Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bully

We finally got around to watching the documentary Bully yesterday.  Have you seen this?  You should see it.  If you were ever bullied, if your kids were ever bullied, if your kid is a bully, or if you just have a heart in general, you should watch this movie.

I was not a popular child.  I was quiet and shy, and I was usually lumped in with the ‘brains.’  This was fine with me, because social interaction in school was tough on me.  It was too loud to hear well in the cafeteria, and I couldn’t hear whispers in the classroom.  My goal every year was to try to find at least one good friend that would stick with me during recess and lunch.  I never had a big group of friends, but one friend was all I needed and I usually managed that pretty well.

I was probably taunted more than I realized, since I couldn’t hear what was being said unless it was to my face.  I wasn’t physically tormented very much – I do remember one big girl in elementary school who would slam me from behind when I was sitting at my desk.  When I got glasses, I was helpfully told by one of my friends that people were calling me ‘four-eyes.’  Things like that.

I was always picked last for teams in gym.  I never really understood the rules for team sports because it was too hard to hear the teacher in the huge, booming gymnasium.  So I’d hit the softball, for instance, and then I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do…keep running until I got back to where I started?  I didn’t understand that I had to get on the base, and I didn’t understand the concept of stealing bases, although my teammates were all yelling instructions to me (and I couldn’t understand what they were saying).  To say that I hated gym class with a passion is an understatement…although I did okay in individual things like gymnastics and roller skating.

I remember writing a story when I was in elementary school about a kid being tormented by her peers, and the teacher gently admonishing me, saying she was sure things like this didn’t really happen.  I don’t have the paper anymore – I think I wrote about the girl being kicked and pushed down – but I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, it happens…I know, because it happened to me.”  I’m pretty sure that’s when I realized adults don’t really understand what it’s like to go to elementary and middle school as a slightly unpopular, shy child.  Kids are mean.

Dave talks bitterly of what he went through as one of the smallest, poorest kids in school.  He was enrolled in kindergarten when he was four years old, so he was always smaller than the other kids.  He learned at an early age that the only way to get people to leave him alone was to go nuts on them – if they think you’re a little crazy, they won’t bother you.  As we talked about the movie last night, he mentioned, “Yeah, it sucked being at school…but that was nothing compared to what I had waiting for me at home on the foster farm.”  So his perspective is different from mine; at least I had the relief of a comforting home waiting for me when the school day was done.

Eric, I’m sure, can tell lots of stories of elementary and middle school hell.  He was a big kid, though, and Dave would always tell him, “If someone’s giving you crap, just pick up a chair and whale on them with it.  I guarantee they’ll never bother you again.”  Eric already had a bit of a problem with controlling his anger so I would intervene and tell him that no, this was not the way to handle things (then turn to Dave with wide eyes and upraised eyebrows, mouthing, “Don’t tell him stuff like that!!”).  Eric put up a protective shell and went in the opposite direction, being just about as unconventional as he possibly could, absolutely shunning peer pressure to look and dress like everyone else.  He took pride in being as different as possible, especially in high school.  It was to the point where, on Crazy Dress-Up Day, when other kids were wearing the goofiest things they could find, he wore jeans and a t-shirt…and many people didn’t even recognize him.  He customized all his clothes; I still remember him being told to take off a suit jacket he had customized because the teacher decided it was offensive.  (There was something on the back…a song title, or lyric?…that had the word ‘die’ in it, I think.)  So he handled his issues in a way that was completely unique (and luckily, he never did bash anyone over the head with a chair!)

Paige dealt with bullies all through school, poor kid.  I think it was worse than I ever knew; she became very good at keeping things to herself and making up stories.  It would come out in little ways; she would get a dress or skirt that she absolutely loved, but then refuse to wear it to school.  After a while, it would come out that she had been teased before when she wore a skirt…and she never wore a skirt or dress again, until she was almost done with high school.  She would make friends and they would turn on her; I think it made it really hard for her to trust people.  She started cutting in high school.

At the end of freshman year, completely out of the blue, she told us she wanted to move to her dad’s house.  We were stunned; things at home were great, so it wasn’t that she was having problems with me or Dave.  Eventually she told us she was getting seriously bullied on the bus and at school, kids were calling her names and she didn’t want to go to that school anymore.  The school year was almost over at this point, but we felt so badly when we realized what she’d been going through; we had no idea at all, so we couldn’t intervene.  With a heavy heart, I agreed to the move and she spent the summer at her dad’s.  When she came back for a visit on her birthday, she asked to move back home and of course we agreed.  But she still had issues with various kids, and it broke my heart to see her trying so hard with people I could tell were not real friends to her.

At one point in the documentary, a boy named Alex is being terribly tormented on the bus.  It’s bad enough that the filmmakers get worried for his safety, and they show the footage to his parents and the school.  His mom sits him down for a talk, and at first I wasn’t sure what she was getting at.  She was asking if it made him feel good to be choked and pushed; she told him, “Friends don’t make you feel this way.  These people are not your friends.”  I couldn’t believe that he really felt his tormentors were his friends, until I remembered that Paige was the same way.  She would take so much abuse from people and make excuses for their behavior.  Alex looked at his mom for a while and then he said, in a quiet voice, “If they aren’t my friends…then what friends do I have?”  And she just looked at him – I could see her heart breaking.

For Paige, it all came to a head when she found a Facebook page where her ‘friends’ were saying unbelievably horrible things about her.  It was painful for me to read; I can’t imagine how it made her feel.  These were people who had invited her to their birthday parties, people she really thought were her friends.  No matter how many times Dave and I tried to tell her that a friend doesn’t treat you that way, she just would not believe us.  Until she found proof.

