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When I'm not here, you may find me wandering the pages below. (If I'm a regular visitor to your site and I've left your link off or mislinked to you, please let me know! And likewise, if you've blogrolled me, please check that my link is updated: thisroamanticlife.blogspot.com. The extra (a) makes all the difference!)

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Body: in sickness and in health

I won't lie; this body and I have had our issues with each other for many years. Body image -- sure. Physical and mental overextension -- comes with being a Type A kind of girl. I still struggle with these things, so they show up from time to time in my writing.

More recently, illness, pure but not simple, has added itself to the mix in a multi-system sort of way. And the challenges in figuring out exactly what's gone wrong are many. As problems have revealed themselves in the last few years, beginning with reactive hypoglycemia in late 2008, I've documented them here, partly to gain a little clarity on managing complex conditions but mostly to give voice to vulnerabilities I feel but don't normally share with anyone face to face. Better out than in, they say, right? (Oh yes, humor is one way I deal.)

The links below cover the different angles I've examined (and from which I've been examined) within that experience.

Travel: neither here nor there

When the person you're married to lives two time zones away, you log a fair number of frequent flier miles. And if you blog about commuter relationships, you log quite a few posts en route too.

Since we're no longer in separate places, I blog less often from airports. But we do travel -- together now! -- which is much more fun to write about. So in addition to thoughts on our years of commuting, the links below cover the places we've been as a pair and, in some cases, the adventures that have happened on the way.

Writing: the long and short of it

Why do I do it? Good question. Maybe it's not so much that I like to write but that I have to write, even when the words refuse to stick to the page. Believe me, I've tried doing other things like majoring in biochemistry (freshman fall, many semesters ago). Within a year, I'd switched to English with a concentration in creative writing and wasn't looking back.

After graduating, I taught English for a few years and then worked as an editor, which I still do freelance. In 2007, I applied and got into an MFA program at a place I like to call Little U. on the Prairie. I finished my degree in 2011 and have been balancing tutoring and writing on my own ever since.

The following links cover the writing I've done about writing: process, content, obstacles, you name it. It's not always pretty. But some part of me loves it, even when it's hard. And this is the result.

Heart: family and friends

I'd have a hard time explaining who I am without being able to talk about the family I grew up in as well as the people I've met beyond its bounds. But even with such context, it's not easy! In the simplest terms, I'm a first-generation Asian-American who has spent most of this life caught between cultures. That, of course, doesn't even begin to describe what I mean to, but there's my first stab at the heart of it all.

That's what this group of posts is reserved for -- heart. The essential parts of my life whose influences I carry with me, for better or worse. The links below cover what I've written as I've learned how these forces work within me, for me, against me, in spite of me. They anchor me even as they change me, and they keep life interesting.

Recommended reading

What do I do when there's too much on my mind and my words won't stick to the page? I escape into someone else's thoughts. Below is a collection of books and articles that have been sources of information, inspiration, and occasional insight for my own work.

Monday, December 20, 2010

To the guy at the Johnston & Murphy store

It's been a few unbloggable weeks. The outcome of all that will be good things in the nearish future, but the reality of December has been a lot of tension between D and me. So we weren't in the best of moods Monday when we decided a last-minute trip to replace his formal footwear was necessary. We leave this morning for sixteen days with the family (both sides as usual).

In a break with tradition, my parents decided they wanted to do New Year's Eve in New York City. At Lincoln Center. Which will be amazing and novel and likely a very good time. But we haven't been to any event that posh in years and D was feeling a bit self-conscious about the not-really-formal loafers he'd been wearing with his suit to the last few dress events (weddings where no one would really care what was on his feet). The pair of shoes he bought for our own wedding was destroyed in the Great Deluge of 2008, and we hadn't found the motivation or justification to invest in another. But the upcoming trip seemed like good reason to D. So we headed out, damaged leather in hand, to see if we could find a similar pair from the company that had sold us the first.

The guy behind the counter was chatting with another customer on the way out the door when we arrived, but as soon as he saw our Trader Joe's bag (clearly containing something other than groceries), he asked how he could be of help. We pulled out the shoes and told him what had happened to them.

"You've got to be effing kidding me," he said, turning them over in his hands. We both smiled at his candor. He seemed a bit older than we were, closer to our parents' age, but not quite there yet.

"Can they be repaired?" D asked, with a hopeful look.

The guy inspected the tear by one toe, the creases and abrasions from three days of water-logging. "You hadn't even had them for very long," he clucked. He tapped for a few seconds on his computer keyboard. "What's your address?"

We gave him the information. He hummed a little as he tapped some more, clicked through a screen or two, examined the labeling inside the shoes. At last, the machine spit out a foot of paper, which he folded carefully before handing it across the counter.

"I like you," he said, with an extremely pleased look on his face. "And no, the shoes can't be fixed. But because you are such nice people, a man in brown shorts is going to appear on your doorstep in three days with a brand-new pair of these."

D and I gaped. As far as we were concerned, we had not been very nice people for most of the day. But, it seemed, the universe had decided at that moment to send us some love anyway.

We thanked the man profusely. "No, no," he said, "I'm happy to do it. I figure the last thing you need to worry about replacing after an ordeal like that is a pair of shoes."

He couldn't have known that the incident in question had happened two years prior. And he couldn't have known what these last weeks had actually been like, bloggable or otherwise. But his wanting so much to give us a bright spot in our day was what touched me. It couldn't have come at a better time, refreshing my view on life when I needed that most.

So thank you again, sir. You did more than I think you realized. Or maybe you knew. Either way, I'll have this memory as I head off into the holiday. Despite what this month has largely been, I can say, because of your kindness, that I feel more optimistic about what remains.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wishful thinking

I bit down on my tongue. Hard. Held my breath, fixed both eyes on a spot on the carpet by the bed, told myself don't cry. I'd managed to get from Seattle to the panhandle of Texas despite surgery, despite infection, without letting on to anyone how I was feeling. My doctor had cleared me to fly, and I needed to go home. For my research, I'd told myself -- to look firsthand at the photos and old letters from my parents' early years together, before I was born, to begin untangling their story for my thesis. That's what I'd finally realized this project was about.

Don't cry, I thought harder. Don't cry don't cry don't cry. But my mother had her arm around me.

"You've been so good," she said. "It's okay, you don't have to be strong anymore today."

Don't have to be strong? Since when did she ever use words like that? The spot on the carpet dissolved into a uniform blur and I buried my head in her shoulder, bewildered but relieved.

"You're so warm," she said after a few minutes.

I lifted my head. "It's fine," I said. I reached for a tissue and glanced toward the door, hoping my father, who usually spent the evening watching TV on the couch just outside the room, couldn't hear us. "This fever's not as bad as the first."

My mother frowned but said nothing, a hand still holding tightly to my shoulder as she surveyed the suitcase on the floor, the airline ticket stubs on the nightstand. "You've had a long day. Now you should just rest."

I pulled the robe she'd lent me closer, leaned my head against hers, and closed my eyes.

*

I remember getting sick as a kid -- flu, strep, bronchitis, the usual. All of which meant long mornings at the pediatrician's office that smelled like old vinyl seats, worn-edged board books, and that nose-wrinkling soap you found only where there were doctors. We never said it aloud, but I don't think my mother or I particularly liked that place.

