Friday, June 23, 2017

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Dad did not come into this world easily.  His mother was 14 years old when she gave birth to her first child - a premature, underweight baby boy born in a throw=away place called Deal, PA.  Dad was born a “Blue Baby”, a newborn whose blood is not oxygenated enough.  I don’t think we know how much Dad actually weighed at birth, or even how long he was . . . but his first bed was a sewing machine drawer.  Against all those odds, Dad survived and grew.  But then, so did his obstacles.

He’s had more than a few scrapes in his life.  He once cut the end off of a finger with a power saw.  He once didn’t duck fast enough while running through a low doorway and tore the top of his head open.  He's had surgical eye implants.  He had two back-to-back surgeries – one quintuple bypass, the other on his intestines that had spent years turning gangrene.  Not to mention, Dad’s been a bit of a smoker for more than the better part of his life.  You see, he wasn’t supposed to live long enough to meet his first grandchild, let alone see the birth of his first great-grandchild 27 years after that  The point is, Dad has defied the odds his entire life and is here today to celebrate his 78th birthday.  

Admittedly, 78 is still not THAT old, but despite everything, Dad has outlived his father, who died at the age of 57, and has more than doubled the life span of his mother, who died at the age of 34.  He’s outlived both sets of grandparents and all 8 great-grandparents.  In Dad's family history, he is now the 5th oldest person in his lineage. 

From Dad, I have learned many things - mostly by example.  He showed me early on what it is to sacrifice for your loved ones; what it is to be dedicated and committed to either an action or a belief; what it is to give of yourself and your time to a cause you hold dear; what it means to do things that need to be done despite whether or not you know how to approach it; what it means to be quietly principled; and yes, even what it is to be the life of the party when you want to be.

When I "came out" to my Dad in 1997, I didn't know what to expect from him.  However, after I was finished speaking, his response was simply, "Well, I had NO idea".  When I pressed him on it, he said, "well I guess I thought about it at some point, but it never really seemed to matter.  It's your life; live it however you want."  And then the next morning, he woke me from bed and told me he needed help working on the deck.  If my very blue-collar, unworldly Dad had any trouble with having a gay son, he never let me know it.  From my perspective, Dad accepted me for the man I had become - a man espousing those same principles I listed above.  

Today, Dad is not where he wants to be, and certainly not where we selfishly want him to be either.  But there he is, living every day in his own, private world.  Now and then, there's a connection.  I experienced my first real connection with Dad in a few years during my most recent trip home.  For his birthday, I gave him a globe that lights up with different colors.  When he received it, he cried, which is the only emotion my Dad can express anymore.  It was a happy-cry; we've been able to learn the difference.  And as I leaned in to kiss him, he looked at me and I could tell he wanted to say something to me.  It was the first time I had experienced that with him in the years he's been living in his mental prison.  He wanted to tell me something, and I can only imagine what it was.  And that has to be good enough now.

But I know what it was.  My dad and I have a long history of unspoken words between us, knowing what the other means without really having to say it.  Two weeks after my coming out conversation, I was back visiting my parents.  My siblings and I were sitting around the picnic table on the newly finished deck and my dad came and sat by me.  There wasn't much room so he pushed into me.  When I turned to look at him, he smiled at me.  That's when I knew Dad and I were "good".  And thus is my history with him.  

Across the many miles, I send him love on his birthday today.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Childhood Bully Is An Electrician

Recently, I was back home visiting Mom and Dad for the annual "Birthday/Father's Day visit". My parents' birthdays are one week apart with Father's Day always falling in-between. It's been very handy that this has been the pattern my entire life. It's like knocking out a few celebrations at once which has always been awesome for me when traveling back home.

These days, I like having projects to do when I go back to Frostburg. This fact is no doubt influenced by my life with Kevin. I've never been lazy or one to just sit around all day, but these days I really enjoy taking a project on or at least managing a project to completion. And if you follow Kevin and/or me on this blog or any other social media, you'll agree that there has been no shortage or projects in our lives for the past several years.

Before I arrived home, Mom joked that she had a list, which I loved hearing. But the only thing she really sought my help with was an electrical problem she was experiencing in the house, with ceiling lights dimming and blinking and appliances not seeming to work at full power. I told her to call an electrician to visit the house one day while I am home.

The electrician came on Tuesday of that week. When he arrived, Mom and I walked out to the driveway to meet him and I instantly recognized him as a kid I went to high school with named Mike. In short, Mike hated me, or at least chose to express his severe dislike for me in every form of discourse available to a kid at the age of 17. He was one of the reasons I wrote It Gets Better, one of the most transparent, naked blog posts I've every written. Seeing Mike instantly transported me back to those high school days. I was almost instantly consumed with a calm rage, expressed physically with folded arms and a wide stance. I found myself "puffing up", as Kevin calls it. I can be physically imposing when I want to be, and I caught myself doing it just for the sake of scaring/impressing/warning this man who I had always seen as a threat. And here he stood in my parents' house.

He chatted with us for a second and then went to investigate the house and problems. I leaned in to Mom and whispered to her "He HATED me in high school. He called me names, teased me, was just a horrible, rotten kid." And I wonder, now, what went through my Mom's head at that point. She knows full well what my adolescent life was like. And standing in her home was one of the causes of all my angst. She must have felt some kind of conflict.

After Mike looked things over, he starts chatting us up the way people in small towns do when they try to figure out who you and your kids are to make that personal connection. He recognized my brothers, Matt and Mike, from their names and then looks directly at me and asks, "Now which one are you?"

"I'm Darren."
He looked a little stunned, looked away, then back at me and a few seconds later said, "What year did you graduate?"

I looked him dead in the eye and said, "1984".

