Wednesday, March 30, 2011

And Yet Another Donation!

Justin and Mike, just prior to head shaving

Oh the amazing ability of Justin's hair to inspire, even when it is not there.

This morning, a neighbor who knew nothing of the St. Baldrick's event stopped Justin on the street and asked, "Where's your hair?"  Justin told him the story and he immediately pulled out a $10 bill and said he would be back over to our house with another $10 later. 

I backhandedly nagged Justin for the last four years to get a haircut.  Now I am immensely grateful that he didn't cave.  How much good is that four and a half years of hair growth going to end up accomplishing?

I just checked the site and the event over-reached its goal of $300,000.  The grand total right now stands at $301, $20 from this morning.

JJ would be so proud!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

St. Baldrick's Event an Astounding Success!!!

Just to ease your minds, no I did not, in a fit of pain induced fury at the powers that be, throw myself off the nearest overpass.  I'm still here and plan to be for awhile.

So, what have I been up to, you might ask?  Well, amazingly enough, I traveled to upstate New York last weekend and attended the St. Baldrick's event in Syracuse with Justin.  What an amazing time we had!  My pain levels were low, for the first time in a year, and we were spending great, quality time with Justin's friend and his wife.  Mike and Christine lost their beautiful 3 year old daughter, Juliana, last July 5th to Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Naturally, a tragedy of this nature calls for extreme measures.  Mike had found the St. Baldrick's Foundation (, a fundraising group that shaves heads to raise money for research to cure childhood cancer.  He jumped on it with a vengeance, recruiting 21 people to shave their heads for the JJ's Angels team.  I am in awe of what I saw at the Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub and Restaurant in Syracuse on Sunday and the raw, overwhelming emotion that Justin and I felt at the enormous turnout (almost 500 shavees), the generosity of donations (JJ's Angels Team), and the symbolity of what we were trying to do.  Our team was the highest grossing team at the event, pulling in a whopping $23,558 (exceeding our goal of $15,000 by over $8,000!).  The event itself raised $297,529 and donations are still coming in.  Corporate donors matched individual contributions and we are still hoping to top the $300,000 goal for the event.

As most of you know, Justin had been growing his hair out for about four and a half years - almost since the time we moved to Winchester.  He never really articulated to me exactly why he was growing it, but when we were driving back on Sunday night, he did say that his hair made him feel like he was "different."  I think it set him apart from everybody else and he liked that.  But as much as his hair meant to him, Juliana meant more.  On Sunday, Justin got all of his hair chopped off in this ponytail:

It's hard to see in the picture, but there is about 14" - 16"of hair in that bag that will be shipped off to Locks of Love shortly.  Then this:

(Picture by Caurie Miner Putnam)
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think this picture is worthy of some kind of award.  What I see and feel is Juliana watching as Justin willingly gave four and a half years of hair in the hope that the money raised will insure that no child has to endure what she went through ever again.  Our eyes locked as they finished shaving his head and no words can describe what I felt as we both cried copious tears, overwhelmed with the loss of our friend's spirited child and knowing what she has done to bring people together to find a cure. Juliana has inspired love, created friendships, nudged people into generosity, and touched thousands of people who she never got to meet.  Juliana's passing is an absolute tragedy; yet it has brought out the good in so many.  There is no tradeoff here and I know that nothing eases the pain of losing a child.  But one look at Juliana's sweet face is enough to bring out the best in everyone who sees it.  We are truly a community of JJ's Angels now.

Obviously, I have no difficulty writing prolifically about anything, but I am going to let Mike's words speak for Juliana and sum up what he was trying to accomplish.  At 2:00, the event broke for speeches and here is what he said:

Today we are standing up to childhood cancer.  By shaving our heads, we are making a statement that we care less about our outward appearances and more about what lies beneath them.  Invite the stares and glares from people when they look and wonder why your hair is not there.  Hope that this sparks a conversation and then one more person might turn the light on and be made aware of the children with cancer who need help in so many ways.

I am extremely proud of my team of family and friends.  They continue to astonish me and my family with love and support.  Yes, we have raised an amazing amount of money but, more important, they have taken the step to stand up with me and try and make a difference.

JJ will never be forgotten and I will continue to do things big and small that will change and impact the lives of the children and their families affected by cancer.  My hope is others will do the same.

Personally, I also dedicated my shave to not only Juliana, but friends of JJ that are still battling cancer - Jake, Sophie, Jose, Nick, and Madison.

(Mike LaMonica)

For myself, the most emotional moment of the entire event is summed up in the enormous love and friendship that has grown between my husband and his friend, Mike as shown in this picture immediately after they got their heads shaved:

That's Juliana's older brother, Andrew, bottom right, by the way.  Even Andrew is standing up to cancer by shaving his head with his dad.

The friendship that is growing between our two families knows no limits and no boundaries.  If it wasn't for Juliana, the relationship might have been simply a working one between Justin and Mike.  Now, it is a bond that no one can break and we are so incredibly grateful to have Mike, Christine, Andrew, and Daniel in our lives.  And, of course, Juliana, who will never be forgotten. 

If you are so inclined, you can still donate to our event by going to the link above.  Or you can simply donate to St. Baldrick's to help the work that they are doing to end the stain that childhood cancer is leaving on innocent families everywhere.  Please, in memory of Juliana and all of the other children who have lost their battle or are still fighting...if you can't donate, say a prayer for their families and remember these children who so bravely fight the monster called cancer.  And an extremely heartfelt thank you to all of you who donated to our cause.

Juliana - Christmas 2008

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Chronic Pain and Depression - What a Life!

Well, it's official.  The pain and lack of diagnosis finally got me completely down.  I mean down to the point of why bother getting out of bed?

I'm starting to think that there's no way they're going to find out what's wrong with me because maybe what's wrong with me is simply another way that fibromyalgia is making itself known.  A Very. Unpleasant. Way.  Maybe, horror of horrors, I already have my diagnosis.  Since I no longer have any of the female organs that might cause this new type of pain and abdominal swelling, and my symptoms don't seem to have a digestive component, it would appear that there's nothing new under the sun for them to fix.  I have nothing much left to remove down there except my appendix and it, for some reason, doesn't seem to want to bother me.  Very nice of it, since everything else does.

