Monthly Archives: October 2013

Stop Making Sense

Dave and I were watching a movie the other night when the phone rang.  It’s too far away from the living room to read the caller ID display; normally we’d pause what we were watching and get up to check, but this movie was being streamed through Dave’s computer and we couldn’t easily pause it.  So we figured we’d just check to see if there was a voicemail when the movie was over.

About 15 minutes later, Dave cocked his head and then jumped up.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on – he was acting like he heard something, but all I’d heard was the sound from the movie.  He went to his computer and paused the video, then went down to answer the door.

My mom was standing on our front porch, brandishing her laptop.  “Did you get my message?” she asked as we invited her in.  “No – wait, did you just call?” Dave said as he took her laptop from her.  “Yes – I don’t know what happened but all my stuff disappeared.  All the stuff written on the top, how I get to my bank and Facebook …”

She went on to explain what was missing as we brought her laptop into the dining room and opened it up.  She uses Internet Explorer, which I’m not familiar with (I use Firefox and, before that, Chrome) but it sounded like she was missing her bookmarks toolbar.  I took a chance and right-clicked in the toolbar area, got a drop down box, and saw that her Favorites toolbar was unchecked.  I checked it and voila … all her bookmarks showed up again.

After I showed her what I’d done to bring it back (I know it’s easy to accidentally click on things and have toolbars appear and disappear) we headed into the kitchen to feed her some of Dave’s birthday cake (coconut cake with a wondrous Swiss meringue buttercream frosting that I discovered this year … way, WAY better than the kind with powdered sugar which I find to be too sweet).

I knew she’d been out to visit my brother and his family the night before and that they were going to a Halloween party, so I asked what they dressed up as.  I heard her say, “Joe was broccoli.”  I thought, well, that’s kind of different but it could be a cute couples costume if his wife went as another type of veggie or food.  I was distracted at this point, trying to picture how they made the costume (or maybe they bought or rented it?) and I heard my mom saying something about cutting a wig for him.  Then I envisioned a green (curly, maybe?) wig, or maybe it was more of a head topper thing and not really a wig, and she just trimmed it so it wouldn’t get in his eyes?

Something like this, maybe?

Something like this, maybe?

I was in a bit of a reverie, imagining how this costume had come together, and my mom was still explaining.  “Yes, he had a black eye, and blood on his face …”

“Wait, Mom,” I interrupted.  “What did you say he went as?”  Bloody black-eyed broccoli was just not making sense.

“Rocky,” she said.  “You know, Rocky Balboa?”

Oooohhhhh.

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Every Day is Halloween (I Wish)

When October 1st rolled around, I put Dave on notice.  “Hey hon, could you help me get out the Halloween decorations this weekend?”  He readily agreed, as I knew he would – the sight of me staggering upstairs under the weight of a huge Rubbermaid tub offends his chivalrous sensibilities.  But he looked nervous; he knows me pretty well.

A few days later, I walked into the living room and almost tripped over the gray tub in the middle of the floor.  Dave presented it like Vanna White, with a sweep of his arm and a triumphant smile.

“Thanks, babe!  But this isn’t the only one – see how it says ‘Thanksgiving/Halloween’ on top?  This is the overflow, what wouldn’t fit in the main Halloween tub.”  I opened the lid to give Dave a look as he expressed his disbelief.  “See?  The ghosts for the front door aren’t here, the pumpkins, the bats …”  I moved the turkeys and cornucopia out of the way to grab the few Halloween decorations in the tub, and then closed it up.  “Come on, I’ll help you find the rest.”

We trooped back downstairs to the crawl space, while Dave muttered, “I didn’t see any other box, I don’t know … are you sure … ?”  I positioned myself by the door while Dave hunched over and inched his way into the short space, and told him to check all the way in the back.  Before long he found the tub and I had my work cut out for me.

