Monthly Archives: December 2013


Back when we had our pair of huge desks, I used to hang a mini calendar from the back of the desk (the part that connected the shelves to the desk itself).  When we switched to our streamlined double desk, sans shelves, I realized I had nowhere to put my calendar.  So now I have this little calendar, just something I picked up at my bank, and it’s so useful.  It’s the kind that flips over a month at a time, with a little cardboard stand so I don’t have to attach it to anything.

My very useful, but boring, desk flip calendar (or whatever it's called)

My very useful, but boring, desk flip calendar (or whatever it’s called)

As the end of the year approached, I realized I didn’t have a replacement calendar.  We made our annual visit to Barnes & Noble for their 50% off calendar sale to get a new kitchen calendar, but I couldn’t find any that didn’t attach to a wall.  It was either wall calendars or planners, no flip/desk calendars to be found.

Yesterday I decided to search around on Etsy to see if I could find a cute handcrafted calendar for my desk.  I wasn’t really sure what to search for, because I’m not exactly sure what this type of calendar is called.  After a few different searches, I landed on a page of search results that was mostly downloadable, printable calendars.  I wasn’t really interested in that because the only printer hooked up right now is our black and white laser, and if I was going to pay money to print something myself then I’d want it to be colorful and pretty.  After checking out a few of the pages, I realized they were meant to fit into a CD case that was modified to be a calendar stand.  You just take off the cover, reverse it and click it back on.  Then you can slide your own artwork inside to display it.  How cool is that?!

Back in the day, I was really into paper crafting and rubber stamp projects.  I took classes and was part of a group that met monthly; we made calendars, gift tags, cards, etc. for group swaps, and just generally had a good time.  I started getting out of it in the mid-90s, once Paige was born, because I couldn’t keep up with two kids and all the paper crafting stuff as well.  Seeing those CD case calendars, though, brought back a lot of memories.

So that was my project yesterday – finding some templates that would look good in black and white, be large enough for my aging eyes (this was the hardest part), and would fit my CD case.  I tend to fall down the rabbit hole when I embark on these types of projects, and this was no exception.  I quickly discovered that most of the templates were meant to be used with your own artwork (photos, rubber stamps, etc.) and the calendar part was actually very small.  I keep my calendar fairly far back on my desk, and needed the numbers to be readable.  On top of that, most of the templates were PDF files that I couldn’t edit so I couldn’t make the font bigger.

By the end of the day, I hit on a compromise:  a template that looked good printed on pink marbled vellum (to give it some color) with a separate calendar cut out and mounted with 3-D tape to make it easier to read.  I love it – I think it looks kind of funky, and I like knowing it was free.

My 2014 CD case calendar

My 2014 CD case calendar

View from the side

View from the side

My project today was also related to timekeeping.  For Christmas, Dave got me a new tablet.  I’d been using a 7” NookColor, one we’d bought when they first came out, that Dave had hacked and turned into a tablet.  It was running Android Gingerbread, which I guess is pretty old as far as Android operating systems go.  Dave couldn’t stand it any longer, and got me the new Nook HD+ tablet.  I used it as-is for a few days, getting used to the new layout, and we figured we might just leave it alone because it was pretty good already.

Then I realized quite a few of the apps I used to use were not compatible with the new tablet, so Dave decided to put Android Jelly Bean on.  (I think he was just itching to do this anyway, to be honest.)  Now my apps are all compatible (yay!) but the one thing that was bugging me was the new status/notification bar.  In Gingerbread, it was on the bottom and it always stayed there so I could see my clock, my notifications, etc.  In Jelly Bean it has been moved to the top, and even though my tablet is now bigger (8.9” versus 7”), the status bar is now miniscule.  It’s hard to read the clock, and my Accuweather temperature looks like it’s in a -5 font size.

I spent a few days trying to find out if there was a way to make the status bar bigger, and finally resigned myself to the fact that I need to get used to the new size.  That was okay, I could deal with that.  But some of my apps (Candy Crush Saga, I’m looking at you) go into a full-screen mode that makes the status bar completely disappear.  That means I can’t see the clock and I have NO IDEA how much time has passed while I play this addictive, time-sucking little game.  Usually I give myself a time limit so I don’t end up wasting hours crushing candies, and I really missed being able to see what time it was while I played.  I told Dave it was like being in Vegas, or what I imagine Vegas to be since I’ve never been there (no clocks anywhere, to make it easier to spend hours gambling … if they don’t do that, then they should).

