Thursday, December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas!

We have been very busy, like most everyone we know. There was quite a bit of shopping, some wrapping, the annual writing out of cards (along with the apparent mis-sending of checks!).

Here's a recap...

We've had an Advent Wreath for several years now, but until this year, it was just a decoration. I found some simple daily prayers and we enjoyed lighting the candles each night before dinner. On Christmas morning, the wreath is supposed to be transformed into a Christmas wreath with white candles and festive decorations; I was all set on the decorations but could only find two white candles! That will have to wait for next year, but this year we had a lovely daily reminder of the meaning of Advent, and the children learned how to safely light and handle matches.

DD had a "holiday culture" project, and she wrote about The Christmas Pickle, charmingly. The kids had the opportunity to earn extra points if they brought in a treat or snack to share, so she prevailed upon me to make a Christmas Tree cake. Our family tradition is to make a tree cake for Epiphany, and I didn't really want to have to make a cake in the middle of last week, but I caved (as usual). We ended up making a simple white cake from scratch (it was delicious, even though we had no cake flour and the King Arthur flour I use has too much protein to make a truly delicate cake), and instead of frosting or anything complicated, I topped it with my new fast favorite, vanilla glaze. I later used that same glaze on the cappuccino cakes I made for DS1's teachers, using up the extra on the gingerbread cookies we made just yesterday. (Yes, there has been a lot of baking. I made pumpkin spice muffins, too. There's more to come, as I have everything on hand to make fruitcake. Yay!)

DS2's class performed the charming Christmas at the OK Corral. While he didn't have a part, we all enjoyed the show tremendously, as the leads had both talent and enthusiasm, and DS2 loved dressing up for the occasion and really got into the songs and dances he did as part of the chorus. DD also had a performance of sorts, as Amelia Earhart, at the "dinner party" conclusion of the biography reports her class had been working on. I made her an aviator helmet from brown paper and goggles from pipecleaners wrapped with masking tape, and with my old white satin scarf, it was obvious who she was. She wasn't too happy with the helmet until she saw how everyone else loved it, but she did a great job on her presentation.

Sadly, we were rained out of Luminaria last week, so Tuesday night we dashed over to the Phoenix Zoo to see the Zoolights (video at the link). The Zoo lot was full, so we grabbed the free shuttle at the Muni parking lot, and enjoyed the light show. I have a video of synced-to-music tree lights that I'll upload if I can ever get my account on YouTube straightened out -- for now, this not-great shot will have to do. My camera has a night setting and I was using my mini tripod, but obviously my skills need work. I was impressed with how well-organized the zoo was; the shuttles were coming one right after another, and I think the kids enjoyed the bus rides as much as the lights. As usual, I ended up piggy-backing either DD or DS2 about half of the time, and my hip was really complaining by the end of the night.

Last Monday was our final RE class before Christmas break, and the teacher whose classroom I share had these huge paper snowflakes hung all over her room. They were so gorgeous I wanted to make some myself, so I googled "giant paper snowflake" and found this terrific set of directions via tings wot i have found on teh intarweb, a great site in itself. I love crafty things like this! It wasn't difficult or time-consuming to make at all, you just have to take care as you curl the pieces together. The boys have been using it for target practice with their Nerf dart tag guns (Santa brought a set for each of them; there was a minor blizzard of orange foam darts in here earlier) a good part of the day, and it has stood up to the abuse pretty well.

Last but not least, a good part of Christmas Eve was getting our webcams installed and trying them out with our family in Pennsylvania -- the kids are having a great time chatting with their cousins, and I'm thrilled they're not using up cell phone minutes. You can see we're not taking Christmas too seriously around here. We went to Mass last night, then out to dinner as usual, so today was very low key.

It is, in fact, even more low key than usual, since DH is en route to Connecticut to spend a few days with his parents. He was here for presents and breakfast, arguably the high points of the day anyway. (sigh) Since then, we've found that the XBox 360 does not come with wireless internet capability and that Dance Dance Revolution is hard! The Nerf guns remain a blast, however, and I think the kids are as happy with their Christmas as could be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Domperidone, day 17

It's working!

Today, I actually felt hungry and was able to eat. I had "lunch" at DD's 4th-grade cultural fair, which was mostly carbs and a ton of sweets, but I didn't feel horrid afterwards at all.

One side effect, which may or may not be from the medication: any alcohol at all knocks me right out. I had a glass of wine this evening after dinner, and within an hour I was asleep on the couch. A 30-minute nap at 8PM isn't optimal, but it's not the worst thing, either. The question is, is it just me being exhausted from all the running around I've been doing, or is it the meds? I'd like to be able to have a drink every now and then without a sudden attack of narcolepsy.

In other news, everything hurts, everything still's drier than dry, and I'm worried that my gums are going to get diseased because my mouth gets so dry. The rheumatologist appointment can not come quickly enough. I have to accustom myself to the idea of going back on meds for the RA, and I want to make sure I'm using the best products to keep everything appropriately moist. This has been going on long enough that I don't think it's going to go away on its own, so it's good to ask for help.

The weather's not helping -- we're on day three of cold, gray downpours. Not what I signed up for, moving here, but I really can't complain. Tomorrow's supposed to be better.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The goal of my life is not to know myself perfectly. It is to serve and love as Jesus did. -- Amy Wellborn

Part of discerning a vocation, and accepting it, is realizing how unproductive excessive self-discovery is. We can never know ourselves (or anyone else) perfectly and should recognize the diminishing returns that constant introspection yields.

We come to know ourselves best through the good work that we do.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

insanely delicious soup

It's really too late to be writing this up, but I don't want to forget this recipe, and it's already fading.

On Thursday, I put about 12 pounds of pork butt (one of the big packages from Sam's Club, two big hunks of meat) into the counter top roaster oven. I slathered them with a generous amount of salt, Hungarian sweet paprika, and molasses, poured in a little water, and slapped the cover on. I set the temperature for 275 degrees (not a typo) and let it cook undisturbed for 10 hours.

That's how I make my version of pulled pork, which it turns out is much closer to carnitas, although carnitas aren't made with paprika and molasses. I don't care, it tastes great. It takes me approximately 5 minutes of prep time, and then DH spends about an hour "de-goo-ing" it, because he doesn't like the fatty globs or particularly tough bits of connective tissue that may be left. I don't, either, but I'm not as gung-ho about getting rid of it as he is. We get about 5 meals out of it, so there's a very good meals-to-work ratio.

By the time the meat is done, there's about 8 cups of dark brown cooking liquor in the bottom of the roaster. We pour that off into a large container and refrigerate it over night, to make disposal easier.

Friday morning, I was cleaning out the fridge and hauled out that container. I skimmed off the 2-inches of pure white fat from the top. (I pitched it, lacking anything productive I could do with it.) Beneath that layer was a cola-brown aspic that smelled too delicious to throw out, so I didn't. I made soup with it.

Now most Green Chili Pork recipes start with raw cubed pork and work from there. I already had this fabulous liquor that I wasn't about to squander, not to mention plenty of pulled pork. So I made a few notes of the spices most recipes had in common, and came up with a soup that uses the same method as my Easy Chicken Soup.

Green Chile Pork Soup
(could be a stew if you don't add as much liquid)
8 to 10 servings, depending on appetite

Pot liquor from pulled pork, about 8 cups, de-fatted
1 small onion, diced (we are not big onion people. You could definitely use more onion if you like that taste)
6 garlic cloves, whole
1 large bay leaf
4-6 stalks celery, chopped into bite-size pieces
3-4 carrots, chopped into bite-size pieces
~ 1-2 tsp ground cumin (to taste)
~ 1 T Mexican oregano
~ 1 T chili powder
2 4 oz cans green chilis
6-8 Campari tomatoes, quartered
12 oz cauliflower florets, bite-sized (I used a bag from Trader Joe's) (you could use potatoes instead)
12 oz carnitas (pulled pork)
optional thickener: 2 tsp xanthan gum OR 6 T flour or cornstarch

Prep note: when preparing the onion, carrot, celery, and cauliflower, it doesn't matter how big (or how small) you make the pieces, just be consistent. You want all the carrots to be the same size so they'll cook at the same rate, ditto the onion, celery and cauliflower. The onion, celery, cauliflower, and carrots do not have to be the same size as each other, just realize that bigger carrots are going to take a longer time to cook, and if you have small pieces of celery or onions, they may disintegrate into the soup entirely. For some of us, that's not a bad thing at all.

