Neighborly

There is something to be said about living in an unpopular neighborhood.  While the rest of the city is arguing over the mayor’s controversial decision to remove all parking placeholders that people use during snowy weather* during regular trash pickups, this week my trash man greeted me with a smile and warned me to be careful of the icy patches.  He ignored my space saver and all the others on my street.

Last month, during one of the snowstorms, my neighbor Sal (who, no matter what the weather, enthusiastically proclaims that it is beautiful out and would be a perfect day for me to run) dug a trench around my car with his snow blower, saving me an hour or more of shoveling.  A week ago, when another neighbor who I don’t know thought I had forgotten to put my orange cone in my parking spot to save it, he ran down the street to replace it so no one would park in my spot.  Then he apologized for doing it when I returned a few minutes later, mystified about the reappearance of the cone.  On Monday, I woke up extra early knowing I would have to clean 3 or so inches of snow off my car, but ended up running late getting out the door after a spilled coffee incident.  When I walked outside, I found my car cleared of all snow, with the windshield wipers up so they wouldn’t freeze.

In a city this big and cold, it’s sometimes easy to forget that you have neighbors at all.  You never run into anyone you know, and you spend a lot of time wandering around by yourself.  Sometimes you default to yelling in your car at people driving like idiots, or to getting cranky when the grocery store is too crowded.  Sometimes all it takes is over 100 inches of snow to remind you that after all the whining about long commutes and lack of parking and being stuck indoors, your neighbors will be there with a friendly smile and a helping hand, and Mr. Rogers will be benevolently smiling down on them.

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*If you’re not familiar with this practice, city laws say that you can claim a parking spot that you shoveled out for 48 hours after a snow storm.  People will use anything and everything to claim their spots, running the gamut from construction cones to milk crates to television sets.  This year, the mayor proclaimed after the first blizzard that residents could hold onto their spots indefinitely, until he decided when it was appropriate to ban the space savers.

Canada

Many moons ago, back in November, Greg and I went on a week-long trip to Montreal and Quebec City.  It was the first real vacation we’ve taken together, and the first time we’d had consecutive days off together in a year and a half.  Life had been getting stressful, we felt like there was no time to get anything done (much less do anything fun), and I was still limping around from my running injury.  The weather was getting colder and I was worried about getting lost, not speaking French, and coordinating plans with Murray’s dog-sitters.  Suddenly Canada seemed like a ridiculous place to want to go.  Turns out it was just the break we needed.  The weather cooperated, with sunshine nearly every day, and even when temperatures fell below 20 degrees, everything felt magical.  We slept in every day (til 8:30!), drank delicious beer, ate tons of poutine and maple syrup, and did a ridiculous amount of walking.

The vacation started with a night spent at Daphne’s brother’s house in York, Maine, and cruising around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the next morning to cheer her on at the half marathon.  Then it was off to Montreal!  We arrived in the city after an hour of idling in line at customs, where the puffy-faced customs officer took his job too seriously and peppered us with snippy questions.  (“Are you going to be doing work of any kind while in Canada?  No?  I’m gonna ask you again, are you doing work of any kind here?  What’s in your trunk?  You have all this luggage in your backseat, what do you have in your trunk?”)

We had decided to try out Airbnb for places to stay and had reserved a room in an apartment close to downtown, with our host Alessandro.  (A quick plug for Aibnb:  it is the best.  It’s cheap and you get to meet lovely people and stay in an actual house.)  When we arrived, Alessandro immediately offered us a beer and a map and sat us down at his kitchen table to chat.  He is from a small town in Italy, lived a few years in Paris, and is working on his doctorate in computer science.  Throughout the week, he talked with us about music, food, and politics and told us all the good places to go.  One morning, we woke up to croissants for us in the kitchen.  On our last night there, Greg and I were cooking dinner right as Alessandro got home from work.  We insisted that he join us, and he eventually agreed.  Afterward, he said, “I’m going to run and get us some ice cream!” and came back with a pint of gelato.  We each got a spoon and sat around eating it straight out of the carton.  Basically, Alessandro was one of the best parts of Montreal.  Here’s the rest of Montreal, in pictures:

After five days of city activities, we were ready for a more rustic experience in Quebec City.  Let me just note that there is a lot to be said for vacationing in the off-season.  It was obvious that Quebec City was the kind of place that is jam-packed with tourists during the summer and in January (for their annual winter festival), but it was quiet and peaceful when we arrived.  Our host this time was Guillaume, and although he was not as present or chatty as Alessandro, he was very nice and had a beautiful apartment.  Guillaume is a wood-worker and had clearly made almost every piece of furniture in his apartment, adding to the overall quaint feel Quebec gave off.