Justin and I went down to Charlottesville last Friday for my penultimate hope...the interventional radiologist.  I had been kind enough to get an MRI of my abdomen for him last December when they first started trying to figure this out - preemptively, since I didn't even know he existed - and he said that he was able to see the veins in my pelvis on the MRI.  I do not have pelvic congestion syndrome.  I asked him a couple of questions and they offered to refer me to a more sympathetic gynecologist than the one I saw here in Winchester that tore out my female parts last April and then blew off my pain.  I said okay and we left.  Justin said the guy looked scared to tell me I didn't have PCS.  I guess he's been yelled at before by people who aren't hearing what they want to hear.  But what the hell.  It's not this guy's fault that I'm in pain and he can't fix it.  If I don't have it, I don't have it.  I'm a realist and can accept that this just wasn't it.  There's no need for yelling. Well, not at him, at least.  Right now, I'd doing a lot of yelling at God or whoever is up there about the unfairness of life.

I'm starting to think that fibromyalgia is a systemic disorder that starts in one place (my right shoulder blade when I was 19 for me) and then spreads throughout your body as you get older.  If this theory is true, I have a lifetime of pain to look forward to (which I kind of already knew and accepted) and it is only going to get worse (which I absolutely had never accepted).  This new pain is absolutely, positively worse than the pain that came before and not only affects me in a "pain" way, but also in a wardrobe way, as I have blogged about ad nauseum.  I'm still wearing pajamas and sweats, people!

Does chronic pain lead to depression or does depression lead to chronic pain?  Well, interestingly, I was checking this out this morning.

Tests Prove Fibromyalgia not the Same as Depression 

Apparently, people with fibromyalgia simply do not produce the chemicals that are needed to relieve pain like normal people.  We have a much lower pain tolerance (Justin could have told you that), but it is not because we are depressed.  I find it an interesting question because, for me, depression and fibro are like the chicken and the egg.  Which came first?  I have no idea.  I've been in pain for as long as I can remember and I've been depressed as long as I can remember.  I'm not sure it really matters, but it's interesting to know that this new study's results say that they are not one and the same thing.

Not getting a diagnosis has been like getting hit by a tire iron.  Repeatedly.  I am simply never going to be out of pain.  And now I'm not going to get to wear the cute clothes that people with normal sized abdomens usually get to wear.  Now that's an interesting fact.  I have been contemplating maternity clothes because normal clothes are just not comfortable anymore and it doesn't seem as if this fact is going to change anytime soon.

I will probably go ahead and see the gynecologist at UVA if I get that referral just to see what she has to say.  But I think she is going to agree with me that there's probably nothing she can tell me that's new or interesting or relevant to getting this pain to go away.  I have to now shift from trying to find a cure to finding a way to living with it.  And that really sucks.

In many ways, I am extremely blessed.  If I have to have this disgusting disorder, then at least I do not have to crawl out of bed every day and face eight hours of a job that I hate.  I can move at my own pace in the morning (for the most part) and my family is very understanding that I have a pain disorder that makes me pretty unhappy a lot of the time.  I know that I am blessed in this area and I am extremely grateful.  I just want that on the record.  I am very happy that I can sit here and write about whatever is going through my head on any given day to my heart's content.  I also have a choice of not writing and just sitting and reading a book (or nine) and nobody is going to get upset with me.  I can even choose to shower at noon and make my doctor's appointments for the afternoon, when I am usually able to get my body moving (if I take it slow).


I have reached the point of despair with this chronic pain thing.  There are things I want to be doing that I just am not doing and that makes me angry and sad.  I have trouble going to sleep because it hurts and now I'm in a very bad pattern of staying up too late and then sleeping too late.  When real life actually inserts itself, it's a rude awakening and I don't handle it very well.  My appointment in Charlottesville last week was at 10:00 in the morning, meaning we had to leave the house right after 7:00 in the morning.  It wasn't pretty and I ended up sleeping for the whole trip.  Thank God for Justin, who is a morning person!

Most mornings, I get up, get the kids off to school as best I can (which means finishing Joey's lunch up for him and feeding him breakfast - I don't have to do much), and then crawl back into bed for a couple of hours.  It then takes a couple more hours to get me into the shower, once the pain meds have kicked in to a decent degree.  Somehow, this doesn't seem like much of a life.  My social network has shrunk almost irreparably and my contact with the outside world is becoming much that of a recluse.  The internet has made this even easier for me, as I can order almost anything I need and what I can't order, Justin will go out and get for me.  There are days on end that I don't even leave the house.  Wow...when I went out yesterday to get my hair done, it was the first time I had been out in four days.  Should that scare me or reassure me?

Yes, in case you're wondering, I have a wonderful therapist and psychiatrist who really care about me and how I'm doing.  I have a great family who also care about me and check in on how I'm doing.  But the fact is that I live with depression and chronic pain and I know that doesn't make me much fun to be around most of the time.  I try not to be too big of a bitch and my family is remarkably tolerant of my moods.  I have developed the ability to fool people not related to me into not realizing I'm depressed and most people can't tell I am in chronic, insipid pain 24 hours a day.  Is this a gift or a curse?  If more people knew what my inner life is like, would more people be getting involved or would it drive them away?

And the pertinent question to me at the moment is:  Does it really matter?

Sometimes, when I go out, I like to pretend that there's nothing wrong with me and it's kind of fun to talk to people I don't know as if I'm normal.  I'm pretty good at it.  But there is a huge relief in coming home and being able to be myself.  After all, I'm probably looking at another 40 years of increasing pain.  And that fact is not something I really want to face, because I wonder how much more pain I can accept and tolerate.  I get to a certain threshold and think I'm handling it well and then something else comes along and adds a whole new layer.  Is this going to be my life until I'm 80 and do my kids the favor of finally kicking off?  I think I'm going to be a pretty bitter person by then, so if they want to put me in a home, I just want them to know that I won't hold it against them.  And hopefully, they will have really good drugs at the home that will keep me complacent and doing jigsaw puzzles or sewing quietly in a corner instead of screaming that I am Sick. Of. Being. In. Pain!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Oh the Sting of Rejection

A couple of weeks ago, I sent out three bound copies of the manuscript for one of my children's books.  I had spent six months getting the book illustrated, writing and re-writing, sweating over every word.  Since printing services are expensive and I wanted it to look good for submission, I only got five copies printed up.  I gave one to my mother, who always wanted me to write a book, kept one for myself, and mailed three out to publishing houses, with self-addressed, stamped envelopes enclosed, so that they would send me back the manuscript if they weren't interested.