She was hysterical, and Dave was in a white-hot rage.  He printed the pages and took them to the police station.  I was terrified he’d end up in jail; he was so angry that if he’d gotten his hands on the kids, he would have landed them all in the hospital.  The police actually took action, and an officer went with Dave to the home of every kid that was involved.  Dave said the police officer really let them have it; he was impressed enough by what the officer was saying to the kids that he only got overly hot under the collar once (after which, the police officer casually mentioned that, ahem, he might not want to say that to the next kid).  It scared them all enough that they left Paige alone after that (or at least, that’s what she told us…hopefully it’s true).  The school was also notified and they were basically worthless; Dave and the police officer were the only ones who made a difference.

Not every kid has someone to stand up for them.  And as parents, we have that fine line between being helicopter parents and getting too involved, doing too much for our kids, and not doing enough.  A big message from the film was that the kids need to tell us what’s going on.  We can’t help if we don’t know.  I spent a lot of time yelling at the screen, especially at the school officials who seemed to be handling things the wrong way.  It will make you think, it will make you angry, and it will break your heart.  But you should still watch this movie, if you can.  It comes out on DVD in February.

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Let’s Hear It for the Boy

I just finished our taxes, tentatively (as usual, we’re missing a few documents that never seem to arrive before early February).  Normally I’m not in any rush to do them because we never get a refund, and if we do it’s usually very small.  I used to do them in late February, which guaranteed that I’d have any stray documents being mailed from various sources.  Now, though, we also have the FAFSA to contend with and everyone is always stressing the importance of filing the FAFSA as soon as possible in January.  It makes me feel guilty to wait until the end of the month!  I know you can estimate everything and then go back in and change it but that just doesn’t sit well with my personality; I prefer to do it once and be done with it.

So I finished the taxes yesterday and printed a 1040 to use when I filled out the FAFSA this morning.  (This is the federal application for student financial aid, for anyone who doesn’t know – it needs to be filled out every year that you have a dependent child enrolled in college.)  There’s a minute chance I could get some document that might change my numbers slightly, so I’m not mailing my taxes off until I get all the documents, just to be safe.  But it’s basically done, we broke even, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief.  Still, though, I always get slightly panicky when I do my taxes.  I always feel like I’m going to get audited, even though I’m not hiding anything or doing any slick tax maneuvers.  I just always worry that I’m filling things out wrong, and, I swear, if we start another business I am not doing the taxes…I’m going to pay someone else.  The stress isn’t worth it!

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In less stressful news, we took a ride out to Eric’s new apartment a couple days ago.  It’s a three-bedroom (that he shares with two girls) situated over a Thai restaurant in the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago.  He was so excited to have us over; when we parked the car and stepped onto the sidewalk, I turned and saw him running toward me with a huge smile on his face.  It’s a really great place, with wood floors, big rooms and tons of space – the kids look like they are having a blast, and they even have a huge area they call the ‘craft room’ where they do their art projects.  It reminded me of when I was in my 20s, going downtown to meet a pen pal who was visiting Chicago from his native Hawaii.  He was staying with a friend who had a big loft apartment downtown, and I walked in and was just kind of blown away.  It was completely the opposite of the way I was living at that time (married, with my first house) and it kind of made me wonder how much I was missing out on.  It just looked so cool and bohemian, you know?  And there I was all settled down in the suburbs.  I like that Eric is really out there, experiencing life and having all kinds of fun experiences in his 20s.  This was always his dream – to live in Chicago, have lots of like-minded friends, get a chance to flex his creative muscles (he’s back into fashion design).  The best part was listening to him talk and seeing how genuinely happy he is.

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This morning I was checking the weather on my Nook and I saw the exclamation point that signifies some kind of weather event.  I clicked it and saw WINTER STORM WARNING so I squealed excitedly and clicked again to check out the details.  Turns out that a Winter Storm Warning isn’t issued just for snow…it’s also issued for ice.  Which I hate.  So now we’re making tentative plans in case this storm actually materializes and we lose power.  We have a generator now, so that’s a big load off our minds, and Dave took me downstairs to show me how to light the fireplace (which we never, ever use…I actually couldn’t remember if we burn real wood or if we have those ceramic logs).  (We have ceramic logs, by the way.)  We buy our food week-to-week and really don’t stock up, so even if we did lose some refrigerated food, it wouldn’t be a huge loss…not like if we had a chest freezer filled with steaks or something.  Dave is out right now stocking up on birdseed and I added hand warmers to the list, for the hedgehog.  Did you know they need to stay warm so they don’t go into hibernation?  They do.  So we have to keep his cage around 72-78 degrees, ideally.  He has a ceramic heater that obviously won’t work if we lose power, so the plan is to use hand warmers (wrapped in fleece) and put him in a Rubbermaid tub for the duration (to better hold in the heat).

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Dave and I are trying this intermittent fasting eating plan.  It’s called the 8 Hour Diet, a name that I hate because it includes the word “diet” which this isn’t.  I’ve tried so many diets and eating plans over the years and none of them mesh with my personality well.  Weight Watchers made me crazy obsessive; all I thought about was food and points, and I had spreadsheets and calculators, and I was stressed out because I had to try to figure out the points for all of my homemade dinners…argh.  Anything that restricts food just turns me off; I can do it for the short term, but there’s no way I can go the rest of my life never eating bread, or dairy, or sugar, or whatever the latest “no no” is regarding food.  I enjoy reading other people’s exploits with Atkins, no sugar, vegetarian, Paleo/Whole 30, etc. but I know I don’t have the fortitude to do that myself.  Eventually I go back to normal eating and blow it all.

My main issue is portion control – we don’t eat fast food or processed food, we eat a wide variety of veggies and good-for-us ingredients (except fish, which Dave is allergic to), we have at least two vegetarian meals each week…but it all tastes so good that I eat too much of it.  Lunch was especially a problem for me, working from home – I would wait too long, then I’d be ravenous and just eat way too much.  Dave’s sister mentioned that her family was doing this 8 Hour Diet thing and at first the ‘diet’ part made me wary.  Then I started reading about it online and I thought, what the heck…let’s give this a try.