I love decorating for the holidays which, for me, start with Halloween.  I definitely got this from my mom; I can still picture our Halloween decorations and remember the excitement I felt when I’d come home from school to find that she’d decorated the house.  Halloween was a huge, big deal to me; I really got into picking out a costume, I absolutely loved trick or treating … the excitement and anticipation of the day was always over the top for me.  I actually used to have nightmares about missing Halloween – I couldn’t get my costume on in time and before I knew it, trick or treat hours were over, or I just plain forgot and realized the next day that I’d have to wait until next year.

I’ll never, EVER forget the year my dad enlisted our neighbor’s help to deliver some bags of candy as we were watching Charlie Brown’s Halloween special.  I stared at the TV, rapt … and a little horrified on Linus’ behalf.  He missed tricks or treat, the horror!  My dad tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the window.  “I just saw the Great Pumpkin!  Did you see that?!”  I hadn’t seen anything but … gosh, was that a flash of orange?  Is the Great Pumpkin REAL?!

Just then the doorbell rang.  My dad, comfy in his usual TV-watching spot on the couch, asked me to answer it.  And there on the doorstep were two bags, for me and my brother, from the Great Pumpkin.  It was the coolest thing ever – can you see now why I love Halloween so?!

Sometime in the 70s...my dad, brother and mom, a.k.a. Kiss -- no Halloween post is complete without this photo!

Sometime in the 70s…my dad, brother and mom, a.k.a. Kiss — no Halloween post is complete without this photo!

As a young adult and before I had kids, I was satisfied with decorating the house and handing out candy on Halloween, admiring the parade of costumes and eating the leftover candy when the doorbell finally fell silent (a benefit I never really realized as a kid).  But once I had my own kids, my dormant Halloween obsession came alive.  I made their costumes, decorated the house inside and out, and took them trick or treating for as long as they wanted.  (And seriously, most of the time I couldn’t believe it when they were ready to go home.   Really guys?  That’s it, you’re done?  One year Paige said her cowgirl boots were hurting and I actually had to bite my tongue to keep from talking her into walking some more.  I have a serious trick or treat problem, really.)

When they got a little older, I started a Halloween meal tradition and I did this up until 2011, the last year I had a child living at home on October 31.  I would make up a menu, print it out and leave it at their places to find at breakfast.  It was always horrible and disgusting, and the game was for them to figure out what we were really having for dinner.  Once or twice I made a new recipe I’d found just for the occasion, but generally it worked out better to have things I already knew they liked and just give them a gross name.

Our 2011 Halloween Menu

Our 2011 Halloween Menu

Translation:

Appetizer — Sausage/cheese balls with eyeballs made of mozzarella and pepperoni discs

Main course – Pasta shells filled with sauce and mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni rolls (infected warts)

Dessert – Apple wedges filled with caramel and mini marshmallows (as the teeth); brownies with spiderwebs and spiders on top

Green beans became witches’ fingers, apple slices and caramel apple dip became vampire fangs with mucous membrane dip, and spaghetti became (what else?) worms in blood sauce.

My kids are all grown up and make their own entertainment on Halloween now; Dave and I answer the door, hand out candy, and usually have Tacos in Pasta Shells for dinner (also called Severed Eyelids … the best gross name for shell pasta of any size).

But I still get a little jolt of excitement when the month of October rolls around.  I change my desktop wallpaper and Facebook cover image to skeletons dancing around a bonfire by the light of the full moon.  I decorate the house just like I always did; when Toby was still alive, I made sure that I pinned his Superdog cape to his collar for the day.  (I made that from leftover scraps when I was making Paige’s Sailor Moon costume.)

Toby the SuperDog!

Toby the SuperDog!

The cats know better … they stay out of sight on that day.  Who knows what kind of costume I might come up with for them?!

Nothing Beats A Good Book

Every day during the week, I get an email from my email ‘book club.’  That’s not really the right term for it; it implies an activity done with other people, and this is just for me.  But that’s what they call it, so that’s what I call it.

