Is That a Vole Outside My Window?

A few weeks ago, Dave noticed a flash of movement in the snow outside our front window. He kept watch and eventually saw a small dark brown mammal dart out of a tunnel in the snow. He called me over to watch, and after a few boring minutes I saw it as well. After we finished laughing and marveling (and I assured Dave that I always knew he wasn’t seeing things), we started wondering what this little creature was. A mouse?

Dave offered up the suggestion that we had voles. I’d heard of voles but had never encountered them and wasn’t even really sure what they were. We knew we had something tunneling around in the yard because we would kind of sink into the grass when we walked around in back. Dave kept saying we had moles, so when he suggested we were seeing voles outside the window, I thought they were some kind of interchangeable creature.

A little bit of Googling taught me a few things:

  1. Voles are also called meadow mice or meadow voles. (I have to confess, this made me think of the story of the country mouse and the city mouse … one of my favorites from childhood.)
  2.  There is a difference between moles, voles and shrews. Moles and shrews primarily eat insects; voles are herbivores. Moles and voles both make tunnels; shrews use those tunnels but do not create them.
  3.  Voles are rodents, about four to six inches in size, and they don’t live very long. It’s rare for them to live more than one year.
  4.  Their front teeth are prominent (the better to gnaw you with) and they are orange.  (I find this equally fascinating and repulsive.)

We were mainly concerned with whether these little cuties would mess with our garden this summer. Much to our dismay, we found out that voles do eat seeds, grains, grass, herbs and succulent vegetation. On the plus side, they aerate and turn the soil with all their digging. (Not enough, however, to prevent Dave from renting a rototiller this spring.) They also destroy weeds. Moles, on the other hand, eat insects and grubs and leave the plants alone. I actually found myself wishing we had moles, even though voles are cuter.

Hello, cutie!

Hello, cutie!

In the process of doing research, I found a page that compared moles, voles and shrews. Knowing nothing at all about a shrew, I started to wonder if what we have are shrews instead of voles. I followed a link to find out how small a shrew was, which led me to a photo of what looked like a dead shrew in a spoon. After composing myself (I am not a fan of looking at dead animals), I went back and tried to figure out how big the spoon was. I couldn’t tell if it was a teaspoon or a larger serving spoon. I did, however, lose my appetite.

I called Dave over to look at the photo, after explaining to him that shrews are smaller than voles (three to four inches compared to a vole’s four to six inches). He asked me to find out if shrews hibernate; it turns out they don’t. He’s convinced what we have are voles, even though I think the little guys we were seeing couldn’t possibly be four to six inches long.

I did some research on how to deter them but it looks like it’s either difficult or time-consuming to do this effectively. We aren’t interested in trying to kill them; I was hoping to find out that maybe they are repelled by certain plants.

As a side note while I’m on the topic of local wildlife, Dave brought in an injured female cardinal last week. We were in the middle of brutally cold temperatures (down to 9 below zero at night, wind chills of -25). He feeds the birds and squirrels first thing in the morning and found this little lady by our front steps; it looked like she was dragging a wing but she had no other apparent injuries. He thought maybe she flew into something, got stunned and then the cold just knocked her sideways. I won’t go into detail but she went to birdie heaven later that afternoon, sadly. What was surprising to me, though, was that we have no local wildlife refuge or point of contact for injured wild birds. There are a few for squirrels, opossums, etc. but nothing in our area for birds. (Dave is opposed to starting one ourselves, alas.)

But back to the voles. Basically we have thrown up our hands. We’ve decided to plan a really large garden, and expect to be feeding many voles as well as (hopefully) ourselves.

Pretty Lingerie for Real People: A Review

I mentioned a little while back that I was getting a free set of lingerie from a website called Adore Me, courtesy of Influenster. I got the set before Valentine’s Day (it arrived really quickly) and I like it so much that I’m giving it a review.

To be honest, when I saw that this was part of my XO VoxBox, I wasn’t sure I would even redeem it. I don’t think of myself as lingerie-worthy, I guess. I used to get all my bras and underwear from Victoria’s Secret, not because I was trying to be oooh sexy but just because I liked the way they fit, and I could get good deals during their annual sale. After a while though, I became disenchanted. The bras were starting to dig into my side, and they changed the waistband on the underwear that were my favorite (Second Skin Satin). I can’t stand a waistband that digs into my skin, and it used to just be smooth and not squeezy. Then they changed it to a thin piece of elastic and ugh, I had to fold it over to keep that elastic from leaving marks on my skin. Eventually I just stopped ordering from them; I figured maybe I was aging out of their ideal demographic.

So I figured Adore Me would be much of the same. I mean, let’s face it – I’m more into comfort than looking sexy over here. I don’t parade around in my underwear, and I’m not interested in wearing a piece of string between my butt cheeks. I find it really hard to find a bra that fits comfortably, maybe because I’m so short. They all seem so wide, and they dig into my rib cage and side. I glanced at the site and I was just like, yeah … this is not me. This is for the cute, super-skinny young ladies who can pull off these styles.