My mother tended to look worried during those visits, but not because of me. My father would be irritated when he got home. While he doctored the sick every day at the hospital, giving his all to an endless string of cardiac patients, he didn't tolerate illness in his own house. Most of the time, he'd just ignore the problem, leaving my mother to handle all the nursing duties -- administering medication and fluids, keeping track of symptoms, cleaning up vomit. On occasion, he'd pop his head into the bedroom doorway to assess the situation, but he never crossed the threshold.

He did, however, expect my mother to keep the rest of the house running as usual. A hot meal ready to serve, the newspaper waiting by the couch, bills paid, phone calls made, my younger sisters bathed and fed. If things weren't as he felt they ought to be, he'd whine -- at me ("Are you still throwing up?") and at her ("How much longer before dinner? It's getting late."). My mother couldn't help growing annoyed in turn. She never said anything directly to me, but the look on her face when she was caught between my needs and his said plenty: he wouldn't cut her any slack. Couldn't I?

Hers was obviously wishful thinking, but I felt guilty all the same. So I learned to downplay how I was feeling, even if I was miserable. It was better than feeling like a nuisance, even if I wished deep down that it didn't have to be that way.

*

My body remembered this as I leaned against my mother, so many years later, in the dimly lit guestroom of my parents' new house. The mattress on the bed was old, but the comforter was brand-new to match the pillow shams my mother had sewn. "To update things," she'd said a few weeks earlier on the phone, telling me how much she couldn't wait for me to see what she'd put together. She'd wanted to work on the room sooner, but in my parents' nearly four years in Panhandle, she hadn't gotten around to it until then. It didn't matter to me -- being with her, no matter what kind of bed I slept in, was what made home feel like home. Though I did like what she'd chosen, knowing that I would be the one to curl up there.

And how I wanted to do just that. But I didn't want to move while she sat next to me, holding me close. How I'd wanted this too, in those moments when she'd been forced to choose between me and my father. Even early that evening, he'd only grunted, when my mother mentioned I'd been ill, and then complained about what had taken her so long at the grocery store, where she'd gone to get the fresh fish he'd wanted for dinner. Nothing seemed to have changed.

But my mother's arm stayed around me as I glanced toward the door, listening for sounds of the TV, long after the meal had ended. "He's gone to bed," she said. "Don't worry about him."

I dabbed at my eyes, not sure what to say. But for once, she seemed to understand how much I needed her, even more than I'd realized.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Things I am grateful for, or an epistle to the powers that be


Dear Life:

You and I have had our ups and downs this year. Mostly downs, by any measure, but let's not quibble over the finer points therein. Suffice it to say that in general, 2010 has been unmatched in this Troubadour's experience of "rough patches," "tough spots," "suboptimal circumstances," or any other euphemistic label you'd like to slap on it -- despite multiple appeals for relief. To which I have to ask, at the risk of sounding repetitive: WTF?

I have not, in the past, been a big bright-side seeker. I lost my innocence a little too early on to develop the habit. But I'm willing to try almost anything at this point, given the November you've served up so far. And as tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I figure now is as good a time as any to start. So whatever you are -- an entity indifferent to the human plight or one whose intentions for me have yet to make any sense -- listen up.

In the last week, I was grateful for the following:

  • Getting to see one of my dearest friends from college, who happened to be interviewing in Seattle for a medical residency at the UW and needed a place to stay. Never mind the kidney infection you decided to make apparent to me with a raging fever and teeth-rattling chills, about the time her flight was going to arrive. The ER was on the same route as the airport, so it was convenient for D to drop me off and continue on to pick her up. A reunion in one of those skimpy hospital gowns was not what I'd envisioned, but I have never been happier to have company. The laughter that came from behind the curtain in my ER bay for the hours we were stuck there should be proof enough of that.

  • Having my white cell count remain oddly normal in the ER, despite the fact that the infection had already spilled into my bloodstream by the time the poor nurse assigned to me found a usable vein to get the IV antibiotics going. (Is laughter, indeed, the better medicine?) The delayed immune response fooled the hospital into discharging me on the same night rather than admitting me for what was actually a much more serious condition (bacteremia, with the potential to turn into straight-up sepsis). It was nice to get to spend a few extra hours with my friend outside the hospital, which we used not wisely but very well. We took the conversation home and didn’t end it till nearly 3 a.m.

  • Having the blood cultures come back soon enough the next day to get word to my urologist, who promptly called in the extra antibiotics I would need to make sure the infection was properly treated (the ER doctor prescribed only 7 days' worth; turns out I needed 14). Without them, I would have been short on meds for the length of my research trip. Which brings me to ...

  • Getting to go on said research trip, despite the severity of the aforementioned infection. I know the party line, per the infectious disease consult ordered by the urologist, was to cancel my plans, but she and I decided that the calculated risk of getting on a plane for a few hours to spend a week essentially under my parents' care (the arrangement was for me to stay with them while doing the research) was reasonable to take. Yes, you made me pay for it by giving me more chills and fever while I was somewhere over Utah, but I was armed this time with enough antipyretics to kill a buffalo. So I'm still glad I went. Recovering in Panhandle, Texas, is essentially no different from recovering in Seattle. And Mom's chicken soup beats any I could make.

  • Being lucky enough to have scheduled my return flight between that arctic front's passage over Seattle and its subsequent arrival in Panhandle. For a few days before the anticipated snowy cold snap, we were concerned that I might get stuck in Texas for the holiday, leaving D on his own for Thanksgiving. But I'm home now, thanks to a little mercy from the travel gods, and we will have turkey together tomorrow. Given the last month's health ridiculousness, we will not be throwing the usual fete we love to put on nor will we be traveling to share the holiday's bounty with the numerous folks from out of town who have invited us. But we are glad that I'm on the mend (for real this time, we hope) and look forward to the long weekend, if only just to rest.

So. Here's to a happy Thanksgiving. May what remains of 2010 offer much to be grateful for. (I wouldn't mind, though, if the things to be happy about were packaged with fewer associated challenges ...)

Sincerely,
C. Troubadour

Saturday, November 13, 2010

In which I am a bad patient

This whole recovery thing is not what I'd anticipated.

Don't get me wrong -- I know I had surgery, which means not trying to do more than my body can handle. Even if all that that entails is sleeping A LOT. (Seriously, I had no idea I could crash all day and then still sleep a full night without waking up in the middle of it.) But I'm off the prescription pain meds as of today, which means I have a clear head for the first time in 48 hours (yay!) even if I'm still stuck in bed.

It also means the gears are turning.

They should, if anything, be turning on Chapter 4 of the thesis. (Forgot to mention somewhere in the last two weeks -- I turned in a revision of Chapter 2 and a new Chapter 3 to my advisor!) If recovery continues as expected (and it should), I should be cleared for a research trip I'd had in the works long before the health mess ever happened. That's scheduled for next week, so I'm looking guiltily at my files, which I need to back up and organize so I can make the most of my time while I'm up to my elbows in old photos and supplementary documents. Actually finishing the Chapter 4 draft would be good too.

But the kitty is pawing at the bedroom door, which is not conducive to any sort of concentration, and the ibuprofen is only so effective, and I've been distracted by more pressing thoughts since I got my brain back.