He said, laughing, "Well, hell we graduated together!"

"Yeah, I know. I was just telling her (Mom) that."

He looked away, searching through memories, and responded, "Yeah, I remember you."

And it took everything inside me not to come back with something like, "I bet you do, you little prick!"

There I was - face to face with someone who made me feel worthless, and I had the enviable opportunity to let him know how insignificant he made me feel all those years ago and how his actions and the actions of others caused me years of self-doubt and insecurity . . . and I couldn't say a thing to him because I needed him to perform this service for my Mom and to like her enough that he might cut her a break on the cost of the project.

I wonder, now, if he ended up really thinking about me after we met again. Did he have the same feelings and memories of me that I have of him? Do bullies carry those memories or was I so meaningless to him that he didn't remember how he treated me? He definitely remembered my name not surprised he didn't recognize me), so I would like to think he remembers what a horrible kid he was.

A long time ago, I put my faith in the universe that it would balance everything out in my life. When something went wrong, I always had faith that a retribution would occur. Maybe I wouldn't be there to witness it in person or even know about it, but I had belief that it would happen. So my consolation is in the recognition of how great my life turned out. I'm not going to compare my life to his, but I am so proud and happy with my life and the people I have chosen to be part of it, that now it all doesn't matter. My great revenge, if that's what it was, was living the life I did, having the fun I've had, and knowing and loving the people I have.

As for the electrical problem, Mike fixed it. And he charged half of what I expected it to be. Perhaps that's the result of small town pricing. But I decided that he factored a "bully discount" in the total. The universe pretty much demanded it.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Road Tripping

It;s no secret that Kevin and I like quirky things.  It's probably what has attracted us to each other all these years.  I mean, who wouldn't be attracted to a man who is incredibly smart, ridiculously talented, super cute, and is passionate about things like gardening, circus arts, and keeping himself in peak physical condition?

But enough about me.

I've mentioned on here before that Kevin and I have a personal challenge we are working towards as a couple: to visit every state in the country together.  We've been doing a fairly solid job of it in our 12 years together, and we keep track by purchasing a distinct brand of state magnet and posting it on a wall in our house to commemorate the journey.  Over Memorial Day Weekend this year, we added 5 new magnets to our wall, which now leaves only Georgia and the New England states before we've hit every state east of the Mississippi River.

Since starting this challenge, we have combined it with our love of visiting odd/random/bizarre places and things by taking road trips and following websites like Roadside America and Atlas Obscura to seek out and visit sites that have a story, be it strange, fascinating or just plain weird.  And going forward, it will help if these places are in states we have yet to visit.  And since there are not many things we like better than a good old fashioned road trip, one became the catalyst for our holiday weekend excursion to visit a few sites in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, thus adding those 5 states to our map.

Our first stop was on historic Route 66 where we visited a renovated Texaco station in Dwight, IL, followed by a rabbit farm in Staunton, IL, then on to St. Louis, MO where we visited The Arch.

We also spent about 4.5 hours in the City Museum, a constantly-evolving/"always building" 12-story building housing slides, caves, a ferris wheel on the roof, a bus solidly teetering on the edge of the building, steel tunnels and cages to climb through to get from one point to another.  There's no age limit for attending and it would seem that the only hinderance would be your size; if you can fit, you can try it out.  There are no maps and nothing explaining what anything is - you just have to discover it for yourself and try it out.  This place was Kevin's Disney World.  He lit up like a kid on Christmas when we walked in and was still excited (albeit it exhausted and sweaty) when we left.  I expect us to go back again.

The next morning, we headed to south and stopped in Chester, IL, the birthplace of the Popeye cartoon.  The artist was originally from Chester and most of the characters, including Popeye, Wimpy, and Olive Oyl, were based on people who lived in Chester.  The town had statues of just about every character in different places. Then on to the semi-abandoned town of Cairo, IL (pronounced Care-Oh), the southernmost city in IL at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and, thus, the lowest elevation in the state.  And then we passed through Arkansas, but not without first taking a glamour shot.

We finished Day 2 of the trip by visiting the Bass Pro Shop located at the Pyramid in Memphis, TN.  This place was massive and house every hunting, camping, boating and outdoor supply you could ever think of.  There were a few restaurants, a huge aquarium, a bowling alley, a hotel, and TONS of taxidermy.  We were completely out of our element but still enjoyed ourselves.

That night we stayed in Memphis (but that's a whole 'nother story.  Look for that blog posting in the coming weeks!).  We tried to visit Beale Street that night but it was impossible to get to, especially on a holiday weekend.  So we called it a night and went back to Beale the following morning.  Perhaps not as exciting as it is at night with all the lights, but still fun to be there.  A few blocks away, we stopped by Sun Records, the basis of the Tony-winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet (Mom and Kim - you saw this when you were in Chicago once).  And before leaving Memphis, we stopped by the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in 1968.  The remarkably preserved motel now houses the National Civil Rights Museum.

Back on the road, we stopped in a cemetery in Mayfield, KY to see the "The Strange Procession That Never Moves": the grave plot commissioned by Col. Henry Wooldridge and built over the course of 7 years until his death in 1899.  The plot is populated by 15 life-size sculptures of Col. Wooldridge, along with members of his family (mother, 3 sisters and several brothers), his 3 pets (his horse Fop and his dogs, Toehead and Bob), a few wild animals (a fox and a deer), and a young girl who is either his grandniece or the young love of his life who died in a horse accident (depends on who you talk to).  All the monuments are cenotaphs since the Colonel is the only one actually buried in the plot.

After that weirdness, we drove back into Illinois where our first stop was Metropolis, which has embraced the Superman lore.  Then on to a small town called Gays - that's right - Gays, IL, where we saw a 2-story outhouse, and then a quick stop in Effingham, IL where we saw America's largest cross at 198 feet.

