Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And a Week Later....

Christmas was wonderful, even though it finished up with the obligatory post-Christmas sickness.  I have bronchitis, which I have been dreading ever since I first hurt my back.  The good news is, my back is healed enough that the coughing can't throw it out.  The bad news is, the coughing still really, really hurts.  And I passed it on to Andy.  And another friend.  Hm, I think the "good news" side needs some work.........

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!


Happy Holidays – finally!

As you probably noticed, there was no 2012 holiday letter. So a brief recap on the last TWO years:

In 2012, Andy took up the bass guitar, painted the sewing room and built some seriously beautiful shelves for me, and designed and built us a greenhouse. In August my father was hospitalized with an advanced staph infection, he spent 5 weeks in hospitals here in Boise while my mother lived with us, and he not only fully recovered from the infection—he survived Blue Cross of Idaho, which is even more remarkable. I began the year attempting to get my back/hip straightened out, joined a congressional campaign for a few months, spent 5 weeks trying to cope with my inability to cope with hospitals, due to all the stress ended up back in physical therapy as soon as my father was released, managed to sprain my back while doing physical therapy, and ended 2012 even less mobile than at the start.

This year has continued to be dominated by my back problems, but in June we were able to travel to Indiana to Andy's family's farm for a reunion and last “hurrah” before the farm was auctioned. We had a great time, and I got to meet the rest of Andy's family AND saw my very first fireflies. Thanks to GPS, we also got to see a great deal of Indiana farmland, which was interesting to me because the thought of farmland that needs drainage to cope with too much water is a bit hard to fathom—especially this year. The huge lawns still have me a bit baffled, but I can only guess that riding lawn mowers are very, very popular back there.

In August I started seeing a physiatrist for my back and acquired my third physical therapist. This time I am being treated less for the initial injury and more for the subsequent injuries and the effects of 2 years of pain. It turns out that, while my body has made no effort whatsoever to adapt to the increase in summer temperatures over the last few years, it cheerfully changed my walk and stance to accommodate the hip problem, which actually compounded the problem. So, in addition to therapeutic massage and some new core-building exercises that are a lot harder than my old ones, I have to relearn to walk and stand and am still learning “body mechanics”--usually the hard way. The hardest thing to get used to is how important it is to avoid pain. This probably sounds sort of self-explanatory (unless one played high school sports and constantly heard “no pain, no gain”), but when muscles have been knotted from pain for two years and the therapist has just worked those knots out, they knot back up VERY easily and getting into pain can wipe out two to six weeks of therapy in one shot. So, I'm trying to learn to rest frequently, avoid sitting and any travel for a while, and every week discuss with my physical therapist what I have done and what I think I will be doing the following week, and she tells me either what I have already done wrong or what I am about to do wrong. They aren't as obvious as one would think, as the latest thing-I-do-wrong was to wrap gifts while seated on the floor. As I had just spent the week decorating the house for Christmas and been very careful about the stepladder and reaching and lifting, I had honestly believed wrapping was an easy thing. But it turns out it's quite bad for anyone with hip or back problems. It's like an ongoing pop quiz for which one doesn't even know what book to study, but I do progress. While there are things I will never be able to do again and I still have a very long way to go, I am down to once-a-week appointments, which will continue into the next year, and I am finally starting to have a few normal days again—or as normal as we get around here.

Andy is still telecommuting, with occasional trips to the main office in California—usually during the coldest periods here which he swears are just purely coincidental. Following his sister's lead, he's training to extend his twice-yearly half-marathons to a full marathon, and is making great progress but isn't quite there yet. As souvenirs, he made wooden pens out of walnut from the Indiana farm for all his aunts and uncles, has learned to turn wooden wine goblets, and made a wooden music stand with the opening notes of “As Time Goes By” inlaid in stone for me. His latest woodworking project is building an electric mandolin from a kit, which looks like a miniature electric guitar. The trio he's been playing with each Christmas has named itself for the song they played last year, “Trio de Schlittenfahrt.” While it really means “three German dances,” things sound much funnier in German.

