It Only Took 32 Years

… for me to change my attitude on exercise.

When I was in high school, we were required to take gym class. Except for the times we were doing special units (my favorites were roller skating and gymnastics), we had to run a mile every week. We’d get out on the track and, in my case, huff and puff until the punishment was done. I hated doing the mile. Hated it.

It didn’t matter that I was really skinny in high school; I was not physically fit at all. In the beginning, I’d kind of jog along with everybody until I got too tired, and then I’d walk. As the months went by I just said ‘screw this’ and walked right from the start. I was usually last to finish, and I didn’t care.

I often wonder if we’d ever been taught how to work up to running – you know, a Couch to 5K kind of thing – then maybe I wouldn’t have hated it so much. I just could not jog for that long without physical pain. It taught me to hate jogging with a passion.

When I saw my doctor last month for my new patient physical, she asked if I exercised and I told her that I jogged on a mini trampoline daily. “I’m trying to transition to jogging outside,” I added, “but it’s so hard.” “Oh, walking is better for you,” she replied. “There’s less chance for injury.”

When my physical was over, I had a blood test. I was curious to see how my cholesterol levels responded to the daily exercise and 35 pound weight loss. My blood pressure was already showing positive changes; even though I was nervous as hell at my doctor appointment, my blood pressure was 112/70. (I take medication for it.) I see the doctor again in September and there’s even a chance she might take me off the blood pressure medication, which I’ve been on since 1994.

High cholesterol runs in my family, and although it responds a bit if I lose weight, I usually still have high cholesterol if I don’t take medication for it. I have never exercised regularly though; this is the first time in all of my 50 years that I’ve exercised on a regular basis for more than a couple of weeks. (It’s been about a year and a half for me now.) I think the biggest change was my HDL cholesterol, which went from 45 to 64 – the highest it’s ever been.

My overall cholesterol went down just 4 points, but I’m taking a fibrate instead of a statin so that doesn’t surprise me. (My last doctor was trying to get my triglycerides down, so she switched me from the statin.) The fibrate medication does bring my triglycerides down more but it doesn’t really touch my LDL or overall cholesterol much. I was happy that my overall cholesterol was still under 200, even on the fibrate. My LDL went down 14 points, but it’s still a shade over 100 (which is the ‘optimal’ range).

My triglycerides though – holy crap. They are 71, which is so much lower than I’ve ever been. My highest was 237; that was when I was taking prescription fish oil (Lovaza) and ugh, that stuff was horrible. So I really think the exercise is helping my overall health more than I realized, possibly even more than losing weight.

While I was still riding the high of my much-improved results, I happened to see a small notice in our town paper about a 5K to support a local grief support and hospice program, Lory’s Place. I’d just finished reading Being Mortal and really liked what the author had to say about hospice in general, so I was all for doing something to support them. I talked to Dave and he agreed. So I signed us both up to walk our first 5K on May 16.

We’ve been walking outside every day that it isn’t raining. I was pretty sure we could finish a 5K in an hour; I mean a 20 minute mile sounds so leisurely, you know? But we got out and walked around the backyard one day and I was positively gasping, my heart pounding, my thighs screaming … and it took over 22 minutes to walk one mile.

“I’m going to be last!” I despaired. I’d made the mistake of looking at the past race results and noticed that the slowest walking time was about 1:17. I could see myself slowing down after the first mile and doing my subsequent miles in 25 or more minutes each. I actually made Dave promise that if we were last, he would slow down so I could cross the finish line before him and be second to last. (My husband is such a good guy!)

Of course, jogging is out of the realm of possibility here; I can’t even walk that fast, much less jog. But we made it out to an actual paved trail yesterday and did our mile in exactly 17 minutes, so that gives me hope. I was still panting and gasping at the end, but it’s definitely easier to walk on a paved surface versus our soft, lumpy, molehill-ridden backyard.

