Older and Wiser: Christmas Cookies

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Christmas and how it was celebrated in other countries. I used to check out library books on the subject. It was hard to imagine following some of the traditions I read about – I distinctly remember being amazed that some people didn’t put up a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, and then Santa was the one who decorated it. (Looking back as an adult, I can only imagine how tiring that must be for the parents. There it is, 11 pm or whenever they managed to get the kids soundly to sleep, and now they have to quietly drag out boxes of ornaments and decorate the tree without being caught … not to mention actually setting out the Santa gifts and filling stockings.)

Obviously we weren’t going to be changing our family traditions just because I thought it was cool how people in Denmark celebrated Christmas or whatever, but one thing I could do was bake some of the traditional cookies made in various countries. I remember dog-earing pages of a book called Christmas Cookies of the World (or something similar), just certain that I was going to make ALL of these cookies and try them out.

My eyes were bigger than my ambition, and I only actually tried a few of the recipes. Still, though, it was fun to read about and dream. As an adult, I still have a bit of a problem where Christmas cookies are concerned. Now it’s not so much about trying Christmas cookies from around the world as it is about trying Christmas cookies that just look so gorgeous and sound so delicious.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to go overboard when I plan my baking days. When I was in my early 20s, I failed to take into consideration which recipes were the type that needed to be made and then refrigerated for hours before I could bake them. I’d get the dough made up and then get to the line that said ‘refrigerate for three hours or more’ and just sigh. Now what?!

Other times I’d be more organized; I’d make the ‘refrigerate for freaking ever’ cookie dough first, and while it was chilling I’d move on to something I could bake right away. But I’d plan to make a whole list of cookies in one day, an endeavor that would take me hours and leave me with a sore back and aching feet.

I also learned that I have no patience for cookies that have to be rolled out and decorated. Those were the types that they always pushed on young mothers as a great way to involve your children in cookie baking. Neither of my kids had any interest in this, even though they both liked to cook and Paige, especially, was into crafts. By the time we made the dough and rolled it out and started using the cookie cutters, they were getting bored. They’d wander off while the cookies were baking; usually I could coax them back to decorate a few once they cooled off, but I always felt like I was forcing the kids to join me in an activity they really didn’t care about. Decorated sugar cookies got taken off the list after a couple years of listless participation.

Really it was like this for any kind of cookie. “Want to make cookies?” I’d ask. They would shout, “Yes!” and by the time we were scooping out the dough, they’d be leaning on their elbows, sighing, looking around the room. “If you want to stop, you can,” I’d say, then watch them happily skip off to read or build Legos or whatever while I scooped and baked.

So here I am, 50 years old, and I’d like to think I’ve reached the ‘wiser’ part of ‘older and wiser.’ Okay, yes, I do have at least ten types of cookies I’d like to make this year – I have my tried and true recipes, like chocolate chips and Russian Tea Balls (also known as Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Cookies, etc. etc. – basically they should be called Round White Balls of Buttery Deliciousness Covered in Powdered Sugar). I have a couple of new recipes, because I always like to try a few new ones each year. (Congo Bars, how have I not made you before now?!) And I usually try to make at least one traditional Italian cookie – sometimes it’s pizzelles, sometimes biscotti; this year it’s frosted anise cookies. But I don’t try to make them all in one day. Now I spread the cookie-making joy over a few days, sometimes a week.

I’ll leave you with a recipe that has just three ingredients – butter, brown sugar, flour – and tastes absolutely amazing. This is one of my new recipes for this year because I’d never made shortbread before and wanted to see how they would turn out. Mine looked nothing like the photo accompanying the recipe; they would fit better in a ‘Pinterest Fail’ meme. But how they look doesn’t matter. They are simply amazing – buttery, not too sweet, and very addictive: Scottish Shortbread

Happy baking!

Not A Real Post

Oh my gosh — I haven’t been doing well with Holidailies, have I?  (More like Holi-every-couple-dailies around here.)

We just did a whirlwind final Christmas shopping day today.  When we got home in the late afternoon, I exercised and now I’m researching cat toys because I forgot to buy kitty gifts (oops).  I was just about to get up and get dinner started when I realized I haven’t updated here since … Monday, I think.

I have a day full of downtime tomorrow — I’m coloring my hair, which means at least four hours without my ‘ears’ on (between applying the color, waiting for it to set, washing it out, then letting my hair air dry).  For some reason I find it easier to write when I can’t hear, so hopefully I can write a real update then.  I’m thinking food as a topic — for someone who seems to think about food all the time, I rarely write about it.

