Monthly Archives: February 2013

Apropos of Nothing

Sometimes I make notes about things I want to remember to write about here.  If I can, I try to stay on one topic for a whole post…but sometimes the little anecdotes I write down are just that: anecdotes, and unrelated at that.  So here are a few random snippets to start the week:

Last night, Dave and I watched a really entertaining movie, 2 Days in New York.  Mingus (Chris Rock) is dating Marion (Julie Delpy), who is French, and her family comes from France to visit for a few days.  He doesn’t speak French, and her father doesn’t speak much English.  (Her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, Manu, speak English and French.)  One hilarious scene features a family dinner; Mingus is seated at the end of the table with Marion’s father, Jeannot, and Manu, who attempts to translate the conversation for Jeannot.  The translations go hilariously wrong, and Jeannot makes some comments to Mingus, in his accented English, that make no sense in relation to what Mingus was originally saying.  You can see the confusion on his face as he tries gamely to carry on a conversation that has veered off in a nonsensical direction.

Dave, in the midst of his laughter, turned to me and said, “That’s what it’s like for me!”  Seriously, when you have a hearing loss and you’re trying to carry on a conversation with a bunch of people, it happens so easily.  One minute you think you’ve got a handle on the subject matter, then the next thing you know you’re making a comment that makes no sense to anyone else, or asking a question about something that’s just been discussed.  It’s times like this when it helps to have a sense of humor!

******

When I was a kid, I used to run really high fevers (I’m talking 104 or so).  It was a pretty regular thing with me when I got sick; I was never the type to just have a temperature of 100 or 101.  In fact, that was originally what my parents assumed caused my hearing loss.  I was a toddler…maybe 18 or 20 months?…and I got roseola.  My temperature shot up really high, like 106 or so, and they put me in the hospital.  My mom said they put me on a bed with ice (or ice packs, maybe) to cool me off; when the nurses left the room, she would pick me up and hold me because I was turning purple from the cold.  My hearing loss wasn’t discovered until I was around 4 years old; by that time, nobody was sure what caused it and we always assumed it was caused by that high fever (or perhaps the antibiotics used, which might have been ototoxic).

So anyway, this weird thing would happen to me when I was young and feverish.  I still remember it very well, and I imagine it happened all through my early childhood.  (I can remember being in junior high and being sick with a fever, and realizing that it no longer happened – I couldn’t will it to happen or experience it again, so it seems like it was connected to early childhood somehow.)  I would leave my body and float to the corner of my ceiling.  I know it sounds crazy, but I swear to God it happened.  I can still remember what it looked like, being up there and looking down.  It was always the same corner – the front left corner, which was to the left of my bedroom door.  I could look from there towards my bed.  It wasn’t scary, it was just a hazy experience when I was completely burning up with a fever.  It would happen if I just kind of let go and didn’t think about anything too much.  I just assumed it was something that happened to everybody; I’m not sure if I ever mentioned it to my parents (or, if I did, if they believed me).  I was actually startled when I realized it wasn’t happening to me anymore, and like I said, I tried to go back into that meditative state and see if I could make it happen, and I couldn’t.  It was just one of those inexplicable young-child experiences I had almost forgotten about.

******

I’ve mentioned before that Dave and I test recipes for Cooks Illustrated.  I like doing it because it gets me out of my food comfort zone and gets me to try new things and learn new cooking techniques.  Since the whole point of testing the recipe is to see if the instructions are clear and the ingredients work as they should, you really have to follow the recipe precisely – exact measurements and times, no ingredient substitutions, the same size and type of pan the recipe calls for, that kind of thing.  Well, Dave is a rebel when it comes to cooking (and, well, to life in general).  He really hates being told what to do, and almost never follows a recipe when he cooks.  I’m the complete opposite – I measure and follow the recipe every time.  The most I might do is change up ingredients and cooking methods after I’ve made the recipe the first time (as stated), but even then I make notes on the recipe and follow my notes.

Every time we test a recipe, I have to watch him, and remind him that we’re testing this recipe so we have to follow it precisely.  I can see the expression move across his face; he wants to resist, but he knows he can’t.  So I always have to keep an eye on my kitchen rebel – I know he really, really wants to do it his way.  It’s the one time I can boss him around and he can’t argue with me!

I Love the Library

In keeping with our plan to tighten the purse strings this year, we canceled our Netflix subscription a couple of months ago.  Now we rent movies from the library, which has worked out well since our library has really expanded its DVD selection over the past year or two.

We were visiting the library recently to return some DVDs and pick up new ones, when it just hit me…that feeling I get when I walk into a library.  I love the quiet hush of a library, all the displays of books, all the long racks with thousands of books to choose from.  That feeling of possibility and excitement – it’s free and I can choose so many books to read, if I wish.

As a kid, I absolutely loved the library. I still do as an adult, but it was different when I was younger – all that free time I could fill with good books!  Our town library wasn’t close enough to walk to (or I would have been there every day), so I had to hope my mom or dad would give me a ride and then pick me up.  (I actually don’t remember if they waited for me or came back for me, to be honest.)  I used to add little pockets and check-out cards to the books I owned, just in case anyone wanted to check them out from my own ‘library.’  I was fascinated with the whole process – getting my own library card, using it to check books out, watching the librarian stamp the due date on the card before she slipped it into the book pocket.  It was such a reassuring ritual.

At one point I remember setting a goal to read all the books in my town’s library.  I got a couple rows through the As in Fiction before I gave that up.  It was always fun to just scan the rows of books and pluck out the ones with intriguing titles.  Sometimes I would go with the intention of checking out specific books or a specific author, but oftentimes I would just browse and find completely new and unplanned books to read.  I also used to just flip through the card catalog to find books that sounded interesting, especially on certain subjects.

Over the years, things at the library changed.  The stamped cards gave way to bar codes that were scanned in order to check out the book.  My beloved card catalog is now a thing of the past; we use computers to look up books.  Oh, it was hard getting used to that!  I remember our local library kept the card catalog for quite a while, but also gave patrons the option of using one or two computers to find books.  I always used the card catalog, until it was removed and I was forced to use the computers.  I did find a silver lining though – I figured out how to dial into the library computer system with my dial-up modem so I could look for books from the comfort of my own home.  How modern!