I’ve decided to just dial back my competitive nature and do this 5K for the fun experience I hope it will be. Maybe with time and practice, it will get easier. Maybe we’ll even sign up for another one in the future.

If you would have told me back in high school that I’d voluntarily walk 3.1 miles, I would’ve thought you were crazy. At least I don’t have to do it wearing a gym suit. ::shudder::

Feeling Fragile

A couple days ago, we were eating dinner – sweet peppers, kale, ricotta and pasta. The pasta was farfalle (or bow-tie) and I was doing my goofy eating thing where I cut them in half first, separating the two sides with a swift press of my fork or, as the case may be, bite of my teeth.

Normally I use my fork, but this night I was being lazy and just biting them in half. I bit down forcefully and the next thing I know, I was jumping up and yelling, “I think I just cracked my tooth in half!”

When I bit down, I bit down HARD on my fork. I’m surprised I didn’t bite the fork in half along with the pasta.

I ran into the bathroom, expecting to see a jagged remnant of my top front tooth. I bared my teeth, stared – nothing. But I could feel grittiness, the sensation that something was stuck between my top two front teeth; even my bottom front teeth felt gritty and just wrong. Nothing was obviously broken though, so I sat back down. I showed Dave my teeth. He shrugged; he couldn’t see a problem.

I kept eating, kept running my tongue over my teeth. The front of my top front right tooth felt rough and strange. I figured maybe I scraped the enamel with my fork. My bottom teeth didn’t feel as weird but something felt different there too. I got back up to check my teeth in the bathroom mirror.

I stared, really stared, and then I could see it – just a miniscule, teeny tiny chip off the edge of my front teeth, top and bottom. You wouldn’t know they were chipped just by looking. There was no sharp edge. When I went back to show Dave, it took him a long time to even see what I was pointing at. But it was there.

It didn’t hurt, and my teeth weren’t sensitive. Just a stupid mistake on my part but still, it freaked me out.

When I woke up the next day, the first thing I thought of was that I’d chipped my teeth. When it happened the night before, I mainly just felt relief that it was barely anything and not, like, half of each tooth broken off. But the next day, I felt terrible knowing that I’d done such a stupid thing to my teeth, my nearly-perfect teeth that have never given me trouble. I was afraid to bite into anything for fear of my teeth shattering. Suddenly I felt like they were fragile.

Later that day I said to Dave, “I know this is ridiculous, but this tooth stuff is really bothering me. I can’t believe I did that. My teeth were so pretty!” Dave, who has endured years of teeth issues, couldn’t resist chuckling. “I’m afraid to eat corn on the cob!” I pouted. Then he talked me off the mental ledge, reminding me that it wasn’t like I bit into a marshmallow, and that my teeth are fine.

It’s a couple days later now and I’ve calmed down. I still check each morning to make sure my teeth haven’t crumbled in the night, but I’m no longer afraid to eat. (I do eat more delicately.) And it’s a good thing that we already have upcoming dental appointments planned. I don’t expect it to be an issue, but I’ll feel better having a dentist look at them just to be safe.

Yesterday I asked Dave to eat the other half of the banana I was slicing up for my cereal. “You should eat the whole thing!” he protested. “You know, bananas make your teeth grow.”

Smart ass. ;)

Overly Optimistic

When I look out the window, I can still see snow … but most of it is melted. The big piles next to the driveway and car shelter are hanging in there, but for the most part it is a vast swath of brown as far as the eye can see. Mud season!

I think I’ve mentioned before that there’s a surprising number of dirt roads around here. We spent a lot of time last summer and fall driving around the area just to get acquainted with things; we’d be motoring along in a fairly established area and then WHOMP … dirt road. One of the houses Dave was interested in turned out to be on one. He tried to talk me into it (he really liked the house) but I was firm in my refusal to live on a dirt road. This season right here is one of the main reasons.

