Monday, December 21, 2020

A Long Catch-Up Post

 I know it wasn’t a very realistic hope, but I was kind of hoping that things would be a little more normal by the time I posted again.  Nope.  Not even close.  It seemed like North Carolina started off fairly strong, compared to neighboring states, in taking COVID precautions.  But now, despite all of the pleas from the experts, we seem to be on a crash course to disaster.  I don’t know of anyone now who hasn’t had a close friend, family member, or co-worker have COVID.  But enough about COVID.

Duke

We painted and re-did the floor in our kitchen in October.  We postponed our annual Folly Beach trip to next year, but still took the week off of work. We both have a lot of paid time off accumulated, so we decided to take the week and do the kitchen project.  

And that’s probably the last house project we’ll do for quite a while!  It took much longer, and was much harder than we expected.  You know how people complain that romantic comedies paint an unrealistic picture of relationships?  Well, I think that’s nothing compared to the lies Lowe’s and Home Depot are selling in their commercials.  The couples in those always look so happy during their projects.  They have on nice clean clothes and are smiling at each other.   There’s none of the covered in sawdust and paint and seriously re-thinking being married to someone who wants to blast whiney 80s music, or doesn’t know the name of every single tool.  Anyway, that’s my take on who sets couples up for unrealistic expectations.  

Fortunately, both of us, and our marriage, survived the kitchen project.  Here’s a progress picture.  I haven’t taken a finished picture yet because I only think about it once I’ve started cooking, and I’m so messy, I don’t want to take a picture of that.  You can at least see the colors.  Almost everything was a very ugly beige before.  

Painting in progress.


I’m still crocheting mask adapters/extenders.  There was a lull in people asking for them for a while, but people have started asking for them again, so I’ve been making and mailing them.  If you need one, let me know in the comments.  

Mask Adapters


We had a health scare with Tara in October.  It turns out that she has bladder crystals and has to be on a special diet.  She had to have an ultrasound to look for crystals (which the vet suspected) or stones, and to rule out any kind of mass.  Due to COVID, the vet’s office isn’t allowing people into the office, so we had to wait in the parking lot when Tara had her ultrasound.  One of the vet techs came out as soon as it was finished and told us, unofficially, that there were no masses, but the vet would be out later to tell us that officially and talk to us.  I wanted to hug her!  Every other time we’ve had a pet have an ultrasound, the news has been devastating, so we were pretty nervous.  I thought it was so sweet of her to come out and tell us the good news right away.

Tara has to be on a special diet, and we’re limiting her stress.  She’s a very timid cat, and is afraid of almost everything, so limiting her stress isn’t the easiest thing.  It has taken a lot of trial and error, but we seem to have figured out the food situation for her.  There are three different kinds she likes, for a few days at a time, so we have small bowls of all three brands of dry food out for her, and we alternate the brand of wet food every day or two.  Tara is also currently living in our bedroom, away from the other cats.  She seems to have no desire to leave!  Howard goes in and hangs out with her (and eats the special food he’s not exactly supposed to have) every day.  For now, it seems to be working.  We’re tossing around ideas for later on, but for the moment, she’s happy in the bedroom.

Doesn't she look happy?


We didn’t host Thanksgiving this year.  I was very disappointed about that, but I believe we made the right choice.  We did still get to drop off the meal for the hospice house, though.  I wasn’t sure if they would want us to, so I wanted until the week before to ask, since things seem to change so quickly.  The lady I always coordinate with was incredibly nice.  She said a few people had asked if I was bringing the meal, so that made me happy.  They aren’t allowing volunteers inside, but said that as long as we were okay dropping the food off at the door, while wearing masks, they would love to have the meal.  We were more than happy to do it that way.  We now have an uninterrupted streak since 2016, so I was thrilled not to miss a year.

Everything went smoothly with the drop off.  We’re normally able to use a cart they have, but couldn’t this year, so there were a lot of trips back and forth to the car, but nothing was spilled or forgotten.  We ended up talking to a very nice lady in the parking lot.  She was nice, but made me cry.  I’d like to go one year without crying! 

