Saturday, December 31, 2005

happens every time

As mentioned, I took DS2 to the pediatrician today. There's something about me -- the questions I ask, maybe, or the vocabulary I use -- that brings every new medical provider I come into contact with to ask me the question: Are you in health care?

No, I tell them. I'm just a cancer patient and a parent to three children, blessedly healthy but still dealing with normal childhood illnesses and a random allergy or two. I've seen enough exams and been walked through enough assessments to be able to do the basics myself, now. I can look at a throat or listen to lungs; anyone can tell the difference between normal breath sounds and squeaks and pops, if they've ever listened to normal breath sounds. It's not that hard. And it's startlingly easy to see red spots on the roof of the mouth at the back of the throat: yup, that's strep. It's easy to feel for swollen glands, too. Sometimes, it's just a mom thing: there's something not right with the child's affect. Sometimes you can tell just by looking at the eyes.

I have the impression that most moms don't make this kind of clinical assessment. I do, because I don't want to drag us all down to the pediatrician's office if we don't need to go there.

But that's not the only reason I keep track of all that. I find topics relating to health management -- nutrition, exercise, medications, preventative behaviors -- endlessly fascinating. It pays to know about this stuff, so I pay attention. And I read up, and for whatever reason, it all stays with me.

As I contemplate what I'll do with myself when DS2 starts school in the fall, the idea of getting into something health care-related flits around the edges of the field of possibilities, mostly chased away by the reality that it's too late now.

Shoulda - coulda - woulda. Wish I'd realized I had this aptitude this sooner.

Friday, December 30, 2005


It makes me nervous when my medical providers use that word, perfect, to describe some aspect of my condition.

I recall that the surgeon who performed my thyroidectomy used it sometime after my surgery (the details are murky.) The scar did heal beautifully, but my post-op condition was far from perfect, seeing as how I was still quite riddled with cancer at that point -- we just didn't know how much was still in there.

Last week I had blood drawn to check my TSH and thyroid hormone levels, along with thyroglobulin (Tg) and Tg antibodies. On our return yesterday, I found a letter from my endo in Houston with the test results: Your labs are perfect!

Hmmmm. I haven't been feeling very well, but maybe that's the mono.

I looked at my numbers: TSH is 0.06 -- very good, and not all that different from where it was before (0.02) -- again, no margin of error is reported, so I can't assess the accuracy of these numbers, but hey, it's below 0.10 like it's supposed to be, so OK. T4 and T3 are also right where they're supposed to be for thyroid cancer patients. (So why am I feeling like crap? Oh, right -- it could be mono.)

The most important number, though: Tg was reported as <0.09. If I am interpreting that correctly, that means that Tg was undetectable. Tg is only produced by thyroid or thyroid cancer cells, and so I shouldn't have any. Before my thyroidectomy, it was up in the thousands; before my trip to Houston, it was less than 2, but still detectable. Now, for the first time ever, it was undetectable. That means I either have NO CANCER or whatever cancer islets remain are so tiny that the amount of Tg they are secreting is too small to be detected.

I'm going with the first explanation. I wonder, how long does this have to last before I can officially say I'm in remission?

not strep.

DS2 is miserable again; his tonsils are so swollen he can barely swallow, poor little guy. We had thought that he was suffering from a relapse of strep throat, but no; the pediatrician thinks it's mono. Great!

Of course my throat is still bothering me, and as soon as my Aleve wears off I feel like collapsing in a heap... is it psychological? Do I have it, too? Why is it that I could traipse around Disneyland for 3 out of the past 5 days, if I have mono? It doesn't sound logical or possible, but I am a determined person (as in: Damned if I'm driving all the way to California just to be sick!), and Aleve really does work. The difference in DS2 when on ibuprofen and when it has worn off is remarkable: normal versus sick.

If I have mono, it won't change anything anyway. When it's a virus, you just have to wait for yourself to get better. I hope DS2 can shake this off quickly now that we're home, but "fast recovery" and "mono" are rarely seen together. The best we can do is keep him comfortable. We won't find out the results of his blood test until Tuesday.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

home again

Always, when I come home after being away for more than a day, I have this sense of dislocation, like the house is a pair of jeans stiff from dryer. You have to wear them for an hour or so before they feel right. And so it is with coming home. I love coming home, but I do not like the not-fitting feeling, and so I keep moving, busy, putting away still-clean clothes and piling up the laundry, stowing the suitcases, cleaning the debris from the floor of the car. When everything is put away or at least set aside out of sight, the feelings of strangeness finally drop away, and I can relax again.

It was a very good trip and I'll have more to say about it later. For now it's just good to be home.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

merry merry

Happy Christmas!

I'm not, for stupid reasons that I won't go into, as doing so would only make me seem even more petty and annoying than usual. I hope this mood lifts by the morning, or it's going to be a very loooooong day.

I'll be afk (chat room speak: "away from keyboard") for a few days. If my head does not explode I will return with many stories and with some luck, pictures, too.

Friday, December 23, 2005

stop, thieves!

I've had people jacking my bandwidth for over a year now, and I'm sick of it.

Apparently, this is a very popular photo judging by how many people are linking to it:

You know, if you really like a picture, you can just right-click on it and save it to your own disk, then upload it to your own webserver. OR, if you don't have a host, you can email the owner of the picture and ask if you can link. The very least you can do is include a link to the owner of the photo.

The thing that blows me away is the number of people who are using that photo as wallpaper for their sites, so they're sucking my bandwidth whenever they load their page, not just when some archived Halloween post is viewed.

The picture's still up there, obviously, but I changed the name. It would be super easy for the thieves to figure out the new name, of course, but I doubt they'll go the trouble: they're lazy as well as rude.

still in the weeds

Reading Grand Rounds the other day, I found a new blog, PixelRN. She blogged using an old waitressing term that perfectly describes how I've been feeling lately: in the weeds.
You get in the weeds (waitress speak for “I am totally freaking out of control right now and every single one of my tables wants something!”), and then you get out of the weeds. When you are in the weeds, you can’t see the other side of the weeds. When you are out of the weeds, you can even laugh about being in the weeds.
Having one sick kid puts you in the weeds, because it's tough to tell how long they'll stay sick. Having more than one sick kid keeps you in the weeds until you think your head is going to explode.

I've been in the weeds so long now, I'm weaving baskets out of them. But I should be well out of the weeds by now! The Christmas cards and gifts are all sent, the baking is done, the teacher presents delivered. The shopping is finished. I have some wrapping to do, but not much. The house is clean; I enlisted some kid help yesterday and we did everything (some jobs, not so well, but that's what it's like when you have trainees on the job.) I did five loads of laundry yesterday, too -- clean linens for all the beds.

But I'm still in the weeds. It's the not-knowing that's killing me: Is everyone going to be well enough to go to CA? There are still a few days to go -- which is a good thing, because DS1 started puking just before dinner last night. No fever, no lymph nodes, no red or sore throat, seemed completely fine all day. Doesn't sound much like strep, does it? OK, maybe the suddenness of it does (something else I picked up from House, bacterial infections can come up fast -- not that I'm trusting a TV show to be accurate about anything).

We just have to wait and see, and hope this sea of reeds will part for us.

been (near) there, still doin' that?

Alicia Parnette talks about the unique problems that female cancer patients have regarding body image, weight, and all that jazz:
I had felt fat — or at least, not thin enough — since my sophomore year in college, and it was nice to finally get compliments for my weight. It was almost as if it were a treat for going through cancer. Yes, Alicia, you have cancer, but you get to be skinny! Yay!
It's scary how messed up this thinking is, but it's so familiar to me. I think about how skinny I was last year at this time and it really does freak me out. I tried to put on those jeans a few months ago, and couldn't get them past my thighs, since I finally gained back a few pounds. I remember a time when those jeans were baggy. I'm probably somewhere around 130 to 135 pounds now, and still look a little scrawny. I don't even know what I weighed back then -- 120, 115 pounds?

I know that I look better (and mostly feel better) now, but there's a part of me that still thinks I'd look better if I dropped 5 pounds or so. It's stupid.

Mostly, I try to eat well, take my supplements, and limit sweets -- 2 squares of bittersweet chocolate a day gives me a good dose of anti-oxidants along with a good mood booster, and it isn't going to screw up my blood sugar. On the other hand, those shortbread cookies I ate with for lunch probably weren't the best choice. Let me be brutally honest here: I do eat good food, but I indulge in sweets a lot more often than I should. But so far my weight is stable so I'm not going to complain.

