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...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Oh, The People I Have Lived

I like keeping lists of things I've done.  I find it interesting to reflect on subjects and to categorize information because I think it helps me find patterns in my life.  I can harken this back to my post on StrengthsFinder and my penchant for context - the desire to look back in order to make sense of the now, as well as to help make decisions for the future.

For a few years, I've been keeping track of several things, among them a list of all the jobs I've had and a list of all the shows Kevin and I have seen.  Another list I've been keeping is a list of all the places I have lived.  My current home is my 35th home, or rather moving into this house was the 35th time I have packed up and moved.

For the first 20 years of my life, I lived in just 3 places - the house in which I was born, the house my parents rented soon after I was born, then the house they bought when I was 5 - the same house in which my mother still resides:
1.  House in Cresaptown, MD
2.  House in Eckhart (south)
3.  House in Eckhart (north) - parents' home since 1971
So this means that over the next 45 years, I moved 32 times.

Working backward, I've lived in Chicago for the past 12 years.  Here, I have lived in 6 places, including the time we moved to and from Miami.  I moved 7 times since moving to Chicago in 2005:
4.   Apartment in Andersonville with Ashley
5.   Apartment in Boystown with Ashley
6.   Kevin's apartment
7.   Condo in Uptown
8.   Miami
9.   Condo in Uptown
10. Current house in Lincoln Square - since 2015
Prior to Chicago, I lived in DC for 10 years, where I also lived in 6 places:
11. Group house at 4th and D, NE
12. Apartment on Capitol Hill
13. Apartment in Georgetown
14. Apartment on T Street, NW
15. Group house on T Street, NW
16. House in Shaw with Ashley
My first home in DC was a group house on 4th and D Streets, NE.  I lived there for 1 month: September 1995.  I had two roommates, one of whom I never met or saw the entire time I was there.  It was a rough situation and I had things stolen from me.  I found another place several blocks away on Capitol Hill and lived there for about two years. It was the first time I lived on my own, responsible for everything.  I remember one unspecific day, a few weeks after moving in, when I realized that I was "doing it": my rent was paid, all my utilities were paid, my car insurance was paid, and I had groceries in the kitchen.  It was the sudden realization, I guess, that I had finally grown up - at the age of 29.  The last time I moved from my parents' home was my move to DC in 1995.  I swore I would never move back home again.  And I didn't.

So for the past 22 years (since 1995), I've moved 13 times, which means that for the period of 9 years between 1986 and 1995, I moved 19 times.  That's 19 times in 9 years.  How is that possible?  College accounts for most of it.  On average, a college student moves 2+ times a year to and from school.  And there were many attempts at moving out and trying to make it, but failing for whatever reason or needing to move back home because of some circumstance:
17.   Apartment in Ocean City, MD - my first attempt at moving out, but was temporary
18.   Back to parents' house
19.   Apartment on Washington Street, in Cumberland, MD - bad roommate situation
20.   Back to parents' house
21.   House in Sterling, VA with Ex#2
22.   Duplex with a friend in Winchester, VA following breakup with Ex#2
23.   Back to parents' house
24.   Condo in Silver Spring, MD with one roommate
25.   Apartment in Silver Spring, MD with two roommates
26.   Back to parents' house
27.   Dorm room at Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA  (one semester)
28.   Apartment on Grant Street in Frostburg, MD (summer)
29.   Dorm room in Cambridge Hall at FSU, Frostburg, MD
30.   Back to parents' house (one month)
31.   Dorm room at Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA  (two semesters)
32.   House with two college/friends roommates in Winchester, VA  (summer)
33.   House with two college roommates in Winchester, VA  (two semesters)
34.   Apartment in Waterford, CT for an internship (one summer)
35.   Back to parents' house
So when I tell Kevin that I have moved for the last time and in my final home, he laughs at me.  But just looking at this list makes me exhausted.  It's 35 times of folding, wrapping, packing, sealing, labeling, stacking, packing, cleaning, patching, painting, tossing, donating, driving, moving, unpacking, arranging, rearranging, refolding, painting, mail forwarding, electricity, gas, cable, internet, and in some cases a new driver's license and updating voter registration.