So anyway, the weather’s been fantastic. It kind of went from a high of 20 degrees to a high of 50 overnight, and we’ve had about a week of weather in the high 40s and 50s. We even have mid-60s predicted for this Monday. At first we went a little crazy, going out in light hoodies (me) or no jacket at all (Dave), but that wore off pretty quickly. Yes, 40 feels like a heat wave compared to 20, but once you get used to it (and the wind kicks in) it can still feel pretty damn chilly.

C'mon sunshine -- we're ready for spring!

C’mon sunshine — we’re ready for spring!

On the first warm day, we drove over to the riverwalk downtown. This is really the only place we know of around here (besides the sidewalks in town) to go for a walk and rest assured you won’t be hit by a car. We are outside of city limits so there’s no sidewalks on our street, and Dave basically refuses to walk on the side of the road. The last time I talked him into taking a walk, we set out facing traffic, with the added precaution of stepping off the road into the grass when a car approached. Our street isn’t that busy, so I really wasn’t worried. After we got about a half mile down the road, though, Dave turned toward me and dourly said, “You know, this is how Stephen King got hit by a truck.” I gave in and we turned back towards home. Our next walk was down by the river, safely ensconced on the sidewalk.

When we pulled in to park by the river on this fine spring-like day, we saw that there were still big mounds of snow across the sidewalk. Nevertheless we walked, dodging snow and huge puddles of water. After a while, Dave nodded at me. “Go ahead. Give it a shot.” I knew he was talking about jogging. I had been itching to get outside and jog for real, after a winter of jogging inside on my trampoline. I was so proud of myself; I had finished the Couch to 5K program and had gotten to a point where I didn’t feel like my lungs were about to burst out of my chest after 40 minutes of jogging. I was ready to sign up to run a 5K. Let me at it, man – I want to run free like a gazelle, under the sunny skies!

I could see that the sidewalk ahead was clear of obstacles, so I set out at a comfortable jog. We won’t call it running – I do more of what Dave calls the Airborne Shuffle. I made it, oh, I don’t know … maybe 20 yards, and then I stopped and looked back at Dave. “This is hard!” I whined.

I was so disappointed. It felt absolutely nothing like jogging on my mini trampoline. Every time my feet hit the pavement, I felt the shockwave through my body. My upper thighs were screaming and my heart was pounding.

I seriously thought I was just going to float down that sidewalk like the runners I see around town, moving effortlessly, their ponytails swinging to and fro. The transition to outside running was a complete shock to me as I lumbered along.

“Am I doing it wrong? Is there something wrong with my form?” I thought maybe if I changed some small thing, it would feel better. “No, you’re fine,” Dave reassured me. “It’s just a different muscle motion when you run outside. You’ll get used to it.”

So, damn. Guess I gotta start back at square one. If we sign up for a 5K any time soon, it will be to walk the course and not run.

Better than sitting on my butt though, right?

Re-post: Being Bionic

It’s been about two years since I first posted this, and I thought I’d re-post for those who haven’t seen it before:

I realized the other day that there’s a lot of things about having cochlear implants that I assume everyone just knows. When I first started this blog, I think my main ‘audience’ was other people with cochlear implants or who were considering one. As the years go by that’s no longer the case, and there are certain questions that I frequently get asked, so I figured I’d write a little bit about being bionic.

Just as a quick refresher, for anyone who doesn’t already know, I am profoundly deaf. I lost my hearing three separate times during my life, for reasons nobody has ever been able to figure out. So I didn’t grow up deaf (I wore hearing aids). When I lost my hearing the third time, in April 2008, it left me with no usable hearing – I don’t respond to anything on hearing tests, and there is nothing that I hear, even with hearing aids.

I received a cochlear implant in each ear in July 2008. Instead of thousands of little hairs in my cochlea waving around and helping me to hear, I now have a teeny strip of 16 electrodes that do the job. The sound is interpreted by my brain after it’s routed through an internal micro-computer to the electrodes. The signal is transmitted via the headpiece/antenna connected to a processor (also containing a micro-computer) that I wear on my ear; it looks like a big hearing aid. There’s a magnet inside my head, and there’s one in the headpiece that is attached to my CI processor via a wire. The magnets are of opposite polarity. I put the magnet headpiece up to my head, feel around until I can feel the magnet pull, and let go. It clings to my head via the magnet in my skull. Here’s a couple pictures:

My Left Side CI (purple metallic color) My Left Side CI (purple metallic color) A better view of the processor on the ear. A better view of the processor on the ear.