It's been an isolating year.

Seattle, I've been told, is a friendly place but a difficult one in which to make friends -- as in those who will make room for you in their established social circle. This cultural oddity even has a name: the Seattle Freeze. Seriously, a name? How's that for intimidating. I know I haven't tried my hardest in the last year to reach out to people, but I have tried, despite all the other stuff I've written about here (2010, you've been difficult). I've gone to get-togethers hosted by D's work colleagues; tried to start conversations there with the wives and girlfriends; suggested and pursued follow-up lunch dates, coffee dates, dinners. Much response?

* Crickets chirping *

I'm still looking and asking, because it's not healthy to be so isolated. I've even gone so far as considering sites like Meetup.com (where there are actual references made to the Seattle Freeze). But a lot of what's offered isn't quite my style -- dance parties on a boat in themed costume? Sure, but I do better in smaller settings. Then how about speed friending? Um, that's kind of an oxymoron.

How about just a meal and some good conversation?

I know, these are things I shouldn't be worrying about before I can walk around the house without feeling exhausted. But being stuck in bed gives you a lot of time to think. And I'm thinking my list of local friends could use some rejuvenation.

So, dear bloggy friends (how I wish you were geographically nearer). How do you make opportunities for new friendships where you live -- and encourage them to grow?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The last thing I remember

... is the room beginning to spin.

It was kind of cool, the pinwheeling, marbleizing filter that had suddenly fallen over my eyes as I lay on the operating table. I wanted to remove the oxygen mask to tell the anesthesiologist what I was seeing, but before I could reach for it, I was out.

*

And then someone was saying my name, and I was propped up in some bed with a lot of blankets but I was still cold and there was no way in hell I was opening my eyes because -- well, there was just no way in hell. "We're going to move you to a recliner, okay?" the voice said, bright and sonsy. "Just swing your legs over the edge and we'll help you stand."

Amazingly, my body complied. (Apparently, I'm very good at following directions even while semi-conscious.) Teeth chattering, limbs shaking, eyes still mostly closed -- why the recliner? I wanted to ask; let me stay in bed, please. But I couldn't muster a word. It didn't matter, though, because I was out again before I hit the chair.

*

At some point, the urologist came to talk to me. "We got the stone," she said. "It was impacted."

"Great," I said. And then I remembered why I was there to begin with.

The suspected kidney stone from early September never passed. And after weeks of waiting, hurting, and bleeding, it was time to figure out if the stone was the problem or if something else was going on. So I met with a urologist -- not the one who first found the stone but another recommended to me after my third trip to the ER. She scheduled the imaging studies for yesterday -- x-rays, with contrast injected into the urinary tract -- to see what there was to see. If there was indeed a stone, it could be taken out at the same time, while I was under.

"How's your pain" -- suddenly, that other sonsy voice was speaking again -- "on a scale of one to ten?"

"Two?" I ventured. My bigger concern was my ability to think or move (or were they really just the same thing?) -- both still muddied and slow and exhausting, like trying to levitate from a bed of quicksand.

"Good. I need you to drink something -- can I get you apple juice?"

My brain cleared for a moment. Apple juice equals sugar. "Don't think I can have it -- prediabetic," I said, eyes still closed.

"Water, then," the voice said. "And how about some crackers?"

"Can't," I said, fighting harder against the quicksand. "Carbs."

"I don't want the pain meds to make you nauseated," the voice insisted. "I'll bring you just a little to nibble on."

"Okay," I said, too tired to argue or try to explain anymore.

*

They're eye-opening, these moments of limitation. I'm used to being able to handle my own basic needs. When I can't, I fight hard to do it anyway -- for weeks, I've gone without more than over-the-counter pain relief because I needed to be able to function. To drive a car, to take care of household chores, to engage with other people just to feel connected to the outside world. And to monitor my health care in a system with a lot of cracks in it. I can't do that effectively on stronger meds, though, apparently, I still try.

I'm clearer today, but only just. I made the mistake of letting the pain meds wear off at one point yesterday, hoping to get my brain and body back, but it was too much. So here I am, typing five words a minute, reaching for clarity that feels just beyond my grasp.

I think I'm okay with that. Fragmented as this memory will be when I return to it in a few days or weeks, it will be here. To remind me that the limitations I feel are relative. Three days ago, I was complaining about not wanting to work out. Today, it's not a question of want at all. I'm just glad to be able to get down the stairs on these jelly-filled legs to brew some coffee. And come right back up to bed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Warning: rant ahead, or a peek into the mind of a food-anxious freak

What follows is an account of one day in my battle with disordered eating. I have fought this problem since before I was old enough to drive a car. It is one of the reasons I finally sought professional counseling through a dietitian this summer, though I didn't know it at the time.

In the months since my work began with the dietitian, I've made many gains. But under the right (wrong?) circumstances -- such as the recent weeks of stress -- backsliding happens. I'm writing about that for the first time here, now, because it's better than keeping silent.


I should have paid attention to the sinking feeling this morning.

It's the kind you get when you haven't eaten in a few hours and your blood sugar dips. Your stomach is growly and your head gets thick and it is all you can do to remember where you were supposed to go next -- much less what you were supposed to do once you got there -- on that list of errands you'd set for yourself.

It was another early morning. And you didn't count on things taking so long. Take a snack, your brain was saying as you headed for the car, wishing you could just stay home. But you were tired and you didn't want to have to have that snack. In the fuzzy logic -- or plain mule-headedness -- of on-the-way-out-the-door thought, you told yourself a doctor's appointment, a haircut, and an in-and-out trip to the grocery store should not take more than three hours. You'll be home right on time for your next meal,* you said. Screw the snack. It's extra calories you don't need. You've lost a little weight in the last month -- don't you want to keep things the way they are?

So you get through your appointment. When you get to the salon -- the bargain-basement walk-in one that also happened to put out a coupon that you needed to use this week if you wanted the additional savings -- you find two other people ahead of you in line. Okay, no problem. You flip through the look books since you haven't had a trim in six months -- better find a picture of what you're supposed to look like so whoever on the rotating staff is assigned to you will do the job right.

And you wait.

And you wait.

And you wait some more. No reason things are slow except that there are only two people working. By the time the woman with the scissors is ready for you, you're regretting that snack you told your brain to forget. The stylist does a good job, a thorough one. So thorough you're wondering if she's cutting each hair individually. And this is just a trim? The morning you thought you'd still have, after finishing these errands, slowly begins to slide out of reach. But, oh good, the stylist is finally done.

This, if you weren't going to take that snack, is where you should have gone home right away instead of trying to stick things out.

After leaving the salon, you head over to the grocery store. What did you need? It takes effort to remember, even though it's just two items. One of them -- salad greens -- wouldn't even be necessary if the greens you bought last Thursday, with an expiration date of November 10th, hadn't already decomposed by the 7th. But you need those greens. What the hell else are you supposed to fill up on if bread and crackers and cereal and all the rest of the food you've ever loved can only be eaten in portions that would make a mouse cry?**

At last, you do get home. You make that salad -- a quarter of an apple, an ounce of goat cheese, not quite a tablespoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tossed with the greens -- and slap some turkey with mustard on low-carb bread. It's a good lunch, a filling one. But you've eaten the same damn lunch for five days straight*** because you've been on autopilot with everything else going on. And now you want what you know you can't have: anything with more than 15 grams of carbs per serving. In any quantity you like.