I’ve been doing this for years now, and I absolutely love it.  I was getting in a rut, trying to find things to read.  I had my favorite authors, of course, but I wanted to broaden my horizons.  I can’t even remember how I found out about the email book club – it might have been through my local paper.  In any case, I went to the website – http://www.dearreader.com – and signed up through the nearest library in my area.  At the time, it wasn’t actually my local library (although they do offer it now) but it didn’t matter; I didn’t have to be a member of that library to join the club.  All I had to do was pick the topics I was interested in, give them my email address and I was signed up.

(I should pause here to note that this is NOT a sponsored post or anything; the email book club doesn’t know I exist, except to send my daily book excerpts.  I just wanted to share some awesomeness with my friends.)

So what they do is send you a small section of the book, starting from the beginning, every day – just enough so that it takes about five minutes to read.  You get excerpts Monday through Friday for the same book, and by Friday you’re about 15-20 pages in.  It’s usually enough to let you know if you’re going to like the book or not.  If you do like it, you can buy the book or go find it at the library.  If you don’t, no harm done – you don’t even have to read the rest of the week’s excerpts if you can tell from day one that you dislike the book or the subject matter.

I’ve found SO MANY books this way, books I would never in a million years have picked up at a bookstore or the library.  In the beginning, I was pickier; I would read the little blurb about the book in the first email and then not even bother to keep scrolling down to start reading if I thought it sounded like something I wouldn’t like.  (Basically the first email tells you the book title, author, what’s on the inside flap or the general description of the book, and then the excerpt starts.)  One day I decided to scroll down just for the heck of it, and I found myself drawn in by the author’s writing style.  It was a subject I never expected to find interesting, and I ended up loving the book.  So now I always give every book at least one or two days if I’m not sure.

Before the book excerpt starts, there’s a little daily note from Suzanne Beecher, the lady who started the book club.  These are always entertaining, short and fun to read.  At first I used to get confused, thinking it was part of the book – it took me a while to get the hang of the layout.

Right now I’m signed up for pre-publication (books not yet published), fiction and non-fiction.  I’ve noticed most of the pre-pub books tend to be mysteries which aren’t really my thing, so I may leave that one and join something else.  You can also choose from Thriller, Sci-Fi, Teen, Classics, Audio Book, Mystery, Good News, Romance and Business.

So that’s what my email book club is; I highly recommend it if you like to read and are looking to expand your horizons author-wise.  The reason I decided to write about the book club is because this week’s non-fiction book is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson ...one of my favorites!

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson …one of my favorites!

I’ll be honest – just typing the title makes me grin.  This book has been a hit with my entire family, and none of us have been able to read it without laughing out loud and reading parts aloud to whoever happens to be in the room.  (Both of my kids got hooked on Bill Bryson books as a result.)  It’s almost impossible not to want to share it with other people.  And share it we have – it’s been given as a Christmas gift to various family members and friends over the years.  We love this book.

That’s another thing – you’ll get both new and old books in the book club.  A Walk in the Woods is not new; I think it was actually published in 1998 or 1999.  I read it in 2000 when we took the kids to Michigan for vacation.  I’d lie on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, laughing so much that Dave finally had to ask what was so funny.  (He was the next one to read the book; my laughing pulled him in.)

I have to thank my friend Sue for introducing me to Bill Bryson in the mid-1990s; I’d been reading his books since well before A Walk in the Woods was published.  His earlier books are all travel-related, and his wry, dry sense of humor was just my thing.  I’ve always wanted to travel and never seemed to be in a position to do it.  When I was younger, before kids, I worked full time and had plenty of money to travel … and no vacation time in which to do it.  (Five whole days in a year is not much time off.)  Now I have all the time in the world, and no extra money.  So I traveled vicariously with Bill Bryson, laughing as he described England and various US states, Europe, Australia and the Appalachian Trail.  His newer books aren’t about travel and I miss that, although I did really enjoy his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