We spent the night in Champaign, IL and hit the road back to Chicago the next morning. It was a well-spent, well-traveled 4 days.  We added 5 new states to our magnet board, which is filling in nicely.  There will probably be several more road trips this summer, and we will be sure to document our fun.  Because who doesn't want to travel along with someone who's adventurous, fun-loving, and adorable.

But enough about me.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

I Was A 30-Day Diabetic

These days, diabetes is prevalent in American society for many different reasons:  some people are overweight, some people get it late in life, some people are genetically predisposed to develop it.  And it would appear that I am in the latter group.

Back in mid-April, I needed to see my GP in order to have blood labs completed for my upcoming (third and final) sinus surgery.  Most of the lab results were what I expected, with the exception of my glucose levels.  After staving off diabetes for years (I've been keeping records on my lab work for the past 20 years or so), my body finally tipped the scale. A glucose count that had been maintained at 103-110 (considered pre-diabetic) for the past two decades suddenly elevated to 286.  I had what my family calls, "the sugar".

How could this have happened when nothing in my lifestyle had changed?  Simple answer: because nothing had changed.

Realistically it's crazy, I guess, to think we can maintain ourselves year after year doing the same things, eating the same foods, getting the same amounts of exercise.  Our bodies change over time; they age and things start to break down - faster for some than for others.  MY body has been breaking down at a rate faster than others in my age group; I've often said I have the insides of someone 20 years my senior.  So naturally it made sense that I just couldn't keep doing what I had been doing all these years in order to maintain my health.  Things needed to change and I simply didn't realize it.

Back in my doctor's office, I was perplexed.  Why now, I wondered?  He asked who in my family has diabetes.  My mom, my dad, my brother, my sister...   For me it's genetic, as are most of my health problems.  And like those other health problems, I intended to fight this one too.  My doctor challenged me to lose weight.  In his office, I weighed 238 - again fairly usual for me.  But he wanted me to maintain 228 instead.  No more carbs, he said while he wrote out yet another prescription.  He said to me, "I know the last thing you want is to be diabetic, so I'm trusting you to take care of this.  I won't ask you to check your levels or monitor your sugar.  But I will ask you to download the MyFitnessPal app and keep track of your diet and exercise."

Which I did religiously.  What was fun about the app was that after I would input what I ate during the day, it would tell me what I would weigh in 5 weeks if I ate every day like I had that day.  It was somehow empowering.  And it worked.

Eight weeks after starting the app, which helped me keep track of my calories, carbs and exercise, I weigh 219 lbs, for a loss of 19 lbs overall!  The other great news is that my glucose went from 286 to 117, and my cholesterol dropped 30 points.  My doctor took me off of the medication and now I will just keep using the MyFitnessPal app and getting regular exercise.

Throughout my life, I've had these resets:  I've used Nutrisystem a few times to lose weight, most notably the first time I used it in 2010 when I lost almost 50 lbs.  I've used it again now and then since to drop a few pounds here and there and to remind me what portion control looks like.  But then I fall off the wagon somehow as food is my crutch, my comfort.  But this time feels different.  This time, I know the consequences because I experienced them.  And while I have been pre-diabetic for the past 20+ years, there's something about having diabetes that triggered something in me mentally and emotionally.  I don't want to repeat those 8 weeks again.

I already have enough to worry about.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Breaking Down The GOP Health Care Bill

Yesterday, the republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, with a new healthcare bill.  This new bill, a newer version of the radically unpopular bill that the House tried to pass several weeks ago, removes protections for people with pre-existing conditions (among other things).  This means, insurance companies would be able to charge those insured more money based on their health.  The Center for American Progress estimates the premiums for an otherwise healthy 40-year old with just one of the following pre-existing conditions to be rather daunting:

So if you have diabetes, for example, you can expect to see your annual insurance premiums increase by $5,600.  That's just your premium, it does not include medications.  

I've been doing A LOT of reading on this subject. I'm not going to cite any sources because all the information is out on the web if you want to find it.  It's not hard.  And I would venture to guess that I've probably spent more time researching this topic that most of the republicans who voted yesterday.

Why?  Because I am concerned for my own health, of course, but moreso for my parents.  This new bill will essentially decimate the coverage my mother receives for herself and the grants and funding she receives to help maintain my father in the nursing home.  Should this bill pass in the Senate, my parents are screwed.

So in the hope that you've read this far, allow me to break down for you the main components of the GOP's healthcare bill, fairly called so because not one Democrat or Independent voted for the bill:

1.  States can get waivers so insurance companies can charge more to people with pre-existing conditions.  The protections afforded by Obamacare will be removed.  Insurance companies will be able to charge whatever they want.  The actual list of what constitutes a pre-existing condition could be endless.  Below is a list of what some insurance companies consider to be pre-existing conditions.

If you have one of the above, expect to pay more for your insurance.  If you have more than one, expect to pay even more than that. 

2.  States can opt out of the rules that require insurance plans to cover basic stuff, like Emergency Room care, ambulance rides, hospitalization, prescription coverage, pregnancy.

3.  Expect things like mental health coverage and drug treatment coverage to whither.

4.  Under the ACA, insurance companies may charge an older person no more than three times its premium for a younger person with an identical plan. The new bill would increase the maximum allowable ratio to 5 to 1, which could significantly increase older people's premiums for comparable plans. States would be able to set different maximum ratios.

5.  Big companies no longer have to provide health insurance to their employees.

6.  There will no longer be a requirement to have healthcare.  But if you go 60 days without health coverage, you will be penalized if you rejoin a health plan.  You will see a 30% increase in your insurance premiums for the first year.