Two older couples that we’re friends with were also staying home for Thanksgiving, so I offered a drop-off/pickup of food for them since I was already cooking and it’s practically impossible to cook Thanksgiving dinner for only two.  One couple came and picked up desserts.  We talked for a few minutes through the glass door, which was strange, but also nice.  The other couple lives just down the street from us, so we dropped off desserts and sides, and they sent some different desserts and sides home with us.  It was a fairly warm day, so we sat out on their patio, six feet apart, in masks, and talked for a while.  Again, it was weird, but nice to see them. 

Like so many people, our Christmas plans look very different this year.  We’re not doing our usual trip to my sister’s.  We talked to her and to Nick’s mom and step-dad and all agreed to forego gifts this year, since we can’t be together, and plan for an insanely huge celebration next year.  Everyone was happy with that idea, so it’s nice that we’re all in agreement.  I imagine it would be very stressful if the people you normally celebrate with are taking a different approach from you.  

We haven’t even put up our Christmas tree this year.  Neither one of us felt especially motivated to on Thanksgiving weekend (when we normally put it up), and then we were sick (NOT COVID, we both had negative tests) for a while after that.  Then it just reached the point of not being worth it to drag everything out for such a short time.  It’s weird not having the tree up, but that’s 2020.  I did put up some wreaths on the doors, and we’ve been listening to Christmas music, so there’s some Christmas spirit here.  

The only Christmas shopping I’ve done has been for my chemo/senior buddies.  Their packages have all been shipped and delivered.   Caroline helped with the wrapping and packaging.  I decided on mostly small things that would fit in a stocking, so I hope they like everything.  We also did a family package for my buddy who’s married and has a young son and a dog (the dog toys were from Duke and the cats to her dog).  I asked Nick’s mom if the family package would be weird, and she said it wouldn’t.  Hopefully they’ll like it.  We included a DVD of Home Alone in it, which the kids next door LOVED, when they were the same age as her son, so we’re hoping his taste is similar.  


Caroline "helping"

I’m still working from home, as it seems a lot of you are.  I’ve worked from home longer than I worked in the office before we shut down.  And it has already been over a year since I started the new job!  I still love it, even if it’s a little weird working from home, so I’m so glad I made the switch last year.  

I think those are the highlights of what I’ve been up to since the last time I posted.  So what about you?  Any home projects?  Are you working from home?  What have you been up to for the past couple of months?  

I’m almost certain I won’t post again before Christmas, so I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas, or a happy holiday.  I hope you’re all safe and well.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Time Flies Even If You’re Not Having Fun

 They say time flies when you’re having fun, but I think 2020 is proving that time just flies.  It certainly hasn’t been fun, but at least it seems to be going by quickly.  It has been almost two months since my last post, but it seems like it went by in a blur. 

I’m still working from home.  I did get to go into the office for two days during the past week, which I was absolutely thrilled about.  Beyond that, we’re still being told to work from home until we’re told otherwise.  

Nick and I are still staying home as much as possible.  Social distancing and mask wearing just aren’t happening in our area, so we’re choosing to avoid situations where we can’t be sure that social distancing and the mask mandate will be enforced.   

It’s starting to feel like fall, which is very different from this time last year.  One of our local weather forecasters posted on Facebook that in September of 2019, we had twenty days of 90 degree or higher temperatures.  This year there only three days of 90 degree or higher temperatures in September.  

We’ve been enjoying the cooler weather.  We’ve had the windows open for over a week now, and we’ve been eating outside fairly often.  I clipped some of the roses that are blooming and put them in a vase on the table outside.  I love having cut flowers around, but we can’t have them inside because the cats will destroy them.  It’s nice to be able to have them on the outside table.


I’ve switched to fall themed cards and stickers for my chemo and senior buddies.  I think the plaid pumpkins are very cute.  


So what about you?  What have you been up to during the past two months?  Does it feel like fall where you are?  

Monday, August 3, 2020

Letters

I’ve always loved writing letters and receiving letters.  I started writing letters around the time I was five years old, and have been writing them ever since. 

Photo Credit Here
We lived in Texas for a year when I was a child.  We moved to Texas right around my fourth birthday, and moved back to South Carolina right around my fifth birthday.  I was miserable.  I spent most of my time begging my parents to move back to Texas.  That may come as a surprise to those of you who’ve been visiting for years and know how much I love my home state.   I struggled for years to make friends.    Unfortunately, a problem that has plagued me into adulthood.  I struggled making friends for years when I moved to North Carolina.  I truly hope I never have to move again.