1. Heat the pot liquor just until it's liquefied again. Strain it to remove the remaining bits of goo and other things you don't want in the soup.

2. Return the stock to the heat, add the bay leaf, onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the carrots are tender.

3. Stir in the green chilis and the spices. The measurements are approximate, as I just sprinkled and stirred and smelled and tasted. Also, my cumin was in one of those cellophane bags (approximate cost: 79 cents) and I wasn't so careful pouring out of the bag. (I do recommend those spice bags, if you have them in your supermarket. Spices can be cheap, little glass bottles are always pricey.)

4. Stir and taste and adjust the seasoning. I did not need to add any salt as I always salt the meat generously when I'm slow cooking it. You might start with half the smallest listed amount and go up from there. The pot liquor I used is very flavorful and can stand up to a lot of spices. If you use chicken stock, you're not going to need as much.

5. Stir in the tomatoes, cauliflower, and meat. Simmer another 5-6 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.

6. Whisk in the thickener of your choice -- I used xanthan gum, it's low carb and as long as you sprinkle in tiny amounts at a time, it doesn't clump. (I use a tiny sifter to add it to the pot bit by bit.) You could also make a slurry of cornstarch and water, or flour and water, and whisk it in to thicken it up a bit. Or you could just leave the liquid thin. We liked it thickened up just a bit, the way Hot & Sour Soup is served.

You could grate some cheese into this, it would be nice. We just ate it straight with tortilla chips. It is spicy but not hot, and has layers of flavor thanks to the great paprika/molasses base, then the onions/garlic/celery/carrots, then the green chilis, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. It is of course loaded with veggies, and as it's based in a "bone broth" it could not possibly be better for you... or me.

DH and I have now had this for dinner two nights running, and I also had it for lunch today. I'm now kicking myself for all the other times I made my "pulled pork" and just threw out the wonderful pot liquor. At least I finally came to my senses.

Domperidone, day 13

Status continues pretty much as described on Tuesday. The bloated, nauseated feeling is no longer constant, and some mornings I haven't felt bad at all. I am trying to eat smaller meals and keep up my fluids, but drinking anything fills me right up, and I stay full for a long, long time afterwards, still -- easily three, four hours. But I don't feel like puking, so that's good.

My rheumatoid arthritis is kicking up, particularly in my hands (of course) and feet. I realized this the other day when my feet were killing me. I thought I could blame my new shoes, but they felt just as bad the next day (and the next) when I wore old, comfortable, supportive walking shoes. They just hurt. Hands, too -- I fully expect the knuckles I whacked on the doorframe yesterday (carrying a box too big to see around, oops) to be hurting, but they are no worse than the others. In the past few days I've had trouble buttoning DD's pajamas, opening a medicine bottle, and unwrapping packaging (not clamshell). I can still manage, but I'm noting that things I didn't have to think about are harder now.

I have an underlying sense of deep fatigue, and I'm not sure whether it's the new medication or just the fact that I have been running around like a crazy person for the past two weeks, getting ready for the holiday. We are in good shape now, but I still have to get the cards out -- that's tomorrow's task.

All of my mucous membranes are dry, but I still have post-nasal drip if I don't use my Nasonex. My tear ducts aren't completely shot, my eyes welled up during one of my favorite hymns at Mass this evening. I love Advent.

This coming week will be very busy, too. The kids have all kinds of stuff going on at school, we have RE Monday and the Luminaria on Wednesday, Friday the kids start their winter break. It's a blur, and I'm worried that I'm forgetting something, so when I think of anything, I write it on my list, which has so many items scratched off it and new things wedged in, it's pretty funny. Keeps me sane, to a certain extent.

I've registered for courses and exams! The Plan gets underway mid-January.

Chihuly in progress

This week, we'll be going to the Desert Botanical Garden to see their Luminaria, and the new Chihuly Exhibit. We got a sneak peek a few weeks ago when we went so that DS2 could see the Native American dwellings on the Desert Living Trail. Here are photos from the parts of the installation we were able to see. Be sure to click on each photo (and then click again to zoom, at least in Firefox); there's a high(er)-res version of each photo which shows a lot more detail.

The first piece in the installation is along the entrance road to the Garden itself, a little taste of what's to come. The form mimics a saguaro but also evokes cholla cacti with its all-over spikiness.

This piece is part of an installation that is right by the Garden entrance. In the upper right you can see a worker on a ladder working on another piece in this grouping. These pieces evoke agave beautifully.

The next four pieces are installed in and around the cactus house.

This last one reminds me of a bunch of Christmas ornaments glued together.

Here's a shot of a crane putting up an orange and blue piece:

And here's a magnificant piece that dominates the space around it completely:
I love the way it's colorful, twisty tendrils contrast with gray-green angularity of the desert life around it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I have a plan


I talked to some of the teachers today about when they took their state licensing exams. There are three tests that all AZ teachers have to pass, namely:

1. Professional knowledge: demonstrate you know how to be a teacher, and specifically, a teacher in AZ. (This explains the excruciating parts of my recent SEI course.)

2. Subject knowledge: demonstrate you know the material you say you want to teach.

3. US and AZ Constitutions: who said civics is dead?

Consensus is, the professional knowledge exam is part educational psychology (took that already), part AZ legal requirements (ditto), part classroom management (again, ditto), and lastly, some part (what should be) common sense. Since I have some classroom experience as a substitute, I should be able to take this test and not embarrass myself.

Subject knowledge tests are hard, and people do fail them. I have no clue about the Constitutions exam, everyone takes an exam prep course for it. You have two years after you start teaching to take the test, so everyone ignores it until the more important exams are well past, and passed.

So here's the plan:
I'm taking
1. the Professional Knowledge test in January
2. an accelerated (8-week vs 14-week) biology class staring in mid-January
3. the Subject Knowledge (Biology) test at the end of March.

Assuming I pass, which isn't much of an assumption, I'll be good to go with the rest of my program at Rio Salado -- or even to get a teaching position if I wanted to, which I don't. At least not yet. But once I've passed the tests, I'll be eligible to teach. It would be good to have the option.

Domperidone, day 8

I started taking the double-dose (20 mg) on Sunday. With just about 3 days of that behind me, I'm seeing substantial improvement in my symptoms and no apparent side effects. I'm not sure which is more surprising to me, but I'm not complaining.

I still have that bloated/gross feeling a lot, but it's not nearly as bad as it was. The mornings were particularly bad and now are pretty much like the rest of the day. I can eat without difficulty usually, although I vaguely recall feeling so gross I couldn't eat a few days ago.

Generally, the condition has become more manageable. Yesterday, I had a couple marathon phone calls in the morning, then spent three hours with a girlfriend, both of us trying to finish up our Christmas shopping and having some success. Then I taught my religious ed class, after which we went to Mass for the Holy Day. Today, I worked in second grade, and then taught the circuit class, and uncharacteristically worked with all three kids (in turn) on their homework. Incredibly busy days when it was easy for me to ignore whatever was happening (or not happening) in gastroparesis-ville.

The dry eyes/mouth thing is the same, or worse, depending -- while I'm at school I tend to forget to use the eye drops, even though I have them with me. The artificial tears drops don't seem to do much good, anyway, and if anything, the desire to find a more effective eye drop may get me in to see my rheumatologist. I really don't want to deal with this now, though -- although the new calendar year and the resetting of all deductibles should be more persuasive. It's not, but still -- could I get in to see her before the end of the year? Hmmm.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Domperidone, day 5

This isn't going so well. I'm not having a bad reaction to the medication, it's just not working at all.

The past 3 days I've ended up not eating breakfast at all because I feel so sick in the mornings. When I actually eat I feel better, but the bloated, gross feeling I have is the exact opposite of hunger.

I can eat reasonable quantities of food when I do eat, so I think the medicine is helping in that one respect. Then again, "reasonable" quantities of food are rather smaller than I was eating before the gastroparesis flared up again. There's something amiss when I'm eating as much (as little) as my 10-year-old daughter. And I feel OK while I'm eating, but within 20 minutes of stopping, I'm back to that bloated-gross feeling again.

I think 5 days on one pill per dosing is enough of a trial; tomorrow, I'll start taking two at a time. The prescription was loosely written: 1-2 pills before meals and before bed. We'll see if upping the dose improves the situation at all. It would be nice to be able to eat normally again.