Speaking of food, I’ll leave you with a photo of these glorious pancakes that Dave got when we went out to breakfast with Paige and Michael yesterday.  The pancakes, seriously, are the size of a dinner plate and an inch thick (and delicious).  I guess you get two pancakes as part of a regular order; Dave wanted three and the waitress brought out a second plate with another massively huge pancake on it — it was comical.  (No, he didn’t eat it — he couldn’t even finish these two.)

We got these beauties at Rise 'n Shine Cafe in Niles.

We got these beauties at Rise ‘n Shine Cafe in Niles.

Bargaining with the Tooth Fairy

Earlier today I heard Dave chuckling. “Oh, this is totally you,” he said, pointing to his computer screen. I leaned over his shoulder to read the Reddit post he was talking about.

“That is absolutely something I would have done,” I agreed. It was a passive-aggressive note from a young girl to the Tooth Fairy … a very forgetful Tooth Fairy, apparently. (I did sympathize because I can easily remember at least two instances of ‘Oh crap, I forgot to be the Tooth Fairy last night!’ that involved me handing Dave some money and begging him to perform his magic – he could always slip that money under the pillow better than I. I’m pretty sure we forgot to retrieve the tooth at least once as well.)

I was a bit of a bitchy, dramatic kid. My mom would leave aggrieved notes reminding me to empty the dishwasher or whatever; I would correct her spelling and punctuation with a red pen, then leave the corrected note for her to see when she got home from work. I can also remember writing woe-is-me poetry when I felt I’d been wronged. I would shape it into a paper airplane and fly it into the living room where my parents sat watching TV, then run back to my room and slam the door. (My mom saved those notes, bless her heart – a few years later, I found some of them under the pot holders in a kitchen drawer.)

After I saw the tooth fairy note, I walked into our guest room and checked one of my jewelry boxes. When we moved, I got rid of a lot of childhood papers I’d saved from both kids – mostly graded worksheets, anything impersonal. I kept their stories, drawings and poems though, and I was pretty sure I had some Tooth Fairy notes. Sure enough, I found this, from Eric:

He wrote this when he was in a stage where he slept on the floor in my room -- had to make sure the Tooth Fairy could find him!

He wrote this when he was in a stage where he slept on the floor in my room — had to make sure the Tooth Fairy could find him!

And this, a year or two later (I can tell he’s older by the handwriting):

"I lost I think a big tooth. Please give me $10 $5 or in the middle"

“I lost I think a big tooth. Please give me $10 $5 or in the middle”

... and he offers some more monetary suggestions.  :)

… and he offers some more monetary suggestions. :)

Not to be outdone, Paige also left the Tooth Fairy a clever note:

"I would like 50c or more for my tooth because it is cute."  :)

“I would like 50c or more for my tooth because it is cute.” :)

I can’t remember for sure but I believe these notes did net bigger payouts from the Tooth Fairy, although not $10 per tooth. I think Eric was probably angling for 25 cents, not 25 dollars, in the first note … but I did teach him to dream big, so who knows.

Happy Holidays (emphasis on ‘happy’)

After all the snow we got in November (16 inches before Nov. 15th, another good six inches on Thanksgiving, with little flurries many days in between), I was positive we’d have a white Christmas. In fact, I was a little nervous about whether we’d be able to make the drive to Illinois on Christmas day. It seemed entirely possible that we’d be snowed in.

In Illinois, we lived in a suburb about 35 miles west of Chicago. About half the time that snow was predicted, it wouldn’t show up at all. Usually we’d get just a little bit while other areas got dumped on. I love snow, and this used to drive me crazy. We’d hear the term ‘lake effect snow’ but it never applied to us because we were too far from Lake Michigan and in the wrong direction as well.

When we moved to southwestern Michigan, we got our first taste of lake effect snow. We aren’t right on Lake Michigan – you have to drive 30 to 40 minutes to get there – but we’re right in the little area where lake effect snow seems to develop. In fact, the towns right along the lake tend to get less snow than we do. The boundaries of the lake effect snow area are really dramatic – the storm that ultimately gave us 16 inches of snow dropped just a couple of inches in towns right around us.