Now the library has e-books, DVDs and video games in addition to books and magazines and who knows what else.  It’s kind of amazing all the things you can do at your local library; I’m sure I don’t know half of the services mine offers.

On a hearing loss-related side note:  Our library recently added theft detection devices right by the entrance.  Well, I should clarify:  They had such devices for many years, but recently upgraded to a different type.  I noticed this because now when I walk between the theft detection things, my CIs completely shut off.  I mean, I become instantly deaf.  I also get a little dizzy, and it’s a really icky feeling, so now I make sure to slip both the magnets from my head before I enter or leave the library.  I think it’s got to do with some kind of magnetic frequency that they use, but it’s unlike any other theft detection device I’ve ever walked through and I really dislike it.  I’m always afraid it’s going to scramble my CI programs, even though I know that’s crazy.

A few years ago, Dave and I bought a NookColor.  This was back when they were first introduced and you had to put your name on a waiting list.  For us, it was pretty expensive and it was our joint Christmas gift to each other – we wrapped it up and it was the one gift with our names on it under the tree.  I really resisted buying an e-reader; I felt they were crazy expensive (this was back when Kindle was the only real option and it was something like $599).  I still really, really liked holding a book and reading it.  I couldn’t see why I would ever want electronic books.  Dave basically agreed with me but he’s always been more open to new technology than I’ve been so he wasn’t as vehemently against it as I was.  It was his idea to spring for the Nook when we got it; he wanted to hack it and turn it into an Android tablet.

So we got the Nook.  And it was fun, but I still pretty much shunned it.  I’d use it here and there, mainly if I was waiting for Dave (he had a lot of tests at the VA hospital that year, so I had many days where I was waiting four to six hours for him the waiting room).  Dave was the primary Nook user; I stuck to my paper books.

After a year or two, Dave managed to get an HP Touchpad when they were doing their fire sale; it became his birthday gift that year.  He handed the NookColor down to me.  I was fairly baffled, and it took me a long time to figure out the Android system and apps and all that.  I started forcing myself to use the Nook more to get used to it, but I still kept reading actual books as well.  I’m an active Paperback Swap member and I really enjoy getting a new book in the mail, basically for free (I use my PBS credits to order them) and mailing out my own books when I’m finished with them.  It appeals to my thrifty nature.

But I started to see the appeal of e-books.  I liked being able to check them out of the library (although the selection isn’t near as good as the actual books the library has).  I really, really liked being able to change the font size; that is probably the biggest appeal to me, with my aging eyesight.  And I liked the lighter weight – all you have to hold is the e-reader, which is quite light compared to, say, Under the Dome by Stephen King.

So I’ve become a semi-convert.  I usually have two books going at a time now:  one on the e-reader and one actual paper book.  (Right now I’m reading Giant George: Life with the World’s Biggest Dog on the Nook and Personal History [by Katharine Graham] as my paper book – it came from Paperback Swap.)  This suits me well.  Dave, however, will not touch a paper book with a ten-foot pole.  He is amazingly firm about it.  For instance, I got the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed from the library.  I knew he wanted to read it as much as I did, and I finished it fairly quickly (I loved it) so I still had a ways to go before it had to be returned.  I offered it to him and he flatly refused; he read it on his tablet instead.  If a book isn’t available in e-book form but I can find it for him at the library or through Paperback Swap, he just will not read the book at all.  So stubborn, this man!

Still though, nothing compares to holding a real book in your hand.  So many of my fond childhood memories are of books (Nancy Drew, The Story About Ping, Heidi, numerous Little Golden Books, all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, A Wind in the Door and A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, Judy Blume…I could go on and on).  Many of these books I kept and they are still on the bookshelf in my room.  Some of them I read to my own kids.  Eric and Paige have favorite books too, and I have them saved in my hope chest for them.  It just wouldn’t be the same with an e-book.

So anyway, I still get that warm, fuzzy feeling when I walk into a library.  Even though our library is all modern and updated, it still feels nostalgic to me.

Found inside one of my old books: First signature, then: "Written w/ink cartridge pen VERY carefully..." After that, "6th grade, regular writing" with my "regular" signature, apparently.  I was a weird kid!

Found inside one of my old books: First signature, then: “Written w/ink cartridge pen VERY carefully…” After that, “6th grade, regular writing” with my “regular” signature, apparently. I was a weird kid!

Situation *

Sometimes I think about the weirdest things.  Earlier today I was thinking about all those boot camp scenes you see in movies, where they have a drill sergeant marching the guys along and yelling out that call and response thing.  (Dave told me it’s called ‘cadence.’)  You know what I mean, right?  Well, if I was in that situation, I’d be screwed.  The drill sergeant would yell out his thing, and when everyone repeated it I’d just be mumbling and hoping he didn’t notice that I wasn’t really repeating it.  Because, of course, I wouldn’t know what the heck he was saying.

Oh, I hate call and response situations!  We encounter them at concerts and presentations; we had them come up at both the kids’ college orientations.  Sometimes I can figure out what I’m supposed to say, but usually I fake it.

This got me thinking about other situations that I, as a deaf person with CIs, and Dave, as a hard-of-hearing person, really hate.  We talked about that today as we worked side by side, putting dinner together (chili, in the crockpot…can’t wait).

The first thing I thought of is people talking to me through a door.  I don’t think Dave encounters this as much as I do; it’s probably more of a girl thing.  People love to chat when you’re in a public bathroom.  This always makes me freeze – if I’ve come in with someone else (you know that girls hit the restroom in packs whenever possible!) then I’m not sure if it’s them talking to me, or if it’s someone else in the bathroom talking to some other person.  Not only can I not understand what’s being said, but everything sounds weird in a bathroom with all the tile everywhere and (usually) background noise like music or dryers going or toilets flushing, so voices are hard for me to recognize.  If I know for a fact that I’m alone in the bathroom with the person I walked in with, then I feel like a big jerk not responding to them.  It’s okay if it’s my mom or daughter, because I’ll just remind them that I can’t understand them.  But I used to have this happen a lot with other female acquaintances that I didn’t know that well and who often didn’t even know I had a hearing loss.  It was such an uncomfortable situation!

