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Hep C, Writing, Fitbit, House

“It says here that I should eat ice cream every day.” Dave looked up from his computer screen and smiled.

I have to give him points for trying – ice cream every day would take the sting out of going through treatment for Hepatitis C a second time.

His new treatment starts next week, and it goes for three months this time. He’ll be taking a new drug, Harvoni (I keep wanting to call it Havarti, like the cheese) along with his old friend Ribavirin. No interferon shots this time, thank God. We couldn’t remember if he had to take the drugs with a high-fat snack the way he did last time, so he was doing research to refresh his memory. (Turns out it was the boceprevir that required the high-fat snack, so no requisite Hershey bars or peanut butter this time around.)

This regimen should have way less side effects, although there will still be a few from the Ribavirin. (If he was treatment-naïve, he would just take the Harvoni which has very few side effects.) We’ll be making bi-weekly trips to Fort Wayne to pick up his medicine (he gets a two week supply each time) and have them check his labs.

I didn’t mean to let so much time go by without an update. I was taking an online class on how to make money from your writing, and it ended this month. By the end of the class I was feeling like I just wanted to write here and not try to actually make any money by writing – and then I stopped writing here, go figure. It was pretty eye-opening, though, and I’m glad I took the class. I had a lot of misconceived notions about writing for magazines, for instance. I didn’t realize that you don’t actually write a piece and submit it (unless it’s an essay, which I discovered is the type of writing I prefer). A magazine article is just an idea when you send a query to a magazine – ‘Hey, how about I write on this subject for you?’ – and then you wait to find out if anyone is interested. If they are, then you write the article.

And a book – well, my memoir has been stalled for months, so it’s not like I was on the verge of being done or anything, but I was still thinking of book publishing as ‘write a book, submit the manuscript and hope it gets accepted, if it does then the publisher promotes it and you hope people buy it.’ No sir. It’s more like, write a book and then try to convince a publisher to accept it by showing how popular you are and all the things YOU can do to promote it. I have NO desire to try to sell a book. I don’t want to have to give talks or readings, I don’t want to do interviews, I don’t want to spend my days begging my friends to buy my book. I just want to write, man. So I figured, screw it, I’m just going to satisfy my urge to write through my blog. And then, like I said, I stopped writing.

I was very caught up in the whole ‘I am not a writer if I don’t get paid for what I write’ thing and it was really messing with my head. So I backed off of everything for a while, I guess.

In other exciting news, sort of related to writing, I got a Fitbit last week. Influenster offered me the eBay Guide badge, where you earn a $25 eBay gift card by writing two eBay guides. It took forever and a day to have both of the guides accepted (they read them and approve them one at a time) and then to actually get the gift card, which was sent in the mail. While I was trying to figure out what to spend it on, they offered me an eBay Guide VIP badge for another $25 gift card. I decided to do two more guides, and held onto the first gift card so I could combine them. The second gift card came via email and voila, I had $50 to spend on eBay.

I had done some research on the Fitbit, and decided on either the Flex or the Charge. I don’t use it for phone stuff so the only thing the Charge really offered that the Flex didn’t have was an on-screen display. I did some pricing and realized I could get the Flex for very little of my own money, so that sealed my decision. I finally snagged a slate blue Fitbit Flex for $60 with free shipping, used my $50 in gift cards and got myself a Fitbit for the low, low out-of-my-pocket price of $10.

I am properly obsessed right now, and I do find myself extending my workouts to get in at least 10,000 steps a day if I can. I don’t really bother with the calorie portion of the app because I use the Livestrong MyPlate website to track my calories, but I do take note of the calories I supposedly burned (according to Fitbit) versus the calories I consumed (according to MyPlate).

I am holding steady with my weight, and I just have seven measly pounds to get to my ultimate, in-my-dreams goal. However, I’ve been within 4 to 7 pounds of that goal for nearly a year now. Maybe the Fitbit will take me over the top. If nothing else, I’ll be more active. Win, win!

Now I’ve gotten a third eBay Guide badge, the VIP Plus, for another $25 gift card. I completed those guides and they were accepted right away, so I’m waiting for the gift card (it usually takes a few weeks). Let me just say, finding topics that I could write on was really hard. You have to use the Influenster topic suggestion tool and use something from there. You click on this ‘inspire me’ button and it spins around and throws out a topic. Most of them were for things I’d never even heard of, or had no idea what to write about (how to replace a manual transmission; pricing Pokemon cards; birds of Asia). I lucked out with a couple of candle topics, one on canning, DIY hair stuff, things like that. It took a lot of clicking to get there, though.