My mom and sister are very outgoing, and never have trouble making new friends.  My dad isn’t as outgoing as my mom and sister, but grew up with my grandfather being in the Air Force, so was used to moving and making new friends.   I’ve always been the one to struggle the most with meeting new people and making new friends.

I missed my best friend, Dani, desperately.  It was also the first time in my life we hadn’t lived in the same town as some of my grandparents, and I missed seeing grandparents often.  We moved from Myrtle Beach, SC when we moved to Texas, and moved to the upstate  when we moved back from Texas.  My family didn’t know anyone there.

Then I discovered that I could write letters and stay in touch with the people I didn’t get to see.  Dani and I wrote to each other constantly, and kept writing all through our teenage years.  The letters started off short, horribly mis-spelled, and with only the most basic information.  Over the years they grew longer.  We wrote about everything!  School, our pets, boys we liked, and numerous plots over the years to force my family to move back to Texas. 

I also started writing to my grandparents and great-grandparents.  I found out years later that my great-grandparents couldn’t decipher my horrible handwriting and mis-spellings and would have to get my grandparents to “translate” my letters for them.  They still wrote me back sometimes.

Any day I got a letter in the mail was a great day for me.  I loved getting mail!  I loved buying note cards and pretty paper.  The Lisa Frank stationery sets were in their heyday then, and I bought them constantly. 

I spent the next thirty-plus years writing to various people.  Over the years, I stopped sending quite as many letters as I had when I was a child, but I always wrote to someone at least once a month.  When my maternal grandmother died, my mom found photo albums where she had kept all of my letters.  I had written hundreds of pages over the years, of the most boring and mundane things, but she kept them all. 

By the end of the summer of 2016, I was down to one living grandparent, my paternal grandmother.  She lived in Florida, in a nursing home, and hated talking on the phone.  She greatly preferred letters.  So I wrote her letters.  My aunt read them to her, and told me what she said about them. 

My grandmother died last summer.  I wasn’t blogging much last year, so I never wrote about it.  For the first time in over thirty years, I wasn’t writing to anyone regularly. 

In September, I read a blog post that Bijoux had written about being a card angel.  She linked to a blog post that Betty had written about being a chemo angel.  They both seemed happy to volunteer, and the program seemed good.  I visited the website, and first thought of my M-I-L because she loves sending cards.  Then I realized that I had been writing letters for most of my life.  I had also said for years that I’d like to find a way to volunteer that wasn’t a huge time commitment.  I realized that Chemo Angels was perfect for me. 

I encourage you to visit the website and to read Betty and Bijoux’s posts (here, here, and here) about it, but I’ll give you the short version.  With Chemo Angels, people undergoing chemotherapy can sign up for the program.  They’re matched to two volunteers, one as a chemo angel, and one as a card angel, for the duration of their treatment.  They’re required to check in monthly in order to stay in the program.  As a volunteer, you can sign up to be a chemo angel or a card angel.  As a chemo angel, you commit to sending your buddy (that’s what the patients/recipients are referred to as) a small gift and card once or twice a week.  As a card angel, you commit to sending your buddy a card or letter once or twice a week.  The rules are fairly simple and straight forward.  You have to send something at least once a week, you're supposed to label it as "angel mail", you can’t ask them to write you back, or call you, or email you, you can’t share their information with anyone, and you have to keep it positive.  Because it’s all mail-based, you’re matched to someone fairly geographically distant from you.  So far, all of my buddies have been in completely different regions of the country from me.

 I decided to sign up as a card angel.  I knew at that point that I’d probably be changing jobs, and that it might involve a pay cut, so card angel seemed to be the better choice.  I also thought I’d probably be a mediocre chemo angel, but thought I could be a pretty good card angel.  There is no rule that says a card angel can’t send little gifts sometimes. 

In the volunteer application, you fill out a lot of information about yourself; your hobbies and interests, why you want to volunteer, if you’re religious or not, and what kind of buddy you’d like to be matched to. They do tell you that if you’re extremely specific in the type of buddy you’d like to be matched to, it can take a while for you to be matched.  I wasn’t sure what kind of person, so I said someone with similar enough interests to mine not to find me boring, not religious, and who liked the holidays (since we all know I tend to be pretty enthusiastic about the holidays).