It's funny but even before my diagnosis last year I expected something bad, precisely because I was effortlessly skinny. I had maintained, relatively easily, a good weight (like the one I'm at now) for years on my lower-carb diet, but then over a few months, pounds just seemingly evaporated off of me with no effort on my part to make them disappear. That's not normal, and I knew it.

And like Alicia, I liked it, and some stupid part of my brain would like to get me back to that skinny/ideal weight. Fortunately, I don't see it happening because I'm just not that disciplined or into depriving myself that much. Besides, I get really cranky when I haven't eaten, and that impairs my ability to be around my kids and retain what little shreds of sanity I have remaining. So I'm not worried I'll end up back in sizes fit only for skeletons. But it does annoy me that I can't get through to the part of my brain that still thinks such a thing would be just great.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


A week ago Tuesday, DS2 was diagnosed with strep throat.

This Tuesday, DD was diagnosed with strep throat.

Over the weekend I noticed that my throat hurt, but I didn't have a fever and figured maybe it was just post nasal drip. Tuesday afternoon it was rather hurting more, and with DD's diagnosis, I took myself off to my doctor's office for a rapid strep test.

It came back negative, but he wrote me scrip anyway, since the schedule was completely full for the rest of the week, and he didn't want to leave me in the lurch if I felt worse.

I kept telling myself my throat only felt bad because I'd been yelling at the kids, but it felt pretty bad this morning when I first woke up and has only worsened as the day progressed. Still no fever, though -- but enough is enough, and I broke down and filled the prescription today.

Now, I have guilt, like I've done something maybe I shouldn't have. I feel constantly bombarded with the message that you shouldn't take unnecessary anti-biotics, that we're breeding disease-resistant bacteria because people are taking anti-biotics every time they get the sniffles. I think the state of my throat now qualifies as "worse:" when the pain is intruding itself on my consciousness constantly and affecting both speech and swallowing, that's "worse." I'm still wondering if I did the right thing by taking the anti-biotic, though.

I suppose I'll have my answer, if I'm not feeling better in the next day or two. At least that's what House* would say, right? In the meantime, I just want soup, and I'm wishing that Tylenol I took a while ago would kick in.

* We've been watching season one on DVD -- at least twice an episode I get a good laugh out of how obnoxious he is. Biggest peeve: there are apparently no nurses in his hospital. It must be the only hospital in all existence where the doctors draw their own blood and administer the meds to the patients. It's like some crazy-weird parallel universe.

an idea whose time has come

Remedial preschool.

I'm completely serious. My kids, aged almost-9, 7, and almost-5, have apparently forgotten everything they ever learned in preschool -- and the youngest is still in preschool.

Surely I'm exaggerating, you're thinking. But no, I'm not. Over the past week I've had to referee countless tussles over that one thing that preschool supposedly teaches you,above all: how to share. I literally had to assign turns with the red crayon at lunch yesterday, and this morning, I awoke to the far-from-delightful shrieks of "It's MINE!" and all its usual accompaniments.

I wish I could figure out what's going on here. Normally they are not such brats -- or maybe it's just that I'm better at ignoring them? I don't think so. My theory goes that it's all the excitement of Christmas and the pending trip to Disneyland. At this point I'm regretting telling them about the trip, maybe it would've been easier to surprise them with it -- but then again, DS1 does not deal well with surprises.

Regardless, being excited about the upcoming holiday doesn't excuse their behavior. I figured out that my throat is sore not from strep but from yelling at them to behave. So now I'm working on getting them to behave without my having to scream at them. This new technique requires, mostly, proximity: I stand over them until they get their acts together. I really do have better things to do, but I can't have them assaulting each other and screaming like banshees. I remember the days when a reminder that "Santa's watching" would be enough to get them to straighten up, if only for a little while. Alas, that formula lost its power last year, and there's no way to restore it.

Other preschool favorites like being kind to one another and doing what you're told, when you're told, have also been notable by their absence lately. I'm not exactly sure what to do about this, but I am regretting that there is no such thing a remedial preschool. If I could find one with a "winter break" program, I'd sign them all up in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

whole lotta lemons

When making that double batch of lemon squares this morning, my stash of frozen lemon rind really came in handy. Then I realized that most people don't have a stash of frozen lemon rind, because most people don't have a lemon tree in their yards. Frankly, the idea of grating 5 tablespoons of lemon rind sounds like a lot of skinned knuckles to me. That's one reason why I have a frozen stash.

You may be thinking that having a lemon tree means year-round lemons, but that's not the case, at least not for us. We get one crop a year, although I do know people who get two. Frankly, that one crop is enough for me to try to deal with -- and we give lots and lots away. And we keep the tree trimmed back to keep it from producing even more fruit than we can use.

Still, I'm left with dozens and dozens of lemons. Here's what I do so they don't shrivel up and become useless. (This is also a good way to process a bag of lemons you bought from the supermarket, without realizing that the recipe you were making only needed one lemon.)

Keep your lemons refrigerated until you're ready to process them, especially if it will be several days before you can get to them. Lemons keep pretty well, especially if refrigerated and kept dry.

Here's how I prep lemon rind for the freezer:
1. Wash the lemons and dry them off, or let them air dry.

2. Using a vegetable peeler, strip off the zest (the colored part of the peel). Be careful to avoid green parts (bitter) and the white part underlying the zest (also bitter).

3. Collect the strips of zest, toss them into your food processor and whiz until they're reduced to bits. If you have only one or two lemons, it still makes sense to zest them this way if you have a mini food processor to chop the strips.

4. Scrape out the contents of the bowl into a quart size, zipper freezer bag. Squeeze out all the air (flatten the bag), seal it, roll it up, and tuck it in the freezer. It keeps indefinitely and there's no need to defrost it before use. One thing to know: ice crystals may form in the bag. They won't affect flavor, but you'll have to take them into account when measuring out the zest.

Now that you've zested your lemons, you can slice them in half and juice them. It's not impossible to zest the lemons after juicing, but it requires more dexterity and perserverance to deal with the slippery halves. I have a Braun citrus juicer that's about 12 years old and still going strong, but it's no longer available. This model looks similar. With citrus juicers, you don't need anything incredibly fancy, but if you're doing a lot of citrus at a time, you'll want one with a motor. I prefer this kind to the press types, because juice from the press models always tastes more bitter to me.

If you're not going to use the juice right away, measure 1/4 cup into each well of an ice cube tray, then freeze just until frozen. Pop the juice cubes out of the tray and put them in a freezer bag for longer-term storage; this will protect them from the hazards of being exposed to the freezer air (drying out, picking up odors, etc.)

Now, you'll be able to whip up a batch of lemon squares with no trouble at all.

under the gun

So today's the last (half)day of school before break, and if I'm going to bake something for the teachers, now is the time to do it.

This year, I'm scaling back because of my own scheduling ineptitude, the kids' illnesses, and the fact that the lemon tree is about to fall over it is so laden with fruit. So, without further ado:

Champion Lemon Squares
(Use half the amounts for an 8x8 baking pan; for the full recipe use a 9x13 pan)

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C confectioners’ sugar
1 T grated lemon zest
2 C flour
1/8 tsp salt

4 eggs
2 C sugar
4 T flour
1/3 - 1/2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T grated lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking pan with foil or parchment to make getting the squares out easier.

To make the crust, it’s easiest to use a food processor: put everything in the processor with S-blade in place, and pulse to break up the butter a bit, then run it until the dough forms a ball and runs around the inside of the bowl a few times. By hand, beat the butter and sugar together until blended, then add the remaining ingredients and beat until everything is incorporated and you have a nice dough. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan – watch the corners, and be careful of thin spots -- and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool while you make the filling.

For the filling: beat all the ingredients together, then pour over the cooked crust. Return to the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes more, until the top is dry and just barely browned around the edges. You don’t want to overbake this. It’s OK if the center of the custard is not quite set. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack, then cut into squares to serve. Sift with confectioner’s sugar before serving if you want.

This recipe is based on the version in Marion Cunningham's The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, one of my most-used cookbooks over the last twenty years. I'm not kidding, it's my baking bible. But Marion is a little wimpy with the lemon, I think -- or maybe I just like really lemon-y lemon squares. Most lemon squares have the suggestion of lemon in them, but not much true lemon flavor. These bars have enough lemon in them but not so much you're puckering. There is such a thing as too much! Finding the perfect balance with lemons can be tricky, because some lemons are more tart than others, but I think these measurements work very well.

Now, off to bake!

