Odds and Ends: Hello Summer! edition

Yeah, I know summer doesn’t actually start until next month, but this coming weekend is the long Memorial Day weekend, and that’s the unofficial start to summer. This weekend is also BottleRock weekend here in Napa, and I’m very happy that a) unlike last year, I have no urgent work projects that prevent me from fully using the weekend pass I bought several months ago, and; b) my health has recovered enough that I can enjoy wine or beer and should be able to find something to eat there (as long as it isn’t too spicy and it’s very high fiber).:-)

==========

Speaking of health, I have an appointment with a surgeon on June 1 to talk about surgery to address my recurrent bouts of diverticulitis. I met with a new primary care doctor last week and he seconded the doc that diagnosed this most recent occurrence by saying surgery is something I should seriously consider. I’m not excited about another abdominal surgery this year, but I want my life back. I want to be able to travel for work or pleasure. I want to be able to develop a consistent diet instead of vacillating back and forth between high fiber and low fiber. I want to not have to deal with pain and “bathroom issues” several times a year. I want to not be put on heavy, nasty antibiotics several times a year, too. If I need to have another surgery to have a better than average chance of avoiding all these issues, then I’m game to try.

==========

Dad asked me for my email address a few weeks ago when I was in Chicagoland and had breakfast with him and stepmother. Somehow he had lost it. Now I regularly get spammed by my dad with stupid chain emails. I never open them, as I can tell just from the subject lines that I don’t want to read them.:-/

==========

I had an eye exam a few weeks ago and got new frames and a new prescription. Things are still not very clear in my right eye when I’m reading, but it’s OK. I’m sticking with reading ebooks over paper books since I can adjust the type as needed.

===========

My dog is now 13 years old and it’s upsetting to me that she is starting to show her age in some ways. Last fall she started occasionally vomiting and having diarrhea for seemingly no reason. She woke me up one morning when I heard her vomiting on the bathroom tile floor, and I was scared when I saw there was blood in it. No one seems to know exactly why she has these problems pop up here and there, but I’ve been taking her back and forth to the vet regularly to get her ALT levels measured. This is a blood test they use to measure liver health (not function, per se, but as a marker for potential disease or damage to the liver). Since the values have been abnormal for months she had an ultrasound of her liver yesterday. She has some nodules, but the vet said not to get too worried about it right now. We’ll do another ultrasound in 6 weeks. She also got a bladder infection last fall that took a couple months (and two antibiotics, one very costly) to shake.

She’s on a bunch of supplements now: Vitamin E, fish oil, Cosequin for joint health, probiotics, and a cranberry supplement to ward off another bladder infection. Needless to say, my budget for pet care over the past year has been seriously out of whack. I’m not complaining about being able to afford good care for my dog (I can), just that it’s difficult to budget accurately how much her care is going to cost since there are all these tests and vet visits. I love her fiercely, so I’m not going to scrimp on her care.

==========

My food budget continues to be a challenge for me. It doesn’t help that I have to restock my pantry with each new bout of diverticulitis. When I’m in the midst of an “attack” I have to be on liquids only for a day or two. While I usually keep broth on hand, I don’t consume fruit juice or gelatin on a regular basis, so I have to buy that. Then I have to buy and consume regular (as opposed to whole grain) pasta and noodles, white rice, white bread, white crackers, canned vegetables and fruit, and ground meat for a few weeks. When I’m able to eat normally again, I go back to eating whole grain products, beans, spices, and crunchy/high fiber veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.

Truthfully, even without the pantry challenges the biggest bite into my food budget is dining out. When I’m well, I eat out at least twice a week and my preferred vendors aren’t cheap, fast food. That means each week I’m spending at least $30 – $40 on dining out. I’m just going to have to bow to reality and adjust my budget to account for this since I’m not willing to give it up right now. I’m not broke or skating close to the edge every month, so there’s no reason to deprive myself. I merely want to get a handle on what my “average” expenses are and make a budget that reflects it.