I was matched to my first buddy in less than a week.  You’re sent an email with their address and bio, which includes interests, hobbies, type of cancer, family information, likes, such as favorite color, favorite animal, favorite candy/snacks, etc.  You have the option to accept or reject the assignment.  I’m not sure why you would reject an assignment once you’ve volunteered, but it’s nice that they give you the option. 

The person they matched to me seemed well matched to me, so I accepted.  She was a few years younger than me, enjoyed cooking, baking, and reading, and loved dogs. 

It was all new to me, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed.  In my first card, I introduced myself: name, age, marital status, job, number of pets, that kind of thing.  I also told her why I thought we were matched: interests and hobbies we had in common.  My first cards tend to be pretty long.  There’s a Facebook group you can join when you sign up, which I did.  It is extremely helpful.  People post pictures of cards they make, packages they send, ideas for things to talk about, etc.  You can also ask questions, ask for suggestions, etc. 

I printed out pictures of things I thought she would like and started sending those in my cards.  I also printed out little cartoons and memes about cooking and baking.  A few people in the group made some helpful suggestions for things to talk about.  It was also suggested to keep a list of what you’ve sent, since it is one-sided, and can go on for a while, so you don’t forget and repeat yourself. 

Your buddy can send you messages via their monthly check-in, and you can also request the information from the check-in.  I’ve found that helpful in figuring out what to write.  My buddy asked about my garden in one of her check-ins, and also talked about the cards helping her feel less lonely.  After that, I started writing to her three times a week.  The more I wrote, the easier it seemed to be.  When we went on vacation in October, I just wrote out a few cards ahead of time, and mailed them throughout the week we were there.  It felt like I had finally found something I could volunteer for that was a good fit for me.

Senior Angels is a sort of co-program to Chemo Angels, but is for seniors experiencing loneliness.  I’m not sure if it’s age based or based on something else for the recipients.  I decided to sign up for Senior Angels, as a card angel, as well.  I was matched to my senior buddy in November.  She loves dogs, birds, flowers, gardening, reading, and crafts.  I took the same approach with her, introducing myself, telling her what we have in common, and then sending pictures of things I thought she would like.  Again, after a message and seeing her check-in information it became easier and easier to write to her. 

I had a lot of fun sending both of my buddies Christmas cards all through December, and finding little Christmas gifts to send to them. 

In early February I was told that my first buddy, through Chemo Angels, was being removed from the program for failing to check in for two months in a row.  I was a little upset about it at first.  I wondered if I had done something wrong, or if she was just too sick to check in.  They explained the process they go through before removing someone, though, and it seemed very fair.  I sent her a few more cards, and included my email address, in case she wanted to stay in touch.

I had the option of waiting to be assigned another buddy through Chemo Angels, or volunteering right away for another buddy.  I know myself, and things I wait to do tend to be things I never do, so I volunteered for another buddy right away. 

The day after I was notified that my first buddy had been removed from the program, I received a beautiful card from my senior buddy’s daughter.  It was completely unexpected, and absolutely made my day.  She told me how much her mom enjoyed my cards, and mentioned a few things that she especially enjoyed hearing about.  Again, that made it even easier to write to her.

I was matched to my new buddy through Chemo Angels in less than a week.  I’m not sure if that’s due to a lack of volunteers, if it’s an age thing, an interest thing, or just a coincidence that I’ve been matched so quickly. 

My new buddy is also a few years younger than me.  She’s exactly two weeks younger than my sister.  We have similar interests as well.  She knits (I’m learning to crochet, so kind of close).  She’s also interested in photography, likes to read, and loves dogs.  Again, I started by introducing myself, telling her what we had in common, and then moved on to sending her pictures of things I thought she would like. 


She has sent me a card, and a postcard, which was totally unexpected, but very sweet of her.  She mentioned a few things she especially liked, so that made it even easier to write to her. 

