Wednesday, September 8, 2021

I'm Now Wired for Sound!

Things they don’t tell you about your Cochlear Implant surgery

I thought I knew what I was up against. I thought I’d done my research. I’m not one to Google “Actual footage of Cochlear Implant surgery” but I looked at some nice neat graphics and medical drawings. My surgeon walked me through my CT scan and showed me where she would drill into the mastoid bone to get to my inner ear, that she would remove my Baha magnet first, drill a “well” for my new implant to sit nice and cozy on my skull – I was set to go.

But I didn’t really think about how my poor unsuspecting body would react to all those medical power tools. I had an inkling what I’d been through when my husband removed my oh so chic ear bandages the day after surgery – wow, blood! And all the prong marks on my ear and face reminded me how they got to where they needed to go. I won’t elaborate, let’s just leave it at there was some spreading involved - my ear was swelled up and sticking out like a well-beloved Disney elephant.

Surprisingly the pain wasn’t too bad. I ended up taking only 4 prescription pain pills, the rest of the time just monster Motrins and regular Tylenol. For me, the main symptoms were vertigo, dizziness, and an overwhelming feeling of yuckiness. My whole head felt like the losing boxer in a four hour-long prize fight, even my right eye was thinking “what have you done to me, I’m not even on the bad side”. Putting in contact lenses felt like an invasion of my brain space. Brushing my teeth felt like I was brushing down my throat. Everything was out front and ready to be irritated with the slightest provocation. I even lost my sense of taste, or rather gained a most unappetizing metallic and numb sensation on my tongue on the surgery side. It still is bothering me, but once I figured out the worst offending foods (fruit and cold foods) and the best combatants of the metallic taste (super spicy foods like curry) it's been easier to deal with. This should go away within a few weeks or months. I certainly hope so, because I want fruit to taste good again. And water, it would nice if water tasted good again.

One symptom that threw us both for a loop was a brief period when I had hallucinations. I don’t know if it was from the pain meds or just the swelling. I looked down and saw our dog’s stuffed toy Purple Guy moving across the floor. “Ernst, Purple Guy must have a mouse or a bug in him because he’s moving across the floor.” My husband walked over, stared at me with giant eyes, and said maybe I’d better go lie down. He advised the same when I told him the plant on the kitchen table was rotating. And when I asked him if he had blood coming out of his eyes while we were eating dinner, well apparently that’s kind of a freaky thing for a man to hear his wife say. We won’t get into the voices I heard in my operated ear. Suffice it to say, that was all very creepy and scary and we were both glad that part of my healing journey only lasted half a day.

I think the worst day was the Sunday after my Thursday surgery. A sweet friend drove two hours to bring me flowers, so I came out on the porch to chat with her. I was still in my pajamas at noon, which for me screams “I’m feeling horrid!’ My friend has profound hearing loss in both ears, so her empathy for my situation is dialed in. As I sat there looking like a wild mess, holding my spinning head, trying to hear her through the mask she so kindly wore to protect me, I realized I was not exactly the poster child for making CI surgery look the least bit desirable. 

But after that day things started to get better. Much better. I wasn’t ready to dance a jig, but the realization that I would soon be able to hear that jig better gave me hope. I started back to sessions of my volunteer work on Zoom, I started walking around the pool, then the yard, and participating a bit more in life without holding my head as if it weighed more than my body. I couldn't lift anything over 10 pounds (not that I wanted to) or jar my head in any way (not that I wanted to) or engage in any house or yard work that involved bending down (not that I even came close to wanting to.) I got good at picking up things off the floor with my feet. The day I emptied the dishwasher I knew I was on my way to feeling well again. First load of clothes? Jessica's back!

Our bodies are amazing and want desperately to heal from the things we do to them, either intentionally or accidentally. We have trauma and we swell and bleed and bruise and the swelling hurts and makes us wonder who that is staring back from the bathroom mirror. But it’s all part of the process. Healing isn’t pretty but it happens. I am not and will never be the best person to ask how a surgery went. The operations themselves go great, I breeze through, my body loves anesthesia. But I don’t do well with incision pain and swelling, haven’t since I was a newborn who had kidney surgery. My mom said I would scream bloody murder when they changed my bandages. I don’t scream anymore, I just see Purple Guy moving across the floor. 