So here we are, almost exactly halfway through December, and we’ve had no snow. Not only have we had no snow, but it’s also been fairly warm for this time of year (today I think it’s going to be around 50 degrees). While this is nice for the car – she actually starts up first thing in the morning with no hijinks on our part – it’s not really nice for the whole Christmas spirit thing in general. Even Dave, who is ambivalent about snow, has complained that we should have snow by now.

I’m used to this from Illinois – it was typical for us to have no snow on Christmas and then get tons of snow starting in January. But our ultra-snowy early start to winter had me pretty excited – I’d moved to the perfect place for snow!

Oh well – for some reason, I still feel full of Christmas spirit even without my beloved snow on the ground. Our grass may still be green, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m happy knowing we’ll be able to get to Chicago with no drama on the 25th (assuming the no-snow thing keeps up for the next 10 days), and I’m happy knowing I’ll be able to see my kids and my mom this year on Christmas.

We have cookie-baking plans with Paige and her boyfriend Michael, our gifts are mostly bought, and our budget wasn’t stretched too far beyond its tight confines. Earlier this week Dave pulled me out of the house for a nighttime drive to look at Christmas lights, something we both love to do. We brought out just the right amount of decorations for our little house, my doorway arch is filling up with holiday cards from friends near and far, and Dave has recorded the Christmas specials I remember so fondly from my childhood. (I still cry when Frosty melts – I can’t help it.)

My heart is full and content. While I’d love to look out the window and see white, glittery snow as far as the eye can see, I’m happy instead to look out on our birds and squirrels (and occasional wild turkey).

The Joy of Conversation

I just realized I left out an anecdote when I finished up Hazel’s repair story. (I was in the midst of the aforementioned cold at the time, and I was kind of powering through the story rather than the usual meandering way that I write. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.)

So anyway, I had mentioned that because we couldn’t get Hazel started, and we don’t have a second car, we had to have the car rental people pick us up at the house and give us a ride to the actual rental facility. We’d never done this before and weren’t sure how it worked. I thought maybe they would arrive with the actual car we were renting. We were debating the logistics of this when a car pulled up in front of our house and we heard the horn honk.

Dave reached the car first and got into the back seat. I was about to slide in next to him when the girl who was driving, we’ll call her Tina, told me that I was welcome to sit in the front seat. Back in the days before my cochlear implants, this would have made me extremely nervous. Sitting in the front seat means you are obligated to make conversation, whereas the person in the back seat can kind of sit back and zone out without looking rude.

Well, I didn’t want this nice girl to think I thought she had cooties or something, so I didn’t hesitate to sit in the front seat.

She was very friendly and talkative; this would not be a trip made in awkward silence. The first thing she told us was that this was not the car we’d be renting, and I laughed and admitted we’d just been wondering about that when she pulled up. Then I started telling her about our saga with Hazel, explaining why we needed a ride to the rental place (and thanking her profusely as well).

It was about a 25 minute ride to the facility because we’d had some snow and the roads weren’t completely plowed. I chatted easily with this girl for the entire ride, something that would have been agonizingly difficult for me when I just had hearing aids. I didn’t hesitate to ask her questions and make comments when she told us stories about her family. In the past I would have kept quiet in an effort to keep conversation to a minimum (less worry about not hearing something properly that way).

At one point she asked Dave something that he didn’t catch (sitting in the back seat makes it especially hard because you can’t lip read). So I turned around and repeated it for him, making sure he could see and hear me. Then he explained to Tina that we both had hearing loss – that I was totally deaf and heard with cochlear implants, and he was partially deaf and had a hearing aid for the ear that could still hear. She’d never heard of CIs so we explained how they worked, and basically we blew her mind. It was fun to see her expression change as we spoke, to see her amazement at the technology that makes it possible for me to hear.

When it was time for us to return the car a week later, Tina was working at the counter. We handed over the keys and gave her an update on our car. Then I asked her if she knew the location of the Michael’s store – we knew there was one nearby, we just weren’t exactly sure where it was. (We wanted to stop in and look at their Christmas trees.) She laughed and said, “Wow, God works in mysterious ways!” I gave her a quizzical look, and she went on to explain that she was just going through a bunch of Michael’s coupons that she was going to throw away because they expired in one day. Then she handed us two coupons for 50% off, and explained exactly where the store was (not far from where we already were). How crazy is that?!

I mention that because before my CIs, I would never have asked that question. I would look the information up on my cell phone or something, but I would never take a chance and ask another person where something was because I could never be sure I’d hear or understand the answer. Having the confidence to ask that question opened up a whole conversation about a craft Tina was working on, and also the aforementioned coupons she was nice enough to offer.