In early March, they posted in the Facebook group that they had a shortage of volunteers as chemo angels and card angels for children, and asked if people would be willing to sign up for a child.  I had initially said no to children in my application.  I don’t spend much time around kids, and didn’t think I’d be a good volunteer for a child, especially since I didn’t really know what I was doing.  By March, I felt pretty confident in how to be a card angel, so I said I could be a card angel for a teenage girl, as long as she liked animals.  I didn’t get assigned anyone for a while, and just assumed that they had found more suitable matches.  Then I kind of forgot I had even signed up for a child.  In mid-April, I got an email assignment matching me to a 14 year old girl who loves all animals, especially dogs, and loves the color pink.  I decided I could handle writing to her, so I accepted the assignment. 

I took basically the same approach in writing to her, introduction, what we have in common, etc.  I told my adult buddies about meeting Nick on e-harmony, but I haven’t told her that.  I’m not sure if that’s something you should tell a 14 year old, so I just didn’t.  You’re also given a parent’s information, so I sent a letter to her mom introducing myself.  It seemed like a good idea.  I don’t have children, but I would imagine that a person might want to know a little something about someone writing to their child. 

I received a very sweet thank you card from her about a month ago.  She mentioned liking certain things, so it’s even easier to write to her now. 

Once the pandemic started, and stay at home orders started going in place, I started sending cards to all of my buddies three times a week.  I can’t imagine dealing with cancer and a pandemic, so I thought a little extra cheerful mail would be a good idea.  There have a couple of weeks where I only sent something twice, but most weeks I’ve sent three cards.  There have been a few weeks where I’ve sent four or five cards.

The pandemic has made it a little more challenging to find positive, upbeat things to talk about.  Selfishly, though, volunteering with Chemo Angels has forced me to spend some time every week focusing on good, happy things.  There are days that has definitely been all that  kept me from wallowing in fear and anxiety.

I try to make my cards a mix of the trivial, mundane aspects of life, and the more interesting highlights.  In a way, it’s a lot like blogging.  I talk about things like what movies or TV shows we’re watching, what it’s like working at home with Duke and the cats, how the garden is doing, etc.  I’ve introduced them to all of our pets, along with pictures, and told them how we got them, what their favorite toy is, and a little about their personality.  I’ve talked about different animals we’ve fostered, some of the transports I’ve done, and sent pictures of interesting things from past vacations.  Walgreen’s always has some sort of sale going on for prints, so I periodically do an order of 4x6 pictures to send.  Whatever the picture is will be my talking point for that card.  For example, these pictures are of Duke getting to run for the first time after his heartworm treatment, so that’s what I wrote about in this card. 













I’m always on the lookout for cards that are pretty, cute, cheerful, etc.  I also try to find fun stickers to decorate the envelopes with.  Bijoux and Betty both mentioned finding good cards at the dollar store.  I checked a few dollar stores here when I first signed up, but didn’t find anything great.  I’ve ordered most of my cards from Amazon, and am slowly amassing a good collection of cards to send.  I try to send a different theme or style each time, and don’t ever send the same one within a few weeks.  I’ve been very happy with the Note Card CafĂ© cards from Amazon.  They have lots of different designs, they’re not expensive, and they’re good quality.  I’ve also had good luck just searching “4x6 note cards” on Amazon.  I’ve bought a few that are smaller than that, but I prefer the 4x6 so a picture will fit in them.  I also found some cards that serve as frames, and you can add your own picture.  I like to use those for the really good pictures.


Betty sent me a large package of cards and stickers after her buddy passed away.  I’ve been putting them to good use.  I’ve also reached the conclusion that dollar stores are not the same everywhere, because those cards are much nicer than anything I found at the dollar stores here. 

Jeanie wrote a great post about happy mail during the pandemic, and that inspired me to come up with a happy package to send all of my buddies.  It took me a while to come up with a theme, but I decided to send a little beach vacation package.  We found some wonderful shells on our trip last year, so I sent each buddy one of those, some beach themed word searches with a pen in their favorite color, a beach themed card, tropical candy, and summer edition chapstick.  The packages weren’t anything big or extravagant, but I thought they looked cheerful.  (I promise I sent one to all three buddies.  I just only took a picture of two for some reason.)  



My senior buddy sent me a nice card thanking me for the package.  Due to the pandemic, she has been very isolated, so was happy for the little piece of the normal, outside world.  