So that’s what I mean when I talk about “having CIs.”

I didn’t have brain surgery. I won’t get graphic (because I don’t know enough to!) but basically they make an incision behind your ear, along the curve, and then (for me, anyway) up and back a bit. They thread the electrodes into the cochlea and they shave/drill some of the skull to fit the magnet/radio antenna component, which is a couple of inches up and back from the ear. (I think this is slightly different for everyone, based on skull thickness.)

When I attach the magnet, it doesn’t hurt; I don’t feel anything at all. Once it connects, there’s a pause and then a woosh of sound as I begin to hear. (If the magnet is not attached, I don’t hear at all.) Now that I have a program called ClearVoice on my CIs, there’s another change as any loud, steady background noise (fans, etc.) gets suppressed.

If I run my fingers over my scalp, I can feel bumps – very, very slight on the right side and very, very noticeable on the left side. They did shave a bit of hair for the surgery, right behind my ear. Since my hair is long, it covered the shaved areas pretty well. For about 6 months after my surgery, I had my mom (a hair stylist) and my husband use clippers and keep the hair trimmed where the magnet connects. Your head stays swollen for quite a while and the less hair in that area, the better the magnet can connect.

I don’t wear my CIs in the shower and I don’t wear them to bed. I usually take them off if I’m going to nap, because the magnets get knocked off anyway when I lie back. I can get my CIs slightly damp (I don’t freak out too badly in the rain) but they aren’t waterproof like a newer offering from Advanced Bionics, the Neptune.

I find it really difficult to do anything that requires lying back if I have my CIs on. The weight of the processor pulls it off my ear and if the magnets bump into anything, they slide off. This makes going to the doctor and the dentist a bit of a challenge (especially the dentist), and makes things like yoga and sit ups fairly tricky unless I take my CIs off. I have a contraption that helps keep the processor on my ear so I can use that, but after a while it makes my ear ache…plus it’s really hard to put on!

Because I don’t sleep with my CIs on, it’s a catch-22. It’s very easy to sleep because I hear nothing at all, hence nothing wakes me up … but it’s hard to wake up if I have to be up at a certain time. I use an alarm clock that can do a few things: it can connect to a light and flash it to wake me up (this would never, ever wake me up), it has a very loud alarm that can be made higher- or lower-pitched (this would never, ever wake me up), and it connects to a little disc that you can slip under your mattress or pillow, which vibrates/shakes the bed when the alarm goes off. THIS wakes me up. Boy, does it wake me up!!

The cochlear implants didn’t cure my deafness; I will always be deaf. Thanks to my CIs, I have a foot in the hearing world and a foot in the deaf world, which is pretty cool.

My CIs use rechargeable batteries. (This is different by brand – I use Advanced Bionics CIs.) There are two sizes – a smaller SlimCel and the larger Plus, which lasts longer. I started out with the Slims because the Plus size was too heavy for my ear, especially while I was healing. After a while, my left ear was able to handle the Plus size but up until about a month ago, I wore mainly Slims on my right ear. Now I just use a Plus on each ear, and the batteries usually last me the entire day. If I’m staying up really late, I might need to switch them out. With the Slimcel, it was getting to where I had to change batteries at least once, sometimes twice. (I need to get new batteries, since these are now four years old!) I keep two backup batteries in my purse, and I have four on my charging station that are always ready to go.