Later: I did manage to get everything baked, sufficiently cooled to cut, and packed just in time to pick up DS1 -- DD is home with day 2 of strep, feeling much better on her antibiotic. *whew*

While I was baking, I thought about what is it about these that makes them so good. It's not just the extra lemon juice and zest, I realized. I always use King Arthur flour, because it's unbleached and not bromated. Basically that means you're not getting chemicals with your wheat, but what it amounts to in practice is that it's a drier flour than your typical all purpose flour. That's why I always have to use more water in my pie crust, I only recently figured out! Silly me. But it also contributes to the wonderful texture of the shortbread crust of these lemon bars.

Another important detail in baking is to always, always use unsalted butter. You can't measure how much salt is in salted butter, so while you can adjust the amount called for in the recipe down if all you have is salted butter, it's something of a guess. Another thing to keep in mind is that the salt in the butter is there as a preservative, so salted butter will sit on the shelf longer than unsalted. Sweet (unsalted) butter is likely to be of higher quality as well, because there is no salt to mask the taste of the butter itself.

Aside from the ingredients, technique is important as well. This is a low-fuss recipe, but there is one step to which you must pay strict attention: patting out the crust into the pan. It is well worth your time and effort to make sure that the dough is evenly spread out in the pan. There is a tendency to thin corners and sides, and a taller middle. This spells disaster, for some of the crust will be too thin and crisp, and some will be too thick and thus pasty in the middle. And, with an uneven crust, the custard topping will be uneven, too, since the top of it will self-level. The skinny parts of the crust will have too much custard, the thick parts, too little. Lemon squares are all about the balance.

Finally, watch your oven, and if the racks are uneven or if it seems to have hot spots, you might want to rotate the pans mid-way in the cooking process to try and even things out a bit. If you make a double batch (two pan's worth), you should swap the pan's positions as well as rotate them back-to-front mid-way during the baking. Two pans in the oven will change the flow of heat enough that cooking may be uneven if you don't; swapping the pans around helps prevent burning on one side while the other is still underdone.

If you use heavy duty foil to line the pan, you can lift the squares right out of the pan onto your cooling rack. (I never use anything put heavy duty foil anymore; regular foil seems like tissue paper by comparison.) For the final touch, I use a tea strainer to sprinkle confectioner's sugar over the bars. The result is a nice, even layer, and you can control where the sugar goes much more easily than if you use a large sifter.

These can come together very quickly, but you can't be slapdash about it. Take the time, you won't be disappointed.

the big scar

My surgery was 2 months ago. It's weird to think that it was only 2 months, it feels like a lifetime ago. My scar's looking really terrific:

Here are the previous views: scary photo (immediately post-op) and not-so-scary photo(3 weeks post-op).

Now, to put things in better perspective, here's a new picture of me -- do you notice the scar much?

And here's the picture I took 3 months after last year's much less invasive surgery. Wow, my hair was dreadful last year! But this new scar at 2 months out looks about the same as my old scar was at 3 months out. The most interesting thing to me is that this surgery re-opened the old scar, and if anything, it has healed even better than it did last time.

After my first surgery, I didn't get any particular instructions on caring for the scar once the steri-strips were removed. This time, with such a long scar, I was instructed to massage the scar using vitamin E oil. However, as a veteran of multiple skin biopsies and excisions, I went with Aquaphor healing lotion instead. It's what my dermatologist recommends, after all, and it's a lot more manageable.

I massage all along the incision once or twice a day. Both my surgeon and physical therapist stressed the importance of the massage, to prevent adhesions from forming underneath the scar which could limit mobility and cause pain down the line. After 2 months of more or less diligent care (I've been slacking lately), the skin along the scarline is quite mobile and flexible.

This experience has converted me to the school of active scar management, so to speak. I have a 2-inch scar on my left leg that could've benefited from massage while healing. It's in a place where you'd think that mobility wouldn't be an issue, but every now and then, it pulls. Plus, it's rather hideous, and if I wonder if, had it been massaged, it would look any different.

Can't change the past, but the main thing is, if I ever go under the knife again, I'll make sure to take better care of my scars as they heal.

Monday, December 19, 2005

bad parents award nominee (road edition)

I saw one of these this evening -- first one I can recall seeing for quite a while.

Then again, it may just be that I remarked the presence of the "Baby on Board" sign because there was another sign stenciled on the back window of the same late-model sedan:
Life's like a

I'm hoping the juxtaposition of "Baby on Board" with the stencil is some kind of hip, post-modern snark on so-called traditional values. I prefer to believe that than contemplate that "Screw it!" just might be the pithy summary of real parents' Philosophy of Life.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

thick as a brick

Really don't mind if you sit this one out...
Time for a bloodtest! Yay. I've been feeling both dense and disconnected lately. Stuff gets done, but I have a constant sense of running behind. It's true that there is a lot of "extra" stuff that needs to be done because of Christmas, and I am actually in good shape there. It just doesn't feel as if I am. I'm falling back into that familiar mode where everything, everything feels like a struggle.

I think a slight uptick in my thyroid meds would be very helpful.

* * *
Regarding the title of this post, it's the name of art/prog rock album by Jethro Tull. I listened to it on Friday in the car, on the trips to and from Borders with the kids. It's one huge extended poem/diatribe, that makes vague political/environmental comments but also expresses the normal frustrations that anyone can feel about the pressures that we are all exposed to by our parents and our society. Lyrically, it's pretty much dreck. It's interesting to read now that the band intended it all as a send-up of the self-importance of progressive rock. When I was a teenager, I thought the lyrics were brilliant. (heh)

I still love it, in spite of the ridiculous lyrics. I love the music, especially the intro, and the progressive changes it moves through. As for those bombastic lyrics? They're not all crap -- even if they do all come off as contrived now -- who hasn't felt like this?
And your new shoes are worn at the heel
and your suntan does rapidly peel
and your wisemen don't know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

swim meet (aka purgatory)

DS1 had his second swim meet today. His first meet, last month, was the occasion of my return to driving, post-surgery. Today's driving was easier on me, but the meet itself... well: see the title of this post.

DS1 swims with Sun Devil Aquatics, and the meets are held at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center at ASU. It's a big facility with several pools; there are some not shown in this picture, I think. One of the covered pools there is a diving pool, and one of the few pleasures of having to go to one of these things is being able to watch the college kids practice their dives.

These next couple of photos show the general chaos that is the deck, where the kids wait to swim, and the staging area where they go while they're waiting for their heats.

The meets generally start at 10. Swimmers need to be there at 9:15 for warm up, after that they kick everyone out of the pools because 1) they need the big one for the races and 2) the coaches have to keep track of their kids who are racing.

That leaves dozens of kids aged 7 and up basically left to their own devices, waiting for their events: Parents who are not working the meet in some official capacity are strongly discouraged from being on deck. You can pop in to say hi or drop off a snack or something, but you're not supposed to hang around.

Needless to say, this is not the type of environment in which DS1 feels comfortable, but he endures it for the swimming. He's not exactly shy but he is socially awkward around strangers -- around people he knows well, he can be the entertainer. In spite of my encouraging him to talk to the other kids around him, he steadfastly refused. And of course, I can't hang around to drag him into anything, either.

One of the big problems is that he is the only boy from his practice group that is swimming in meets yet. So the kids he practices with twice a week are never around for the meets. I think once (if?) those kids start showing up, he's be a lot more comfortable. By then he'll be an old hand and can show them around. For now, though, he's still getting the hang of it, especially with the colder weather, which brings it's own set of challenges.

First meet, DS1 wasn't staged properly (they weren't very organized), and he missed his first race. This time, they were better organized about getting the kids into the staging area, but he again missed his first race because he couldn't find his goggles. When he took off his sweatshirt, the goggles went, too, and he panicked. Instead of asking for help -- if he had just said, "I can't find my goggles!" any one would've said to him, "Are they in your shirt?", I had witnessed the exact same scenario before practice! -- he freaked out. Witnessing this, I dashed downstairs to nip that in the bud. (Counting backwards from 10 was surprisingly effective.)

The thing is, you miss a race? There's always another meet next month, no big deal.

Anyway, that moment of anxiety was preceded by about 3 hours of hanging around, waiting for him to swim. He was ready, too, up until the last second, when all of a sudden, he wasn't. It kills me, because this is something he must figure out for himself. I have to let him screw up, although I will step in and help with the recovery -- because, first of all, it's against the rules for me to babysit him, and second, this is his activity, he needs to learn the ropes for himself.

Second race went off without a hitch, and then we high-tailed it out of there. By the time we got home it was nearly 2PM. And even though I was just sitting around for the majority of that time, I was exhausted by it. I hold this vague notion that by sheer force of my wishing it to be so, I can make him happy/comfortable/successful, whatever -- I know it doesn't work that way, but I can't help it. If positive vibes help, I'll give him as many as I can.