Today, way too soon, I saw Justin bringing in the mail with a familiar envelope in one hand.  Holiday House had passed on my book without even reading it.  It didn't even make it to the slush pile.  Oh the sadness!  I was expecting rejection letters - God knows most writers get rejected hundreds of times before someone finally agrees to take them on - but rejection so soon?  It hurts when you can't even get someone to open the cover of your manuscript to take a look at the story.

I've been told by my illustrator that getting that return envelope probably means that they just have way too many manuscripts being submitted right now and I shouldn't take it personally.  I picture a Dilbert type drone with pit stains under the arms of his short sleeved, mustard colored dress shirt and big huge glasses sitting in a cubicle somewhere, stuffing hopeful writers' manuscripts back in their envelopes with the one line rejection letter and tossing them on the outgoing mail pile. 

Okay, yes, I agree with Chris' statement 100% and I'm not taking it personally at all.  If anything, it only makes me more determined to somehow break into this publishing world without having to pay for it myself.  Self-publishing is great, but you just don't get the exposure for your book that you're going to get if an actual publishing house puts it out.  Plus, you have to charge more for the book to try to make up the cost for the self-publisher.  I'd really rather not go that route.  I don't want to have to ask my friends and family to pay for copies of my book.  That's just not cool.

I am waiting on the other two publishers to return my manuscripts with a polite "no, thank you" letter and will then go back to my trusty Children's Writer's Market and find another three to try.  And I am currently working on a new story that I will probably mail out unillustrated to as many publishers as possible.  I also have another three manuscripts I wrote last year in the word processor that I could work on and send out as well.  I am far from thinking there is no hope.

That first rejection though...very sad.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Update on the Spending Diet

I've been putting off this post due to shame.  I fell off the diet wagon.

Okay, changing a lifetime's worth of habits is really, really hard.  That's why they're called habits.  I was never under the impression that I would be able to stop spending money entirely and I know that sticking to a strict plan that I create while having a good, productive day is highly unlikely when I get a day that maybe isn't so good.  But I kind of hoped I would do just a little bit better.

First, the good news.  I have improved in a couple of areas.  I have not used my Old Navy card once since I started this thing and I have downloaded only two books for my Kindle (because of a long trip to the doctor and not knowing how long I would be sitting in the waiting room), but managed to stick to $20 for the downloads and now have two new books to read.  I also downloaded a story that Jamie needed for school for less than $2 and a book for a project Joey has due tomorrow that he conveniently forgot at school on Friday for less than $7.  I don't count those last two purchases against myself because they were something the kids needed for homework.  (Why does their forgetfulness always seem to translate into my spending money?)

Unfortunately though, my neurological connection between what happens in the world around me and my ability to cope is usually played out with a credit card.  If things aren't going so great, it's just my habit to make myself feel better by going online and loading up a virtual shopping cart.  I've done pretty well.  It took two months before I actually did this, which probably is an all time new record.  And I did end up purchasing items that I truly believe I need.  But still, I used the credit card and I shopped.

I was recently reading a blog entry on the And Then She Saved website about quality of life being how much time you have to do the things you want to do as opposed to having a lot of stuff.  I would agree that it is almost priceless to be able to make the choice as to what time you get out of bed and what you do once you've dragged yourself out.  I totally get that this is a gift I have been handed - the ability to pretty much decide (with a very few exceptions) what I'm going to do and when I'm going to do it - and that gift has been given to me by the most important person in my life, my husband, who works very hard at a job he doesn't necessarily enjoy all that much but at which he is extremely talented.  I will be the first to say that my life has been made immensely easier by his willingness to take the financial reigns and make the money.

I do hope that one day my writing catches someone's eye and I start to make some money at it.  But for the moment, it's something I do for fun and for expression.  It's certainly not paying any bills.  I'm lucky I'm able to do it when the mood hits me and not do it when my day isn't going so well or things get hectic around the house.  I don't have deadlines.  Yet.  (One can always hope.)

But back to the spending diet.  We have a trip coming up and I am still in the unenviable position of having a waistline that not only looks five or six months pregnant, but also causes me extreme discomfort when I put clothing around it.  I want to look decent when we go away and I also want to be comfortable enough to enjoy our trip.  I think I blogged about my recent shopping trip with my best friend and the deals she helped me find.  I was grateful for those purchases, but there were still a couple of items I wanted and I just wasn't going to be able to get them cheaply.  I caved and went online and bought two new dresses.  It would have been one, but the first one is strictly a spring/summer dress and we're going somewhere that it might actually snow.  When I realized I was going to be very, very cold if I wore this dress on our trip, I went back to the site and bought one that would keep my extremities from freezing off.  So I shopped twice (here I am wincing) because I didn't foresee this possible problem, even though it was staring me in the face when I ordered the first dress.  I know it's still cold in upstate New York in early spring.  What was I (not) thinking???

I continue to try to save money, but we have eaten out a couple more times than I would have preferred simply due to running out of dinner ideas and the fact that I just cannot seem to cook anything edible, leaving Justin not only as the breadwinner, but also usually the breadmaker.  Some nights, he's just too tired and who can blame him?  And since he is the breadwinner, if he suggests Chinese food or pizza, I am not going to argue.  But we are doing better at making dinner at home and we have breakfast for dinner a lot.  I think that overall, we've been successful in small ways at saving money over the last two months.

There are expenses I know are coming up.  The cat is going to have to have dental work and that is not cheap.  Unfortunately, since he is only six years old, I simply can't ignore the problem.  If he was ancient and wobbling, I wouldn't invest the money, but he's got at least another six good years as a family pet and I'm tired of smelling whatever that is that's coming out of his mouth.  We're attached to him, even though he is a total pig with fur. 

Speaking of dental work, my oldest son, who has some weird type of enamel defect, needs crowns on every tooth in his mouth.  Yes, you read that right.  Every. Single. Tooth.  If he doesn't get them, he will lose not only all of his enamel, but eventually all of his teeth.  At the ungodly price of $1,000 per crown and 28 teeth in his head, that's pretty easy math to do.  It's more than I'm planning on spending on the next car I buy.  I foresee a very large fight with our insurance company coming, because they are supposed to cover 80% of crowns, but there is a one crown per year limitation.  At that rate, his teeth would be fixed in 28 years and somehow I don't think that's going to work for him.