When my non-fiction book read came in on Monday of this week, my first instinct was to think, I’ve already read this … maybe I’ll just delete the email.  Then I realized that I haven’t read this book in over 13 years – why not revisit it, since I know how much I like it?  As I read through the first excerpt, which was mostly facts (you’ll get lots of facts along with his dry humor, so even as you’re laughing you’re still learning), I smiled and settled in for what I knew was a good read.  Then it happened.  I got to this part, where he talks about telling people his plans to hike the Appalachian Trail, and their typical responses:

“I heard four separate stories (always related with a chuckle) of campers and bears sharing tents for a few confused and lively moments; stories of people abruptly vaporized (“tweren’t nothing left of him but a scorch mark”) by body-sized bolts of lightning when caught in sudden storms on high ridgelines; of tents crushed beneath falling trees, or eased off precipices on ballbearings of beaded rain and sent paragliding on to distant valley floors, or swept away by the watery wall of a flash flood; of hikers beyond counting whose last experience was of trembling earth and the befuddled thought “Now what the—?”

and I did it.  I laughed out loud.  And now I’m sharing it with you.  🙂

Lumps and Bumps

A couple weeks ago I got a book that had been on my Paperback Swap wish list for a couple of years:  How to Never Look Fat Again.  It had gotten some good reviews and I was curious about the advice; I was hoping to learn a few new tricks beyond the ones I already knew (e.g., black: yes, horizontal stripes: no).

Now, I know the only way to never look fat again is to not BE fat to begin with.  But let’s face it, I’m never going to be skinny again; the only way I can pull that off is to go back to disordered eating and popping diet pills like candy, which I refuse to do.  I’m hoping for a happy medium – to weigh less than I do now and (more importantly) to be fit, but to not worry if I weigh more than I did in high school.

I’ve done diets and food restrictions and all that, but what works best for me is to just be aware of what I’m eating and track calories.  The problem I’ve found is that it’s easier to track calories if you eat a lot of already-made, processed food or if you eat out at well-known restaurants that publish nutritional information.  When 95% of your meals are made from scratch, it’s a huge pain in the ass to figure out the nutritional content.  Sometimes I get lucky and the recipes have nutritional info already there; on the other hand, that only helps if I follow the recipe exactly and don’t make substitutions.  Most of the time I end up having to enter the entire recipe into a recipe calculator to figure out the calories.

It takes a lot of time, and that’s the main reason I stop doing it after a while.  But right now I have the extra time, and also the extra motivation of my yearly check-up in about a month.  What better time to watch my calories and maybe drop a few pounds, right?!  (I use either Spark People or LiveStrong to do my calorie tracking; this time around I’m doing LiveStrong.)

When you get older and you’re VERYVERY short, like me, your daily calorie allotment dwindles to hardly anything.  It’s even less if you’re trying to lose weight.  Right now I’m supposed to be eating 1,209 calories a day.  Let me tell you, it’s very easy to go over that without even realizing.  Once I lose weight, that number will go down even more.  When I lost a decent amount of weight a few years back (around 20 pounds, which gets me out of the ‘overweight’ category on a BMI calculator), I was down to about 1,000 calories a day.  I could definitely have stood to lose more weight but damn, I was freaking starving.  After a while I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I always exercise too; I’ve tried just exercising without restricting calories but that never works for me.  You have to exercise SO MUCH just to burn one calorie, and I’m not a jogger or runner or heavy-duty exercise nut.  I always have to restrict calories in order to lose weight; I exercise for the health benefits and because I feel better when I do, but never for weight loss.

Okay, so – watching what I eat, exercising, blahblahHealthyblah, but it takes forever, right?  And that’s cool, I know it takes a long time and I prefer losing weight slowly and keeping it off.  But that means I’m going to look like this for a while.  Hence the book – why not try to trick the eye into thinking I’ve lost more weight than I really have?