You wait out the cravings. You're supposed to get on with the rest of the day anyway -- so the morning's gone, and you haven't showered yet, and the workout that you've been hating lately but that you cling to because it means your body still functions and your weight is still under your control needs to be done. But then the phone rings. And you're so lonely that you will totally blow another two hours talking when you know you'll be mad at yourself for shoving off more of the afternoon. Your resistance is waning.

When you hang up, you head for the kitchen. You need fuel for the workout, or that sinking feeling will get you halfway through. So you allow yourself some carbs.

But you've got no willpower left. Between the sugar lows and the lost morning and the loneliness and the sheer sense of defiance you have against all that the universe has thrown at you this year and the last with no rhyme or reason, you've HAD it. Before you can stop yourself, you've inhaled enough from the pantry to horrify your (former) endocrinologist and alarm your dietitian, the latter of whom you should call and 'fess up to right now so she can help you.

And I will.

Tomorrow.

* Eating meals at regular intervals is helpful in maintaining optimal blood-sugar levels and preventing binges.

** Obviously, this is a bit hyperbolic, but when your brain has no fuel, it doesn't process thought very logically or reasonably.

*** Creating variety, even only slightly, in what you eat can be helpful in preventing boredom, which can otherwise trigger binges.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Foggy

My writing brain is sluggish tonight. Yesterday morning started early for me; I had to beat traffic going downtown to have some labs drawn. And even though I slept in today, I'm dragging now. Thank goodness for the end to Daylight Savings Time. The day we "fall back" is one of my most favorite in the year.

When I got to the doctor's office, things were pretty quiet, unlike Wednesday afternoon, when I was there for follow-up with the new internist. The lab techs were just getting started with their preparations for the day -- filling syringes with flu vaccine, restocking vials for blood -- and I didn't have to wait to be called in. The woman with my lab orders waved me over right away and started tying a tourniquet around my arm.

"You fasting?" she asked.

I nodded. I hadn't been sure if the tests required it, but it seemed better to err on the side of caution than to have to reschedule the draw -- one of the tests could only be done first thing in the morning.

I glanced at the labels the woman had printed out for each vial of blood and noticed the number was remarkably short for what I'd seen on the day of my follow-up appointment. (The tech who had originally printed them that afternoon had advised me to wait, given the morning-only test, and have all the blood taken at the same time to save me an extra needle stick.) So -- "We're doing cortisol, anti-TPO, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D today?" I asked, just to be sure.

"Hmm? No, no, I've just got lipids and a hemoglobin A1c," the woman said. "Wait, what's your name again?" She fumbled around with her order sheet for a moment as I gave her my information. "Oh yes, I remember! The other girl said you were going to come back today to get everything done and she taped your other labels to the fridge -- "

We both turned to look at the refrigerator, whose doors were bare.

"Shoot," the woman said, untying the tourniquet. "Wait right here."

I've learned not to be surprised when snafus like this occur. Even as recently as Wednesday, there were some near-mistakes that happened -- the physician ordered the wrong test and only realized it when I asked her why she'd chosen it over an alternative that was purportedly more accurate; then the lab tech handling a urine test gave me the wrong label for the specimen cup and only realized it when I pointed out that it was for the second of two urine tests my doctor had ordered, which could only be done while I was symptomatic (I wasn't that day).

Is it just me, or does it seem like I'm having to double-check what shouldn't be mine to check in the first place?

The woman taking my blood Friday morning eventually found the labels she needed -- in a garbage can. Lucky for me; apparently, once those labels are printed, the request records leave the lab computer and go to a completely different facility where specimens are received (that way, the folks handling that step in the process know exactly what to look for). I don't know whether we would have ended up having to call the receiving facility to figure out what testing needed to be done or if anyone was even at said facility at that time of day. Either way, it wasn't going to be a simple fix.

So. I'm grateful that everything worked out in the end. I just hope the incidence of error drops in future visits. For the next set of tests, scheduled for Wednesday of the coming week, I'll be sedated -- and there's no way I can look out for myself like that!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two-faced

Halloween was a low-key affair this year. Last week, we again attended the annual pumpkin carving party one of D's friends likes to host, but we didn't go in with a plan as we did the first time. Just a gourd of a ghoulish hue and a vague idea of what we might put on it. Here's the end result:


A pair of eyes apiece -- the ones on the right are mine (adapted from a template) and the others belong to D (carved freehand).



I'm amused that the creepy gaze I thought I was creating ended up looking more concerned than anything else. I guess having another face emerging from the side of one's head would be a good reason ...

Halloween night in question was busy, and not just because we got about 200 trick-or-treaters (fairly standard in our neighborhood). We had a last-minute guest, one of our friends from Portland, who was supposed to be on vacation in Venice but had had his passport turned down the day before at the Portland airport. Too beaten up, the gate agents told him. His only option, if he still wanted to make the trip, was to get a new document issued from the nearest emergency processing center -- which was in Seattle.

"I'm going to be fairly rotten company," he warned me ahead of time. Which was completely understandable. But I paused before telling him that I might not be much fun either. Even though we've known each other for more than a decade, I still hesitated to say anything about what's been going on in the last few weeks. On the outside, there are no obvious signs that mark me -- perhaps I look more tired than usual and my clothes are a little looser, but no scars, no broken bones. Still, I've had my resources tapped repeatedly, dealing with unpredictable pain, diverting whatever energy I have into finding a doctor who will listen, waiting for a diagnostic plan to take shape.

As I hinted here, these aren't things I like to tell people in real life, not even my family, because pain, both physical and emotional, is so intimate. To admit to someone that you hurt is to take a risk -- that the other person will respond insensitively, that he or she will downplay your experience, that you will feel worse for having said something in the first place. So I've learned not to talk about pain out loud if I can get away with it; I do it in this space instead.

But with someone I've known so long, it also feels dishonest to pretend all is well. And I'd been run down enough in the last few weeks that the act of pretending was going to be too much in person, especially because the physical pain is so unpredictable; it can flare up at any time. So I told my friend in brief that I wasn't in the best shape. The result was an awkward few seconds on the phone -- he acknowledged what I'd said but didn't seem to know what else to offer. Then someone came to his door and he said he had to go.

So I'm still turning one face to the outside world and letting the other exist here. I wish there were a way to integrate them more. But for now, this is the best I can do.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A tour, as promised

By now, you've seen the front page here -- thank you to everyone for the nice things you've said or e-mailed as you've stopped by. Hopefully everything is actually working (no missing images or other obvious errors), but if you run into a problem, do let me know. I've tested and tested things, but Blogger still has its mysteries.

So what's new around here? Stand-alone pages! Thank you, Blogger, for creating these. This blog was beginning to feel a bit all over the place in the last few months -- since D and I had finally finished commuting, that initial topic running through the blog was no longer the primary reason I was coming here to write. But there were other themes that had been showing up, so I decided to group posts accordingly under some new headings, which are at the top of the sidebar at right. Yep, it's my filing gene at work again.

