Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Return of the Flank Pain... bad enough these past couple of days that I've taken ibuprofen (helped) or Aleve (didn't) to make it go away. It has been bothering me on and off since November, but lately it has stepped up a bit in intensity.

The first time I had flank pain, I was torquing my back getting DS2 into and out of his car seat, so that was about 7 years ago. I did a round of physical therapy and learned stretches for my quadratus lumborum, as well as strengthening exercises. The stretches aren't helping. I just looked at them again and realized the pain is up higher, tucked up under the rib cage, so it's a different thing altogether.

That said, I can never distinguish between musculo-skeletal pain and gut pain. I'd like it to go away so I can forget about it, but I'm making a note of it here so I can keep track of when it started to get worse.

I had my thyroid panel run today along with an A1C test to see how my blood sugar's doing. I think I need to step my meds down just a bit, and I hope my insulin metabolism isn't shot by the dietary changes I've had to make since the gastroparesis started late last year. (About the same time as the flank pain... hmmm.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

about that new profile photo

Inspirational, isn't it?

I once had occasion to refer to a particular portrayal of my patron saint as a psychotic teen, and I admit that at times I had problems with her life story. But as I get older I am better at appreciating what it took to do the things she did, and I regret ever dismissing her so lightly.

The original photo, from this post by Ann Althouse, is of a toy crusader she photographed at Ted's Toys in Cincinnati. Frequent Althouse commenter (and photoshopper) Chip Ahoy (read the profile, you'll be glad you did) modified the original image to create my very own Maid of Orleans. Yes, I know the real Jeanne d'Arc didn't use a war hammer, but out here in the blogosphere, I think a hammer-like approach is sometimes called for.

This comment thread is in the spirit of St. Jeanne d'Arc, aka St. Joan of Arc, my patron saint. ("quieti" is me.)

a bitter lesson, learned too soon

Rest in peace, Freddie.

DD's beloved little hamster died in her sleep Saturday evening.

We are all very sad.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

... and done!

Overall, the Biology AEPA was an easier test than the Professional Knowledge - Secondary test, because there was a lot fewer (none, actually) fuzzy-thinking "best practices" questions. Also, only one essay, although it was 3+ pages (handwritten).

That said, I still had to outright guess on a few questions. The DNA replication diagram one in particular made absolutely no sense to me, I'd never seen anything like them before. Ah, well. Overall I feel pretty good about it, but I still need to look up phagocytosis and pinocytosis.

I found it odd that there wasn't a single question about photosynthesis, but there was a question about the sodium-potassium ion pumps in neurons. Jiminy Crickett, that's getting down to the atomic level, isn't it? I'm not saying I shouldn't know that stuff (I guessed on that one, too, since I remembered reading about it but none of the important details). Also, I'm not exactly sure how knowing what's caused air pollution in the eastern and midwestern parts of the country versus the western parts is immediately relevant to biology.

Overall, many fewer guesses than last time, and last time I did just fine. I can't imagine I didn't pass, and dread the idea of ever having to take this again. For now I'm just going to put it out of my head, because I won't get my score for another month.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Tomorrow morning is my AEPA Biology test. I took the practice test and choked on a number of human physiology questions, so I just crammed a bit there. I also realized that my lab experiences have been rather slight and I could get totally hammered there, so I did some reading up there, also, but probably not enough.

It will have to do, and by lunch tomorrow, it will all be over. I'm looking forward to that!

My pencils are sharpened, my ticket printed, and my eraser is at the ready. Now, to get some sleep!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

every so often, I get lucky

Skill had nothing to do with this.It's a point-and-shoot camera that fits in my pocket.

Hummingbird drinking ocotillo nectar, Desert Botanical Garden.

Advanced preparation is everything. Cars without reservations aren't even allowed in the parking lot.

Foreground: Floats. Background: Red reeds. Both Chihuly 2008, at the DBG through May.

Goofing around by a ramada, my three kiddos enjoying their spring break.

Then again, it's true that we make our own luck.

for Nina

Riotous spring, Sonoran desert style

Ocean colors -- or should I say Ocean's author's favorite colors -- at the Desert Botanical Garden. This picture was one among dozens I snapped today, of Chihuly glasswork, butterflies, and children. It is impossible for me to see bright blue and yellow together and not think, "Nina's colors!"

Unlike me, Nina keeps mum about anything that belies her claim to sturdy Polish peasant stock. (My own Polish peasant stock is apparently locked in full-time battle with my Scots-Irish potato-famine-weakened stock). Regardless: today is a good day to send her digital flowers and good thoughts.

Monday, March 16, 2009

generational wisdom

I'm old enough now where it's going to happen more and more often -- someone I know, or know of, is going to die. Today, it was Ron Silver, the formerly liberal actor who had a Road to Damascus moment after 9/11, and spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Silver died from a cancer he had been battling for two years. I hope that his family and friends can gain some comfort, knowing that his suffering is over now.

I'm reminded of a hospital conversation I had with my Dad: Nothing lasts forever. Knowing that, you can savor the sweet moments attentively and endure the bad ones with grace. His suffering ended, too.