I see the g/e doctor in early January. If the domperidone isn't working for me by then, I wonder what other alternatives exist. The fact is, I could live with this. I have been living with this for a while now. But for most of this time, I haven't been working, and I do want to have my own classroom someday. I wonder how I would hold up if this condition persists.

Other persisting conditions: dry eyes oddly come and go, as does the other dryness. At Mass this evening my mouth became so parched that at one point I had to stop saying the responses. It's weird when you try to swallow and there's literally no saliva. But it only lasted a few minutes and then I was OK. (whew) That hasn't been happening as often. I'd hoped it was going away altogether, but I guess not. Again, this is something I can deal with as an occasional substitute teacher, but how would it be, dealing with this while teaching every day?

Even the days I've subbed lately I've noticed I'm not as resilient and patient as I like to be. It's easy to think you can just ignore these low-level irritations, push them to the background and just shoulder on. But that takes some effort, which leaves less energy for everything else. I'm getting way ahead of myself in thinking "What if I can't teach because of this?" but I can't help it, it's the way my mind (such as it is) works.

No point in freaking out prematurely. I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it.

school's out!

My instructor finally graded my final exam, huzzah -- I ended up with 100%, which gives me 100% for the course. As I said, huzzah.

You may be sensing a lack of enthusiasm, which would be correct. It was a frustrating course, a combination of too much learning about laws and regulation and not enough learning about the practical application of them. There were some good lessons, certainly, but I'm still coming away more frustrated than anything else.

And now, I'm stuck, because I have to take my subject matter test before I can continue in the program. The plan now is to take biology starting in January so I can test at the end of March. Or maybe I'll just get an AP study guide and spare myself the bother -- as if I have the discipline to do that.

Right now I have no enthusiasm for much of anything. I'm glad I'm finished with the classwork but wish I had a better sense of where I'm going.

Friday, December 05, 2008


What do you mean, No?

At ten years and one month, exactly, DD weighs in at 55 pounds and is 55 & 3/4ths inches tall. As always, she's at about the 75th percentile for height, while hovering between the 5th and 10th percentile for weight. She's remarkably consistent, and remarkably healthy, now. Ten years ago she was putting me through the wringer.

After her painless and pleasant well-visit, she begged me for Starbucks. It was a damp, chilly morning, and we were out of the doctor's office before 8:30. I could have had her back at school by 8:45, but I caved. We took the Starbucks detour (I got her the delightfully low-priced kid's hot chocolate, only $1.10) and got her to school just before 9AM. I figured an extra 15 minutes wasn't going to make much difference.

At the time I felt some anguish: what signal am I sending my daughter, what am I teaching her about school, that it's OK to blow it off for a while to get a nice hot beverage? I don't know -- I rationalize by reminding myself she's effortlessly getting straight A's and the entire staff loves her.

That's a front, though. The truth is, I love to spoil my kids, just a little bit. It's not the food or the drinks, it's the time spent together, talking about nothing or just being quiet with each other. It's a rare thing for me to have such one-on-one time. Who could blame me for wanting to stretch it out a little? (Is it my daughter who is spoiled, or is it me?)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Domperidone, day 3

Having now completed three days of treatment, I'm still seeing little-to-no improvement in the gastroparesis symptoms. Tuesday's crushing fatigue subsided with a decent (more or less) night's sleep, but I'm not exactly peppy these days.

It's good for me to be busy because then I don't notice how crummy I feel -- a sign that my symptoms are not bothersome enough, for the most part, to get in my way. Wednesday I completed my last assignment, wrote up my study guide, and took the final exam for my ESL class. Today I ran around and looked at a bunch of potential investment property and did several other errands as well. By five o'clock I feel like collapsing but don't, and then I get a second wind and find myself staying up, alas.

Eyes are dry, tummy hurts, RA is kicking up and that weird flank pain comes and goes. I'm still trying to discern whether or not it's muscular. I have figured out a stretch that seems to help, which points towards a muscularity issue. (The main problem is that my core remains weak in spite of all the exercising I do.) I've decided to just let all this apparent auto-immune stuff go until after the holidays. Two reasons: 1) I don't want to deal with it (maybe it will resolve on its own) and 2) diagnosis isn't going to change anything, since treatment involves using appropriate products to keep everything ... moist. Eye drops, saline nasal spray, Biotene dry mouth toothpaste, mouthwash, mouth spray, etc. It's a bit ridiculous, and if I thought there were any treatments that went to the root cause and didn't just try to alleviate symptoms, I would be at the doctor's tomorrow. Perhaps I should be less pessimistic. Weight's down around 138 in spite of eating things like Dark Chocolate Covered Shortbread Star cookies from Trader Joe's. Overall I can't eat too much at any given time because then I feel really horrible, even with the medication. I'll give it a few more days at this dosage before I try doubling. (I was given the option of 1 or 2 tablets before meals and bedtime, so far I'm just using one.)

I've got laundry in the dryer, which sounds like it's about to give out at any moment. It may be time to bite the bullet and get new machines. Our current set is about 12 years old and I do experience twinges of guilt whenever I use it, since I know that the newer machines are much more water- and energy-efficient. Any impulse towards shopping for new ones has so far been stifled by the realization that the old ones still work, so why go to all that expense? It's that thought process that will someday leave me with a broken down washer/dryer and piles of laundry accumulating. It really shouldn't take 2 hours to dry one load of laundry.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Domperidone, day 1

DH estimates an 86.3% chance that any new medication I take will 1) not alleviate the symptoms for which it was prescribed and 2) manifest at least one if not more unpleasant side effects. He's an optimist.

After 24 hours of treatment, there is no perceptible change in my gastroparesis-related symptoms: I still feel gross. (No change in my Sjogrens-like symptoms, either.)

I am experiencing crushing fatigue, however, inconsistent with the amount of sleep I've been getting, between 6 and 7 hours a night lately. (Not too bad, for me.)

It could take a few days for the meds to kick in, right? If I get a good night's sleep I'll feel fine tomorrow, right?

I have no idea, but I'll give this another few days and see what happens.

Interestingly, domperidone at 10mg 4x/day has apparently been available OTC since 1998 in Canada (or is that from the UK? Can't tell.) If it has been available OTC for ten years just north of our border, I wonder what the hold up is with the FDA approval down here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


The new medication finally arrived from Canada today. I feel as if I have done something not-quite-right, when that's not the case at all. My doctor prescribed the drug for me legally, and I paid for it legally, and it's all above board. It just doesn't feel that way.

Now I'm waffling on whether or not to even take it.

I didn't take any before dinner, when I could have. Maybe even should have. I'm thinking about taking one before bed.

The question is, what will it do? Will it work? Are the side effects of the drug worse than the bloated-gross feeling I get from the gastroparesis? I won't know until I try it.

The scared/stupid combination state I'm experiencing now is really annoying. Decision: take one, and go to bed. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

watching Sweeney Todd


It goes much better for me if I close my eyes, just for a second, and avoid the worst of those sanguine geysers.

Other than that, fantastic film. I'm enjoying its current rotation on HBO.

(Having a heckuva time getting Blogger's photo tool to embed the photo code -- it's uploading the pictures just fine, but it won't put the code in for me. Frustrating!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

the difference between Honda and Hewlett-Packard

When the transmission went on our 2000 Odyssey ten days after the warranty expired, four weeks after we'd had the car in for a a safety check and 2 weeks after they'd replaced the catalytic converter, Honda stepped up big time and covered a big chunk of the repair cost for us. Of course, the class action suit might have had something to do with that.

HP, on the other hand, totally stiffed us when our Pavillion a6050, which we bought in May 2007, died again in exactly the same way it died in January. We had the thing for 8 months, and suddenly the graphics card and motherboard went bad. We had them replaced under warranty, and the work was handled by the local Best Buy, which shipped the machine out to its Chino, CA service center. End of September rolls around, and the machine dies again, and it's back to Best Buy: they diagnose a bad graphics card. I buy a new graphics card and on a hunch, pay them to install it and run a diagnostic, because if anything goes wrong I don't want them to blame me for it. They put it in, it works fine, but when we get it home and start using it, we get the blue screen of death (BSOD) at random intervals. Brought the machine back in. The BSOD error messages are reporting failures all over the motherboard. Geek Squad recommends we just get a new computer, because parts and service for the repair are now north of $500. They were great about refunding me for both the new graphics card and the service they had done, though. Nice guys.