While Montreal was grungy and hip, QC was old-fashioned and charming.  It is a hilly city built on multiple levels, so if we were walking around on an upper level, we were able to see views of the city below us.  It’s also located near the mountains and the St. Lawrence river, so beautiful vistas surrounded us.  In QC, we mainly did a lot of walking, browsing in stores, and eating traditional Quebecois meals.  We also toured the historic Citadelle, an active fort that was built in the 17th century.  On our last day there (and the coldest yet), we went hiking in Jacques-Cartier National Park, and were rewarded with views of mountains and lakes, with hardly any other people in sight.

Born to Run

Last week I injured my back…big time.  I’m not really sure what happened, except that one day I was fine, the next day I woke up and it hurt a little, and the next day I could barely walk.  Apparently it has to do with my sacroiliac joint being hypo-mobile…or something.  I hobbled into work in tears and immediately made an appointment to see a chiropractor, who then put me on a program for fixing it.  Now I can walk, sort of, but can’t do much else.  It’s turned into quite a challenge working with children who enjoy throwing themselves floppy noodle-style on the floor.  My main concern, though, is getting healthy in time for my half marathon a week from Sunday, and our subsequent vacation to Montreal and Quebec City.  It’s not looking too good on the racing front, though.

Looking back at the months I’ve been training, I thought of how many times I woke up in the morning and thought, “I don’t feel like running today.  I’m just not into it.”  I usually forced myself to go anyway, but sometimes I’d let myself drift back to sleep.  Of course, now that I can’t run, it’s the only thing I can think about.  It’s been 5 days since my last run, and over that period of time I was scheduled to cover 33 miles.  That’s 33 miles of catching up on my favorite podcasts and audiobooks, 33 miles of people-watching commuters and park-goers, 33 miles of Murray being so elated he’s running with me that he grabs the leash in his mouth and yanks it around mid-run.  That’s 5 days of being so happy that I decided to lace up my shoes, even though it was dark and early and I was tired.  That’s 5 special post-run pumpkin pie flavored oatmeal and quinoa bowls (which, frankly, might have been my biggest motivation to run to begin with).  I wish I could go back to all the times I thought I wasn’t into running that day and remind myself why I wanted to become a runner.  It’s my Garmin watch exclaiming “New Record!” afterward, the feeling that I accomplished something before many people got out of bed that morning, that I’ll stay productive throughout the day, and the feeling of camaraderie with other runners and walkers that I pass.

The feeling of camaraderie will stay regardless of whether I’m able to race, of course.  It’s Daphne’s first big race and if I can’t run, I’ll be on the side of the road cheering her on.  And while I might shed a few tears wishing I wasn’t sitting on the sidelines, I’ll also remind myself to be thankful.  I’m thankful that I’ll still be able to run again; for my friends in the medical field who took time out of their day to advise and care for me; for everyone who listened to me whine about what is, in the end, a minor setback; for the chance to gain perspective as a spectator and giver of encouragement.  This is neither the last nor the most important race, and right now is just my time to play a different role.

New England Summer

This might be the first time in my life I’ve been dreading fall. Last winter was a doozy, and is not (and probably never will be) enough of a distant memory for me. Plus, besides this weekend, the summer here has been almost autumnal, warm and sunny but with a cool breeze and even chillier evenings. Without the prospect of a mid-March Florida vacation, the months ahead are already seeming gloomy. Luckily I have things to look forward to this fall and winter as well: a trip home and to Indiana for a wedding next weekend, half marathon training, a Thanksgiving feast with our ex-roommates, and hopefully many trips around the northeastern U.S. and Canada. I’ve also got many wonderful summer memories to tide me over while I drift into the snowy abyss. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Call to Action

Hey all! As you may have seen on my Facebook, there have been some really devastating changes made by Medicaid and Medicare to policies regarding communication devices for those who are unable to verbally speak. These changes are upsetting not only if you are an SLP, but also if you are a decent human being, concerned citizen, and/or frugal taxpayer. See the photo below for the short explanation:

SGD

Everyone has been dumping ice water on their heads left and right, and while that has done some great things to raise awareness and encourage/pressure others into donating money, there is a really pressing issue at hand that you can devote your time and energy to.  I promise it will take no longer than videotaping your ice bucket challenge.  I’ve drafted a letter to my representative and Senators and will be emailing them tonight.  I have read different information on when these elected officials must receive the request by – it is either Monday, August 25, or Wednesday, August 27.  It may even be later than that, as CMS changed its deadline for the changes from September 1 to December 1.  So, regardless of when you read this, please please please contact your representative and Senators!  Below, you will find my letter.  I have put a strikethrough on the areas that you may want to omit or change, depending on your job or relationship to this issue.  Other than that, the core information is all in there.  Let’s celebrate the fact that we live in a democratic society and are able to talk to our public servants about our concerns!  And if you know anyone who might be interested in sending this letter (i.e., anyone who has a soul), please pass it along!