Speaking of coming expenses (and I'm listing these because I want it known that they are planned expenses and not impulsive spending), all of the boys need clothing for the summer.  I do foresee an Old Navy trip for the younger kids, simply because that's where I usually find the clothing they like that fits.  They have great shorts for kids and I am hoping to find the size that I need there as well, because I've been trying out those shorts from last summer and practically crying after an hour or so.  (This wardrobe thing has become a real thorn in my side.)

Ben will need to take two classes this summer to stay on track for his transfer degree at the local community college to graduate in the spring, so there's an expense (although at least it's not a full semester).  My car is coming up for inspection in May and they always find something wrong with it because, let's face it, the car is nine years old and there probably really is something wrong with it once a year.  It's still cheaper than a new car.

I wonder sometimes how it's possible to live in this economy, although we are making do.  What gets me is that you never just pay out what's in the budget.  There's always something else that you end up having to do that you didn't expect to do.  I know that it is better if I stick to the planned expenses and I am giving it my best shot.  I am going to stumble and make a few unnecessary purchases, but I would say that at least I am more aware of what I am doing now than I was two months ago and I can foresee what's going to happen if I pull out the credit card in the form of the statement that will follow in a couple of weeks.  The balance goes up.  Yes, I think I finally realize that.  Stay tuned...we'll see how cheap we can be on our trip.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oh How the Internet Age Has Changed Us

After a particularly nasty falling out with both a relative and a long distance "friend" whom I had only met online, I got to thinking about how much the internet has changed our lives.

The relative's unfriending (and relationship severing) was coming, regardless, but the "friend" came as a total shock to her and was followed with increasingly nasty demands to know why I had taken her off my "friends" list and what she had done.  It was more what she hadn't done than what she had.  I figure if I don't hear from someone for six months and they don't respond to emails, then they probably don't really want to be "friends."  And if it takes someone two months to notice that you've "unfriended" them, why would they be so offended to find they are no longer on your "friends" list?  I am flummoxed, as I was by the nastiness that followed when she finally realized I was no longer paying attention to her FB postings and had deleted her.  We had Never. Even. Met.

In particular, I think the Facebook phenomenon is nothing short of apocalyptic.  Wow, the power in that little click that allows you to "unfriend" someone.  And even block them!  The fallout that occurs when someone realizes you have actually unfriended them brings up a very interesting sociology question.  Why does it matter?  What is it that is so powerful and so rejecting when someone "unfriends" a person that sends them into a mania of trying to figure out why you did it, even going so far as to use someone else's Facebook page to send you a message to beat you up about it? (The relative, not the friend.  Still not answering - she can figure it out.)

Which brings me to the question of how many of your Facebook friends do you really know?  I recently accepted a friend request from a person with whom I had six mutual friends, based on the recommendation of someone I know and trust.  But I still don't know who he is, although I do know we went to high school together.  Did he ask to "friend" me because we had six mutual friends or because he remembers me?  I don't know, but he's now my "friend."  I also have many "friends" who are actually friends of my husband, most of whom he either works with or went to school with, as well as "friends" who know people that I know.  I have come to be friendly with some of them through Facebook and like them a lot from their posts.  But am I comfortable sharing my personal stuff with these people I've never met?  Apparently, I really am.

And that brings me to my biggest problem: Oversharing.  My family would absolutely agree with this statement:  I share way too much with the world.  I know it, but that's who I am.  I will tell people pretty much anything.  My life is almost an open book.  Sure, there are things my own husband doesn't know (relating to feminine stuff or long past emotional angst and I'm not going there...sadly, he knows most of those anyway), but for the most part, I share everything with everyone, whether I know them or not.  This is a problem for my very private family.  And when I think about it, I probably am giving way too much information about myself.  They say once something is online, it never really disappears, no matter whether you hit the delete button or not.  I have a tendency of speaking before thinking, writing things I send and then's a problem.  I've lost more friends over emails I couldn't take back.  Not to mention the nasty blog entries I posted up after being fired last year directed at my former employers.  Wow, how could I have thought that was a good idea?  (For the record, my family tried to stop me.  I just refused to listen.  Story of my life.)

But this new problem of who I want to be Facebook friends with and what I want to or should post has left me perplexed.

Fifteen years ago, computers were a relative rarity in most people's homes.  Now, almost everyone has at least one computer and some people have a computer for each person in the home, along with phones that will do pretty much what a computer will do, gaming systems, iPads, small personal gaming devices...I am constantly amazed at the difference between how I grew up (riding my bike, reading books, and one hour of television per day on the communal television in the family room) and how my children are growing up (XBoxes, Playstations, Wiis, personal televisions, cell phones).  Kids do so little outdoors now that it is kind of like we are raising a flock of can see the blue flash of the television and computer screens late at night from behind the teenagers' blinds as you drive by.  My oldest son doesn't even come to life until mid-afternoon when his classes start and he usually doesn't go to bed until almost time for me to get the youngest kids off to school.  "Bedtime" is kind of a family joke now, with the kids getting older, and I have lost almost all control over when any of them go to sleep.  We go to bed before they do.  Admittedly, it's my own fault for giving so much intimate access to the technology in their bedrooms, but (I am ashamed to say) it keeps the peace.  People coming into my house are amazed at how quiet it is and repeatedly ask me, "Don't you have three children?"  It's just a bit scary.

It's true, I have sold my soul to technology at the expense of my family.  Is this dysfunctional?  We tried all of the normal activities - soccer, football, tae kwon do, academic clubs.  Nothing is as interesting as coming home and playing Mario Brothers or whatever it is that they play.  I don't even ask anymore.  I just send them into Gamestop and wait in the car.

I've read about people who actually buy programs to lock themselves out of the internet for several hours during the day so that they can get some work done.  It's actually that addictive.  I sometimes wonder if I could go back to the way it was way back when the dinosaurs roamed and there were no computers and cell phones.  You kind of get used to it.  And then addicted to it.  And now it's the way I express myself and communicate.  I have gotten increasingly reclusive as I've gotten older, both as a result of my social anxiety and my physical limitations.  I am working at getting out more, but social networking sites are a great way to maintain the relationships that I do have and maybe make some new connections.  It's also a way to sever connections that are toxic or no longer working for me. 