I’ve mentioned before that I have trouble with the phone, TV and movies unless I have captions. But there is a night and day difference in the most important thing to me, face to face conversations with people. As long as the person doesn’t have a heavy accent, I almost never miss a word.

As we walked back to Hazel that day, I remarked to Dave that I felt like I could talk to anyone now that I could hear so well. Of course, Tina was especially easy to talk to because she was so friendly and outgoing. But I had no problem keeping a constant flow of conversation going, and I never once worried about what I would say next or if I would be able to understand what she was saying.

It was such a good feeling, and so fun to connect with another person in a way that I never would have before my CIs.

Holiday Colds Suck

You know how after you’ve been sick and then you have your first day when you’re feeling better, you feel absolutely amazing? Like, you had no idea how truly bad you were feeling until you have that first back-to-normal day. Well, that’s how it’s been for me today.

I have been super lucky over the past ten years or so, rarely getting sick with even a cold. I might have a day of the sniffles or a scratchy throat, but generally I don’t get truly sick. I think it’s partly from being able to work at home – I am so much less stressed than when I was working outside the home, and I also don’t get exposed to as many germs as before. I also give zinc much of the credit, though – once I started taking a zinc supplement, colds really became a thing of the past for me. I mean an actual zinc tablet, not the lozenges or cold remedy things – I split a 50 mg zinc caplet in half and take half every day along with my multivitamin.

So anyway, every now and then I do get bowled over with a cold … and that just happened. During the Christmas season, no less – not fair! Dave was sniffly over Thanksgiving, then it turned into a full-blown cold for him, and then my throat got kind of irritated. That lasted for a week, and then the day before we were supposed to go to Illinois, it turned into a definite cold.

My mom was scheduled for cataract surgery on Thursday and we were going to see her on Monday. The last thing I wanted to do was get her sick right before her surgery, but I also hated to miss seeing her altogether. I decided to let her make the decision, so I asked what she preferred that I do – stay away? Maybe meet us at Portillo’s for lunch instead of us going to her house for a few hours?

In the end we settled on a visit at her house with no actual touching – no hugs or kisses hello. We sat far away from each other. And it worked – she didn’t get sick and her surgery came off without a hitch. But wow, looking back on it I can see now how bad I was feeling that day. At the time it was just kind of like, ‘oh yeah, I feel a little run down.’ But once we got home that night, I had to confess to Dave.

As a side note – I have this weird habit of telling Dave if I experience any kind of unusual pain or physical symptom like dizziness, a headache (I almost never get them), that sort of thing. I tell him about it and add, “That way if I pass out or something happens to me, you can tell the ambulance people that I had this [headache, dizziness, sudden random pain in my abdomen].” He accepts this information good-naturedly, knowing it’s just one of my quirks.

So when I told him that night, “I have to make a confession. I was feeling really bad this morning. Like, ‘I think I might pass out’ bad. When we were at the rest area, I was actually taking deep breaths and walking very carefully because I was pretty sure I was going to lose it and pass out before we got back to the car,” he was properly horrified. This was so unlike me, after all. Normally I’d have told him every out-of-ordinary symptom I was feeling. I guess I just wanted to play down how I was feeling so he wouldn’t worry about me – he had his own dental appointment to worry about after all.

I still feel a little hoarse but my energy is mostly back, and I’m ready to fully embrace the holidays again. It’s amazing what a few good nights of sleep will do. Well, that and the absence of a stuffy nose and a sore throat!

The Generation Gap, Music Version

Last month I wrote this (long) Facebook status:

There’s a 9 year age difference between me and Dave, although I rarely notice. It really shows up, though, when it comes to music. He recalls the Creedence Clearwater Revival version of Proud Mary; I remember the Ike & Tina version. For Dave, Spirit in the Sky is by Norman Greenbaum … but he patiently watches as I show him the (CLASSIC OMG) video for the version I know and love, by Doctor and the Medics. And I present the following conversation (which took place earlier this week as we watched The Voice, and a contestant sang ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’):

Me: Who sang that song? Was it Bad Company?