It also happens in dressing rooms.  Helpful clerks will knock on the door and ask questions and that makes me nuts.  To understand them, I have to open the door and have them repeat the question while I read their lips, and I’m usually in a state of undress.  Just leave me alone, people!  When I was in high school there was a popular store in the mall, Merry Go Round, that I finally learned I should never go into, because the sales girls always, always knocked on the door and chatted when I was in the dressing room.  They’d ask how everything was, if I needed a different size, or they’d try to get you to come out so they could ooh and aah over how the clothes looked on you (and try to get that sale).  It stressed me out so much that I stopped shopping there even though I liked the clothes.

I also hate when someone knocks on the door of either a public bathroom or a dressing room.  At Goodwill, I’ve had dressing room attendants knock and then open the door on me because I didn’t respond.  Talk about embarrassing!  I couldn’t tell if they were knocking on my door or someone else’s, and it caught me so off-guard that I didn’t know how to respond.  In the time it took me to stand there and think, Did they knock on my door?  What do I say…hello?  I’m in here?  Uh…what should I do… I would hear the telltale sound of the key in the lock and see the knob turning.  Usually I have enough time to cover up before they open the door and expose me to the whole damn store.  The bathroom is the same way – I just freeze and don’t know what to say.  Sometimes I say nothing, other times I just yell, “Occupied!” and hope that it was really my door the person was knocking on.

Let’s see, what else…oh.  Talking into my ear.  Please don’t do that!  It doesn’t help me hear or understand you better…it just means I have to crane around and try to get your face in front of my face again.  This goes hand-in-hand with whispering, which was the bane of my existence as a kid.  Kids like to whisper!  I felt like such a dork, having a kid whisper to me and then just looking at them cluelessly.  I turned down a lot of sleepover invitations because of this (whispering combined with darkness…girls whispering after the lights are out…a nightmare for me) and also sleepaway camp for the same reason.  I know my mom probably thought I was just clingy but this was a big part of why I never wanted to stay overnight anywhere.

Dave’s ‘crappy situation’ contributions were restaurants, cashier chit-chat, and events in big auditoriums or loud situations (especially the open houses and orientations we went to for the kids at school).  All of these involve loud environments and unpredictable conversations.  I can always tell when a cashier has stumped Dave with a comment or question he wasn’t anticipating.  Sometimes I can jump in and save him if I’ve been paying attention and lipreading.  I’ve mentioned before that we usually don’t go to restaurants, but if we do we try to get a booth along the wall, and Dave makes sure to face his good ear in the direction of the waitress.  I do a little better now in these kinds of environments thanks to ClearVoice knocking out the background noise, but Dave still really suffers, poor guy.

Of course, we both hate drive-thrus, another thing I’ve mentioned before.  It’s a good thing we don’t do a lot of take-out!  You just never know what kind of goofy question they’re going to throw at you, if the speaker system is going to be clear or staticky, or if the person talking to you is going to have an accent you can’t understand.  It’s not just food though; we also encounter uncomfortable drive-thru situations at the bank and the pharmacy as well.  In those cases, we try to pull up to the window on the building, so we can (hopefully) see the person’s face and lipread if they have questions.

How about talking to someone in the dark?  Nothing is more uncomfortable than sitting around a campfire or sitting outside at night and trying to talk to a group of people (especially those you don’t know very well).  Again, this is something I dealt with more as a young person ; now we just avoid those kinds of situations if we can.  Every now and then, though, we get invited to do something like this and we do go…we just don’t talk very much!

To end this on a more positive note (I’m starting to sound like a crabby curmudgeon here), I know I talked before about what it’s like for me at the end of the day, when I go to bed and everything is silent.  In the morning, though, I go from total silence to instant sound, and it’s like the part in the Wizard of Oz when everything changes from black and white to color.  I never know what my first sound of the day will be.  Sometimes it’s just silence; I’m in the bedroom, usually alone, when I put my CIs on.  Sometimes it’s really loud, because I have a tendency to put my CIs on right when Dave is grinding coffee beans in the kitchen.  But today, the first sound I heard was loud, rumbly purring.  Beanie was sitting at my feet, looking up at me.  She went from silently (to me) staring to loudly purring in the space of a second.  What an awesome way to start the day!

Miss Beanie, staring at you

Miss Beanie, staring at you

* This song is by Yaz.  LOVE!

Shades of Gray *

I started going gray at a really young age – I want to say 17 or 18.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but my mom (who is a hair stylist and has been cutting my hair since I was in high school) found it lurking on top of my head during a haircut.  At the time it was more of a novelty – I plucked it out and went on my way.

My natural hair color is a really dark brown – there are strands of auburn in the sunlight but mainly just dark brown.  Because of that, gray hairs really show up against my dark hair, and over the years I noticed more and more gray.  I kept plucking them out until it got to the point that I couldn’t keep up and/or would have gone bald if I plucked every gray hair I saw.

In high school, my mom really advised against me coloring my hair and I took her advice to heart.  I can remember her doing at least one henna treatment on me – it brought out the red/auburn shades that I really liked – but mainly I just avoided hair color until my gray hairs started to really bother me.  I was probably in my late 20s or early 30s by then.

I started coloring partly to lighten up the dark brown color and add some red, and partly to cover up the few gray hairs that I had.  It got to the point where I just really preferred myself with hair that wasn’t so dark, and I started keeping up with the color fairly regularly.

When I switched to a more natural hair care regime back in 2010 (called the ‘Curly Girl’ method – you can read about it at http://www.naturallycurly.com) I was concerned with my hair color routine.  I wanted to go with something a little less harsh, so I switched from the drugstore brands I was using (Clairol, Garnier) to Naturtint, which doesn’t have ammonia.  Because of the no-ammonia thing, it’s not really useful for lightening your hair much beyond two shades lighter, but that was fine with me.  It’s been fabulous – no bad smell, less harsh on my hair, and I really like the color I’ve been using.  (I use 5C, Light Copper Chestnut – my hair doesn’t get as light as the picture on the box, because it’s so dark to begin with, but I get a lot of red strands throughout my hair where the gray is now, so it’s a good compromise.)

I generally go about six weeks between colors, sometimes more.  I kinda lost track this last time and realized it had been a while since my last color and I didn’t have any Naturtint on hand.  I order it online; it’s cheaper than buying it in the store (I can only find my shade at Whole Foods and it is much more expensive there than online) and I don’t have to pay sales tax, although shipping usually negates the tax savings.  Anyway, by the time I got the hair color ordered and in-house, I was sorely in need of a root touch-up.