We continue with our gardening adventures (a.k.a vole wars), and after they finished off the fava beans and most of the cilantro, I finally got so desperate to get rid of the little monsters that I dreamed up the brilliant idea of boarding our cats while we were in Indiana so I could put down poison without risk to the cats. It does seem to have cut down on the voles, but so stressed out one of our cats that Theo is on permanent medication for stress-related urinary problems, and had to be on anti-depressants during our entire trip. So far, every time Andy travels for work, Theo requires a trip to the vet for pain medication, even though he largely ignores Andy's existence when he is home. All things considered, just letting the voles have the garden would have been a lot less stressful for everyone concerned. 
 
Things I've learned in the past TWO years:
  • There are basically 2 gardening seasons: “Please grow” and “Please die.”
  • There will always be people who assert that heart disease isn't linked to weight, but the size of the furniture in the hospital's cardiac ward proves otherwise
  • Sadly, doing one's physical therapy exercises faithfully is a really good way to surprise one's physical therapist
  • I don't know which pain pills are the addictive ones, but I am quite an expert on the ones that cause nausea and give one ulcers
  • A good way to get ALL your tomatoes to grow is to expect half of them to die
  • Nothing unsticks a stuck sprinkler faster than giving it a human target
  • When a doctor tells you “no running” on a treadmill, it seems he also means “do not increase the incline and go at the fastest pace you can.” Go figure.
  • If it's in a new greenhouse, even spinach is exciting
  • I was rather proud when I broke the “unbreakable” therapy band the first physical therapist gave me, but by the time the third one broke, it was just about getting flipped by a 6-inch wide rubber band and a huge bruise
  • Cats may sleep 18 hours a day, but this doesn't prevent them from developing stress issues
  • Nothing makes one more popular with one's gardening friends than to be the only one who didn't grow zucchini
  • Just because there are places that specialize in boarding cats, it doesn't mean it's a good idea
  • While killing off the voles would be nice, I am willing to settle for driving them into the neighbor's yard
  • It's a good thing I didn't choose to go into espionage. I don't know how I would fare with actual torture, but an extra 5 minutes of therapeutic massage alone would have me singing like a canary
  • It's easy to underestimate the perversity of cats until one has to get them to take medication twice a day
  • When doing exercises against a door, the smarter thing would be to make sure it's against the direction that opens
  • I was so tired of unsuccessfully battling squash bugs that I planted NO squash of any kind this year—and ended up with 3 types of volunteer squash...........which the squash bugs ignored completely
  • Even though some people were barely able to pass high school, given a Facebook or Twitter account, everyone is an expert on everything from medicine to economics
  • Sprinkling garlic water in the garden might get rid of some voles, but not ones that are actually eating the garlic in the garden
  • My parents didn't participate in the drug scene of the 1960s, but I think the hallucinogenic drugs they gave my father during his first week in the hospital topped anything the counter-culture ever tried.
  • Even after planting a whole crop of them, we still don't know what fresh fava beans taste like, but the plants are some sort of vole delicacy.
  • You know you've stayed in touch with your inner child when you have to set a house rule to NOT jump on the beds because you've stored the empty canning jars underneath them.
  • When one has to approach canning in moderation, one cans much less weird stuff
  • A vet who prescribes anti-stress meds in pill form for a cat has never had to GIVE pills to a cat
  • At some point in medical school, they probably need to instruct doctors to check what medications a patient has been given BEFORE asking the patient questions. Not that it wasn't funny to listen to my father's answers to their questions—especially the discussion about Shetland ponies outside the 5th floor window—it wasn't exactly medically accurate nor extremely helpful.
  • I was out of bed for Thanksgiving for the first time in two years! I absolutely love Thanksgiving, and it was so nice to participate in it again. Besides the wonderful spirit of the holiday, I love the idea that America's greatest culinary tradition started with someone looking at a piece of stale bread and saying, "Hm, I wonder where I could put this................"

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a healthy 2014,
Toni & Andy

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gettin' Ready For Christmas

What says "Christmas" more than a pot of spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove
while building a snowman in the back yard?