Dave: Um…I don’t know, I think it was some kind of soul/R&B group.
Me: No, it was southern rock kind of stuff. (pauses TV) Can you check? It’s driving me crazy.
Dave: (gets tablet and searches) Oh yeah, it was the Drifters. Now I remember.
Me: What? That can’t be right, let me see. (Dave hands me the tablet and I scroll down)
Me: There it is – Grand Funk Railroad!
Dave: (takes tablet back) That was in 1974, you were only 10 years old. How do you remember that?
Me: Oh, honey. All I did in 1974 was listen to the radio. I kept a cassette in the tape deck and my mission in life was to run fast enough across the room to hit ‘record’ when my favorite songs came on the radio. I probably had 5 or 6 cassettes with multiple partial recordings of this song.

Ah, those were the days.

* * *

It wasn’t just songs on the radio. I would also carefully read the TV Guide to see if any of my favorite singers were going to be on TV. This was about as close to seeing them in concert as I could get, and it was a huge deal. I’d put a fresh cassette tape in my portable tape recorder, then set it next to the TV speaker and record their performance. I think I may have taped at least half of all the Sonny & Cher shows that way; if someone had told my 10 year old self that in the future, I could push a button and record not only the sound but also the video … well, I think my little mind would have been blown.

So anyway, last night we had a replay of almost the exact same conversation that I had described on Facebook. We were watching The Voice and a contestant sang ‘Without You.’ After it was done, I asked Dave how he liked it and he said he thought it was a terrible version of that song.

“Well,” I said, “I think someone like Celine Dion covered it and turned it into a ‘diva’ song. She was probably singing that version.” (We can’t stand that, by the way.) “It was originally kind of a rock ballad from the 1970s. Who did that song anyway?”

Dave said, “LeAnn Rimes? Trisha Yearwood?”

I stared at him.

“I think maybe we’re thinking of different versions,” I said carefully. I mean, I don’t think LeAnn Rimes was even alive in the 70s, was she? I grabbed my phone and did a search.

“Okay, yeah. It was done by Badfinger in 1970.” I scrolled down on the Wikipedia page. “It was covered by something like 180 people, though. OH – it was Mariah Carey who did the diva version, not Celine Dion.”

I kept looking and didn’t see any reference to LeAnn Rimes, so I did a separate search and we found out she did a completely different song with a similar sounding name. (Makes sense that Dave thought it was a terrible rendition of her song … since it wasn’t her song.)

Then Dave was acting like he didn’t even know the original song, so I made him suffer through a tiny Youtube video played on my cell phone, lucky guy. But he did admit to recognizing it though once he heard the original.

The other day I read somewhere that Angus Young from AC/DC is 59 now. I did the math and thought, “Oh, he’s only nine years older than me.” Back when I was really into AC/DC, he seemed so much older, you know? Then I realized he was Dave’s age.

“Did you know that Angus Young is the same age as you?” I asked.

“Who is Angus Young?” Dave said, confused.

“You know, Angus Young from AC/DC.”

“OH,” he said. “Isn’t he the one who tried to have someone killed?”

“Oh my god, no. That was the drummer. Angus Young is the guitarist, the one who usually dresses in a British schoolboy’s uniform.”

Go, Angus, go!

Go, Angus, go!

And, well, then I started giggling. Yes, Dave is his age. But I can’t picture Dave dressed as a British schoolboy.

At least I don’t think there would be any confusion over who did “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It hasn’t been covered by Merle Haggard or Charlie Pride, has it?!

Where’s the Beef?

I used to have a boss who had moved to the United States from Germany. She was always going on about how things were better in Germany, and after a while it would get on my nerves. “Geez,” I would think uncharitably. “If it was so much better there, why did you ever leave?”

Now that we live in Michigan – and I’m glad we do, with no plans to return to Illinois – I have to admit to doing a little of the same thing, always related to food. I miss the huge, varied deli that was part of our grocery store. I miss being able to find a wide array of inexpensive Italian, Mexican, Asian, Polish and Spanish groceries. I miss deep dish Chicago pizza. But most of all, I miss a good old Italian beef sandwich.

About a month or so after we moved here, I was checking out restaurant reviews on Yelp when I came across reviews for a place that boasted a true Chicago-style hot dog. I eat my hot dogs plain so I don’t really care if they are Chicago-style or not (poppy seed bun, celery salt, sport peppers, no ketchup, etc). What caught my eye was the fact that someone mentioned they also sold Italian beef sandwiches. Even better, it was not far from our house!

We decided to stop there for some sandwiches on our way to the Warren Dunes. We walked in, saw that the place was packed (usually a good sign if the locals like it) and ordered two Italian beef sandwiches with cheese. They came with fries but I was really in the mood for French fries, so I asked for an extra order of fries.