You’ll almost never see me comb or brush my hair, except if it’s wet and has conditioner in it (I use a Denman brush, if I use a brush at all, in the shower).  But before I color my hair, I do go through it with a large-tooth comb just to get out any tangles and to hopefully dislodge any styling products that are still in my hair.  As I did this last week, I stopped short and looked closer in the mirror.  I pulled my hair back from my face, holding it in a ponytail, as I inspected what nature had wrought.

My face was completely framed in gray hairs.  I always wondered, when people would talk about wanting to color their grays and would get asked what percentage of their hair was gray, how you would know.  I mean, I color my hair, so how do I know how much of it is really gray?  Well, based on what I saw in the mirror, I realized I could probably stop coloring my hair and have at least 50% gray hair within a year, most likely.

This really gave me pause.  I mean, I’m not ready to stop dyeing my hair just yet; I’m only 48, and I envision waiting until I’m in my 60s to go gray.  But I know, probably in 15 or so years, I’ll start letting nature take its course.  If I had lighter hair, I might just keep coloring it.  I think it looks more natural on someone older with blonde hair, not such a stark contrast.  But I think I might look a little strange as a mature lady with obviously dyed dark auburn hair.

As I thought about this, I commented to Dave, “Think how weird I’m going to look when I go gray.  It’s going to almost be like going blonde!”  I mean, talk about a completely different shade than I’m used to.  The auburn that I use is still really close to my natural color since there’s no real color lift in the hair color I use.  But gray instead of dark brown with auburn highlights?  Wow!  It makes me wonder if I should start coloring my hair a much lighter shade of brown as I get closer to 60, to make the difference not so obvious when I finally go gray.  Give myself a chance to get used to seeing my face with lighter hair framing it, you know?

I think gray hair is pretty; I just hope when I do bite the bullet and let my gray hair grow in, my hair is evenly gray and not mostly brown with a big gray patch, or just gray around my face and nowhere else.  I envy all those older male actors with dark brown hair who seem to just get that perfect salt and pepper blend of gray and dark brown as they age.  My mom was horrified when I told her I’d probably just let it all go gray someday, but I think she thought I meant sooner rather than later.

Someday I’ll be the short lady with a head of wild, curly gray hair…but for now, please pass the hair color!

My hair color -- if you look closely at the top, by my part, you can see some of my dark brown uncolored hair too.

My hair color — if you look closely at the top, by my part, you can see some of my dark brown uncolored hair too.

* Not a sly reference to the naughty books, by the way…this is actually the title of a Monkees song.  🙂

Deaf Notes

Every night, I follow the same routine.  After my contact lenses are out and my pajamas are on, I take both of my CI processors off.  They consist of three parts:  the rechargeable battery, the actual processor, and the T-Mic earhook (the part that hangs over and into my ear).  I leave the processor and T-Mic attached but I slip off the battery from each processor and slide them into my battery charger.  The CI processors go into my Dry & Store unit, which does a good job of removing any moisture that’s built up.  I nestle my processors in with Dave’s hearing aid and ear mold, turn the unit on, take off my glasses and get into bed.

I don’t fall asleep right away – I usually read and mess around on my Nook tablet for at least an hour.  Dave does the same with his tablet.  We usually don’t talk – it’s just too much of a hassle.  Besides being deaf, with my glasses off I’m so nearsighted that I need to basically be about an inch from something to see it.  I read with my tablet pretty much touching my nose, and even with Dave lying right next to me, I can’t see him well enough to lipread him unless I have my glasses on.

I really do miss being able to just lie in bed and have a casual conversation with my husband.  If we need to talk, I put my glasses on and he uses the tablet to highlight his face better (we just have our bedside lights on when we’re reading at night).  Sometimes he has to lift his head up onto his hand so I can see his mouth better.  There’s no tossing off a quick comment about something he’s reading – I can say something to him, though, since he can still hear me well enough with his hearing aid off.

So last night we’re reading, and I’m in my silent world, and I notice Dave get up and leave the room.  He goes into the bathroom, comes out and turns on the hallway light…which is definitely unusual behavior.  I just had to know what he was doing!  When he came back, I put my glasses on and asked him what was going on.  He answered, using the slower, more enunciated manner of speaking that he uses when I have my ‘ears’ off.  (I asked him once if he also talks louder, and he laughed and admitted that he does.  He knows I can’t hear him but it’s just habit.  However, he is very, very good about slowing his speech down to a degree that I can usually lipread everything he says with no problem at all.)

I furrowed my eyebrows.  “Airy…something?”  He tried again.  Again, it looked like he was saying ‘airy’ and then a word I really couldn’t figure out.  I shook my head.

He grinned and made the sign for bird, then scrunched his face into an angry expression.

“Bird!  Oh – Angry Bird!”

Dave laughed and nodded, and went on to tell me that he’d stepped on something coming out of the bathroom, which was why he turned on the hall light.  One of the cats had dropped their Angry Bird toy right by the doorway, apparently.

“That is so weird…I really didn’t see the ‘ng’ part of ‘angry’…it totally looked like you were saying ‘airy’!”

Usually if we have trouble like this, Dave will completely rephrase his sentence or fingerspell for me.  But every now and then we just do our own version of sign language like this, and it gets the message across.

We were watching Switched at Birth last night, which features many deaf people as well as hearing people that sign.  I enjoy catching the signs that I recognize, which admittedly aren’t many.  The hearing people always speak while they’re signing, and I noticed they usually sign what they’re saying, in the same order they say it…not every single word, which I believe would be Signed Exact English, but the words they sign are usually the same as the ones they’re speaking.  I don’t know ASL but I know a little about it, and the signs aren’t always in the same order as they would be if you spoke the sentence.  I asked Dave if he thought they were doing ASL or something else, and he guessed maybe Pidgin Signed English.  That’s closest to what we do, when we sign.

It made me wonder if there are any classes that teach PSE.  As I’ve mentioned before, there aren’t any ASL classes around here other than the super-expensive community college class.  I think, though, if I were going to take sign language (and I really, really want to!) I would want to take PSE since that’s what Dave and I use, and he’s really the only person I sign with.  We’ve rented videos and looked online at sites, which is fine, but it would be so cool to find an actual class we could attend together.  I’m keeping my eyes open – who knows!