I spent lots of time trying to find ways to get the clock back down to the bottom, where the system bar is (or whatever they call that area that has the back button, home button, etc.).  I looked for apps to change the clock or status bar; none of them did what I wanted (most wanted to hide the status bar entirely).  Finally I found it:  StatusBar in FullScreen, an app that does exactly what it says and keeps the status bar visible with full-screen apps.  Now my status bar may still be minute in size, but at least it’s always there!

I probably won’t be writing again until after the new year arrives, so … Happy New Year!  Here’s to an awesome 2014 for all of us.

It Was Nothing

On Wednesday I (finally) went for my ultrasound.  Let me just say that the 10 days between the phone call telling me they ‘saw something’ on the right side of my mammogram films and the actual ultrasound were the most nerve-wracking EVER.  I just couldn’t get it off my mind.  The first day was the worst, because I was just so shocked to get the phone call.  After a couple days I’d have a few hours where I’d kind of forget about it, and then I’d remember and start my imaginary scenarios all over again.  It was a little like being diagnosed with breast cancer every day for 10 days, because I had convinced myself that would be the outcome.  (I figured I’d go with the worst case scenario so that if it did happen, I wouldn’t be even more stunned than I already was.)  It was NOT FUN, and it was a panicky, shitty way to spend a week.  I’ve already decided that next year’s mammogram will be in January, not December, because I was so freaked out that I pretty much put any kind of holiday thing on hold.  I’d rather freak out in January after the holidays are over, you know?

I was doing what I always do, thinking, ‘At this time next week, I’ll know for sure’ and ‘At this time tomorrow, I’ll probably be getting the ultrasound’ or some variation thereof for ten days straight.  Finally it was the morning of, and I was almost sick with fear.  I kept vacillating between ‘I’m so glad it’s almost over and I’ll have some kind of answer’ and ‘Oh no, I don’t want to know.’

My appointment was at 11:00 and we got to the hospital at 10:45.  The parking lot was completely full; after we drove all the way through twice, Dave let me out at the entrance and headed off to find a spot.  By the time he got to the waiting room, I was already back in the changing area.

When I checked in, they told me it could take two hours for the whole appointment.  After I changed into my gown, I stopped off at the bathroom just to be safe.  When I got out to the waiting area, I  looked around for a place to sit.  There was only one other woman there, and she looked utterly miserable – all hunched over with her gown clutched between her hands.  She looked exactly how I felt, and I just wanted to give her a hug.  Before I could even sit, the technician appeared and said, “Kast?”  I was so startled that I went up and asked her to repeat it, and then spelled my last name for her.  I’ve never been called back that quickly!

She had an accent and kept apologizing for it, saying she knew some people had a hard time understanding her.  I explained that I can hear with my cochlear implants, plus I read lips, and I wasn’t having trouble with her accent but I would let her know if I did, so we cleared up the communication issues pretty quickly.  She told me they were going to take three images with the mammogram machine, then she would show the films to the radiologist; if they wanted an ultrasound, I’d be called back for one.

These three views were much more ‘smashy’ than before (ouch!) but it went fairly quickly.  She walked me back out to the waiting room and told me it would be about 15 minutes.

I think it was even less than 15 minutes before another technician, again with a slight accent, called me back for the ultrasound.  Of course, now I’m freaking out.  They want the ultrasound so there must be something there!

The ultrasound took FOREVER, it seemed — the exam just kept going on and on.  The room was dark, and I was lying there staring at the ceiling wondering how long it would be before I heard the bad news.  The technician was completely silent; I could hear her clicking on the keyboard and the machine beeping, over and over.  She’d swipe the ultrasound thingy to an area, stop and type and beep.  It seemed like she did that over the entire area at least twice.  I also noticed she was staying in one particular spot quite a lot, and that made me nervous.  She finally finished, told me to wait there in the room, and left.  (It happened so quickly that I had to confirm with her what I was supposed to do – put the gown on and wait in the waiting area, or stay here in the room?)