But, you know, it’s free. So I kept looking around, entered my information and registered for the site. One nice thing I noticed right off the bat is that you get a ‘showroom’ that features items in your bra size. I thought they did a pretty good job with my showroom, based on the answers I gave when I registered. I did like a lot of the styles.

I settled on a pink t-shirt demi bra set called Shea Contour, hoping it would be a better fit for my apparently short torso. It came with either a thong (no thank you) or a bikini. I would have preferred something with more coverage – I’m a hi-cut brief kind of gal – but I was pleasantly surprised by this bikini. It does feel like I’m not even wearing anything compared to my usual underwear, but they are comfortable and the waistband doesn’t squeeze. I did size up on the underwear, to make sure there would be enough fabric to cover my butt. I’d definitely do that again – they are a size bigger than my pants size, and fit fine.

Shea Contour set from Adore Me, which I adore

Shea Contour set from Adore Me, which I adore

The bra – wow. The bra is what sold me. The fabric is soft and comfortable, the cups are padded but not crazily so (I’d call it light padding), the lace is beautiful (it’s also on the back, which you can’t see in the photo) and it does not scratch at all. Usually it takes a few times wearing it for a bra to feel comfortable, but this one felt great all day long from the first day I wore it. The proportion is great for my body, and it is just so pretty. Yes, I got it for free but I would have been happy to pay for it!

If you want to see what it looks like on a pretty girl:  Shea Contour

I signed up for their VIP membership, which means I get a showroom every month (and discounts as well, plus every sixth set for free). It’s free to join; then you just check out your showroom between the first and fifth of each month to see your new offerings. If you like something, grab it before it’s gone. If you don’t, or if your budget is tight that month, click the ‘skip this month’ button and you’re done. I wasn’t sure I’d keep the membership before I got my order, but now I am definitely keeping it. It’s a big deal for me to find a comfortable bra, can you tell?!

This is a referral link, if you want to check out the site and get your first set for just $25:  Adore Me signup

I still don’t parade around in my underwear, but now I walk around feeling extra pretty knowing it’s there under my yoga pants and flannel shirt.

 

* The usual disclaimer: “I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.”

Let Me Invite You Into My Mind

I’m not sure if this a ‘difference between men and women’ thing or just a ‘Wendi, you are crazy’ thing (most likely the latter), but here’s a conversation Dave and I had last night:

I just finished reading this article about body composition and was muttering to myself, “Yeah, I wish it was that easy.” Then I turned to Dave and said, “Listen to this.” I read the article out loud – it’s short – and waited for his reaction.

He was nodding along in agreement. I told him that I agreed with the basic concept too, which boils down to this synopsis at the end:

“… So toss your scale out the window, forget about nonsense like body mass index and “weight loss” and instead use your body and transform it into one that looks and feels great.”

Dave knows that I weigh myself every day. He also knows that I try not to let it get to me, but if I’m either on a plateau or, even worse, an upward trend, I can’t help but get upset and try to analyze what’s happening. He always tells me to just stop weighing myself daily because body weight fluctuates so much due to various reasons (something that is also mentioned in the article). My reasoning, though, is that I want to know if I’m trending upwards so I can make adjustments in my diet or exercise before it gets out of hand. I don’t want to weigh myself once every couple weeks and realize I’ve gained five pounds or something; I want to stop it before it gets that far.

Who are we kidding?  I would never wear shoes when weighing myself!

Who are we kidding? I would never wear shoes when weighing myself!

On the other hand, my main goal was to get healthy and I feel like I’ve achieved that. I’m really trying to maintain that, because it was a lot of work and it took a long time. I’d love to weigh less, but I’ve just been bouncing around between the same three pounds, up and down, for about six months now. Maybe this has to be good enough at this point.

What I pointed out to Dave, though, was that the article talked about how outdated BMI is and how it doesn’t take many other factors into account … yet it’s the tool that medical professionals use. On the one hand, they exhort us to toss our scale out the window and not care about BMI, but on the other hand, if my doctor is using it as a guideline then I’m kind of screwed.

“Here’s the way I picture it,” I told Dave. “I go for my new patient visit next month. I already know they’ve got my height down as five feet tall. [I was 5’1” at my other doctor’s office, and I used to think I was 5’2”, so this is like losing TWO INCHES of height. It also dramatically changes my BMI results.] I weigh myself at home in my underwear, but at the office I have clothes on and I know that adds at least three pounds. I would have to weigh 125 pounds, in my clothes, on their scale in order to be in the ‘normal’ BMI range. I have not been that weight since before I had kids and I know I won’t be that weight next month (or probably ever). So I’m worried that the doctor will yell at me and tell me to lose weight, even though I’ve lost 34 pounds in the past year and a half.”

Dave just looked at me, incredulous. “Who gives a shit what the doctor says?!”