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's Snowing!

The good news is, my back is surviving the cold fairly well.  The bad news?  After having a really painful day last time it snowed, my physical therapist very nicely explained that muscle injuries can be aggravated by snow and rain--I forget why, exactly, because to be honest I scoffed at the very idea.  Not aloud, of course, because that would be rude, but I will admit that I didn't really believe her.  I've heard old people say they could feel rain in their joints or knees or whatever for much of my life, but as I live in high desert, they are almost always wrong, so I had chalked it up to an old wives' tale or superstition.  It turns out, it is of very little consequence whether or not I believe her.  It's whether or not my back believes her, and it definitely does.  From about noon onwards my back has just ached.  Maybe they aren't Old Wives' Tales after all--maybe they're Old Wives Tails...............

Monday, December 16, 2013

Party-Hardy

Or at least partly. 

Saturday, I attended not one but TWO Christmas parties.  This is quite exciting for me, as I haven't been able to do anything of the kind in two years. 

The early party was a Christmas ornament exchange party that a friend of mine has been hosting for about 15 years.  I missed it last year, and was really sorry to miss all the fun and wonderful ornaments.  It's an all-girl party except for,
my friend's two little Havanese dogs.  Tango and I made friends pretty quickly--Cash paid more attention to those with potential food to share.

I love this party, and having so many ornament to remember so many years.  This is the ornament I got this year,
and it not only plays the Charlie Brown song, the record actually spins.  I almost lost it to one of my friends with children, but in the end she decided that it would take too long to explain to her children what records were and how they actually worked.  Sometimes age pays off.

Then I met Andy at the second party, which was fun all on its own and lots of new people, but one of the hosts is a professional musician around town, knows lots of other professional musicians, and had them bring their instruments.  Luckily, it was more of a jam session and playing around than Christmas carols, so we could REALLY hear them play and do songs they had written or played for years.  Seriously, they could have charged a cover charge for that party. Fun times.

Sunday I wasn't too sore, but I was thoroughly exhausted and had to rest most of the day, which is okay.  Sometimes I have to rest without having done anything fun, so 7-8 hours of attending fun things is okay if it's exhausting.  Progress is progress.................

Friday, December 13, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Every anniversary, Andy and I exchange perfume and cologne.  Some years we've picked it out separately, some years we've gone shopping together.  The scent industry seems to have survived the economic downturn without a hiccup, as last year our selections cost almost twice what the ones we bought in 2006 for our wedding.  I understand inflation, but not even gas and oil have increased at THAT speed.  So we've been kicking around ideas for a new place to shop or a new way to pick out scents, and time got away from us.  As it is now the Holiday Season, the mall and just about every retail establishment has descended into crowded and obnoxious trials of patience for both of us, so this year we decided to pick out scents on-line.

That was more fun than we ever dreamed.  We started looking up scents we already had, then looked at things that people had also bought.  The reviews were almost worthless, but the descriptions were delightful.  I was sorely tempted by one described as "a sexy fruity fragrance you wear at your discretion," but eventually picked Amarige by Givenchy, which has notes of "Neroli, Mandarin, Violet leaves, Rosewood, Gardenia, Red fruits, Ylang-Ylang, Acacia Farnesiana, Tonka Bean, Woods, Ambergris."  I have no idea what most of those things actually smell like, but I liked the sound of "ylang-ylang."  I don't know how it is actually pronounced exactly, but it looks fun.  

For Andy we looked up some of the male versions of perfumes we've bought for me.  One of our favorites has always been "The One" by Dolce and Gabbana, which has a male version.  We thought we were ordering the original, which was described as "The One for Men perfectly reflects the Dolce Gabanna man: charismatic and seductive, elegant and sophisticated, he loves taking care of himself. A modern hedonist who never passes by unobserved."  Without realizing it, however, we ended up ordering "The One Gentleman," which is for "a man who is multifaceted and knows how to treat a lady,"  I have no idea what either of those descriptions have to do with smells, but I love the descriptions. We've never gotten odd descriptions of fragrances at the fragrance counters--just a lot of cards with scent on them.  They're nice in themselves, but the descriptions are less prone to giving headaches.