===========

April and May were very good money months for me. First of all, April was one of those months where I got three paychecks. Since I’m paid every two weeks, there are always two months out of the year where I get three paychecks: one of these “bonus months” always happens in the spring, and the other in the fall. My monthly budget accounts for only two paychecks per month, so the extra paycheck is always a nice bonus that gets tucked into savings.

I also had a big federal tax refund this year. I know it’s best to engineer your withholding so this doesn’t happen, but this was truly out of my hands. My employer has set up several “legal entities” for risk mitigation purposes, and due to some changes in my team structure that took month 6 months to work out, I was sequentially employed by three different legal entities last year. Each one started my withholding for social security from scratch (as they were legally obligated to do) so I had way too much withheld in this area last year. Between that and an investment loss, I raked in a refund that was greater than the ones I routinely got as a homeowner with a mortgage and business expenses related to my room rentals. Again, this refund was deposited immediately in my savings account.

===========

Despite having a healthy amount of money to use as a house down payment, I’m still priced out of affording a little house in my preferred neighborhood here in wine country. I’d have to put down much more than 20% to get a monthly payment I could afford without introducing making big changes to my budget (such as cuts to pet care and dining out, for starters). I still keep looking at properties as they pop up, though, so I can remain educated about the market. If I really, really needed to buy something, I could do so in a non-preferred neighborhood or town, but I have no deep need to do so at this time. I’m getting better at cultivating patience in this area. And I’m working on ways to increase my monthly income. But that’s something I should write up in another post.

How are you doing these days?

 

Here we go again

Was my “rumbly tummy” that I experienced a few weeks ago some sort of early warning of what was to come? Maybe so.

I’m dealing with yet another case of diverticulitis. This the fourth case I’ve had in the past year: April 2015, July 2015, and December 2015 were the earlier ones. I knew for sure it was diverticulitis when I kept waking up in pain last Monday night. Luckily, I have plenty of hydrocodone on hand from the last bouts.

When I saw the nurse practitioner Tuesday afternoon and got the diagnosis, I cried. I’m so tired of this. I do everything I’m supposed to do: eat lots of fresh and fibrous veggies, fruit, and whole grains, drink lots of water, and exercise. The last bit had been curtailed due to my December surgery, but I was getting back into hiking again and taking a yoga class. I had just made a yummy batch of banana muffins with oatmeal and walnuts the Sunday before, and here I was unable to eat them.

I know the drill so well by now. Liquids only for the first 24 to 48 hours. I had made sure that Tuesday to consume only water, lemonade, and black coffee. (Guidance on whether coffee is OK is mixed, but it’s mainly the caffeine that is the issue, and I drink half-decaffeinated coffee at home.) On that first day, I went to the hospital lab for my blood draw, then picked up the antibiotics and started taking them.

There are always two antibiotics for some reason. There is some variation in what can be prescribed for the one, but there is always Flagyl. Always. It’s a horrible drug, and is very hard to take three times a day because it makes me nauseated. I can’t tell if the bouts of nausea that sometimes wake me up at night are from the Flagyl or the diverticulitis, but does it really matter?

On the second day, I vomited my meds in the morning. I simply could not keep the evil Flagyl in my stomach while consuming only liquids, so I nibbled on a piece of baguette I had left over from the weekend. I rarely keep food like that in the house since I don’t eat it on a regular basis, but luckily I had entertained the weekend before and had half a loaf left. I had to go back to the doctor’s office to see the doctor and get confirmation of my diagnosis based on my bloodwork. As if there was any doubt.

The internal medicine doctor was almost chipper and friendly as she showed me my lab results (elevated white count and inflammation markers, of course) and she prescribed an anti-nausea med for me. I’ve taken it a few times, but it knocks me out and makes me pretty loopy, so it’s not something I can take regularly, unfortunately.

This particular bout seems worse than the last one in December. Or maybe I’m just still not fully recovered and not up to fighting it as hard. For whatever reason, I don’t feel like I’m healing as quickly as I used to. I still have pain occasionally, especially with certain movements. I’ll turn in my sleep and wake from the pain I’ve caused myself. Or I’ll wake up with nausea and lay there hoping it will pass so I don’t get sick on the bedroom carpet. This morning I drank two cups of peppermint tea before I could even think about trying to put anything (even toast) in my stomach. Then there are the bathroom issues. *sigh*

The doctor asked if I had seen a specialist, and I noted that, ironically, I had a follow up appointment scheduled with the gastroenterologist at the end of the month. We should have a lot to talk about. I can’t take this anymore. I see another abdominal surgery in my future, but first I need to get this infection gone.