I think we are finally ready to give the garden a go. Dave is out burning the brush pile right now; it has to go because it’s currently in the area we plan to till. Well, I think we may have someone come in and do the tilling for us. We’ve figured the cost of renting a tiller AND a truck (because we can’t fit the tiller in our Hyundai Sonata), and it may be cheaper just to pay someone to come do it for us with their own equipment. One way or another, though, the garden area should be prepared in the next couple of weeks and we can finally begin planting. One more thing – we finally started a compost pile. I’ve never had one, so I keep having to dig through the trash to pull out vegetable peelings, egg shells and the like.

We will miss this little house when we move on, but it won’t be until 2016 at the earliest. Last year was so full of trauma and upheaval, and we are looking forward to just staying put for this year. It is so nice to wake up every day feeling relaxed, wondering where the day will take us. Every day we find new flowers coming up, new buds on the trees. I’m already looking forward to mulberries and raspberries.

Raspberries from our yard last year

Raspberries from our yard last year

Renewal

Last night we diced up the last butternut squash from our 2014 garden. As I brought it up from the basement, I remembered furtively picking it in late September. Because everything was so sudden with our move from Illinois, and because we had no idea we’d be moving that summer to begin with, our garden got short shrift. Actually, if we’d known we’d be moving by July we would not have put in a garden to begin with.

But we did, and we hated to leave it behind. The timing was awkward – a little earlier, and we could have brought some of the plants to Michigan and transplanted them. But it was too late for transplanting, and too early for much harvesting.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Because we were still going back to Illinois regularly for Dave’s dentist appointments, we did manage to harvest a few things: some tomatoes, one zucchini, all the garlic and onions, and a few leeks. My purple broccoli was coming along really well but we had to abandon it [sad trombone]. The house was in our name until the end of September, so on our very last trip back we grabbed the aforementioned tomatoes and zucchini, and then I started wandering the butternut squash patch.

Dave was getting antsy to get back on the road and kept urging me to stop. “But look at this one! It’s ripe already,” I said, pointing. I inched forward, crouching, pushing leaves aside. “Oh wait, I have to get this one too.” A couple were not as golden as they should be, but all told I ended up getting six beautiful squash before we headed back to Michigan. Over the past few months, they all ripened perfectly in our cool basement.

We just got our first seed catalog a few days ago, and even though we’re firmly in winter’s grip, we are already looking ahead to spring. One of the many things that attracted us to this house was the acre of land, and a very flexible landlady who was more than happy for us to put in a huge garden. Although there’s a tiny chance something could come up, some house at an amazing price that we just know is meant to be ours, it’s more likely that we will stay here for another year when our lease comes up in July. We decided to take a chance and put in that big garden we’ve been dreaming about.

I really hope we can see this one through. It’s going to be the largest garden I’ve ever had, although Dave is really the gardener in our house so he gets all the credit. I think I’ll be more involved in this garden though; its size might require two people for maintenance. We’re planting things I’ve never grown before – cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, fennel, kale – and things I haven’t grown in years, like carrots, green beans and watermelon. My purple broccoli will get a second chance in 2015, as well as the herbs, butternut squash, a variety of tomatoes and peppers.

Although nobody in our immediate family died in 2014 (thank God), it still felt like there was too much loss, too much taken from us. I’m looking forward to new growth and renewal, filling that empty space.

New Starts: Plants and Houses Edition

This is our first seriously WARM day this year, warm as in ‘we left the furnace off all night and woke up to 72 degrees this morning.’ Warm as in ‘we opened the windows before 9 am and it was humid.’ I’m not sure I’m crazy about the humidity thing, but it seems to be dissipating as the afternoon wears on. (My ever-present glass of water is no longer coated with condensation, for instance.)

Dave just came in from planting the garden. The past few years he’s started seeds indoors and then transplanted them, but this year he decided to just sow the seeds outside from the start. I’m always amazed at how quickly things grow once they get outside, so it will be fun to watch the little plants poke through and then track their growing progress. In May and June, it seems like they will never get big enough to produce anything edible before cold weather sets back in … and then in late June, early July, it’s like they grow two feet overnight.

This year we got our seeds from Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds again. We used them last year and were really happy with them, even though some of the plants weren’t what we expected. (We had quite a crop of mystery tomatoes last year!) One of the mystery tomatoes, which turned out to be Costoluto Genovese, turned out to be so delicious that we deliberately ordered those seeds this year. We have a few types of tomatoes and peppers, butternut squash, zucchini (I begged Dave to just plant ONE this year, after my insane zucchini harvest last year), and some things that we’ve never planted before: leeks and Purple Peacock broccoli.