Not All Candle Makers Are Hippies

When you picture someone making candles, what do you see?  Admit it…you imagine a hippie with a long gray ponytail, decked out in tie-dye, dipping taper candles into a big vat of wax.  Hell, even I used to think that.  Every time we see a candle maker, or chandler, in a movie or TV show, that’s how they’re portrayed.  Well, I’m here to tell you that most of us are not hippies.  And I haven’t worn tie-dye since junior high in the late 70s.

I realized I never really talk about my day job here, and that’s mainly because for many years our candle business was really booming.  I didn’t want to take the chance that a customer might somehow happen upon my blog.  Oh, believe me, I had some stories to tell!

Now though, the business is winding down.  It’s been about a year since we’ve made candles with wicks; we stick to tarts (or melts) now, which is scented wax that you melt with a (usually electric) burner.  You’ve heard of Scentsy?  That’s what we make.  (Except better than Scentsy, of course!)  We sell the electric melt/tart/candle warmers, and the ones that work with a tealight too, although I prefer the electric ones because I think they’re safer.

Anyway, we knew we’d lose a lot of business narrowing our focus the way we did (although the melts are hugely popular, which is why we stuck with them instead of just closing the business altogether).  It worked out well because it gave us time to focus on the house updates we needed to do, and it’s better that we aren’t so busy with Dave’s Hepatitis treatment on the horizon.  So it just feels like I can talk a bit about what it’s like to make candles now.

When we first started, it was just a hobby.  I love candles, scented ones especially, and in 2000 that was pretty much what I told everyone I wanted for Christmas.  Just a month later I picked up a book on candle-making, thinking it would be fun to just make them.  Well, I was hooked.  I mean, obsessed.  I joined forums and mailing lists, bought all kinds of wax and fragrance oil samples, and went to town.  And I learned pretty quickly that it was NOT cheaper to make my own.  But that didn’t stop me!

Dave got involved, especially in the technical aspects of things.  We found out that you need a different kind of wax to make different kinds of candles – they have different melt points.  A lower melt point would be used in a container candle, for instance, but not a pillar…because you wouldn’t be able to get the candle out of the mold.  It would be too sticky.  And once you add fragrance oil, it can further change how the wax behaves.  And wicks!  There are so many kinds of wicks, for every type of candle and size of container.  It was mind boggling.

I never planned to turn my hobby into a business, but I got laid off in April of 2001 and used my free time to set up a website for the candles I was making.  We’d been testing them for four months at that point and felt confident in what we were producing.  I just happened to get the website out there at the right time, and had enough free time to get links to the site on a bunch of craft mall sites and similar type places.  Without even trying, we ended up at the bottom of page one on Google if people searched for ‘candles,’ which is a really generic but popular term.  It made our business skyrocket, and then word of mouth and loyal customers just furthered the momentum.

As a side note, it’s not like that anymore…we don’t even show up in Google if you search for scented wax melts, which is our specialty now.  Google has changed a lot over the years and screwed the small businesses like ours, and it’s a big reason our sales have declined.  It’s a sad development but there’s not much we can do about it, so we just stick with our loyal customers and do what we can.

Anyway, a day of candle making involves a lot of measuring and a bit of math.  You have to have grungy work clothes that you don’t mind getting smeared with wax and fragrance oil.  Your fingers end up dyed from the dye blocks and liquid dye.  But you smell really good!  I remember going out after we finished working and having people sniff the air around us and comment on how good we smelled.

In the summer, it was HOT.  We had a makeshift oven we used to keep our glass pouring pots warm, and I would put the container candles in there so they could cool off slowly (it helped prevent sink holes).  We had melt pots going for four different waxes (pillar, votive, container, tarts) and in the beginning, five melters because we made gel candles too.  We use Presto pots to keep our wax warm (the only wax you can microwave is soy wax, which we tried and abandoned because it performed terribly compared to paraffin).  All these melters were going and we had heat guns blasting (to heat the sides of the molds)…it could be brutal in the summer!

Everyone always thought it was so easy, but so much went into every type of candle we made that it was impossible to have someone help us if we got swamped.  You had to measure the melted wax, keep it at a certain temperature, add a certain percentage of fragrance oil based on the size and type of candle you were making, know what wick to use and how to center it and keep it centered so it wouldn’t pull to the side while the wax cooled.  It was also dangerous; more than once, I grabbed a bottle of fragrance oil or liquid dye and shook it up, only to have it fly everywhere because the cap was loose.  One time a pot of wax tipped over – we had turned the pots on to get the wax melting and then left the workshop for the time being.  We came back and the pot was overturned, with wax all over the floor.  Never did figure out what happened there – we can only imagine one of the cats did something to knock it over.  Because we just never could be sure what might happen, and the wax we worked with was over 200 degrees, the kids were not allowed anywhere near the shop when we were working.  I always cringe when I read about people having their 5 year olds make candles with them!  As the kids got older, they did help us with chunk candles and party favors – they would put labels on the bottom of the votives, put chunks of wax into the molds, things like that.

I loved the creative part of it, especially getting new fragrance oils and testing them.  We learned some interesting things – certain scents would burn with a ‘fuel’ smell to them, especially citrus and peppermint.  We really worked to find oils that burned true in those areas.  It was so, so hard to get fuschia, a color that was fairly frequently requested.  It’s a dark pink, and it’s really hard to get that without veering into red.  We also had a lot of people request periwinkle…but everyone has a different idea of what color it really is.  Some people imagine more of a blue, others more of a light purplish color.  We learned to always ask for a color sample from people asking us to make finicky shades like that.

Speaking of color…argh!  Nothing was trickier than color.  I toyed with the idea of putting a color chart on the site, but it was just impossible.  We could use the 3 drops of red dye in 12 ounces of container wax and the same amount in the same quantity of pillar wax, and we’d end up with pink containers and red pillars.  (Container wax always gives more pastel shades.)  There was no way to consistently get the same shade time after time.  If we got an order for two votives (the little guys that you put into small cups to burn), I’d shave off a little bit of block dye with a knife.  You couldn’t use liquid dye for such a small amount of wax; it would clog the wick and the candle wouldn’t burn properly.  So there was no way to give that person the same color if they came back and ordered 12 of the same votives…for that much wax, I’d use liquid dye.  I could talk for days about the different things that affected color, but mainly it was the type and quantity of wax, and the fragrance oil.  Some oils were clear and some were almost dark gold; you couldn’t get white candles from a dark fragrance oil, even with white block dye.  You could get an off-white, maybe.