Here are the links you need to find your elected officials:  Representatives and Senators.  Simply copy and paste the below letter, edit out or change the information that has been crossed out, and hit send.  Easier than an ice bucket challenge and you don’t even have to leave your couch to do it!


Dear Mr./Ms _______,

I am writing to you as a speech-language pathologist and concerned citizen about upcoming changes to policies regarding funding of speech generating devices.  As you may know, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently came out with upsetting policy changes have significantly limited a Medicare beneficiary’s access to speech generating devices (SGDs) and SGD accessories.

Speech-generating devices, also known as voice output communication aids, are electronic augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems used to supplement or replace speech or writing for individuals with severe communication impairments, enabling them to verbally communicate their needs. Only speech-language pathologists may recommend SGD devices for Medicare beneficiaries based upon a formal evaluation.  People who benefit from SGDs include individuals who have autism, ALS, genetic disorders, stroke, and many other diagnoses.  CMS has delayed implementation of the coverage determination until December 1, but Medicare and Medicaid may no longer cover the cost of many SGDs after this date.  The changes can be broken down into two basic components:

Audible Speech Limitations

One change that will be enacted after December 1 is the elimination of devices that do nothing but produce audible speech.  This means that if an individual has capabilities on his or her device such as access to the internet, this device will no longer be covered by Medicare/Medicaid.  Access to the internet via an SGD is important for several reasons.  First, it is how most SGDs are now manufactured; the device uses a platform such as Android or iOS and has many features (e.g., touch screen) already “baked in” to the device.  The SGD software is updated over the internet, much like a smart phone is.  With the new changes, SGD manufacturers would have to completely change the software, hardware, and functions of their products, meaning that the changes will do nothing to ensure that SGDs are less expensive for taxpayers.

The other reason this change matters is that much of our communication is now done online or over the phone.  If an SGD user holds a job at which communicating via email or phone is essential, and devices that allow him or her to do this are no longer funded, he or she will no longer be able to function on the job.  Under these new rules, any device that is capable of doing anything other than producing audible speech is no longer allowed.  Even if that other functionality is disabled or hidden, the device will not be funded.  The SGD user will not even be allowed to purchase these capabilities with his or her own money.  With these changes, SGD users would have to trade in their current devices for a brand new device that is dumbed-down and, incredibly, more expensive to build.  This is both a quality of life issue for SGD users, as well as a financial issue for taxpayers and SGD manufacturers.

Removal of SGDs from Users

Another change that will go into effect on December 1 is removal of SGDs from patients when they are admitted to hospitals, nursing facilities, and hospice care…just when they need their voice the most.  The argument for this change is that, like walkers and feeding pumps, SGDs are Durable Medical Equipment and should be provided by the facility.  However, unlike walkers and other durable medical equipment, SGDs have been specifically programmed to fit the individual’s needs.  This individual and his or her speech-language pathologist, family, and others involved in his or her care have configured and modified the device so that the individual can best communicate his or her wants, needs, opinions, and questions.  The SGD user has been taught, over the course of many hours and with much trial and error, to use this specific device to communicate with others, and it is unique to his or her needs and preferences.  To place a different, non-specific SGD in the individual’s hands at a time when it is crucial that he or she be able to communicate basic needs and wants is simply cruel.

As a speech-language pathologist, this news alarmed me.  I cannot even begin to imagine what would happen if one of my patients or loved ones were admitted to the hospital and essentially had their voice stripped away.  How would they communicate their basic needs and levels of pain, ask important questions to their doctor, or visit with their family members? This issue not only affects SGD users who are currently funded by Medicaid/Medicare – it has the potential to affect each and every one of us. 

Therefore, I am requesting that, as my elected official, you sign on to a bicameral letter addressed to CMS as prepared by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers that would request an explanation for recent policy changes that have significantly limited a Medicare beneficiary’s access to SGDs and SGD accessories.  The letter is titled “Ensure ALS Patients Retain Access to Critical Communication Tools; Join letter to CMS urging clarification of recent Speech Generating Device policies.”

Despite multiple meetings with CMS and contractor staff, as well as nearly 200 comments opposing the new regulations, there have been no changes in CMS policy.  Members of the House and Senate are writing to CMS to ask for their rationale on these issues.  I ask that you contact Nick Magallanes at nick.magallanes@mail.house.gov or (202) 225-5107 in Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office to sign on to this bicameral letter.

