Wide Open Spaces Redux

Back in 2011 I wrote:

“When we buy our next house,” I mused, “I would like it to be far enough from our neighbors so that they won’t be tempted to have a conversation with me from their yard.” … Here’s the scenario: I walk outside, to do whatever, and I’m minding my own business. After a while, I glance over and realize one of my neighbors has been talking to me, yelling from their yard, and I’ve been ignoring them. Awkward. Even worse, now that I’ve made eye contact, I’m expected to respond. But no matter what I say, I will not understand what they shout back. This leaves me with two options: casually wave and immediately turn around and go back into the house, or go down two flights of stairs, across the yard, to the fence and have a conversation I really wasn’t planning to have.

As of later this month, that will finally be my reality. Although we were hoping to stay in this house for another year, you can never predict what the bank will do when you’re in foreclosure. Although they still have not actually notified us, thanks to Dave’s daily research we knew that we had until Sept. 12th to find a new place to live.

We toyed with a few different options, since we didn’t have quite enough saved to just go plunk down some cash and buy a house (our original plan). At first we were seriously considering buying an inexpensive mobile home, but it was really hard to find a home that was both in a nice park and not in god-awful condition. We came very close to purchasing one – we actually passed their credit check – but then decided it just needed too much work. It was in a really nice park just a mile from the Warren Dunes, so the location was tempting. At the end of the day, though, it just didn’t feel right.

Right after that, which was our second trip to Michigan to check out possibilities, we came home and started looking for houses to rent. We avoided apartment complexes because we have cats and there’s just no storage; we knew we’d be seriously downsizing, which is fine, but I was hoping to keep the furniture that’s sentimental to us for the future house that we purchase (which will hopefully be big enough for everything).

The house we eventually found has so many things in the ‘plus’ column that we can easily overlook the fact that it is small and lacking closets (no coat closet, the two bedroom closets are about one-fourth of what we have here). Those neighbors? Far enough away, with visibility blocked by trees surrounding the property, that I don’t have to worry about casual chit-chats, yet close enough that we don’t feel totally isolated. We have a full basement (unfinished but clean and painted) for storage, hardwood floors, an acre of land with permission from our landlady to plant as big a garden as we wish, a nice-sized kitchen, and a clean, freshly-painted interior that needs nothing done to it.

It’s just a two-hour drive from this area, so we can get back to see my family with no problem. There’s an Amtrak station right in town so the kids can travel from Chicago in just a little over two hours; because of the time change, they even gain an hour coming back (leave Michigan at 10 pm and get into Chicago at 11 pm, for instance).

Even though we’re just renting, it was one of those situations where you walk in and it just felt right. It felt like home. We’re just outside the city limits so it feels like we’re in the country, but we only have to drive a few miles to get to the main area of town. I love it!

So I’ll probably be scarce here (yet again) for the next month while we pack up this house and get ourselves moved to the fruit belt area of Michigan. We’ve been making weekly trips, bringing a few things at a time, to do things like get our banking situated, get utilities switched into our name, etc. Our big, final move will probably happen during the last full week of July.

On another note, all of the stress of the past month helped me reach my goal weight (YAY!) and then sail past it by a couple pounds. This is the first time since the late 1990s that my BMI has been in the ‘normal’ range; when I started all of this, back in October, my BMI was 31 (which is in the obese category) and it’s 24.7 now. Of course, I look at pictures and STILL think I look exactly the same as before. Maybe it’s because I’m short, and it just doesn’t show?!

So I’m going to sign off and go looking for a wool dust mop (something I never thought I’d covet) while Dave researches ways to set up a clothesline, something I’ve always wanted. He’s also telling me I need to buy work boots, which sounds ominously like he’s planning to put me to work around the yard and garden. Country living, here we come!

Pardon Me While I Freak Out Just A Bit

On the one hand, I’m all, ‘Wow, May is nearly over!’ and on the other hand, I’m thinking, ‘Wait, I thought it was June already.’ I think the really weird spring we’ve had has kind of thrown me off, because it was cold and fitfully snowing here and there for so far into May (May!) and then we started having fairly consistently warm weather, so now I feel like summer’s been here for a while.

Anyway. Things here are good; we’re trying to get back in the habit of walking outside again, now that the weather is cooperating. It always takes us at least a month to get into a nice routine of near-daily walks and then, with it being Illinois and all, after a few months the weather turns cold and nasty, and we get used to just hanging out in the house. Even if we get a walk in (so nice, the fresh air and sunshine!) I still start the day with some jogging on the mini-trampoline and always, always get at least 15 minutes in after dinner.

My oldest turns 24 next week, which is freaking me out a little bit. I remember when the kids started hitting their teens, thinking that I could remember being their age. That was a little weird. But now that they are both adults (Paige turns 20 in August) I am remembering the Grown Up things I did at their age and it’s like, how is that possible? Didn’t I just do that stuff a couple years ago? Kind of like how I feel the 80s and 90s were just about 10 and 5 years ago.

So anyway, I started counting back and I realized that I was 24, the same age Eric will be, when I bought this house. The house that both of the kids grew up in. Well, I was on the older end of 24 (four months before my 25th birthday) but still. My baby is old enough to buy a house! Not that I think he should, mind you – things are so different now than they were then – but just the fact that he’s at an age where I can remember doing such a grown up thing is weird to me. (This is actually my second house; I was 21 when I bought my first house, which seems impossible now that I think back on it.)

