Today’s random review: 2023 Nissan Altima

I had a loaner car from Kelly Nissan so The Teenager could drive my Jetta SE 1.8tsi while her 2012 Nissan Rogue was getting some serious repairs. She’d not older enough to drive the loaner.

I was very excited to hear I was getting an Altima.

When our 2000 Saturn SL2 blew a head gasket (that my father insisted I have repaired and he later sold the car so my husband and I made a healthy profit), my husband and I found ourselves on the Young’s Volkswagen lot looking at used cars around the Fourth of July weekend. I want to say it was 2012.

I spotted her immediately. Shiny dark red with a sunroof. 2005 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE. Beige leather interior. Sunroof. Low mileage. Maybe 22,000. I want to say every car I ever bought was around $15,000, even my 2015 Jetta was no exception.

My Altima was basically the Altima with all the features of a Maxima. My daughter named her “Beauty” the moment they met. Which was a better name than the poor Saturn. The teen, as a preschooler, had named the Saturn “Herbie.”

At first I hated the new Altima. Too many buttons, lights and features that I couldn’t decipher because the user’s manual was still sealed from the factory. It also didn’t have the power of my previous Altima or my current Jetta turbo.

But it was smooth and quiet, and had unobtrusive but very noticeable blind spot alert lights. A backup camera with resolution higher than some televisions and a rear sensor that did not trust my skills to parallel park. On the highway, I discovered she may not be a racecar, but she was steady and slick and handled easily. Her “naught to zero,” as my British car expert Mike Brewer likes to say on his Wheeler Dealers programmes that I watch on Motor Trend streaming, might be nine seconds but once she gets there she keeps going. Her price starts at $25,000 the internet tells me.

The internet also told me that my 2015 turbo-charged Jetta also takes nine seconds 0-60. I didn’t think to challenge the teen to a race.

But by the time I returned her to the dealership, I had grown comfortable in her spaceship-feeling cockpit, thinking maybe I should be shooting aliens out of the sky. She was a comfortable car, in a cozy way, making me feel relaxed as I drove (until I accidentally engaged some driving assistance that made random lights that looked like colliding cars light up and I screamed while driving down country back roads in the dark, “What are you trying to tell me? Did someone hit you?”).

She felt way smaller than my previous Altima and averaged 30 miles per gallon on my day of use. She also handled tighter than my Jetta, which I believe is because the Altima has all wheel drive now.

It makes me want to drive the 2023 Nissan Z, which, as you may guess, Mr. Brewer would call the “Zed.” Car and Driver didn’t seem impressed with the latest sports car from Nissan, which makes me sad.

Meanwhile, we see what the Jetta feels like tomorrow.

Computer chaos, extracting a chicken neck, medical and service dog updates and a 2023 Nissan Altima

Fosters kitten Jennifer Grey and tripod Louise woke me up at 2 a.m. to play “let’s compete for attention.” Now I love these two cats, and even in the middle of the night I don’t mind giving some half-asleep snuggles. But this went on for at least a half an hour as they each crept closer to me, until Louise was in a ball in my armpit and Jennifer was on my chest.

The Teenager needed to take her car to Kelly Nissan for major repairs. So she drove me to work and kept my car and Southern Candy agreed to bring me home, meet the menagerie and have dinner with us. I’d been looking forward to it. I even bought a chicken. A cute little organic chicken that was the size of a Cornish hen but a chicken nonetheless.

Work was work… I was actually doing okay and hitting my numbers. I took a Baclofen at 6 a.m. and that seemed to loosen everything. The other people stationed around me made me feel a little out-of-place, but that’s fine, especially since one of the people on my roster was delivering work and I got a refix cart. Which is the work that is easier for me to do. And most of my carts were medium, not 1X or 2X like usual. And then around 9 a.m. it started.

The internet started going down. And it looked pretty random. A station beside me. Two stations in front of me. But not me. Half a row over there. So they started having half the people fold and box and those with a working computer scan– except even then I only got about 5 boxes and still had to QC out of the cart.

At ten a.m., the powers that be at work called Voluntary Time Off. I said I would stay, as I felt good and Southern Candy usually tries not to take VTO, but her computer was down and in her department, things weren’t moving as smoothly as ours were so they were destined to run out of work. We left around 10:30, which would at least solve one problem: I would be home when Kelly Nissan called with the Teenager’s car and I would have more flexibility to get her to the dealership.

Southern Candy meets everyone. The elusive Louise makes an appearance. Foster Khloe, our Bean dog and the crazy Goffins cockatoo Nala immediately love her and the Teenager demonstrates probably a full 30 minutes of Bean dog’s tricks.