I waited there for about the same amount of time I waited after the mammogram, less than 15 minutes.  It was by far the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through, waiting there to find out what was happening.  I wondered how long it would take to schedule a biopsy, if I needed one, and how long the results would take.  I wondered if a doctor would be assigned to me, if I had cancer, or if it would be my job to find one.  My hands were shaking and my heart was racing.

After a while she came back, smiled and said, “Okay, everything’s fine, it was just a little dot that we saw.  You just need to come back in a year for your usual screening mammogram.”

Again, it took me a minute to process what I was hearing and to realized that I was okay.  Once she said I just needed to come back in a year for my regular mammogram it really hit me.  But I still had no idea what they actually had seen.  A dot?!  As I was signing the discharge papers, I asked, “Um, what was the dot – what kind of dot was it?”  Then she laughed and said, “Oh, no — DUCT!  There was some fluid in one of the ducts, but it’s okay — everything’s fine.”  Finally I was able to laugh; apparently dot and duct look the same on the lips, so lip reading didn’t help me much.

I was walking out of there at 11:45, by the way – the whole thing took 45 terrifying minutes.

One of the things that kept me sane (as much as that was possible) was hearing from other people who got called back for extra views, ultrasounds and biopsies.  It’s one thing to read on the discharge papers that 10-15% of people get called back; it’s a completely different thing to hear so many people say it happened to them and ‘it was nothing.’

Now I get to add my story to the chorus.  It was nothing.  It was nothing!

Magic Pants

Generally when I’m hanging around the house, I wear what I call ‘lounge pants’ … aka yoga pants or, on very cold days, fleece sweatpants.  I like the kind with the waistband that isn’t super-elasticky; there’s nothing I hate more than feeling like my stomach is being squeezed.

When I leave the house, though, I always change into regular pants — usually jeans.  It’s just something I’m weird about; even though my lounge pants are perfectly presentable and other people wear such pants when they’re out and about, it makes me feel icky.  So I change clothes.

Since the start of October, I’ve lost 16 pounds (yay!); between that and my daily walks on the mini-trampoline, my pants have started getting loose.  I have a few pairs of go-to jeans:  one is a pair of Jag jeans in the largest size I own, and then I have two pairs of jeans in a size smaller (my favorite of those two is my pair of Levi 512s).

Just for fun, I pulled out some pants I’ve had stashed in various drawers for years now.  These were all in the same size as the two pairs of jeans, and I’d been holding on to them in case I ever lost enough weight to fit back into them.  I was happy to find that all of them not only fit, but a couple are actually a little too big.  A couple pairs fit kind of weird now – baggy in the butt and legs, the waist fits but pinches just a bit when I sit down.  In other words, once the waist becomes totally comfortable, they’ll be huge in the butt and legs.

I’ve been popping over to Goodwill about once a week to keep an eye out for a pair of Levis in a size smaller.  There’s no way I’d pay full price because I hope to eventually outgrow the smaller size as well (I’m thinking positive here).  Well, who am I kidding – even when I reach my goal weight, I won’t pay full price when I know I can find jeans so much cheaper at Goodwill.

So ANYWAY, today we had to run out to the post office and I dutifully changed from my comfy sweatpants to a pair of jeans.  Just for kicks, I put on the Jag jeans.  These are the size I wore 16 pounds ago, and are two sizes bigger than the size I fit into now.  And they fit like a glove.  I mean, they fit just the same way they did on October 1st.  It’s like some kind of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants thing happening here.

On the one hand, I was a little pissed – I mean, come on!  After two and a half months of exercise and weight loss, how could they fit the same?  Especially when my smaller sizes are hanging off me?!  Then I realized it was kind of funny, and I sort of appreciated having a pair of jeans that still hugs my curves.  (I have to say, they are just a teeny bit saggy in the butt … but not as much as the other pairs.)  I guess they must use some kind of SuperSpandex in their jeans, making them very versatile if you need a pair of jeans to see you through a few months of weight loss, or weight gain — I imagine they work as well in the opposite direction!

Now I just call them my Magic Pants.

Smash Redux

When we were driving home from my mammogram on Friday, I told Dave that the technician was really fast; during previous years, they would often spend quite a while positioning me just so before finally lowering the plate and telling me to hold my breath.  This girl was just like boom, boom, boom, DONE.  There was really minimal squishing compared to previous mammograms, as well.  As we drove away I joked, “Watch me get a call back now because everything went so quickly.”