Even weirder, next year he will be the age I was when I had him. NO WAY. And Paige, Paige is the age I was when I got engaged to her dad. In August, she’ll be the age I was when I first got married. (Hang on, let me find a paper bag to breathe into.)

I turn 50 in August, and on our walk today I told Dave that I just can’t believe it. I mean, I used to picture 50-year-old-me in a rocking chair as a Very Old Lady. But I don’t feel much different than I did 20 years ago. Dave just laughed and promised he’d take me to the furniture store to pick out my chair.

I think I’ll hold off. Time moves fast, but I’m kinda having fun moving along with it.

Am I or Aren’t I?

Now that age 50 is on the horizon (three months away), it looks like I get to play the “Am I pregnant or is it menopause?” game. Yay.

I haven’t had any crazy serious menopause symptoms, really – a hot flash here and there, the occasional night sweats … I had the weight gain, for sure, especially in the stomach area, but that was one of the big reasons I started counting calories and exercising, so I can’t even get too upset about it. Probably the one thing I really noticed was that (ALERT ALERT female talk commencing – just want to warn any guys out there) my periods started getting irregular towards the end of last year.

I started using an app called Period Tracker, and it’s been great. My periods were doing a pretty regular thing where one cycle would be 24-27 days, the next would be in the teens (usually 17-19 days), the next back to 24-27 days, so on and so on. The app would gamely try to estimate the first day of my next period, but it was usually wrong.

For May, it estimated my start date as May 4. I always count exactly 28 days from the start of my last period and note that on our kitchen calendar. (Discreetly, with a little ‘p’ in pencil, not ‘MY PERIOD STARTS TODAY!’ in Sharpie or anything.) I would usually start three to four days before that. My estimate for this month was May 9th.

Now, we don’t use birth control, okay? Before his chemo and bone marrow transplant in 1993, Dave was asked if he wanted to freeze any of his, um, little swimmers for possible future progeny. The assumption was that between the damage done by the leukemia already (which was caught later rather than sooner), the major chemo drugs, and the bone marrow transplant, he would become permanently sterile. He declined the offer, and I knew from the early days of our relationship that we would not have any red-headed curly-haired babies. (Sob – I would have loved to have a baby with Dave!)

So I’ve never really paid any attention to my fertile periods, ovulation days, what have you. I do remember one or two scares, when I was in my mid-30s, when I would be late, we’d buy a pregnancy test and then hold our collective breath as we waited for the results. Usually I got my period the day or two after I did the test. Dave’s main worry was that if I did somehow get pregnant, the baby’s DNA would be seriously damaged by the affect of the chemo on his aforementioned swimmers. We always worried for naught.

In the last week of April, I was going through a frustrating period with my weight. It always fluctuates because I weigh myself every day (digital scale compulsion), but usually the general trend is downward. (Four more pounds to goal weight #1!) That week, though, it was trending UP and it was starting to frustrate me. Not by huge amounts, just .2 or .4of a pound, but usually it goes up and then goes back down, you know? I complained about it to Dave, and he laughed and said, “Well, maybe you’re pregnant!”

Let’s just say I didn’t laugh along with him. Instead, I panicked. “Wait, WHAT? I always thought you said we couldn’t get pregnant!” I opened my app and realized that if we could get pregnant, there was a possibility based on timing. If you get my drift. While I freaked out, Dave said, “Well, they never gave me a test or sperm count because the VA doesn’t do that. I guess there’s a very small possibility it could happen.”

Well, hot damn. I was a complete mess! I proceeded to worry every single day until May 4th, the first possible day I might get my period. That day came and went and nothing happened, no spotting, no nothing.

Although he is not a worrier, I did manage to get Dave as nervous as he possibly could be. “Can you imagine?” I fretted. “I’d be FIFTY YEARS OLD when I had the baby! I’d be … (pause to do mental arithmetic) … 68 when the kid graduated high school. You’d be 77!” By the time I was done, Dave was as worried as I’d ever seen him look.

I’d estimated my period to arrive by Friday, May 9, and it almost always came before my estimate. On Thursday night, I tried to think reasonably. I mean, what is it they say – when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras? Okay, so I might miss my period. But I’m 49, my husband is most likely sterile – it’s probably pre-menopause or the start of actual menopause, not a baby. I did some Googling and although the consensus was menopause, every site still said, “Keep in mind that you can get pregnant during menopause!” which was no help to my frayed nerves.

Then I asked Dave to do some research. Some sites said you could regain fertility after chemo, depending on the type and strength of the chemo used. I had no idea what they used on Dave, so he looked it up for me (turns out it was Cytoxan, Busulfan and ARA C). After he looked it up, he seemed very relieved. It turns out that the combination of the chemo medications is pretty toxic to a man’s fertility, so we weren’t being silly to assume. (Combined with the fact that we’ve been together since 1998 and never got pregnant.)

On Friday we ran errands, and I bought a two pack of pregnancy tests while Dave rolled his eyes. At this point we weren’t worrying any more, but I knew I had to do a test just to get an answer once and for all. The brand, First Response Early Result, is supposed to detect hCG up to six days before your period starts, and you don’t have to use first morning urine. So I came home, took the test and then waited. I couldn’t see anything happening; then Dave came in and said, “So it’s negative, huh?” Like this:

IMG_2880

Yes, I took a picture of the test!