Of course, my HP warranty expired in May, and -- here's the real kicker -- they have no record of the repair done in January. I don't get that; someone paid for it, and it wasn't me. It doesn't matter anyway, because the repair done in January was only warrantied for either 30 or 60 days, I'm not sure which. Are we serious? A $500+ repair is only warrantied for 60 days?

I had several testy conversations with the support folks in India who are 1) very good at sticking to their scripts and 2) completely useless in a case like this because the machine is, in point of fact, out of warranty. My point is, the thing was never fixed properly or it wouldn't have broken in exactly the same way again, and when it first broke, it was under warranty. We spent $1000 on this computer and now it's out in the garage awaiting proper disposal. I want to kick it every time I see it.

Now the kids have no computer of their own, and queue up incessantly to get on my laptop. I've sworn never to buy another HP, and you know what? My little Gateway laptop is doing great. Maybe I'll just get another one for the kids, and we'll be all set. It would cost less than the estimated repair on the not-so-old HP.


Survived the first two events of the annual whirlwind, Halloween and DD's birthday. She turned 10 this year, and had a big party -- that is, an expensive party, at Build-A-Bear workshop. She also had a sleepover, featuring pizza and a concrete (frozen custard) cake from Culver's, in addition to last week's actual-day birthday celebrations, and the acquisition of the hamster.

I'm exhausted. We did a thorough job of house-cleaning before DD's friends came for the sleepover, although the way her room looks now, I'm not sure why I bothered.

The gastroparesis seems marginally better, I don't feel like puking all the time, although I do still feel bloated after eating. I'm dragging my feet on filling my new prescription for Domperidone. It's going to around $100/month. The price tag gets me thinking, hey, I can deal with this, it's not that bad. My g/e doc doesn't recommend erythromycin because it works only in the very short term.

RA is slightly flaring after the longest time being in remission. It's weird having swollen knuckles again. New weirdness: strange and persistent aches from sleeping badly positioned. I had my feet curled around each other a few nights ago, and my right foot is still protesting. My hip feels bruised from sleeping on my side.

Also, bilateral flank pain that I think is muscular but isn't responding to the usual stretches that helped me last time the fibromyalgia targeted my quadratus lomborum.

The dry mouth/eyes business is a steady-state of mildly annoying which I think is better than when I last wrote about it. I notice it, but I can also ignore it for long stretches of time. I probably shouldn't, and should be more diligent about using my eye drops, etc. The pain and tenderness under my right jaw has mostly gone away but still hurts if I touch it.

I have a theory that my last batch of Cytomel was heat-damaged. I've been feeling a little better since I started my new batch. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

hamster love


We resolved the which pet to get? issue on Wednesday. After our class at the Y, we drove up to Just Pets in Tempe, and got the cutest, friendliest, and most adorable teddy bear hamster to ever exist. (I have no prior experience with hamsters, but this one is great.) Jarod at Just Pets is awesome; he really knows all the animals there and chose this one particularly for DD, since it is very well socialized and therefore good for little girls.

Then we went to PetSmart and bought all the things the hamster needs, like a habitat and a ball to roll around in, and food and bedding and a tube to sleep in, all that good stuff. Jarod actively dissuaded us from buying that stuff from him, as that's not really their thing: they're really into the animals, not so much the stuff. I recommend anyone looking for any kind of pet in the Phoenix-south area to check them out.

DD named her Frederica, and calls her Freddie for short. She's reading a book about a golden hamster named Freddy, so that's where that name came from. Her first day home, Freddie spent most of the time in her tube, freaking out (I suspect.) But she discovered the wheel in her cage and loves it, and loves rolling around the house in her little plastic ball. We put the cats in a room with the door closed when we let Freddie out -- the temptation to play hockey with the hamster ball is much too strong for the cats to resist.

I never had pets growing up, and all of my pet experience until this week was with cats. It's amazing how one little hamster can be so solidly wedged in my heart in the space of two days.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

staying up too late

Ridiculously late, in fact -- been thinking about it, and have decided it's because I don't have any reason to get up early, even though I do get up at 7AM if not earlier on the kids' school days.

I remember when I lived in Massachusetts, I might stay up till midnight, but usually didn't last that long, usually I'd turn in around 11PM. I was getting up at 6:30 or 6AM to do morning rituals and the 30-45 minute commute to work, which would typically start at 8AM. I had an 8AM to 6PM work day, typically -- hours that minimized the commute, mostly, and made long lunches guilt-free. I had that routine for years. What happened?

I don't think I can blame the babies, although they did disrupt sleep quite a bit during their early months. But since DS2 is 7 years old, I don't think that's relevant anymore.

I think it's not-working. When I know I'm going to be subbing, I'm good about getting a decent amount of sleep the night before. If I were working full time, I'd get back into that groove of going to sleep at a normal time. But since I'm not working full time, I have apparently given myself license to stay up till whenever. What difference does it make? (Rhetorical question -- isn't it obvious?)

I got laid off from Oracle more than nine years ago, and I still haven't fully recovered. It's especially ridiculous because the list of my involvements is not small, and I could really use more sleep. It's just because my schedule is so flexible that I let regular sleeping hours go.

Lately, it doesn't help that the time of day my stomach feels best is after midnight. I'm not supposed to eat before going to bed but feeling hungry and actually being able to eat? That's something I enjoy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

nightmare scenario

Obama wins the election, but is impeached and convicted on charges of campaign finance fraud. I don't know if that rises to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors," but I would think it should.

Joe Biden is set to ascend to the Presidency, but suffers a debilitating brain aneurysm before he can take the oath of office.

Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female president. Hillary Clinton spontaneously combusts.

This is where I wake up, because if Pelosi were ever to take over the presidency, we can kiss Western Civ goodbye.

decisions, decisions

So, I'm broken again in yet another new and interesting way, and have a number of issues to figure out and decisions to make. To whit:

1. Figuring out if this is real or just an artifact of my thyroid meds being off. "This" is two things, which may or may not be related.

First and familiar, the gastroparesis persists, and is worse. I feel nauseated a lot of the time, particularly before eating. The first bite is always dicey, but it seems that the act of eating makes me feel better for a little while. Then as soon as I stop eating, I feel gross again. This evening at dinner I had an odd thing happen, when I took my first bite it felt like it was going to come right back up again, because my stomach was closed for business. It was very strange and not at all like nausea, more like a physical obstruction. I sipped some water and the spasm passed and I was able to eat, but it was very weird.

Second is the new thing, which may or may not be Sjogren's Syndrome. My eyes are very dry and I never have enough saliva to swallow. Thankfully I have enough to keep my mouth moist, but that's it. It's very peculiar. I'm doing eye drops and nasal saline spray about four times a day, and that helps, but the eyes burn constantly anyway. My salivary glands all hurt, but not in the old, RAI-damaged-salivaries way. My submandibular glands in particular are cranky. I have a persistent ache under the right side of my jaw. This has all been going on for about 10 days I think, it's hard to keep track and I'm kicking myself for not writing about it sooner.

Both of these things could be related to thyroid meds, but otherwise, I'm fine. I've had some episodes of feeling colder than everyone else, and a bit of itching, but nothing systematic or major that would indicate I'm hypo. Much more likely would be that I'm hyper, but I'm not having any palpitations or other hyper symptoms, either. OK: the occasional thumpers, but not even once a day, certainly nothing to be concerned about.

2. How do I know when to escalate these and bring them to my doctor(s)? Which doctor(s) do I go to?

I broke down already and made an appointment with my g/e doc. I'm going to ask him for some erythromycin for the gastroparesis. Maybe it will help, and antibiotics have often helped with my other autoimmune issues. So if the dry eyes/mouth thing is Sjogren's (therefore autoimmune), maybe that will get better, too.

This question is mostly about the possible-Sjogren's. Do I take it to my rheumatologist? What if it is just another manifestation of RAI damage to both salivaries and tear ducts? As much as I love my ENT, this is outside his bailiwick, I think. I could go to my TMD doctor for the under-the-jaw pain... I have no idea.

As to how long to wait before I call the doctor, I have this idea about giving things like this some time to resolve themselves, because that would obviously be the best outcome. But it's not getting any better, if anything it, too, is getting worse -- and it's horrid because I'm parched so I drink but then I feel nauseated because of the gastroparesis.

But, and this is my most important argument, none of this stuff is preventing me from doing what I have to do. I have markedly less enthusiasm for things I might otherwise want to do (I took a 2 hour nap this afternoon), but as far as housework, homework, volunteering, and working out, I'm keeping up just fine and doing my usual reasonable impersonation of a healthy person.