“Well, how would you react if your doctor told you to lose weight?” I asked.

“I’d just say, ‘This is who I am.’ They can’t tell me what to do. Only you can make yourself feel this way; don’t give them that kind of power.”

I shook my head. “I can’t help it – I wish I didn’t care about it, but I do.”

Even crazier, I have never really been yelled at by a doctor for my weight, even for all the years I was obese. The only time one of my doctors said anything was when I was 43 pounds heavier than I am now. And then she just casually said, “Well, you might want to work on your weight a bit” in the context of a conversation about my high cholesterol. Probably the one time my weight was a big focus at doctor’s appointments was when I was pregnant; they did kind of get on me for gaining weight then (I gained 30 to 35 pounds with each kid and started off in the 120 range, so I was not overweight to begin with). That’s also when my high blood pressure started.

I also have no idea what my new FNP will really say. She may not even bring up my weight at all.

And there we are. What I wouldn’t give to be able to just swap brains with Dave for a day and not worry about stupid things!

February: Chicks and Chocolate

Yesterday Dave and I were walking around Rural King after picking up some sunflower seeds and corn for the birds and squirrels. (And voles, apparently – we sometimes see them darting through their tunnels in the snow and it delights Dave to no end. I hope we are still as delighted by them after we plant our garden this spring.) We passed some cardboard boxes marked ‘Live Chicks’ and I peeked inside the holes, but didn’t see anything. At first I thought it was a subliminal suggestion, but after we walked a bit further I knew I was hearing cheeping.

I tapped Dave on the arm. “Why do I hear … cheeping?”

I was pretty sure he’d laugh at me and shake his head. Instead, he took my hand and led me further up the next aisle.

The cheeping got louder. I could see metal tubs set up with warming lamps, and each tub had either chicks or ducks inside. In the store! Just hanging out! Well, with price tags on the side, but still … it was something I’d never seen before in my life.

I figured people got their baby chicks either from someone local who raised them, or ordered them through the mail. (I only know about that last option from books I’ve read.) I had no idea you could just go down to the store and buy them.

So of course I lost my mind. I took pictures, I cooed, I talked to them. Dave talked to them too, of course – it’s not possible for either of us to go past any type of animal and not have a little one-sided conversation. After my baby chick appetite was sated, we continued on and found rabbits. Bun-buns! So I lost my mind a second time; more one-sided conversations ensued. “You like that carrot, don’t you? You know it’s not real, right? [It was made of sisal.] Hi honey! Hi bun-bun!” and so on.

After I posted pictures on Facebook, it was suggested that I get some chickens. I already know I’m probably not cut out for chickens; I would be inconsolable if one of them died (a highly probable situation) and I would want to keep them in the house with me. (The cats, I’m sure, would get on board with that plan.  The landlady … not so much.) But oh, I love chickens and ducks.  I want to move next door to someone who has them so I can visit them every day.

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OMG DUCKLINGS I WANT THEM ALL

Then another friend, who raises chicks and knows her stuff, mentioned that the chicks in the store are not happy – that’s why they cheep so much. Well, that didn’t help – it kicked my maternal instinct into overdrive. I want to go back and buy ALL THE CHICKS and make them happy and love them forever and ever, amen.

In other exciting news, February is apparently a lucky month for me Influenster-wise, because I’ve been picked for another VoxBox! I loved the one I got last year, so I’m pretty darn excited. I’ll be doing some reviews here once the XO VoxBox arrives, as well as a general ‘unboxing’ type post for the box itself. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I did already get to choose one of the items. It’s a free bra and panty set from Adore Me, which I’d never heard of before. I believe they’re trying to give Victoria’s Secret a run for their money, which is interesting to me because I used to get all my underthings from there. I finally decided they just don’t fit me comfortably, so if Adore Me is a good fit, I’ll be ecstatic. I tend to think of these lingerie places as being more for young adults and not women with older bodies. I’ll be happy if they prove me wrong.

By the way, I got the Shea Contour set (with the bikini, not the thong – I prefer to avoid dental floss up my butt, thank you).  If only they could guarantee I’d look like that when I put it on!  (Psst:  If you want to give Adore Me a try, here’s a referral code that will give you a bra/panty set for $25.)

Speaking of Influenster, remember last spring I was notified that I won the Vaseline grand prize, which was a couple containers of the men’s lotion and a free ride in a race car? Well, Vaseline never sent the prize, so boo to them. It should have arrived in May or June sometime, and then we were so busy looking for a place to live and then moving in July that I never bothered to contact Influenster and let them know. I kind of thought it might arrive later that summer and get forwarded to me here, but I never did get anything from them.