We are still keeping an eye out for houses in Michigan, and I’ve been kind of joking with Dave about the garden and a possible move. If we find something awesome, we could very easily pick up and go at any time … but what about our plants? I told him we’d either have to dig up everything, put them all in pots and move them, or sneak back here in the fall and reap the harvest. (I’m only half-kidding about that last one!) It feels like everyone is moving right now – my mom just sold her townhouse and is moving into an amazing two-bedroom apartment in a nearby senior living complex, and our neighbors just put their house up for sale yesterday. It’ll be interesting to see what they get for their house and how long it takes to sell.

We couldn’t sell our house when we looked into it last year, as I mentioned before – well, not for anywhere near what we needed to pay off the mortgage. We’re looking at land contracts in Michigan now, probably our only real option with a bankruptcy and pending foreclosure on our record. I doubt we could easily find a place to rent when we have four cats! So land contract it is; they are much more common in Michigan than they are here in Illinois. Dave is familiar with them but I had never heard of selling on land contract until he mentioned it. It will probably be quite a while before we actually have to leave this house, so we are just saving our money and keeping an eye on what’s available in southwest Michigan.

It’s kind of exciting, kind of nerve-wracking … we’re really in limbo, just saving money and waiting things out, which is, well, kind of boring. Luckily for me, my mom has asked me to help her decorate her new place when she moves in next month. It’s a blank slate, and HUGE, and it will be a blast helping her get things laid out … and maybe throw in some pops of color too.

One thing I can’t wait to do is get into a new place and make it my own; we know that wherever we end up will most likely be in fairly rough shape and/or be in need of updating, so I’m expecting to do a lot of renovating and redecorating (as time and money permit). When I bought this house, I really wanted something move-in ready. This next time around, it will be less ‘what I want’ and more ‘what can we afford?’ As long as it’s ours and we have a place for us and our four cats, that’s good enough for me!

Garden Mysteries

When we planned for this year’s garden, we decided to try heirloom seeds instead of just perusing the rack of seeds at our local garden center.  I ordered a catalog and we spent an afternoon flipping through the pages, marking off the varieties that sounded interesting.  We ordered a few types of peppers, butternut squash, lemon basil, and two types of tomatoes:  Amish Paste and San Marzano Lungo No. 2.  The rest of the garden was filled out with seeds we already had:  zucchini, sweet basil, chives and thyme.

I’ve mentioned before that the garden is Dave’s domain.  He just gets plants; he talks to them and knows what they need (or don’t need).  He’s confident in his abilities – watering, transplanting, starting them from seed.  He understands soil and how to deal with pests.  I like to cook with the results of the garden, but I have no instincts where gardening is concerned.  I would need to sit down with a book and keep consulting it as I went along, checking on the internet and taking way too long to do things that Dave would accomplish in a matter of minutes.

I asked Dave to show me how he starts his seeds, figuring that gardening is a good skill to have.  He patiently showed me all the steps and I tried to remember it all (and not get too bored).  Towards the end he just did what he needed to do and I wasn’t involved; it’s just easier to get in there and do it instead of slowing down and explaining every step to your wife as she tries to stifle a yawn.

Under Dave’s attentive care, the plants thrived.  I always have little faith in the early stages of the garden, when our neighbors have planted their huge store-bought plants and our started-from-seed guys look so minute in comparison.  There’s a bunch of little bitty plants surrounded and divided by a huge expanse of dirt, and it just looks kind of pitiful.  I always think, “Oh, there’s no way these plants will ever catch up.  I better plan on buying tomatoes and zucchini at the store this year.”

Of course, a month later I’m amazed at how much our tiny plants have grown, and by now, late August, I can’t even remember when they were little babies shivering in their huge dirt playground.  Instead I’m thinking, Huh…how long do zucchini plants produce, anyway?  Is there any chance it’s almost over?

Our heirloom pepper plants have done better than any store-bought pepper plants we’ve ever bought; the one bell pepper we got at the store this year started out way bigger than our seedlings and now it looks like a dwarf plant.  I was starting to give up on it but Dave just told me it’s got a couple of small peppers growing (finally).  Usually we don’t have great luck with peppers, but this year we have a nice variety that are producing like crazy:  Anaheim, Albino Bullnose, Friariello Di Napoli (Italian frying peppers)…and the lone bell pepper plant.  We also planted a variety called Grandpa’s Home but none of those survived the transplanting.