Kelly Nissan calls. The teenager’s Rogue will need another day in the Service Department. They offer her a loaner. She asks if she can drive a loaner at her age, figuring the policies are similar to rental cars. They assure her that she only has to be 21, and she’s 21….

Um, she tells them, I’m 18.

Oh, they say.

I guess they’re not used to 18-year-olds dropping off cars for $2,000 in repairs.

Kelly Nissan gave me the loaner. Now any dealership worth its salt will lend you a car better than yours to entice you to buy. And one of my dream cars is a Nissan Z. They aren’t going to lend you a Z, but I used to have a Nissan Altima with all the bells and whistles and the big 3.5 liter engine. That’s the car to which I compared all the cars I test drove when I bought my Jetta turbo. I hoped they would lend me a 2022 Rogue, which would be the same car but a decade newer than what the Teenager brought it for repairs.

They brought me a 2023 Altima. I got a little tingle when I heard Altima, but to my disappointment (but meeting my expectation), it was the base model. It handled fine, drive smoothly, felt like I was in a fighter jet cockpit instead of a car. But it had no real power. No sunroof. No heated seats. And it was grey.

They had given me a perfectly boring car.

The back-up camera has better resolution than a lot of televisions, and the warning beeps for parallel parking are annoying.

Once I return home, Southern Candy and I start the chicken. It’s 3 p.m. and the chicken should take 45 minutes to roast. Unless it’s still frozen in the middle. The chicken still has its neck. Southern Candy points this out and I try to cut it but all it does is make her laugh. She tries. She’d not getting anywhere either.\

So we ask Chef Google.

Together we de-neck the chicken. Makes me miss my vegetarian days.

Chicken in the oven, my neurologist-physiatrist calls. She’s filling out my intermittent leave paperwork and wanted my input. I mentioned I have the outside firm’s analysis of my job, and that I planned to give them to her for the upcoming accommodations paperwork. She says she’d like to have those, so I run upstairs and scan them.

I also show them to Southern Candy as we are on the same roster at work and we all technically could be assigned to do any jobs in outbound.

We check the chicken, it needs more time.

The partnership specialist at Susquehanna Service Dogs calls. They have a last minute cancellation for an in-person interview on Wednesday. Can I make it? I ask Southern Candy and the Teenager: Do I want the slot? Work prefers 48 hours notice for requested time off. And this would require a half day as the agency is 90 minutes away. And I’m not sure I have paid time left.

“How bad do you want it?” Southern Candy asks.

“Badly,” I said.

I accept the interview and email my supervisor.

We check the chicken. It needs a little more time. It’s 4 p.m.

The teenager mentions Chinese food. Southern Candy makes a yummy noise. But she tells my daughter we have chicken right here.

“It’s fine,” I said. “We can have the chicken tomorrow. Or pick on it cold.”

We order $50 in Chinese food. We eat like kings.

Then, Southern Candy and I say our goodbyes and I head to the gym. Where Andrew puts me through a core workout. I gave it everything, as I always try to do, but those side planks were murder on a belly full of Chinese food.

I went to bed exhausted– and had to type this blog entry in the morning, which I rarely do.

WTF? (or ‘Another Cerebral Palsy aware day.’)

I woke up by my alarm at 4 a.m. yesterday, and for the first time in days, I thought I could actual get out of bed. My body has been heavy with fatigue and a steady post nasal drip. I suppose that might be from closing up the windows with a bird, a dog, and 11 cats in a house desperately in need of a vacuum.

But even so, I laid in bed until about 4:20 cuddling the FURR fosters in my bed: tripod Louise and kitten Jennifer Grey.

I drank two cups of coffee, one Supercoffee and one Dunkin Polar Peppermint.

I even wrote about 500 words on my next Fashion and Fiends novel that I have been struggling with for months.

I was stiff and my back was achy and yesterday I noticed some of that burning in my toe but I thought perhaps I could blame my shoes.

I saw the chiropractor the night prior, the amazing Nicole Jensen of Back in Line Chiropractic and Wellness Center. Nothing really seemed amiss and things were moving well.

Yesterday at the warehouse I performed 97%. So I thought… why not… let’s take one of my baclofen pills to see if looser muscles might mean less stiffness and aches. It was the first time I ever took one in the morning. I’ve taken them in the evening and slowly taken them earlier.

The pill helped. It felt like I could swing my legs again.