Other than that, we’re just waiting for some snow and looking forward to Valentine’s Day this Saturday. We make it easy on each other now; our tradition the last few years has been to go to a chocolate shop and make a custom box to share. We’ve done it with See’s and Fannie May, and this year we went to our local chocolate shop, Veni’s. Their candy and chocolate is made right on the premises, and it’s truly mouth-watering. We picked up a dark chocolate assortment (which we won’t touch until Saturday), some of their almond butter crunch, dark chocolate mints, dark chocolate coconut haystacks, and two dark chocolate Amaretto candies. (We like dark chocolate, can you tell?!)

Dream Big, Kids!

In light of the recent measles outbreak, I was curious whether I’d ever been vaccinated for the measles.  Dave and I were talking about it and I was pretty sure I had been, but not positive.  Then I remembered the School Days book my mom used to keep for me, which I still have.

This book is one of my treasures — it has school photos, report cards, awards, my class schedules, teachers’ and friends’ names, and anything else I deemed important that year (my first speeding ticket, my bus pass).  My mom kept it updated through first or second grade, and then I took over.  I still pull that book out when I can’t remember for sure what classes I took sophomore year, or what teacher I had for first grade.  (Dave, by the way, remembers all of that stuff effortlessly.  How does he do that?!)

In the back of the book is a record of my immunizations and illnesses, which was filled in by my mom until 1970.  I was, indeed, vaccinated for measles (and mumps, diptheria, etc.)  The two main illnesses I had were roseola, which I don’t remember having (I was only two) but may have contributed to my hearing loss, and chicken pox, which I still remember as one of the most miserable experiences of my life.

What really stuck out, though, was this little section at the bottom of each school year (through sixth grade), called When I Grow Up I Want to Be – .  I never really paid much attention to it before, but apparently in kindergarten I wanted to be a mom, a nurse, and a school teacher.

IMG_20150204_131825528

Dream big, kids! One day you could be a cowboy.

Back in the late 50s / early 60s, apparently most boys aspired to be either a policeman, fireman, cowboy, astronaut, soldier, or baseball player.  Girls could choose from mother, nurse, school teacher, airline hostess, model or secretary.

I could never have used this book for my kids.  When Eric was in kindergarten, he wanted to be a Power Ranger when he grew up.  Paige wanted to be a veterinarian.  (Well, in the book’s defense … there is a blank line where you can fill in a custom occupation.)

I think it’s kind of sweet that I did get to be one of the things I wanted to be in kindergarten — a mother.

Nervous Nellie

We’re waiting for a furnace repair fellow to show up, so I figured I’d pass the time by writing. The furnace is still hanging in there, but a few days ago I noticed a … burning? … smell right before the furnace fan kicked on. It was hard to describe, not really alarming but definitely noticeable. I mentioned it to Dave and he checked it out. He said it looks like the furnace starts to ignite and then fizzles out one or two times before it finally catches. So maybe it really was the furnace and not the thermostat when it stopped working overnight a couple weeks back.

Our landlady is very cool and she responded right away to Dave’s email. We all have our fingers crossed that this is a quick fix – our landlady for her pocketbook, Dave and I because we don’t want to be without heat for very long. It’s not as cold as it has been, but still … it’s a brisk 18 degrees outside, and we have no space heaters or fireplace here. We would like to be without the furnace for the shortest time possible!

I finally conquered my completely irrational but entirely consuming fear of making an appointment with a new doctor here. I have no idea why I was so frozen with fear over the idea of simply making an appointment, but I was. Finally last week I just told Dave, “Today we’re going to return my library book, then stop off at the clinic and I’ll make my appointment.” Boom.

After I explained my situation to the front desk clerk – new in town, don’t have a doctor yet, meds are running out and I need refills – she said, “Oh, we can do that in the walk-in clinic.” And not only did I have my appointment, I was also being seen that same day, in a matter of minutes.

One thing I was pretty sure of was that I might not need my blood pressure medicine anymore. One of my goals when I started counting calories and losing weight was to be much healthier in my 50s than I was in my 40s. My 50th birthday was looming, so right after my 49th birthday I really dug deep, found my willpower, and started losing weight. I added exercise reluctantly – I hated most forms of exercise – and as the weight came off, exercising got easier.

I don’t credit the exercise with helping me lose weight; it never has. But it makes me feel better, and I look forward to doing it every day. My stamina has increased so much. I told Dave that I used to worry I’d be sent for a stress test, the kind where you run on a treadmill, and I wouldn’t be able to last even one minute. (Seriously.) I feel better than I have since I was in my 20s. My knees don’t hurt any more, I don’t have aches and pains when I get out of bed, and I don’t run out of breath.

There’s been a few times in the past couple months when I’ve felt a little goofy – sometimes my heart is kind of racing, sometimes I feel a little lightheaded. I never know if it’s from perimenopause (which I’ve found can give me heart palpitations on occasion) or something else, so I always ask Dave to check my blood pressure to make sure it’s not sky-high. Every time he’s checked it, it’s been really super low (for me), like 80/60 or in that range. It scared the crap out of Dave, and he kept telling me to go to the doctor because I probably didn’t need blood pressure medicine anymore, now that I’ve lost weight and I exercise daily.