I should have kept my mouth shut, because on Monday afternoon the phone rang and it was my internist’s office.  There was no reason for them to call … and then I remembered the mammogram on Friday.  Sure enough, they asked if the hospital had called me (they hadn’t).  Apparently the radiologist ‘saw something’ on the right side and wants me to come back for an ultrasound.  They were getting ready to send the paperwork over to the hospital, and told us to call the hospital on the following day, Tuesday, to set up the appointment.

I naively thought I’d probably be told to come right in once we called or, at the very least, get an appointment for Wednesday.  Apparently I was lucky to get an appointment for a week from today, on the 18th, because they had a cancellation.

They had sent me home with an instruction sheet on what to expect after the mammogram, and at the bottom of the sheet it said that 10-15% of women get called back for additional images.  I know I’m now part of a really big club (and talking to my online friends has confirmed that) but it’s still hard to stop my mind from going on a big ‘what if’ road trip.  I’m quite an expert on imagining every ghastly scenario that could come up, and knowing I get to do this for another week is stressful, to say the least.

I saw one article online that claims there’s long-term psychosocial harm from getting called back after a mammogram, and I can believe it.  Even though there’s a good chance this could turn out to be nothing, it hasn’t stopped me from imagining how I’ll feel if I get diagnosed with breast cancer.  In fact, I have to keep reminding myself that it hasn’t happened yet and to just chill, man.  (Easier said than done.)

Part of it is because I’m no stranger to being that 1% of people that have bad things happen to them, like going completely deaf in each ear in over a 15 year time span.  So even though I know the odds are in my favor, there’s a little voice saying, “But look what happened the LAST time you thought something bad wouldn’t happen.”

I usually try to keep everything upbeat, and now that the shock is wearing off, I’m starting to relax a little bit and see the positives.  I have insurance to cover this; if there is anything going on, then I’d rather know early rather than later; and, ultimately, I just have this ‘I’ll do what I have to do’ kind of attitude.  It’s not like I can say, “Um, no, I don’t want to deal with this.”

I’m just hoping I get some kind of answer on the 18th, because not knowing is really the hardest part for me.  It’ll be disappointing if I’m told I have to have a biopsy and they can’t fit me in until January, or something along those lines.  I’m pretty sure a radiologist will be doing the ultrasound, and if it’s good news, I’ll know right away; I just suspect if it’s still unclear, it will be a while before I get answers.

Guess I better get going on some meditation or good stress-reduction techniques.  (For me, it’s cleaning or exercising … gotta burn off that nervous energy!)

Smash & Grab

Earlier this week, the hospital called to confirm an appointment.  We missed the call, so Dave listened to the voicemail while I watched the captioning scroll by on the phone.  They were confirming my Friday morning screening mammogram (the one I get every year at this time), and at one point in the captioning I read, “Please be here at 8 am for chicken.”

The captioning on our phones is usually good for a laugh, and this was an especially good one.  I even joked about it on Facebook, envisioning a mouthwatering meal of chicken awaiting me when I arrived for check-in (what I assume they really meant).

Alas, there was no chicken … just your standard boob-smashing.  This is my ninth mammogram, and before I got my first one I was a bit anxious.  As a woman, you lose a certain amount of modesty once you reach the childbearing years; if you aren’t getting an annual breast exam and pap smear, then you’re submitting to frequent pelvic exams (and then some) when you have a baby.  There’s just no way to go through these things and be shy about exposing your body a bit.

As a kid, I was horribly modest.  I wouldn’t wear halter tops and felt self-conscious in a bikini.  If a dressing room had no doors, I refused to use it.  This last one drove my mom crazy because we used to frequent a few stores that had this setup.  There was just no way I was taking my clothes off in a room full of strangers, with no privacy.  Sometimes she could get me to change clothes if she hung up all my stuff in such a way that it gave me a de facto curtain, but more often than not I dug in my heels and refused.

If you’d told me then that someday I’d let someone manhandle me for about 15 minutes during a mammogram and I wouldn’t even blush, I would never have believed you.  (I also would have sworn, at that tender age, to never have a mammogram, the same way I swore to never have babies because it meant I had to have blood drawn.)