But looking back on these places, it's easy to compare them to relationships. The places I have lived were like people who came into my life and stayed awhile.  I entered each one full of hope and promise; they were new and exciting.  Now and then, they needed work or my attention to fix something either caused by me or (more typically) by the person who came before me.  They kept me warm, made me feel safe, gave me comfort.  I trusted them with all my possessions.  And then, I moved on either from need or want or lack of either.  But despite that, I remember each one fondly because each one was different.  I don't regret any of them because I learned something about myself in each place.

And just like the relationship I am currently in - I've found my last home.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Amos Went To The Big House

As previously mentioned in this blog, my great-grandfather, William Amos Troutman (aka Ricker) was a bit of a hoodlum.  He was arrested at least once that I know of, which most likely doesn't constitute his entire criminal career.  There were probably other crimes he committed where he was either caught or caught and released.

Amos is listed among the population records of Western State Penitentiary.  This prison, nicknamed "Western Pen" was built in 1882 along the banks of the Ohio River in Pittsburgh.  As Amos' family lived southeast of Pittsburgh, Amos literally went "up the river" to prison on October 2, 1897.  The distance from Somerset to Pittsburgh is about 70 miles, but to his family at the time, Amos must have seemed far, far away.

He served 1 year and 6 months for his role in stealing $1,300 from Phineas Werner, a Greenville township farmer.  His partners in crime were his younger half-brother, Harvey Deal, who was sentenced to the Huntington Reformatory because of his age, and Charles Bloom, an experienced convict who apparently talked the two younger men into joining him in the robbery and then split the money with his accomplices, keeping most of it for himself since neither Amos nor Harvey could count money.

My hope is that the one stint in the brink was enough for Amos.  There's no other prison record in western Pennsylvania for him following this time, and not certain if he served the entire time or was let out early.  But hopefully it set him straight and he moved on.

But aside from all that, is the information provided by the prison record.  It lists a complete physical description of Amos that I didn't have, until now.  It's like seeing him in color for the first time.

At the age of 24, Amos was 5'11", 175 lbs.  His body type is listed as "stout" which would suggest he had somewhat of a muscular build.  He had light chestnut brown hair and a sandy red beard.  His eye color suggests green or hazel, based on the way the description is written.  He had a high forehead, a medium/fair complexion, and a long, prominent nose.  His body was riddled with scars and marks, most likely from being a laborer and farmer his entire life (up to the age of 24 at least).

His occupation was listed as farmer, and he got a check next to the category of "occasionally intoxicated".  He was a Lutheran who was 16 when he left public school.  He could read and write "imperfectly" as evidenced by his signature on the prison ledger:

He signed it as Amos Ricker; Ricker being his mother's maiden name.  My guess is he didn't prefer using the name of Troutman since he was illegitimate.  At the age of 24, he could be using Troutman since he had a choice in the matter.  But it seems he preferred his mother's family name.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

James Blanding Sloan

Anyone who has been to our home has seen the wall in our dining room that houses our eclectic collection of Chicago-centric art.  One of the prints on the wall appears to be old and faded.  It has originally belonged to Kevin's maternal grandfather and was gifted to Kevin several years ago after Kevin had moved to Chicago.  It's one of those prints that you have to look at for a long time because the longer you look at it, the more you see.  At the bottom left on the print is written, "German building - Jackson Park Chicago" with the name of the artist written on the right side, James Blanding Sloan.  

Our print is number 9 of 100.

I believe the building in the foreground of the print, which is from an actual wood carving, is the Guatemala Building.  The image below is a map of the north end of the White City, showing the Gallery of Fine Arts Building, which is the present-day Museum of Science and Industry.  I surmise that the vantage point of the print above is standing just west of the Guatemala Building, looking east to the Germany building:

The Germany Building at Jackson Park (right) was originally built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the event that gave birth to Jackson Park as Chicagoans know it. All but a few of the hastily-erected but magnificent Expo structures burned down the following year through a series of accidental and malicious acts. The German Building, Iowa Building, Spanish Pavilion, Japanese Temple, and Palace of Fine Arts were survivors. The German Building lived on for another 30 years as a beach house, suffering fatal fire damage 30 years later. The Iowa Building was relocated to this spot at the south end of the beach. The Spanish Pavilion later became the LaRabida Hospital (minus newer structures), and the Palace of Fine Arts is better known today as the Museum of Science and Industry. 