What I know for sure is that the way my kids relate to the world is going to be completely different than the way I dealt with it growing up, because I can see how much it has changed my own dealings with society and I didn't grow up with all of this really cool stuff that connects you 24/7 to everything.  My youngest son recently came home and announced, "I really wish I had an iPod Touch."  Maybe we should be living in a neighborhood with kids who don't always get the absolute latest technology the minute it comes out and books are the best thing since sliced bread because people still actually use their library.  (For the record, I've been using the library to cut down on my Kindle downloading expenses.  I've totally fallen victim to the newest and latest technology thing.  I'm even voting for my favorite American Idol contestants on their website through Facebook.  How low have I actually fallen?)

I hope I have given my children a gift and not a curse by allowing access to all this technology and it doesn't come back to bite me in the ass when I have a 45 year old living in my home who wants to sleep all day and stay home playing World of Warcraft all night long.  Now there's a nightmarish thought.  Just so you know kids, it's full time school or full time job or you're out on your butts after high school.  But, to make it in the world today, you need to know how to handle the technology.  So I kind of think the good sense I tried to instill will overcome the desire to live at home with Mom and Dad and game all night.  At least, it seems to be working in my oldest son, who goes to work, to class, does his homework, and is succeeding in a big way in college.  On the computer we bought him for his high school graduation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Autism Thoughts from 2007

I've been cleaning old documents off of my computer in anticipation of Justin's fixing it for me and I came across this article I wrote back in April 2007.  It's amazing how much things have changed in just four years, but now the numbers are 1 in 110 children currently on the spectrum.  Anyway, I just thought I would share, since it never was published:

            My eight year old son, Joey, was diagnosed with autism on December 9, 2001.  He had just turned three years old.  The initial psychological evaluation, done by the local early intervention program, said “Joseph presents himself as a quiet youngster who prefers to be left alone.”  This is the way we remember him when he was little.  At three years, he could say only five words and didn’t understand most conversation.  He couldn’t tell us “yes,” wasn’t pointing, wasn’t playing well with other children.  In fact, if approached by other children, he would usually back away.  And we couldn’t even conceive of beginning potty training.
            I have a hard time remembering what Joey was like as an infant.  My husband says he was always quiet, he didn’t cry very much.  I remember thinking what a good baby he was.  With two other little boys to take care of, there was certainly enough to keep me busy.  I’d been told that third babies were easier, and I fell into that with an ease that, looking back, is scary.  Not noticing the signs early enough, did I miss something that would have helped him later?  In fact, Joey hit all of his developmental milestones in his first year.  He sat, crawled, walked, said words, all at the right times.  But by the age of two, it was clear that Joey was developmentally behind the other kids at his preschool.  He had lost most of the ground he had gained.  The normal behaviors – words, expressions of delight and dismay, pointing in excitement to draw my attention, appetite – all those things were disappearing.  I was profoundly scared at what we were dealing with.
            The pediatrician kept telling me not to worry.  Kids develop at their own rate of speed.  Some are like a bullet train, others come along more slowly.  But by the time Joey was two years old, I wasn’t buying it.  As I took more and more notice of what was going on with my son, I realized that this wasn’t just slow development that would catch up in time.  Joey had a problem.  The neurologist we took him to told me Joey had autism.
            In looking back at those early days after the diagnosis, I wish I had kept a diary of Joey’s symptoms and how we dealt with them.  It’s hard to remember five years ago.  What was he doing?  Did he say anything?  Did he have his own language?  How exactly did he react to the other children?  It’s so hard to remember, but I can remember the fear that he would never be normal, never fit in with the other kids.  What kind of adult life would he have?  Would he ever be able to hold a job, get married, have a family?  In most cases of autism, the answer is no.  There is a great burden on the families of autistic children, and parents of autistic children often spend their golden years caring for their disabled child.
            There are so many questions and so few answers.  With the government’s passage of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, school systems across the country push for mainstreaming of autistic children in regular classrooms if at all possible.  This brings up the question of fairness, for both the autistic child, and the children not afflicted with the disorder.  So often the autistic child is in his own world, removed from what is going on around him or her.  Autistic children do strange things, like flapping their hands and bouncing on their toes.  They have trouble sitting still and often do not appear to listen.  Untrained teachers see them as defiant, because they often appear not to be listening.  They have trouble asking for help when they need it, if they can ask at all.  They make strange noises, have to read aloud to understand the words (assuming they can master reading), distract the other children.  Is this truly “no child left behind?”
            Joey has successfully navigated kindergarten, first, and now second grade in a normal classroom.  But at what cost to himself and the children around him?  Do other children become more empathic when they are placed in a class with an autistic child?  Or is it just more difficult for them to learn what they need to know?  We struggle with these questions every day.
            In some ways, we have been extraordinarily lucky.  Joey is very high functioning.  He is brilliant at math.  He can read.  He is able to talk to us, unlike so many autistic children.  The parents of an autistic child become adept at figuring out what their child wants.  In Joey’s case, his routine is his life.  Weekends, trips, school breaks and holidays throw him for a loop.  He is governed by the calendar and the clock. We have developed routines at home so that he can be comfortable, trying to give him a sense of routine outside of the classroom.
            I treasure the speech that we’ve been given.  Joey can answer questions, tell me goodnight, tell me he loves me.  On the opposite side of the coin, though, are the obvious patterns of autism.  He is fascinated by video and computer games, and obsessively repeats phrases and directions from them.  Sometimes we have to insist that he cannot talk about his video games, but must talk about something else.  He still receives speech therapy through the public schools, but the amount has been steadily cut back year after year.  It is my belief that the county has limited funds and limited personnel, and often the services he receives are only what the county is willing to provide within the confines of their budget.    It is hard to find qualified special education professionals and, as the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to rise, this has become a crisis.  Joey needs a full time aide in the classroom, but we have been turned down time and again.
            Joey’s occupational therapy has also been cut back by the school system.  In 2006, we took him to a private rehabilitation center.  Their recommendation was that he receive bi-weekly school-based occupational therapy services, in addition to outpatient services.  They found he needed assistance in visual attention, motor control, visual processing, and self help skills, in addition to needing assistance with his sensory integration, the ability to process the world around him.  They found him to be hyperactive, and that he tends to giggle, laugh and squeal as his level of arousal increases.  I took this evaluation to the school system, to no avail.  They continue to offer him only 30 minutes a week of occupational therapy, and 20 minutes of speech therapy.  Again, I believe this is a function of budget restraints in our school system.  It is also my belief that the free appropriate public education Joey has been promised is being hacked to bits by politics and budget restraints.
            When I was desperate for some answers, and for some professional recommendations, I took Joey to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  Dr. Kenneth Norwood, an autism specialist, found that “Joseph will require significantly greater in classroom support as well as Occupational and Speech Therapy to be successful.”  Still the school system has not been forthcoming with these services.  For approximately 30 minutes a day, Joey does have an aide in the classroom.  He relies on his aide to help him process what is going on around him, and what he is supposed to be doing at given moment.  But she is only there for a very brief portion of his school day.
            I have met with Joey’s second grade teacher on several occasions, and it her opinion that a full time aide would be detrimental to Joey’s progress in the classroom.  However, this is the same teacher who claims that Joey “refuses” to do his work, work that she “knows” he can do.  When I asked her if it might be the case that his “refusal” isn’t actually a symptom of his autism, she disagreed with me, despite her lack of training in special education.  Joey isn’t a defiant child.  He simply needs an adult to point him in the right direction.  Even more infuriating, the same teacher also claims that some of his autistic behaviors are “cute.”  Autistic behaviors are not cute.  They are behaviors that we need to work to eliminate if we ever expect Joey to live a normal, independent life.   Perseverating on the schedule for the day, with no ability to be flexible, is not an adaptive skill.  Telling his teacher that she has to turn over the calendar because the month has changed, and then being insistent to the point of annoying until she does so also is not an adaptive behavior.  Autistic children need to be taught some flexibility toward the world around them or they will never be able to cope with the outside world.
            I can remember an incident when Joey was two years old, before we had a diagnosis.  My mother and I had taken him and my two older boys to a small county fair.  Joey spent the entire trip with his hands over his ears, screaming.  We finally had to leave.  Joey’s lack of flexibility, his sensitivity to noise, and his insistence on routine has severely curtailed our family life.  He has accepted only a small number of foods, and they are foods that are not generally available at restaurants.  So we don’t go out to eat.  Haircuts are frightening to him, as are any unexpected noises, too many people, long trips in the car, going somewhere he’s never been, motel rooms, and generally anything new and different.  We are a family stuck in our home, unless we can prepare Joey well in advance for a change in routine.
            Does Joey know he’s different from other children?  I truly don’t know, but I got a clue recently when I told him he needed to stop making noises because other people might think it was strange.  He put his hands to his eyes and bowed his head, leaning against me in obvious distress.  I felt about two inches tall.  I was trying to change something that he couldn’t help, and I felt like the worst mother in the world.  I hugged him and told him it was okay to be different, and that he should just be himself.  If I can’t accept him for what he is, how can I expect others to?  It’s hard being the parent of a child that’s different. I had all these dreams for my children, and the thought of one of them having a lifelong disability is enough to shake my faith in the world around me.  I’ve always thought of Joey just as Joey, but as he gets older, I am becoming aware of how the rest of the world might see him.  Yes, it’s okay to be different.  But in middle school, in high school, for the rest of his life, will he want to conform to the standards of the people around him, to belong, to fit in?  Is it my place to try to help him do that, or is it my place to simply let him be himself, different from the other children, but still loveable, affectionate, sweet, curious about the world around him?  I don’t know the answer, and I’m afraid that no matter how I address this issue, it will be the wrong way.
            The latest figures from the CDC show that 1 in 150 children is somewhere on the autism spectrum.  This is an epidemic.  We don’t know the cause, there is no cure, and society is lagging woefully behind in its ability to deal with the explosion of diagnoses of children on the spectrum.  Although there are more children with autism than there are with pediatric cancer, juvenile diabetes, and Down syndrome, society appears to just be starting to become aware of the need for more research, more money, more trained special educators.  It is believed that autism is caused by a genetic predisposition and then triggered by something in the child’s environment.  Because of the sometimes regressive nature of the disease, many parents believe that a mercury preservative called thimerosol contained in vaccines in the 1990’s triggered their child’s autism.  Although the CDC has failed to establish a link between the mercury in vaccines and autism, many families are convinced that vaccines are the trigger.  It certainly may be a coincidence that the number of diagnosed cases of autism rose with the rise in the number of vaccines required for young children, but this is a question that desperately needs to be resolved.  
            The sharp rise in diagnosed cases of autism has caused a flurry of interest in both the scientific community and in the political arena.  Last year, autism finally got the attention of federal lawmakers, and The Combating Autism Act was signed in December of 2006.  The bill authorized nearly a billion dollars over the next four years for research and intervention.  Certainly a step forward, but still not enough, with 67 children being diagnosed on the spectrum every day.  One in 94 boys is on the spectrum.  The disorder strikes boys much more frequently than girls, with a 1 to 4 ratio of boys to girls.  We need to find out why.
            More recently, senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Wayne Allard (R-CO) introduced a new legislative initiative to increase access to treatment, increase intervention, and increase support services for individuals with autism.  Senator Clinton has called autism an “epidemic” and says, “This epidemic requires our smartest, best, comprehensive response and we must continue our efforts to provide treatment, care, greater research and understanding of autism spectrum disorder.”
            With the possibility of greater funding, treatments and a possible cure may be on the horizon.  Discover Magazine printed an article in March, 2007 which advances great hope for treatments and a cure.  The article cites several possible causes of autism:  vaccine reactions, atypical growth in the placenta, abnormal tissue in the gut, inflamed tissue in the brain, food allergies, and disturbed brain wave synchrony.  (Discover Magazine, March 22, 2007)  The article also emphasizes the interaction between the genetic predisposition to autism and environmental triggers.  It appears that multiple factors are at work in this devastating disorder, similar to the many different types of cancer and their causes.  Both diseases are extremely complex, hard to diagnose, hard to treat, and in the case of autism, impossible to cure.
            As fast as the autism community is attempting to find cures and treatments for autism, it is not fast enough for parents currently dealing with the disease.  I know in our house, autism is the enemy we deal with every day.  My beautiful child has to live his life differently from his brothers, and to me this is not acceptable.  I want him whole and normal, living out his dreams, going to college, having a family, and a career.  We may never see that, or we may see great improvement in Joey.  Treatments may get better, a cure may be on the horizon.  It certainly helps us that autism awareness is at an all time high.  We still struggle every day to handle Joey’s autism though, and frustration is hard to deal with when we know that somewhere inside, Joey is fighting to get out.  I can only hope that the medical community hurries its work in time to save my little boy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Spending Diet - Day Whatever

I'm sure you are all dying to know how the spending diet is going for me.  (Yes, I'm sure you are.)  Since I'm not exactly one who tends to stick with anything I start, I'm kind of proud of myself in that I have been watching every penny that I spend and I have not used my credit cards for anything I did not need.