7.  While the ACA offers a scale of credits that take into account family income, cost of insurance and age, the GOP plan would offer flat tax credits per individual, focused on age. The House GOP bill would provide tax credits of $2,000 to $14,000 a year for individuals who don’t get insurance coverage from an employer or the government. The credits would be based on age instead of income and would be capped for higher earners.

People who are older, are lower-income or live in areas with high insurance premiums would likely receive smaller tax credits under the new bill than they do under the ACA. Those who are younger, have higher incomes or live in areas with lower insurance premiums would likely receive more government assistance than they currently do
Further breakdown:  a 64-year-old who makes $26,500 a year could see net out-of-pocket costs increase from $1,700 a year under the current law to $14,600 a year under the GOP plan, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. A 40-year-old making the same amount would pay a few hundred dollars more after the tax credits, from $1,700 under Obamacare to $2,400 under the GOP bill.
8.  Medicaid.  Medicaid is getting cut by almost $900,000,000,000.  That's 900 BILLION dollars. 
First, the federal support of expanded Medicaid coverage, to those earning no more than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, would be rolled back. States that expanded Medicaid would no longer receive extra funds for new expansion beneficiaries after 2020.
People who receive Medicaid would be required to work unless they are disabled, pregnant or elderly.
Beginning in 2020, federal Medicaid financing would be changed to a per capita cap rather than a matching program, under which the federal government has supplied funds based on the number and needs of the enrollees.
Additionally, after 2020, state Medicaid plans would no longer be required to provide ACA-designated essential health benefits, including emergency services, pregnancy and newborn care, prescription drugs and pediatric services. Capping federal funds for Medicaid could have a huge impact on seniors and disabled children who depend on that coverage.
School districts rely on Medicaid to provide costly services to millions of students with disabilities across the country. For nearly 30 years, Medicaid has helped school systems cover costs for special education services and equipment, from physical therapists to feeding tubes. The money is also used to provide preventive care, such as vision and hearing screenings, for other Medicaid-eligible children.

9.  There is an upside to all this, though.  The new plan will provide a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.  Those earning at least $200,000 per year will be among those who received a $300,000,000,000 (again, that's BILLION) tax cut.  So there's that.

Does all this scare you?  It should.  
To those who voted for Trump, this is what you asked for.
Thanks, from the rest of us.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sinus Surgery 3.0 Completed

April 24th finally arrived!

It was like I was 8 again waiting for December 25th to come.  To me, April 24th signified a turning point, the day when I would finally, after almost one full year, be on the road to sinus healing and recovery.  I had great faith in my new doctor, Dr. Jordan Pritikin of the Chicago Nasal and Sinus Center.  After just one visit, I left his office feeling confident, and trusted him more than I did the Ear, Nose and Throat ("ENT") doctor from last summer.  I felt hopeful for the first time in some 330+ days.

As recorded here before, the last year was definitely hard on me, perhaps the hardest year I've ever had.  Even worse than Miami, and that's saying something, right?  I felt the symptoms of a sinus infection on May 22, 2016, following a flight back to Virginia for a friend's wedding.  I tried fighting it with over-the-counter drugs, but to no avail.  I gave in and went to my regular physician on June 13th, when he suggested I see an ENT based on the number of sinus infections I've had over the years.

I've well-documented on here my sinus and dental escapades over the last 11 months.  So let me pick up from the last visit with the new doctor, Dr. Pritikin, on March 20, 2016.

Like I said before, I felt hopeful.  And looking at the CT scan, I somehow felt vindicated that it was okay for me to be feeling bad - that I wasn't a hypochondriac or something.  To say that all of this was just in my head is a weak double entendre, but there it is.  I've effectively only been breathing through one side of my nose with nothing draining from the 4 sinus cavities at all.  I shared the CT image with everyone I knew, if only to say, "Look, it's a real thing!"  Everyone already believed me, but I guess I had to do it to reassure myself, or at least to allow myself to feel like crap because I felt like crap.

My surgery was conducted at St. Joseph's in Chicago.  My care was incredible.  I've long been a huge fan of Northwestern Medicine because of my GP and my Cardiologist, both of whom I cannot speak more highly.  But I think I've allowed my respect for them to skew me into believing that ALL the great doctors and the best care can only be found at Northwestern.  No so.  The staff at St. Joseph's was friendly, compassionate, non-rushed, and professional.  And interested in me.  My surgery took about 90 minutes, start to finish, and they were calling Kevin to take me home by 2:30.

This time, I was sent home with a list of instructions about what to do on Day 1, Day 2, etc.  The healing process this time was very different from the surgery in July.  After that first surgery, my nose bled and produced discharge for a week afterwards.  This time, my nose stopped bleeding before I went to bed the same night and hasn't so much as dripped since.  I assume all that will change once they start cleaning out the clots and tissue.  But I'll admit that this has since been a better week than before.

Five days after the surgery, Dr. Pritikin's office called to let me know that the culture taken during surgery showed a growth of alpha hemolytic strep, which essentially means I have strep throat in my sinuses.  So back on antibiotics I went with the hope it will get cleared up.

Today, I went in for my debridement, which is the vacuuming of tissue and blood clots inside my nose.  Dr. Pritikin assured me that this will not be the horrible experience I had while at Northwestern.  And I trust him when he says that, but just in case, I took a valium anyway.  The procedure was conducted by his assistant, Amy, who was already well-aware of my situation.  She, too, promised that this would be nothing like what I had experienced previously.  And they were both right.