This has been a rough few days. I can't believe Christmas is a week from tomorrow. It seems simultaneously much too near and yet impossibly far away.

Friday, December 16, 2005

holiday shopping advice

While shopping for gifts, do not pause to try on the white fleece pullovers, especially when you're wearing a black cashmere sweater.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

revisiting Cameron's TITANIC

Back in 2000, very late to the game, I posted a minor rant about James Cameron's Titanic over on Epinions. My problem with the movie centered around Rose's statement, regarding Jack: He saved me, in every way a person could be saved.

Now, for reasons unfathomable to me, Titanic is in heavy rotation on HBO. Last night I had four loads of laundry to fold, and there was nothing else on, so...Titanic it was. I've watched bits and pieces of it ever since it showed up on the schedule; I've no intention of ever sitting through the entire thing ever again, but it's good to fold clothes by. I'm still trying to figure out why it was such a huge hit. There's so much good, and so much bad, it's hard to decide where I stand on this behemoth. It's fascinating to me how watchable it is, in spite of its faults.

The movie has good "bones", in that the basic story is quite simple, and the framing device of the modern-day dive to the wreck is very effective. The whole thing just looks gorgeous, even though some of the special effects work is obviously just that. The meticulous attention to detail in the sets, costumes, and props just blows me away, as does all the footage of the deep dive.

But once you get past the basic outline and the look of the thing, it starts to come apart. I will never understand some of Cameron's decisions in putting this thing together.

I contended back in 2000, and still maintain, that Rose saved herself, and by failing to even notice that, Cameron missed a huge opportunity. Now, upon re-watching, I discovered a scene I had completely forgotten, early in the movie, in which Rose flatly says, It's not up to you to save me, Jack. Jack, being the wise young man that he is, replies, You're right... Only you can do that. This is exactly right, but it goes by so quickly, and is completely contradicted by Old Rose's "he saved me" speechifying that no one ever remembers it. Why would Cameron bother to include the earlier exchange only to so thoroughly dispute it in the end? If anything, these two lines of dialog increase my frustration with the film, because they show how close Cameron came to making something transcendent instead of maudlin. (I will, however, amend my previous criticism to acknowledge that Jack did save Rose by getting her safely away from the sinking ship and onto that door; otherwise she would've died of hypothermia like the rest of the doomed passengers.)

Another sticking point for me: the deep dive is awesome in its own right, so why was its purpose to recover the fantastic diamond? Why would anyone be foolish enough to think that they would be able to recover it? The "needle in a haystack" comparison is more than apt. So the whole business with the diamond is quite silly, and it still annoys me that Rose tosses it overboard at the end -- why couldn't she just give it to Bill Paxton, and let the thing make someone happy for a change? Minor nitpick: Le Couer de la Mer translates as "the Heart of the Sea," not ocean. Ocean in French is océan!

Speaking of silly, I keep getting tripped up by the dialog. All of it, really, but there's one particularly egregious passage. Rose's famous "I'll never let go" has been quoted as a laugh-line often, usually followed by the observation, "Uh, Rose? You just let go." The dialog fails utterly here. I realize that "letting go" or "not letting go" is the recurring motif of the movie, but in every instance except this last, it is used when someone is physically holding on to someone or something else. Rose's "I won't let go" is her way of reassuring Jack that she won't forget her promise to him to never give up; here's the passage, courtesy of IMDB's quote page:
Jack:You must? you must do me this honor... you must promise me that you'll survive... that you won't give up... no matter what happens...
Jack: No matter how hopeless... Promise me now, Rose... and never let go of that promise.
Rose: I promise...
Jack: [whispers] Never let go...
Rose: I'll never let go, Jack... I'll never let go.
Who talks about "letting go" of a promise? I get what Cameron was trying to do there, but he couldn't pull it off. Thus was born one of the biggest unintentional jokes of the late 20th Century.

Over on Althouse, we were discussing Oliver Stone's upcoming 9/11 movie, and someone brought up Titanic; commenter "Joe Baby" even brought up the "I'll never let go," line, which had us all cracking up. I said comparing the two efforts would be like comparing apples and hand grenades. While both involved massive loss of life, one was accidental, the other deliberate mass-murder. But there are scenes of Titanic that took on new, chilling meaning, post-9/11. After the ship has broken in two, the stern upends and looks like nothing so much as a surreal skyscraper, bobbing in the ocean. In the wide-shot scenes, you can see a few passengers leap from the decks into the frigid water below, calling to mind those people,trapped in the upper floors of the World Trade Center, who tried to jump to safety. Titanic's jumpers fared no better than those of the WTC; the sheer brave futility of the effort remains heart-breaking.

Back in 2000, I gave this 3 stars out of 5, and that's probably about right. The dialog is stupid and the characters are tissue-thin and one dimensional, but the sheer spectacle of seeing the destruction of the Titanic overshadows all of that. Cameron's intention, I think, was to allow us to see the horrific tragedy in a way that was not voyeuristic. As annoying as Rose and Jack are, they provide the eyes through which we see these events unfolding. As devices, they're successful. As fully realized characters that we can identify with, they fail with the majority of the audience, the notable exception being pre-teen girls. As a love story or commentary on human relationships, Titanic stinks. But as a means by which we can better understand the full horror of that terrible accident, it works, and it works very well.

two views

Insides, it's Christmas:

Outside, it's...


... and lemons. Just in time for holiday baking!


What kind of day will today be?

DH is off with the two older kids; he takes them to school then heads to work himself.

DS2 is still sleeping, and I'm here at the computer enjoying the quiet. He has school today, but I'm on the fence about sending him, especially since he's not up yet. Technically he's OK to go, having been on the antibiotics for 2 days, he should no longer be contagious. And he certainly seemed fine most of the day yesterday, except for occasional crankiness.

Will another day at home speed up his return to wellness, or will we just end up getting on each other's nerves? I haven't been around all that much the past 2 days, DS2 has spent a lot of time with the babysitter. So maybe he's ready for a "mom" day.

The question is, am I? In spite of spending the last 2 days mostly running around, I still have out-of-the-house things that must get done. It would be better if I didn't have to bring DS2 along with me -- besides, if he's not well enough to go to school, we will stay home.

Decision time -- I'm going to go wake him up. After that, we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

the stroboscopy experience

On Tuesday, I drove up to Phoenix for my video stroboscopy. My ENT, the wonderful Dr. O, had noticed chemical erosion on my throat structures, and was concerned there was some weirdness in my vocal folds. He 'scoped me at my last appointment, and saw enough to warrant doing the stroboscopy, so we set it up.

First off, it doesn't hurt, and it's only mildly uncomfortable. The equipment used by the voice therapist who did my exam uses a tiny digital camera at the end of a silver tube, about the diameter of a pen, maybe a little wider, and somewhat flattened. Basically: the camera is slid back along your tongue until it can see down your throat.

The reality is a bit more tricky than that, but nothing too horrible -- at least for me. I'm lucky in that I don't have a psychologically-triggered gag reflex. The one time she did tag my uvula, I had to cough, but it only happened once during the entire exam.

I've been through a number of procedures that visited various levels of indignities upon me. It's medicine, it's impersonal, I know that, and I can usually keep myself from thinking things like, I look ridiculous! Usually.

But doing the stroboscopy requires that the patient:
1) hold a stethoscope-like disk against the throat with one hand (this allows the timing of the strobelight to be adjusted to the vibration rate of the vocal structures, the therapist explained to me)
2) stick out the tongue and firmly hold it out and down, with the other hand (the tongue is held by a piece of gauze so your hand doesn't get slimy and the tongue won't slip out of your grasp)
3) lean forward, tip the head back, and jut the chin out simultaneously.

If you can imagine this position, you'll know how downright silly it sounds, before the therapist even starts the examination procedure. So, I did all these things and it's all I can do not to laugh, and then...

The procedure starts. The therapist slides the camera wand in to the back of my mouth, just so it peers down my throat. This is tremendously distracting because facing the chair I'm sitting in is a big screen flat-panel TV that's live-broadcasting the camera's signal. It's so cool!

But now the real fun begins: Say "E", the therapist says. I try to say "E" but it comes out more like "A" -- well, really, it sounds like a wounded animal vocalizing its pain. Smile big, the therapist encourages me, and I push up the corners of my mouth -- Ah, there it is, "E". Now we're cooking, I thought.