Mammograms don’t bother me at all, really.  They don’t hurt; the technicians are always really nice and laid-back, and have a way of putting you at ease in what could be an uncomfortable situation.  The hospital I go to has a really cushy center for mammograms that I kind of enjoy visiting, so it’s all good.

The waiting room is fairly huge (with a kitchen and snacks and all kinds of goodies) and I never know what direction the technician might be coming from to call me back.  Usually when I’m in a waiting room, I’m on high alert.  I might hold a magazine and glance down every now and then, but I always make sure to position myself where I can see as they come in to call people.  I look up at any sign of movement and read lips to see if they’re calling my name.  This time, though, I sat back with a magazine and became engrossed in an article.  I did get a little nervous because technicians were coming from both directions, usually where I couldn’t see them at all, and oftentimes I couldn’t really understand what name they were saying.  Someone else always jumped up, though, so I knew they weren’t calling me.  Just when I was in the middle of a really interesting article, I heard my name.  The tech was around the corner where I couldn’t even see her, and I still caught my name with no problem at all.  That was a first for me!

Afterwards, we went home and Dave started coffee.  I had just turned on my computer when I heard him talking.  Turns out our bald squirrel friend was on the deck, eating sunflower seeds, and Dave was having a one-sided conversation with him.  This broke my heart because it was so cold that morning, right around seven degrees F.  I was glad he’d made it through the night, but I knew we had a bitterly cold weekend coming up.

Dave set a cat carrier outside, put some peanuts and pecans way at the back of the interior, and left the carrier door open.  He left our patio door open a crack, and waited for the squirrel to take the bait.  He was holding a long wooden stick that he planned to use to slam the door shut once the squirrel was fully inside.  The whole time, he talked to the squirrel and encouraged him.

I couldn’t watch, but I hovered in the periphery.  After about ten minutes, just as the water for our vacuum pot coffee maker was beginning to boil, I heard the cage door slam.  Dave held it shut with the stick, stepped out onto the deck and latched the carrier all the way.  The squirrel was strangely calm, which surprised us both; no chattering or foot stamping, just hanging out on the piece of berber carpet in the carrier.

It was about ten minutes after 9 am and Willowbrook Wildlife Center had opened at 9:00.  After we high-fived, we carried him out to the car, buckled the carrier in, and drove him over.  About 20 minutes later, he was in triage and we were giving our information to the admittance clerk.  She came back to let us know they were thinking he had mange, which is treatable.  After we talked for a while, we gave them a donation (not required, but we wanted to) and headed home, a little stunned that it had all happened so quickly.

It was a pretty great way to end the week.

Squirrel Saga

I’ve mentioned before that we get all kinds of wildlife on the deck in our backyard; we always keep a dish of cat food out there and let’s just say that it appeals to a wide variety of animals (cats included).  In addition to the cat food, we toss bird seed out as well.  We don’t really have a place to hang a feeder, so the birds just eat off the floor, so to speak.  Since there’s no challenge, and because we also toss out peanuts for the blue jays, we get a bunch of squirrels as well.

We used to see the same squirrels on a fairly regular basis, until our backyard neighbor cut down their two huge trees (where most of the squirrels probably lived).  For a while after that, we’d be lucky to see one squirrel every few days.  Over the past month or two, the squirrels have started coming back.  They all kind of look the same, gray squirrels with fat, fluffy tails; some are fearless and come right to the patio door to beg for a peanut, and others run away as soon as they see us moving around in the kitchen.

One of our squirrel friends from last year -- this one was a baby.

One of our squirrel friends from last year — this one was a baby.

Last year we had a healthy mix of red and gray squirrels.  Then almost all of the red squirrels started showing up with big patches of fur missing.  It was easy to recognize them because of the various bald spots they sported, and we were able to see the disease(?) progress:  One day they’d show up with a patch of loose fur, and the next day it would be totally gone.

One fella was in an especially bad way and we really felt sorry for him.  We’d implore him not to scratch, and make jokes about getting him a little squirrel toupee.  Then one day I realized his fur was growing back.  We seriously rejoiced when we saw this; eventually his fur grew back completely and you’d never know he’d once had a bald spot.