Anyway, it’s been three weeks tomorrow since I walked in that surgery center alone to get my Baha magnet explant and my Cochlear Implant. And tomorrow Ernst gets to come with me to my CI activation day. Almost all the pain is gone, I’m still dealing with some after effects of my ear drum being damaged during surgery, but for the most part I am healed. Tomorrow starts the really fun work, learning to retrain my brain to hear in a completely different way. My road to Single Sided Deafness has been a very long and twisting one, but I’m hoping this decision sets me on a new path. I’m a Cochlear Implant recipient! It's going to take a while for me to wrap my head around that.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Say what?

I want to hear from both ears, it’s as simple as that. We have two ears for a reason, and I want both of mine to get sound. And that’s why next week I’m having an “explant” of my Baha 5 magnet and Cochlear Implant (CI) surgery. It’s been a long journey, here are the highlights.

In my mid-twenties I began to have some strange sounds and fullness in my left ear, tinnitus or ringing and some odd swooshing sounds like a sprinkler. I was diagnosed with possible Meniere’s Disease.

Following these symptoms, the bouts of vertigo followed. It ran the gamut between feeling slightly sick to my stomach and having to hold my head really still  - to violent attacks that hit me like a bullet. I’ve been thrown to the ground from vertigo, literally. Once at work I was thrown off the toilet and on to the bathroom floor on all fours - a force to contend with that brought me to my knees in every way imaginable. The inner ear out of balance is not a friend to a normal life.

Many times, while lying on the floor, or in bed, or in the bathroom, or a combination of all three as the nausea hit, I would just wish I could lose my hearing in my left ear in exchange for a life without vertigo. Be careful what you wish for.

As the years went by and the vertigo got worse, my hearing tests showed damage. I was told I wouldn’t be a good candidate for a hearing aid, so I didn’t get one, and then inexplicably my hearing would improve for a time. But even that stopped happening and my hearing loss was affecting my life. My sweet Mom insisted I see her audiologist on a visit to Connecticut, she treated me to a hearing aid, and that was a life changer.

It was the little noises I appreciated the most. My hair moving against my left ear. The equal sound of both my feet hitting the floor. Leaves rustling, all the birds! It all goes away so gradually and when the sounds come back suddenly every single one is a gift to be treasured. My brain felt balanced again, like my left side was firing on all points again just with the addition of hearing sound clearly once more in my left ear.

As predicted, even in my non-typical case of Meniere’s, my hearing continued to deteriorate. A stronger transmitter on my hearing aid helped for a time, but once those little hairs in our ears are damaged, even the strongest hearing aids available cause sound distortion and word recognition is the first to be affected. I got super good at the Single Sided Deafness Dance, which has one cleverly positioning oneself to understand dialog, especially in a crowded room.

I have really great hearing in my right ear, even for, ahem, my age. Why can’t I just hear from that ear? I do, and I do amazingly well, but like a person who loses an eye loses depth perception, a person with SSD loses the ability to know where sound is coming from. I can hear that you’re calling me, but I can’t hear where you are and I can’t understand all you’re saying. For a person who loves people and talking and hearing stories and joking and laughing and give-and-take and puns and the nuances of language, this disability cuts to the core of what makes me tick. Parties exhaust me, work situations are difficult and something as simple as trying to find out where my husband is in our big yard becomes a shouting match of “But WHERE IS OVER HERE??? Over WHERE??”

First to remedy this I tried a CROS system that sends sound from one hearing aid to a hearing aid on my good ear. UGH, that was horrible. So, in the Spring of 2017 I had a Baha 5 device implanted. Currently I have a screw in my head attached to a magnet under the skin and I wear a device that attaches to the magnet and it sends vibration through my skull to my good ear and I can hear from my left side. Pretty cool. Except for that “where” part of it all. I still can’t tell where sound is coming from and my word recognition stinks and for something that falls off when people hug me and causes pain on the side of my head…yeah, I haven’t exactly been the poster child for the Baha 5 Attract device. 

My surgeon was aware of this situation and she contacted me last Fall about getting a Cochlear Implant. I wanted to wait until I was fully vaccinated to pursue it, and in March 2021 I had my first appointment with the audiologist. Lots of appointments and hoop-jumping-through followed. More hearing tests, a CT scan, a pneumonia vaccine, a vestibular vertigo test and even a Zoom meeting with a phycologist to make sure I was a good candidate. I passed all the tests I was supposed to pass and failed the ones I was supposed to fail, and apparently I am a great candidate for surgery. It’s next week.