I haven’t read the whole book yet so I won’t go into great detail on why or how it’s supposed to work, but the gist is that you give yourself an eight-hour window to eat and you fast for the other 16 hours.  The book claims you can all you want! whatever you want! during those eight hours but I think that’s silly.  I’m still exercising my usual caution and eating good-for-me foods in normal portions.  You also exercise in the morning, before you break your fast.  The book says to do it for eight minutes, but I always do at least 10 and lately it’s been more.  I like it because I start out thinking, “Okay, I only have to do this for eight minutes…” but then it goes by so quickly that I just keep going.  Somehow, starting out and thinking, “Oh God, I have to do this for 30 minutes” is enough to keep from starting to exercise at all.  So even though it’s not much, it’s way more than I was doing!

We’ve been doing it for five days now and the last time I checked, I was down two pounds which is cool.  The main thing I’m finding is that this has solved my portion control issue.  You can pick whatever eight hour window works best for you; we’re doing it from 10-6, meaning we eat breakfast at 10 (or later) and finish eating by 6 pm.  We usually sit down for dinner around 5:15, which is about an hour earlier than before.  So I eat breakfast, and then I figure I better eat lunch by 1:30 so I can have an appetite for dinner (which I generally start cooking between 4 and 4:30 pm).  I’m not very hungry at 1:30, so I’m eating less.  I was never very hungry in the morning anyway, so I’m still eating the same (normal/minimal) amount for breakfast.  And now I’m taking smaller portions at dinner – we have a lot of leftovers!  I’m not ever hungry in the evening after dinner.  So for me, this is helping me keep my appetite in check and I feel a lot better in general – less full and ‘heavy,’ so to speak.

It works for us because our schedule is pretty flexible and we are almost always just hanging out in the house, so I can start cooking dinner at such an early hour.  You also can do this eating plan as little as three days per week (we’re doing it every day because…why not?)  You can change up your eight hours of eating too, if you need to, so it’s pretty flexible.  We’ll see how things go – I just like it for the way it’s recalibrating my portions and my appetite, which was my biggest issue.

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I’ll leave you with a picture of Eric (and, in the background, one of his lovely roommates) living it up in the Big City!

Eric (and Tess) in his apartment

Eric (and Tess) in his apartment

Doctor Dolittle

Today was ‘clean the hedgehog cage’ day; it comes around every two to three weeks and it involves emptying the cage out, washing the wheel (where Spike does most of his …business…) and replacing the fleece liner on the floor.  I usually wait until I’ve got everything out, and the wheel cleaned, before I attempt to pick up my prickly grandhog.  He gets moved to a temporary home while I replace his liner and re-stock his cage.

Dave realized what I was doing and excitedly asked if I was going to pick Spike up soon.  “No,” I said, “I usually wait until the very last minute before I do that.”  He seemed disappointed, and I explained that Spike isn’t like our other animals – he really doesn’t appreciate interaction with humans.  (He doesn’t mind his ‘mom’ picking him up, but even Paige mentioned that he takes a lot longer to warm up to her now that she’s away at college and can’t interact with him as much.)

Cleaning progressed, and I bundled Spike into his extra fleece to pick him up and transfer him to his temporary box.  Dave wandered into the room shortly after.  “Oh!  You picked him up already!”

“Well…yeah.  He really doesn’t appreciate his grandma messing with him too much.”

Next thing I knew, Dave was lifting fleece-enrobed Spike from his box, cradling him and crooning to him in the same voice he uses for the cats and, well, any animal he talks to.  I watched as he carried him around the house, introducing him to the sleeping (and very uninterested) cats, carrying on a one-way conversation all the while.  He eventually sat down with him and tried to coax him out of the ball he was curled into.

Spike the Hedgehog

Spike the Hedgehog

This is what I love about Dave.  He can tell all kinds of stories about his rough-and-tumble past, but when it comes to animals, he’s a big softy.  I always felt you could tell a good person by how they treat animals and children.

One of the things I still remember about the first time or two he met the kids was a tender scenario that played out while I watched from inside the house, sick with a horrible cold I’d caught at the last minute.  Dave took Paige outside to burn off some of her 3-1/2 year old energy; she was riding her tricycle up and down the sidewalk in front of the house.  Every now and then, she’d stop and Dave would bend down to the sidewalk in front of her.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  After they came in, I asked Dave what he was doing.

“Well, Paige was worried about riding over the worms so I was moving them out of the way for her.”

Sigh.  Yep, he’s a keeper, I thought.

Over the years, we added quite a few animals to our home, thanks to Dave.  He was the one who took Paige to the county animal control (aka the ‘pound’) and found our Cockapoo, Toby, in 2000.  He was also out with Paige when they came across a guinea pig being given away for free at our local pet store…Seymour was presented to me as a birthday gift, the first guinea pig I had ever owned.  That ballooned into a whole thing with a two-story cage made from cubes and coroplast, and research that pointed out that guinea pigs get lonely by themselves…so of course we had to adopt more guinea pigs (from a local rescue organization).

When we discovered feral Maxie and her kittens, Grace and Alice, living in our enclosed deck in 2006, Dave didn’t hesitate when I brought up the possibility of trapping them, getting them spayed/vaccinated, and keeping them.  Our household grew instantly from two to five cats.

When Paige was going into her junior year of high school and desperately wanted a hedgehog, I put my foot down.  “Not until you get a job and can take care of it financially,” I insisted.  They required special food and an exotic animal vet if veterinary care was required…definitely not inexpensive.  Plus the cost of a hedgehog alone was fairly expensive.  One day as we took our morning walk around the neighborhood, Dave talked me into fronting her the money for the hedgehog.  “I think the responsibility of taking care of it will be good for her,” he reasoned.  So it was thanks to Dave that Spike joined our home (and yes, Paige did pay me back for all the money he cost in the beginning).