It turns out "E" was the least of my problems. I had to do low Es and high Es, and other sounds, too. My biggest problem? I was acutely conscious of how ridiculous I looked and how silly I sounded! I had to really clamp down on that feeling otherwise I would've been laughing throughout. As it went I had to pause 2 or 3 times just to compose myself.

That was it for the exam -- I'd say the camera was in there maybe 15 minutes at most. There's a lot of setting up and figuring out how things will work, etc, but the procedure itself is short and painless -- if you can keep from gagging or cracking up.

In spite of my giggles, the therapist said I did very well. Dr. O will review the recording, of course, but she told me that I do have some paralysis/weakness in the right vocal folds, which are muscles inside the neck. This makes complete sense given that I'm still suffering from numbness on the outside of my neck, and I've been working for nearly 8 weeks to restore the strength and control to my right shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand that the surgery whacked. She recommended voice therapy, because she could hear the tightness in my voice (I hear it too), and because I probably am aspirating stomach acid because the folds are not closing properly. (She did say that the increased dosage of Prilosec seems to be helping with that as well -- there was evidence of past erosion, but it seems to be healing now.)

In the meantime, she gave me an exercise I'm supposed to do for 2 to 3 minutes, 2x/day for 4 weeks: sirens. You start low and support with your breath, make an "O" sound and increase both the pitch and volume, sliding up, then decreasing both pitch and volume sliding back down. She and I practiced 3 or 4 times.

I can't do it. I find myself singing discreet notes which is not what I'm supposed to do. I also feel like a complete idiot! It really does sound like caterwauling, and to do it for 3 whole minutes? Yikes!

Well, I'll try -- I want a strong, flexible voice! But I'm going to have to search for a siren recording that I can imitate, because doing it on my own is just not working.

* * *

Part of me wants to say No more tests, ever! because every time I have a diagnostic test, it finds something. So far all the "somethings" have been correctable, but it is getting old. The results from the stroboscopy were to be expected, really -- there was so much work done in my neck that it would be rather a miracle if there were not any nerve problems. Since my overall recovery has been fantastic, I think I'll be satisfied with that one miracle -- no need to get greedy and ask for another.

I'll just add "vocal fold paralysis; needs therapy" to my ever-growing list of "stuff that can't be ignored or I will be very, very sorry later." Better to deal with it now.

seesaw day

Up and down, up and down...

Elf worked me hard in PT today, increasing my resistance on all my exercises (Down, just because it was hard!), but then she "graduated" me: no more PT! Well, I have to do the exercises at home but that's a lot easier to schedule, and it's free! (Up)

Took the van over to have someone look at the stereo. It's toast (Down). The technician retrieved my U2 CD (Up). He then installed a new one in less than 5 minutes (Up: tunes in the car again! Down: $$$) Merry Christmas to me!

Christmas shopping at Toys'r'Us. I found just the right things (Up) and spent another fortune (Down).

Driving the van, I noticed vibrations at highway speeds,(!!!) so I took it back to the service center. They test drove it and noticed the vibration, too. They rotated the wheels back to their original locations and the vibrations disappeared. They suggested taking the van back to the tire store and having them re-balanced. I'm still scratching my head over that one, but I'll call the tire store and ask the manager about it. There's something weird going on there. (stuck in the middle)

Back home, my older sister has sent a HUGE box with Christmas presents. We open the box and the kids put the presents under the tree. (Up, up, up) Then they start fighting over the box! (Down) I put the box out in the garage, with the usual "if you can't play nicely and share, you won't get to play at all" naggage. (Down)

DS2 and DS1 are at logger-heads over something, and DS2 is crying and screaming about it. (Down, down, down) I investigate and discover that the little one is upset because the big one will not do what he says. I review the Rules of Control: The only person you control is yourself. If someone else is trying to control you, let me know and I'll put a stop to it. Doesn't work. I end up yelling at DS2 just to be heard over his caterwauling: It's NOT important. Do what you want! (Down, with a sore throat now)

There was a tin of gingerbread cookies in the package my sister sent. They are fantastic! (Up)

I'm trying to stay on top of things today, and clear the decks of things that I could have, should done, but haven't been doing. So, I finally stuffed and sealed the Christmas cards, and I defrosted something for dinner, and sorted the laundry. (Up)

When I opened the washing machine, there was a load of damp (slightly stinky) clothes in there. (Down) DH left them there from Sunday when he washed his jeans before going to the football game. I had no idea they were there, obviously, or I would have taken caren of them... on Sunday. Now I have four loads of laundry to do, with a very cantankerous dryer. (Down) I start up the machine again, adding new detergent.

When the cycle is complete, I transfer the re-clean clothes into the dryer and see that DH didn't check the pockets: there are bits of tissue all over everything. Ick. I locate the remains of the tissue in one of DS1's pockets, and hope everything else spins off in the dryer, and I start it up.

So far, the dryer has not stopped at all. (Up)

Did I mention the gingerbread cookies are fantastic? (Up) The tin is very pretty, too.

best of, first wave

I finally created and linked to posts for the "Best of..." category in the sidebar there. The Parenting and Food,Cooking,Recipes pages are already populated; the rest of them will come soon.

Sorry it took so long, and I hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

who gets the nod?

I have shopping to do on Amazon, and I'm faced with a difficult decision.

Whose links should I click through? Who most deserves the few bucks of commission that my twiddly purchases will merit?

Why do I have to overthink everything?

better late than never

This week's edition of Grand Rounds (vol 2, no. 12) is up over at In the Pipeline. My post on physical therapy is included.

I love Grand Rounds. There's such a great mix of personal, professional, and med-technical stuff included, you always learn something.

second wind

Today I was in the car all day: DS2 to the doctor's this morning (he has strep), then to the pharmacy for his meds. Then up to Phoenix for my stroboscopy (I need voice therapy), then home -- where I got a message from DS1 that I had forgotten to pack his swimsuit in his bag, so he wasn't able to actually, you know, swim at practice today.


Slogged down to the Y to pick up DS1, back over to the school to get DD from aftercare, left them both at home with M, my most excellent friend and babysitter, who was trying to help DS2 not freak out so much about being sick.

Then drove to pick up DH at his office, then drove up to the Honda Service Center where we picked up the van (new engine mount installed, oil changed, new battery needed but everything else good to go to CA).

Then, finally -- home. (DH took the van over to Sears for the new battery, we still had warranty life left in the old one.)

Fed the kids, made soup, checked homework, wrote up the soup recipe. At that point, I should have collapsed, but I didn't. I did a huge chunk of our Christmas shopping.

This year, I'm either ordering stuff to be shipped directly, or I'm getting gift cards. I like to send things that 1) everyone can use and 2) get eaten, drunk, or otherwise used up. So, Sweet Energy is a really great place to order from; I've been sending gifts from these folks for over 20 years and have never heard a negative comment.

For the kids? Some great games (I love these games!), or some new cuddly friends... or a Border's gift card for the ones who would be insulted by either.

It's a relief to start checking some people off that long, long list I'm keeping.

chowder (not chowdah)

Today was a day that required soup. I rummaged around in the refrigerator and the pantry and came up with this. It's reminiscent of my previous fantastic spinach, but in soup form. I'm calling it a chowder because it has both cheese and cream in it.

It's not "chowdah" because this combination of ingredients is as far from New England as you can imagine while still staying in the continental US [OK, maybe gumbo would be farther, but still.] This is a South West chowder, with nary a clam to be seen, lots of gorgeous color, and flavors that warm you up.

Chicken and Spinach Chowder
6 servings

2 T olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp ground cumin

1 lb package chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 can chopped green chilies, drained
6 oz Monterey Jack cheese, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
3 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream
1 C corn kernels
1 C diced red bell pepper

salt & fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Pour the olive oil into a heavy-bottom pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and the other spices. Cook the spice mixture, stirring so it doesn't stick, until the garlic is soft, about 3-5 minutes. If you like a toasted garlic flavor, you can cook it until the garlic turns a dark golden color, but be careful not to burn it or it will be bitter.

Meanwhile, squeeze all the water out of the thawed spinach. (I thaw mine in the microwave on high power for about 3 minutes). Do not skip this step, you really need to get all that excess moisture out of the spinach. Pick up a handful and squeeze, then set the dry spinach aside; repeat until done.

Stir the dry spinach and green chilies into the spice mixture, and let it cook over medium heat for a few minutes to heat up. Then add the chicken and the cheese, stirring as the cheese melts.

When the cheese is all melted, add the chicken stock and the heavy cream; add the corn and the diced red pepper. Stir everything together and let it come to serving temperature, but do not let it boil --keep the heat gentle and you will be OK.