It gets very tiring walking around feeling as if you are about to throw up all the time. Like many people, I have a phobia of vomiting, I haven't done it over 20 years, and I don't remember how. That sounds stupid, but it's true.

3. Last but not least - this is funny, actually, considering I'm writing this all out here for anyone to read - I don't want to admit that there's yet-another-thing wrong with me. It's embarrassing. At dinner today of course everyone noticed when I took a bite and then just stopped and sat very still for about five minutes, waiting for whatever-that-was to resolve itself so I could eat my dinner. "Are you all right?" DD asked. I had to answer her truthfully and say no, I was having some trouble swallowing. I'm glad they haven't called me to work since fall break ended, I don't know how I'd manage a whole day at school. I'd probably manage fine, I manage at home -- but it's different being on your feet and talking all day. I suppose I'll find out.

Meanwhile, after spending the last five years lurching from medical crisis to medical crisis, I would really like all of this to just go away. Life's not fair, but it's particularly hard to deal with something else just when I'm getting in a good groove and trying to get on with my life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

lost a friend today

Dean Barnett has died, finally succumbing to the cystic fibrosis he had been battling all his life.

I didn't know Dean personally, but I felt a special connection to him nonetheless. A New Yorker article by doctor-writer Atul Gawande sparked a conversation between the two of us, who came at the problem from the patient's side. At the time he was writing under the pseudonym James Dwight at his old blog, Soxblog (still linked in the sidebar). Eventually Dean came "out" and started using his real name. He became a co-blogger at Hugh Hewitt's blog, and frequently guest-hosted on Hewitt's radio show, in spite of his unbelievable (and I believe near-incomprehensible to non-natives of Boston) accent. He moved over to the Weekly Standard, where he wrote for both the blog and the magazine.

I never met Dean, but I looked forward to reading him every day. He had a particularly nice way of taking apart an argument, on its facts and merits, and not based on the person who wrote it. He was especially good at dismantling Peggy Noonan's genteel ravings, and I have missed him keenly during this last wave of anti-Palin hysteria.

His pamphlet, The Plucky Smart Kid with the Fatal Disease, is as easy a read as you will ever find about facing a life of adversity with kindness, humor, and grace.

Dean Barnett was an inspiration to me. God bless him, and grant peace to him, and all his family and friends.

told ya

Yesterday was better. Today was OK, too.

Yesterday I made myself go and work out, and came home right after. Usually there is shopping to do but it didn't work out that way this weekend, and that was good, because I decided to buckle down, study, and take the stupid test. So I did, and even finished in time so we could all go to Mass together as usual. (It was lovely, especially nice music selections, and we were asked to bring the gifts up to the altar. In that past when that's happened, it has been panic-inducing, but everyone did just fine.)

Today I didn't bestir myself outside at all, but that's just because I was busy. Pancakes for the kids for breakfast, then helping DS1 with his science project and his book report, all while processing five loads of laundry (I really shouldn't let it go all week). It works so much easier for him (and thus, all of us), if he dictates while I type. He knows everything he should, he just has an extremely tough time expressing it; that's where his Asperger's is most apparent. Still, he's in good shape for this week, and should be OK as long as he doesn't get too much math homework.

This will be a busy week, Thyca meeting weeks always seem extra crazy, then we have Halloween on Friday, and DD's birthday following closely -- and we still have not settled her party plans. DH has nixed the idea of a kitten completely; three cats is too many, he says (I disagree), and it would be difficult to keep the kitten's food away from the other cats (I do agree with this). Besides, the cats we have are completely adorable already.

DD has therefore reverted back to guinea pigs. I think I will have to negotiate a deal with her beforehand: if she doesn't keep the cage clean, they're going back to the shelter. OTOH, she was complaining about being bored today, and when I told her to clean her room, she didn't. There is no place to put a guinea pig cage in there! How serious can she be if she won't even make an effort to put some stuff away so that she could actually set up the cage? I'm thinking laziness is going to win out over the "want my own pet" impulse after all.

Friday, October 24, 2008

not so bad, not so good

My mother doesn't have cancer, but there are still tests pending and she has to undergo another series of blood tests and other intrusive and unpleasant procedures to try and figure out why her blood counts are so low. While we know it's not cancer, we don't know what exactly it is, so we just have to wait.

Today was a blur in which I accomplished very little -- wrote up the landscape proposal to send to the homeowner's association, checked DS1's math homework, that's about it.

I feel slightly less wretched knowing my mother doesn't have cancer (I like saying that) but in all honesty, not much. The background stress level has ticked down a couple of notches, but it's still pretty high.

I have to think: I'll be better tomorrow. Is there any good reason to think that? No, but why should I let that stop me?


DD will be ten years old soon and wants her very own pet.

DH is not thrilled with this idea, and swears he will not be involved in the care or feeding of this creature. I advocated for DD because she is responsible and has put up with an insane amount of face-altering orthodontia without complaint.

The girl has played me like a fish on a line, I tell you.

This has been going on for weeks if not months, starting with a (1) hedgehog, then segueing into a (2)turtle.

Lots and lots of turtle research, but no one sells box turtles here, so then it was on to (3)tortoises.

Even more tortoise research. But tortoises (and turtles) are 1) really expensive and 2) a life-long commitment, and DD will only be 10. I don't want to be taking care of her tortoises while she's in Med School (that's her plan), so we shifted gears yet again to a (4)small furry creature like a gerbil or a fancy mouse, that she could take with us when we go away for the summer.

Small furry creatures are disposable pets with price tags to match, so that's good. They're also prey for our two cats, not so good. The very small ones, the ones that would travel most easily with us, are not very tame, though. DD sets her heart therefore on a (5)guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are social and do best with a companion. How the heck are we going to fly cross-country with two guinea pigs? Where will we put them in the car, when there is barely room for the five of us? I don't know. We go to the pet store and look at carriers, and guinea pigs. They are adorable, but large-ish, certainly larger than what I was thinking. At the end of the guinea pig stuff aisle?

The pet adoption center.

What DD really wants is a (6)kitten. I stood there looking at the kittens. They are all completely adorable. I think about how Alice and Cooper are already socialized to having another cat around. I think how Alice and Cooper will not try to eat the kitten. I think that adding a litter box will be fairly easy.

I realize that DD is perfectly capable of cleaning out the litter boxes herself, and say to her, "If you get a kitten, you'll have to take over cleaning out the litter boxes." (That's DH's job, now.)

She says she'll do it. We'll see.

Do you see how that worked? She wanted a kitten all along, but DH had long ago said no. This isn't exactly bait and switch, it's me realizing that adding a cat will be a lot easier and cheaper than adding any other animal to this household.

Of course DS2 now thinks he can get a kitten when he turns 10, but I'm pretty sure that three's the limit. Maybe he'll settle for something small and manageable? No way -- what he'll really want is a puppy.


(I think I have used that post title before.)

I'm feeling pressured from so many different angles that I feel completely paralyzed. Here's the list:

- I'm supposed to take my mid-term by tomorrow. I completed all the assignments, now all I have to do is review, and go take the test. I have spent the last four days avoiding the review as if it would kill me. I have an almost physical aversion to the subject.

- I always kids myself that biopsies are no big deal, only to be surprised by how flattened I feel afterward. I mean, the doctor slices off a 4mm disc of flesh, gives me a couple of stitches, and slaps on a band-aid. I was in the office for less than 15 minutes on Tuesday. I'm not expecting bad news, maybe it will be dysplastic but nothing worse than that. Still, I'm a wreck.

- Mom had her lung biopsy on Tuesday and we're waiting on the results. I hope to hear from her tomorrow (Friday), and I am bracing myself, because there's no way to guess what's going on there.

- The kids' computer died a couple of weeks ago, in exactly the same way it died back in January. Only now it's out of warranty... I opened a case with HP. We paid nearly $1K for that thing, and it has a supposedly new motherboard and video card from January. Shouldn't they last more than 9 months? Of course no one has called me back on the case yet, but they are supposed to, by tomorrow. In the meantime, multiple calls and trips to Best Buy, long chat conversations with the HP support people, and absolutely no satisfaction yet.

- DD's birthday is coming up and she wants her own pet. This is so complicated it will get its own post. Uncountable hours have been spent on that project.

- What started out as having the landscaper repair the drip lines has morphed into a full-scale makeover of the front yard to the tune of about $5K. DH, and I quote, "We can't afford it, but we should do it." Because we have an equity accelerator mortgage, it's not true at all that we can't afford it, we just don't want our loan balance going up any higher... but we haven't touched the front yard in ten years, and you can really tell.