It was really loud in there and Dave and I both had a hard time hearing. I took over the communication aspect of things because I’m a better lip reader. The first sign that things might not be what we’d hoped was when the girl asked what kind of cheese we wanted on our sandwiches. This is not a question you will ever be asked in Illinois. They might ask if you want cheese or peppers (sweet or hot), but never what kind of cheese – if you ask for cheese, it’s always mozzarella, capisce?

So of course, I answered, “Mozzarella.” And she said, “Oh, we don’t have that.”

We should have changed our order right then and there.

But no, instead I asked what kind of cheese they had. I believe she said American and Swiss. I glanced at Dave, who wrinkled his nose in disgust. I turned back to the girl and said, “No cheese, thank you.”

Then she said something I didn’t quite catch, about my French fries. I didn’t figure it out until we got to the car and opened up the bag, but somehow my asking for another order of fries made the girl assume I wanted half the amount of fries with each order. I didn’t really hear what she said so I just said, “Okay.” Instead of two sandwiches with fries, plus an extra order of fries, we got two sandwiches each with half the amount of fries (to equal one full order) and a little of the price knocked off. I was NOT happy but it was my own fault for not pushing harder to understand what she was asking.

So then we waited. And waited. All these hot dog orders were flying out, and our sandwich order seemed to be an anomaly. After about 20 minutes I could see them starting to put our order together, finally.

I watched the guy grab what looked like a slightly larger hot dog bun. Then he slapped in a small amount of what looked like roast beef lunch meat, and a couple of fries.

When we got to the car and saw what we were going to be eating for lunch, I almost cried. It was so far from what a real Italian beef sandwich should be, and it didn’t even come close to filling us up. We had to stop somewhere else for extra food. To add insult to injury, we paid way, WAY more for these sandwiches than we would at Portillo’s, which has some of the best Italian beef around. (Only in Illinois though. Well, they might have one or two locations outside of Illinois but not in Michigan, sadly.)

We’re headed to Illinois this week for one of Dave’s dental appointments. He is almost there, by the way – this is a fitting for the mold for his partial denture. He’s had all his other work done, and once he gets his partial denture he will finally have a full, working set of teeth for the first time since 2005!

While we are in Illinois, we’ll be stopping by my mom’s for a much-anticipated visit. This dental appointment is just a short one, so we’ll have a few hours to sit and gab with her before we have to get back on the road to beat traffic coming home. And guess where we’re having lunch?

Oh yeah, baby.

Portillo's Italian beef sandwich -- the real thing!

Portillo’s Italian beef sandwich — the real thing!

You Can’t Tell Me What to Do

I haven’t lived in the same town as my daughter since 2012, when she went off to college. Well, there was one week in 2013 when she did come to stay with us, but then she took off for new adventures.

She’s been living in Delavan, Wisconsin, which wasn’t too bad when it came to traveling back to our Chicago suburb – I think it involved a couple of different trains, but we did get to see her. Still, she’s been working a couple of retail jobs so between the long distance and the fact that she usually has to work on holidays, we managed to go two Thanksgivings in a row without seeing her. We also had to celebrate Christmas a week early last year because she wasn’t able to be there on the actual day.

I know that’s how it goes when your kids get older and get their own lives, but we really did miss her. Once we moved to Michigan, it became even more of a challenge for her to visit. She doesn’t have a car, and she would have to get a car ride to northern Illinois, then a train to Chicago, and then a train from there to either our town (Amtrak) or to South Bend, Indiana (Metra) – over four hours of traveling. Even by car it is well over three and a half hours, I think.

A few weeks ago she had been asking me questions about apartments in our town. I told her that sure, there are lots of affordable apartments here, but you really do have to have a car to get around. I suppose if you live right near the downtown area and you have a job down there, you could walk – but we get a LOT of snow here and winters last a good four to five months.

I knew she was having trouble with her current roommates and living situation, and I didn’t hear anything more about it so I assumed she either worked things out or found a new place in Wisconsin. Then about 10 days ago, Dave called me over to his computer.

“Have you seen this?” he asked, pointing to the screen. It was a Facebook status from Paige, saying she was moving to Michigan in nine days. We were both gobsmacked. We read the comments, and someone asked what town she was moving to. She replied with the town that we live in. Someone else said, “I thought this was supposed to be a surprise for your mom?” and Paige said she had me blocked from the status. (But she didn’t – Facebook privacy changes or something – and also, a few other family members saw and asked us about it.)