Taste; adjust the seasonings. I used homemade chicken stock that had no salt at all, and so even with the chilies and the cheese, I needed to add just a little salt to brighten it up. I also added about a 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper.

This is one of those dishes where if you have everything on hand, it comes together very quickly. Tonight, with insufficient leftover chicken, I microwaved IQF chicken breasts. Since it's shredded before it goes into the pot, texture isn't an issue (microwaved IQF chicken breasts approach the consistency of rubber.) You can use canned or frozen corn, either will be fine. And you can leave out the sweet red pepper altogether if it's too much of a hassle; you'll still get a great-tasting chowder.

Monday, December 12, 2005

hey, I know that guy!

It's fun to watch old movies and notice actors you didn't know then, but do now.

Like Ted Levine playing the serial killer "Buffalo Bill" back in 1991, in the well-deserved Oscar love-fest The Silence of the Lambs; Ted now plays Capt. Stottlemeyer on USA's Monk, which continues to be a charming and entertaining series in spite of recent cast changes.

And who's that captaining 1997's Titanic? None other than the Lord of the Rings' Theoden himself, Bernard Hill.

Both these guys are fine actors. It's good to see they're still doing well.

I'm an idiot, but forgiveness is possible

I misjudged the turn into my parking space at the physical therapist's this morning, and nudged the pickup truck in the adjacent space. I was only going about 2 mph, so I hoped there wouldn't be any damage. I backed up and turned into the space and hopped out just as the truck's owner was climbing out of the cab.

I am so sorry! were the first words out of my mouth. He was around my age (in that indeterminate age range between 30 and 50) and very pleasant, actually. He could see I was distressed that I had nicked his truck. He said, I barely felt anything, I'm sure it's OK as he went to look at the damage. There were some small scrapes under the bumper.

Let's look at your car,, he said, and then we both saw that there was a quantity of red paint on my front bumper.

I must've said every variation of "I'm so sorry" in existance, and offered to pay for the repairs, but I did ask if we could just keep the insurance companies out of it.

He wouldn't have any of it: Go on in to your appointment, he said. I offered to give him my name and number so he could call me in case he changed his mind. No, no, don't worry about it! Just go, it's fine, he insisted.

Then he got a twinkle in his eye, Although I might take it out on you if I ever meet you in a bar...

I laughed: I never go to bars! He laughed, too. I don't, either. So that's OK, then.

With a bit of elbow grease I'll be able to buff that paint off the front of the van. His truck has a few minor scrapes that in Arizona will never amount to anything. Back in Massachusetts, scratches and whatnot like that would rust out in a few years, so you'd have to be more careful, but out here in the dry, the possibility of rust just doesn't even occur to anyone. All in all, both vehicles are a little big dinged, but it was nothing to get worked up about and it's such a relief that he didn't! My cars have had worse damage inflicted on them in parking lots, with nary a note or apology.

I'll probably never see that man again, but he deserves many blessings for his kindness to me today.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

an abundance of optimism

It's a very strange place, full of people who were banged up or sliced up and sewn together. Every single client has pain. To be sure, there are a lot of different kinds of pain, but this is not a place you go to unless you have physical pain or dysfunction.

And yet, this is without doubt one of the most optimistic places you will ever visit, because everyone who comes here is here to get better.

So where is this place? The physical therapist's.

If you have never been to been to PT, it may be hard to imagine. At my therapist's, there are several individual rooms for therapies and manipulations that require privacy. Most clients, though, spend their time in the main room, which has several massage tables lining one wall, and a host of exercise equipment taking up the rest of it. There are free weights and exercise bikes and many things I don't even know how to describe. In the center of the room is an "aisle" -- two railings about 2 feet apart, at waist height, on a slightly raised platform. It looks odd, sitting there in the middle of the room, until you see it in use.

There are probably a dozen therapists working at this facility, and at any particular time, 8 to 10 of them will be working, and each may have 2 or even 3 clients at a time, depending on the client's stage of rehab. Some people don't need much supervision and so can be scheduled at the same time as others; the therapists are very good at managing their time to keep you busy.

So the room can be crowded, but at course people come and go during the course of the day. First thing in the morning things tend to be very hectic, but after that first rush is a nice time to go, since everyone who has to be at work is already there. The tide of people ebbs and flows throughout the day, but the positive vibe is constant.

The clients themselves are an odd bunch, with our only things in common the facts that we are broken and want to fix ourselves. I've seen high school and college students, and just-retired peppy seniors, and one gent who'd I guess has to be at least 90. Generally, we do what we're told, and we try our best, although we may groan a little and tease our therapists that they are slave drivers or worse.

They do make us work, and the work is hard; banter helps. I've watched one woman recovering from encephalitis (I think, some kind of brain infection), and the exercises she has to do to retrain her sense of balance and depth perception are so frustrating to her, but she perseveres.

I used to think PT was a waste of time, but through direct experience I've learned better. Our bodies generally recover well from insult, injury, or illness, but some of these can lead us to bad habits, and when the bad habits perpetuate, we inflict new pains on ourselves. PT is one way to avoid ever getting into those bad habits, and it's the best way to get out of them.

Back in October, the surgeon nagged me to be sure I would get PT. Immediately after my surgery, I could barely turn my head in either direction, and tilting my head back to look up was completely impossible. I've been working diligently on regaining my freedom of movement, and it's almost back to 100%, in all degrees of motion. The nerves controlling my shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand were all affected by the surgery as well, leading to significant weakness and loss of coordination. Now with the rehab exercises, my right side is as strong as my left.

Now, what if I hadn't had PT? Well, my right arm and hand would be pretty much useless -- weakened and getting weaker by the day from disuse. I'd have crashing tension headaches and aching shoulder muscles from having to carry my head "just so" -- I vividly recall those from the early weeks of my recovery, and I worked hard to stretch the neck muscles precisely so I could affect a decent stretch of the shoulders and upper back. Driving would be impossible, since I wouldn't be able to turn my neck. In other words, it would be a disaster.

Did I really need to visit a physical therapist to ensure all these bad things didn't happen? Maybe not, but my therapist knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. I'm not the type to attempt my own auto repairs, and the body is an infinitely more complex machine than a car. Some professional guidance is a really good idea.

Just for comparison's sake, take a look at what happened after my hysterectomy just over 2 years ago. I didn't have any PT afterwards, none was recommended at the time. Recovery was pretty easy, relatively speaking, but I developed some major league bad habits, including letting my ab muscles be lax nearly all the time. Hey, when you've had major dissection in your pelvic area, everything in your gut feels weird and keeping those muscles tight does not feel good.

So: lax abs led to my lower back muscles spasming, triggering recurring problems with my piriformis, the skinny muscle that stretches across the butt. Now, I have fibromyalgia and in my particular case, the fibro causes certain muscles or muscle groups to just get rock hard (at least, that's how it was explained to me -- most people don't have this kind of problem. At least I hope they don't.) So the rock-hard piriformis impinges on the sciatic nerve and gives me the classic symptoms of sciatica, numbness and tingling all the way down the leg. What fun! But to make matters even better, the piriformis' deformation is torquing all the other muscles around the hip/pelvis, and my hip rotates out of alignment. Then all those muscles start freaking out and I end up feeling as if I've crushed my tailbone.

Yes, my own muscles being out of alignment essentially dislocated my tailbone. (More PT helped this condition a lot, but I'm still struggling with it because of the fibro and frankly, not being consistent with my exercises.)

I think all that could have been avoided if I'd had PT, but who knew what domino effect that surgery was going to set in motion? I had no idea.

I really like going to PT, but I'll happy when I "graduate", which may happen this week. I will miss the camaraderie among the clients (not patients, you'll note) -- we're all screwed up somehow or other, but we all want to get better, and we all believe we will get better. And the therapists will help us to do it. It's not a so much question of hope as it is one of faith: maybe I won't be pain-free, but I'll be able to live my life better.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find a church where there was such a uniform adherence to the central doctrine, and such a profound belief in the central mission of the establishment.

what the heck was that?

I've known for a few years now that the parish I first attended when we moved to AZ had gone 'round the bend, but I had no idea how wacky they had become. I'm not sure if this is a creeping insanity or what, but today's "performance" takes the cake.

Because DS2 wasn't feeling well until the late afternoon yesterday, DH went to Mass with DS1, and I stayed home with the peewees. Theoretically that left me with many Mass-going options today, except I had a coffee date at 10AM -- still not that big a hurdle. Then DH got a last-minute invitation to the Cardinals game, and things became much more time constrained.