Turns out I had been staring at the part you pee on, waiting to see a result. He had to point out the result window to me. Can you tell it’s been a long time since I’d done this?! That was with the instructions laid out next to the test, after I’d read them meticulously three times.

On a side note, I’ve never been able to just pee on the stick. I’m always afraid I’ll either pee on my hand (ugh), miss the stick and waste the pee, or not be able to pee for the five straight seconds you need to. I always pee into a disposable cup and dip the test. Aren’t you glad I told you that?! (And could I say ‘pee’ anymore?! Geez.)

My worries were over, but my period still never came. Since the box had two tests, I figured it would be prudent to take a second one after I was officially a week late (using my estimated date, five days later than the app’s estimated date). I cheated and did the test yesterday morning instead of this morning, and it too was negative.

So now I’m kind of excited, imagining the freedom of no more periods. We’ll see if it just shows up terribly late, or I just don’t get it anymore (I doubt it will be that easy). At first I was worried I’d be buying pregnancy tests all the time, if my period starts being seriously crazy, but now I think I’m just gonna chill out and accept the fact that we are not going to be making any babies.

On a funny side note, I was telling my mom and daughter about this on (appropriately enough) Mother’s Day, and Paige’s face lit up as she asked, “If you aren’t getting your period any more, can I have all your supplies?!” I told her I wasn’t sure this was totally the end, but I did gift her a big stash and she has dibs on the rest when the time comes. Good riddance, I say. ;)

New Starts: Plants and Houses Edition

This is our first seriously WARM day this year, warm as in ‘we left the furnace off all night and woke up to 72 degrees this morning.’ Warm as in ‘we opened the windows before 9 am and it was humid.’ I’m not sure I’m crazy about the humidity thing, but it seems to be dissipating as the afternoon wears on. (My ever-present glass of water is no longer coated with condensation, for instance.)

Dave just came in from planting the garden. The past few years he’s started seeds indoors and then transplanted them, but this year he decided to just sow the seeds outside from the start. I’m always amazed at how quickly things grow once they get outside, so it will be fun to watch the little plants poke through and then track their growing progress. In May and June, it seems like they will never get big enough to produce anything edible before cold weather sets back in … and then in late June, early July, it’s like they grow two feet overnight.

This year we got our seeds from Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds again. We used them last year and were really happy with them, even though some of the plants weren’t what we expected. (We had quite a crop of mystery tomatoes last year!) One of the mystery tomatoes, which turned out to be Costoluto Genovese, turned out to be so delicious that we deliberately ordered those seeds this year. We have a few types of tomatoes and peppers, butternut squash, zucchini (I begged Dave to just plant ONE this year, after my insane zucchini harvest last year), and some things that we’ve never planted before: leeks and Purple Peacock broccoli.

We are still keeping an eye out for houses in Michigan, and I’ve been kind of joking with Dave about the garden and a possible move. If we find something awesome, we could very easily pick up and go at any time … but what about our plants? I told him we’d either have to dig up everything, put them all in pots and move them, or sneak back here in the fall and reap the harvest. (I’m only half-kidding about that last one!) It feels like everyone is moving right now – my mom just sold her townhouse and is moving into an amazing two-bedroom apartment in a nearby senior living complex, and our neighbors just put their house up for sale yesterday. It’ll be interesting to see what they get for their house and how long it takes to sell.

We couldn’t sell our house when we looked into it last year, as I mentioned before – well, not for anywhere near what we needed to pay off the mortgage. We’re looking at land contracts in Michigan now, probably our only real option with a bankruptcy and pending foreclosure on our record. I doubt we could easily find a place to rent when we have four cats! So land contract it is; they are much more common in Michigan than they are here in Illinois. Dave is familiar with them but I had never heard of selling on land contract until he mentioned it. It will probably be quite a while before we actually have to leave this house, so we are just saving our money and keeping an eye on what’s available in southwest Michigan.

It’s kind of exciting, kind of nerve-wracking … we’re really in limbo, just saving money and waiting things out, which is, well, kind of boring. Luckily for me, my mom has asked me to help her decorate her new place when she moves in next month. It’s a blank slate, and HUGE, and it will be a blast helping her get things laid out … and maybe throw in some pops of color too.

One thing I can’t wait to do is get into a new place and make it my own; we know that wherever we end up will most likely be in fairly rough shape and/or be in need of updating, so I’m expecting to do a lot of renovating and redecorating (as time and money permit). When I bought this house, I really wanted something move-in ready. This next time around, it will be less ‘what I want’ and more ‘what can we afford?’ As long as it’s ours and we have a place for us and our four cats, that’s good enough for me!

The Uprising of the Appliances

Our car continues to throw little zingers at us. Dave would love to replace it; every now and then he peruses the used car ads on Craigslist with a gleam in his eye. But the car still runs, and as long as it continues to do so we will be savingsavingsaving for our next house. I imagine a new (to us) vehicle will be first on the list once we move, though.