Then a couple days ago, the weather started turning cold.  Like, bitterly cold, down near zero at night.  We provide a few outdoor cats with food and water, and we were suspecting some of them might be living in our enclosed deck like Maxie was a few years ago.  Originally we weren’t sure if these were feral/stray cats or just pets allowed to roam – they really don’t look thin or rough the way she did when we first trapped her.  But since we’re still seeing them in this really cold weather, I’m starting to think they may not have homes to go back to and I’ve been worrying about them.  When we got advance notice of a wind chill advisory that was going into effect last night, I started doing some reading on stray cats and winter weather.

“I don’t know, hon…this says it’s better for them to have a smaller enclosure because they’ll stay warmer than if it’s a big area.  Our deck is pretty big and I’m not sure how warm they’ll be…maybe we should make something for them,” I worried.  I figured Dave would just nod and murmur reassuring words, since he’s used to me worrying about nearly everything.

I went about my morning, getting some packages ready to ship, and realized I hadn’t seen Dave for a while.  Then I started hearing weird noises from downstairs.  Before long, he came up the stairs and motioned for me.  He had made an outdoor cat enclosure!  I couldn’t believe it – just one chance comment, and he went downstairs without a word and made a perfect outdoor kitty home.

We set it up by our lower deck – we have a smaller, lower deck attached to the larger top deck.  I didn’t even think the cats could get into the lower deck (Maxie was in the larger deck when we found her – it’s easy to get to from under the stairs that go from the top to the lower deck).  We watched yesterday as one of the outside kitties ate lunch, then went down the stairs and jumped up and into our lower deck.  Son of a gun!  So we know they’re using that; hopefully they’ll notice the smaller enclosure nearby as well.

Stay tuned…if we do move and get some land (if we end up living in a more rural area, that is) then Dave insists that he wants some goats.  To be continued…

The Butterfly Effect

Every so often, I get a request from Advanced Bionics to mentor a person who qualifies for a cochlear implant and has questions, or would just like to talk to someone who already has one.  It’s strictly volunteer; I don’t get paid for doing it and I can choose whether or not to accept the mentoring opportunity.  The majority of my mentoring has been done online, via email.  This past weekend, though, I got the chance to talk with a fellow who lives in the area and was hoping to talk to a CI recipient face-to-face.

He and his wife came by and spent a few hours talking to me and Dave.  We really enjoyed talking to them, and we found that we had a lot in common regarding this invisible ‘disability’ of ours.  We were the first hard of hearing/deaf people he had ever met in person.  I can remember what that was like, meeting my first hard of hearing (HOH) friends.  Growing up, and into my early 30s, I had no friends or even acquaintances with hearing loss.  I was the only person in school with a hearing loss (that I knew of, anyway).  All of my family members, friends, boyfriends and my first husband were all ‘hearing people.’  It is such a relief to finally talk to someone who gets what it’s like to have people assume you’re stuck up or rude because you don’t respond to them, someone that knows what it feels like to have people assume you’re doing fine because you can hear a certain sound…but they don’t get that just because you hear it doesn’t mean you understand what you’re hearing.

In late 1996 through 1997, I was a single mom with two young children, working full time and getting used to doing things on my own.  I was going along okay, feeling pretty proud of myself for my coping skills, when I got a raging, horrible ear infection in my good ear.  (At this time, I had a severe loss in my left ear and was profoundly deaf in my right ear; I wore a hearing aid in my left ear, which was my ‘good’ ear.)  I used to get periodic middle ear infections from having an ear mold in my ear all day long; they were painful but I could deal with them.  This one, however, was beyond anything I’d ever experienced.  I was running a high fever and in so much pain that all I could do was cry.  I saw my ENT, and he actually had to place antibiotic-soaked cotton down inside my ear with some kind of instrument (I cringe just remembering this!) because my ear canal was so swollen that drops would not go down inside to where they needed to be.  He also prescribed antibiotics, as well as Vicodin for the pain.  Usually I can’t take Vicodin; it makes me sick to my stomach.  I broke the pills in half and, let me tell you, it was the only thing that would even bring me a touch of relief.

I was off work for a week as I dealt with this, and my parents took the kids for me.  The cotton deep inside my ear, combined with the fact that I couldn’t wear my hearing aid, rendered me completely deaf during that time.  It was my first experience with total deafness, and it scared the crap out of me.  I realized I was not really that far away from being deaf, and that I had no coping mechanisms in place for it.  That’s when I got my bed shaker alarm clock, and started looking into online support groups for people with all forms of hearing loss.  That’s when I got my first deaf and HOH friends.

I joined a mailing list, which still exists today, called the Say What Club (SWC).  When I introduced myself, I explained my hearing history and what I was currently dealing with, and expressed an interest in learning sign language.  Everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and I was amazed at how good it felt to talk to other people who knew what it was like to deal with hearing loss.  One of the people who welcomed me was Dave, and that is how we met.  He sent me a huge box filled with books and videotapes on sign language, since he used to teach it.  I was blown away by his thoughtful gesture, and I really liked the way he expressed himself in writing, so we became fast friends.

At the time, I was casually dating (a couple guys from work, a couple people I’d met online) and really having no luck with it.  I was getting fed up with dating in general and was about to swear off any kind of love life for a few years, until the kids got older.  It wasn’t worth the hassle.  Dave was just a few years out from his bone marrow transplant, and he felt it wasn’t fair to get into a relationship with someone because who knew if his leukemia would come back or if he might have some other complication.  So we were just friends, writing emails and meeting up with other SWC friends in chat rooms.  I can remember kind of yelling at him about his reason for not dating somebody – I mean, we could all die tomorrow…is that a reason to pass up an opportunity for love if you find it?

As 1998 came along, I could tell he was starting to like me as more than a friend.  We hadn’t met in person, and I tried to discourage him because I knew what it was like to meet someone in person after knowing them online.  You kind of fill in what you don’t know with your ideal image of what you want in a person; once you meet them for real, it’s kind of hard for them to live up to that imagined ideal.  He basically blew off my warnings, sure that everything would be just fine.  I was nervous, worried that he’d meet me in person and be truly disappointed, and then our friendship would be awkward and weird.  I didn’t really tell anyone about our burgeoning relationship; this was back when meeting someone online was fairly rare and everyone was convinced that the only people who would do that were serial killers and psychos.