We had one customer, in the early days, who ordered a peach-scented pillar.  Peach is another weird color; everyone has different ideas of what it should look like.  Most commonly it’s a light orange with slight pink tones, which is what we made.  (We used liquid and block dyes that were aptly named ‘Peach.’)  We sent off this pillar, and a couple weeks later we got it back in the mail.  The customer had not contacted us first, so we were really surprised.  She included a nice note with the candle, and a color swatch from her wallpaper.  Turns out she wanted the candle to match her wallpaper, which was a very light tan color.  She never mentioned this, ever, when she ordered the candle.  (I guess we were just supposed to read her mind.)  We did do color matching, and this was well-explained on the website; we required that people send us a sample and not, for instance, a link to a website.  We got this a lot from brides; they would send a link to a bridesmaid dress or flowers.  Monitors are so different, though, that we insisted on an actual color sample, something we could take down to the workshop and hold up to the wax as we colored it.  Anyway, we got a good laugh over the wallpaper we were just supposed to know we needed to match, and refunded the lady’s money so it all worked out fine.  But you’d be surprised how many people ordered candles purely for décor!

We learned the hard way not to promise to carry specifically-requested scents.  In the early days, we eagerly bought any fragrance a potential customer requested.  I’d do research online and if I was lucky enough to find the scent, I’d order enough to have for testing and actual orders.  Then we’d let the person know…and they would never order.  So I’d be stuck with this fragrance I didn’t really want.  After this happened three or four times, we stopped advertising that we’d carry any fragrance a person wanted.  I would do it for regular, loyal customers if one of our regular suppliers carried the fragrance, but  that was about it.

We had lots of fun with goofy, creative candles that we’d carry for a while and then discontinue because they were too much work and not popular enough to warrant the hassle.  For a while we made pillars that looked like cats (eyes and whiskers), and we had marbled pillars that were gorgeous but so, so fussy to make.  We had a lot of fancy gel candles (fruit salad, pies, fishbowls) until we got so busy we just couldn’t justify the time it took to make the gel candles and fuss over the bubbles in the wax, etc.  We used to make hurricane shells which were so tricky but really pretty.  It was a ton of fun, but really eye-opening when you’d get an order for 15 marbled hurricane candles when it took a whole day just to make one.

Tapers?  Those tall, skinny candles you see all the time?  Total pain in the ass to make.  We did get asked about them and we looked into it, but it was so hard to find a wick that burned properly, and almost impossible to find molds for them.  Forget dipping them, that ubiquitous image you always see (long wick, dipping it over and over into a vat with more wax adhering each time).  It would take days just to make one candle!  Beeswax was also a no-go; talk about sticky and hard to work with.  But we gave it a try, just the same.

In the end, it worked out well that we scaled back the business when we did.  In the beginning, we could order a case of wax for about $30-$35 and get free shipping.  When that supplier did away with free shipping after a year or two, we found a supplier that had a warehouse just about a 20 minute drive from our house.  That was awesome –we’d stock up and get 5 or 6 cases at a time.  When they closed their warehouse after a few years, we would drive to a couple of suppliers (the only ones in Illinois that carried the wax we used) and pick up the wax.  They were much farther, though, about a two hour drive round-trip, and each case of wax weighs 55 to 60 pounds, so it was hard on the car (no truck for us).  After a while we bit the bullet and had it shipped.  That added a good $30 or more to the price of each case of wax, because shipping prices were going sky-high.  Then the wax prices ended up tripling over the last 10-12 years; what used to cost $30 is now around $97.  It was just getting too expensive to keep all the various supplies in stock, and as I mentioned earlier, we were losing visibility thanks to all the changes Google was making.  Nobody could find us anymore; our regular customers were pretty much our only business.

So it was fun while it lasted, but definitely not an inexpensive venture.  We still get a lot of questions about starting a candle business; we were interviewed a few years after we started, when business was truly phenomenal, and we still have people contacting us from that article.  It’s great to see that entrepreneurial spirit alive and well!  We’re working on an e-book about our experience, to make it easier to share our information with people who want to give it a go.

We’re still alive and kicking at http://www.contemporarycandles.com and we have a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ContemporaryCandles where we share coupon codes and specials.  We may not make candles with wicks anymore, but we make some truly awesome tarts and bricks.  🙂  Dave’s favorite fragrances are Caramel Apple, Fruit Salad and Pure Seduction.  I’m partial to Cranberry (it has a little spice to it that I just love), Moonspice and Pink Lemonade.  I have to say, though, we used to carry some scents that we couldn’t really stand but were so popular that we hesitated to discontinue them.  One was Mediterranean Fig – I remember getting a favor order for 200 votives in that scent, and it was slightly agonizing having to smell that for days.  I was never a fan of Gardenia but it is still super popular; same with Nag Champa.  Dave couldn’t stand Sandalwood Vanilla, but I loved it so I was happy to work on the orders for that scent.  He also really disliked one vendor’s Apple Pie – I thought it smelled fine but he thought it smelled rancid.  (Needless to say, we switched vendors!)

Even though the days of our big all-encompassing candle business are behind us now, we still have so many good memories and wouldn’t have changed anything.  It was fun and satisfying, and enabled us to be home with the kids while they were growing up, which was the most important thing.  Here’s to candles!

Musical Mayhem

Last week Dave turned on the TV, and then called me over.  “Look!” he exclaimed, pointing at the screen.  The Monkees were on, and he knows I just love them.  I grinned and sat on the arm of the couch to see what song was coming up.  As the song started, I recognized it right away.

“Oh my God, it’s ‘Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow’!  I’ve had that song stuck in my head for weeks!”  The coincidence was just so strange – this song has seriously been popping into my head at random times over the past month.  Davy sings it, and it’s about having to choose between two different girls.  (I know, first world problems and all that.)  The thing is, this episode was captioned.  I’ve been watching the Monkees since I was four or five years old, but it’s been years since I’ve seen an episode and they definitely weren’t captioned the last time I watched.