James Blanding Sloan studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the precursor of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was a versatile artist: painter, wood carver, graphic artist, set designer, illustrator, and puppeteer. Originally from Texas, he moved to San Francisco in the 1920s where he established a studio on Polk St. and owned a puppet theater on Montgomery St. From San Francisco, Sloan moved to Hollywood where he worked as a stage and set designer. In 1934, Sloan became the director of the WPA Federal Theater in Los Angeles.  

James Blanding Sloan
Sloan was a bit of a rascal.  I encourage you to read his Wikipedia page .  Not only was he an artist, he was also an activist.  Just after America entered World War I, he was arrested for posting signs which urged young men not to register for the military draft, but to claim exemptions as conscientious objectors.  

In 1929, he was arrested in San Francisco for pushing the boundaries of censorship by creating and using anatomically correct nude marionettes and puppets in his puppet theater shows for sold-out adult audiences. He also used his theater to run foreign films that had been banned elsewhere.

Kevin and I have always liked the print that hangs on our dining room wall with several other Chicago-themed prints.  But knowing the history of this one print -- and the ass-kicking nature of the artist behind the work -- probably makes this one a little more special than the others.

By 1948, James Blanding Sloan was living in Altadena, California, and in the mid-1960s moved to Berkeley, California, and then to the nearby town of Canyon, where he died at the age of 89.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Dollar Tree

People, I have discovered Dollar Tree.

I'd seen this store all around Chicago but never really paid much attention to it.  There are lots of other variety stores out there with "dollar" in the name, such as Family Dollar (owned by the same parent company), Dollar General, and K Dollar.  These stores sell items at discount prices, but for more than just a buck (ostensibly, the names are derived from the fact that all prices are rounded to the nearest whole dollar, avoiding the $.99 trap most often used in pricing).  I figured Dollar Tree was just another one of these stores.

Au contraire mon frère.

Walking through those doors is like having a religious experience.  I don't know if I can explain it completely, but perhaps it's simply knowing that every single item costs $1 at most.  I could buy an entire aisle's worth of stuff and still be able to justify spending the money because, hey - it was only a dollar!  It's the same feeling of power I get when all my laundry is clean or when I have a full tank of gas.  It's an "anything is possible" feeling.  It's powerful.

Back in 1982 or so, the new indoor mall opened back home when I was a teen.  It included a store called 99 Cents Only.  And for a teen on a budget, that's nirvana.  But I soon learned the "you get what you pay for" lesson because everything in that store was cheap (in more ways than one) and lacked any kind of quality.  It was mostly junky stuff, left over from the old 5 And Dime days.

But Dollar Tree is different.  The quality of its merchandise is better; it's not primo by any means, but it's better than what I have seen in other discount variety stores.  And it is the variety that keeps me intrigued.  I see the exact same items in Dollar Tree that I see in other stores, including my grocery store of choice, Mariano's.  For example, I can buy a bar of Yardley Oatmeal soap at Mariano's for $3.99, or I can buy it at Dollar Tree for $1.  I can buy crepe paper streamers at Target for $1.99 or I can buy them at Dollar Tree for $1.  I found $1 cereal bowls in Dollar Tree that exactly match the dishes we already had from Pottery Barn (and you can bet the PB dishses didn't cost $1 each!).

There are two Dollar Tree stores within walking distance from our house and I find I go to them regularly, not to buy items per se, although I always do) but to at least familiarize myself with what they have so I know where to go to buy them.