Rice and lemonade

It’s rice for dinner tonight because my gut is acting weird. It’s rumbly and I keep experiencing short bouts of nausea, occasional chills, immense tiredness, and a need to spend some time in the bathroom. (TMI?)

Lemonade isn’t a reference to Beyoncé’s recent artistic project…well, not *only* that. One of the benefits of living in an area where lemon trees grow is that it’s easy to make a glass of refreshing lemonade whenever one wants. It sits well in my sick tummy.

But back to Beyoncé: I’ve never paid much attention to her previous releases, although it was hard to miss hearing some of them (like Single Ladies). I don’t watch the Super Bowl (no, I don’t even tune in for the half time show or commercials), but with all the fuss about Formation, I saw some online replays of it and thought it was a powerful statement.

Last weekend there was a free HBO preview, and when I was idly flipping through channels Saturday night I tuned in Lemonade not really knowing what it was. I only saw/heard short segments while I cooked dinner, then sat down near the end to take it in. The ending segments Freedom and All Night were amazing. After viewing the entire thing again last night (how could I not DVR it?!), I still like those segments the best.

There are already plenty of analysis and reviews of Lemonade, and I can’t add any unique thoughts about it other than to say I see myself parting with some money soon to buy the film and album package.

“I break chains all by myself
won’t let my freedom rot in hell
Hey, I’m a keep runnin’
‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves”

Yeah!

I’ve had my own “don’t quit on yourself” moments recently. After I returned home from slogging through the mess of Mom’s health, I acknowledged to M that this relationship we’d started just wasn’t working out for me. *sigh* He’s very sweet and there are several good things about him and the relationship, but he hasn’t been working for a while and that makes me anxious. I put up with patiently waiting for my partner to get a job for two years when I was with B, and I’m not going there again. I’m not the only one put into a bind by a partner’s unemployment, either.

For now I’m back to concentrating solely on myself (plus Hannah dog), and I really need it. After several months of limited activities I’ve put on some weight and lost my conditioning, so I’m getting back into hiking and had added weekly yoga in the park.

Sadly, I’m missing hiking group tonight due to this stomach thing and I’ll also miss yoga on Saturday due to some tenderness and weakness in my right wrist and forearm. (Tendonitis?) I’ve been wearing a wrist brace and limiting my keyboarding as much as possible (hard to do when your job requires it), but I’m quite sure downward dog poses are to be avoided completely for a short time. At least today’s diet of rice and lemonade aren’t high calorie, right?

So it goes

The visit back to Chicagoland was as disturbing as I’d feared. Although I landed on a Wednesday afternoon, I didn’t go to see my mother until Saturday. In between, I worked a couple days in our Chicago office and tried to set up meals and coffee breaks with friends. Sadly, only one one of those rendezvous actually worked out, but I had to try.

That Saturday morning I picked up a rental car and started the drive down to the rural area where Mom lives. I dawdled a bit along the way, stopping at a tollway oasis for coffee and a breakfast sandwich. When I arrived at her house, she met me near the door and seemed eager to see me. I had called her that morning and alerted her I was on my way and would be taking her out to lunch so she would be dressed and ready to go. We didn’t have to rush off after I arrived, though, so we visited for about an hour before leaving. This consisted of me showing Mom photos on my phone and me talking a lot. Mom — formerly an extremely talkative person — had hardly anything to say, even when I directly questioned her about things from the past and present.

The drive to the restaurant took about 40 minutes. In that time, I think Mom talked for about five. At lunch, I commented on the changes in the area. Again, Mom had little to say.

All through my childhood, teen, and early adult years my Mom would talk your ear off if given the chance. She would talk to telemarketers who called the house until THEY hung up. She had a limited filter and would often make borderline bawdy comments for laughs. But that person is gone. In it’s place is someone who often says “I can’t remember. My memory is no good anymore.”