So I ended up going to St. Andrew the Apostle, a "Catholic Faith Community," whatever that is -- but they're still part of the archdiocese. I was late, so I didn't notice anything particularly more egregious than last time, except that the candles in their advent wreath were blue instead of purple -- cobalt blue, not blue-violet, which qualifies as purple after all. That's weird, I thought, but minor in the grand scheme of things.

I can deal with the choir getting more attention than the altar. I dislike intensely the practice of the priest/celebrant sitting in the congregration, but that's their thing. I really, really hate the large sculpture they have of the Risen Christ behind the altar, instead of a crucifix -- it makes Jesus look as if he has just fallen off the top of a wall. But all that stuff is old hat for this parish, and I expected it.

What floored me today were the dancers. After Communion, a troop of eight young women (mid to late teens, most likely) processed to the altar. Their long hair was unbound, and they were wearing long, sheer, flowing white dresses with scoop necks and long sleeves, cinched at the waist with narrow cords. They looked startling like maidens of Ancient Greece or Rome. They were all very pretty, too, and I was trying to figure out what their purpose was as they arranged themselves artfully in front of the altar. Then some insipid modern church music started up and they performed a ballet routine consisting mainly of waving arms and twirling.

All I could think was: What the heck is this?

I gave up and left after about a minute, when it was obvious it wasn't going to end anytime soon. I'm sure the congregration applauded, anyway, which is another thing that sets my teeth on edge, so it's just as well I wasn't there.

I suppose (I'm trying to be charitable here) that a beautiful dance can inspire us as much as beautiful music can. I know people who are irked by the persistance of music during and after Communion, because that is the time when we are supposed to be focussing our energy on the sacrament. I like the music because it helps me to focus, even though I can recognize that some people can find it a distraction.

I'm still finding it hard to believe that anyone would find such a dance performance anything but a distraction. The purpose of the Mass is not to entertain the congregation, but I get the distinct impression that the folks who are running the show at St. Andrew disagree with that sentiment.

Maybe it's OK -- maybe there's a book of rules that says you can add inspirational performances to a Mass after Communion. But while I don't know whether or not any rules were broken, I do know that it was a Bad Idea. I'm pretty sure that if DH had been there, he would've had a hard time not laughing. It was just so incongruous!

Reflecting on this incident, I'm trying to discern whether or not I'm hidebound and intolerant or whether the dance really was just silly. I keep coming to the same conclusion: the dance was silly, and an unnecessary distraction at a point in the ritual that should be used for private prayer and contemplation. If thinking that way makes me a fuddy-duddy, I can live with it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

mouthful of salt

My parotid salivary glands are acting up something fierce lately. My face is mildly mumped, not so that anyone else can tell that they're swollen, but I can see it. They don't feel very good, either, so massage, while beneficial, isn't at the top of my list at the moment.

The worst thing is that I keep getting streams of salt water instead of normal saliva. I'm chewing a lot of gum but you know, salty wintergreen or salty peppermint just aren't doing it for me. I use my Biotene stuff religiously, too.

I wish I knew what triggered this behavior, so I could avoid it or at least expect it. I also wish I knew how long it's going to last. It has been going on for about a week now, and it's affecting my eating and desire to cook, too. When everything tastes salty, your whole relationship with food gets distorted. And this is probably the single worst time of the year to not be able to taste properly!

turned the corner

I believe that DS2 is finally now officially over the active phase of his illness. His fever quit on Tuesday, but up until this afternoon, he still had a look about him that showed he wasn't really well. His eyes looked sick. Yesterday he fell asleep on the way home from Borders (about 5PM) and slept until 8PM, when he ate a grilled cheese sandwich, put on his pjs, and went to bed. I'd say it was the extra sleep that got him over the hump, but he was lethargic, miserable, and over-sensitive all morning, and the sick eyes persisted.

DH gave him some ibuprofen in the early afternoon, and by 4PM DS2 was running around like his little normal self -- his eyes finally lost their "sick" look, and his whole vibe was different. He still looked and acted fine when the medicine wore off, so I'm praying that he wakes up tomorrow in the same improved condition.

ok, now I remember

... why I don't use mailmerge to print out our envelopes every year at Christmas.

I've spent the past 3 hours entering our mailing list in Word, tracking down addresses, setting up the envelope template -- and trying to print out our 48 envelopes. I'd say the database part took about an hour, and that's only because I was on the phone with my mom for a while.

The printer is just not behaving. We have an ancient HP Laserjet 4L. The thing is a tank. We've had it just shy of 11 years now, and it's going strong. It's really a great little printer, except it has always been terrible at printing anything that needs to be fed, one sheet at a time. I don't know what's up with it, but after printing one, two, or sometimes 4 envelopes, it just spazzes and says there's a paper jam, when of course there isn't.

The worst thing is trying to convince the damn printer that it's OK to keep going. I have to open and close it several times to convince it that there really is no paper jam, all the while praying that it will draw in the next envelope from the manual feed slot. (For the record, this is not a new problem, this printer has always been horrible at this particular task -- I think I was just repressing the memories of trying to do our wedding and baby announcement envelopes on this thing.)

Fortunately we have a lot of extra envelopes, too, because sometimes when it's being picky it lays down the toner on the envelope but doesn't set it, and that envelope's just a goner...

The other printer in the house is an all-in-one HP OfficeJet, and I did a few on that but they look all smeared even after I cleaned the print heads.

At this point, I'm thinking it would've just been easier to write them all out longhand. I would be done by now. (grrrr)

Update (aka, reminders for next time I need to do something like this): Finally finished.

Here's the trick: Print only one envelope at a time. This is easy using Word's current mail merge facility that lets you preview each envelope, and allows you to print the current record. At the printer: feed the envelope with the back of the printer closed, then press OK on the Print dialog to start printing. Once the printer has drawn the envelope in, it's OK to open the back. Wait until the envelope comes out and then close the back -- this is very important because if you leave the back open (so the envelopes can go straight through and not get all curly), the printer goes into "paper failure" mode for some reason or other. Wait until the printer light shows "Ready" again, then cue up another envelope. In Word, go back to the "preview envelopes" screen and advance to the next record. Then use "complete merge", "print", "current record", "OK". Repeat until done -- tedious, but saves my arthritic hands from being crippled for a week.

Since the printer is on the opposite side of the room from the computer with Word on it, I've been hopping back and forth all afternoon. But as long as I remember to close the back of the printer, it works fine. This is obviously more of a pain than just being able to continuously feed the envelopes, but it is still a lot less work than writing them out longhand.

Friday, December 09, 2005

bed time stories

(Another post in the "it's about time" category)

Several months ago, I went on a little Amy Wellborn shopping spree, buying books for myself and the family. For myself, I splurged and got her devotional, A Catholic Woman's Book of Days. I do not read it as regularly as I would like to, but whenever I do read it, I am always happy that I did. These brief meditations are ideal in that they make you think, and lead to contemplation and prayer, but they don't require a Herculean effort. Reading this book is like having spiritual dessert. (This is one of those things I will never understand about myself -- you'd think with so much positive reinforcement, I'd get into a good habit, right? Somehow, it hasn't happened yet.)

But the subject here isn't the Book of Days, it's the Loyola Kids' Book of Saints, and the companion volume, the Loyola Kids' Book of Heroes.

Like all of Amy's writing, these books are written in a direct, conversational tone that is friendly but never patronizing. Each saint's story is just a few pages, making them the perfect length for a bed time story. We have a routine of reading a story each night before we say our family prayers together and tuck the kids into bed. All three children listen to the stories intently, because each is about a real person who really did these amazing things. Some of the stories are very sad, some are exciting; all are tailored to the audience, but nothing is white-washed. Amy's not afraid to talk about suffering, something most saints are intimately aquainted with, and something most kids these days have no concept of.

I admit, we often don't get to read a story because bed time is running late, and we go directly to the prayers. But the children will ask if they can "have a saint story," and when each story is over, they always ask who the next saint will be. When we first started reading these stories, the kids were unsure as to what exactly was going on. Like all kids, they are suspicious that we are going to make them work when they really don't want to, and these "saint stories" sounded suspiciously close to "church" to them. But now that they've actually heard some of the stories (a lot of the stories!), they look forward to hearing more.

One of the nicest features of these little stories is the questions that Amy asks. After one or two stories, the kids are accustomed to this now, and they understand that there will be questions and things to talk about when the story is over. One of the best nights we had was when we read about St. Hildegard von Bingen, and I was able to find a recording of some of her music in my vast CD collection.