The book is divided into sections for all the problem areas most women have.  I looked at all of them except the Big Bust one – that’s never been my problem, never will.  It would be nice because big boobs would detract from tummy bulge but, alas, it’s not to be.  First I checked out the sections on thighs and belly (my biggest problems) and also checked out the arms section; I already know never, EVER to wear cap sleeves and I avoid tank tops like the plague.  I got some satisfaction when the author complained about the fact that most dresses are sleeveless, even though many older women have a bit of arm flap going on, even the skinny ones.  You always have to buy a separate shrug or something to cover up the arms.  Why not just put SLEEVES on the dresses to begin with?!  I wear a dress maybe once every five years, so luckily it’s not really a pressing issue for me; it’s just something I’ve always noticed and it was gratifying to see I wasn’t the only one miffed by the preponderance of sleeveless dresses.

What was most amusing to me was the section on belly bulge (another thing a lot of older women deal with, especially if they’ve had kids).  This has been the hardest thing for me to get used to; when I was younger, my stomach was actually concave a lot of the time.  I mean, I never EVER had a tummy bulge or had to deal with it when wearing clothes.  Even so, I’ve always been super sensitive about anything that clings to my stomach area; even when I was pregnant, I wore very loose tops and would never have dreamed of wearing the form-fitting tops you see pregnant women wearing nowadays.  (Not that it looks bad on them – it’s just not something I would’ve chosen to wear.)  After I had kids, I couldn’t wear an A-line or empire waist dress or top without someone asking me if I was pregnant; if I wore very fitted clothes, people would comment on my stomach.  (And this was back when I weighed about 115-120 pounds.)  I took to wearing leggings with big, loose cardigans or long knee-length sweaters over them, anything to hide my non-existent stomach.

Back in the day (happy birthday, Stacy!!) -- If I couldn't wear a sweater, it was an oversized t-shirt.  Hide my stomach at all costs!!

Me, Stacy & Dave, back in the day (happy birthday, Stacy!!) — If I couldn’t wear a sweater, it was an oversized t-shirt. Hide my stomach at all costs!!

Now I really have a stomach that needs to be hidden, and I can’t stand the clingy fabrics so many tops are made of these days.  What I wouldn’t give for those huge, long sweaters and cardigans to come back into style!  Sadly, the book had no real tips for me in that area.  The main thing, repeated over and over, was to wear support undergarments ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY.  (The author favors support bike shorts.)  Now, I can break out the Spanx on a special occasion, but to hang out around the house?  I don’t think so.  She also recommends a belt, which is fine if you don’t ever want to sit down.

Actually, that’s my biggest tummy problem – I have lots of pants that fit and look great when I’m standing up, but they squeeze too much when I’m sitting down.  Nobody ever seems to acknowledge this on shows like What Not to Wear – they dress people in these fitted outfits that look cute when they’re standing up, but you know they’re busting out of them if they sit down.  Do these people never sit down?!

So I read the book with an air of resignation; much of the advice stressed support undergarments to be worn all the time, and that’s not what I’m looking for.  I did learn some brands to keep an eye out for as far as jeans (never at full price – I always shop at Goodwill), and she did convince me to try to move away from the oversized clothes I tend to wear.  I know it makes me look bigger than I really am; I am just so loath to have anyone see tummy bulge that I can’t resist oversized shirts.

Yesterday Dave and I headed to Goodwill; he had a 25% off discount card and I was thinking about upgrading some of my fall/winter clothes.  The first store was a bust; I was shopping one size smaller for shirts and that was just too tight for me.  We headed to the other store in our area and I scored – five shirts and a pair of dressier black pants for under $20.  It was kind of funny – I really felt like I was in an episode of What Not to Wear.  I’d reach for an oversized t-shirt and then pull my hand back, thinking, “No … I’m supposed to be looking for v-neck shirts, and not that big.”  I’m shooting more for clothes that skim my body but don’t cling, and pants I can sit down in without asphyxiating.  (One tip:  If you have a tummy like me, try Jag jeans – they fit well and have some give in the waist so you can sit down comfortably … but they don’t sag at the waist when you’re standing up.)