I started on blood pressure medicine when Paige was still nursing, in the mid-90s. My blood pressure was high during my pregnancy with Eric, and it was the same deal with Paige. The doctors and nurses would make a big deal out of it (rightly) and they’d tell me to lay on the table and try to think relaxing thoughts. Then they would come back later and check it again. That never helped me; it just made me more nervous. I’d dwell on the fact that they were coming back to check it, and if it was high would I get put on bedrest? Would they want to induce labor? I would work myself into a worrying frenzy, and my blood pressure stayed high.

This turned into a major case of White Coat Syndrome, and I still have it today. Every time I set foot in a doctor’s office, I get nervous. Crazy, heart-poundingly nervous. Dave has talked to me about it, tried to help me rationalize it and realize there’s no reason for me to worry, but it’s an instant reaction that I can’t control. Deep breathing, meditation – I do them all in the doctor’s office, and I’m still a nervous wreck.

Well, I was already worked up about simply making the appointment, so when I realized I was actually seeing someone that day I was mentally freaking out. They called me back pretty quickly; I got weighed (not bad), they checked my height (one inch less than I thought I was – I refuse to believe I’m 5’ tall and not 5’1”), then did my blood pressure. 140/84. Looks like I’ll be staying on that medication for a while longer, thanks to my insane doctor office phobia.

Then I had to sit there for a long, long time – at least 30 minutes, maybe more. When I finally saw someone, it was a PA. She listened to my lungs and heart, and entered a 3 month refill for my cholesterol and blood pressure medicine. Then I talked to her about establishing myself as a patient there … and that was it! All that worry for nothing.

I went back to the front desk to talk to them about establishing myself as a patient, and it turns out only one doctor is accepting new patients. It just so happens to be the female FNP I was hoping to get, so that was a bonus. I filled out a form so they could get my medical records from Illinois, and then once she gets them she will look them over and decide whether to accept me as a patient. (I guess if I am a complicated case she won’t take me on.) I’m hoping to hear good news, because I really liked this clinic. I guess they’ll call in a couple weeks, and if she accepts me then I’ll make the appointment for my real first doctor visit.

Of course, I’m already worrying about it.

Our First Chili Crawl

We went to a chili crawl downtown on Sunday, a first for me and Dave. The weather was colder than the day before, when we went down to check out the Hunter Ice Festival. On Saturday it was in the low 40s, which is really quite a heatwave for this time of year in Michigan. When we stepped out of the house on Saturday to go to the car, it felt rather warm and I thought I’d be overdressed in my hat, gloves and pea coat. I actually carried a scarf outside with me and then changed my mind and tossed it back into the mud room before we shut the door.

Big mistake! Once we got downtown we realized it was very, very windy and we had a long walk against the wind to Main Street. I ended up buttoning my coat up to the neck, and I was very glad for my hat and gloves. As we walked around looking at all the ice sculptures, the wind died down a bit and it was a really pleasant day – the sun added just the right amount of warmth.

They were selling Hunter ice cream, a special recipe just for the festival that was a close replica of the vanilla flavor sold by the Hunter family at the turn of the century. At first I couldn’t imagine walking around outside in January, eating a scoop of ice cream … but then we couldn’t resist. And it was delicious! (If you’re curious about the back story, here’s a short article: http://www.leaderpub.com/2014/01/17/hunter-ice-cream-a-tasty-tradition/ )

Wendi, Dave & Ice Cream

With our ice cream, at the festival

 

When we walked up, the line was about 40 people deep and Dave wanted to wait until Sunday (when we went back for the chili crawl) to get the ice cream. I talked him into waiting, though, because the weather wasn’t bad and I really couldn’t imagine walking around eating ice cream AND chili at the same time. It’s a good thing we decided to wait, because on Sunday the ice cream was already gone.

We happened to be behind a guy with a service dog, a big fella (maybe a German Shepherd?) who I could tell Dave was dying to pet. He had on his vest with a big DO NOT PET emblazoned on the side, so of course Dave refrained. It didn’t stop others though, and we watched as a few people cooed and petted the dog. I was a little irritated on the guy’s behalf, but Dave mentioned later that the guy had told the people it was okay. We were both trying to figure out what service the dog was providing – the guy could obviously hear (he turned in response to sound) and had no hearing aids or CIs, and he wasn’t visually impaired; I know there’s a whole array of services that the dogs provide so it must have been one of the many others, something not obvious/visible.

But back to Sunday, and our first-ever chili crawl. I wasn’t even sure what this was, but basically it was a walk through town where various businesses/organizations had their chili available to taste. It was just $5/person for 15 tastes, and we each got a manila envelope with tickets, a map/score sheet, a napkin and a spoon. (We realized we had no pen or pencil with us, so we had to jot notes at the places that had pens near the cash register.) We followed the map and stopped in each business, where we received a small cup of chili. And I do mean small – it was basically the size of the cup you get for pumping ketchup at Wendy’s or Culver’s, if you’ve ever seen those.