The medicine reminded me that I never heard back from the neurologist’s office about the appointment they needed to move and the paperwork I submitted. So I emailed. Now, the portal that allows patients to email medical staff has a strict character count. While in the newspaper business, I had a nickname: the word count goddess. This was in the pre-Twitter days when no one cared about character counts.

I composed a masterful email that addressed all my concerns succinctly, but maintained a polite air. I love this doctor and truly want to make her life as easy as possible.

I performed most of the day at 100%, by my employer’s numbers, which don’t account for our ten minute breaks. Their numbers suggest we do 16.25 units per hour, but don’t change during the hours we have break, which is twice a day. Their default calculation means the computer thinks one unit should take almost 3 minutes 40 seconds. So a ten minute break (and a small amount of time to move to and from a work station) reduces the potential productivity of that hour by about 3 units. So to compensate for that difference, if you wanted to keep every hour equal, the units per hour should be 17.

My first hour, I completed 18. My second hour I only completed 16. Then we had break, (and my neurologist had sent an encouraging email back by that point and her nurse had suggested a time for my next appointment) and I completed 5-6 in the twenty or so minutes before we had a department wide “power hour” in which I completed 19. So by the midpoint of my shift, and even when I clocked out for lunch, I was at exactly 100% with no accommodations for my disability. But by lunch, my ability to bend was decreasing.

I felt like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz when he begs Dorothy for oil.

I had a cheerful lunch with my friends, and went back to work, still maintaining the official numbers for 100%. Even by our last break at 1:30, I was still 100%. But I was stiff. And feeling sluggish. So for the first time ever, I took a second baclofen in a day. My doctor suggested up to 3 a day.

My toes were burning at this point, making me wonder if my pain from my two Morton’s neuromas had returned. OR if my toes were rubbing because I forgot my toe separator doo-dad. OR if my toes rubbing (because later I saw and felt the bony, protruding tender spot where it hurts) impacts my posture and triggers the neuroma(s).

If the issue continues, the neurologist wants me to call the podiatrist. I stopped by his office last week to drop off $11.32 in cash for my copay and his office was unexpectedly closed. In the old-fashioned manner, I slipped the envelope in the door.

I worked as hard as I could the remainder of the day, now trailing behind because of my ten-minute break and at 2:30 p.m., 30 minutes from quitting time, the support team brings me the “easy” work and tells me it’s a priority. I end the day one unit away from 100%. One unit.

And somewhere around 2 p.m., the neurologist had called and asked for $30 payment for the form fee for my FMLA paperwork. I apologized and said while I completely would pay the fee, I was at work and didn’t have my wallet on me and I would get back to them before the holiday. I called them at 3:10 p.m. from my car, and was added to a call back list, because the wait time was 40 minutes.

I hope including this much detail might show how difficult it is to pursue medical care and to pursue official accommodations in the workplace. Medical care itself is a labyrinth. Navigating your way to a provider who not only cares but has the knowledge to help, maintaining the patience and persistence to pay the fees and follow the paperwork, and taking responsibility for lifestyle changes that only you can make. I’m fortunate that I can do these things myself. What if my disability prevented that? Would I be treated the same way?

Just throwing that out there.

So now the happiest part of my day— hanging out with my blind friend, poet and essayist Nancy Scott.

She needed to go to the bank and she wanted to go to the Dollar Tree to check out the Christmas decorations. We had a great time roaming the aisles with me describing all the goodies. Nan fell in love with an elf.

I said to Nan, “my leg is not working.”

I meant it off-handedly but I checked my phone later. And sure enough— my walking asymmetry was way off. Normally I fall when the spike hits 10 percent. It was 50 percent.

Hopefully today will go smoother.

The joy I find in publishing

I have a love affair with the written word— few things bring me more pleasure. That’s why someday I hope my publishing company can become my full time job, because as much as I love to write, my altruistic side loves helping other writers achieve their goals.

Read more on the Parisian Phoenix site….

For a writer, the leap from “I write” to “I’m published” to “I have a new book” has an indescribable pleasure (and a bit of fear). And I used to …

The Joy of Authoring & The Death of Big Butch

The Highlight Reel of the Ides of November

It is 6:45 a.m. I went to bed around 11 p.m. last night, after a long conversation with an old friend whom I haven’t had a chance to truly connect with for years (and while we “caught up” last night as if no time had passed, it didn’t feel like the happy reconnection I thought it would), and the dog woke me up at 5 a.m.

At 6:15 a.m., after loading the dishwasher and starting laundry and trying to snuggle dog into a nap with me on the couch, I finally made coffee figuring sleep would not return.

Now, the dog is gently snoring on the other couch.