In short, I'm a huge fan - huuuuuge.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

I'm Yuuuge In Russia, Too

Every now and then, and not as often as I used to, I check the stats on my blog just to see if anyone is paying attention.  Surprisingly, they still are.  To be honest, I would continue writing this blog even if nobody read it but Kevin and my mother.  But people, most of whom I don't know, continue to check back now and then when I update.

I've had tracking data on my blog since the very beginning, nearly 12 years ago.  However, all the data prior to September 2013 seems to have been lost.  It was around that time that the URL for the blog changed from to simply, so it's possible all the previous data is tied to the old URL somehow and I can't access it.  So the information below is data gathered from September 2013 to present.

Overwhelmingly, I get most of my page views from the U.S.  But what is a "page view"?  There are 3 types of Web site statistics: a page view or pages, a hit, and a visitor or visits. Each of these measures something different:
  • Page Views / Pages – This measures how many times someone has viewed an entire page including all text, images, etc.
  • Hits – A single file request in the access log of a Web server. For example, a request for an HTML page with three graphic images will result in four hits in the log: one for the HTML text file and one for each of the graphic image files. While a hit is a meaningful measure of how much traffic a server handles, it can be a misleading indicator of how many pages are being viewed. Instead, advertising agencies and their clients look at the number of pages delivered and ad impressions or views.
  • Visitors / Visits – This is defined as a series of hits from any particular IP address. If any two hits are separated by 30 minutes or more, two visitors are counted. "Visitors" represent an extrapolated number.

Now that you know the difference, it's easy to understand that it's no surprise that the U.S. leads in page views.  What IS surprising is the list of countries immediately following: Almost 8,000 people in the Ukraine have read my blog.  I know this because I have the stats set to capture unique IP addresses, which means I know it's 8,000 different people as opposed to 2 people who have looked at it 4,000 times. So I am big in the Ukraine.

Nearly the same number of people in Israel have read my blog since late 2013, followed by Russia, then Canada rounding out the Top 5.

Now these numbers are nothing compared to the most popular blogs out there.  But I think they are impressive for a guy sitting at his dining room table spouting off his beliefs, interests, concerns, and sharing stories about his family a few times a month.  And they represent only a third of the historical blog numbers, which are unobtainable prior to 2013  In the early years of this blog - when blogs were at their most popular - it was not unusual for me to have a few hundred page views per day.

Countries not  listing enough page views to fall into the Top 10 List include Australia, Norway, Czech Republic, Thailand, Turkey, Brazil, South Korea, and Moldova, which only recently has come into the picture (but given their proximity to Ukraine, it was only a matter of time until my fabulousness crossed the border).

Friday, January 20, 2017

Our New Bathroom

The old bathroom inherited with the house.
It's been a while since I've posted anything about changes we've been making in our house.  We've been working hard on a few projects, one of which dominated most of last year: the buildout of the new master bathroom on the lower level.  The bathroom we WERE using was simply unacceptable.  It was 5' x 5', cramped and cold with the weirdest tile pattern imaginable (see right).  We knew when we bought the house that we wanted to change it.  At first, we were just going to somehow enlarge the space but then decided that the 10' x 10' room right next door being used as a combination laundry/storage room was simply under-utilized.  So we decided to switch the rooms.

Sounds easy, right?

We started the project just after New Year's Day 2016 and finished in August. When you only have evenings and weekends, it can take some time. Granted, we knew it would be a lot of work because we were going to have to run all new plumbing to a space that didn't already have it.  So we went into the project with high hopes and low expectations.  And it all started with opening the walls:

You know the old saying, "You never really know someone until you live with them"?  Well, that goes for your house too.  You never really know your house until you start opening up the walls to see how it's put together.  It always looks so easy on HGTV; a few hammers to the wall and then a good kick to knock the drywall through to the other side.  So simple.  So clean.  Not so.  Considering the previous owners of our house performed their own renovation at some point, I will either blame them directly for the mess we found inside our walls, or blame whatever Apple Dumpling Gang crew they hired to do the work for them.

In most areas, the drywall was not only nailed to the studs, it was also glued.  And behind the drywall, the previous crew used yardsticks from Crafty Beaver as spacers.  These yardsticks were also nailed and glued; nailed and glued onto another layer of plywood which was THEN nailed into the studs.