So this time it was the key fob, the little doohickey that locks and unlocks the car (and sets the alarm). It doesn’t start the car, just unlocks and locks it. We each have one, and Dave’s stopped working a little over a month ago. He took it apart and something inside was broken, so it wasn’t just a battery or a simple fix. When we did some research on a replacement, we found out it costs around $300 to get a new one and get it programmed by a dealer. Good grief! We had no idea.

Once we realized it would be so expensive, we put it off. We still had mine, after all. But it was making Dave nervous, so last week he found a place on eBay that sells used key fobs and ordered one for $20. Then he searched for a video on how to program it himself. We watched it together and it looked fairly straightforward.

The key fob came today, and after he watched the video one more time, Dave went down to the garage to try his hand at programming (and saving us over $100). He ran upstairs a couple times to re-check parts of the video, and at one point I thought I heard an alarm going off. Finally he came upstairs, smiled weakly and said, “Well, it’s done! I didn’t realize it could’ve shut the car down completely, so that it wouldn’t start. It’s messing with the security system, after all. But it works!” It turned out to be quite a bit more complicated than the video showed, and perhaps he might not have done it if he’d realized what he was risking (the security system could’ve freaked out and locked the car in such a way that we couldn’t start it). Better not to think of that, and just think of the money we saved. (Whew.)

In other ‘things breaking down’ news, a couple of days ago I noticed a faint electrical burning smell in our kitchen. I called Dave over to sniff the air with me and he could smell it too, right by the kitchen island but nowhere else in the house. After we’d walked around the house sniffing the air like hound dogs, we met back in the kitchen and couldn’t smell anything. We did a collective shrug and figured it was just one of those things.

Later, after dinner, Dave made a cup of Earl Grey tea and he used the microwave to heat the water in his mug. After it finished, he called me over and there it was again. We remembered that the microwave had been used earlier that afternoon, when we first smelled the mysterious odor. Obviously something was burning up inside the microwave. My immediate reaction was to clap and say, “Oh GOOD, we get to buy a new microwave!”

We bought that microwave, a Panasonic, back in 2002. The first thing I did was use the ‘popcorn’ button to pop a bag of popcorn, and it burned the crap out of it. (I naively thought the machine knew what it was doing; I pushed the button and walked away, then came back to a room filled with smoke.) The plastic on the door was a nice light brown color after that debacle, in distinct contrast to the white shade on the body of the microwave. Dave never let me live that down, and I felt so bad that I sullied our brand new appliance on the day we bought it.

After some fast internet research, we settled on a Magic Chef microwave that’s a little bigger than our old one. It’s very pretty and it was inexpensive (especially after I found and printed a $5 off $50 coupon). It works a treat.

I no longer trust the ‘popcorn’ button. So far this microwave is still as pretty as the day we bought it.  :)

They say bad things happen in threes.  Let’s hope the appliances haven’t figured this out.

April 2014 Update

It’s been a while since I did a general update. I’m also in one of those “I don’t have anything to write about!” moods. I feel like I can talk just a bit about a lot of subjects, none of which is hefty enough to warrant a full post. So here’s my ‘little bit about a lot of things’ update. (It may be just a few things, but we’ll see. Sometimes I get going and before I know it I’ve typed five pages.)

First, Dave’s dental quest. I last talked about this in February, and he’s since been to the dental college that was recommended. He’s had three appointments so far. The first one was just a general exam to decide if they would accept him as a patient. That took about 30 minutes and was just $10; we suspect they looked into his mouth, glanced at each other in barely-concealed glee, and did a little jig while they confirmed his acceptance.

The second visit was a full exam with x-rays, and this cost $53 (we don’t have dental insurance, just a dental plan that they aren’t a part of, but their fees are about half the normal fees for the procedures they do). After this visit, which we thought would take maybe 45 minutes and instead took TWO HOURS OMG, Dave looked me in the eyes and solemnly said, “You can never go here. You would hate it, Wendi.” I’d been waiting for him all that time because we thought he’d get his treatment plan at this visit, and he might need me to be his ‘ears.’ Apparently they are very, VERY thorough, and this exam was not without considerable pain for poor Dave. They didn’t give him a treatment plan, just another appointment for a cleaning and the treatment plan. He told me not to come with him for that one.

The third appointment was not as long; I think he was home within an hour or so. Instead of the cleaning, they did a quicker exam and took pictures; Dave talked with the student, Reggie, who was in charge of his treatment as well as Reggie’s instructor. The instructor wants him to have a thorough cleaning before they begin work, so thorough that it will take two visits. (I shudder to think of this.) That’s where we’re at now – the first cleaning is May 5th and we still don’t know when he gets the full treatment plan. They mentioned pulling a couple of teeth, giving him a partial denture on the bottom (no dentures on top), probably some fillings, and a crown was also mentioned, but Dave is planning to ask them to just pull the tooth. No clue what it all might cost, but so far it’s been very reasonable and we are feeling optimistic. It will be SO nice for him to have a full, working set of teeth! Even though it takes three times as long and has been painful, he is really happy that he’s going to the dental college. As a Big Dental Baby, I am happy to continue going to my dentist who gives me quick, casual cleanings.