Our new scents arrived this week,
and quite wonderfully, we like both scents and yet they are quite different from anything either of us already have, making it a total surprise.  No free gifts with purchase, of course, but last year's umbrella doesn't work very well, the matching scented deodorants tend to give Andy a rash, and we already have at least 5 or 6 free bags piled up around the house.  And we're celebrating another year of smelling absolutely fabulous...........

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Decorations Tour

I promised Andy's mother pictures of the house as decorated this year because she's been following my 365-ornament experiment, so we're doing a little tour this morning.

In past years, I have done both upstairs and downstairs, but this is where the decorations stopped this year:
I didn't want to overdo and then end up struggling to make it through the party, so I did exercises some restraint this year.  However, this:

was FUN. I hadn't originally intended for one tree to be The Homemade Tree, but as this was the first tree that went up and I was so excited to see how all the new ornaments looked on it, it is almost entirely homemade ornaments. There are some new ornaments that Andy made this year:
which we got to keep because he isn't entirely pleased with them.  We also included the beautiful,
and pretty intricate, ornaments made by Andy's cousin Mindy, who is obviously a woman of infinite patience. We also have several very unique ornaments made by a friend who studies native crafts, so this
is a miniature birch-bark canoe.  How cool is that?

It turns out, as I was digging through the ornament boxes, that we have LOTS of homemade ornaments from all sorts of people--past coworkers, nieces and nephews, friends--so they're all on here,
 I didn't add any garland or anything but lights and ornaments to this tree--it hasn't seemed to need it, especially since I'm still finishing up some of the ornaments. I didn't realize how far behind I had fallen in soaking the stabilizer off the lace ornaments, which actually takes a couple days, so more ornaments keep popping onto the tree.

We also have a cool new addition in the coat hall this year:
I've had this candle holder for years, but I never light it as I don't like candles that close to the wall or that can be bumped easily.  So one day I asked Andy if he might be interested in making decorations for it, and these are the result.  I love it, and I was surprised how quickly he could make them.  I added the bows for a little color and to make them a bit less likely to get bumped.  Just a fun new addition this year.

I love variety in decorating, so as many of you know, I have several Christmas "themes" we can use.  This year I went back to the original red and gold,
which worked out well as
the red lights were the only other ones I could find.  One Christmas box is still somewhere in the garage, but by the time I got to this tree, the party was coming up pretty quickly and there wasn't really time to clean the garage.  There goes the theory that I think about these themes well in advance....

This tree was fun to do as well, as the ornaments are mostly ones we've received as gifts or bought as souvenirs from trips.  I've been collecting ornaments for a very long time--technically,  this
is my very oldest ornament, which I received in second grade.  I started collecting ornaments from trips long before I met Andy, 
so ones like this wonderful little lunar landing module from NASA pre-date him, but we've continued the tradition on all of our trips together.  This one from a weekend in McCalll is especially cute,
though they're all fun.  And,  while many of our ornaments come from a girls' ornament exchange party that I've been attending for the past 15-20 years,
we have some ornaments Andy has been given from the kayaking & canoeing club as well.   I don't think there's a single year that I haven't put up a tree.  My first year in college it was rather more of a stick than a tree and had to be suspended from the window frame with dental floss to keep it upright, and I did abandon real trees after an episode involving my pocket knife and a trip to an emergency clinic for 5 stitches, and two years ago my friends did put up the decorations for me, but I just can't imagine not having one.  Or two, as the case may be............

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Things I Have Learned This Week

*  If one is going to go overboard when making appetizers, it's best to make them healthy enough that they can be lunch, breakfast, and dinner for the next few days

*  Normally the cats consider me a bit of a dim bulb, but it doesn't stop them from thinking I can make it warm enough for them to go outside if they just ask often enough.

*  It turns out that I'm not yet that motivated to know if my back muscles can take our recent miserably-cold temperatures or not.  Anything below zero, or even in single digits, is just going to be ignored right now.