After some numbing spray, Amy inserted a camera and a vacuum device in my nose.  She allowed me to watch the entire procedure on a monitor.  She cleaned out one blood clot and I could actually see into my sinuses, which means there is now a direct, clear path from my sinuses to my nose - something I've been lacking for several years.  I'm also allowed to blow my nose now (thank God) and go back to the gym starting on Monday.  According to Amy, I am healing very well.

For now, the rough headache I've had since July is gone, but I will continue to feel some pain as my system gets used to being clear and the tissue falls back where it belongs..  I can breathe through both nostrils for the first time in almost a year.  What little congestion I have is due to the swelling and the tissue being displaced, but that's to be expected.

I told Amy that at some point, I need to sit down with Dr. Pritikin for advice on how to approach the ENT from last summer.  I've never been shy about confrontation, but I need to speak to him about what went wrong.

But for now, I feel amazing.  My energy is returning and I am confident Dr. Pritikin did all the right things.  I honestly believe my sinus problems are now over.  But I'm crossing my fingers anyway, just in case.

Mischief, managed.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Maryland Wildlife

Having grown up in the Appalachian mountains, I'm used to seeing wildlife around where I live: groundhogs, bats, deer (LOTS of deer), field mice, snakes, turkeys, and yes, even bears.  But last week while visiting my family in Maryland, I came face to face with an animal I've often heard about but (I don't think) ever saw in person until now.

Mom and I had exited the house at the same time: she out the front door to get in the van to go visit my Dad, and me out the backdoor to Dad's old workshop to look for something Mom couldn't seem to find.  After a few minutes of searching, I could hear Mom honking her car horn.  So I walked around the house to find out what was going on.

When we came into each other's view, I yelled, "What's the matter?"  She was sitting in the van with the window down. "Do you see a raccoon," she asked?

"A raccoon?!?!"

"Yeah, do you see it?  It's under the van.  And GET IN THE HOUSE!  It could have rabies!"

I entered the house and closed the screen door behind me.  Mom and I continued to talk until, suddenly, out waddled the raccoon from under the van.  This is where I think I've never seen on in person before because it was MUCH larger than I expected it to be.

Several things are weird about this whole scenario:

1.  Seeing a raccoon in person.  They are bigger than I thought.  I think I put them in the same category as small rabbits.  But these things are large - bigger than a typical housecat.

2.  Seeing a raccoon in person in the daylight.  Raccoons are nocturnal mammals, avoiding human interaction as much as possible.  This little fellow (I just assume it was a male) was not the least bit intimidated or afraid of me.  He slowly sauntered over towards me at the door, despite my repeated warnings for him to walk in the opposite direction.  Raccoons never listen.

3.  The raccoon was injured.  He moved very slowly, not that I know the speed with which a raccoon typically moves.  But this little guy seemed to be nursing a back left foot.  I figured he had either fallen, was nicked by a car, or was in a spat with a dog or other creature.  Every few steps he would stop and just sit down, in no hurry to get anywhere.

Mom had backed the van out of the driveway and had moved on.  I tried keeping an eye on the raccoon without him knowing I was there.  He seemed dazed and confused.  I felt sorry for him.

I eventually closed the front door and left him alone.  I probably should have called the Department of Natural Resources at that point (we eventually did, later), but it didn't occur to me at the time.  About 20 minutes later, I went out to my car and kept an eye open for him.  I saw him about 100 feet from the house, sitting along the side of the road, just looking around.  Not sure where he eventually ended up.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On Page 602

The other day, I was listening to NPR while running errands in the car.  The conversation was about the Sears company and its solvency.  They talked about the number of stores, personnel, inventory, and the fact that Sears started the catalog process.  The commentator spoke about the joy that we all probably felt when the Sears catalog came in the mail.  Browsing through it would kill hours of time.  It was the internet in the 1970's.

But there was one specific edition of the catalog that probably evokes more memories than others.  On July 1975, the Sears Fall/Winter catalog arrived in thousands of mailboxes. As it had in the past, the catalog offered a wide variety of merchandise in its 1,492 pages — clothes, exercise equipment, musical instruments, tools, etc. But careful readers noticed that this edition of the catalog included something a little bit extra and scandalously out-of-the-ordinary. Word of this bonus feature spread like wildfire, with the result that this rapidly became the most talked-about issue of the catalog since the company had first begun sending them out in 1888.

The focus of everyone's attention was a male model featured on page 602, where he was modeling permanent pressed boxer shorts — a luxury blend of "50% Kodel polyester and 50% combed cotton" with a no-roll elastic waist.

But it wasn't his underwear that generated the buzz.  The item of interest was "something below it." That something was what appeared to be a round object peeking out from the bottom edge of the left leg of his shorts. It occurred to some readers that the mysterious object was, in fact, the tip of the model's genitalia.

Page 602 of the 1975 Sears Fall/Winter Catalog

A closer view

The man on page 602 became a viral sensation. People took the catalog into work and showed the provocative photo to their colleagues. Copies circulated at schools. Public libraries noticed an unusual rise in requests for the issue.  It was pretty much all my family talked about at Thanksgiving in 1975.  In the days before the internet - this was HUGE!  

The appeal was obvious. The Sears catalog was as wholesome and all-American as apple pie and the fourth of July. And yet here, slipped into it, was a guy showing off his stuff. It was a perfect contrast of elements.  
So, was the man on page 602 really showing off his anatomy? That was the burning question on everyone's mind. In an attempt to get an answer, reporters directed their inquiries to Sears, and the company soon came back with an official reply: the model on page 602 was definitely NOT showing off anything untoward. Sears' response was a flat, "It's just a printing flaw. These spots just happen. It's just that it was in an unfortunate spot." 

As for the model's identity, Sears refused to release his name, saying that he was entitled to his privacy. And to this day, his identity remains a secret. (He's probably in his 70s now, if he's still alive.)