I’m also going to try to incorporate some minor heels into my wardrobe too, maybe with ankle boots or something.  I hate heels and, if given the choice, I’ll wear my Mizuno gym shoes all the time.  I know I have to suffer a LITTLE bit for beauty though, and I can definitely use an extra inch in height.  (I could really use an extra five inches, but I’m not that crazy.)

In closing, if you see me in person and I’m wearing a more fitted top than usual, you don’t need to ask … NO, I’m not pregnant.  🙂

Hearing With My Eyes

Dave and I headed back to the VA hospital on Monday for his dermatology appointment.  During his Hepatitis C treatment, a spot on his back started to change and the doctor wanted him to have it looked at.  It was always a little gnarly-looking, but during treatment it would randomly bleed and it developed more of a cauliflower shape.  (He’s had this mole-like thing for, he figures, around 20 years or more.)

I was a little worried, I admit; being the worrier that I am, I had frequently Googled ‘skin cancer’ and I was pretty sure that’s what he had.  The doctor came in and we talked for a bit; our conversation was going so smoothly that neither of us bothered to fill her in on our respective hearing losses.  We usually don’t mention it unless we’re having trouble hearing/understanding somebody; at the hospital, that would usually be a doctor or nurse with a heavy accent or tendency to talk to us while they’re looking away (writing or typing or whatever).

The dermatologist took a look at Dave’s back and casually said, “Oh yeah, that’s a basal cell carcinoma.”  Before I could freak out, she went on to say that it’s really common, easily treated and usually isn’t the type to spread.  She proceeded to look over the rest of his body and found one more spot that she said was a very early stage of basal cell carcinoma, on the top of his head.

As this was all happening, I was following what she said very easily.  She didn’t have an accent and she spoke clearly.  I really felt like I didn’t have a hearing loss at all; it’s very easy to get lulled into thinking you’ve reached a point where you don’t need accommodations anymore.

She explained that she was going to take a biopsy of the thing on Dave’s back, and we’d get the results in about a week; depending on how invasive it was, he’d either have it scraped off or cut out.  Then she turned away and slipped a blue mask over her mouth.  After that, it was like 70% of the conversation dropped away for me.  I could keep up by catching a word here and there and guessing at the content of the rest of her sentence, but it was so much work.

At one point, she turned away completely and asked a question.  I could tell it was a question by the inflection in her voice, but I hadn’t understood even one word of what she said.  Dave gazed at me over her shoulder, raising his eyebrows in a “What do I say?!” kind of way.  He hadn’t caught the question fully himself.  I had to shrug and mouth, “I don’t know!”  Finally he started telling her about our canning adventures; he had guessed that she’d asked what our plans were for the day and apparently he guessed correctly, because she continued the conversation with no ‘What the heck?!’ expression on her face (what we usually see when we respond inappropriately to an unheard question).

I could follow her a little better when I knew what the subject of the conversation was, but I was still having to work very hard to keep up.  If she had asked me a question directly, I would have definitely told her I was deaf and hearing with cochlear implants, and needed to see her lips.  But she slipped the mask off fairly quickly and, once again, our conversation became 100% clear to me.  She went on to zap Dave’s head with liquid nitrogen (he was not pleased!) and gave us instructions on taking care of the area where she took the biopsy.

The whole experience really made it clear how much I still use visual clues to ‘hear.’  I can go for so long with no problems because I spend most of my time with Dave, and I can carry on a conversation with him from another room – I’m so used to his voice, I don’t need to see his face to understand.  My cochlear implants work so well in most situations that I can get lulled into feeling like my hearing is 100% normal with them.  Then I have a situation like the one at the dermatologist’s office, and I get served a little slice of humble pie.

It’s all good – no complaints here; believe me, I will never complain about my cochlear implants!  I just need to remember that my eyes are just as important as my ears in my whole hearing experience.

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