And when I say nailed, I don't mean they drove a nail every 18 inches or so.  I mean they nailed the shit outta everything.

Look at those pics above.  Look how many nails are in those boards.Those black dots in the picture on the left are nail holes from where we had to remove 3" nails.  This picture is indicative of the rest of the room.  And check out the picture in the middle.  It's not like we live on a fault line!  I don't know anything about construction but I know that's excessive support!

This project alone took the first couple of months.  We mostly broke down our responsibilities of Kevin doing demo and me coming in to clean it all up.  And it worked out well.  Once the walls were open, Kevin ran new electrical for outlets and an exhaust fan (the only item I specifically requested in the build out).

Kevin's folks came out one weekend to help install insulation, built a soffit to hide a gas line, and install new studs on which to apply new drywall.

Once all the walls were down and insulation was installed, it was time to run the new pipes, which meant jack-hammering a concrete floor in order to run the drain from the shower and connect the toilet to the main.

What we learned from moving the water main in the guest room last year was that the concrete floors on our lower level are thick - SUPER thick.  So we braced ourselves for a long battle with the floor.  Our plumber was generous enough to allow us to use his jackhammer for the project.  So over the course of about two weeks, the constant rat-a-tat of that tool permeated the house and surrounding area, as did the ensuing concrete dust.  I don't know why we didn't get a picture of ME using the jackhammer, but I will account for doing most of the work on this (I can say this because Kevin did most of the work on the rest of the bathroom).

We then called in the pros to run all the pipes and tie them into the stack.  This was the one thing we knew we needed help with.  After the pipes were run, the plumber built in the corner pan for the 4' x 3' shower (the the 7.5 foot high shower head!) and then filled the concrete back in with cement once again.

Then we took the project back over again.  Kevin and I installed cement board in the shower area and drywall around the rest of the bathroom.  Everything went swimmingly until Easter Sunday.  I had stopped working to put a turkey in the over for Easter dinner when I suddenly heard, "Bun, I cut myself!"  While trimming the cement board, Kevin slipped the utility knife and sliced through the thumb on his left hand - deep enough to require a trip to the emergency room and several stitches.

All thing considered, we had gone over 100 days without an accident.  Not many construction sites can boast that accomplishment.  Happy to say this was also the ONLY accident we experienced.  It might have ruined a turkey, but it saved a thumb.  And we have our very own "Out, damn spot" under the tile.

And speaking of tile, that's what came next.  We knew we wanted white subway tile in the shower and a charcoal tile on the floor.  We found the tile we liked the most in Home Depot and would always look at it every time we were in the store, which was at least once every weekend.  On the day we decided to just go buy it, our tile was significantly marked down without our knowing it.  Call it "tile kismet".  But before the tile could go down, we laid floor-radiant heating - crucial for a bathroom that is below grade.  Kevin's parents have lots of experience tiling, so they came back out to provide pointers and guidance.

We wanted the tile on the shower floor to be the same color as the floor, but that tile didn't come in smaller sizes.  But that didn't stop us.  We took a few of the remaining 24" tiles and Kevin cut them down into 3" x 3" squares for the shower floor.  Perfection.

The over the next few weeks, we painted the walls pale grey, the same color as the walls in our master and guest bedrooms on the same level.  Then we shopped for furniture, towels, rugs, etc.  And the last thing we did was cover the window in frosted paper to let in light but block the view.

The final look is below on the right.  For comparison, the before picture (taken from the original house listing 2 years ago) is on the left.

We couldn't be more satisfied and proud.  Big shout out to Pat and Dianne Byrne for their guidance and assistance.  Stay tuned for pictures of additional changes we've made in the past year.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Motion Sickness Is Genetic

For as long as I can remember, I've been the victim of motion sickness.  It was difficult for me to ride in a car as a child, sitting in the back seat, crushed between brothers and a sister, with little to no view of where we were going.  Hell for me was the obligatory weekend sojourn just about every summer of my youth through the winding roads of West-By-God-Virginia to "Camp".  Mom tried everything from having me sing songs to take my mind off of the trip to eating saltines.  As I became more familiar with the ride, the motion sickness lessened.  It wasn't long after that Camp got sold and we never went back.  Such is my life.