Okay.  I'll confess that I did have to pull out the Visa to get my book manuscripts printed up at Office Max so that I could mail them to the publishers.  But, as Justin said, how will I know if I might have a shot at being published if I don't send them in?  So, although it was not a "need," per se, I did it anyway.  Who knows - someone might actually think the book is good enough for publication.  And I followed through today by sending the manuscripts out to three large publishing houses for consideration.  I have also been working and have another story basically completed, so I can proudly say that since last July, I have written five, count them, five manuscripts for possible children's book publication.  I think that's pretty remarkable if I do say so myself.  And it's nice to know that if one of the publishers is actually interested and asks me if I have other work, I can say, "Why yes, now that you mention it, I do!"

Okay, so was that a cheat on the diet?  You tell me.

On Monday, I went to visit my best friend and her birthday is coming up this weekend.  There are some things that are just important, so I took her to my favorite Mexican place to eat.  Eating out has become quite a treat for me and we are down to only getting take out maybe once a week (from maybe three or four times), which I think is huge improvement.  Lunch:  $22, paid on the check card.  Nothing charged.

Then we decided that instead of going to the movies (since they wouldn't allow us to talk throughout the showing of the film), we went to the mall.  Oh, dangerous mecca, that mall!  We have nothing like it here in Winchester and it's overstimulating just walking through one of the entrances.  Talk about your sensory overload.  My friend knows the problems I've been having with my clothing and directed me immediately over to Sears to the clearance racks.  I usually walk right past them, since it's generally last season's fashions that didn't sell or, if they do have something I like, my size is completely gone.  But this mall is pretty amazing.  Here's what I ended up with for $46.14:

2 Bras $12.98 (Men, you may stop reading now if this offends you.)
Shirt $6.99
Shirt $5.99
Leggings $2.99 (Yes, you read that right)
Leggings $14.99

Tax $2.20

Okay, the last pair of leggings put me a little over what I wanted to spend, but I still didn't end up overdrawing my cash reserves.  I ended up with a little over $8 left in my account (which is kind of a pin money account) and no new charges on the credit cards.  I don't know how she managed it, but she kept me from pulling out the charge cards, even though we admired numerous items that weren't on sale and saw a lot of really cool stuff.  I still wouldn't say I have enough clothes to wear that I am comfortable in, but we at least made a dent.  My friend is an incredible bargain shopper.

My next feat:  To have her decorate the empty space in my bedroom (did I mention her fantastic sense of design for cheap?) for less than $50....maybe $40....okay, maybe none, because decorating is definitely not part of the spending diet.  If I'm going to spend money, it's got to be clothes right now.

There's still that dress at Vermont Country Store that I am dying to order, but I have held onto my willpower for the moment.  The fact that I've been drowning in kids' homework, dental appointments, and doggie neutering this week, as well as pushing to get the book in the mail has definitely made it easier not to do any online shopping.  But I'm supposed to go back to visit tomorrow and there was talk of makeup...

Well it is a diet, right?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pajamas at Noon

So I'm sitting here in my pajamas at 11:00 in the morning trying to get up the energy to get showered and dressed so I can do errands that should have been done last week.  This morning, I woke up and got up several times, but kept finding myself back in bed.

Usually, when this problem arises, it's because of depression.  And I won't say that there's not a whole lot of that going on right now.  Yesterday was just not a good day and it was a day that followed a whole bunch of Not. Good. Days.  Boy, 2011 has been a banner year!  We were waiting to find out how bad my best friend's cancer that just came back is going to be.  The poor puppy had surgery to turn him into a female version of himself and he was desperately unhappy when he got home.  Poor puppy.  (And he peed all over himself and the car.  He still stinks, but how do you give a post-surgery puppy a bath?)  The grade reports were out, per every Tuesday, and there were still missing assignments for both kids.  I'm not exactly sure what else I can do to punish them except actually beat them and I really don't want to go to jail over something as stupid as bad grades.  And...I knew that today was the day my mom was going to find out what the chemo specialist recommended for her treatment and I really would like it if he says, "Oh, by the way, you really don't need any chemo.  Amputating your leg was good enough for me."  But we're waiting to see.

Did I mention they found a growth in the puppy's mouth yesterday?  No.  I didn't.  The vet thinks he's way too young for oral cancer (there's that lovely word again - could someone please remove the word cancer from the dictionary???), but it's something to keep an eye on.  This poor dog, the product of brother and sister and a back yard breeder just can't catch a break.  He's already being tranquilized at night so he can settle down enough to sleep (yes, I really am doing this) and is on prozac to smooth out his neuroses (yes, again, I am doing this because I don't want him to go to the shelter.  I love him, even if he is a total nutbag.)

So anyway, back to me, me, me...isn't it always about me?  My books are ready to go out, except I missed a typo when I had them printed up at the copy place and need to go back into town to get that page redone for the three manuscripts going to real publishers.  And I called in prescriptions four days ago for refill and if I don't go to the store today, I'm going to be out of one of them.  Why can't I get off my butt?

Well, it's kind of embarrassing, but it's not that I can't get going because of depression.  If it were just depression, I'd pick up that black cloud with the chain attached (has anyone seen that commercial?  If the treatment is so effective, why is the cloud still following her around at the end?) and just get going.  I'm used to it.  No, something else has yet again hit my body like a steam roller, making it almost impossible to even get dressed.

The pajamas are not only comfortable.  They're one of two pairs of pants that don't make me want to cry right now.  (The others - also pajama bottoms.)  Okay, I know I've written about this before and I'm sure you're sick of me whining about it.  But here's the story.