This year, though, we’ve only had gray squirrels.  Dave thinks some kind of disease, maybe mange, went through the local red squirrel population.  At first it wasn’t as noticeable because we just didn’t have as many squirrels visiting as we used to.  Once they started coming back, though, we realized we were only seeing gray squirrels.  Until last week.

Last week, a red squirrel with a skinny little tail came bounding onto our deck.  He planted himself firmly in the middle of the bird seed Dave had just thrown out, and started searching out the sunflower seeds.  The top of his head was bald, he had a bald patch on his back, and it looked like his hindquarters were getting thin too.

We felt sorry for him and tossed a few peanuts his way.  He started coming to the deck every morning, hanging around for an hour or two, and then disappearing until the next day.  After a couple of days, he showed up looking really ragged.  It was misty and drizzly that day so I thought that was part of the reason he looked so rough, but he also had a patch of fur that looked like it was barely hanging on.  The next day he showed up bald along most of his upper back, as well as the side of one of his legs.

The weather has been mild lately, in the 40s and 50s, but we have a cold front coming in tonight.  I was really getting upset about this little guy, who needs his fur to survive the coming cold temperatures.  At first Dave put me off, saying that nature would take its course.  I’m a little bit stubborn though, and I checked out a local rehab place (Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn) to see if they took in sick squirrels.

I read the information out loud to Dave; basically they will take in a sick or injured squirrel, but they aren’t going to come and get them out of your attic or keep them from digging in your backyard.  I played it cool and just told Dave, “You don’t have to call, but it sounds like they might be able to help him.  If you want, you could call and see what they say.”

Dave is probably a bigger sucker than me for a sick animal, so of course he called.  They said that they didn’t have the manpower to send someone out to catch the squirrel, but if we could get him then we could definitely bring him to them.

So for the past two days, we’ve been trying to trap this squirrel with one of our small cat carriers.  Let’s just say that squirrels are fast and it’s been a challenge.

We did get him all the way in once, but before we could get the door shut he slipped out again.  It didn’t appear to freak him out, because he came right back and was hanging around the deck (and the carrier) again this morning.  It’s afternoon now, and we usually don’t see him after the morning hours.

I’m not sure we’ll be successful, and I’m not sure he’ll survive the cold weather that’s coming in, but we’ll take any squirrel trapping vibes you can send our way!

Welcome, December

Last night I was explaining to Dave what Elf on the Shelf is.  I see it mentioned a lot, enough so that I’ve figured out the whole deal even though our kids are grown and out of the house.  After I finished talking, I sighed.  “I would have rocked the whole Elf on the Shelf thing with the kids.  I wish it had been around when they were little!”  Dave was grinning and nodding; I think he would have had even more fun with it than I would.

That’s the hard part about establishing solid holiday traditions; when the kids move out and move on with their lives, so many of the traditions just stop.  It’s like a little slap of empty nest syndrome every Christmas.

I’ve talked before about our advent calendar traditions; I always had three advent calendars.  That way each kid could do an advent calendar every day, and they alternated days on the third one.  All of our Christmas decorations are up now (except the outside) and I did bring out the advent Christmas tree decoration.  Dave and I are taking turns with it; it’s got drawers with little ornaments inside, and every day you open a drawer, discover the ornament and put it on the tree.

Our advent tree decoration

Our advent tree decoration

I always asked to see what ornament they got for the day.  Paige liked to tease me and  try to sneak the ornament on the tree without showing me, the little scamp.  🙂

On a whim, I grabbed a couple of those chocolate advent calendars for the kids, so I could surprise them on Thanksgiving.  You know the kind – they’re cardboard, and behind each door is a tiny piece of candy.  I presented it to Eric with a flourish and he looked kind of stricken.  “I thought you might get a kick out of this,” I explained.  “Since we can’t do advent calendars anymore, you can do this one at home.”

“OH!”  He exhaled with relief.  “I thought you meant it was for us to do here and I was kinda like, ‘Uh, that’s not really possible’.”  When I realized he thought I expected him to travel here from Chicago every day to do an advent calendar, I got the giggles.  I might have a hard time letting go, but I’m not that bad.

Last year I did Holidailies, where I posted every day for the month of December.  I don’t think I can commit to that again this year but I’ll try to pop in more than usual.  Happy start of December!

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