In September 1975, a trio of song writers penned a 4-verse "gimmick" song about the man on page 602. The song was recorded by Jack Barlow (using the pseudonym Zoot Fenster). By November the song had reached number one on the country singles chart.

This represented the high-water mark of interest in the Man on Page 602. 

And so we can now confirm that Sears was correct. The earlier version of the photo shows nothing peeking out of the model's shorts. The blemish/printing smudge/stray genitalia is not there. 

Page 501 of the 1975 Sears Spring/Summer Catalog

A closer view

Friday, March 24, 2017

I Genetically Can't Even*

So I got the results of my DNA testing several weeks ago and am still going through it all.  The test we chose, 23AndMe, allows you to upload your information to another site, Promethease, which takes the info and breaks it down to provide medical information.

Promethease is an excellent way of getting more out of your digitized genetic data by exploring the genetic variants that you possess. Given that 23andMe and AncestryDNA only discuss a fraction of the variants they test for, Promethease - which only costs $5 - is a tool to learn more about yourself using the data you already purchased from the other sites. So if you have purchased your own genome sequence information, Promethease is an absolute must.

Like I said, I'm still learning a lot about my genes and chromosomes.  For example, I learned that I am 7x more likely to be bald.  I didn't need science to tell me that.  That, or that I am 2.5x likely to have coronary artery disease.  The year 2005 will back me up on that.  

However, one thing I just learned is that there is a reason for my lack of empathy:

So if the oxytocin receptor is ideal at (G;G), and (A;G) demonstrates a lack of empathy, then how do you think my (A;A) translates?  I tell you how - I could care less.  And it's not my fault.  It explains why I find it difficult to comfort people and feel disingenuine when attempting to do so.  I'm too busy looking at the facts to understand how someone landed in that situation.  Doesn't mean I'm not helpful in a crisis; I prefer to take on a task rather than offer emotional support.

*Thanks to Brent for coming up with the title of this post.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sinus Surgery 3.0 Scheduled

Maybe I should just start a blog completely devoted to my sinus problems.

When last we left off, I had pretty much exhausted every avenue:

I went to an ENT at Northwestern Medical Center who, after essentially two surgeries, was certain my problems were dental and instructed me to see a dentist, basically washing his hands to the matter.

I went to a dentist who performed a major amount of work in a 6-week period.  The dentist believed that my problem would be fixed by having a tooth extracted by an oral surgeon.

I went to an oral surgeon who extracted 3 teeth under anesthesia but said he found nothing of concern during the surgery.

And yet my sinus problems persisted.  So I asked my regular doctor to recommend someone for me, and he sent me to a sinus specialist at the Chicago Nasal & Sinus Center.  My visit was earlier this week.  And all it took was an updated CT scan to see what my problems were/are.  Below is the CT scan:

Let me point out here that the black areas are air, white is bone, gray is tissue.  Notice the difference between the nasal (ethmoid) sinuses on the left side of my nose as opposed to the ethmoid on the right side.  See the clear airway on my right side (your left)?  Compare it to the other side.  Not much black on that side, right?  And check the two cheek sinus cavities, the maxillaries.  My left maxillary (your right) is much smaller and is either clogging up again or it all wasn't removed by the first ENT last summer.  And how about that deviated septum?

REALLY makes me wonder what the ENT at Northwestern actually did during the two previous surgeries.

What you can't see in the image above are the cavities above the eye, the frontal sinuses.  My right frontal is completely black while my left frontal is completely gray, which means it's clogged.  You might remember that my first ENT chose not to drain that one because he said there was a kink in the drainage vessel from that area.  So that cavity didn't drain at all, which is what's been causing my headaches since last July.  However, my recent CT scan shows that the drainage vessel is a straight show with no bend, kink or zigzag to it.

Here's another view of my sinuses.  This one is as if you are looking up through my head from under my chin - a "from the neck" view:

It's not hard to see how clogged up I am on my left side (your right).  The ENT at Northwestern essentially sent me to have a few thousand dollars worth of dental work.  Admittedly, I needed to have it done anyway, but I would have spaced it out over several months or even a year rather than have it ALL done in 6 weeks.  I rushed through to fix a problem that doesn't exist at financial and a great deal of emotional cost.

So now, I have another surgery scheduled for April 21st with the Nasal & Sinus Center.  And I'll admit that after leaving that office, I felt hope for the first time.  I really trust that these folks know what they're doing and are dedicated to fixing my face.

And all just in time for me to run a 5K with my sister-in-law.  I hope.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Refinishing The Past

My mom had this old piece of furniture that I always loved.  It was made by my late uncle, Bill, married to Mom's sister, Kay.  I can remember the piece of furniture from my childhood as the cabinet that held our record player and records.  It was stained dark brown and had two grooved sliding doors on the front.  The doors as I remember them were white, but Mom said they were originally orange.  Dark brown and orange - just screams the late 60's, don't it?

At one point, I think we all had used it as we one-by-one moved away from home.  I had taken it to college with me to use as a TV stand.  I returned it to Mom afterward and over the years it kind of disappeared.  Then one day a few months ago, I was searching for something in Dad's workshop and there it was, buried in a corner.  I asked Mom for it and she gave it to me with her blessing.  I drove it back to Chicago and decided to give it new life.

As we all know, Kevin is the "king of renovation" in our house.  And he's pretty much amazing at it. I take on a challenge now and then, like recovering the chaise my Aunt Susie had given me.  It seemed daunting but in the end turned out to be quite simple; it was mostly just pulling/tucking/stapling fabric into place.  And the chaise meant something to me because it had belonged to someone I love.