Physically she is in terrible shape. She is obese and has asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, all of which are only marginally under control because she just doesn’t care to do so. Poorly managed diabetes is the mostly likely cause of her dementia, in fact. On this visit, her legs were swollen, and her breathing was labored after just the short walk from the house to the car.

I returned the following Monday to take her to the dentist. Since I didn’t need to do that until the afternoon and I had a few phone meetings, I brought my laptop and did some work. Mom has no Internet connection, but my employer pays for use of the hotspot when necessary, and my phone had a solid connection. It was still challenging to work at her house because I could only find one place to connect my laptop to power: the same power strip where her microwave is connected.

The truly appalling condition of the house struck me that day. Mom remarried after she and Dad divorced. Her current husband is a hard-working guy, but while he runs his own business as a “horse trader” (someone who trades in heavy equipment like backhoes and trucks), he’s not an educated man. He grew up in a poor household, never even finished grade school, and is functionally illiterate. He used to have Mom do his basic book-keeping and attend to anything that required reading and writing skills; now he has his son do that. Back when Mom would talk a lot and share all the nitty-gritty details of her life, we learned that stepfather’s main source of business capital was mortgaging the house and credit card cash advances. I’m sure he’s still doing that now.

Maybe lack of capital is why the house is in such bad shape. Or maybe stepfather’s standards are just really low. The door handle on the bathroom was completely missing. The door itself was mangled a bit, probably because the new puppy stepfather bought six months ago did it. (What was he thinking?! Why did he think it was a good idea to bring a puppy to a woman who can’t remember to take her meds or eat regular meals?!) The outlet in the bedroom in which I first tried to work wasn’t accepting my grounded power plug. I managed to find an adapter, but the laptop still wouldn’t charge, so the outlet must not have worked at all. In the kitchen, several of the cabinet handles were broken.  The linoleum is missing in some places and the plywood sub-floor is visible. Every piece of furniture in the house was suffering from heavy wear or in some state of disrepair.

The older dog would start barking like crazy whenever I made a movement, and Mom would then scream at it to stop. The now six-month old puppy wasn’t house trained and kept peeing around the house. Not finding any paper towels in the kitchen, I asked Mom where I could find something to clean up after the puppy, and she directed me to get a rag from the bathroom cabinet. I couldn’t tell the difference between the rags and the “good” towels.

That was my breaking point. That was when I started to cry, as I walked along the hallway, with a wet cloth in my hand to wipe up dog urine from the sides of the couch and easy chair, and from the stained wood floor. I don’t think Mom saw me cry.

After spending a bit of time talking with stepfather when he returned to the house, I started the drive back to my friend A’s house where I was staying for those few days. Along the way I stopped at a Walgreens and picked up beer and a giant bag of kettle corn so I could comfort myself that night.

I had to return to Mom’s house the next day to take her to another doctor’s appointment. It hadn’t been part of my plan for the day, but stepfather had asked me to call the doctor the day before and ask for advice on her swelling and difficulty breathing at night. In just the three days that had passed since I had seen her, Mom’s legs continued to swell. The pulmonologist looked her over and then said her problem was not her lungs. This wasn’t an asthma complication, and she needed to see a cardiologist. He said she had a problem with her heart. That’s all he would say, but he did get her an appointment with the cardiology nurse practitioner for the following week.

What he wouldn’t say was that she has congestive heart failure.

I drove straight from Mom’s house to the airport. I turned in the rental car and went through the motions of getting through security. I had some extra time, so I bought a large beer and sat at a table and tried hard not to cry. I’m still trying.

A visit home

It’s been great to have my energy back again! The new estrogen patch seems to be working well for me. I’ve been on it for a week solid and I finally feel like I’m firing on all cylinders again.

Sleep is pretty good. I do get hot spells, but they’re manageable. My new routine for the evening is to turn off the heat and open the bedroom window enough to let the cool night air inside. When I get hot, usually just turning back the top quilt is enough to cool me down, and if not I’ll toss off the other two layers (a blanket and top sheet) if needed. I have the fan with remote control in position just in case, but rarely have had to use it. In the morning, the house is usually around 60 F when I get up — which makes for a chilly start to the day — but the thermostat is just outside the bedroom door.