Just a quick comment on something I read in Daily Writing Tips (they get emailed to me). There was a discussion regarding the use of two spaces after a sentence, and the conclusion was that we should be using just one space after a sentence. When did this start?! I was always, always taught that you put two spaces after a sentence. I think it looks terrible and smashed together with just one space. It’s just instinct for me now; I’m not even sure I could just use one space without having to go back and delete the extra spaces. Is it just me? Am I adhering to some weird, ancient ritual? (And if so, I don’t care … it will always be two spaces for me. [Can you picture me standing stubbornly with my arms crossed?])

I’m reading a book called Heft (by Liz Moore) right now, and it’s fantastic. This was a book I really hesitated to read; I found out about it via a recommendation to someone else. I checked it out on Goodreads and it had many good reviews (and boy, those Goodreads folks can be harsh with reviews so that’s saying something). But the description of the story just didn’t grab me – two main characters, one a grossly overweight man confined to his home, and the other a teenage boy who’s obsessed with baseball. The baseball thing is really what made me hesitate, because I’m not a sports person and have no interest in reading about sports, except maybe gymnastics and ice skating. But there were so many good reviews that I went ahead and got the book and figured well, I can always stop reading if I hate it. I started it yesterday and was immediately pulled in. The sports references (baseball and football) are just small ones, here and there – no pages full of in-depth detail of games and such – and the story mostly touches on the boy’s home life, his friends, things of that sort. I’m about halfway through it and already feel confident enough to recommend it.

Speaking of heft, I’m still trying to lose mine. (What a good segue!) I’m ever so envious of those people who are like, “Oh, I lost 60 pounds in six months!” because I’m just now nudging the 30 pound mark (27 pounds as of yesterday) and it’s been seven months. But I’m not complaining, because I had no big event or goal weight date in mind (no class reunions or weddings, for instance). And I’m not exactly eating lettuce and quinoa over here; I still splurge on pizza once a month, lasagna, things like that. I didn’t change my diet much at all, just how much of it I eat. It’s pretty awesome to be losing weight while still eating the same things I used to eat, so I guess it’s fine that it’s taking a long time. Then again, it’s not like my diet before was bad; my appetite was the main culprit.

But anyway, what I meant to say was that I still can’t tell I’ve lost weight when I look at pictures of myself. I can see it a little bit in the mirror, although I think my face looks the same as it did nearly 30 pounds ago. If it weren’t for the scale, and fitting into smaller pants, I would probably think I lost maybe five pounds. I don’t know if it’s because I’m short and everything is compressed into 5’1” of me or what.

For instance, we went to Goodwill and I got some new clothes. One thing I noticed is that I still can’t really wear a size medium in shirts. I look at them on the hanger and think they’ll fit me, and then I try them on and I look like I’m stuffed into a sausage casing. I do know I have to watch the brands; some of them are junior sizes, I think, and that’s part of the problem. I know I can wear LL Bean or Lands’ End in medium (they mark them as size 10-12). Larges are just a little too big for me, so I’m in a weird in-between place with shirts. I think I have really wide shoulders; I know it’s not my boobs, sadly. I did get a few size medium shirts, and a pair of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans in size 8. Now that was exciting, even though they fit me like a glove. I can zip them and sit down in them, and I can’t even remember the last time I could say that about a pair of pants in size 8.

I took a picture of myself in the jeans and one of the shirts and put it on Facebook. I was mainly excited about the price of the outfit ($7.50 total!) and not really crazy about how I actually looked in the photo. I rationalized it by reminding myself that I’m losing weight mainly for health reasons, and I need to stop worrying so much about how I look. So I posted the photo and then I regretted it. “I look fat in this picture!” I sighed, while Dave tried to convince me otherwise. I think my face looks the same (I really wanted to see my face get thinner, I have to confess.) I think my thighs look huge.

It didn’t help that when I did a search on the jeans to find out their retail price (I love doing that after a Goodwill shopping trip), I came to the manufacturer’s page and they said to buy a size smaller than your regular size. So I’m all excited about squeezing into a size 8, but according to them it’s really a 10. Don’t tell me that! Let me think I wear an 8 now, okay?! On the positive side, the jeans retail for something like $105 and I paid $2.50 for them, so I guess it’s okay that they’re playing fast and loose with the sizes.

The SayWhatClub is having a convention this summer and we might go; it’s in Madison,Wisconsin so we could easily drive. It depends on where Dave’s at with his teeth – he wants to have his dentures first, and I don’t blame him. We’ve been to an ALDA convention and two HLAA conventions, and we always have a good time. (Just to clarify, these are conventions for people that are deaf or hard of hearing. All the workshops are captioned with CART, and they are a lot of fun because everyone there will do whatever takes to communicate.)

Oh, and one last thing – I haven’t gotten the Vaseline package yet, but when I do I’ll definitely update. I think there is a racetrack in Joliet that does the NASCAR thing; you can buy ‘experiences’ where you either ride in the car with a trained driver, or you actually drive the car. That’s not too far from us, less than an hour’s drive, so it would be awesome if that’s what it really is!

Here Comes Speed Racer

I read the email subject line in confusion. “You’re the Top Vaseline Badge Holder from the J’Adore VoxBox”!” What? I read it again as it slowly sunk in that the email was from Influenster and it was in reference to the box of samples I’d received in February, what they called the J’Adore VoxBox.