When my batteries die, there is no warning. With hearing aids, I could usually tell when the battery was about to go…my hearing would get slightly worse. Now, you could take the CI off, slip the battery off and then back on, and see how many lights flash on the processor. (Four lights means it’s fully charged; one means it’s almost depleted.) But as far as just wearing it and having the battery die, it just goes. I mean, one second you hear and the next you don’t. It’s a little weird, but I’m used to it now.

The CIs have enabled me to hear things I didn’t hear with my hearing aids. Before I lost all my hearing, I wore bi-CROS hearing aids because my right ear was completely deaf. So I wore a ‘transmitter’ on that ear, which looked like a regular hearing aid, and it wirelessly transmitted the sound coming in on that side over to the hearing aid I wore on my left ear. Now I actually hear things in each ear, which took some getting used to. I always used to position people on my hearing side, the left. It took a long time to stop placing myself in position to hear (sitting or walking with people to my left, that is). I never used to be able to tell what direction sound was coming from. It took about two years to start to really be able to do this with my cochlear implants, but now I can often discern which ear “heard” the sound. It is very, very cool!! I also hear more high-pitched sounds, things I never knew even made noise…like bubbles popping, for instance. I have still never heard a mosquito or fly buzz. I suspect my hearing loss is such that I just will never hear that.

I do have some electrodes in the higher pitches completely turned off (two or perhaps three). This is different with everybody – we all have different reasons for our hearing loss. When I hear the higher tones, it makes me very, very dizzy. I can’t tolerate it at all. I think this is probably why I have trouble on the phone. Many people with CIs use the phone, but for me it is very difficult. I can understand computer voices (the voicemail menu, for instance) but when a real voice kicks in, I often struggle to comprehend what I’m hearing. I have a phone that captions the conversation on a screen for me. There’s a bit of a delay, and many times the words are captioned incorrectly, but it’s definitely better than nothing! I can handle a very short conversation but I no longer use the phone about 95% of the time. I stick to texting and email. I think missing those higher pitches makes it harder for me in that situation, since that’s what helps us understand voices.

Same with the TV – I do still need captions when I watch TV or movies. It’s hard to explain, but unless I can see a face and read lips, it just sounds like…sound. If it’s very quiet, the person is not speaking quickly and their voice is very clear, I can sometimes follow along. But there’s almost always some kind of other background noise – music, laughter, gunshots, what have you — that get in the way of understanding what I’m hearing.

I’m not disappointed by this, or apologizing for it. I mean, my gosh—I’m deaf, hearing via a little computer I wear on my ear, and I can talk a bit on the phone and hear music, television and movies. So I still need some help with captions – so what? I was going to be happy even if all I heard was environmental sounds…anything other than 24/7 tinnitus and no real sound other than the crazy noises in my head. So I’m extremely pleased, thrilled even, to be watching TV with captions and cautiously, sparingly, using the telephone.

After I had the surgery, I could not hear. I had to wait a month before I wore the external parts (the processor and magnet headpiece) and got them ‘activated’ so I could hear. This is different with every CI clinic; some places do activations a week after surgery, some wait longer than a month. I was glad to wait a month because my ears were definitely too sore to wear the processors before that. I really did need that time to heal. My skull was still swollen even a month later and I had to use really strong magnets to keep the headpieces in place (I’ve since switched out to lighter magnets).

To activate the CIs, the audiologist will hook you up via a cable to his/her computer. (They take the battery off the CI and replace it with the cable.) You listen to beeps and tones and tell them what sounds most comfortable. At first it all sounds weird and robotic; some people just hear beeps instead of actual sound. As days go by, your brain adapts and you begin to hear things in a more normal way. Voices sound strange, like Darth Vader or the chipmunks.

I go back periodically for “mappings,” where I get connected to the computer and the audiologist adjusts the volume and fine-tunes electrode-related things. In the beginning I went every week, then every month, every 6 months, every year…now I just go when I feel I need an adjustment because my hearing seems off. I can get future improvements via the computer programs they put on my processor, without having my internal component replaced.