We made some tentative plans, and then our actual meeting ended up being really spontaneous.  It was the end of March, and my plans with a friend from work had fallen through.  It was early Friday night, the kids were at their dad’s for the weekend, and Dave called.  As we talked, I mentioned my now-free evening and he said, “How about if I come over?”  I thought he was joking, but that’s exactly what he did!  He drove from his apartment in Michigan which, at the time, was over four hours away.  He got a little lost so he didn’t arrive on my doorstep til nearly 11:00.  This was before the days of cell phones (especially for hearing impaired people) so I just had to wait and wonder if he would ever show up.

When I opened the door, I was so scared.  I mean, what if I hated this guy in person?  And he was there, in my house…how would I get rid of him?  It wasn’t like a date in a restaurant, where I could make an excuse and leave.  My first thought was that he was shorter than I pictured; I was standing a little above him in the doorway, while he stood further down on the porch.  When he stepped in, smiling broadly, I realized he was actually the perfect height for me (I’m barely 5’1” and he’s 5’8”).  We hugged, he proudly showed me the WebTV device he’d brought along (this was how he accessed the internet — no computer for Dave) and we started talking.  It took me about five minutes to realize everything was going to be just fine; he was basically the same in person as he was in email –  funny, articulate, interesting and kind.

That was nearly fifteen years ago and the rest, as they say, is history.  We dated long-distance for a couple of years, and then Dave moved here from Michigan.  We got married Feb. 2, 2002 – we’ll be celebrating our eleven year wedding anniversary in just two weeks.  All of that from one chance gesture, reaching out to connect with people in the same boat as me.  Ain’t life grand?!

Fun, Fun, Fun

Thirteen years ago, I won a thousand dollars.  It was a really stunning event for me, one of those people who never wins anything.  It was a Mother’s Day contest run by a website called ClubMom (which I believe evolved into CafeMom).  Every day, for a whole month, you could submit an online entry form and hope to either win a daily prize or the big grand prize at the end of the month.  I bookmarked the entry form and dutifully entered every day.

I was absolutely shocked to get an email one day telling me that I had won a daily prize:  $500.  I actually didn’t even believe it at first, not until I saw my name listed as one of the daily winners about a week later.  I was even more shocked – dumbfounded might be a better word – to find out I had won another $500 a week or so later.  I didn’t even know you could win more than one daily prize!  All I can imagine is that this was in the early days of the website and not many people knew it existed, or perhaps not as many people went back and filled out the entry form every single day.  (It’s kind of a pain in the ass – I personally hate when you have to enter a contest every day for weeks on end…but I still do it because, hey, it sometimes pays off!)

So it was all very exciting, and I printed off the pages that showed my name as a winner (I still have them tucked away in my file cabinet somewhere).  I didn’t know how long it might take to get the money, or if I really would get it.  Sure enough, though, about a month later I had a slip in my mailbox telling me I had a certified letter that I needed to sign for…and there they were, two checks for $500 each.

I started thinking about this because last night, as we looked at our non-winning lottery ticket, I pondered whether I would use a cash windfall for something fun or use it towards our massive debt.  The debt was winning out, because that’s what I’ve been doing the past few years; any time we get some unexpected cash (mainly from an eBay sale that’s more successful than we expected) I use the money to pay bills.  I was telling myself that I just don’t have it in me to splurge with unexpected money.  And then I remembered the thousand dollars.

When I cashed those checks, the first thing I did was give each of the kids $100 to spend.  They were little at the time; this was May of 2000, so Eric was nine, about to turn ten the next month, and Paige was five and a half.  This was a lot of money for two little kids, and it was so fun to see their faces as they shopped and bought whatever they wanted.

I spent the rest on a family vacation.  We never, ever took vacations; we just couldn’t afford it.  Even $800 wasn’t much to spend on a vacation for a family of four.  But I lucked out and found a cute cabin right on Lake Michigan and we spent a whole week that summer in Muskegon, Michigan with the kids and our dog, Toby.  It was low-key, fun and relaxing – we went fishing, played in the lake, went to a local Fourth of July celebration.  I never regretted spending that money on the family.

Yesterday Dave and I were talking about the fact that we’ve never been on a plane together.  Neither of us has been on a plane in a long, long time – for me, it was the summer of 1998.  It’s been even longer for Dave.  I have no idea what it’s even like to board a plane now, with all the restrictions and security measures.  But one of these days we’ll do it – we’ll take a plane ride together, see some sights, take a vacation.  For now, we vacation in place and spend imaginary windfalls.  I’d like to think that if I come into some money like that again, I could spend some of it on fun like I did back in 2000.  🙂

Moving Forward

Things seem to be slipping back into a normal routine around here.  The Christmas decorations came down about  ten days ago, and Paige headed back to college on Thursday.  All the big holiday feasts are behind us, Christmas cookies are long gone, and I’ve started thinking about our next celebration:  our anniversary, which is just three short weeks away.

Every year we exchange ‘traditional’ gifts, not usually anything big (for ‘paper’, Dave got me scratch-off lotto tickets and I got him a book, for instance).  Just something fun to commemorate the day.  This year, Dave asked me what the traditional gift for 11 year anniversaries was, so we looked it up together.  Steel.  Hmmmm.

The first thing I did was crow, “Oooooh, you can get me a knife!”  He loves to tease me about the fact that I use my Wusthof chef’s knife nearly every day.  I just love the thing.  I use it for just about everything except cutting bread.  Dave, on the other hand, uses this small paring knife with a wooden handle for just about everything.  I don’t know how he can do it – he’ll be chopping up this big-ass onion with this tiny paring knife.  Sometimes we’ll switch off when we’re making a meal together and I have to take over from his chopping….I just can’t do it.  I have to go get my real knife.  He claims this little knife just feels right in his hand; it makes my hand fall asleep, and I feel that my chef’s knife is the only one that’s comfortable to chop with.