In exchange for the free samples, all you really have to do is acknowledge that you received the box, and fill out an exit survey when the program ends. In between, though, you can do all kinds of things to win prizes from the sponsors of the sample box. You can review the items, post photos to Twitter and Instagram, ‘like’ the brands on Facebook, create Pinterest boards and Youtube videos, you name it.

Each brand had different tasks you could complete, if you wanted to. If you completed all the extra tasks, you earned a badge from the brand. I couldn’t complete some of the badges because I don’t use some of the apps/websites that were required. I don’t, for instance, have Instagram on my phone because it’s got no memory whatsoever and I can’t put more than one or two apps on it. (I have four on there right now and I have an ever-present ‘Low on Storage Space’ warning that drives me crazy. I can’t wait to upgrade when this contract is up at the end of July!) I don’t do videos of any kind, so if the badge required you to make a Vine or Youtube video, it just wasn’t happening.

Some of the badges were within reach, though, and I completed the tasks even though I never expected to win anything. The badge referenced in the email was for Vaseline Men’s Spray Lotion, which was actually an item for Dave. It’s good stuff, and I was already using Vaseline lotion for myself (it’s one of the few that I don’t feel like I need to wipe off after I use it – it sinks in without feeling greasy). I had no qualms giving it good reviews, and Dave really liked it as well.

So the sample box program had ended, and I never heard anything from any of the brands for which I’d completed a badge. ‘Ah well,’ I thought, ‘It was fun and I’m not surprised I didn’t win.’ I mean, there are thousands of people who get this box and participate in the extra activities. That’s why I had to read this email three times to realize it was not a joke:

“We’re pleased to announce that you’re the top Vaseline Men Spray Badge holder from the J’Adore VoxBox! To thank you for your participation, Vaseline is sending you on a high-thrill ride in a real NASCAR race car in a timed racing session!  You will also be receiving a bottle of Vaseline® Men Spray Lotion Fast Absorbing and a bottle of Vaseline® Men Spray Lotion Fast Cooling.”

After I accepted that this was for real, I started to panic a little. “Hey hon,” I called to Dave. “Can you come here and read this?” Dave read the email and looked at me in silent confusion. “Um, I don’t know if I want to do this,” I started to fret. “I don’t think I want to drive a race car!”

Now I was just nervous. I mean, what the hell?! I never expected to win the grand prize for this badge; I thought I might be one of the people who won a free bottle of lotion, maybe. I didn’t even really believe that people actually won the grand prizes of these contests, to be honest.

I am not somebody who is impulsive, who likes to do things on the spur of the moment. I like to plan everything out and worry about every little thing that could possibly go wrong. After I had my moment of fear, I started thinking about it some more. I mean, I don’t watch car racing but it goes without saying that the car would be going really fast, which is something I’ve never experienced. It could be kind of cool, you know? I kept re-reading the email and realized it said I won a RIDE in a race car, not that I would be driving it, so that calmed me down. (I was really scared when I imagined driving the car, to be honest.)

The email finished off just by asking me to confirm my address if it had changed. That leads me to believe that the package is going to be mailed to me. Originally I was thinking it would be this BIG DEAL, like they’d be flying me to some racetrack and taking my picture and using it for promotional purposes. None of that is mentioned though, and I would think they’d tell me if the NASCAR track is somewhere far away. I suspect it’s going to be a voucher to be used at a track (they have a bunch of them across the US) that I can redeem for a free ride.

I know it’s crazy to be scared of winning a grand prize, but I was seriously unsettled when I thought I’d have to fly somewhere alone (something I just will NOT DO anymore) and drive a race car. I know it’s an awesome prize, but for a scaredy-pants like me it was just terrifying. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but there it is.

So we’ll see – I’m betting on the voucher/coupon thing, to be redeemed at my leisure. If that’s the case, my only worry is whether I can wear the helmet over my two CI processors. (I definitely don’t want to be without my hearing in that circumstance!)

Now that the shock has worn off, I have to admit I’m just a little bit excited. What better way to force myself to try new things? Imagine me, flying around a race track! (Just be glad I’ll be in the passenger seat.)

A Spring in My Step

Spring has been dragging its heels this year, peeking around the doorway and then retreating. For the past two days, though, it’s taken a big, bold step into the room and we have been enjoying 70 degree temperatures in the western Chicago suburbs.

The sudden warm weather, temporary as it may be (it’s supposed to be in the 40s on Monday, with a chance of snow), has made me think of summer and all that goes with it. Especially hot weather. And shorts.

Now, I haven’t worn shorts in public in over ten years. I had a huge, loose pair of shorts (so long they almost came to my knees) that I would wear around the house on hot summer days. But my thighs have not been available for public consumption in a long, long time. It was a public service, believe me.

Checking out a Pikachu car with the kids; one of the last times I wore shorts in public.

Checking out a Pikachu car with the kids (one of the last times I wore shorts in public).

Capri pants or clam diggers were my go-to summer attire. And if it was murderously hot (which, to me, is anything above 85 degrees) then I stayed inside and enjoyed the comfort of air conditioning. To say that I am not a hot-weather-loving person is an understatement. I actually think summer may be my least favorite season; I would rate them, best to worst, as follows: fall, spring, winter, summer. I love snow and HATE hot weather, so winter beats summer in my book. I do like thunderstorms, though. And if I lived somewhere that was not humid and the summer temperatures never passed 75 degrees, I would put summer in second place.