The lyrics to the song scrolled across the screen.  “I see all kinds of sorrow, wish I only loved one…look out, here comes tomorrow, oh how I wish tomorrow would never come.”  And I turned to Dave and said, “Well, it figures…I’ve been singing this song wrong all these years.  I always thought the lyrics were ‘I’ll feel all kinds of sorrow if I choose the wrong one’.”  I mean, we’re talking about me SINGING those lyrics at Monkees concerts, folks.  Urgh.

I could tell when I was watching the screen that Davy’s lips weren’t moving the right way for the lyrics I thought he was singing, and when I glanced down at the captions it confirmed it.  This brought back a lot of memories, especially from high school.  Back in MY day, there was no internet and very few of the albums (and I do mean albums, not CDs, which didn’t exist) had lyrics on the album sleeve.  I used to be so excited when I pulled an album out and saw either an insert with lyrics or lyrics printed on the sleeve.  Otherwise, it meant that I pulled up a chair next to my stereo speakers and replayed the song over and over, writing down what I thought I heard.

I used to do this a lot with my friend Kristie, who had perfect hearing.  Even hearing people have trouble with lyrics sometimes!  It always helped to have a better ear when trying to decipher lyrics; I can remember us spending hours listening to Tom Petty and, yes, the Monkees as we worked on figuring out what they were singing.  (There was also a lot of laughter over some of the nonsensical things we came up with!)

It’s a completely different experience for me to listen to a song where I really know what’s being said.  Everything comes together; otherwise I find myself just listening to the music and the beat and kind of mumbling along.  This is okay with dance music – I confess, I pretty much never knew anything being sung on the New Order albums I listened to – but generally I really like knowing the lyrics, and they mean a lot to me.

If I had the lyrics, I’d read them while I listened to the song, over and over, until I had them memorized.  It wasn’t like I could glance at them and think Oh, okay, I get the gist of it…now it will make sense when I hear it.  I still couldn’t understand what was being said if I didn’t have that lyric memorized.  Yes, I spent a lot of time listening to music as a teenager and young adult!

I don’t listen to new music much now – I don’t have the free time to sit with a CD and the lyrics and really get to know the songs the way I used to, so if I listen to music it tends to be songs I remember from years back.  The last CD I can remember really working on to memorize songs was Playing the Angel by Depeche Mode, back in 2006.  I took Eric to the concert when they came to town, and although I knew all their earlier stuff by heart, I wanted to be sure I really knew the songs off the newest album since that was the reason for their tour.  We had such a good time together at that concert but good grief, it was SO expensive!  I remember getting tickets to see great bands for about $15 back in the 80s, maybe a couple bucks to park, $10 for a t-shirt.  By the time all was said and done, we spent over $200 on that concert (just for tickets and parking…I think I might have bought Eric a t-shirt, I can’t remember).

Anyway, it’s pretty awesome to finally have song lyrics at my fingertips, thanks to the internet.  I mean, there is no way I would ever understand what the Beatles were singing during ‘Come Together’ otherwise.  Toe jam football, indeed!

Quick Takes

A couple nights ago, Dave and I were chopping vegetables for dinner.  He was behind the kitchen island, working on jalapenos, and I was on the other side (by the stools) working on onions, garlic and green peppers.  I turned to my left to walk to the sink and rinse my knife, and walked hard into the stool next to me.  One of the legs slammed between two of my toes and I screamed, swore, hopped up and down.  I set down the knife and said some choice words about your mother.  I kept going – I slammed the stool across the kitchen, then walked over and slammed the other stool next to it, swearing a blue streak the whole time.  The cats, who had been milling about, hoping for an early dinner, watched me with wide eyes and then quietly disappeared.  My husband, who was silent during my whole display, watched with upraised eyebrows.  I know, because I could see him from the corner of my eye.  I was too embarrassed to make eye contact.  I knew, I knew, that I was being ridiculous once I reached the point of slamming the stools across the kitchen.  (It was their fault, you see, not mine!)  Even as I swore and freaked out, toes throbbing, I thought to myself, “Hmmm…this is a bit much and it’s not like you.  You really should stop before you embarrass yourself.”

Once it all ended and I ran out of curse words, I felt like an idiot.  Do you do this too?  You know you’ve completely overreacted in the presence of another person, and now it’s over and…what do you do?  Do you acknowledge it, or brush it off and act like it didn’t happen, or keep up the aggrieved attitude to save face?  What I wouldn’t give for a rewind button!  This was really out of character for me and the look on Dave’s face confirmed that.  He didn’t say much though, just asked how my foot was and expressed concern.  I gave in and let him look at my foot and make sure nothing was seriously wrong, and that gave me a chance to catch my breath and re-enter my body, so to speak, after this out-of-body freak-out.  I finally told him I was completely embarrassed by my overreaction, and we laughed about it, but damn, I hate when that happens.

****

We finally got a real snowfall Sunday night, and we woke Monday to a few inches on the ground.  We had to go out (ship some packages, do our grocery shopping) so we figured shoveling snow would take care of our morning exercise.  I know it sounds crazy, but it was kind of fun – good exercise, easy snow to shovel (light and fluffy, not heavy and wet).

I was getting all my snow-shoveling clothes on (good gloves, waterproof boots, warm coat) and knew I wanted to wear a hat.  Except that really screws up my hair, and I didn’t want to have to re-style it before we went out.  Then I hit on a genius, if dorky-looking, idea.  I don’t wash my hair every day, so if I know I’m not washing my hair the next day, I wear this satin sleep cap to bed.  It looks ridiculous on me, like a tiny black afro, but it works so well.  It keeps my curls intact without flattening them, and all I have to do the next day is take off the cap, fluff and rearrange my curls.  Done!  I was already wearing my satin cap, and instead of taking it off I just left it on inside my winter hat.  My hair stayed dry, and when I was done shoveling I just did my usual routine to get my curls back into place.  No ‘hat hair,’ no frizz.  I have no idea why I never thought of that before.