*  When you can be made the Bad Guy for setting limits on how often people can use you for their own convenience, it's not much of a relationship to begin with and certainly not a healthy one.

*  Just because you've made a tradition out of watching as many version of "A Christmas Carol" as you can find, it doesn't mean that you have to include "The Smurfs Christmas Carol."  All traditions need limits.

*  I used to think I could figure out pretty much anything on the internet.  Then I met the latest Yahoo Mail upgrade.

*  I am not a good guesser.  When I am being careful about being on ladders and stools and reaching and lifting, I'll STILL manage to find something that is hard on one's back.  This week it was wrapping gifts while sitting on the floor.  In my defense, however, doesn't that sound like an EASY thing?

*  While being strong enough to make it to ALL the holiday parties would be great, after last year it's nice to be able to attend MOST or even half.  Even slow progress is progress.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Back With a Bang!

Finally! We were able to have an actual party!  I've had a Christmas party almost every year for the last 20+ years, so going two full years without a party was really strange.  And we rejoined the human race in style,
albeit a really ugly style. Andy wasn't the only one sporting lights--our contest winner
had both lights AND a singing hat, and is seen here trying (quite unsuccessfully) to get everyone gathered for a group photo.  It was hard enough to get people for individual shots--there was no stopping the party for a group shot.

We had some wonderfully creative sweaters,
front AND back:
and I'd love to show you pictures of all the fun stuff, but even taking shifts with the camera didn't capture all the creativity.  But we did have a MARVELOUS time!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Day By Day..........

Yesterday was a bad back day again, which is REALLY frustrating as I thought I was being really good this week AND it meant missing a Christmas party last night.  It turns out that there are lots of things that can cause my back to freak out while I'm trying to heal, including changes in the weather.  I won't know for about a year if the weather problem is permanent or not, but for right now, it is possible that snow combined with a zippy 4 degrees can throw my back for a loop.  Fair enough--the rest of me doesn't care for that kind of cold either. 

So today while getting ready for our party, I am taking regular breaks to sit on my new massage cushion.  The therapist told me that when muscles knot, one essentially has to re-injure them to get them to relax.  Fortunately or unfortunately, my new back massager believes in this program as well.  The packaging calls it "Shiatsu action," which sounds much more friendly than "back pulverization with heat," but it does work.  I think it's the same principal as those mallets for tenderizing meat, but I try not to thing about that too much...............

Friday, December 6, 2013

And We're On To Christmas!

I am not going to gloat or anything, because it was this week last year when I managed to sprain my back while doing physical therapy, so there are no limits to what I can do, but we are hosting our FIRST party in two years on Sunday.  I almost feel human again.  Or I feel like a human who still has to take muscle relaxers, take breaks, and who can still have random days of pain.  So maybe I need to work on my concept of "human," but as it's now been over two years, it's exciting to just be mobile.  AND GETTING READY FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!!!

I love spending Christmas in my own home.  We're always invited to different relatives' homes, of course, and for the first few years of our marriage all we DID was travel all over for Christmas.  But I'm 43 years old, Andy will be 50 next year, and frankly we are old enough to have our OWN Christmas traditions in OUR OWN HOME.  The thing is, I don't like to travel for Christmas.  Your house is more likely to be broken into, it's harder to find someone to take care of our pets, everyone on the planes are spreading cold and flu germs to everyone else, flights are expensive, weather conditions can cause delays and flights are overbooked, and December is so busy with parties and events and everything else that I'm tired by the time Christmas rolls around. I don't want to have to be gearing up to travel anywhere.  And, while I appreciate it when people DO invite us for Christmas, until I got married I never ONCE hosted or had Christmas in my own home because of family expectations, but now we're married, we're adults, and have a life together to create. So, we have big plans both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and an Ugly Sweater party on Sunday.  Let the holiday season begin!

The Look

Anyone who thinks cats can't learn things hasn't lived with one. It took Theo maybe a month into his diet to figure out that I can...