I'd never refinished a piece of furniture before, so I gave it a whirl.  And again, I chose to work on a piece that belonged to someone I love.  Built by my uncle and used by my Mom.  And like the chaise, this was a memorable piece of furniture from my childhood.  So I mustered up the courage.

Of course, now - after three coats of polyurethane - I can see how I could have done a better job.  Not having much experience with a hand-sander, I was admittedly nervous about handling it.  But I got the hang of it and now wish I would have taken more time.  I even used the table saw in Kevin's absence to cut out the sliding doors and a replacement for the missing back panel on the unit. Perhaps on the next piece, I'll know better what to do.  We all start somewhere, right?

Kevin is proud of me for taking this on and is encouraging me to do more.  He'd like to see more projects in the home by me so that it's not completely filled with stuff he's done or that we've done together.  I mean, I know my limitations, but I can definitely take on smaller projects and continue to leave the big things to him.

I think I might macrame a few plant hangers next.

Monday, March 06, 2017

More House Updates

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our new bathroom, the housing update project that took us the better part of last year to complete.  A labor of love, to be certain.  But every now and then I walk into it and think, just for a split second, that we built this from nothing.  And then I clean the toilet.


But you know us, so you know this was not the ONLY project we took on.  Along with building out the new bathroom was the project of converting the old one into a laundry room.  The old bathroom was crazy.  It was primarily a wet room which meant it was fine (with the previous owner) if everything got wet.  Not so us.  The entire room was tiled:  there was a matte black tile on the floor and vanity, and an unpatterned tile of white, gray, green and orange 1-inch tiles on all 4 walls (these were individual tiles, not 12"-square pieces).


The room was barely functional as a bathroom.  It didn't make sense.  At one point we originally thought we would expand the room from its 5'x5' floor plan, but since it sits right next to what was then the 10'x10' laundry/storage space, we chose to just switch the rooms.  So while we were demolishing the walls in the laundry room, we took down these walls too.

We found a few things behind these walls - some expected and some not.  The expected items included mold and lack of insulation.  The unexpected included another row of glass brick in the windows.  Why would anyone cover up a window?

So the crap came down and we put up new drywall.  Since the new laundry room and new bathroom are below grade, we installed a pump to surge water to the main and prevent any backups.  Kevin built a table so we could stack the washer and dryer, and then made a storage cabinet that fit into the open space (and also hides the pipes from the pump).



This room didn't make sense (even less sense than the tiny "cruise ship bathroom" we'd just renovated).  It's located on the lower level with the two bedrooms, a laundry room, and a master bath.  You pass through the den to get to everything else.  When we moved in, it had a busted concrete floor and a kitchenette with a small sink and mini-fridge, which seemed odd given that the kitchen was just above this room.

The first thing we did was get rid of the flat green paint on the wall.  This color was throughout the house when we moved in.  I like white walls, so I repainted the walls and ceiling  We carpeted the entire floor, including into both bedrooms and the new laundry room.  The room sat this way for a while as kind of a staging area during the bathroom renovation.  But once completed, we knew what we wanted. We then ripped out the cabinetry and moved it to the garage, which is now Kevin's workshop, more or less.

Since the downstairs is several degrees cooler than the upstairs, we decided to make this a den with a loveseat and TV so we could hang out here in the warmer months.  But we also needed storage for crafting supplies, electronic stuff, Kevin's sewing machine and material, etc. We knew we wanted some kind of storage system, but it had to be unique.

So Kevin created a cabinet system of different sized boxes - most of which would be covered with cabinet doors.  And since we were using 3/4" plywood, the math became pretty tricky.  It's a good thing Kevin is borderline genius.  He figured out the spacing of each box and cut the wood according to his calculations.  After which, it all went together like a 3-D puzzle.

After the grid was installed, we put doors on all but 4 of the boxes.  Everything is contained in plastic bins, labeled of course.  We now have storage space for all our art supplies, sewing stuff, material, electronic things, electrical stuff like extension cords and light bulbs.  There's even a special place for Kevin's sewing machine.
The storage cabinet that used to hang above the old cabinet/sink was moved to the wall opposite the loveseat and our 2nd TV sits on it, ready for summer.  And there is a work table that slides in under the cabinet when not in use.  And the sheet Kevin created when he proposed to me is now hanging on one of the walls.  Below are a few Before/After shots:


So this little area was the last thing for us to improve in the house.  The only thing we knew for sure was that we wanted to replace the ugly louvered door to the furnace/water heater utility room.  The door ended up getting beaten to death by the guys who had to come in to move the dryer's  gas line.  Kevin removed the wooden slats and replaced them with a thick screen until we were ready to tackle this space.  Because the utility room requires ventilation, Kevin created a door with sunken panels to allow air to flow in and around.  It's a much classier look.

We had waffled about using leftover bathroom tile to put on the floor, but ended up repouring concrete to smooth out the surface.  We took down the ugly roman shade on the door and used the same frosting paper on the door windows that we used on the new bathroom window.  And then we repainted the walls and the door.  It looks so much cleaner.

On the landing is a cut-out space that we have no idea of its intended purpose.  We've been placing dirty or wet shoes in the cubby but we were underutilizing the area.  So we added shelved and Kevin built doors that match the cabinet, only painting them white this time.  Now we have a place to store paint so it won't freeze in the garage during winter.

The final steps in our home renovation were, quite literally, the steps.  Kevin built out frames to square off the steps, poured concrete on the step and then we covered the step and risers with carpet.

And so now, the inside of the house is pretty much finished as far as planned renovations go.  And we're just under the 2-year mark; March 16th will mark 2 years in this house.  And now that all the big projects are done, we will begin working on the smaller things.