So he knows I love my knives…but do I really need another one?  (Maybe!)  Then we talked about going in together on one gift we’d both use, like splurging on an All Clad stainless steel skillet.  We have a whole set of wonderful stainless cookware that was originally my mom’s, but it’s all pots of various sizes and no skillet; we do have a nonstick Calphalon that’s starting to get a little worn out.  But Dave eventually decided he wasn’t comfortable with a stainless steel skillet; he’s convinced everything will stick to it.  So we let the discussion drop, and now I’m still pondering ideas for a steel anniversary gift.

So as I mentioned, Paige is back in school.  It’s really hard for me to get used to the whole college “they’re adults and you are not allowed to have any information” thing.  After surviving two kids’ worth of K-12 public education, where parents are expected and encouraged to be heavily involved in their kids’ schoolwork, grades and behavior in school, it’s a major shock to suddenly have no idea what her grades are, if she’s even going to class, and just to have no idea in general about how she’s doing.  It’s like adding insult to injury, because you’re already trying to get used to the empty nest aspect (in my case, anyway – Paige is my youngest).  Of course, the school has no problem sharing tuition bills (in her name, mind you, not ours) with us.  On the contrary, they are very happy to have our utmost participation and involvement where money is concerned.  I’d really rather they be secretive about the tuition, and instead share her grades and progress with the same ease they currently share her debt.

This is the month we’re supposed to put the house on the market, or at least meet with a realtor to find out if it’s even feasible at this point in time.  We still have a lot to do, though, and I’m not quite sure we’ll meet the ‘end of January’ deadline we gave ourselves.  I’m a little terrified to do this, because I don’t want to hear potentially bad news.  I imagine the realtor just gasping with laughter when we tell him or her what we need to sell the house for, in order to pay off the mortgage…especially after I check what other houses in our area are selling for.  (We still have a lot of foreclosed houses around here that are really bringing down the average ‘sold for’ price in our neighborhood.)

This was so much easier back in 1988/89, when I sold my first house.  Back then, there was no internet in which to search and compare local home prices (the realtor did that, in the privacy of her own office) and thus no freaking out on my part because houses in the area were selling for way less than we needed to sell our home.  There were no TV shows about house flipping and new home buyers, so I was blissfully unaware that our house was a piece of crap if it didn’t have gorgeous all-wood floors, and granite countertops in the kitchen.  We just blithely listed the house for the price we wanted and waited for it to sell, never even considering other houses that might be compared to ours.  It is just terrifying to take this leap and wait for perfect strangers to criticize this house, which is the best we can make it on the money we have right now.

On a less stressed-out note, we have finally, finally got a date for the start of Dave’s Hepatitis C treatment ‘adventure’.  He has to start with a class (!) on January 31.  The nurse who called him to set it up told him to “make sure you bring reading glasses, if you need them, because there’s a lot of paperwork you have to fill out.”  I had been telling him all along that I wanted to go, and he wasn’t so keen on the idea.  But I happened to be sitting there when he answered the phone, and I pantomimed/signed to remind him to ask if I could go as well.  I just know he has a hard time hearing in a group setting like that, and the nurse he’s been talking to has an accent, which makes it even harder for him to understand.  I really wanted to be there to take notes and make sure he doesn’t miss vital information, as well as just to hear it all for myself so I know what to expect and what he’ll be going through.  Happily (for me, I’m not sure how Dave feels about it!) she told him they prefer people to bring someone along, because it’s a lot of information to process.

We still aren’t sure exactly when he’ll start treatment, but this is the most progress we’ve had in about two years so it’s a very positive step.  Wish him luck!

Have It Your Way

Right after Christmas day, Paige left to go to her dad’s and to visit a college friend.  She was gone for about 10 days, and she got back on Sunday night.  I knew she was coming back and I adjusted our week’s worth of menus accordingly.  (I do a meal plan weekly, and I grocery shop based on that.)

Paige is a picky eater, like her brother and her mother before her.  However, unlike me and Eric, she is not really at the point where she’s outgrown her picky food preferences.  She actually seems to be getting a little worse, because there are a few meals I used to make that she always liked and then after eating them 3 or 4 times she decided she no longer likes them.

She doesn’t like chunks of onion or tomato; no green pepper at all.  I can get around this by blending things with the immersion blender so they’re smooth.  Certain things she just will not eat, even if I leave out the offending onions and such: chili, sloppy joes and stir fry come to mind.  She’ll eat broccoli though, certain pasta dishes, she loves meat loaf and chicken rice burritos (as long as I blend the salsa component first!)

So as we’re talking over the week’s menus, she confesses that she ate chili at her friend’s house.  This is not an uncommon occurrence; I can remember Eric doing the same thing when he had dinner at a friend’s house.  They will eat something just to be polite, even if they may not be crazy about it.  I asked if she liked chili now, because I had some frozen from our last batch (we always make too much for just two people) but nah, she said still wasn’t crazy about it.

Since she’s home so infrequently now I do tend to make sure I’m making something she likes when she’s here.  Before she left for school, I’d split it up…maybe 3 or 4 meals I knew she liked, and the rest of the time she was welcome to eat what we were having, but if she didn’t like it she would just make her own meal.

I can remember doing this when I was a kid/teenager/young adult.  I hated onions, beans, green peppers, even barbeque sauce.  I would eat chili without beans, I never had barbeque sauce on my food (I’d get the plain grilled chicken or whatever), if we we were having stuffed peppers, I’d eat the filling but not the pepper.  I would pick out the beans from my vegetable soup.

I never, ever had anything on my hamburgers except ketchup.  I hated lettuce, mustard, pickles, all that stuff.  (I still do, actually.)  Remember the Burger King commercial?  “Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way.”  Well, that was ME, folks.  If we were ordering from a fast food place, we would place our order and then have to pull the car over while they cooked my hamburger because it was just so rare (I guess) to have someone who didn’t want it piled with everything on it.  My mom and brother still talk with irritation about having to do that!  (Nowadays it seems to be no big deal – I still get most things plain and then add my own ketchup later, if I’m eating fast food at all, which is rare.)