****

Dave and I celebrated our 11 year anniversary on Saturday, and to celebrate we went to the kitchen store at the mall to buy things made of stainless steel, since steel is the traditional 11 year gift.  We had a blast, and came away with the following stainless steel items:  a spatula, a grapefruit spoon, a 1 quart saucepan (with lid) and 8” skillet.  We’re lucky that we have similar interests and both got such a kick out of this trip – we bought sensibly, and we’re looking forward to finally trying out a stainless steel skillet.

So anyway, we splurged food-wise and made a heart-shaped chocolate cake for dessert, with chocolate buttercream frosting.  For dinner, we splurged again and got Lou Malnati’s pizza.  This meant that we ate dinner around 6:30 and dessert around 8:00 that night.  We’d been faithfully following the intermittent fasting eating plan up until this night, and we thoroughly regretted eating that late at night.  I mean, we were both groaning at bedtime, cursing our overly-full bellies.  I also noticed that I couldn’t eat as much as I used to, pizza-wise.  I wasn’t really sure if this eating plan was changing my appetite but this proved it – I had to have Dave finish my pizza.  So, while the food was utterly delicious, it was not worth it to go to bed with full stomachs.  For the first time in my life, I looked forward to getting back to … well, it’s not a diet, but you know what I mean.  So we’re happy with it, and I’ve lost five pounds over two weeks (even including the pizza and cake!) which seems reasonable.

That’s all, folks!

Fighting Hepatitis

It looks like Dave’s Hepatitis C treatment is going to be starting sooner rather than later, so I’ll be posting about it periodically.  This is the official first post, although he hasn’t actually started the treatment.

Dave is getting his treatment at the VA hospital, and they have you go through some classes before you start the meds.  They do this so they can answer questions and be sure that you really understand everything about the medicines and side effects, and how to handle any issues that pop up when you’re in treatment.  We had the first class on Thursday morning.

It was small, just us, another couple that looked to be near our age, and a slightly older guy by himself.  Dave filled out some forms, mostly about drinking, drug use and any possible mental health issues.  The nurse practitioner had a sing-song accent (very pretty) that I know causes some problems for Dave, so I was being very careful to listen to the instructions and watch what he was doing in case he filled something out wrong.

One of the first questions was about drug use in the past six months (marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD, meth, etc.) and I could see him checking off ‘cocaine – 4 to 5 times.’  Now, Dave was definitely wild in his youth (it was the 60s and 70s, after all) but if he’s been doing coke in the past six months, this was news to me.  I tapped him on the shoulder and murmured, “Um, hon…is there something I need to know?  You’ve done coke 4 to 5 times in the past six months?!”  He looked stunned, and I pointed out the ‘past six months’ part of the instructions.  We both started laughing; he had completely missed that when the NP mentioned it.

We watched a video on the various hepatitis viruses, how they affect the body, and how they are treated.  Everybody there was in a different position:  The guy by himself was still undecided about treatment, but he had Genotype 2 which is easiest to clear; the other guy had already done treatment either one or two times and it was unsuccessful (I couldn’t hear whether he didn’t finish the treatment or if it just didn’t clear the virus for him), and he also had cirrhosis so his disease was more advanced than Dave, who has Stage 2 liver disease (cirrhosis is stage 4, I believe).  Both Dave and the other guy have Genotype 1a, which is the most common but harder to treat.  Dave, however, has a gene, IL28B CC, that responds really well to treatment.  So the nurse told him he has the best kind of 1a to have.

I know the genotype stuff is confusing but it’s one of the things I didn’t know about Hep C … it’s not just one virus, there are lots of variations and they all respond differently to treatment.  I also really never understood what the deal was with treatment; I remembered hearing a couple of famous people say they had Hep C and were taking off work for a year (or retiring from the business), and I had no idea why they would need to do that for a virus.  Turns out the treatment is really a whopper for most people, kind of like chemo, and is commonly described as “feeling like you have the flu for a year.”

After the NP went over everyone’s paperwork, she told us a little bit about the meds.  She focused on the treatment for the 1a people, which is different from what the guy with Genotype 2 would get (the guy who wasn’t sure yet about doing the treatment).  The VA currently treats Hepatitis 1a with a three medicine combo – a weekly injection of Interferon, and two pills:  Ribavirin, taken twice a day, and Boceprevir, taken three times a day.  The Boceprevir isn’t started until nearly a month has gone by, although I’m not sure why (something I should ask next time).  Dave will be giving himself the shot, in his abdomen (at first we thought he was going to have to drive to the hospital every week…kind of a hassle, since it’s a 45 minute drive).

They’ll be doing blood tests at least every four weeks, possibly more for Dave because his platelets were a bit low and this treatment is known to really drop your platelet count.  They check your thyroid levels and blood sugar, since the meds are known to throw both of those things out of whack.  If his viral count is less than 100 at 12 weeks, they’ll retest him at 24 weeks.  If it’s above 100 at 12 weeks, they’ll stop the treatment because it isn’t working.  Many people, though, clear the virus by 8 to 12 weeks on the new treatment.  Even if he does clear the virus that soon, he’ll still have to finish the full treatment to be sure the virus doesn’t come back.  (It can still come back even after you clear the virus and finish all the treatment…stubborn, right?!)  I’m pretty sure that if he tests clear at 24 weeks, his treatment is finished.  It used to be that they treated you for 48 weeks (basically for a year) but with the addition of Boceprevir, it has cut treatment time in half.  That’s good news!

There was some talk of which side effects warrant a trip to the emergency room, but I think we’ll get more into side effects in a later class.  We still have two more classes to take, apparently – which is fine by me.  Better to have too much information than not enough, right?  After this class, which lasted about an hour and a half, Dave was sent to the lab for a drug test and to have blood drawn; we should have the results tomorrow.  After that, assuming his labs are well enough to give him the official go-ahead for treatment, he gets scheduled for an eye exam.  I guess the meds can mess with your vision, so they keep a close eye on that as well.  Then we’ll be doing the other two classes, and I guess at some point, either when the classes are scheduled or shortly thereafter, he’ll actually get his meds.

I’m a little nervous about all this – the meds can mess with his thyroid, eyesight, blood sugar, give him rashes, make him feel like he has the flu all the time, make him depressed/anxious/short-tempered (he likes to call it ‘ragey’) – so it’s no picnic.  Dave, luckily, is approaching it with a good attitude and is just ready to fight this thing and get rid of it once and for all.  I’ll keep you all updated as we know more!

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