All the clutter in my former sidebar was driving me slightly nuts too, so that's been given its own space as well. If you haven't already checked out my blogroll, it's hanging out behind the button with the little mouse on it in the new sidebar. If I'm a regular visitor to your site and I've left your link off or mislinked to you, please let me know! And likewise, if you've blogrolled me, please check that my link is updated: thisroamanticlife.blogspot.com. The extra (a) makes all the difference.

I've been reading (mostly for my thesis) even though I haven't written recently about it -- those resources, along with other stuff I've found worthy of note on my bookshelves (real and virtual), are now behind their own sidebar button too. More to be added to the list soon. The library's been keeping me well-stocked in the last few months.

So there you go! That's the short and sweet version of the tour. Again, feel free to explore, and thanks, as always, for reading.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New starts

I've been busy, as you can see. After the last month's serious shortage of happiness, I decided I needed a project to make some. So I took a really deep breath and asked D if he would teach me some basics in Photoshop and CSS. The new look here is the result!

I'd been considering a redesign since Blogger came out with its new template editor, but nothing I saw out there really felt like me. Trying on templates? Kind of a cross between clothes shopping and interior decorating. Only so much fun when things out there aren't quite your style. But the idea of coding was more than slightly intimidating -- I'd never written anything before in a language other than the ones I grew up speaking or studying in school.

Without question, I've learned TONS in the process, thanks to D. There are a few bugs that may be out of our control (functionality on Blogger's part and browser weirdness) but I'm pretty happy with the end result, especially since this was my first real attempt at such a project. I'll tweak a little more, but only to fix behind-the-scenes stuff. The diversion's been great, even fulfilling -- so, mission accomplished!

I promise an official tour very shortly (but feel free to explore on your own). For now, there are chores around the house that need some serious attention ...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Square one

So, about Wednesday.

It was a small adventure, locating the clinic. The place is in an area of the city I don't normally spend much time in, so I was more than out of my element, trying to find parking, looking for the right building, attempting to understand the electronic directory, then finally giving up and guessing which floor to take the elevator to. No signs, and no one to ask.

I'd stuck all the information I'd gathered into a folder I'd recycled from -- believe it or not -- ninth-grade English class. (Last summer, as I was digging through the boxes of stuff that used to be in storage at my parents' house, I tossed the old homework assignments and kept the office supplies.) It was a little weird to feel the thickness of all that data crammed into the space that used to hold a semester's worth of journal assignments, but it was strangely appropriate too. Replace one narrative with, in essence, another even more intimate: blood counts and other analyses set in order like entries in a diary.

To my relief, I'd guessed correctly, and the elevator opened into the foyer of the office I needed. In a few minutes, I was sitting with a lap full of new paperwork.

I couldn't finish it fast enough -- a nurse took me back to a room very shortly. She indicated the examination table and the gown folded at one end, so I got undressed. Hopped up onto the paper liner, folder and forms still in my hands. I was still scribbling when the doctor came in.

"Hi," she said, as she headed for the sink to wash her hands. "I'm Dr. ________, but you can use my first name." She smiled and pulled a rolling stool up to my dangling legs. "What's brought you to our clinic today?"

I held up the paperwork. "I'm sorry; I'm not done with these -- "

"It's okay," she said, taking the forms and my folder, setting them on a chair out of reach. "Tell me what's going on."

I froze. The folder, which held my story, also seemed to have my voice in it. But the doctor was waiting, so I offered the first things I could remember: four specialists, each with their own work-ups, no comprehensive picture. "I need someone who can look at the whole, not just the parts," I said, nodding toward the chair.

She opened the file immediately, eyes widening. As she scanned the contents, I explained when my health problems had begun, trying to get a better beginning, middle, and end established for the fragmented narrative I'd started with. She nodded, taking notes, asking a question here and there to clarify. But for the most part, she listened.

When I was done, she closed her eyes, fingers to her temples, as if she was thinking hard. "This is a lot of information," she said, "and if you're willing to trust me with this, I'd like to keep it for a few days, just to synthesize all of it more thoroughly in my mind. I'm thinking several things right now, but I want to see exactly what's been done and what hasn't so we can put together some next steps."

I nodded. A doctor taking this kind of time before trying to formulate a path to a diagnosis? It was more than I'd hoped for. For the first time in months, I had the sense that I'd found someone who could help. But what kind of follow-up was she envisioning?

"Early next week," she said, eyes seeking mine with a reassuring expression. "I'll be in touch with you with a plan. We're going to get to the bottom of this."

This time, I think I can believe that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

And then things got ugly

I've been waiting.

At first it was just waiting for an appointment with a new doctor -- an internist to start with; she comes highly recommended. She works within a well-reputed medical center I've been referred to in Seattle, one whose philosophy emphasizes continuity of care: a single system, linking all of its specialists. Everybody has access to your records, your history. No faxing things to separate people, no need to dig channels of communication. They're already in place. But you have to have a primary care physician within the organization -- he or she acts as your point person -- before you can arrange to see anyone else (like, say, an endocrinologist).

So my appointment, which I made the day before my last post, is this Wednesday.

The same day of my last post, within the hour I hit publish, my body threw a hissy fit. I'll spare you a list of the symptoms, but suffice it to say, they weren't something to ignore.

We weren't sure of the cause, but the first suspect was that kidney stone. Its initial presentation was odd, which I knew, but it turns out the urologist's report hems and haws about whether it was ever even a stone. If it was, it's up and done something unkind. If it wasn't, then something else is going on and we need to figure out what that is.

In the interim between the Friday I got sick and this Wednesday (not quite three weeks), we've done some stopgap investigating. As much as I didn't want to, we went to an ER on the first Saturday (on the advice of the nursing consult service D's company provides to its employees) to make sure nothing imminently life-threatening was happening. After that, we were advised to follow up with a urologist. Of course, the earliest appointment I could get was after the first appointment with the new internist (this is how new-patient scheduling sometimes goes). I was still feeling off, so my remaining option while waiting was to go back to my current doctors.

At some point in April, when the endocrine guy was beginning to run out of ideas, he referred me to a rheumatologist (suspecting something autoimmune). "He's a very good diagnostician," he told me. So I saw that person in June (see what I mean about new-patient scheduling?) but in the end received no new answers after one more round of tests.

Given the new symptoms from September, I figured it might be worth going back to him. Fortunately, he had an opening the Tuesday after I got sick; still no answers, but he repeated his tests.

The Thursday of that week, we left for D's brother's wedding weekend, during which my symptoms got worse. Tack on one more ER visit.

Then we came home. Symptoms even worse. Decided to forgo the ER visit against most natural instincts, sensing from our track record that we wouldn't get answers. The rheumatologist's tests came back a few days ago with nothing new either. And now, we're here.

I've got all my paperwork gathered and organized, all the records I could pull together from the last eighteen months. I've sat down and charted from scratch on a timeline all the weird things that have happened with my body since I got diagnosed with prediabetes, and then some from the time before. I've noted diet changes, weight changes, GI changes, urological changes, medicinal changes, mental changes, environmental changes. There's nothing more I can think of to add.

I wanted to wait to write about any of this, hoping I'd have better news. But here I am, waiting.