We really enjoyed getting to visit so many different places downtown, many of which we’d never been in. We definitely had our favorites as far as the chili went (Dave’s favorite won people’s choice first place!) and we’ve found at least four new restaurants we want to try. We got to meet lots of nice people, get some exercise, and also try a wide variety of chili. Some were actually gumbo, a couple had rice as an ingredient (which I found I really liked), one was more like a soup, quite a few were not the deep red color I’m used to, and one guy mentioned that he used no chili powder – the heat came from ingredients he brought back from his travels to Jamaica. (That actually was my favorite.) Most of them, if not all, had beans, I believe – I was wondering if we’d get any chili without beans because I know some people feel strongly for or against beans in chili. (I like them.)

A couple places gave us bigger cups, and I think that worked in their favor. There are so many ingredients in chili and the beans are fairly big, so with the teeny tiny cups there just wasn’t room to get all the different elements in there. I actually voted for the place that gave us the biggest cup, and Dave’s vote went to a place that gave a bigger cup too (which was tied in my mind with the place that got my vote … I went with them because they were a little more unusual).

The place that got first place from the judges was okay but way too salty for me, and I am someone who loves salt a little too much. (I think I have a salty palate so I try to be careful and not over-salt when I cook for other people.)

Even with the colder, more dreary weather (a bit of rain and snow, no sun), it was a fun day – the chili warmed us up and we had a good time talking about the merits of each taste. I wouldn’t hesitate to do another food-type crawl around town!

Winter in Michigan

I believe the last time I wrote, I was bemoaning the cold temperatures and our temperamental furnace. A little over a week later, and the furnace is going strong (YAY) and the outdoor temps are rising. And we have plans to go to our town’s Hunter Ice Festival. Yes, they are celebrating ice, outdoors, for three days. This is not the place to live if you hate the cold! Tomorrow we’re planning to do the chili crawl, on the last day of the ice festival. I’ve never done anything like that so I’m really looking forward to it (and I love chili, so … yum).

The festival kicked off this at 9:00 this morning with the annual Frigid 5K race, although it wasn’t very frigid at the time – I checked and it was in the low 30s. (Last year I think it was 12 degrees – brave souls!) Dave and I actually considered signing up for this race when we realized it would actually be pretty warm for Michigan in January. We came to our senses, though, when we thought about it – I haven’t done any kind of running outside (just jogging on my mini trampoline) and neither of us has any kind of appropriate clothing for cold weather running. We could have signed up to walk, I suppose, but I kind of wanted to jog my first 5K. Also, it’s probably not the best idea to sign up to run your first 5K in the cold, with snow and ice on the path you’ll be running. But it was exciting to talk about it for a few days! Maybe next year. (I really did want a race shirt though, darn.)

We made a trip to Illinois earlier this week, and Dave got his partial denture. He finally has a mouth full of teeth! He’s been working with just half his teeth on the bottom (not even half, really) – he has no teeth at all on the left side. He dropped me off at my mom’s on Wednesday and we tackled some of her technical issues while he went to the dentist. (He’s been getting his work done at a dental college in Downers Grove, and he was in the middle of treatment when we had to move.) My mom is seeing a specialist next week for her imbalance issue – it started in August and hasn’t really abated, so she’s hoping for some relief. They wanted her to complete an online new patient questionnaire and she was having trouble with it, so we sat down to tackle it as soon as Dave left. An hour later, we were finally done. My god, what a chore! I’m kind of curious to see if they even refer to it during her visit. (Mom, if you’re reading this – let me know if they do.) Half the time I find that I fill out copious amounts of paperwork for stuff (medical, financial, etc.) and then I get asked the same questions in person later. Why bother filling all this stuff out?!

Dave came back with a full set of teeth, and he tried them out on his Portillo’s Italian beef sandwich (of course … when in Illinois, Portillo’s). So far, so good – as he wears his partial and gets used to it, he’ll be on the lookout for sore spots or any other issues. He hasn’t tackled steak yet, but next week I’ll be serving him a Marlboro Man sandwich (a Pioneer Woman recipe that we love, pan-roasted onions and cube steak on a roll). We haven’t had them in ages because it was just too difficult for Dave to masticate. That will really be the test of his new teeth!

We have a yard full of snow, and yesterday we got out to do a little more shoveling. (The plows had deposited a lovely snow barricade at the end of the driveway, and our car was not pleased.) Dave took me around back and showed me some of the animal tracks he’d spotted – definitely deer along the back of the yard, and what he thinks is probably coyote going all along the fence from the front to the back. Actually, he thinks there were four of them and two were playing together. He showed me the little scratches from mice, and also tracks from a fox. He’s also found lots of rabbit tracks and droppings; we can usually see the bunnies in the spring, summer and fall but they’re a rare sighting in the winter.