The surgery usually makes you lose whatever residual hearing you had. This was not an issue for me – I had no hearing to lose – so being deaf during recovery was just more of the same. But you don’t have to be completely deaf to get a CI – you just have to score low enough, wearing a hearing aid, on the hearing test. (How low your score needs to be depends on insurance and/or the clinic.) It used to be that you had to be pretty much deaf to get one, but over the years that threshold has changed and now there are many people who still have hearing and get a CI in order to improve upon that hearing and be able to hear voices again. There are many people who have a CI in one ear and wear a hearing aid in the other. Incidentally, Dave has looked into getting a CI because he is completely deaf in his left ear and wears a hearing aid in the right. He gets his medical coverage through the VA, and right now he tests too well with his hearing aid on to qualify for a CI for his left ear.

Styling my hair can be a little bit of a pain – I have this cord running from my ear back a couple inches on my head to the magnet. I can’t run my fingers through my hair to fluff it up or smooth it out without catching on the wire. I take my CIs off to style my hair, and I have to be careful when I put them on to keep the wire from flattening a big section of hair. (This is a girly thing…I’m sure guys don’t have this problem!)

View from back, wearing both CI's View from back, wearing both CI’s

I don’t try to hide my CIs. I think they’re really amazing and I like to show them off. I very rarely get asked about them. I never notice people looking at them although Dave has said he’s seen people behind me looking at my head (I have colorful covers on the magnets). Only once have I had someone ask me about them; it was in Target, and a lady walked past me and then doubled back. She asked if I had cochlear implants and we began talking; it turned out that her daughter had a CI as well. I also saw one guy with a CI at my daughter’s school her senior year. (She won an award and they had a breakfast for the kids and their families.) Afterward, when people were mingling, I saw him talking to somebody and it was very easy to see his CI. When there was a lull in the conversation, I went over to him and we talked a bit about our CIs. I never did this with people who had hearing aids! :)

I just realized how absurdly long this is, so I’ll wrap it up. I know I didn’t cover everything, so if anyone is reading and has a question about what it’s like to have CIs, I’d be happy to answer (if I can…I’m not really up on the technical aspects of things, for instance).

Stuck Out

Last week Dave noticed something weird happening with his eyes. He said he saw flashes of light in his periphery, and then a bunch of floaters. Both of us see floaters on occasion, and we know it’s one of the many joys of getting older, but this was above and beyond what he considered normal. It just took a quick Google search to find out that one of the causes could be a detached retina, or a tear. He decided to call the VA hospital and talk to someone there.

He was scheduled for a liver ultrasound on March 9th, so when the VA nurse said he should be seen by a doctor, he asked if it could be scheduled for the same day. The hospital is in Fort Wayne, Indiana which is more than two hours south (by car) from us, so it’s a fairly big deal to make a trip there. They had to talk to the doctor first; when they called back, they said the doctor wanted Dave to come in the next day. Okay, so this was urgent.

After he hung up, I suggested he call the liver clinic and see if they could reschedule the ultrasound for the next day as well. He really seemed skeptical; the VA we went to in Chicago (Hines) was really not flexible as far as changing appointments and getting you in quickly, so he expected the same thing for Fort Wayne. But he called – all they could do was say no, right?

Well, they said it was no problem and scheduled him for an 11 am ultrasound. We were both kind of flabbergasted that it was so easy. The eye clinic visit was not for any specific time; they knew we were coming from far away and told him to just get there as early as he could and they’d get him in.

We left a little after 8 am the next morning, and figured he would do the ultrasound first and then we’d pop over to the eye clinic. As we were driving, I read over the appointment card they’d mailed for his original ultrasound date.

“Hey hon? Um … did you know this card says your ultrasound is being done at the Marion facility? It’s not in Fort Wayne.”

Dave pulled over and looked at the card. “Do you want to call and make sure this is being done in Fort Wayne?” I asked. We weren’t far from home; we could drive back and call with the captioned phone, or he could take a chance with the cell phone and call right from the car.