- I feel much of the time like crying, throwing up, or both. There are physical reasons for that, including the permanent lump in my throat. My reflux is moderate to horrid these days. The gastroparesis is back enough to make me feel bloated and crank up the reflux, but not enough for me to lose any weight. I think my thyroid meds must be out of whack. I'm back to being cold when no else is, and I'm parched all the time. Then there's that whole inability-to-concentrate thing. Not good. The question is, how long do I let this go on before I break down and go to the doctor? And then, which doctor do I go to? ENT for the throat? G/E for the gastroparesis and reflux? Endo or GP for the thyroid? I'm thinking g/e, he'll run my thyroid panel for me... but I'm also thinking I've got an ovarian cyst which could be causing all of this hormonal swamp, so maybe I should call the GYN.

- Underlying all of these real and personal concerns is this background noise of the pending election, and what changes that may bring.

I'm up too late surfing the web or watching TV, I'm avoiding my schoolwork, I'm worried about my mother, I'm suppressing my own pending biopsy (and mammogram!) results, and I feel icky, and writing about it doesn't help. But it might help later when I'm trying to figure out how long I felt this way, and so here it all is.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I just spent about an hour composing an email to DS1's Spanish teacher. We got report cards today, he got an F in Spanish.

Needless to say, this came as a horrible shock to all of us. He was expecting a B, having started strong but hitting a very rough patch towards the end of the quarter. Still, we hadn't run the numbers, but we figured he must be doing OK since we didn't hear one word from the teacher the entire quarter. All of DS1's other teachers gave the kids, fresh-minted 6th graders struggling to adapt to middle school, lists of missing assignments and what-not before the end of the quarter. Nothing from the Spanish teacher, though, so we figured he was OK.

Along with the report card came the access codes for us to check his grades online. Yay, and it's about time. There are not a lot of grades in there (he only has Spanish two days a week.) Still, average test grade was 84. Average homework grade was only 56, because he missed an assignment back in August, but didn't know it. Participation grade was 100.

His final grade for the quarter was 56, and F. I don't see how that was calculated, unless the final grade was equal to the homework grade, in which case, why record tests and participation at all?

I asked the teacher to please explain how those scores add up to an F, because I'm just not seeing how it gets there. I hope it was just a mistake, because otherwise I'm going to have impose some consequence on DS1 for failing, even though the rest of the report card is brilliant and he's been working incredibly hard all year.

I suppose I shouldn't take this so hard, but the kid is horrified. He's never received such a bad grade on a report card, and if he had known about that missing assignment, he would have turned it in. Even with only half credit, it would've brought his homework score up to 72, and then there would've been no question of failing.

I don't want to get branded as one of those obnoxious, meddlesome parents, but I truly don't understand this grade and I don't want to punish my son unfairly. I'm hoping I get a reasonable response from the teacher, because the last thing I need is bad blood at the school where I work and all three of my children attend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

biopsy day

In about eight and a half hours, the dermatologist will take a punch biopsy. I'll get a couple of stitches and will have to deal with those for a couple of weeks, no big deal.*

At about the same time, my mother will be having a CT-scan-guided needle biopsy of her lungs. The last description she gave me of the possibilities: "It could be an infection, it could be pneumonia, or it could be something bad."

Something bad is her euphemism-of-the-day for cancer, a word she still has not spoken to me, regarding the possibilities here. She did, however, say it to my sister. Perhaps Mom thinks I have enough cancer to worry about on my own.

I'm a lot more worried about her test than I am about mine.

* This particular mole is coming off because it just showed up quite recently, and it's rather large. It would be a freckle except it's in a place that never gets sun exposure, and freckles by definition are caused by sun damage, so that's out. The dermatologist asserts at my age, I shouldn't be developing new moles. Who knew? I can't worry about every spot that pops up on my skin, I'll drive myself crazy. In any random 2-inch square area, I probably have a half-dozen little moles and/or freckles, no kidding. And I'm supposed to keep track of them all? Having the body mapping photographs helps but eventually they're going to be too off, and I'll have to have it done again.

Monday, October 13, 2008

weekend road trip

Estimated hours spent driving -
Friday: 4
Saturday: 5
Sunday: 6

Number of complaints heard: 0

They didn't spend all their time playing on their Nintendo DS or Sony PSP, but the handhelds (and the headphones) sure helped during the long boring stretches.

More to come.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

should've known better


I have this idea that I'm self-disciplined. I can eat just one or two squares of chocolate (insanely delicious Belgian chocolate, at that) a day. I do work out regularly three times a week. I take all my medications when I'm supposed to, and I make and keep all my doctor appointments. All my kids' appointments, too. And I make sure everyone (else) eats right and gets plenty of rest...

Anyway, that carefully maintained facade crumbles when I start reading. Hand me a 400-plus page novel and I'll be up until 2 or 3AM, bleary-eyed but awake until I read it straight through till the end.

I thought I could be more disciplined this time, but the kids are on break and there isn't anything compelling I have to do, so... 900 pages of the first two Twilight books gulped down like a gin-and-tonic on a hot day. About as intoxicating, too.

I'd never heard of them until I got back to work in August, and the kindergarten teachers were talking about them in the break room. My ears perked up: vampires? I've been a vampire-story junkie since I read Interview with a Vampire as a 15-year-old babysitter, alone (with sleeping kids) in a creaky house surrounded by woods. Probably not the best choice of reading materials, but I was getting paid to stay awake, and I did. I know I've written about this before -- wasn't I one of the half-dozen people who watched the short-lived Blade television series? It wasn't horrible, but it didn't come close to the campy glory that was Kindred:The Embraced, with its mafia-like vampire families.

I idly picked up Twilight, the first book in the series, a couple of weeks ago at Borders, and read the first few chapters while the kids were exploring their own selections. Then I read the next few chapters the next time we went back, and so on; I'd read up to chapter 10, piecemeal, and I seemed to be doing just fine, doling it out in small doses like that. But then we went to Bookman's and traded in a bunch of stuff and I decided to use some the trade credit for myself for once, and got both Twilight and New Moon. (I was gratified to find out that Jacob really is a werewolf, as was hinted at in Twilight.)

I was just over on IMdb to look up something completely trivial, and noticed the link for the Twilight teaser trailer. I clicked. I squee'd with positive and inexplicable joy: the casting looks perfect (Cedric Diggory as Edward!), and the teaser, anyway, gets the tone exactly right. Of course teasers are edited to entice and trailers often show the best parts, but the snippets I saw in these two teasers were just so spot on, I'm psyched.

I should know better (there it is again) than to get my hopes up; how well I remember being sucked in by the look of that Eragon poster. But Twilight is a much simpler story, really, and it should be pretty easy to hang a film on its slight frame. It has love, beauty, and danger, but I'm most interested to see how Hardwicke & co deal with Edward and Bella's chaste relationship. It runs completely counter to the message that teens get everywhere else (sex!), and it's central to the novels. I hope they don't screw it up.

(And now I'm up past 2AM for the third night in a row.)

Monday, October 06, 2008

accelerating through the curves

I'm behind enough in my school work that my instructor just emailed me -- again! -- to remind me that, ahem, I'm actually in the class and would I please submit my assignments? That's not what she said, actually, but that is what she meant.

Time to jettison my lame objections and actually do some work. (It's so much easier when it's interesting.)

generations, bridged

My mother began coughing up blood a week, maybe two weeks ago, but what finally got her to go to the doctor was her uncontrollable blood sugar. She has had Type II diabetes for many years, and usually her sugar has been well-behaved; she pays attention to it -- sort of. She thought she'd been OK for years, but then, she only tested it in the mornings, when it was almost always good. She didn't realize it could be great every morning and sky-high every evening.

Anyway, she has chronic kidney disease and a host of symptoms from that: anemia, breathlessness, fatigue. Still, she doesn't quite meet the criteria for dialysis, and even if they told her she needed it, she just might say "thanks, but no, thanks."

Between rheumatoid arthritis in her hips and spinal stenosis, walking has become very difficult for her, severely limiting her ability travel. She could cheerfully deal with all these medical conditions, I think, if she could still pop over to Europe a few times a year.