My surgeon will remove my Baha magnet (the screw stays in my skull as a parting gift) and install the completely different and much more sophisticated CI hardware. I’ll still wear a device on the outside as before, but instead of hearing from the left, I will hear on the left, the CI sending information directly into my cochlea that will be picked up by my hearing nerve. The nerve in my dead ear will “hear” again. It won’t restore my hearing, but I will hear sounds from that side on that side while wearing the receiver. It may take months of training and lots of visits to the audiologist for mapping, but I’m a pretty determined person when it comes to hearing, so I think I’m up for it. 

That’s my story of how I got from a strange sensation of fullness in my left ear with some odd sounds some 35 years ago, to being considered profoundly deaf in that ear and now a week away from getting a Cochlear Implant. We can’t pick what goes wrong with our bodies, and in the big picture of things I got off pretty good so far. Losing hearing in one ear, along with the vertigo episodes for those many years, has been incredibly challenging. I’ve always tried to face it with humor and brightness on the outside, but there have been so many dark times, I can “Why me?” with the best of them. But now it’s time to say “Why not me?” for a chance at hearing again, albeit in a very roundabout way. If this is successful, and if we ever get out of this pandemic, be prepared for me at parties and large gatherings – I’ll be the one with the Bionic Ear ready to talk your ear off. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

A Real Shot in the Arm

It's not like I was unclear on the process of registering for a Covid-19 vaccine. I'd been to our county's site numerous times checking on the availability for the English learners we know. I knew it was a process, but I didn't know how time consuming or emotionally taxing it could be.

When my tier (tears?) of availability came up I was then thrust from observer to participant, and it got real. My husband's school district (a different county) opened up appointments for him and he made his appointment. My eligibility for our county was up in the air. I spent a chunk of frustrating time bouncing around the various means of getting an appointment - the pharmacy and the grocery store options were booked solid, the medical clinics were a bit of a maze to navigate. Friends began telling me what they were able to do, but I always seemed to be one step behind.

After one more morning of attempts, I said "Forget this, I'll get it when I get it" and I decided to put it out of my mind and concentrate on a morning of uninterrupted volunteer work. At noon I saw an email from my supervisor at my school district, with a link to make an appointment. I screamed with joy. Making that appointment, standing in front of my stove in the kitchen, my hands practically shaking as I scrolled through all the appointments that had already been taken, fearing I read the email too late, with my husband peering over my shoulder telling me to keep scrolling down. And then there they were, all the available time slots for a Saturday at one of my districts high schools. I picked a time, got the confirmation and took about 3 screenshots of it to be be sure. And then we danced with joy, we'd be vaccinated in the same week - Moderna for Ernst, Pfizer for me.

Getting that first shot was a glorious day, both weather-wise and joy-producing. When I pulled up to the event I realized what a huge undertaking this was, they vaccinated 2100 people that day. The line was long, but moved fast. I forgot they would be taking temperatures when we walked in and I had a sudden horrible feeling that I'd get kicked out, but no fears, I always run low. I was in! We snaked around, six feet apart, and then before I knew it I was seated and the vaccinators were so sweet and I had the shot while I took a selfie. I didn't even feel it, those have to be the thinnest needles ever.

We celebrated with champagne. It's not like anything I'd ever experienced, receiving a serum injected into my arm that has the ability to save me from a disease I'd never heard of 15 months earlier. I wasn't about to be reckless or maskless or foolish, but it felt like such a game changer. We did it, we did it, we got through it.

The second dose was not nearly as exciting, but we celebrated nonetheless. It was Pi Day, so of course we celebrated with all things round - some vegan personal pizzas, a raw apple tart and a tofu chocolate pie. I figured if I'm going to feel sick as a dog the next day I'd better enjoy my vaccine day to the full. And so I went to bed that night and waited to wake up sick. But I didn't, feel sick that is, I did wake up. Nothing but the slightest soreness in my arm, less than the first dose caused. No day spent in pajamas watching Netflix, no chills, no fever, no aches. I felt a bit left out and wondered what was up with my immune system. Then we found out that 10% of people didn't get a reaction. Welcome to the 10% Jessica, put your clothes on and get on with your day, there is pie to eat! 