Thank you for your support, and thank you in advance for helping to give a voice to those who need it the most!

Sincerely,

________________

 

 

Tidbits

It’s 8:45 and Greg has now been on an island with his coworkers for approximately 12 hours.  The excursion was described as some sort of team-building event, but I haven’t heard from him since 4 pm, when he told me he had no idea what time they were leaving the island.  In my head, what’s taking place looks something like this:

And for all I know, he’s floating in a lake wearing a sumo wrestling suit, Andy Bernard style. At least he probably got a lot of free beer?

We are thisclose to having a roommate, and I either helped or hindered our efforts when I called the management company and sassed them for not approving her application yet, even though we have FIVE DAYS until our new lease starts. Of course the phone went straight to voice mail and they haven’t returned the call yet. In conclusion: if you work for a management company, you might as well have sold your soul to the devil.

Daphne and I are running a half marathon in November (brr!). It’s in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the route travels around the coast and through some old neighborhoods. By that time, it’ll have been two years since my last half marathon, which was an absolute failure. Although I usually set a time goal, I’m just going to make my goal involve not having flashbacks to the last race, during which I got lost in the woods, cried, and finished dead last after nearly 5 hours.

Greg didn’t get Memorial Day off, but he did get a floating holiday, and then was told he had only a few weeks’ gap during which to take it. So we rushed to figure out something to do. We’ve been missing the mountains a lot lately, so we headed to Stowe, Vermont, where we stayed in a cabin instead of a motel, like real adults. We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant called Prohibition Pig. I must confess, you guys, there were vegetarian items on the menu, but we split a meat dish. Partly because all the veggie items revolved around falafel, which I had literally just eaten for my last two meals, and partly because the meat smelled SO GOOD. And also because they source their meats from local, sustainable and humane farms. I Googled the farm before ordering, just to make myself feel better, and only feeling a tiny bit lot like I was the star of a Portlandia episode:

But when I looked up the farm (Vermont Family Farm), I found a quote from the farmer saying “happy pigs are healthy pigs” and this picture. Would you just look at that pig!

SO HAPPY.

SO HAPPY.

So we had to order the BBQ pulled pork. And the hush puppies. And the fried pimiento cheese balls. And the salad. And the blackened green beans. And the macaroni salad. Don’t judge, we didn’t eat ALL of it. We had at least three hush puppies left.

The next day, we drove about an hour to Camel’s Hump State Park for our hike. It was listed as strenuous, and it lived up to its name! It was mostly uphill for about 2.5 miles to the peak, but it was worth it. The weather gods were kind to us and the view from the top was incredible. Murray spent the majority of the hike off-leash, and I was so proud of him! The last time I attempted that during a hike, he chased after a deer and disappeared for an excruciating 20 minutes. This time, he had the time of his life frolicking around in the woods but always stopping to wait for us when he ran too far ahead. That’s my boy!

I was going to post pictures of the hike, but it’s getting late and I have a date with my running buddies bright and early, so that will have to wait for another day. On our plate this weekend is copious amounts of cleaning and moving upstairs, followed by mojitos on the back porch. After a year of dust, grime, snow salt, and dog hair, I’m ready for a clean slate!

Gracie Gold’s Untalented Jealous Sister

Like any red-blooded American, I love watching the Olympics.  When I was younger, my sports were figure skating and bobsled.  I had an undying love for the glittery costumes and perfect hair of the figure skaters, and I always rooted for the Jamaican bobsledders (duh).  As I’ve gotten older and realized that I have neither the talent nor the passion to actually be in the Olympics, my interest has gone from dreams of gold medals to something more akin to jealousy.  I forget about the Olympics until they are about to take place, and then my life is consumed by envy of all the athletes competing.  Every time I tune in to Sochi, I think, “What have I done with my life that in 25 years, I have not once competed in the most prestigious world athletic event ever invented?”  And then I remember what I have working against me, namely:  indifference, paralyzing fear of head injury, incoordination, and the inability to get back on the horse, so to speak.

Today, it was the latter two that reminded me of my failure.  After a day of rain and overnight temperatures that dipped into the teens, everything was covered in a thick sheet of ice.  Undeterred, Murray and I bravely ventured out for our morning run.  (We were not actually undeterred.  We had mainly just forgotten about the ice situation.)  But by the time we made it to the Arboretum, the ice seemed textured enough to make for a good run.  Halfway through, we passed an older gentleman using a cane, gliding down the path in his orthopedic shoes.  I immediately grimaced and remembered all the old people I had treated at the rehab center who had obtained severe head injuries just by tripping over a flowerpot or something.  “Watch yourself,” he said to me with a small wave.  “The whole place is an ice rink!”