“What? This is crazy. The appointment says Fort Wayne online!” he protested. He was sure it was just a glitch and they’d used the wrong facility information. We talked some more and decided that if nothing else, the eye appointment was more important, and he knew for sure that was in Fort Wayne.

We got to Fort Wayne around 10:45 am and went to check in. Sure enough, the ultrasound was scheduled for that day in Marion, Indiana … an hour away from Fort Wayne.

In the end, he had the x-ray department cancel the Marion appointment and he just went to the eye clinic. They said everything looked fine and it was just one of those things that happen when you get older. He’s still got to go back later this month for a check to make sure nothing bad has developed in that time frame.

When we got home, he discovered that not only was the ultrasound canceled, but also the video conference appointment with the liver doctor that was being done in South Bend. (This is all part of getting him started on the new Hepatitis C drug either this or next month.) As of right now, he has the video conference rescheduled for a week from today, but they still haven’t called to say whether he has to have the ultrasound done first. We were under the impression the doctor needed the ultrasound results before we had the video conference. (The doctor is in Fort Wayne, but South Bend is only 30 minutes from us so we have video conferences from there whenever possible.)

We had no idea there was even a hospital in Marion; I guess it’s a good thing we found out the way we did and Dave still needed to be in Fort Wayne anyway for the eye appointment. If we’d driven there solely for the ultrasound and then found out we were in the wrong place, after four hours round-trip of driving, we would have been rather irked to say the least.

All of this craziness has gotten us thinking about possibly moving closer to Ann Arbor, which is where the best VA hospital in this area is located – as well as a great place for getting my CIs mapped. (Right now I would have to drive back to Illinois because there is no place around here that does mappings; my old clinic in Illinois is closer than anything in Indiana or Michigan.)

We do love this area, and when we drive to Illinois it’s just a straightforward two hour drive. It’s also super, super affordable (the main reason we chose this part of Michigan). On the other hand, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like we live in Michigan. We can be in Indiana within 20 minutes of driving in the right direction; all the television stations are out of South Bend, and even our weather forecast area is Northern Indiana (they throw far southwest Michigan in there as an afterthought). We want to live in Michigan, though, not Indiana.

So I think we’re going to make a weekend trip to the Ann Arbor area this spring, just to check it out. We don’t think we can really afford to live there (not in Ann Arbor proper for sure, but maybe in a smaller town that’s 30 to 45 minutes away). It will still be fun to see, though.

In the meantime, they’re supposed to be building a VA hospital in South Bend to service all the people like us who are completely stuck out – we have to drive two hours either to Michigan (Battle Creek) or Indiana (Fort Wayne) or Illinois (Hines) to get care for Dave at a proper VA hospital. He does go to a clinic in South Bend for minor things, but anything major (including his Hep C treatment) has to be done at a hospital. The South Bend hospital was originally supposed to be done this year but I believe they still have not even chosen a site for it yet, so we aren’t holding our breath.

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.

Reviews: Pretty Lingerie for Real People; XO VoxBox

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.

Update:  My XO VoxBox is here!  I put up a board on Pinterest so you can see all the goodies.  My favorite item is definitely the Adore Me lingerie.  My least favorite is the Lands’ End discount.  I absolutely love Lands’ End and was excited when I found out they were part of the box.  The discount, though, is $25 off $100.  I will never spend that much money right now, it’s just not in my budget.  Oh well.

The John Frieda Frizz Ease Beyond Smooth hair products are fantastic.  They are silicone-free, smell great, and really help tame my frizzies.  The SkinFix lotion is a little greasy for my taste, but I actually love it on my legs after I shower.  (I just prefer my hand cream to be absorbed better.)

We already use and love Tide laundry detergent, but had never tried the pods with Febreze.  Big thumbs up from up — they smell great and our clothes really get clean.

All in all, this was a fantastic box of samples.  If you haven’t tried Influenster yet, you should check them out!

* 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.

1604646_10153087443658627_3496093753545864826_n

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.

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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.

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