I definitely would prefer to be a cat versus a dog. The dog seems an anxious and needy creature, where the cat has an attitude and most of them act like they have their shit together.

I haven’t written much this week because my physical and emotional struggles have left me in a survival mode, and upcoming changes at work have me concerned for my long-term success at mastering my cerebral palsy and achieving work/life balance that includes leading Parisian Phoenix Publishing.

And I’m okay with these struggles, they mean I’m human and I’m alive. And I guess I want other people to know that in an age where we “social media” ourselves to death and we’re exposed to worldwide turmoil and glamour, that I’m here with you in the trenches, surviving.

So, Wednesday turned out to be a hard day. We received the official word that starting some time in December, our performance metrics will be judged daily instead of by their weekly average. And that we can miss the daily minimum two days a month. I had already turned up to work crying because of stress in my everyday life. (Which only my friend in the parking lot saw. Speaking of my friend in the parking lot… she needs a nickname as she will play a larger roll in this blog post and hopefully appear more. I think I shall call her Southern Candy, because her roots are in the Southern United States and she likes to pass out hard candy.)

Now, after my neurologist/physiatrist appointment on November 9, (see Is it Time for Botox), I filed for Intermittent Leave from work which would allow me job protection if my work missed increases due to complications from my disability or more doctor’s appointments. I now have a lot of doctor’s appointments. With recent changes at work, I seem to have triggered a couple neuromas in my right foot, which my podiatrist shot with cortisone (See The Stabby Toe and the Challenging Gait), and unbeknownst to me, as I had never had cortisone to me, this transformed my good leg into a second bad leg.

It absolutely removed all my pain, but — and this is probably why my podiatrist asked when I planned on returning to work and seemed satisfied that “tomorrow” would give me adequate time to recover– it made it impossible to control and rely on my right leg as I typically do. BUT I can also say it made me acutely aware of how I use my legs and unfairly make my right leg carry more than its share of the movement burden which is why my right hip has issues.

My left leg “scissors” causing my left knee to pretty much cross in front of my right leg when I walk (and yes, that is as awkward as it sounds) but now my right foot drags, causing my toes to curl under my foot. I have compensated for this change in walking pattern by buying cowboy boots. Not real ones, but ones we sell at work: the Kassy boot by DV by Dolce Vita. (Unboxing on YouTube here.) They allow me to hear my walk, feel my foot, and not step on my toes.

At our weekly meeting, our supervisors announce the metric change. I understand their logic. They plan workloads daily so they should measure results daily, simply put. And as this change rolls out, I’m confident the company will “do the right thing” in implementing it. I’ve been there two years, so they have investment in me as I have investment in them.

On my good days, I average 101% to 103%. But on my bad days, without some extra support that minimizes my physical struggle, I average 95%. So with the weekly average system, I’m still a “fully performing” employee. On a really bad day, which happens ironically about once or twice a month as their new system will allow, I give everything I can and sometimes only hit 85%.

Now, unlike some of my colleagues, I am also on a work roster that has changed shifts twice in the last calendar year. Yes, I have had three different work schedules in the last year: Monday to Friday, 3:30 p.m. to midnight; then Sunday to Wednesday, 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Monday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All very different.

Add a neurological condition to that and it’s hard to adapt. When they offered Voluntary Time Off on Wednesday, allowing us to leave three hours early, I took it. My emotional state would best be labeled as frazzled and my right hamstring had started bothering me, probably because it felt like my right leg was a useless tree trunk.

Here is the happy part. The kindness part. The part where the light shines from one person to another. Thursday morning, I get a text from Southern Candy at 5 a.m. “Stop by my car when you get to work.”

She gave me a cat figurine. A cat in frilly dress with pink bloomers, staring into a goldfish bowl that even included a goldfish.

“I know you had a hard day yesterday, and it made me think of you.”

I brought it home and placed it on one of my Parisian Phoenix bookshelves. A place I can see from my workspace at the table and/or when I’m having dinner.

To skip ahead, I’ve been thinking it’s time to record and place a request for permanent accommodations at work. By Friday morning, when one of my colleagues said he’d like to help me out with the easier work but too many people had doctor’s notes, I decided to email my supervisor. So he and I now will try to make that happen. Around the same time, my neurologist’s office called to see if they could move my December 6 appointment to December 9. The times they offered overlap with a preexisting doctor’s appointment I have.

And my intermittent leave needs to be certified by December 9. I returned their call, expressed my regret that those appointments would not work, and asked the person on the phone to please leave a message for the doctor and her nurse that my employer had sent paperwork and that I would have more paperwork and that I would gladly pay any associated fees.