I’m still allowing myself more time to rest and taking on less, too. Despite my new energy, I’m still healing inside. Last Saturday, for example, I had plans to attend a potluck party in the evening. A chance to go on a short hike that morning popped up, but I declined because I didn’t want to totally pack my Saturday. It turned out to be a good call.

However, there are some stressors over which I have little control. A few weeks ago I was urged by sister and stepfather to get back to Chicago soon for a visit with Mom. I had been planning a trip back to Chicago in late June this year to attend sister’s wedding celebration, but they told me not to wait that long.

I had to figure out how to fit a trip back to Chicago in the near term into my budget and schedule, so I went hunting for cheap fares online. I found a flight on Southwest that worked out for my schedule, and not *too* bad on my budget.

I depart on Wednesday, and I plan to spend two days with Mom: Saturday and Monday. Sunday will be a day of rest and relaxing  (I hope!), and the rest of the days are work days. Sadly, I can’t get work to pay for the trip since there is no business need for me to visit Chicago, but at least I won’t have to burn up a lot more PTO, and should retain enough for all the medical stuff I have to schedule in this year.

This trip is really stressing me out, and I’m not entirely sure why. There are plenty of possible reasons. It may be because:

  • I’m dreading seeing my mother. Talking with her weekly I get an idea of how poorly she’s doing, but that’s not the same as experiencing it in person.
  • I’m still mending and not feeling up to the rigors of packing and travel.
  • I’m leaving behind my personal comforts: the new friends I’ve made, my dog, and the little “nest” I’ve been building in the rental house.
  • I’m leaving behind the glorious weather (sunny, warm, lots of greenery and flowers from the plentiful March rain) and heading into a typical Midwest spring. (There was snow in Chicago on Saturday, and it was 70 F there yesterday.)

And, then there is answer E: All of the Above.

The stress is manifesting itself in waking up with a worried mind, and heartburn. I’ve been combating the first by writing down lists of things I need to do. The last one is a new development for me, and I had to pick up some OTC meds at the pharmacy to keep on hand.

I’ve been experimenting with different Bay Area airports over the past year, and this will be my first time flying in/out of Oakland International Airport. It’s both good and bad that the flight leaves Oakland at 6 AM: good because there should be little traffic on the expressway at that time of day, so my drive from Napa should take just over an hour; bad, because it means I need to get up at 4 AM. *gulp*

Part of my time this past weekend was spent online researching how much time to allow for the drive to the airport, what amenities are at the airport, and what amenities are on the flight. I’m a pretty good flyer, but that’s because I prepare for my personal comfort in advance. (Maybe that should be a separate blog post some day.)

M will drive me to the airport and take over house-sitting duties (mainly Hannah care) while I’m gone. On the Chicago end, sister will pick me up at Midway Airport and I’ll stay with her and her guy for a few nights. Come the weekend, I’ll pick up a rental car near their house and drive down to the south suburbs to stay with my friend A for the rest of the visit.

*Fingers crossed* all my prep goes as planned, and that I get a comfy seat on my early morning flight so I can sleep.

Taking care of myself

I’ve been doing too much.

My first month back at work I was barreling along pretty well. But as I entered the second month of full time work, I started fading. There were days that I just couldn’t sit in front of the computer and get anything done. I was listless and tired.

My employer provides one big pot of time off (referred to as Paid Time Off or PTO) to be used for vacationing or as “sick days.” It bothered me that I used much more of that time being “sick” last year: taking hours and days off to go to doctors, recover from repeated bouts of diverticulitis, treat my eye condition, and then deal with my renegade ovarian cyst. I really, really wanted to not repeat the pattern this year and to actually fit in more days off for fun stuff, but the pattern so far has been to continue using PTO for wellness-related stuff. OK, so be it.

Why hadn’t it occurred to me that I need more than the six weeks I was given for short term disability to recover? I had several organs and many, many adhesions removed, plus a few other major organs shifted around inside me. Not only that, but I’ve had hormones that affect the functioning of my brain, heart, and other major bodily systems permanently altered in an abrupt fashion.