A few days later my husband got his second. He didn't get a fever or chills either, but was hit with a curtain of fatigue that he said was just like jetlag. A day of dragging and then off to bed early and he woke up almost 100%. So we are done and done and on Sunday I'll be finished and next Wednesday for Ernst - both fully vaccinated. Then begins the slow transition back to what used to be normal life but that feels nothing like normal now. Having people over to the yard, grocery shopping in a real live store, picking out my own produce, Ernst back teaching in-person instruction, planning our first trip away on a (gasp) plane! Here we come Spring 2021, we are approaching you with baby steps. Very happy baby steps.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Now Hear This!

Some abbreviations and their meanings: SSD - Single sided deafness BAHA - Bone anchored hearing assistance Baha Attract - A BAHA made by Cochlear America CI - Cochlear Implant CROS - A hearing system that send sound from one side to another in a person with SSD What's the good news about losing your hearing in one ear? You still have the hearing in the other one! What's the bad news about losing your hearing in one ear? You cannot tell where the sound you do hear is coming from! Ears are amazing, if a bit odd looking. They stick out, they have lots of circular nooks and crannies, they are great for hanging glasses on and they have that perfect spot on the bottom that's just iching to dangle an earring from. And most importantly, ears don't just hear, they hear sounds directionally. Just like two eyes provide depth perception, two ears provide direction perception. The tiny little split second from when your left ear hears a sound compared to when your right ear hears it tells you where that sound is coming from. Ten o'clock, two o'clock, right straight ahead or from behind, this ability is not appreciated until you lose it. It's incredibly unnerving to hear a shout or a bang or a pop or someone calling your name over and over again, louder and louder, and have nota clue where it's coming from. It's amazing I haven't stepped in front of bus. The two solutions for SSD up to this point have been a CROS system or a BAHA. I've tried bot. The CROS gave me terrible ringing, even in my good ear. The Baha Attract works amazingly well if very robotic and tinny, but that localization problem is annoying and emotionally draining. I have two ears, I want to hear from them both. Last year the FDA approved Cochlear Implants for SSD. I emailed my surgeon and expressed my interest. Kaiser contacted me. During a pandemic. To see if I want to have the Baha magnet removed and the CI surgery. Did I mention we're in a pandemic? So the answer for now is Yes, please, that would be totally awesome, but maybe wait until at least all the medical staff is vaccinated? Until then I've started wearing a hearing aid along with my Baha. The hearing aid isn't enough to understand speech with, but I hear sounds from my left ear again and I can discern where they are coming from. I'ts joyous, plus will give my nerve a chance to wake up for when I'll need it again to use the CI. Because I have tiny ear canals and my hearing is so bad, the part of the hearing aid that goes in my ear feels like the size of a Lego, but it's worth the discomfort. What's been my favorite thing to hear? Birds and cruchy leaves. So if you see someone walking around Cottage Creek smiling while looking into the trees while kicking up dry leaves underfoot, that's me. Impatiently waiting for my possible CI surgery.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Pandemic, Painting, Protests and Pectin.

We learn a lot about ourselves when the world turns upside-down. I've learned that in order to keep my wits about me and not dive down into a pit of despair, I need to keep busy. Not just busy like puttering aimlessly, I mean like so busy I can't even think of picking up my phone to check the news because my hands are covered with either dirt, paint or kitchen muck. I started off our March lockdown with lots of house projects, ended up painting the interior of the house, worked a lot in the garden and finally almost permanently attached an apron to my body and processed loads and loads of fruit.

All our abundance was thanks to our fruit trees getting the memo that we cancelled all our vacations and trips this year and that we'd be home. All. The. Time. And then other people with fruit trees had the same thing happen and they had fruit trees gone bonkers too. Once people hear about the couple that welcomes all produce happily into their lives, you become like the fruit dump, but in the best way possible.

First it was our plum trees, We've lived here for 8 years now and never ever have we had so many plums - even the old half dead tree that looks like it needs to be put out of its misery went bananas with fruit. And like I said, we were here. All. Summer. Long. So instead of the squirrels and the birds and the dog getting fat on our plums, we picked it all before that could happen. And then came the huge box of yellow plums from the friend of a friend. And a huge box of pears from another friend. And then our peach tree got all jealous and even though it's still really small, it went to town with a huge crop. And not to be outdone our fig tree got into the act and produced a nice crop too. We can't forget the boat load of onions we received, onions to last a lifetime. I cooked with and chopped up onions in so many ways but still more onions! What to do, what to do?