Even today, it is sometimes hard for me to be a passenger in a car.  So far, though, I've never been sick on an airplane or a cruise ship.  However riding on the L makes me nauseous, now and then; there are times I have to step off the train for air, then wait to catch the next one.  Certain rides in amusement parks are strictly off-limits.  And I am persona non grata on Space Mountain in Disneyland a few years ago.  

Last year, the consumer genetics firm 23AndMe issued the first ever genome-wide association study of motion sickness. The study, published in Oxford Journals’ Human Molecular Genetics is the first to reveal the genetic variants of motion sickness and involved 80,000 consenting customers who had submitted material to 23AndMe to be genetically analyzed.

That's right - you can blame motion sickness on your parents.

Given that roughly one in three people are affected by motion sickness, the study is obviously valuable—and given the highly hereditary nature of motion sickness effects, mapping genetic effects of motion sickness is a perfect fit for 23AndMe. Results from the study have estimated that up to 70% of the variation in risk for motion sickness is due to genetics.  And it found 35 genetic factors associated with motion sickness that are statistically significant when compared with the whole human genome instead of just looking at particular genes. 

Many of these factors are in or near genes involved in balance and eye, ear, and cranial development—meaning motion sickness likely triggers effects in these areas. They even found that several of these factors had the potential to hit women harder, potentially tripling motion sickness' effect on those systems. The study also confirmed that people suffering motion sickness are more prone to migraines, vertigo, morning sickness, and are poor sleepers. Overall, the results pointed toward the importance of the nervous system in motion sickness and a possible role for glucose levels in motion-induced nausea and vomiting.

My brother Matt is afflicted with motion sickness as well, but to my knowledge, our younger brother Mike and sister Kim are not.  Genetics is a fickle thing - just like I am the only one with green eyes, heart issues, and hair loss.

But I am the best looking one.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

So It's Not A Tooth Root After All...

If you've been following my blog for the past 6 months, you'll know my never-ending story about my sinuses (cue Limahl and the Luck Dragon).  You'll also know that the "sinus story" evolved into the "dental story".  For more years than I care to admit, I've consciously put off going to the dentist due to either my unrealized fear of them or the realized fear of not having all my teeth.

I've been to the dentist three times now.  The first time was just a cleaning, no big deal.  The second time was a root canal.  I was prepared for the worst but it actually turned out to be not too bad.  There was minimal pain.  The third visit, on December 30th, was quite a bit different for several reasons:

Visit 3 was extraction day.  Not proud to admit it, but I needed to have 4 teeth extracted - teeth that were beyond saving, all on the bottom.  These were teeth that either due to my teeth grinding or medications I've taken or oral infections were reduced to either mere nubs or were down to the roots.  The act of having a tooth pulled is invasive at best and violent at worst.  Because I expected a reaction similar to the one I experienced in my ENT's office, I asked for the nitrous oxide, which in the end did absolutely nothing for me.

I was able to hold it together through the appointment.  Kevin picked me up afterwards and as soon as I got in the car, I lost it.  I mean, really lost it.  This was worse than what I experienced in the ENT's office.  Again, I have no understanding or reason as to why I am so emotionally tied up in my mouth/face.  But I cried - almost to the point of hysteria.  And despite Kevin's best efforts to comfort me, nothing was going to pacify the emotions I felt.  I had to just let it out.  For a good 10 minutes or so, I bawled unashamedly.  If anyone has a clue as to why, I'm all ears.

But perhaps the biggest revelation from Visit 3 was that my dentist confirmed that the thing in my mouth that has punctured my sinuses is actually not a tooth root, as hypothesized by my ENT, but some kind of cyst that has grown in my gums.  I'll now have to go to an orgal surgeon to have the cyst removed, biopsied, and to have the hole it's created patched.  I'm dumbing down the procedure in my mind so as not to get completely freaked out about it, but I'm guessing it's a big deal of some kind.  I go next week for a consultation.