Since the saint stories are grouped thematically rather than by time or place, we're getting quite a good overview of history and geography as we read the stories straight through. I think perhaps the best thing of all is that both DH and I are learning about some of these people for the first time, ourselves.

I heard DH telling DS1 and DD this evening how important it is for them to know about the saints. I didn't catch his entire argument, but the part I did hear centered on their need to choose a patron saint for their Confirmation names. Since our parish now practices the Restored Order of the Sacraments (pdf), DD will be confirmed in 3rd grade, and DS1 will most likely be confirmed at the same time, when he is in 5th. (DS1 was in the final year of 2nd graders to make their First Communions separately from their Confirmations.) DH spent weeks reading through the lives of the saints before deciding on his Confirmation name. It was made more difficult for him, of course, because he was coming to the task completely "cold," with very little prior knowledge of any saints. Our kids should have it a lot easier when it's their turn.

But there's an even better reason to know about the lives of the saints, I think. These people are our brothers and sisters in the Church, and hearing these ancient (and some not-so-ancient) stories is just as important as hearing stories about parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles when they were growing up. In the same way that our personal stories foster that sense of belonging and connection within the family, saint stories encourage that feeling of belonging in the Church.

I know a lot of people have problems with Catholics "praying to" the saints; they think that we're worshipping people who've died. That's not it at all, but I'm not sure how well I can explain this. When we pray to a saint, we are talking to them and asking them for intercession with God -- we are asking them to pray for us. Think of the last line of the Hail Mary: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners... That's it in a nutshell. The only "power" a saint has is to intercede for us, to put in a good word for us with the Big Guy, so to speak. We always think of asking for intercession along the same lines as asking for help or advice from a living person you respect, trust, and admire. Sometimes the kind of help you need is better provided by a saint than by, say, a mom, especially as we get older.

So by introducing all of these wonderous people to our children, we're giving them a lifelong resource. Of course they don't realize it now, and if they're anything like me, they'll settle on just a few saints they regularly ask for prayers from. It's difficult to understand how vast the Communion of Saints really is, but when you think about it, it's pretty awesome. Thousands of people spanning the centuries, and all of them standing behind us, ready to help.

I hope that by introducing our kids to this idea fairly early in their lives they can avoid some of the alienation and isolation that naturally accompanies growing up. We're part of something much bigger than our own family, and you're only ever alone if you choose to be.

My kids are almost-9, 7, and almost-5, but very articulate and with excellent vocabularies, and they have no problems understanding these stories. Amy says these books are written for middle school children, and that sounds about right to me. You can buy these titles at Amazon, but it's better for Amy if you order directly from her; I encourage you to do so, here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


DH ended up getting a late afternoon appointment with the periodontist, who scraped out all the infection and gave him prescriptions for anti-biotics and serious pain killers. The good news is, even though he has significant bone loss and it might not grow back, there are a number of methods the periodontist can use to save the tooth. Of course the periodontist and all the procedures done in his office are not on our discount plan, but hey -- at least the infection is gone now, and DH will be all right.

That's all to the good, but today was Thursday -- soccer practice day! DH came home from work to get his roster when I pointedly said to him, Let me know if there's anything I can do for you.

It took a minute for that to sink in, I think, but then he said, Well, actually...

And that's how I ended calling the entire team and explaining that practice was cancelled for today, but that the game was still on for Saturday. Twelve players, and I reached nine parents directly. I hope those other three got their voicemail messages!

It has been quite a while since I had to call a whole list, and as these things go, this list was short. In retrospect my summer job as telephone survey taker back in my college years has provided me with a very useful (marketable?) skill: I don't have an iota of phone phobia, and I can make a cold call as comfortably as I can call a friend.I know to think about what I'm going to say before I even pick up the phone, so I have my introduction in order, along with the key information I need to convey.

I know many people would rather have their eyes poked out than make phone calls, so I guess I'm weird. It was fun.


Don't sit in the very first row of pews at Holy Day masses, at least not the evening one.

I have nothing against incense. In fact, I like it, but when you're in the first (or second, for that matter) pew, you get enveloped in it. Then when you try to sing, you get a faceful of smoke, and you end up coughing instead.

I'll have to remember that there's a good reason to stick with our usual seats, five or six rows back.

good news, bad news

On the good news side, the dryer has only shut off a few times this morning, and it's still doing a nice job on actually drying the clothes, so maybe we can hold off on the new dryer purchase for a while.

In other good news, I picked up my digital camera today, and the repair shop replaced the broken switch at no charge. I'd link, but they don't have a website: Arizona Camera Works, on Arizona Ave. They definitely didn't have to do that, since the warranty is only 6 months, and it was more than 6 months ago by far that I had the work done. They didn't even charge me for the labor, even though I asked if I could, at least twice. So even though I needed to get the camera fixed again, I still highly recommend these guys -- it's not their fault that the replacement switch died, which is what caused the problem this time around.

On the bad news side of things, it looks like DH is in for some serious dental work, as he is in danger of losing one of his front teeth.(!!!) Poor guy has been through some major mouth-work over the past few years, including surgery and orthodontia (Invisalign, they totally rock, and I wish I had had them when I had my braces when DD was a baby). One of his front teeth has been loose for a while, but the orthodontist assured him it would settle in eventually. Today at his teeth cleaning it was seen to be infected, and there is bone loss along with major gum problems (6 mm pockets). Yikes! He sounded so distressed. He has been working so hard to keep his own teeth, I know he will be really upset if he has to get -- what? They can't do a crown or an implant, I'm guessing, so it would be a bridge? I don't know.

Of course, whatever it is will cost us an arm and a leg, since we don't exactly have dental insurance -- Delta Dental doesn't offer it to individuals, and the BC/BS dental plan costs more than it's worth. We do have a "discount dental plan," so maybe it won't be so bad. But the main thing is getting that infection cleared up, and making sure DH will be OK. Of course this is something that will cause him to miss more work.

Nothing to do now but wait and see what happens. And pray.

what next?

The dryer is acting up, I'm staring at a huge medical bill, and I'm smack in the middle of two rather pricey processes: Christmas shopping and physical therapy.

So why is it that the CD player in the van chooses now to start acting up? You know it's not good when 1) it makes a crunchy noise when you switch from radio to CD and 2) it repeatedly flashes "CD EJECT" but nothing happens when you press the EJECT button.

More investigation is in order, of course. I have no idea whether or not it's under warranty; I'm going to have to root around in my files and find the receipt and paperwork that came with the unit. It's about 2 and a half years old, and it's not like it's abused or anything -- although sitting in a car in Phoenix in a garage that easily averages over 120 degrees during the day in the summer probably qualifies as abuse.

If I had known it wasn't even going to last 3 years, I would've bought a cheaper model...

I so do not want to deal with this -- but I also don't want to drive to CA with no tunes, so I guess I'm going to have to. *sigh*

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

fast food foray

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and hence a holy day of obligation. It's also Thursday, which is swim practice (DS1), dance class (DD), and soccer practice (DH and DS2) day. So we went to Mass this evening, and afterwards, we stopped in at the new Carl's jr in the neighborhood for a quick supper.

The burgers were definitely superior to either McD's or BK's, but not quite as good as In'n'Out's. The kid's meal burgers are the biggest I've ever seen included in a child's meal; we could easily order one meal and split it between DD and DS2, and they would both have plenty to eat. Even DS1, who generally adores cheeseburgers and was starving when we hit the place, couldn't finish it. Best of all, this mondo-kid's burger plus fries and drink comes in at the very reasonable price of $2.50. (Yes, there was a toy: Linus sprawled on top of a giant snowball-top, their tie-in is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It could be a lot worse.)

DH and I both had one of their "Six Dollar Burgers." First off, I am compelled to point out that the so-called "Six Dollar" burger did, in fact, cost $6.50. I know, it's only 50 cents more, but if you're going to call it "the six dollar burger," then I think it should cost, you know, six dollars.

On to the burger itself: I got the avocado bacon cheeseburger thing. It was way too big to eat neatly. I ended up nibbling around the edges to get the sandwich innards to match the dimensions of the bun, and then I had a better shot of eating it without it all sliding out the back whenever I took a bite.

It was tasty. The avocado is mixed with something spicy (chipotle?) that gave it a nice kick.

The fries were a little dry but edible -- not greasy, and not made of some horrifically inappropriate potato like the ones at In'n'Out.

Generally I don't care for fast food but I recognize its utility, especially when I have hungry and cranky children to feed. Carl's jr is going on the list as a more-than-acceptable alternative to the usual.