Back to the newest and most acute symptoms: it's hard to tell what's really going on. She had a CT scan, and she told me the doctor showed her some black spots, but also white spots all over the place, so it's probably an infection. She told one of my sisters it could be cancer. She didn't mention the black spots at all to one of my brothers... you see how this goes? She selectively edits, and so we must all compare stories and fill in the gaps to get the complete picture. She doesn't lie, but she feels perfectly OK omitting details or shaping a narrative for each of us.

She's on antibiotics; the pulmonologist is going on the theory it's an infection, with good reason. Mom broke a tooth sometime late last spring and didn't get it fixed until September. Several of us knew about it and nagged her about it over the summer. I offered to drive her to the dentist several times, but she wouldn't go. What were we supposed to do, throw her in the car and take her against her will? She's a grown woman, and she's our mother and we just had to back off and let her handle it. She "handled" it by ignoring it until her blood sugar went crazy, and that finally got her to do something about it.

There's a good chance she has pulmonary actinomycosis, from the reading I've done. That would be the "white spots everywhere." The black spots are very worrisome. The doctor has ordered a biopsy, which hasn't yet been scheduled. I don't know if they could do a needle biopsy because Mom is coughing so much; you must remain very still for those. She has been on the antibiotic for several days now but is still coughing so much we can barely converse -- a few minimal exchanges provoke a fit of coughs and she's off the phone.

This is very unsettling of course, creating a sort of background level of worry that I try to ignore since it's not something I can do anything about. I remembered this evening that Mom has a DNR, and that just upped the anxiety level to the point where I don't want her to go for the biopsy because if anything goes wrong it could kill her, and they would be legally barred from reviving her (the way I understand it).

She is tired. Some days she is at peace with the idea of dying, some days she's so annoyed by all the nuisances she has to endure that she talks more positively about doing things to get better. But those periods of enthusiasm are short-lived, and she always finds an excuse to stay away from the pool, or skip that round of physical therapy. She's getting smaller and more frail by the day, and hours of coughing each day are taking a lot out of her.

What can we reasonably ask of her? "Don't die, Mom," seems like too much, some days. When she tells me she's ready, I tell her I'm not, we're not. I don't care if that's selfish. I don't want her to suffer but we're not at a point yet where I can say to her, "It's OK, you don't have to struggle anymore." It's not up to me to give her permission, anyway; she certainly doesn't owe any of us anything.

Somewhere or other recently I restated one of my fundamental beliefs: we all have the lives we want to have. But how many of us get to have the end-of-life we want to have? Who am I to tell my mother that she can't submit, that she has to keep fighting? Hasn't she struggled enough? How can anyone else possibly know the answer to that question? She is the only one who knows, and from 2,500 miles away, it looks as if she can't quite decide, and so lets her self slide for weeks or months, only to be brought up short by some symptom she can't ignore. Then she's thrown into a new cycle of annoying medical care, a "waste" she has told me, more than once. Each time this happens she slips a little further down, and her recovery is less and less satisfactory. I'm grateful for these efforts she makes, even while I'm irritated that she procrastinates so long. (My father did the same thing, he kept expecting to die and so waited nearly a week to go to the hospital after his heart attack. Eventually it was his lungs that killed him, years later.)

It's possible for a death wish to be rational, but it's impossible for me to calmly accept it, at least for now. I can't do a thing about it. I can't even talk to my mother about how's she really feeling these days, because she can't talk on the phone for longer than a few minutes. This would not be a 3-minute conversation.

I read a quote once, about how becoming a mother meant being accustomed to having your heart walk around outside your body. But I think it works the other way, too: If I am my mother's heart, she is mine, too, and she always has been. I am suspended between the generations, my mother and my children, our one heart stretching back to her past, forward to their future. I can no more control their paths than I can dictate to my mother what she should do. I only know that we will all be immeasurably diminished when that tie to her falls away. I do not know how to say these things to her. It is not possible to release someone while at the same time holding her so close she could never leave, but that's what I have to do.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Well, it has been longer than I intended between posts, but I got busy.

I've been subbing for the most unruly pre-kindergarten class in all of recorded history, so there's that. After imposing all sorts of order on the classroom, things got a bit better, but the mix of personalities and capabilities among those children makes it exceptionally difficult. One third very young, one third mature for their age and very, very smart and capable, and one third willing to argue with you about anything and everything. (There is some overlap between the arguing group and the other two.) The big problem, of course, is that the immature ones see all the attention that the arguers get and decide that that's the way to go. Man, they're smart little manipulators, but it's exhausting! Anyway, I'm done in there as far as I know, although I will probably never forget any of those kids as long as they are coming to our school.

In other news: normal PAP smear (yay!), but have to get one suspicious mole removed, since it popped up in a place which literally never gets sun exposure -- new freckles (caused by sun damage) are OK with me, new moles are not. Even though the dermatologist was on the fence about just keeping an eye on it, I said no, just take it off. That's scheduled for just after break ends. Mammogram scheduled for second week of the break, it will be nice to get that over with.

Haven't done much work on my own school, but now that we're on break I want to get through the next few lessons (and maybe even the midterm) before we have to go back. The teacher takes an incredibly long time (like, a whole week) to grade, though! Yeesh. I'm used to faster turn-around; I suspect I'm just spoiled.

Work has taken a lot out of me these past couple weeks, and this week was especially crazy with RE on Monday, a ThyCa meeting on Tuesday, and teaching circuit on Wednesday -- by Thursday I was exhausted. I was very happy to survive the week.

Mom's sick and it is most likely pretty serious, but I don't know for sure -- hope to find out when I make some calls tomorrow. I hate being so far away at times like this.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


A while ago I went through a battery of annoying, time-consuming, and sometimes painful tests to diagnose why my acid reflux had suddenly become much worse. I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a condition which means that my stomach doesn't empty properly. If you google the term, you'll see it can be quite serious; my symptoms were never severe, although they were unpleasant.

After trying the typically prescribed meds with disastrous results, I decided to attack the problem from another angle, my thyroid meds. Because while clinically I may be hyperthyroid, I was still running low, at least for me, and hypothyroidism is one of the more common causes of gastroparesis.

So I finally got back on my old meds regimen and the problem went away... until last week. I really noticed it on Sunday, but it has been going on for a while now. I just feel gross, bloated, icky. I've been taking only 7.5 mcg of Cytomel each day for several weeks now, after spending the summer on 10 mcg/day -- but when I got home I felt like I was running a little too fast (my TSH was down to 0.03), and bumped it down...

Anyway, now I've notched it back up to 10 mcg/day for the past 3 or 4 days and so far, no change, I still have the icks. I hope the higher level of T3 kicks in soon, because I really do not want to have to take motility meds for this problem, they are really dreadful.

On the plus side of the ledger, my afternoon headaches are not nearly as frequent or as severe, so whatever got tweaked is apparently healed, I think. I hope. I'll be working with 4-year-olds starting Friday for a couple of weeks, and it will go a lot easier if I don't feel as if my head is going to explode every day.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

even more lately (another list)

Alive and well, just busy. The itchiness that was plaguing me has mostly (mostly) gone away, now that I'm back on all my meds properly (I kept running out of things, and not managing to replace them for a week or two -- not prescription things, but things that help.)

We never heard a peep from anyone after DD's audition, as expected. What surprised me is how completely she forgot all about the whole thing the minute we walked out of the place. She is now obsessed with the idea of getting a turtle for her birthday.

Back on track with my schoolwork, but very annoyed and frustrated by the content (so far)... and that's all I'll say on that.

Work is busy, much more busy than I had anticipated for this time of year. I'm glad to be earning but some days I just want to stay home. I'm doing 2 weeks+ at the end of September in the same classroom, that should be fun. We have only 14 days of school left until Fall Break. Yay!

RE (religious ed) starts Monday, and I have a class of 24 third-graders this year. It's a First Communion/Confirmation class, so most of my material from last year -- when I had a teeny tiny class of fifth- and sixth-graders making Confirmation only -- is out the window. My goal is to do a syllabus and welcome letter before Monday, just so we know what we're doing. I think I've tracked down a good prayer to St. Paul for us to use, too. We'll be studying his life all year, along with learning our prayers, the practice of daily prayer, and everything else they need to know before thy make their First Communions and are confirmed. *whew*

Camera's still broken. (sigh)

Still no word on a location for a more-local thyroid cancer support group, but I've been doing phone support at least once or twice a week all month. It seems as if everything has reverted to the status quo ante, and for now I'm letting that go.