That life lesson reminded me of another, from my Nana, my father's mother. We were living in Dorchester, and she was staying with us. I may have been around 7 or 8 years old. I saw her stoop down to pick up something from the floor of the hall, a piece of thread or scrap of paper that didn't belong there. I asked her why she had done that -- she was there for a visit, not to clean the house, why did she bother? If I don't do it, who will? she said. To me, this was an entirely new attitude towards something that needed to be done: the idea of taking responsibility. When you're a little kid, it doesn't occur to you that you have that kind of power, or that kind of obligation. Nana had it down cold. If she could do it, she would, and not leave it for someone else to do -- nor would she ever make work for someone else if she could avoid it.

I am not as diligent or observant as I should be in following Nana's example, but I still remember it, going on forty years later. The real trick is teaching it to my own kids. I haven't quite figured that out yet.

Friday, March 13, 2009

44 ounces

That ovarian cyst-ish feeling I blogged about a while ago still hasn't gone away, although it's not causing me extreme pain anymore. There's just a dull ache that sometimes ratchets up to more but is generally constant. After 5 weeks of this nonsense I caved and went to my gynecologist, who felt what he thought was scar tissue but sent me for a pelvic ultrasound to check things out more thoroughly.

Monday, I'll be drinking 44 ounces of water in a half-hour period ending one hour before my appointment time. This procedure hugely inflates the bladder and so displaces the intestines so the ultrasound can more easily see what's going on in there. As far as I'm concerned, this prep qualifies as torture, especially to a woman whose main symptom is feeling like she needs to pee all the time.

I discussed with the scheduler whether or not I needed to do it. I actually went back in to ask the doctor about it, and he was sympathetic but insisted that I really do.

Now I have half a mind to just blow it off but that's irresponsible. I'll only be miserable for a couple of hours, and no lasting damage will be inflicted. I'm trying hard not to create some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy of doom, but it's not easy.

I'll be spending all weekend trying not to think about it.

Update: It wasn't so bad. This was the first post-hysterectomy pelvic ultrasound I've had, and it turns out that not having a uterus makes it easier on two fronts: first, there's more room for all that liquid, and second, the ultrasound itself is much less complex since there's no need to examine that major organ.

The right ovary looked a lot bigger than the left ovary, but that could have been because of zooming or the angle/perspective. I was able to watch the scan but I was not attentive enough to remember how big the two ovaries were while the tech was measuring them. It will be 3-5 days before I hear anything, which means it could go to next week.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

bio labs

The introductory biology course I'm taking is designated BIO100. Instead of being a 14-week semester, it's compressed into 8 weeks. Over the course of this 8 weeks there are 6 labs, 5 essay assignments, 2 take-home tests, a mid-term, and a final exam -- that last is coming up quickly, March 21.

I will be so happy when this class is over. I happy to confirm that I do, in fact, love the material. I came into it thinking it would be mostly review, but it has been years (decades, really) since I took a formal bio course, and there have been lots of changes. Last time I studied taxonomy, for example, there were only two kingdoms, not five. It's very cool, learning all this new stuff. It's all very cool studying this stuff at a college level (getting into the nitty-gritty of cellular metabolism reactions, for example) rather than a high school or AP course level. But still, it's a grind, and since I worked three days this week and then went on an all-day field trip on Friday, I was scurrying today to do my lab.

The labs have been fun. Today's was on plant pigment chromatography.

Preparing the chromatography paper with drops of plant pigment

I was happy they gave us enough material to do this lab twice. The first run I used regular red-leaf lettuce which didn't have enough red pigment in it to be at all distinguished from the spinach. The photo above shows my second attempt using red oak lettuce which is totally purple and perfect for this lab. I was sure to use more plant material and more acetone on my second round, and covered the bowls while the pigment was steeping so the acetone wouldn't evaporate as it had in my first attempt. (One thing I didn't like about this lab was the loosey-goosey directions. I would've preferred "cut a two-inch square piece of plant material and cover with 20 mL acetone", then I'd know I was going to get a good amount of pigment in the solution.)

Capillary action at work. This jar contained the acetone solvent.

Results were pretty cool. I should've done the reading first because then I wouldn't have been surprised by how much chlorophyll was in the red oak lettuce. Note the abundance of green pigment on all four strips (2 were spinach, 2 were red oak lettuce; one of each was dipped in water, one of each was dipped in acetone).
Results that look like they came from an actual lab experiment!

Kitchen counter labs have an aura of weirdness about them, at least to me. I think my favorite was the one where I got to see the effect of a recessive gene for sickle cell anemia among a population where malaria was prevalent.
Playing God.

I'd choose a pair of "alleles" (beans) at random from a bag, and if I got two dominant hemoglobin A genes, I'd have to flip a coin to see if the individual got malaria and died. I felt sad every time I had to put a pair of beans into the "non-surviving alleles" bowl. It was sad. The whole exercise didn't even take 15 minutes but it was instructive.

Meanwhile, I'm gardening:

Interesting crop selection, yes?

This was taken a couple of weeks ago -- everything is growing and is at least 2 inches tall by now. It's a shame, really, because I'm about to spray half of them with a selective herbicide for my last lab. After 2-3 weeks of nurturing and hoping the cats don't eat them, I don't really want to kill half of them off, but in science, we have to be tough about these things.