I just have to make it to Wednesday. We start fresh there.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Them's fightin' words

I knew getting a dietitian was the first step toward some important changes, but apparently it's starting a small revolution.

I think I'm firing my endocrinologist.

It's not a straightforward story, but the short version is that on my visit to said endocrinologist's office last week to follow up on that pesky kidney stone, I updated him on the diet adjustments I've been making with the help of my dietitian. And he wasn't happy -- the caloric allowances she'd laid out for me didn't jive with what he thought I should be aiming for (he was advocating a much tighter budget). Not one to sit helpless when given conflicting information, I asked him to speak with the dietitian so that we could determine where the disagreements were in their assessments of my needs. His response: "Tell her that I have a subspecialty degree in metabolic disease" -- or some such field, I can't remember his exact words -- "and if she still has questions after that, she can call me."

Huh. Did he really think she (or I) was going to accept credential-waving as an adequate reason to follow his plan?

Sensing I was getting the brush-off, I e-mailed the dietitian after I got home, explaining the discrepancies between the recommendations, and expressed my concern. She immediately got back to me, promising to contact my doctor so that we could get the diet guideline questions resolved.

Apparently, he wouldn't talk to her.

Instead, he left a message for her with his nurse -- one that wasn't far off from what he'd told me to relay, from what I've gathered. And he's still refusing to take the dietitian's calls.

Is it ego? Insecurity? A control issue? All of the above? I'm done speculating. I need a care team, one in which the various members work together. If someone's refusing to communicate, much less collaborate, there's no way this is going to work out in my best interest. So I'm removing myself from his responsibility.

This has been a long time coming -- over the last few months, this guy has said and done other things that left me feeling unsupported and unheard. It's not worth going into detail, but each incident eroded my trust in him just a little bit more. I'm glad to be able to leave his service, knowing without question that the problems with him aren't "just in my head."

But finding that next person. I can't say I've got a lot of confidence in the current remaining team members (with the exception of the dietitian) -- they communicate minimally, by faxed lab results at best. This endocrinologist was kind of the only person who at least went through the motions of examining the bigger picture (he made the referrals to other specialists, so he got their letters back interpreting the results of their tests). I need someone willing to take the time to look closely, to pursue answers.

I happened to read Big Little Wolf's commentary on the doctor-patient relationship as all this was going on, and that, among other things, has reinforced what I've known for a while: that my search isn't going to be an easy one. But I'm looking because I have to. This mess -- or message service -- masquerading as coordinated care has gone on too long.

And I will totally sic all seven pounds of my attack kitty on the next M.D. who tells me his degree is what makes his plan (or lack thereof) superior to anyone else's.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bone weary

I thought the weekend was supposed to be for relaxing, but I think it's just allowed me to feel the weight of all the stuff from the past week (or two), now that there is space for that. And the feeling is necessary, so fine. But I'm warning next week right now: ease up or ... else.

(I'm not very good at actually coming up with threats, but I'm cocking a very pointed eyebrow at Monday and everything after it. It's my teacher look, which actually won a stare-down contest in a teacher-training workshop many years ago. See that, next week? See that eyebrow?)

My thesis is moving forward for real. I have two solid chapters that make sense in succession and are pointing very clearly to a third, which is more exciting than I have the means to describe. But it's been drawing on a lot of mental resources, and when I've come to the end of the day, I've had nothing for anyone else. D and I both go through this -- he'll return after a particularly intense day, having successfully left work at work, but he doesn't quite make it home in his state of mind for several hours after he gets through the door. He floats in some kind of limbo that makes for pretty quiet dinners. I understand -- sometimes the brain doesn't reset for a little while. So I leave him alone until he's ready.

Last week was my turn to be zonked -- not just from all the research interviews and the mental gymnastics of writing, but from the emotional pull of trying to tell a difficult story. (Forgive me if I don't get more specific than that; I did just spend the week up to my ears in the details.)

I'm glad the writing is working. But it's at the expense of other pressing concerns I need to resolve, like the fallout of getting sick while no one was around. D and I didn't come through that situation in the best way, and we've wanted to talk about it, but I've been too frayed to do it without getting upset, which D doesn't deal well with. Our attempts to have a conversation about how we handled things on both our ends have been kind of rocky. And then there's the question about what all these seemingly separate problems -- blood sugar, GI tract, kidneys -- are really indicative of. I've pushed that out of my mind for a while, but Labor Day weekend was a reminder that all is not perfectly well and that we still don't have real answers as to why three different body systems decided to get wonky, all starting in the first half of 2009.

So I want some emotional reserves for this stuff. I know I can't always have enough for all of it, but for next week, I need more.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This


... is how I feel.

Last week's issues are more or less fading away (hooray!) but yesterday was another thesis deadline and I'm now totally brain-drained.

It's a mostly good sort of drained -- I feel like I hit a stride I hadn't achieved in ages, really writing, not just transcribing or starting a scene only to abandon it for a different start. For months, I'd accumulated those starts, 19 pages of them. Yesterday, I turned in a completed chapter with a beginning, middle, and end.

I'm supposed to be writing up a short item for another professor right now, but I think I'm still not quite recharged. Rather, I think I used up my quota of writing brain on an e-mail I had to compose this afternoon. I'd gotten an inquiry from a prospective student, asking about the ins and outs of my program (I'm listed as a student contact for such questions).

Of course, the applicant wanted to know what I thought about the classes, the faculty, etc., etc., and I'm glad to provide my take on my own experience -- which I can only characterize as mixed. But it's not something I share without a lot of consideration about context.

I imagine if you asked each person in my year what he or she thought of the program, none of the responses would be the same. There would be similarities in some areas, but also enormous differences, depending on each individual's personality and expectations. We're all as different as the work we produce. So whenever I reply to someone's inquiry, I have to emphasize the importance of asking other students the same questions he or she has asked me. And I have to word my response so it is absolutely clear that my experience is by no means representative of anyone else's, that in fact there are people I have met who would answer very differently.

For some reason, I don't trust these eager applicants to remember that. I'm sure there are those who will romanticize the "highly intriguing" and "highly illustrious" program I'm a part of (words straight out of today's e-mail), no matter what I say, only to be disappointed when they arrive (if they're admitted). Perhaps I think this because so many people I met in the program eventually found themselves disillusioned with it. The fact is there were (and still are) limited resources, not just in terms of funding but in terms of mentorship, and if you don't fight hard to be your own advocate when you feel like you're not getting what you need, you'll be less satisfied with your experience. I don't want the prospective students who contact me to go into the process of applying -- to this program or any program -- without the understanding that this is part of what will greatly influence how things end up for them.

And then there will be those who'll get turned off before they've gathered enough opinions, taking my comments, no matter how carefully I couch them, as bald-faced denunciations.

It's out of my control, in any case. I can only choose my words so carefully. I just hope I did a good enough job that it'll make the right difference to the right person, if that makes any sense. That's my reason for replying in the first place.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Every kidney has a silver lining, the sequel

Yep, this little nuisance again.

You'd think I'd recognize a kidney stone after the first one, but no, this one presented itself quite differently. Referred pain? You got it (rather, I did).