It was time to get busy canning. As I mentioned, canning hands can't check the news so it was the perfect activity to get my mind off many things out of my control and take control over all this healthy organic produce.

All we needed were the canning supplies, especially lids. What?? The rest of the world was canning too and canning supplies became the new toilet paper? What do you MEAN all the stores were out of lids? How could there be no pectin? That's preposterous! I searched in my stash for any lids and rings and jars like a Depression-era housewife, determined to stock up the pantry for her Vitamin C starved family. I put out the call for any friends who had supplies, and then got on Craigslist. Getting on Craigslist during a pandemic to look for canning supplies was a surreal experience. "I'm not a prepper, but hey I got these peppers..." Bingo, we got some jars with 1976 Bicentennial designs on them, that had sat that long in someones's garage, and a friend snagged some supplies at Walmart and we were in business.

I got jamming making jellies and preserves from figs and plums and pears. I made peach just-about-everything, including my first attempts with peach chutney and peach salsa, even using up all the onions for crying out loud. I even got to use the peppers from the failed tomato garden, It was a wonderfully successful time in the kitchen and now we have our larder full. That's the first time I've ever typed the word larder and it feels really good. People ask me if I want to sell them and OH NO, that's way too much pressure. I really love to give them away to friends who visit, it brings me great joy. We have one more batch of figs to do and I can state that the Summer Canning Season of 2020 is sweet history.

Blogger had finally updated its features, and I admit I cannot figure out how to insert my typical comments under each photo. So feel free to make up some incredibly witty remarks for each of the following photos and attribute them to me. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The keys to our lockdown

You can learn a lot about people during a pandemic, but that would take a great amount of snooping and lots of judgement calls, so it's much easier to just look inward. What I've learned about myself after 10 weeks of lockdown, which now has lifted considerably, has surprised even myself. Here are some takeaways:

The state of our house

It has been my assumption for many years that I prefer a neat and tidy house because I want it to look nice should someone stop by unexpectedly. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a clean freak and sometimes the layers of dust on the horizontal surfaces in our house have their own zip codes. I'm talking the general tidiness factor that allows a guest to walk in and be greeted with a sense that things are clean and put together and someone cares enough to vacuum and dust on a schedule, if not regularly.

Was I doing that for others? Nope, not at all, I've been doing it for myself all along! No one was stopping by, and if they were they were, it was just to drop things off on the porch and run back to their cars. Yet I still feel compelled to keep things neat and tidy. I'm the person I've been picking up for all this time. It was a revelation to me.

The same thing went for my appearance. While not a glamour queen or anything, I'd thought that when I get dressed in the morning, I'm mostly doing it for others, that I cared maybe a bit too much how others viewed me and what I wore. But I found out during lockdown, when the only ones to see me day after day were my loving and sort of colorblind husband and dog, that I dress for me. Each and everyday, even when there were no Zoom meetings to attend, I got dressed in something semi-normal, put makeup on and fixed my ever growing hair. I can't stay in jammies all day, even in a pandemic, I need a fixed waistband to get my day started.

How I get projects done

The reason I'm not a morning person isn't because I wake up grouchy or in a bad mood. OK, well lately this pandemic has me waking up in a less than cheery state. But the reason I don't get much done in the morning is because I prefer open-ended time frames for anything more than loading the dishwasher or starting a load of laundry.

My job with the school district and my proctoring work is typically in the afternoons, and I didn't realize how much this was affecting my desire to tackle big and little projects around the house. My work isn't physically draining, but the timing really messes with my wanting to start something I won't have time to finish to the bitter (or sweet) end.

Time wasn't much of a factor on lockdown. In fact "all the time in the world" was suddenly handed to us on a silver platter. From fixing a hole in the ceiling that's been there since we moved in, to painting the bathroom, the mailbox, the shutters and anything that wasn't moving, to cleaning out the garage shelves and hauling bricks in the yard - lots got done. Our yard is all ready for company, even if we aren't. Starting a Zoom English class for my Moldovan friends? That one has been a total kick. Time is a gift, and I was a very happy recipient.