Two observations: I seem much less willing to be deferential, and much more OK with the idea of pissing people off, in expressing my opinion the past month or two. I don't think I'm a total bitch but there's definitely something going on in the attitude department. Second, chronic daily headaches are plaguing me, and the only thing I can link them to was one night, goofing around with DD, she hung her entire weight (about 54 pounds) off my neck, which wasn't good. Ibuprofen takes the edge off, but it's not perfect. I noticed today that carrying any sort of bag or strap over my shoulder (either one) seems to make it worse.

I have various doctor appointments (skin check, annual GYN) coming up, but I'd ditch them in a heartbeat if I could get rid of this headache torment.

The decrepit and dangerous wooden swingset is being dismantled hauled off tomorrow by The Junk Guys. (I was inspired to call them because their ad specifically says you don't have to bring your junk to the curb, they'll get it for you.) It's almost 10 years old to the day, and it really should have lasted longer. I'm pretty sure that's our fault, though, although I thought they said the wood was treated in such a way that it didn't need to be sealed? Way too late now, but it did provide the children a lot of fun times.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

adventures in show biz

I took DD for a modeling/acting audition this afternoon. If you've ever wondered if anything ever comes of those mall-kiosk on-the-spot video auditions, the answer is yes. I got a message on my cellphone early this week inviting her to an open audition this weekend where she was interviewed by a rep from ACT and filmed a 30-second spot in front of an agent from The Gersch Agency.

I'd been hearing radio ads about the open audition - "Be one of the first 200 people to call" - but they called us, so I suppose that means something. (Not much, but something). It was a cattle call in the Hyatt's Regency Ballroom, nicely done. First come, first served, with ushers to show us to a seat and to keep the peace while the auditions proceeded. We had been told to arrive at 45 minutes early for her 1PM appointment, and were only 5 minutes late (I used the valet parking). The timing turned out to be crucial, because we ended up seated near the aisle in the third row, so we did get out of there much more quickly than the lollygaggers who straggled in at 12:58PM. We were both well-prepared for the wait, but I had paperwork to attend to: the application and disclaimer, plus a brochure for the ACT school. DD had to write a 100-word essay on why she wanted to do this and why she thought she would be good at it. She dictated, I transcribed and made suggestions. The whole thing was completely legit and on the level, completely professional, and there wasn't even a hint of anything weird or off.

We got underway a few minutes after 1PM with a little talk from an ACT rep first, and then each child got to do his thing. The talk covered the basics: this won't work unless the child is very motivated and the parents are supportive, so if you dragged your kid here because you think he's cute, don't get your hopes up. Also, most kids won't get a call back because they simply do not have the talent. I loved, loved, loved how blunt she was about this. It's not enough to be cute and to want this, you actually have to have the ability. At the same time, she encouraged everyone who is really into it to keep trying, telling a cute story about how Mylie Cyrus had to audition 8 times before she got the lead role in Hannah Montana. The rep also stressed that they won't work with anyone that isn't doing well in school. California has an industry regulation that says they can't work with kids who have below a 2.5 GPA, which she acknowledged is very low. They won't work with less than B average kids because if their grades drop, they'll have to get pulled off the shoot. She also commented that the smarter kids are more likely to be successful in this business.

Last, she explained the interview and audition processes, which involved one brief interview with the ACT rep, and the audition, which involved filming a 30-second spot for the Gersh agent. For the audition, the kids had to "slate", state their names and ages. The rep asked for three volunteers, and DD raised her hand enthusiastically. Since we were in the third row near the center aisle, she was perfectly positioned to be noticed by the rep, and she was selected. She had to get up in front of a room of about 200 people and state her name and age. She did very well, certainly better than one of the others who was so nervous she couldn't remember to say her full name. I was especially impressed because she went last, and had to stand there watching the other girls do it. During that time she wasn't nervous or impatient, she just waited calmly. Honestly? I didn't know she had it in her, but then again, I'd never given it much thought.

Clearly the primary purpose of these open calls is to get new recruits for ACT's workshops, where starting tuition is close to $2000 for the "Basic Development" 20-week workshop that gets your kid camera-ready . ACT is not an agency but the spiel their rep gave sounded as if the kids do get auditions somehow as well, but that's not clear. We find out if DD made the cut with ACT when we call at 9:30AM, but I'm fairly sure that DH doesn't want to pursue that. One factoid the ACT rep dropped is that a national commercial pays $30-60,000, which is a lot more than I expected. Even a single local spot would more than cover the cost of the workshop, right? I'm sure that's how they suck parents into paying for their kids' pipe dreams.

In an ideal world, the Gersh rep would just ring us up and say, "We want to represent your daughter," in which case we would laugh and decide what to do. I made a point of peeking at her score sheet as we were walking out, and she had several highest scores circled, but that doesn't mean anything. She attracted positive attention from the beginning when she was selected as a volunteer. The ACT rep liked her a lot. She told DD she was "cute" and liked her enthusiasm and my flexibility with regards to this whole affair -- who knows where it will go? Most likely: no where, but DD had a lot of fun today anyway.

lately, a list

My camera is broken. It will take photos, but I can't get it to focus on what I want it to focus on, because there's a problem with the lens. I also can't get it to zoom or go macro. It could be fixable but it's probably not worth it. *sigh*


Ran a good ThyCa meeting last week, a nice balance of new people and old. No word on a facility for meetings closer to home, but I will follow up with that this week.


Saw Dr. O this week and happily he didn't feel any lymph nodes, but he wants me to come back once a month for a few months to keep an eye on it. I am amused because he is implicitly disagreeing with my endo's recommendation regarding this node, which
was basically "See you in January," not, "Come in next month and let's take a look and make sure there's nothing going on there." It may be overkill on his part, but the node measured out as 17mm along one axis and that's not insubstantial.


Worked 2 days in DS2's class this past week. The class is small and generally enthusiastic, except for one little guy who just won't work. Not can't, won't. Sad. I wonder what will become of him as he gets older. The longer he hangs onto that attitude, the worse it will be for him.


Itching like crazy lately, especially after a shower. Last night it was the worst so far (at least a 7 on the 1 to 10 scale). It takes about 30-45 minutes for it to go away, and web research this evening didn't turn up anything useful. I've had eczema my whole life but this isn't like that. I don't have any redness, swelling, bumps, or rashes, I just itch all over no matter how much Lubriderm for Extra Dry Skin I slather on. Interestingly, being in the pool today (we had our annual Labor Day getaway at the resort) provoked only minor itching that didn't persist long at all, so I'm going to try cooler showers and/or cooling down with cold water at the end to close all my pores and hopefully prevent the itch-a-thon.

I think the itching may be medication-related but I can't be sure. I'm on the same dose (10mcg Cytomel) I took all summer, why should this be happening now?


Still slogging through my first lesson of my Sheltered Content Instruction course. My brain is actively resisting absorbing this information. I'm not sure why.


Still working on discernment. I had a great talk with one of my sister's friends who lives in this area and is working in Special Ed in the Higley district. She was a font of information, but now I am more confused than ever, and have to spend some time thinking about what is important to me. Dawn Eden linked to this awesome article that has been very helpful to me.


Many questions, few answers. Just muddling through.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

random information

You can't keep a hedgehog as a pet in Arizona. You can keep a hedgehog in Arizona if you get a Wildlife Holding license from the Dept. of Fish and Game, but you can only get a license if you want a hedgehog for scientific, educational, or humanitarian purposes. The official language:
A wildlife holding license shall authorize an individual to possess, transport, import, display for educational purposes, photograph for commercial purposes, purchase, propagate, export, give away, or euthanize either restricted live wildlife or live wildlife lawfully held under a hunting or fishing license for any of the following purposes: advancement of science, wildlife management, or promotion of public health or welfare; Education: photograph for a commercial purpose live wildlife that is lawfully possessed; to give humane treatment to restricted live wildlife that has been abandoned or permanently disabled; or to lawfully possess restricted live wildlife that was possessed under another special license, and the primary purpose for that special license no longer exists.

Hedgehogs are "restricted wildlife" in Arizona. The main concern is that freed hedgehogs would find the climate very amenable, and since they have no natural predators here, a hedgehog population could disrupt the local (fragile) ecosystem. As I explained to DD, "It would be bunnies in Australia all over again."

DD was disappointed even though we hadn't even discussed the possibility of getting a hedgehog. The kind officer at Fish & Game told me there are some hedgehogs at the Phoenix Zoo, but he may have meant the World Wildlife Zoo. I'll have to look into that so she can get a hedgehog fix from time to time.