We bought just two types of heirloom tomato seeds:  Amish Paste and San Marzano Lungo.  Mainly we wanted lots of tomatoes for making gravy and for canning; my stomach can only handle fresh (uncooked) tomatoes in small doses, and we just never make salads or put tomatoes on sandwiches.  In the confusion of seed-starting, going from little cups to bigger vessels and then out to the garden, we lost track of which tomato plant was which.  Both varieties kind of look the same, like Roma/plum tomatoes, with the Amish Paste being more uniform in shape.  We figured once the plants started producing it would be easy to tell which was which.

Except most of the plants produced tomatoes that look absolutely nothing like Amish Paste or San Marzano.  Some of them are round; some have deep ridges and look almost like pumpkins.  As the green tomatoes started popping up on the plants, we walked the whole garden and found only two that look like Amish Paste and one that looks like San Marzano.  Out of twelve tomato plants!  Dave guesses that we have two unknown varieties out there, in addition to the two we purchased.

The catalog has pages of tomato offerings, many without pictures.  The website does have pictures (or drawings, in some cases) so we scrolled through those, trying to guess what we might be growing.  It’s hard to tell when the fruit is still green, since this company offers seeds for tomatoes in a variety of colors:  pink, red, green, striped, orange, purple, white and yellow.  They are just starting to ripen and so far they’ve all been red…and delicious!  We’re actually really excited to have such an unexpected variety of heirloom tomatoes to sample.  And who doesn’t like a little mystery in their garden, amirite?!

Now the zucchini is another matter.  We’ll walk the garden, harvest four or five zucchini and spy maybe one or two teeny-tiny zukes that aren’t ready to be picked.  The day after next, Dave will go back out and come back with six zucchini, two of which are massive caveman clubs.  Where did they come from?!  I have a theory that our neighbors are sneaking into the garden and placing their own zucchini overflow amongst the huge leaves of our plants.  What other explanation is there?!

Zucchini – All Day, Every Day

Earlier this year, I nervously watched as Dave planted three (yes, THREE) zucchini plants in the garden.  “Are you sure you want to plant three?” I fretted.  “I mean, I could barely keep up with one zucchini plant last year.”

“Oh, this is nothing…it’ll be fine.”  He grinned as he patted the dirt around the last plant, then stood up and confidently clapped his hands clean.

Fast forward to August, NOW, and let’s just say the zucchini plants are very happy.  They are large and productive and gleefully giving up zucchini left and right.

Luckily, I like zucchini.  It’s one of those veggies that’s very easy to add to just about anything; it doesn’t have a strong flavor that overwhelms everything else, and it’s pretty forgiving.  There’s just so MUCH of it, man.

When I finish this post, I’m going to make some banana-zucchini bread (with a streusel topping, because yum).  Yesterday I made a pot of chicken and noodles, and tossed a nice-sized zucchini in with the carrots, celery and onion.  It was awesome.  So far this week we’ve had zucchini brownies, grilled zucchini and corn (tossed with olive oil and spices – delicious), shredded zucchini added to the spaghetti gravy (you’d never even know it’s there), and the pièce de résistance:  an apple pie, made with zucchini and no apples.

I’d seen this recipe before, and everyone who tried it insisted you couldn’t tell it wasn’t apple inside.  Still, though, I didn’t want to waste time making pie crust just to have a sweet zucchini pie, ya know?  But the pile of zucchini on my counter called to me, and I had a pie crust already made and hanging out in the freezer, and I thought, Okay, we’re gonna do this.

The recipe was basically exactly like my regular apple pie recipe – scarily so – except for one change, which was the addition of 1-1/2 teaspoons of cream of tartar.  Dave and I puzzled over the role it played in the zucchini/apple magic, and couldn’t really figure it out.  In the end we decided it must have served to thicken the liquid a bit.  When we added all the ingredients to the peeled and sliced zucchini, it did get very watery.  The recipe instructions mentioned this and said it would be fine, so I decided not to worry.  And it was!  It was fine!  More than fine, really – even the next day, the filling was thick and delicious, and it tastes JUST like apple.  I mean, it’s really weird.  And I know it’s zucchini, so I keep expecting it to taste like zucchini, and it just does not.