Everything looks pretty calm weather-wise for the next week, so we’ll just be enjoying winter in Michigan and looking forward to celebrating our 13th anniversary in a little over two weeks. I’ll sign off here as I get ready to go out and eat some Hunter Ice Cream in the snow and sun!

Notes from the Polar Vortex

When we lived in Illinois, our neighbors across the street were fanatical about clearing their driveway of snow. We didn’t know them at all; the only time they spoke to us was right before we moved. Someone had kicked in their front door and robbed them, right in the middle of the day. The guy came over to see if we had seen anything (the police also came by before he did) but we weren’t even home that day, we were at my mom’s. (I have to confess, I was glad to be leaving the neighborhood after that happened.) Anyway, we never knew anything about them but we assumed they had jobs in the health care industry because they kept kind of strange hours, Dave had seem them in scrubs before, and, like I said, they always kept their driveway shoveled as if they needed to be able to leave in an emergency.

They used shovels, both the husband and wife, and the minute we had more than one inch of snow they would be out there, methodically shoveling. The sun hit their driveway perfectly, so it would melt whatever stray flakes they missed. (I used to be envious of that; the house shaded our driveway so the sun never warmed it and we always had little icy mounds that didn’t melt.) Dave and I would watch them surreptitiously in amazement. We used to joke about them blow-drying the driveway to get every last bit of snow removed. It didn’t matter if it was still snowing or it was below zero. They’d pull up, park their car in the garage, and then go out and get that driveway cleared. It was obviously important to them, being able to leave at a moment’s notice if they needed to.

Honestly, we would have rarely shoveled our driveway if we didn’t feel pressure from the neighbors. The renters on our left didn’t often bother to shovel. If they could drive over the snow, that was good enough for them. The guy on our right had a snow blower and he was pretty rigorous about using it … except on the sidewalk, which always irritated me. We’d be out there with our shovels, shoveling HIS area of the sidewalk so our kids could make it to school without walking in the street. Asshole.

So I’ve been watching to see how our new neighbors handle snow removal, just out of curiosity. Most people here are pretty lax about it. They have trucks and SUVs and they just drive over the snow unless it’s over six inches deep. We have this big half-circle driveway but we really only use the half that goes up to the car shelter, so we tend to just shovel that side. Sometimes I’m feeling feisty and like I want the exercise, and I’ll continue all the way around to the mailbox on the other side. But if we don’t bother, I don’t feel like the neighbors are judging us. I mean geez, the sun is going to come out and melt it eventually – why bother?

This has been a very cold, snowy week here in Michigan. Yesterday I was reading in bed and I realized my hands were freezing – like, going numb. It’s usually colder in the early morning because I have the thermostat set for 66 degrees during the night, but it felt unusually cold. So I got up to check the thermostat and it read 60 degrees. I stood there for a second as the thoughts tumbled around in my brain. If the furnace is broken, we’ll freeze – we have no fireplace or wood stove here, and we’re in the middle of a polar vortex until Sunday. What if it takes the repair guy a week to get here, what will we do?

I woke Dave up, poor Dave, and told him the furnace wasn’t working. He went downstairs, messed around a bit, came back and said we were going to have to call the landlord. I started putting on layers of clothing. He went back downstairs, did something else, came back up and said he thought it was working. A few minutes later, the heat came on. Hurrah!

He had also turned the thermostat up to 75 (I had changed it to 70 when I got up that day). The furnace has been running fine ever since, so we think it was just the thermostat being temperamental. But for the rest of the day, he was restless and nervous. It was snowing like crazy all day. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring, watching the snow blow and surround us. But Dave kept fretting about the fact that he wanted more gasoline in case we needed it for the generator – what if the electricity went out? – and the bird seed was low, just a handful. The birds were depending on us, how could we let them down?

At 4:00 we had a little break in the snow and he wanted to drive to town for gasoline and bird seed. We ended up compromising – we have a wind chill warning until noon today (it’s -7 degrees as I write, with a wind chill of -29). Then we have a winter storm warning from 3 pm today until 4 pm tomorrow – more snow is coming in, with lots of blowing and drifting. We’re heading to town for supplies during that three hour window. Hopefully it will at least be one degree above zero – a heat wave, you know.

I find that weather like this brings out my maternal nature. “Wear gloves!” I admonish Dave when he leaves the house. “You’ll get frostbite!” When my daughter mentioned a trip to visit a friend, I texted her, “Wear a hat! Gloves! A scarf!” (I know she doesn’t listen to me. The thought of her heading out in a hoodie , no gloves or hat, and moccasins with no socks makes me cringe.)

As long as we don’t lose electricity and the furnace (or thermostat) keeps working, we’re doing just fine. Dave put out a seed feast for the birds this morning and I’m watching them right now – finches, chickadees, a red-headed woodpecker, lots of cardinals and blue jays, a tufted titmouse.

Dave and the Birds

Dave feeding the birds (on a warmer day than today)

I think, though, that a fireplace or wood stove has just been added to the mental list of things I’d like in the next house we buy.