I was doing some volunteer work last Saturday and was talking with another volunteer during our four-hour commitment when I had the realization that I’ve been pushing myself much too hard. I don’t recall how it came up in conversation, but I mentioned that I’d had surgery three months ago. She commented how that was not very long ago and she was surprised that I was so active. Hmmm.

The previous day, I had been unloading some groceries from the car when the neighbors next door asked how I was doing. The husband commented that it usually takes a full year to recover from surgery. Hmmm.

On Monday of this week I told the volunteer coordinator that I had to back off doing so much. I feel bad about not being more helpful to this group, but I need more rest and recovery time. I also contacted my local gynecologist about making yet another adjustment to my estrogen dosage.

After the surgery, I was started on a very low dose estrogen replacement in the form of a patch. Trying to figure out what works for my particular body chemistry takes time, and these past three months I’ve been trying different brands and dosages of estrogen patches. Over that time, I’ve had problems getting a good night’s rest due to hot flashes and disrupted sleep. I’ve also had just bone-deep tiredness and issues with fuzzy thinking.

I think (I hope!) that I’ve found the sweet spot with the patch dosage I just started last Monday. Previously, I would have reduced fatigue for the first two days after applying the patch, but on the following two days I would feel my energy flagging and my sleep disruptions would get worse. I would just have to limp along until my next patch change. On this new dosage I’m feeling more mentally alert and energetic, and my sleep disruptions have been minimal. I’m due to change my patch again today, yet I still feel pretty good. *Fingers crossed* this continues to work out for me.

 

Recipe: Salmon cakes

Revanche at A Gai Shan Life recently asked for recipe ideas, and this is one of my favorites. I know I’ve shared this recipe with a close friend, but I couldn’t find a copy of it in my email or when I searched my blog. So I’m remedying that situation since I’d like to keep a copy of it anyway, just in case I lose the book in which I found it.

I didn’t originally find this recipe in a cookbook or on a website, but in a book about perimenopause, of all places. The recipe produces a single loaf or the mix can be baked in a standard muffin/cupcake tin and produces 12 “hockey puck” sized salmon cakes. I like to freeze them so I can pull two or three at a time out of the freezer and defrost as needed to make a single serving. These work equally well for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and are easy to make ahead.

Canned fish can be a really good source of protein that doesn’t cost much. I love to eat fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna fresh, but it’s often cheaper and easier to buy it it in a can. Even wild-caught fish is usually affordable when it’s been canned. It’s also very shelf-stable. (Now I’m thinking I need to put a can or two of sardines in my earthquake kit!) My edits to the recipes and comments are added in brackets.

Salmon cakes

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups canned salmon [I use one large can of wild-caught salmon]
1 cup steel-cut oats [I use Trader Joe’s Quick Cook Steel-cut Oats]
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup liquid from salmon plus water
2 eggs
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced [of course you can use a yellow or red pepper, too]
1/2 cup onion, diced

Preheat oven to 350º F. Drain salmon and save liquid. Remove large bones. [I usually don’t find large bones, but if I do I’ll just crush them up. They are usually quite soft and just add more calcium.] Slightly beat eggs in a medium bowl and add salmon, oats, salt, pepper, and salmon liquid plus water. Mix well and let stand while sautéing vegetables. [I usually cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight or for several hours at this point so the oats can get soft. Letting it sit for at least an hour helps, especially if standard steel-cut oats are used. Without the longer resting time I’ve found the cakes to be too crunchy.]

Dice pepper and onions. Sauté in butter until tender. Stir vegetables into salmon mixture. Spoon into an oil-sprayed 12 serving muffin tin and bake 10 minutes until golden brown. [I’ve usually had to cook these for closer to 20 or 30 minutes to get them golden brown.]

——

You can have some fun jazzing these up by adding different herbs and seasonings — dill would be an obvious choice, or maybe even grated lemon peel — and veggies, such as chopped mushrooms, chopped celery, shredded carrot (?), or olives. Just make sure any crispy veggies have been sauteed first to soften them up. Enjoy!