At first we thought she was going to show up on our doorstep and ask to move in – we couldn’t figure out how else she could move here and be able to get around town. But then I couldn’t figure out how she would actually get here without a car. It turns out that a friend of hers used to live here, and he was moving back – he got an apartment, a car for them to use, and she is splitting the rent with him.

So then I had to go for another week or so and pretend I didn’t know, which was really hard for me. We had a little Facebook chat one day where she asked when we were decorating the Christmas tree, for instance. I thought maybe she was in town early and would show up and surprise us, so I set aside some of her favorite ornaments for her to put on the tree. (She didn’t get here that day, darn.)

Then she posted pictures of the apartment, and Dave couldn’t resist commenting on them. I told him I thought it was still supposed to be a surprise, but he figured she would have blocked us from the photos if that was the case. So then the secret was out, and I was able to be properly excited. We just weren’t sure exactly what day she would get here. We did get a chance to drive by and check out the location of her apartment, which is the lower level of a house and is actually not far from downtown. Very cute, and we were really happy for her.

Earlier this week, we were making breakfast when the phone rang. Paige was finally in Michigan! Dave gave her directions and we planned to get together that day. We weren’t even done cooking our eggs when I saw the car pull up in the driveway. I can’t even tell you how good it felt to finally give her a hug – the first one since I last saw her in July! And she actually got to put her ornaments on the tree that day.

Paige visiting us in our new home!

Paige visiting us in our new home!

I’ve always known that Paige is the type to do the exact opposite of what you tell her. If you say she can’t do something, she will stubbornly find a way to do just that. (Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not, especially when she was younger.) So after I put a damper on her plans to come here, she managed to find a roommate, a place to live, transportation, and get her job transferred to a location right here in town. And now we get to see her on Christmas!

Just in case she’s reading, let me close with this: No, Paige – you cannot become President of the United States. ;-)

The Hazards of Hazel, Pt. 2

We’d had a few cold days so far in November, but the first morning it dipped into the 20s brought a sense of déjà vu. Just like in January, we went out to run errands. It was Saturday morning, and our first stop was going to be the credit union.

Earlier that week, I’d gone to do a direct transfer of my IRA CD from my bank in Illinois to my new credit union in Michigan. The IRA matured on Nov. 10 so I went on that day; the personal banker in Illinois had told me it could all be done via fax. When we got there and they called the Illinois bank, the very same woman I’d dealt with there said that no, it had to be sent via snail mail. You get a 10 day grace period to get your money in the new account without it being treated (and taxed) as a withdrawal, so this was all making me nervous. I assumed this would be a bank-to-credit union transaction, but instead my old bank mailed me a check for the amount of my IRA. I’d received the check on Friday and was desperate to get it deposited at the credit union before my grace period was up.

So that was important, and also, we were down to the last quarter of our last roll of toilet paper. NOT cool. So purchasing toilet paper ranked a very close #2 on our list of things to do that day.

We got out to the car, and it was just like before. The car would start and then die. We were completely stunned.

Dave opened the hood and looked around, and came back in a while later carrying the remnants of an acorn or walnut – some kind of nut. He was incensed – there was evidence that chipmunks (which we have a BUNCH of) had been inside the engine. He was sure they’d chewed on wiring, at the very least.

So I spent the rest of the day freaking out and looking up ways to keep chipmunks out of our car engine. Dave looked for a new mechanic, and we were pretty much stuck because the mechanic he chose was not open on the weekend.

I really wanted to rent a car so that we could definitely get to the bank on Monday, as well as my doctor appointment. You see, I had an eye doctor appointment Monday at 10 am – I was going to finally get my eyes dilated (which I was nervous about) and I also assumed I was ordering my new contact lenses that day as well. (I ended up ordering them online because they never mentioned ordering them at the office – no big deal.)

I also wanted a place that would come pick us up, since we didn’t have any way to get to the car rental place. The rental place in our town was closed on the weekend, but there was one at the mall in Mishawaka, IN that was open Saturday and Sunday. They had closed at 1 pm and it was 1:05, but I asked Dave to just call and see if they might answer the phone – I wanted to see if they would be willing to drive to Michigan to pick us up on Sunday.