So a good part of Friday found me waiting here (the hospital's walk-in imaging clinic):


Not exactly my first choice for where to spend all that time. But when the ultrasound didn't reveal anything amiss in my gallbladder (a good thing!), the GI folks had to refer me to somebody else (with a practice in the same medical facility, but an entirely separate registration/appointment process). That doctor, whom I got to see only on the luck of some other patient's cancellation, sent me back to the clinic for an x-ray, which revealed the real cause of all the trouble.

The doctor was very kind and hung around after his office had closed, just so he could interpret the x-ray for me (it was late in the day when he ordered the test, so there was no way the radiologist would have the official report to him in a timely fashion). He could have gone home and told me to wait for the results, to be delivered by phone after the long weekend, with orders to go to the ER if things got worse before then. But he didn't, and I'm thankful. Because of his kindness, I was able to go home with an answer and greater peace of mind. I'm still under orders to go to the ER if anything untoward occurs, but given the size and location of the stone, that's very unlikely.

Who knew I'd be glad to have a kidney stone instead of the alternative?

(Don't get me wrong; it still hurts. But given the choice, while alone, I'd rather deal with a problem I can treat from home as opposed to something that requires hospitalization, no matter how routine. Who would feed the kitty?)

I just hope I'm not in for a repeat of this in the future. Especially since it occurs without warning and in such misleading ways! Worst fear: that it happens while I'm on a plane. If I'd gone with D on Thursday instead of staying behind to work on my thesis, I'd have been somewhere over Texas during the nastier part of that afternoon. I suppose I should thank my writing obligations for preventing that ... ?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Grumbling rights

I'm exercising them. Because the gods of timing just won't leave me alone.

The short version: D left town this morning to throw his brother a bachelor's weekend before said brother's wedding next month. This afternoon, the nagging stitch in my side that started yesterday after lunch turned into an unrelenting pain that still hasn't gone away. A trip to the GI doctor got me some prescription painkillers and orders to return to the hospital in the morning for a thorough ultrasound (the one attempted today wasn't clear enough, so we'll try again when I'm fasting). The hope is that the gallbladder doesn't need to come out.

I'm pretty good at being alone most of the time -- years of living apart from D while we were commuting has trained me well. But this is one of those instances where I really, really wish he were here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On a lighter note

It's been busy, as I'm sure you've guessed, but life chez Troubadour is back to normal as of yesterday. In relative terms, at any rate.

I'm not going to go into all the details right off, but I'm happy to say that my parents' visit was manageable. All the prep leading up to it figured significantly in making it so, but there were also moments that were enjoyable entirely for what they were, not because I used any magical thinking or conversational stealth to make a difficult situation better.

Troubadour Dad stayed for an extended weekend; my mother stayed for an additional week. During the last part of her visit, we drove down to Long Beach, a tiny town at the southwestern corner of Washington, for their annual kite festival. It's been running for thirty years, but D only found out about it early this summer.

Road trips to new places with Troubadour Mom are always fun because she still has her sense of adventure (my dad is another story, but Mom works on him every now and then). We were pleased to give ourselves lots of firsts on this brief weekend, which included:

Mom's first visit to Oregon! (We stayed Friday night in Astoria, which is just across from Long Beach Peninsula by way of this bridge.)


First time flying a Revolution kite for all of us, and the first time flying any kind of kite for both me and Mom. A master Rev flier was giving lessons to interested bystanders, so we lined up for a try. What a rush!




Mom even managed to land the kite on her second attempt without crashing:


These aren't easy to fly in light winds, but they can do amazing things. Each of the Revs in this clip is flown by a different person:


Then there was my first time dipping a toe in the Pacific Ocean. Even though we moved to Seattle three years ago, I'd never had the chance -- the Puget Sound isn't the same thing even though it's technically connected.



Two weeks of playing parental vacation director means more than a few things around the house are in need of attention. And the fall semester started yesterday! So it's back to earth after much flight. But I'm on both feet and glad.

First photo courtesy D; second, third, and above photo courtesy Troubadour Mom

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fire burn and cauldron bubble

Because I needed to take care of at least one of the items on my list of beefs just to get back some peace of mind over the weekend, I waged war on the mysterious (and impossibly hardy) microbes in our laundry.

I think we have detente.

We won't know for sure until D tries out the most seriously affected item (a t-shirt), but so far, everything else has proven to be odor-free. So, for your amusement -- and actual use, if you ever run into this problem -- here's what I did on Sunday morning. N.B.: this approach is only recommended for clothing appropriate for the regular hot cycle in your washing machine.

Materials

large pot with lid (ours was a 6.5 quart)
distilled white vinegar
water
measuring cup
stove
large mixing bowl or other similarly sized receptacle
tongs or chopsticks

1. Using measuring cup, fill pot about halfway with hot water from tap (this will reduce time required to bring to boil). Note quantity of water and add about 1/12 this volume in vinegar. Cover and heat on stove until a rolling boil is achieved.

2. Place one laundry item in pot. Poke with tongs or chopsticks until completely immersed. You may add more if the items are small, but dyes do come out of fabric and may discolor other garments.

3. Cover and boil for 5 minutes, 10 for garments with especially resistant odor problems. At the halfway point, stir garment to resoak any parts that may have puffed out above water line from steam.

4. Carefully lift garment with tongs or chopsticks and transfer to mixing bowl. Empty pot and repeat boiling process with fresh vinegar solution for each remaining garment.

5. Place boiled items in washing machine and launder on regular hot wash cycle with detergent. DO NOT add bleach as this will mix with the vinegar to produce poisonous fumes. Select the extra rinse option on your machine if you have one -- this should help prevent any residual vinegar smell from remaining.

6. Tumble dry as usual.


And now, I'm off to the airport. Life will be unpredictable here for a little while, but I'll be checking in as best I can ...

Friday, August 6, 2010

The writing on the wall

It's not a good sign when you wake up and the first thought that flits through your mind is oh no.

I admit, I'd gone to sleep feeling anxious. Despite all the effort I've been putting in to take care of myself in preparation for next week, there's still this panicky thing doing jumping jacks in my guts, and no number of countermeasures will get it to calm the hell down. You can only trick the mind and body so much. Add to that the usual random obstacles life offers and suddenly the reserves I thought I'd been storing up look so much smaller.

I've been trying not to dwell on the less than pleasant stuff (and I'm good at dwelling, so this takes effort). But after a certain point, I can't ignore what's right in front of me.


So, my beefs with the universe, some trivial and some not. Because it all takes energy to deal with, and I really can't devote what's meant to be for my parents to this:

  • Introducing us to the most sweet-tempered, affectionate kitty on the planet but having her hate catnip and all manner of kitty treats, which are essential strategic tools for getting a cat to scratch her scratching post instead of the furniture. Also having her general aversion to drinking water and the aforementioned treats foil the administration of preventative dental care. (There are specific water additives and dental chews that can help if your cat is prone to tartar buildup.) Am I a bad parent for thinking dental care for a cat is a wee bit of a racket? You don't want to know the quote I got for the cleaning our cat supposedly needs, just in case her gums are reabsorbing one of her back teeth.

  • Making the price of a central cooling system so ridiculously high that even over the course of ten years, it will not pay for itself. We're lucky enough to have cooler summers out here, but during those few weeks when the temperature spikes, it's more than a little unpleasant in the house. This has been one of those weeks. As a result, I think my body has retained enough water for both me and the cat who will not drink. Which brings me to ...