 

 

Doing It One More Time

In one of my posts last month, I mentioned that Dave will be starting treatment again for his Hepatitis C. I’m in a medical frame of mind because I have to find a new doctor this month, so I thought I’d catch everyone up.

I always hate looking for a new doctor. I feel more comfortable with women, so that knocks out a lot of possibilities. I have to guess whether the doctor will have an accent or not (I really, really try to avoid anyone with an accent – my medical stuff is just too important for me to be guessing about what the doctor’s saying). I want someone close by, so that if I’m really sick I don’t have to drive 45 minutes just to get to the doctor’s office. And I don’t know anyone in town to ask for a referral, so I just have to pick a female medical practitioner that works out of a nearby office and has a non-accenty-sounding last name.

I really only need to see the doctor to get my medication refilled (I take medicine for high blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which run in my family). Of course, losing 35 pounds and exercising every day has hopefully made a positive effect on both those things, so my medication may end up getting changed or even discontinued … we’ll see. But I don’t have any chronic health conditions; I just know my medications will run out on Feb. 18th and so I figure I should get a new doctor by the end of this month. I’m not looking forward to it.

Dave has it a little easier because he has to go the VA, and he just gets whatever doctor they assign to him. (Of course, figuring out WHERE to go was the hard part as far as the VA health care system is concerned.) When he went for his new patient visit at the South Bend Clinic, his doctor was really great – very easy to understand, willing to listen to Dave’s concerns and address them appropriately, very friendly and good natured. He’s an FNP, which is fine with us — I’m actually planning to make an appointment with a female FNP at the clinic I’ve been planning to go to (all the MDs are male, and I have had good luck in the past with FNPs).

One of the things he touched on at Dave’s visit in October was his unsuccessful Hep C treatment in 2013. We were surprised to find out that they have new medicine now, just a single pill with no Interferon shot. They seemed really eager to get Dave going on this new treatment, so he made an appointment in November for him to see the liver specialist.

This appointment was so cool. The South Bend location is just a clinic, and the liver specialist works out of Fort Wayne, Indiana which is about two hours south of us. Rather than make us drive to Ft. Wayne, they did a video conference appointment in South Bend (which is less than 30 minutes away). There was a medical technician there, and he set everything up … then we waited for the doctor to join us on the TV screen that was in the room.

Dave was able to understand pretty well – they had the volume turned up and we could see the doctor’s face to read his lips. He asked Dave all kinds of questions, went over his medical history, and then told us about the new treatment. It’s not supposed to have many side effects, at least not compared to the hellish treatment Dave was on in 2013 (Ribavirin and Boceprevir pills daily, plus Interferon shots once a week). Even though Dave didn’t clear the virus, he is still a good candidate for this new treatment.

Then the doctor asked the medical tech to listen to Dave’s heart and lungs. He hooked up a stethoscope somehow so that the doctor could hear the same thing he heard. The doctor told the tech where to place the stethoscope, and told Dave how to breathe (deep breath, hold his breath, etc.) It was really amazing!

I think the new medication is Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) but I don’t know much about it yet. I think Dave will just be taking the one pill, but it’s possible he has to take it with Ribavirin. I do know for sure that he doesn’t have to do the Interferon injections; the Interferon was what really messed up his thyroid and made him so sick last time.

When he went through the treatment in 2013, we had to go to classes to learn about each drug and its side effects. I don’t know if this treatment is that involved, but I don’t think it will be. I do know that we have to drive to Fort Wayne every two weeks to pick up his medication. They’ll give him a two-week supply; then two weeks later we have to drive there again to pick up the next supply, for a total of 12 weeks. I feel that this is a huge pain in the ass – four hours of driving, plus the cost of gas, and wear and tear on the car. But Dave said it’s absolutely worth it to him – he wants to clear this virus once and for all. I’m kind of hoping that after one or two trips, they’ll just have the medicine waiting for him at South Bend for us to pick up. (He doesn’t think this will ever happen.) I remember one of the guys in the classes we took at Hines VA was from a town about an hour and a half away. He was at maybe two of the classes, and then the nurse who was in charge of the program set it up so that he could pick up his meds at the clinic near his house. So I’m thinking maybe someone will take pity on us and do the same, even though it’s a different hospital.

We’ve never been to Fort Wayne, but we’ll be going next month so Dave can have a liver ultrasound – they want the results of this test before he starts his treatment. The doctor was kind enough to take into consideration the unpredictable winter weather we have in this area, and he’s having him wait until March to start treatment. He has another remote video conference appointment with the liver specialist in March (in South Bend) where they’ll go over the results of the ultrasound. And then probably later in March, or in April at the latest, we’ll make the drive to Fort Wayne to meet the liver doctor in person and get Dave’s first two weeks’ worth of medicine.

Hopefully this treatment will work, and I’ll be posting that he’s cleared the virus by the end of 2015!

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