I'm not a panic eater after all
Along with the whole toilet paper thing, pandemic snacking seemed to be a big topic of discussion. When the realities of the coronavirus first really hit, for once in my life eating did not become an avenue of distraction or comfort for me. In fact, I lost my appetite for most of the things I love, which was good because I was in no mood to brave the line at Trader Joe's for my "must haves" of peanut butter, chocolate covered anything, Norwegian Seed Crackers and avocados.

With nowhere to go and all those days of open-ended time ahead of me, I found I was enjoying cooking more than ever. We sat down to so many meals together, even breakfast on the porch as we watched the neighbors walk by. To my incredible surprise I put on a few live cooking shows for friends and I didn't burn anything. We ate like kings - whole-food plant-based kings.

I loved shutdown. There I said it.

Trying to be a sympathetic friend, I listen and read as people have expressed how much they miss getting together with friends at restaurants and parties, or just grabbing a cup of coffee together. I mentally reach down inside to see if I still have a heart, because honestly I have been completely enjoying this time. If you could have the shut-down minus the death, sickness, fear, and economic devastation, I'd say "Stay Home Directive - How long can we keep this up?"

Our street was so quiet, we met neighbors we've never even seen before, and when they asked how we were, we knew they really wanted to know how we were. We sat on the porch more than we have in the seven years we've lived here. There was an unexpected calmness about life amidst the chaos, and part of me, well a huge part of me, doesn't want it to end. My friends' kids and my congregation and my hair salon, bring those back. Alright, maybe sidewalk salons and al fresco meetings. And travel in a floating bubble with no TSA lines. And teleporting to Chicago. All the other stuff can trickle back in as slowly as it wants, if at all.

Some keys to my success, should I ever face something like this again:

First, I tried not to have a cow about staying home.
We had food, water, shelter, rice and beans.
And a dog, who might have enjoyed it if we'd had a cow.
Putting first things first was the most important step.
Not just an important step, but a historic one. 

I had this positive guy with me.

And this positively adorbs pup, who got more walks than ever before.

We planted our pandemic garden.
It's like a Victory Garden, with much less know-how than generation's past.
Grow garden grow, it means less trips to the stores!

When we did venture out, we masked up.
Or we painted, whichever you prefer. 

Our front yard was a plethora of purple.
White shutters look better with purple than the old brown ones.

If you want your hair to grow out, have them close all the hair salons.
Works every time.

Should there be food shortages, we've got the whole calories and scurvy thing covered.

Green smoothies just about every morning.

Happy meals are super good for you.

We rediscovered the joys of delivered produce.

Rest is key to staying balanced. 

Veggie burgers to the rescue!

We ate some most interesting and tasty meals.
Exactly why do I run to the store so often?
Because now I know so many errands are completely overrated.

When I got super stressed about the news, I cried.
Then I made masks, because it's hard to cry when you're sewing. 

Projects large and small became the focus of our attention.
We tackled some major stuff, and minor things too, because
it's better to view your home as your castle rather than a prison in lockdown.
We spiffed up the castle, with more to come.

Finally, we spoiled this little Flower Pup rotten.
All the dogs, and some of the people, wish Stay-at-Home would go on and on,
but it can't and won't.
But we can sure come out of it better people with a stronger sense of what really matters.
Faith - Family - Friends - Furry Things

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili, an Accidental Delight

My husband's only complaint about my cooking is that I often accidentally come up with a hit, and I can't recreate it. A little of this, a little of that, some produce I threw in because it was on its way out, plus half a can of something I found in the fridge. It all becomes a yummy dinner that we'll never have again, because I didn't pay attention to what I was dumping in.

Enter the coronavirus pandemic, where I've been doing either live cooking demos on Instagram or filming them to upload to IGTV. I first started doing it to stay connected with friends, but then realized I really enjoy it. They aren't professional by any means, I still have yet to upload the one where the bottle of catsup sprayed all over me.