In a crazy stroke of luck, a guy did answer the phone – he’d forgotten his cell phone and was nice enough to answer when he heard the store phone ringing. Although we were about a mile out of their range, after Dave explained our predicament he said they’d be happy to come pick us up on Monday. !!

The next day, Sunday, Dave did some messing around with the car and managed to get it to start. But we still really didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t feel comfortable taking a chance on it on Monday morning. So we stuck with the rental car plan. They picked us up on time and that all went well. We even stopped and got toilet paper on our way home Sunday afternoon.

We did have some car rental excitement, though. We had a 2013 Mazda with a keyless entry/start, something we’d never seen before. There was no manual in the car, and we could NOT figure out how to get it to start. I had to use my phone to look online and find out we had to press on the brake while pushing the ‘start’ button on the car. Talk about making us feel old and out of touch!

On Monday morning, Dave was again able to get our car started. We didn’t know how long it would last, so he ran in to call the mechanic shop while the car was running. The guy said he couldn’t even look at it until Wednesday, but sure, we could bring it by and drop it off. I quickly got ready and we ran out to the rental car. The plan was to drop off our car, then go to the bank and make the deposit, then come home and hang out for 30 or so minutes until it was time to go back out for my eye doctor appointment.

We got out to the rental car, pressed ‘unlock’ on the key fob, and nothing happened. The car would not unlock, no matter what we did. We found the key inside the fob and tried that; it turned but would not unlock the doors. We spent 10 minutes, freezing, running around this car like idiots trying to get it open. All the while our car was just idling in the driveway, and we had no idea if it would keep running or just die.

Dave ran in to call the rental center; they gave us the number of roadside assistance. He called them and they wanted to charge us $55 to come and unlock the car. Now Dave is yelling and I’m panicking. I ran back outside and pressed more buttons. I noticed this small gray rubber circle on the car door, so I tried pressing it while I hit ‘unlock’ on the fob … and the door opened! I flew back inside and told Dave, he hung up with the unhelpful roadside assistance people, and we were FINALLY in business.

We got all our errands done, I got the all-clear on my eyes (no retinal tears, yay) and then it started snowing. We got over 15 inches of snow that night.

We drove that rental car on Monday, a short while on Thursday, and then back to the rental place on Friday. $250 for that … still kills me to think about it. (But at least we had the car to use if we had needed it the rest of the week, I guess.)

The mechanic could not really figure out what was going on with the car. The code it was giving had to do with the camshaft position sensor AGAIN, so we were wrong in blaming the chipmunks. They had stored some nuts in the car, but hadn’t chewed wiring after all. He could get the car going, and then the next morning it wouldn’t start again. After Dave talked to him, he decided to go to a junkyard on Thursday and look for some connections and harnesses and other car parts. He did find a few, and it was just a little over $3 for everything. After that, we stopped off to talk to the mechanic that afternoon.

The car had been sitting out in the cold (and it was COLD that week) all day, so while we were there the mechanic went out to try starting the car. It started right up, so we all called it good. We paid him $60 for the work he’d done rewiring the connector.

Friday morning, Dave went out to start our car and again, it would not start. He messed a bit with the CSP connection and it started right up. He decided he knew enough about the problem that he would just fix it himself. We took the rental car back, glad to have that expense behind us. (Well, I still have to find a way to pay that credit card off next month, ugh.)

Every morning, he’d try the car. If it was warmer outside, the car would start fine. If not, he’d have to mess with stuff to get it started. It always ran fine once it started, and would start up with no problem for the rest of the day. It was just that first morning start that gave us trouble.

Dave has made new harnesses and ordered new parts and tried so many different things. The last thing he did seems to maybe have worked – she started fine this morning and yesterday as well. But it’s also been a little warmer here, in the 30s both mornings. We aren’t really sure if she’ll start up okay if the temperature drops into the 20s or below.

Incidentally, we did consider getting a second car as a backup. We have enough money to get a beater that could just get us around if Hazel is in the shop. But my GOSH – car insurance in Michigan is insane. We found one we were going to look at, and I asked Dave to call our insurance agent for a quote before we headed out the door. He was sure it would be cheap just for the most basic coverage (i.e., not comprehensive). But no, it would have been an additional $70/month – something we just are not prepared to spend right now. Buying a new car to replace Hazel altogether is also out of our price range.

So that’s where we’re at now. I guess either she’s fixed or, if not, we’ll keep jiggling her connections until spring arrives. But I do believe we owe the chipmunks an apology.

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