So along with having mold growing in my sinuses for I-don't-know how long, I also have a cyst growing in my gums.  I doubt any amount of antibiotics would help me at this point, but that doesn't stop every doctor from prescribing them for me.  I just finished my 7th round of antibiotics since June 2016.

I expect more emotional outbursts as I continue to navigate this weirdness inside my head.  And fortunate to have friends, family, and most of all Kevin to keep me calm, sane, and level-headed.

Saturday, January 07, 2017


I recently took a personality test - StrengthsFinder from Gallup, developed by Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.  I've taken many of these kinds of assessments through the years, but this was the first time I've taken this particular one.  The goal for StrengthsFinder is that by answering about 50 questions, they can determine my top 5 personality strengths.

The outcome was pretty fascinating.

Kevin had taken this same test about 3 weeks earlier at work and shared his results with me.  Not surprisingly, his results centered around being a strategic thinker, goal-oriented, being futuristic in thought.  So when my office asked me to take it, I was interested to see how we would compare.  My top 5 strengths in StrengthsFinder are:
  1. Consistency
  2. Context
  3. Intellection
  4. Discipline
  5. Harmony (this one is a surprise)
If you know me at all, you'll agree that these are probably the best 5 words in the English language to describe who I am.  Below I'm providing abridged versions of the theme descriptions, and bolded some things that stand out to me particularly.  Here's more of a peek inside me:

Balance is important to you. You are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same, no matter what their station in life, so you do not want to see the scales tipped too far in any one person’s favor. In your view this leads to selfishness and individualism. You believe that people function best in a consistent environment where the rules are clear and are applied to everyone equally. This is an environment where people know what is expected. It is predictable and evenhanded. It is fair. 
You look back. You look back because that is where the answers lie. You look back to understand the present. It is only by casting your mind back to an earlier time, a time when the plans were being drawn up, that the present regains its stability. The earlier time was a time of blueprints. As you look back, you begin to see these blueprints emerge. You you make better decisions because you sense the underlying structure. You become a better partner because you understand how your colleagues came to be who they are. And counterintuitively you become wiser about the future because you saw its seeds being sown in the past. Faced with new people and new situations, it will take you a little time to orient yourself, but you must give yourself this time. 
You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings. You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. 
Your world needs to be predictable. It needs to be ordered and planned. So you instinctively impose structure on your world. You set up routines. You focus on timelines and deadlines. You need precision. Faced with the inherent messiness of life, you want to feel in control. The routines, the timelines, the structure, all of these help create this feeling of control. Your dislike of surprises, your impatience with errors, your routines, and your detail orientation don’t need to be misinterpreted as controlling behaviors that box people in. Rather, these behaviors can be understood as your instinctive method for maintaining your progress and your productivity in the face of life’s many distractions.
The last strength, Harmony, makes complete sense in my professional life, but not necessarily in my personal life.  Professionally, I am at most times a mediator.  I am the middle man between front line staff and organization leadership.  I listen and advise as needed.  I don't make decisions in my profession; I make many suggestions on how to proceed, then trust the the best option is selected by the other party.  But personally, I LOVE a good debate and I am not shy about sharing my opinions.  Of course, StrengthsFinder is a professional tool.  So this is an interesting case where the professional me and the personal me are not the same person:

You look for areas of agreement. In your view there is little to be gained from conflict and friction, so you seek to hold them to a minimum. When you know that the people around you hold differing views, you try to find the common ground. You try to steer them away from confrontation and toward harmony. When others are sounding off about their goals, their claims, and their fervently held opinions, you hold your peace. When others strike out in a direction, you will willingly, in the service of harmony, modify your own objectives to merge with theirs (as long as their basic values do not clash with yours). When others start to argue about their pet theory or concept, you steer clear of the debate, preferring to talk about practical, down-to-earth matters on which you can all agree. In your view we are all in the same boat, and we need this boat to get where we are going. It is a good boat. There is no need to rock it just to show that you can.