I was messing around one day this past December, pulling pants out of drawers where they’d been stashed for years. These were my ‘maybe I’ll fit into them again someday’ pants, and as I very (very) slowly lost weight, I’d try them on to see if they fit. Most of these pants were cropped, too skimpy to wear outside at the time I tried them on. I was hopeful that I’d be able to wear them once spring and summer rolled around.

When April arrived and brought some actual spring-like temperatures, I tried the pants on again. I was really excited to see that they were now too big on me; I’d bypassed the point where they fit perfectly, because it was too cold to wear them at that time. So now I was faced with a pile of pants that I could slide off my hips even when they were zipped up. I did have fun with this, putting on the pants and then calling for Dave. “Look at this!” I’d say happily, as I lifted up my shirt to show him the pants listing lazily around my lower hips. After I was done, though, I realized I now had nothing to wear when the dreaded hot weather rolled around.

Since I’m still trudging along on the weight loss path, I didn’t want to spend tons of money on new clothes. And, well, let’s face it – I never want to do that. I buy all my pants at Goodwill, for less than $5 apiece. So visited our two local Goodwill stores and I lucked out, finding three pairs of capri pants and one pair of shorts between the two. Yes, I said shorts.

My problem with shorts is my thighs, okay? Let’s just get it out there. I am super-short and I have never had long, beautiful legs. Even when I was skinny, my thighs were heavy; it’s just how I’m built. I used to despair over this and spend all kinds of time doing leg lifts and other exercises meant to tone problem thighs. I stood in front of the mirror and grabbed the back of my thigh, watching as it magically shrunk in diameter, despairing because I knew it would never look that way naturally. And when you have large thighs and you sit down in shorts, they spread. It is not attractive. Even worse, big thighs rub together when you walk. It’s physically uncomfortable, and usually the shorts bunch up weirdly in the middle, making things look even worse.

I actually did some web searching on ‘shorts for people with big thighs’ to get some tips. I already know that short-shorts are out for me. I’m more in the Bermuda shorts camp; I need some fabric at least halfway down my thighs. One girl mentioned that she buys her shorts a size bigger in order to give some extra leg room, so I decided to try that.

The funny thing is, if you’re short (I’m 5’1”) the general advice is never to wear cropped pants because they make you look shorter. I had to go with the lesser of two evils in the past, and I chose to look shorter rather than expose my legs. The difference now is that I’ve been exercising on a daily basis since the end of October. It’s nothing to brag about; I’m not running marathons or doing CrossFit or P90X. Twice a day I pull out my mini trampoline. I do a mixture of fast walking and jogging for 10 to 20 minutes in the morning (before I’ve had breakfast) and 20 to 25 minutes about an hour after dinner. So my legs are still big, but they’re more toned than they have ever been. And I finally feel brave enough to wear (longer) shorts in public.

So we’ll see. I’ve got the one pair, and I might cut off some of the jeans that I’ve outgrown and make them into shorts (utilizing that one-size-bigger advice). If I really get brave, I might even let someone take a photo of me wearing them. Not yet, though … one small step at a time. ;-)

You’re Deaf – Now What?

Each time I lost my hearing (1993 for my right ear, 2008 for my left), I was surprised and disappointed by one thing: I was not offered any type of support for dealing with such a monumental loss. And this is not to say anything bad about my audiologists and doctors, because I really like them. But other people have mentioned it too, the lack of resources, information and support for late-deafened adults, or anyone suffering from sudden loss of hearing.

In 1993, the only thing offered to me was a different type of hearing aid, a bi-CROS that brought in the sounds from my newly-deaf side. I was thrilled with my new hearing aids, so no complaints there. But I had lost so much hearing that I could no longer hear my alarm clock for work each morning. I had NO idea that there were ALDS (assistive listening devices) for hearing loss, beyond an amplifier for the phone. The audiologist didn’t tell me about them. My husband at the time was the one who talked to the audiologist and found out about an alarm clock that would shake the bed to wake me up. I mean, they sold them right in the office – why wouldn’t she offer that information, knowing I had just lost all the hearing in my right ear and had a profound loss in the left?!

The internet was in its infancy in 1993, so the alarm clock and new hearing aids were the full extent of support I received. In 2008, my loss was much greater because I was now completely and totally deaf. They couldn’t offer me hearing aids. I didn’t know sign language, and neither did any of my family or friends. Yet again, once I got the hearing test that confirmed I was hearing absolutely nothing, I didn’t receive any information on how to deal with being completely deaf. That just blows my mind.

They put me on steroids to see if my hearing would come back; just like in 1993, they didn’t help. When I went back in for the follow-up visit, I was prepared. Thanks to the internet, I had done my own research. I knew I could receive a free TTY if the doctor signed off on it, and I knew about cochlear implants. I was the one who asked if I could get CIs (although hopefully if I hadn’t immediately asked, they would have offered it as an option). I was the one who asked if they could help me get the TTY. I found the state lending program that also gave me a flashing light for the phone (not that I was using the phone at that time).

Can you imagine losing all your vision, going to the doctor and having them say, “Well, yep, you’re blind,” and then sending you on your way? You have to hope they’d give you a list of resources for cane training, a service dog, learning Braille, programs to voice text for you, etc.