I videoed myself making some sweet potato black bean chili, explaining in no uncertain terms that this wasn't prize winning chili, just something healthy for the two of us. And what would you know, it turned out great. Really really tasty. So I watched again my little of this, little of that measurements to see what I could see. Here is my best attempt to document what went into this  yummy and healthful vegan chili.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

1/2 onion, chopped
2 or 3 carrots, chopped
1 small or 1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
6 small or 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 cans black beans, undrained (I used low sodium)
1 can chopped or stewed tomatoes
1 large can black olives, chopped
1 bag frozen corn (or one can)
1/2 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (optional)
2 cans of water (using the black bean can to measure)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons all purpose seasoning
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring (optional)
salt to taste (optional)

Put all ingredients in an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker, stir together and cook on high pressure for 6 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
Or put all ingredients in a slow cooker and let simmer for 8-10 hours.

That was it. Super easy - dump and go. The spices are most likely very flexible, this wasn't spicy at all, just rich and delicious. Jazz it up to make it hotter if you like, but I was letting the sweet potatoes shine. They did!

Get out your big spoon!

Super tasty the next day, with a beer.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Waiting for the first shoe to drop

It all developed so slowly. It's hard to put a day on when the real impact of the global pandemic hit me. This thing we all refuse to call COVID19 (4 syllables) and instead call the coronavirus (6 syllables) came like the slowest tsunami ever, and we haven't even seen its full crest.

Back at the end of January I got a call for a last minute trip to Chicago for work. I scrambled to get packed and ready, not too hard because for this job I've been there so many times I know what's expected. All black clothes for work, warm stuff for outside, but not too warm because I spend most of the time inside the vast McCormick Center which is connected by corridors to my hotel. Five nights of luxury broken up by brutally long working days and a couple chances to see my friend Roxy and visit the Romanian congregation in Skokie.

The day before my trip a young friend who was following the story emerging from Wuhan China asked me if I was afraid to fly, especially to Chicago, where there was a case of this new virus. No, not afraid to fly, not afraid of Chicago, just afraid I'd miss my 4:30 am wake-up call if I was sleeping "deaf-side up." We contemplated buying an Apple watch with a buzzer so I could rest easier. Ran out of time for that, instead I set my phone alarm for 4:30, 4:31, 4:32, 4:33 and so forth. I found out the hotel still does wake up calls too.

There were some really bad technical difficulties with the test which I can't go into. Suffice it to say we worked the longest day I've ever worked (5:30 am - 11:30 pm) with the most disappointing results. We were being careful with hygiene because it was flu season, but nothing special. Little did I know when I flew home, that was going to be my last flight for a long time. I sat by a young man coming back to his brother's funeral from suicide. A most draining and gut-wrenching conversation filled the majority of the trip home. I arrived back completely spent in every way.

The next Monday I had jury duty selection and was forced to sit by a young woman who was coughing and hacking and snorting and sniffling in my limited breathing space. I tried looking for another seat, but I couldn't and had to sit by the hacker. Sure enough, four days later on a conference with my husband in Santa Rosa, I got a doozy of a cold. Fever, sore throat, upper respiratory infection big time. I ended up with double pink eye and an ear ache, with feeling like I'd been run over by a semi. It took me very long to recover. In the midst of the fog of this virus, I could sense that this mystery virus in China wasn't just in China anymore. It was spreading. My calls in to my doctor for the pink eye and earache were met with many questions about where I had traveled and did I have a dry cough. The answers were Chicago, that blasted courthouse, Santa Rosa and bed, and not a dry cough, mine was a bit wet.

With each half week came more and more bad news, more and more people were getting "it" (one syllable) as we now all call COVID19. Photos arrived from our friend in Seattle who works at Costco of people racing down the aisle to hoard toilet paper. The news was filled with TP, sanitizer wipes, paper towels and death in rest homes. And we thought the craziness had peaked.

The rest of the dates are getting jumbled. We began to rethink the whole "kiss, hug, kiss again, shake every single hand of every single person" at our Romanian meetings, filled with the most kissy-huggy-shaky-handy group of friends you've ever experienced. I started washing my hands more, way more, especially since I had recently been so sick. Then I just started refusing to kiss, and introduced the fist bump and then the toe kick. Then we had our last physical meeting on March 7. We thought it would be for 2 weeks. It's now been 3 weeks and will most likely go on this way for months.