Dave claims he can tell it’s not apple because of the texture (to me, the texture is just like apple…but he’s more of an apple connoisseur than I am).  However, he didn’t think it tasted like zucchini, or that he would know it was zucchini if I hadn’t told him; he just would have asked me what kind of apple I used.  (!!)

Here’s the pie (with a crumble topping, since I didn’t feel like making a second crust):

Crappy cellphone pic of apple...er...zucchini pie

Crappy cellphone pic of apple…er…zucchini pie

We’ve actually been keeping up with the zucchini really well; three plants’ worth, for heaven’s sake.  (Not that I want three plants next year.  Are you paying attention, dear husband of mine?!)  I like them smaller, so we try to catch them before they turn into caveman clubs.  (It doesn’t always work, but we try!)

I’m also trying not to freeze any, not just yet.  It’s fine if you use frozen zucchini within a couple months, but any longer and it starts to taste weird.  Since I have so much zucchini coming in, if I freeze it now then I won’t need to use the frozen stuff until November or so.  I’d rather wait for the end of harvest and then put up a few bags of sliced and shredded zucchini for the winter months.  That way they won’t be so ‘old’ by the time I get to them.

We discovered that we really like grilled zucchini (all this time and I never tried that), and I have yet to make a big pot of pasta primavera, which is a terrific way to use zucchini.  I also have a really yummy creamy zucchini soup recipe that I haven’t broken out yet this season, because it’s been too hot.  All in good time.

I have a potato zucchini frittata recipe I want to try, and zucchini bread to make (my regular recipe, loaded with zucchini, carrots and pineapple, which is more like a cake and has a delicious cream cheese frosting).  I haven’t yet made stuffed zucchini, which is great – I stuff it with onions, mushrooms, bacon and cheese (and, of course, the chopped zucchini that’s been scooped out).  Not to mention bruschetta with roasted tomatoes and zucchini (gotta wait for the tomatoes to ripen before I can make that).  Geez, I really need more zucchini if I’m going to make everything I want to.

Who would believe that, in my previous picky-eater life, I never, ever used to eat zucchini?!

Satisfaction

Well, I let 2.5 months slip by here.  Since I last posted, Paige finished her junior year of high school, Dave finally (finally!) saw the liver doctor, summer arrived with an asphalt-melting vengeance, Toby the Dog got his teeth cleaned (and his honking cough got much better), and I did my usual worrying and fretting about The Future.  What else is new?

We put in a garden again this year, after such a roaring success with tomatoes last year.  I say “we” but really, if the garden were my responsibility we would be nibbling on dry husks come fall.  Dave is my Farmer Boy, and he does all of the gardening and yard stuff.  This year he decided to start the plants from seeds.  It was, to me, kind of late in the year to be making this industrious decision (the last week of April) and I was skeptical.  I envisioned tiny, spindly plants under the glare of the July sun, while our neighbors tended to their waist-high robust tomato garden.

I was wrong, okay?  Really, I have no clue where plants or gardening is concerned.  I made Dave show me (nay, involve me) in the process, because I really had no idea how to go about growing a plant from a seed.  I guess I would grab some dirt from the yard, stick it in a Dixie cup and toss in some seeds?  Dave did grab Dixie cups, but he also grabbed coffee filters.  (Wha?)  We got the filter damp, spread seeds on one side, folded it up just so, and tucked the whole thing into the Dixie cup.  We labeled the cups (rosemary, thyme, basil, two kinds of parsley, cherry tomatoes and Roma tomatoes) and then I promptly forgot about them.  I don’t even know if Dave watered them.  (I just asked, and not only did he moisten them with an eyedropper, he did it with rainwater.  And he talked to the plants.  I love this man.)

Every now and then I would peek at them and yay, sprouts!  Dave transplanted them into slightly larger containers with dirt, gave them some time out in the sun, and I sat around doubting their ability to grow big enough fast enough.  And now?  Those suckers are huge.  They are out in the garden, or in pots (in the case of the herbs) flowering and growing away.  They kick the neighbor’s tomatoes asses.  I like to step out on the deck and look over the side at the garden and marvel that those huge plants were teeny little sprouts just 2 months ago.  Talk about satisfaction.

It’s time to find recipes involving lots of basil (seriously, we have many basil plants and I will be upset if they go to waste), lots of tomatoes, and lots of peppers (we cheated and bought already-started pepper plants).  It’s a good thing I’m Italian, isn’t it?  Unfortunately for Dave, he’s heading into a month of gastrointestinal testing for his GERD and hiatal hernia, and guess what he’s supposed to avoid?  Tomatoes.

More for me!!  😉

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