I’ve loved it every time I’ve heard from my buddies.  I don’t know if it’s common to hear from them or not.  You’re told not to expect to hear from them when you sign up, and that it’s strictly one way.  I’ve heard from three out of the four of mine, but I’ve only been volunteering since September, so I’m not sure what usually happens.  

I do know that out of everything I’ve ever volunteered for, this has been what I’ve enjoyed the most.  There’s the time factor of course.  I love that I can write my cards at any time, day or night, that works for me.  But that’s not the whole reason.  I just love writing letters.  Somehow, that became part of my identity, and Chemo Angels gave that back to me.  I enjoy writing to my buddies.  It was a little awkward at first, but now it just feels like I’m writing to friends, and I like that a lot.  I hope to keep volunteering with Chemo Angels indefinitely.

So what about you?  Are you a prolific letter writer?  Do you have any pen pals?   Do you love getting cards and letters?    


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Snapshot Sunday: The Hydrangea Is Blooming

Our hydrangea bush has gotten huge, and is in full bloom right now.

From the left:



From the right:


A close-up of a bloom:

And one more close-up:



I know it should probably be trimmed back a little, but I can never bring myself to trim back anything with flowers.

What’s blooming where you are?

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Not Much Has Changed

I can’t believe it has been over two months since the last time I blogged.  Not much has changed, really. 

North Carolina was supposed to have a phased reopening, but that was wishful thinking.  As soon as things started reopening, people started acting like the pandemic was over.  We also have a mask mandate, but it’s largely a joke.  So many places are blatantly refusing to enforce it.  My job is requiring masks.  Nick’s job isn’t.  We’re still staying home as much as possible, but when we do go out, most people aren’t wearing masks. 

So it comes as no surprise that NC is consistently on the list of places with quickly rising numbers.  I keep wondering what the number of deaths has to be for people to take it seriously and follow the rules.  It makes me nervous to think how high that number may have to be.

I’m still working from home, which Duke is very happy about.  He spends most of the day on a blanket next to my desk.  I did get to go into the office for a total of three days in June.  It was nice to see some of my coworkers again.  It was so strange, though, with everyone walking around in masks and standing so far apart from each other.  I don’t know if that will ever feel normal.  There are a few things going on at the office this month, but we’ve been told not to go in unless we’re directly involved them, or told by our supervisor to go in.  I’m not working on those things, so there aren’t any office days on the horizon for me.

So that’s pretty much it in pandemic news for us. Moving on to other things.  

Our gardenia bush bloomed!  It’s still very small, but the blooms were pretty. 


I have crocheted a lot of mask adapters!  A few people at work needed some for family members.  A few people Nick sees through work needed some.  I thought that was probably going to be the end of making mask adapters, but then the lab my sister works in started doing COVID-19 testing.  She asked me for mask adapters after one of the things she was using left bloody sores behind her ears.  The other option left her face bruised by the end of the day.  On a side note, that probably contributes to my total intolerance of people who refuse to wear a cloth mask for 45 minutes in the grocery store.  When the tests are coming in so fast that the folks working in the labs running the tests are wearing masks for so long that their faces are bruised and bloodied, the rest of us can suck it up a little.  Anyway, I quickly crocheted these two, and mailed them to her.  We wanted to test out the size before I made a lot of them.


They worked for her, and two of her coworkers asked about getting some.  So I  crocheted this batch and mailed them to her.


Then more of her coworkers saw them, and asked about getting some.  People were offering to pay for them.  I refuse to sell them, though.  It’s the one thing I can do to help during all of this, and it makes me feel better to do it.  So I got another small batch mailed.


By that time, more and more people were asking about getting one, so spent a day making them, and got this batch mailed.  So far this appears to be enough, but they’re going to let me know if they need more.  They sent me a very nice thank you letter, which was awesome. 


I made a sourdough bread starter.  For the bread machine, so I’m not sure how much that counts.  It took a little longer than the recipe said, so I gave it a few extra days.  The bread was delicious.  I made bread with it twice, and then totally forgot about feeding it for over two weeks.  We weren’t sure if it was alright to use after that, so I threw it out.  It has been so hot lately, we’re not really making much bread anyway, so I think I’m going to wait until it cools down some before I start another starter. 


So what have you been up to over the past few months?