How are we keeping our unity? First we watched streamed talks and meetings from Romania. But then we got direction that we were still to meet as a congregation, but on Zoom. I had never heard of Zoom before. Now it's a regular part of my vocabulary. We have Zoom meetings with our congregation, and it's simply adorable to see these older immigrants taking to this great technology on their ipads and iphones. We are learning how to mute, stop video, raise our hands, upload a nice photo and we're memorizing everyone's pictures hanging above their sofas. But most of all we are staying united, encouraged, upbuilt and connected. Zoom is the best invention of our times. Let's all give a big sanitized gloved hand for Zoom.

About the time I was completely over my cold from February, and in the middle of making marmalade, my husband told me he had a sore throat, wasn't feeling well and was going out to the trailer to self-quarantine. My heart sunk, every muscle in my body began to tingle and I wanted to just curl up into a ball and cry. But I had marmalade bubbling in pots and I had to deal with it. By the time they were in their jars I had calmed down. My thinking process went from total dread to "This isn't a death sentence, this isn't Ebola, he will be OK, and worst case scenario I have stellar examples of friends who have faced the worst of the worst of losing a mate and they are still functioning as beautiful giving people who have true purpose in life". From now on, when I get some bad news, I'm going to make marmalade, because the process got me from an emotional fetal position to standing tall and positive by the time the lids make it on the jars.

During all of this, in addition to Ernst self-isolating in our trailer, we had no bathroom except for the one in the pool house and the one in the trailer. A leaky toilet had led to a stained floor which led to pulling it up to investigate which led to discovering mold which led to finding out it was really bad to tear up a bathroom during a pandemic. "Boo hoo, poor me, no inside toilet!" Again, an attitude adjustment was in order, as I walked out in the dark with my flashlight to use the loo. "Jessica, this is all some people have or know or experience their whole life. Buck up and deal with it." I should have made some more marmalade. Finally after 12 long days the dad of one of Ernst's students agreed to come and put in our new floor. Yippee for floor guys who also set toilets! We were flushing again by the time Ernst was better.

In amongst the growing tragedy this epidemic (now pandemic) has wrought, life goes on. Never did I think San Francisco would order a lockdown of its citizens. "Those poor people!" I thought. Then a few days later my county, Sacramento, got a similar directive. It seemed so drastic, so scary, so unbelievable.

Then we just got used to staying at home. We had enough food, we never hoarded, we just prepared. My motto is "We aren't preppers, we are preparers." We basically lived on beans and rice before this started, the only hard part is getting the amounts of fresh produce we consume. We signed up for a farm box delivery, can't wait to see what it contains.

Our days consist of eating real meals together at our table, spending lots of time with our dog, Zooming with our congregation, getting more stuff done around the house than I ever thought possible and trying not to look at the news while still staying informed. At this writing, we don't know anyone personally who has it, and I hope that stays the case until the experts nail down the best "drug cocktail" to hit this with.

We are eating extremely healthy, our goal is to keep our inflammation down and our blood flowing freely through every artery, vein and the tiniest of capillaries in our bodies. I'm not going to binge eat junk food, even vegan junk food, right before what might be my body's most important fight ever, surviving COVID19. We continue to eat a low added fats, whole-food plant-based diet heavy on the greens and vegetables. Since I'm only working the morning shift on weekends at my school district job I have so much time to mindfully plan meals around the food we have. I'm quickly learning how to enhance frozen vegetables to make our fresh last longer.

Our biggest question now is did Ernst get a very mild version of the virus? He said the back of his throat was a color he had never seen it, it was purple. And his tonsils looked very odd too, with ominous streaks of veins coming off them. Of course we can't know, they aren't going to waste a precious test on someone who only had mild symptoms. It just would ease my mine to know this guy who has survived so many health scares got through this one with just a week of self-imposed isolation.

Without that knowledge, we are just staying home as much as humanly possible, staying connected with our friends and while taking precautions, knowing the picture is much bigger than our little home, our little home with the big backyard and the modest supply of toilet paper. So if you run out of legumes, we can share. But don't come knocking at our door for TP, all we'll hand you is package of frozen collard greens.

Until next time...Stay safe, Stay smart and Stay HOME.

Stay connected

Stay strong

Stay kind

Stay clean

Stay healthy

Stay protected (from paint)

Stay bright

Stay sane (dryer balls in dog food?)

Stay determined to eat the food you already bought

Stay realistic

Stay spicy

Stay masked when necessary

Stay exercised

Stay busy

Stay hopeful we will soon be back with our friends

Stay home!