I got much better about food as I got older, and especially in the last ten years.  I’m still what I consider to be a picky eater, but now I’m willing to try things once or twice before I decide I just don’t like the way they taste.  I’ve been trying to add new things – especially vegetables – into our food lineup as a way to broaden my culinary horizons.

I still don’t like raw vegetables, which means I don’t like salad.  I hate salad dressings, mayonnaise, vinegar (although I will use it as an ingredient or in a marinade…just don’t like it as a prominent taste).  I don’t like anything that smells bad to me, basically, and it boggles my mind that people can eat what I consider to be nasty-smelling things and enjoy them!  To me, the smell gets in the way of anything else.  I put parmesan/romano/asiago cheese, mayo, vinegar and mustard in this category.  I made this frittata a few months ago, and it sounded delicious – caramelized onions, mushrooms and Gruyere cheese.  I had never tried Gruyere so I did some internet searching to see what people said it tasted like.  It didn’t sound too offensive and nobody mentioned a bad smell, so I got some and made the frittata.

Well, I could tell the cheese had a bit of a smell but it wasn’t as strong as parmesan, so I went ahead and used it.  As soon as the cheese hit the frittata and the heat, this horrific smell engulfed the kitchen.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  Dave smelled it too, and finally we realized it was the melting cheese.  We ate the frittata and the taste of the cheese wasn’t bad – I didn’t hate it – but the smell was just too much.  Every time I brought a forkful of food up to my mouth, I just smelled this cheese and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  It made me want to gag.  I gave the rest of the Gruyere to my mom.

I know most people don’t even think it smells bad, so maybe I just have an extra sensitive sniffer…who knows?  But I just do ingredient substitutions…mozzarella is my go-to cheese substitute.  Dave hates parmesan/romano/asiago cheese too (and thinks it smells bad) so at least we’re on the same page there.  But he likes mayo and mustard and relish, he eats salad and raw vegetables – I just have to be far away from him when he’s eating something ‘smelly’ so I don’t gag. 🙂

I do like vegetables, by the way…I just like them cooked.  To me, they are completely different in a cooked form – broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, greens like kale and spinach.  I dislike the taste of lettuce, even after trying it many times.  I don’t mind raw tomatoes but they usually tear my stomach up so I have to limit them.  But I’ve made progress in the veggie area – I never, ever ate salsa before and now I love it.  I never ate mushrooms – in fact, I never even cooked with mushrooms until the past year or so.  Same with squash – acorn, butternut – and I love them now.  I never even tasted kale, and never cooked with spinach or added it to food, until the past couple of years.  And I love barbeque sauce now!  I just had to find ones that I liked – I prefer sweet, smoky, spicy BBQ sauces and not ones with a lot of vinegar.

A couple years ago I signed up to test recipes for America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated.  They send recipes via email (sometimes once a month, sometimes more frequently) and you complete a survey after you make the recipe.  You have to follow it exactly as far as ingredients and instructions/cooking method, obviously – the point is to see if the recipe works as written.  You don’t have to test every single recipe (I pass on anything with fish because Dave is highly allergic) but I’ve made myself test recipes I normally would never make, just to keep exposing myself to new foods and cooking methods.  It doesn’t pay anything, but in a way it does…it really has helped me learn new cooking techniques, taste things I normally would not taste, and it’s fun too!

As a semi-reformed picky eater, I know what it’s like to have to eat something I find truly offensive.  I’ve always been more relaxed with the kids because of this – we used to have them just try the food, and if they hated it then they could make an alternate meal (when they were younger this was usually a PB&J sandwich, fruit and milk to drink).  They did realize some things that looked gross to them were actually tasty, so it was successful for us without causing big battles at the dinner table.  But it does seem that our palates expand as we get older; Eric eats pretty much anything now, and he’s far less picky than I am.  (This is a kid who would not eat SOUP when he was little, much less any food that was ‘touching’ or mixed together like a casserole.)

If your kids are picky eaters…take heart.  It (usually) does get better!

Being Bionic

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 the latest 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 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 wear a CI and a hearing aid.  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 CIs, I’d be happy to answer (if I can…I’m not really up on the technical aspects of things, for instance).

Boy, Was My Face Red

On this day 16 years ago (!!), I started a new job.  I was terrified, I’m not ashamed to admit, as I sat on the visitor’s couch waiting for my new boss to come out to the reception area to claim me.  It was my first full-time job since 1990; after my kids were born, I had switched to part-time hours at the place I worked previous.  I was rusty anyway, whether full- or part-time, because I’d been staying home for the past two years after my youngest was born.  I had dropped my kids off with their new daycare lady, and that alone was nerve-wracking.  (Would they hate it?  Did they miss me?)  I wasn’t sure I could even do the job I’d been hired for, but providing for the family was solely my responsibility; I was new to the single mom gig as of the past couple months.  I had to make this work.

After waiting a while, I heard a brisk clack-clack-clack from down the hall, and saw my new boss rounding the corner.  I stood up and smiled as she came to a stop in front of me and demanded, “Why are you here??”

To say that it wasn’t the greeting I expected would be a gross understatement.  I was horrified and embarrassed, to say nothing of confused.  What had I done wrong?

It turns out she wasn’t expecting me on that day; in fact, I got the impression she didn’t feel she had actually given me the job.  She just seemed completely stunned that I was there, and I couldn’t tell whether I had shown up on the wrong day or if I had somehow seriously misunderstood and she just plain didn’t want me there.  I mean, she had called in December to offer me the job, told me the starting salary, we agreed on my starting date…it was all just very bizarre.  To this day I still don’t know what the problem was; the only thing I could think of was that perhaps I misheard her on the phone and she said January 7th, not January 2nd.

I didn’t know what to do, so I asked if she wanted me to leave.  She shook her head, all irritated and rushed, and said, “No…I mean, you had to arrange daycare for today, right?  Just wait, let me see what I can do.”  So I sat back down, really embarrassed now as the receptionist watched with a look of pity in her eyes, and my new boss rushed away.