My urologist, after giving me a prescription for a drug that I generally associate with women over the age of 60 living in retirement communities, sent me to a "personal physical therapist."  At the time, I thought what the hell?  Maybe she can figure out why my pants won't fasten and make me want to strangle the person who invented the zipper.  So I went, thinking I was going to get a lesson in kegel exercises and be sent on my way.  Okay, yes, I got a lesson in kegel exercises (hahaha), but she also figured something else out in about 30 seconds.  I have a condition called pelvic congestion syndrome.  I have Every. Single. Symptom.  And I've had every single symptom since after my last kid was born.  It's just that it's been getting worse in the last 18 months or so.

So, all this pain and swelling that I thought were being caused by my defunct uterus, fibroids, and ovarian cysts (men, you are permitted to leave the room now) is actually due to veins that are blocked and blood that is not flowing back to my heart.  It's pooling in my pelvis on a daily basis!  Ack!  There is really a name for this problem.  And it's the reason I need muumuus.  Sheesh.  Maybe I should go to the gynecologist who blew off my pain after performing the surgery and ask him for my uterus and ovaries back.  Oh, and then he blew off the physical therapist by saying I couldn't possibly be suffering from any pain because he did the hysterectomy.  Through his nurse.  (Incidentally, he is off my Christmas card list.)

Not only is there a name for this condition, there's a treatment!  You know how they can put in stents when you've suffered a heart attack to open up the veins and keep them open?  Well, um, guess what they're going to do to my poor pelvis?  I'm right now waiting on a call from UVA to schedule a consultation with none other than an interventional radiologist (have you ever heard of such a thing?) who specializes in pelvic congestion syndrome.  These people actually exist and sympathize with my specific problem.  I just hope they can sympathize soon.  I'm very tired of feeling like a watermelon is going to fall out of my, um, shirt every time I stand up and not being able to wear, well, you know, clothes.

So, there you go.  Dress manufacturers, there are 30% of women with more than one child who suffer from this condition.  It's a demographic of which I am sure you were previously unaware.  Take heed.  Some really nice dresses that don't fasten at the waist might be the ticket to profitability.  I'm putting the word out right now that Vermont Country Store actually sells some online.  Not cheap, but hey.  I'm game for anything that I can wear out of the house without embarrassment right now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What Cancer Cannot Do

This is what I say to cancer today:

Cancer is so limited...
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
Author:  Unknown
I have been devastated by cancer yet again, as I found out today that my best friend's breast cancer has returned and spread.
There just are not words for how much I hate this disease with every fiber of my being, with every cell of my body, with every thought I think, with all of my heart, will, and need to fight.  I will make it my mission in life to see this disease eradicated from our planet before it eradicates us.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back on the Spending Diet

I wasn't exactly keeping track in February, after I started this whole spending diet thing.  I would like to know how much I saved by not doing things and there was one week when I counted and found that I hadn't spent about $96.  I felt like I didn't do so well the last half of the month, although, looking back through the check register, I don't see a whole lot of places that I spent money that I shouldn't have.  Certainly, the vet visit (at $156) was necessary to diagnose Max's tooth abscess and get him some antibiotics.  Just as necessary was the $152 for getting the dog neutered.  I mean, he is almost nine months already.

Today started a new month for the spending diet.  I kind of blew it by going to Petco instead of Tractor Supply for my pet food.  I was hunting for a device that would allow me to shove the pills Max needs down his throat (did you know that they actually make those?) and I knew that Tractor Supply would not have it.  I was at Petco already and we needed dog and cat food.  They didn't have the pill dispenser, but I did end up spending a whopping $104.95 on dog food, cat food, rawhide chews for Jack, and pill pockets for Max.  I don't know what I would have saved if I had gone to Tractor Supply - maybe a few dollars.  Was it worth it to me to drive over there (just across the street) to save a few dollars?  Today it wasn't.  I came home and rammed the pill down the cat's throat out of frustration and he actually took it without complaining and even purred at me while I held him down and forced him to swallow.  Mission accomplished.  Next time, I'm going to Tractor Supply for the food.

Then I wandered downtown to the library, since my books were due tomorrow, and wound up with seven new novels to read over the next three weeks (six if I renew online).  Thinking I had really done myself a service with my library trip, I gleefully added up how much the books would have cost if I had downloaded them to my kindle.  $67.15!!!!  That's over $67 in reading material that didn't cost me a cent.  I don't know if I would have really bought all those books because some of them I didn't even know existed.  But I've got reading material out the wazoo for the next few weeks, between the books my mom has given me lately and my library visit.  Yay me!

On the way home, I had to go by CVS to pick up a prescription.  I have to tell you that we spend over $100 a month on prescription drugs - it's very expensive to get older.  In fact, I would guess the amount we spend is probably closer to $150, but between the two pharmacies I use and the mail order one that Justin uses, it's kind of hard to keep track.  My latest prescription has a whopping copay of $40 a month.  Not a small amount of money for a drug I have to have.  But...the doctor gave me samples and with those samples had come a discount card.  Which I activated.  Which saved me $25 off of my copay today and took the cost of the prescription down to $15.

So on my trip out today, yes, I spent money.  I had to buy pet food and there was no way around it.  And of course, as I've said before, my pets just have to have that expensive pet food brand food.  They must have learned their spending habits from me.  But I also managed to pick up $67 worth of books for free and get $25 off of my copay for my prescription. 

Oh, I almost forgot.  When I got home, I bit the bullet and called the Petco survey number and took their %#@#$*ng survey.  And now I have a $2 off coupon for the next time I need food or whatever.  I can do that every time I go, which may actually negate the trip to Tractor Supply.  Hmmm...something to think about.  I think I only saved about $2 when I went there before, so by taking the survey, maybe I can stick with my more favored pet store.

Do you see how I'm getting bogged down in details lately?  It's the details of every day spending that we don't think about.  The Starbucks for $4 or the McDonald's for $4 or whatever...if you go out every day, you're very likely to spend money.  Being a recluse does have its advantages if you can stay away from the online shopping.  Which I am also proud to say I have done since starting the spending diet.  In fact, I almost cut up my Old Navy card yesterday, but couldn't quite bring myself to do it.

Today, in the mail, I got a letter from my major credit card company saying they have raised my credit limit.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I don't want it and am going to make sure I don't need it.  We'll see how it goes.

Total savings on today's trip out:  $92