I also wanted to mention I am trying to eliminate inflammatory foods from my diet, but that can wait until I see her. I am wondering if I should request to work with a dietician and get a new set of bloodwork to check not only the standards like iron and cholesterol but also vitamins like B12.

I’ve done really well not stress eating in the ten days since I’ve seen her, eating vegetarian baked beans at work yesterday while my colleagues ate piping hot pizza. My weight is slowly dropping.

I’ve eaten no junk food in the break room, choosing fruit leather and yogurt over Cool Ranch Doritos and fancy fruit snacks. I even reduced my caffeine intake. Yesterday for dinner I made thick egg sandwiches with eggplant, mozzarella and extra sharp cheddar on my favorite multigrain buns and a little chipotle mayo and avocado hot sauce. One for dinner and two to go in the freezer for work lunches this week.

Although I know my perceptions are faulty, I feel like my only success this week has been with Andrew at Apex Training. I got my gym sweatshirt, and the dog immediately jumped on me and coated it with mud so I don’t have a decent selfie… yet. But these guys at the gym have been a lifesaver. Andrew works so hard to meet my needs and come up with innovative exercises to challenge me and train my muscles to cooperate. I did a seated shoulder press this week with 30 lb dumbbells, which ignited my inner strength as my lower body becomes more useless.

I discussed my hamstring troubles and we did some balance exercise yesterday. Andrew thought I was going to stand on the balance trainer and hold a weight on one side to create instability in my stance. Then, he saw me try to stand on the ball. And we opted to practice that first.

Finally, I asked The Teenager to check on Foster Kittens Jean-Paul Sartre and Giorgio in their habitat at Petsmart. I will see them today but it brought my heart joy to see that they are doing fine.

Small goals for a rainy day

I don’t have the energy and the endurance that I once did. I can no longer drive myself to clean the house in a frenzy or bake all my bread from scratch.

I’ve gotten older.

My… constitution?… does not maintain consistency. Whereas it used to be my moods that swung, now my body’s functionality waxes and wanes.

So far today I have:

  • Folded laundry, and done another load
  • Did the hand wash dishes
  • Cleaned most of the stuff off the corner table
  • Had a glass of water, and a glass of iced tea
  • Cleaned the cat boxes in my room
  • Fed the bird
  • Vacuumed
  • And made amazing vegan flautas with Hungryroot cashew cheddar

I started Five Days at Memorial on Apple TV while I hung out with the dog.

And made great strides cuddling foster Jennifer Grey.

FURR Foster Jennifer Grey

With my walking being so unstable, I’m extra proud to announce that Friday night I squatted 135 lbs.

I started taking the Baclofen my neurologist prescribed and we’ll see if that makes walking easier.

And I’ve been sleeping 9-10 hours a night over the last few days so hopefully that also means my body is getting some recovery time.

Last but not least, I’ve been trying really hard to reduce sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods from my diet to test if that will lower the amount of inflammation in my body.

Is it time for Botox… in my hips?

Before I get rolling on this, my second blog entry for the day, let me show you Jennifer Grey (Dixie), the foster kitten who still doesn’t trust people much. Here she is, nestled in my sock bin and hiding from the world. And another photo of her with her brother Giorgio. Giorgio is the sweetest, quietest boy and looks gigantic next to her. But then, I think foster Jean-Paul Sartre, two months her junior, is also bigger than her.

So, I went to my specialty neurologist, the physical rehab doctor. Who laughed at my “Emotional Support Animal” t-shirt with the image of Animal from The Muppets.

She thanked me for being flexible and moving my appointment, and we started chatting. She agrees that some of my problems may have resumed with the recent shift change at work, and that Morton’s neuromas make sense after decades of toe walking.

My primary care physician had prescribed me Flexeril to try when my body felt stiff. My neurological physiatrist switched it to Baclofen and suggested I might take it up to three times a day when I feel stiff.

She was impressed when I showed off my quad stretch without leaning on anything.

But she studied my shoes and watched me walk and noted that my right leg is sliding more, that I’m not lifting off the ground like I should, and that my left leg scissoring is more pronounced. I also have less mobility in my right ankle than my left. She’s concerned about the increase in my spasticity and wants to see me again in a month.

And if my gait and spasticity doesn’t improve, I may need botox. In my hips. I’m not real keen on the idea of injecting neurotoxin into my system.

But my curls were sassy!

And then I came home and made sandwiches for my work lunches. With spinach and Hungryroot spinach artichoke dip.