Eventually she came back with my welcome packet and a nicer attitude, and the day improved from there.  I ended up working at that company for five years, until my administrative assistant position was eliminated and my boss (the same lady from day one) went on extended medical leave.

This year could mark a career change for me, and in the back of my mind I’m always considering possible jobs or entrepreneur opportunities.  When I think about how scary it is to re-enter the job market after working for myself for so long, I just have to remember that day 16 years ago; if I could survive something that uncomfortable and come out okay, I can probably handle whatever gets thrown at me now.  🙂

The Year of Pie Crust

Either last year or the year before, I can’t remember, I set a goal to learn how to make pie crust.  I knew it was simple ingredient-wise, but something in the actual technique just eluded me.

Every now and then I’d make my own crust, and it was okay…nothing to write home about.  I’d flop it into my dish and smash in all the pieces that broke off so that they actually covered the surface of the dish.  It made a huge mess and was basically a pain in the ass and, to me, it didn’t taste any better than a store-bought pie crust.  Why go to all the bother?

I make a couple of savory dishes that use pie crust (chicken pot pie, sombrero pie) and we like fruit pies as well, so I make pie crust often enough that it started to bother me that I couldn’t conquer this simple recipe.  I mean…flour, water, a fat of some kind and salt (sometimes sugar).  Why is it so hard?

So anyway, I set this goal…I was not going to be afraid of pie crust anymore.  Every time I read about people succeeding in their pie crust endeavors, they would say you need to practice.  After a while you get the feel of it.  That makes sense, so I decided I would not buy any more pie crust.  I would make all of them, and I would learn from my mistakes, and I would not give up.

And so it goes.  I did some reading to figure out what recipe might become my go-to recipe.  What fats are better:  all butter, all shortening, all lard, or a mix?  I tried them all to see what tasted better.  As I did this, I worked on my technique.  Did I find it easier to mix everything by hand, or did I prefer doing it in the food processor?

It was slow going, folks.  I made a lot of pie crusts that were, um, interesting.  I learned that I need some shorter countertops in our next house, because at just over 5’1” I can barely get the leverage I need to work the fats into the flour by hand.  (I would often take the bowl and pastry cutter over to the kitchen table, which is 6-8” shorter than the countertops.)  That’s why I avoid anything that involves kneading or rolling things out – Dave makes all the bread, and sometimes I need to get a step stool out when I roll out the pie crust.  Frustrating!

But I didn’t give up.  I chose my food processor as my preferred mixing method.  The pie crusts slowly got better, and I narrowed my recipes down to two and then one, which was simple and quick.  I fairly quickly eschewed shortening in favor of butter and leaf lard.  I did a lot of reading on lard, an ingredient that used to make me gag when I thought of it.  I found out the grocery store lard is very different (and very bad for you!) compared to lard that you render yourself (or buy from someone who renders it).  We tried rendering lard from regular pork fat, which wasn’t bad, and then we happened to find a local meat packing place that had ever-elusive leaf lard for a really good price.  Dave and I were shocked to find out how easy it was (and inexpensive!) to render our own leaf lard, especially after we researched prices and locations to buy it already-rendered.

In November, I was getting ready to make an impromptu apple pie and a King Arthur Flour catalog happened to be lying on the counter.  There was a recipe for pie crust inside and I figured, what the heck…I’ll give this a try since it’s right here.  I’d had months and months of pie crust success and it was going to my head a bit.  I got started and right off I noticed that their recipe used less fat in relation to flour than my usual recipe.  It didn’t stop me though; after all, King Arthur Flour had to have a good pie crust recipe, right?!  So I went along and as I worked the fat into the flour I could tell something was wrong.  I should have just added more butter and lard but nah, I stubbornly pressed on.  I added the amount of ice water the recipe called for and still just had a big floury mound.  I finally added about 4 times the water in the recipe before I could get it to hold together.  The kitchen was a mess from all the fussing I was doing with this dough, I was frustrated and pissed off, and I had a bad feeling as I slung the round saran-wrap covered disks into the fridge to chill.

When it came time to roll out the crust, I really knew something was off.  All that practice was paying off, to the point where I could just feel the way the dough should be as I rolled it out.  The texture was wrong, it was too stiff…hoo boy.  I still made the pie, but I warned Dave that we might be picking out the filling and tossing the crust in the garbage when we ate it.

My friends, it was the worst pie crust I’ve ever made in my life.  It was a shining example of how truly bad a pie crust could be.  We could barely cut through it with a knife, much less a fork.  You had to vigorously chomp down and tear the crust like a wild animal just to get a bite.  It was bad.

I really needed that, you know?  I needed to see how much I’d learned in my pie crust education, and I needed to realize it was better to trust my instincts than to just blindly accept what I knew was probably not right.  I knew that I’d finally reached that point where I could tell how a pie crust dough should look and behave.  I went back to my tried and true recipe.

So last night, New Years Eve 2012, I made an apple pie.  I had another new recipe, one that came at the end of a very informative article on why pie crust behaves the way it does, how to achieve the flakiness, how and why you want the fat incorporated into the flour.  I liked the article – it made sense – and the recipe appealed to me because it gave the flour quantity by weight rather than cups, which I think is more accurate.  It was just a touch fussier than my go-to recipe but not enough to put me off.  I was wary as I went along, knowing what happened the last time I tried a new pie crust recipe, but as I shaped the two balls into discs to be refrigerated, I knew it would be okay.

That was my best-ever pie crust.  It was what I’ve been working toward all this time – flaky and tender and delicious.  It confirms that I will never again say that store-bought pie crust is just as good as homemade.  Practice makes perfect.  (Or pretty darn good, anyway.)

Here’s to 2013 and more perseverance, more knowledge, and reaping the good rewards they bring.

We call this one 'Angry Pie'

We call this one ‘Angry Pie’

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