I'll update you on those eventually too.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Dental/Sinus Update

Because you've been on pins and needles since January 7th, my last post regarding my sinus/teeth/gum problem, here is the latest update which will bring you up to speed.  Get the popcorn ready.

When we last left off, I had just completed Visit #3 at the dentist.  I will say here that this is where I admire my own fortitude.  In my life, when presented with an uncomfortable situation, I've been great at pulling up my bootstraps and diving back in.  So Visit #4, which took all my guts to schedule, took place 4 days following Visit #3.  Even my dentist called me, "one tough cookie". I'll take it.

Visit #3 was followed by 2 more visits to the dentist, the final one being the installation of the permanent cap on the root canal tooth.  It took a day or so to get used to it, but it's never really felt comfortable.  I waited a month for swelling to go down and for me to get used to it, but so far it's still painful.  So now I need to schedule another dentist visit to have it adjusted.

After the 5 dentist visits came a trip to an oral surgeon.  This was facilitated by the dentist because he saw a dark spot on/in my gums which he believed to be a cyst and not a tooth root, as the ENT had originally predicted.  So for about a week, I walked around in a daze thinking the worst, like that I have cancer in my mouth.  Years ago, I dated someone who had cancer in his sinuses and had to have the roof of his mouth removed.  He wore an oral prosthetic.  Certainly, medicine had progressed and advanced to a state that I might not need that same procedure, but the reality of it loomed large for several days.  It was all I could think about.

The visit to the oral surgeon allayed my fears.  Following surgery (for which I was knocked out), he told me he didn't see anything in my gums that required attention.  He did remove an infected tooth that he hoped would cause whatever infection might be in there to simply dissipate.  And then I thought, "wait, both the ENT and the dentist saw something even if the oral surgeon didn't.  So what is it?"  And so I started worrying again.

If you're keeping track, here is what has happened so far, since June 1, 2016

· 4 visits to an ENT, resulting in
o   1 CT scan
o   2 sinus surgeries
>  1 under anesthesia
>  1 quite wide awake
o   2 emotional breakdowns
o   7 rounds of anti-biotics 
o   4 rounds of steroids 

· 7 visits to the dentist within 5 weeks, resulting in
o   13 fillings
o   6 extractions under nitrous oxide
o   1 root canal
o   1 more emotional breakdown

· 1 visit to an oral surgeon, resulting in
o   3 more extractions under anesthesia
o   1 more round of antibiotics

· 0 resolution to my sinus issues

That's right, ZERO resolution.  My sinuses are just as stuffy and uncomfortable as they were last summer.  So now it's back to the ENT again, only this time I've asked my GP to recommend someone else, as I figure my previous ENT did everything he knew to do and sent me to the dentist in the first place because he couldn't do anything else.  This time, I am going to a doctor whose only gig is sinuses.

Not included in the list above are the many events, trips, vacations, parties, etc that I've missed since this whole thing started 10 months ago, simply because I either didn't feel well or expected I would otherwise be bad company.  I refuse to have another bad summer.  So my hopes now rest on this new doctor that I am supposed to see on March 20th.

Again, I acknowledge my beloved husband through all of this.  He's simply the best (cue music).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

23AndMe Or "Not As German"


You can forget everything I've ever posted about being mostly of German descent.  After spending the last decade-and-more years researching my family tree, and finding most branches leading back to Deutschland, I've come to learn that, by comparison, my chromosomes tell a very different story than what my research has indicated.

For Christmas last year, Kevin bought me DNA testing from 23AndMe, a DNA testing service that breaks down your global ancestry by percentages, among other things.  It took about 5 weeks but the results arrived recently and I learned some interesting things about myself.  For example, below is my DNA break down:

So yes, I am still 100% European, but only about 19% German.  This is beyond puzzling to me.  Two of my G+parents were for certain born in Germany: 1) My Mom's maternal grandmother, Catherine Groeter, was born in Dusseldorf and came over on a boat when she was 4 years old, and 2) Mom's paternal great-grandfather, Justus Rase, was born in Freudenthal, coming over before the age of 10.

Of my 16 Great Great Grandparents ("GGG"), 8 of them (50%) are of German descent, and 4 of those are 100% German, meaning both parents came from Germany.  So it would seem that my German heritage would be more strongly represented in my DNA -- my guess is to the tune of about 60% at least.

Now let's compare this to my British/Irish (and Scottish) heritage which is a whopping 49% in the chart above.  So nearly half of my DNA is from British Isles ancestry.  Comparing that to the 16 GGGs, only 4 of them have ancestry dating back to Great Britain and only 2 of those are 100% from the British Isles. 

Puzzling, no?

I also need to account for 2 GGGmothers, Emma Burton and Ida Porter, and 1 GGGfather, John Winebrenner, whose ancestry is completely unknown to me.  All three of them are on my Dad's side. But I guess I can deduce based on the evidence that they should/could be between 50%-100% British, Irish, and/or Scottish.  

I've compiled a visual of my GGGs for myself to help make sense of it all.  You can see the preponderance of German flags to flags from Britain, Ireland, and France.  The blank squares are unknown.  The top flag represents the paternal side of that person; the bottom, the maternal side.
*not their real photos, obviously

I actually thought that DNA testing would answer more questions than it's raised.  Not so.  As I've researched, I've been happy to find surprises, like the higher-than-expected number of Irish ancestors that I introduced on here last year and the year before.  But not as surprised to learn that I am not as wholly-German as I always thought.  Or at least my DNA tells me.

Another goal for me is to identify that "Broadly Northwestern European" category.  At almost 24%, that's about 1/4 of my DNA.  Broadly Northwestern European includes Germany for sure, along with northern France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Great Britain, and Scandinavia.

The search continues...