbors are causing trouble. I wouldn't be surprised if it were the latter.



You would think that moving into a nice neighborhood would yield nice neighbors, right? Wrong! I know, I'm naive. It astounds me how many petty neighbors use the HOA as their own personal enforcement arm. We have received violation notices before, usually about the lawn. However, last year I received a violation about fixing my fence. My fence was fine, except for a single pole which had rotten out in the section separating my neighbor's yard from mine. There is no way a casual enforcement officer could have seen this leaning post from the street or alley. What is further interesting is that the post is actually on my neighbor's side of the fence, yet I received the violation. I wonder if they got one...



The HOAs are overrun with petty reports from neighbors who don't like other neighbors. The HOA rules forbid parking in front of the house for extended periods of time, but this has NEVER been enforced to my knowledge. However, if in late February or early March I have a milkweed growing in my front yard, I get a violation notice.



The good news is that I have learned from these experiences.


  1. The HOA has WAY too much power. But since I signed the document at closing, I gave them that power. Keep ALL correspondence with the HOA, forever! I have to prove that I received approval for my shed 7 years ago or they could force me to tear it down. I don't know that the IRS makes you keep documents longer than 7 years...

  2. Get involved in the HOA as either block captain or on the board. That way you can use the HOA for your benefit and screw anyone in the neighborhood who looks at you the wrong way.

  3. Live in an older neighborhood where there are no HOAs.

  4. Buy land and live far from your neighbors...

I think I need to start sending Architectural Improvement Applications on a weekly basis for things that will clearly be rejected like: A) a helipad, B) a large billboard (since the President George Bush Turnpike will come right by my neighborhoood), C) cattle ranching in my backyard, D) Drive In movie screen... You get the picture.


Actually, what I should do is pull my huge Antenna (which I no longer use since I have Verizon FIOS) out of my attic and mount it atop my chimney. Or better yet, I need to put a large HAM radio antenna array in my backyard. I believe the FCC protects these and the HOA would be powerless... Gonna have to check into that one.


Anyway, for the unitiatied, be careful when you buy a house in a neighborhood with a HOA. Given the housing crunch now, you should have plenty other choices. Or, if you do embark upon the HOA nightmare, keep good records of your correspondence. Words to the wise...from the not as wise. Of course most folks who stumble upon this little diatribe are probably already feeling the HOA pain. My condolences. Just remember, misery loves company.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Zanata Restaurant - Rockwall

When Sara and I were looking for a new home in 1999, we wanted a place that was part suburban/rural and party city. We found this in Rowlett, TX. We have been very happy here. However, the quality of dining in the area has left something to be desired. For family quick outings there was always Chili's, local average (or below) eateries and the traditional fast-food fare. However, whenever we wanted to go higher-end in our dining, we always had to go to Greenville avenue, Richardson, Addison, Plano or Frisco. However, we found a place in nearby Rockwall that could just become a regular haunt for us when we want to eat a bit more upscale but don't want to travel great distances to do so.

Tonight we wanted to go out to dinner so we decided to forgo the Rowlett fare and head to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in Rockwall. Unfortunately they were closed, so we began to seek out new places to eat. As we waited at a red light on the square in Rockwall, we stumbled across Zanata Restaurant. It had a different look about it, but it was hard to tell what kind of fare it specialized in. So we decided to turn the block and drive by again. Specifically, we wanted to check out what folks were wearing inside as we didn't want to be under dressed. Zanata had large windows that opened out onto the sidewalk, reminiscent of Margaritaville in Key West. The dress looked casual enough, so we pulled into an alley next to the restaurant and parked.

When we entered, it wasn't clear what the seating etiquette was. But shortly thereafter a hostess greeted us and quickly cleared a table for our party of five. Outside a banner had mentioned "wood fired pies," and seeing pizza at several of the tables, I quickly understood the "pie" reference. The decor is in nice earth tones and very warm and friendly. The table is set with hand-blown stemware for the water.

The waitstaff at Zanata was wonderfull. Our waiter, Louie, was great. We started off with two different orders of their Bruschetta which were very good. We ordered a carraffe of the house red wine since Sara is not a big wine drinker. The younger kids didn't enjoy the Bruschetta as much as Sara, Josh and I did. One of the orders, the Sonomoa, had goat cheese, balsamic vinegar and sliced portobella. The other, the Fresh Mozzerella, had mozzerella (naturally), Tomato Confit, basil, sea-salt and olive oil. This was my favorite. The tomatoes where wonderful.

Andrew and Trin ordered a Cheese pizza and Josh got the House pizza. Sara shared the House pizza with Josh as well as a Caesar salad. I had the Lasagna special and boy was I glad that I did. The Lasagna was easily four inches thick, if not more, with tons of Ricotta cheese. The meat sauce, containing fresh tomatos, herbs and italian sausage, was on top and the lasagna layers consisted of pasta and Ricotta. This was easily some of the best Lasagna I have had in some time.

Louie explained that Zanata had been open since January. I don't know how many times I have driven by Zanata this year and never knew it was there. They could benefit from some advertising, but considering the number of couples and families waiting as we left, maybe they don't need to advertise.

If you are in the Rockwall/Rowlett area and are looking for an uncommonly good Italian/Mediterranean restaurant, I would highly recommend Zanata. We will certainly be back there soon!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nana's Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe...

Although I have a page on this site for recipes, a recent hard drive crash and corporate sourcing of a new computer means that I no longer have Dreamweaver on my laptop. I suppose I could go upstairs, but this is easier... :-)

My german grandmother, Irene Ida Meyer, affectionately called Nana, was a wonderful cook. You wouldn't find her recipes in high-end restaurants, as she was born dirt poor in Quero, Tx. She made good, economical meals that reflected her central Texas upbringing. My grandfather, a.k.a Papa, grew up in a Catholic orphanage and could make dinner out of anything. I got my epicurean experimentation from my Papa. Anyway, here is my version of Nana's baked macaroni and cheese. My sister Michelle has the original recipe, which I will post later, but here his my successful attempt to replicate...

Nana's Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Ingredients:

1 lb dry macaroni noodles
2 cups of milk
4 eggs
4 pounds shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Garlic salt
pepper
Grated Fresh Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook macaroni noodles in boiling, salted and oiled, water. Mix the milk, eggs, garlic salt, pepper and shredded cheese together. Pour the cooked noodles into a baking pan. Pour the milk, egg and cheese mixture over the noodles. With a large spoon, mix the liquid and cheese thoroughly through the noodles.

Cover with foil and bake in the 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Uncover the baking pan and continue to bake until the noodles and cheese are a golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh, grated Parmesan Cheese.

This dish is a mainstay at our birthday dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners. Every time we make it I think of Nana. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mattress Giant - Update...

Quick update on our expensive lesson. We went back to Mattress Giant and worked out a solution. Although, I would have much preferred to received my money back (minus the pickup charge), we were given store credit that we were able to use toward beds for the kids. So we will have two new Full-size beds plus pillows instead of a King-Size bed we can't sleep on. All in all, probably as good a solution as could be managed. As expected, Tom at Mattress Giant was very helpful in figuring out how we could use the store credit without additional cost to us. The kids laid on the mattresses and chose the ones they liked. Hopefully they are not tons harder than the floor model like ours was.

Slept on the Sleep Number bed last night and slept well. Again, lesson learned.