“Ha ha ha,” I thought, “you’re the one who needs to watch it, ol’ fella!”  Two minutes later, Murray and I rounded a bend, I overstepped, and down we went.  You know how Olympians who fall immediately pop right back up and flawlessly finish their routine?  Imagine the opposite of that and you will have an idea of what I did.  I whimpered and hobbled around and tried really hard not to cry, but then I did cry, and I kept crying as I limped down the path for a good 5 minutes before running again.  And then when I got home, I looked at the mirror in horror when I saw blood – blood! – on my leg, and mourned the fact that it had gotten all over my freshly-laundered running tights.  And then I got in the shower and danced around when the water hit my leg, and then I got out of the shower and pouted when I saw the big goose-egg that was forming.  And then I thought about it all day as I crawled around on the floor with my kids because you guys, crawling hurts and walking hurts and sitting down hurts and this is just the worst sports injury ever!  I don’t know when I’ll be able to run again, but I’m crossing my fingers for a quick recovery.  In the meantime, you can find me drinking wine and watching Olympians slip and fall and smash into various things and just keep on going.

To recap:

Old men:

Olympians:

American Figure Skater Jeremy Abbott Falls Badly, Gets Up, Kicks Ass

American Figure Skater Jeremy Abbott Falls Badly, Gets Up, Kicks Ass

Me:

Puppy catch fail

Groundhog Round 3

(Even More) Thoughts and Emotions that I Reserve Specifically for January and February

(Because two posts just aren’t enough.)

When I have the choice to trek through the cold to a bar or stay in:

135 "30 Rock GIFs"...Just Because

When I mumble insults to winter in public like a crazy person:

When I pile 4 blankets and a live dog on top of me to stay warm:

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When my fingertips are blue even though I’m inside my house and wearing my winter coat:

Life As A Struggling Twentysomething As Told Through "Arrested Development" GIFs

When there’s a pissing contest going on about how cold it is:

135 "30 Rock GIFs"...Just Because

When it’s so cold during my run that frost forms on my face, and I make the mistake of scraping it off:

When I realize I’ll be in Florida for spring training in less than a month:

100 "Parks And Recreation" GIFs To Celebrate The Show's 100th Episode

Excited baby car waving arms

the office andy bernard dancing in an elevator gif

100 "Parks And Recreation" GIFs To Celebrate The Show's 100th Episode

Groundhog Round 2

(More) Thoughts and Emotions that I Reserve Specifically for January and February

When I go out and see girls with short skirts and no coat:

What the Hell is Wrong With You People

When people ask why Greg and I moved farther north if I hate the cold so much:

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When I hit a pothole the size of Texas and my tire blows out the next day:

When I have to drag my recycling container to the street every morning to make sure no one steals the parking spot I so carefully carved out for myself:

100 "Parks And Recreation" GIFs To Celebrate The Show's 100th Episode

When I try to get out of bed in the morning:

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When it snows unexpectedly while I’m at work, and I’m wearing dress shoes with no socks:

When I get dressed to go outside:

When the cold serves as a reason to store up extra fat:

cookie monster hallelujah gif

Groundhog, You’re Dead to Me

I think everyone in the country is pretty much tired of winter already.  Except for those in California.  Sorry ’bout your drought but I DON’T CARE THAT YOU’RE HOT.  One of my New Years resolutions, if you recall, was to not talk about how cold I am all the time.  I can assure you that I’ve failed miserably.  Not only have I complained about the temperature, I’ve literally stomped my feet and cried about it.  (I’m not proud of that but I felt I needed to get it out there.)  Apologies to my friends in colder places (I’m looking at you, Iowa and Maine), but I just needed to complain once more.  I figured the least whiny and most unoffensive way to do that was through GIFs.  Please to enjoy.

Thoughts and Emotions that I Reserve Specifically for January and February

When my shower gets progressively colder because my roommate is also taking one, and I finally get out and step on the tile floor:

When I miss the bus by one minute and have to wait 10 minutes for the next one:

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When I check the weather every morning:

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When I try to navigate half-shoveled sidewalks:

This Little Girl's First Time Walking On Ice Ends Adorably

When Murray drags me through a foot of snow for five minutes so he can find the optimal pooping spot:

The 21 Most Disgusted Celebrity GIFs

When the maintenance workers finally come to seal up my drafty house:

33 Totally Relatable GIFs For Everyone Who's Ever Ended Up In Witness Protection As A Nun