I didn’t find online sources of support until 1997, when I suffered from a horrific ear infection in my good ear. I spent almost two weeks without my hearing aids, using just the very limited hearing in that ear – it was already profoundly deaf, and I spent much of that time with my ear filled with medicine and covered with a cotton ball. I was a single mom at that time, and I was scared at how close to ‘deaf’ I really was. I had been able to fool myself into complacency with my hearing aids, and not having them to rely on really scared me. So I started searching for hearing loss support groups, hoping to meet other people like me. I have never interacted on a regular basis with someone that had hearing loss, so I didn’t have any real-life support of that type.

I found the Say What Club, and they are still active today. Back then, it was just one or two mailing lists; you signed up and they assigned you to a list, and then you would receive everybody’s emails. That was where I first learned of CIs and many of the ALDs I’m familiar with today.

I also joined SHHH, which later became HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America), and ALDA, the Association of Late Deafened Adults. These are large organizations that have websites with lots of information, newsletters/magazines, and yearly conventions. Nowadays I am also a member of Illinois Cochlear Implant Chapter, which has local meetings every other month.

A view of my left CI (purple metallic color)

A view of my left CI (purple metallic color)

If you’re dealing with hearing loss, whether it’s recent or not, it can really help to be part of an online support group. I love email because it eliminates communication barriers; real life meetings are also nice because all the ones I’ve been to are captioned with CART. Now that I have my CIs, I usually don’t need CART to understand at a meeting, but it is still hit or miss whether I’ll understand a question from someone in the audience. CART captions everything being said, and it’s nice to utilize it for those soft-voiced questions or for a speaker with a heavy accent.

Losing your hearing can really isolate you. It’s tempting to want to stay home and avoid social interaction because it’s so exhausting, trying to read lips and follow conversations. It can be disheartening to be part of a large group and have no idea why everyone is laughing. Being part of a support group means that these people know what it’s like to have a hearing loss, and they don’t mind doing whatever needs to be done to be understood. At conventions, you’ll see people facing each other and reading lips, signing, writing notes. I still remember our first ALDA convention in 1999, when we joined others for dinner and dancing. We didn’t know how those who were deaf could follow the beat, until some friends showed me and Dave that if you hold onto a balloon, you can feel the vibrations of the music. How cool is that?!

Hopefully audiologists will catch on and realize that more needs to be done to support a newly-deafened adult. I would be curious, if anyone out there is a parent of a child who was diagnosed with hearing loss, if they were offered sources of support and help by their audiologist. Is it just adults who are sent off to deal with this on their own?

Finding Love Online

I know what I was doing 16 years ago on this day. I was originally planning to go out with a friend of mine. I can’t remember if we were going to see a band or just go to a club, but she ended up canceling on me at the last minute. So I was sitting around with nothing to do when Dave called me in the early evening.

We’d been online friends for a while at that point. We were both on a hearing loss support group mailing list called the Say What Club. I joined in Sept. 1997 and Dave was already a member, so he welcomed me to the list. We were good friends, and then in early 1998 we started to kinda like each other. ;-) We chatted via IRC and talked on the phone (not our favorite thing to do, obviously, but it wasn’t bad because we both understood what it was like to use the phone when you have a hearing loss). But we hadn’t met in person yet.

My kids were young, and they spent every other weekend at their dad’s. This was their ‘Dad Weekend’ so I was alone with no plans. When Dave asked what I was up to, I told him about my canceled plans. “How about if I come over?” he asked, sort of jokingly. I laughed and then he said, more seriously, “It’s only about a two hour drive. I really could come over if you want.”

So we made plans, and then I waited to hear my doorbell ring. Neither of us had cell phones or GPS, of course, so Dave wrote out his directions from MapQuest. Then he proceeded to get very lost. He couldn’t call me, so he just kept driving around, hoping he’d find my street. (There are two streets with this name in my town; he was on the wrong one because he didn’t realize he had to specify ‘west’ in the directions.)

About one and a half hours past when I was expecting him, when I was starting to think he’d blown me off, the doorbell rang. And there he was on my front porch, wearing a black leather jacket and looking just like his pictures.

Once he came in and we hugged hello, he told me the saga of his drive from Michigan to my house in Illinois. He brought in his WebTV, which was his way of connecting to the internet in 1998, and we plugged it in so he could show me how it worked. I showed him my computer; he scoffed and said he couldn’t see why he’d ever need a computer – he could do everything he wanted with his WebTV. (I do still like to tease him about that every now and then.)

We just hit it off immediately, and all the worries I had (maybe there would be no chemistry in person, maybe he’d take one look at me and want to leave, maybe he’d have weird habits that I wouldn’t realize until he was in my house, maybe he’d be an axe murderer) flew out the window. We went to see the movie Titanic (and the ALDs in the theater didn’t work, grrrr) and went out for an 11:30 pm pizza at Giordano’s (Dave’s first taste of Chicago-style deep dish pizza).

And here we are now, 16 years later, with this date inked on our calendar every year. We always celebrate with a deep dish pizza (now it’s from Lou Malnati’s) and I’m always thankful that Dave took that chance and made that two hour drive to meet someone he previously only knew online.

Thanks, Say What Club, for introducing us!

Me and Dave, in the early days of our relationship

Me and Dave, in the early days of our relationship

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