  • Bloating. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? As if I really want to manage a visit from my food-obsessed parents while also feeling how uncomfortable my waistband is before being taken on a traveling smorgasbord with them.

  • Mildewing. Back in May, when we were visiting our friends in Portland, we stayed at their place. Well, they had a bit of a moisture problem in their linen closet (and their apartment in general), so the sheets we slept on definitely reeked of something foul. No worries, we said -- two nights and we'll go home, wash everything we're wearing, and all will be fine again. Well, we've put some of those items through the laundry three times now, and they STILL begin to smell after a few hours of wear. I'm at my wits' end (and it's time to do another round of general wash before my parents arrive). Do I take ye olde fashioned approach, boiling the clothes and whatever they're harboring in a pot on the stove? And how are we supposed to get around future invitations to stay for a weekend when we do very much want to hang out but obviously can't throw away what we wear after each visit? They'll think it odd if we book a hotel next time around, won't they?

Okay. I think that's all that's bloggable. Now I'm off to check on the kitty, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, she's gotten hungry enough to try the treat I left in her food bowl in lieu of breakfast this morning ...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On organization

Whoever came up with the idea of "a place for everything and everything in its place" -- that person knows the inner workings of my (home-making) heart. Places like The Container Store speak to some strange, deeply seated longing I still don't quite understand, a need to sort and streamline what I use around the house. Maybe because I hate actual housework, and organizing the tools I need to get things done in the least time possible makes all those chores easier to tackle before procrastination leads to neglect.

But The Container Store ain't cheap. So what's a girl to do?

Eat salad. And peanut butter. Not in the same dish! (Unless you happen to like them that way -- I'm not judging.) Then save the containers.

For months, we've been collecting the plastic clamshell boxes from prewashed greens, as well as the jars from all the nutty goodness D and I consume. Slowly, they've worked their way into our cabinets and closets, the former corralling sponges and bottles of cleaning product, the latter keeping random paper clips and rubber bands from scattering. And now that the shelves in the garage are finished, we're putting these makeshift stackables to use out there too. See?


Mind you, the clamshells aren't sturdy enough to bear huge amounts of weight. But for little odds and ends (in the ones above, a glue gun and its half-used ammo, random rolls of tape, and D's multi-accessory Dremel tool), they work perfectly. Attach labels and you're done. They're even see-through for quick perusal.

As for the peanut butter jars, this is my favorite use so far:


It's been one of those weeks where !!! has been with me mentally but not physically, so please forgive the lack of actual !!! index card in the photos. How about a button instead?

Intentional HappinessMomalom !!!Bad Mommy Moments !!!
On that note, I'm off to store up some more !!! before next week. Not necessarily to be blogged about, though it's so easy to want to -- I know, it's been kind of !!! all the time for a bit here, but I've needed it. Six days till the parents arrive ...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Powering through

The end of my summer course is coming up very shortly, and the project I've taken on (let's call it "thesis in disguise") is demanding some long hours.

The scope of it has turned out to be too large for the length of this mini-semester -- no surprise, given the amount of material I started with -- but whatever I turn in to my professor on Sunday won't be the end of the work. Just a "here's how far I got" submission. I'm hoping, after that, to keep going with this research into the fall so that it might help generate the writing I wasn't able to accomplish in the spring. So far, it's already done that -- just a few paragraphs, nothing huge. But they feel solid, and that is huge to me.

I'm wary. I feel like I'm emerging from a hole or a cave or somebody's badly ventilated basement. I'm afraid of things that will send me back to that place. My parents are coming to visit in exactly two weeks. And I think, if you've been following along, you know how much of an impact they can have on me, despite my best efforts.

The parents Troubadour love their food -- love eating it, planning where they'll get it next, taking special trips just to enjoy rarer forms of it, talking about it ad nauseum. An extended visit from them means their food obsession, among other delightful traits of theirs, will be unavoidable. For me and my food anxieties, this is suboptimal. Issues of control and neglect that have entangled us since we became a family get exacerbated, which either leads to ugly confrontations or one or more of us stuffing our emotions away because that's just how we've survived with one another.

Obviously, stuffing how I feel into the equivalent of a mental basement doesn't make for progress on my writing since my writing is about how I feel ...

So I'm putting some professional backup in place. First, the nutrition guru I found a month ago. Secondly, the counselor she recommended for the other work -- beyond just food -- that has to go hand-in-hand with the work I'm doing with her. I've started seeing the new counselor in the last few weeks, and I feel much more at ease with her than with the previous guy. So they're my go-to peeps for the twelve days in August during which D and I will be playing hosts (and afterward too).

In the meantime, we're preparing the house. We've had boxes in the hall since our guest room painting project began, and they've needed a place to go. There's no basement here, but we do have a garage, which Marketing Sis helped me paint last summer.

So last week, D and I finally got around to this:


What is it? Well, let's try a different view:


No? All right, then; how about this:


Yes, we put up shelves! And I learned how to wield this:


My parents, and all the insecurities they revive in me, may be looming in my future, but for a few days last week, I got some major !!! from revving that drill.

Now if we can just get everything sorted onto the shelves before my folks arrive ...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

As promised


Here's what we did to make our upside-down cake, modified from the original version in yesterday's post to make it Troubadour-friendly.


Peach and Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, August 2008

Ingredients
  • 5 1/2 oz. (1 stick plus 3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup erythritol* sugar substitute
  • 1/2 cup Splenda granular, divided
  • 4 medium ripe peaches, skins on, pitted, and cut into 3/4-inch wedges
  • 1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup Carbalose flour**
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried lavender
  • 1 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt 3 tbsp. butter in a 12-inch skillet (ours was stainless steel, works as well as cast iron) over medium heat, using a pastry brush to coat sides with butter as it melts. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Splenda evenly over bottom of skillet, and cook until Splenda starts to form a crunchy skin (will not caramelize), about 3 minutes. Arrange peaches in a circle at edge of skillet, on top of Splenda. Arrange the remaining wedges in the center to fill. Reduce heat to low, and cook until juices are bubbling and peaches begin to soften, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Whisk cornmeal, Carbalose, baking powder, lavender, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat remaining stick of butter and erythritol with a mixer on high speed, until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Mix in remaining 1/4 cup Splenda, vanilla and cream. Reduce speed to low, and beat in cornmeal mixture in two additions.

3. Drop large spoonfuls of batter over peaches, and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Bake until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Transfer skillet to a wire rack, and let stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife or spatula around edge of cake. Quickly invert cake onto a cutting board. Tap bottom of skillet to release peaches, and carefully remove skillet. Reposition peach slices on top of cake as needed. Let cool slightly before serving.

* This creams WAY better than Splenda but lacks sweetness, hence the use of both in our substitutions.

** When using Carbalose, a general rule of thumb is to lower baking temperature by 25 degrees, double the rising agent, and increase baking time by at least 5 minutes (can be more, depending on the oven and the recipe). All adjustments have already been made here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Upside down

Cake, that is. I'd found yet another recipe in the inspirational binder to try, but I needed some help because (a) I'm allergic to raw stone fruits and (b) a 12-inch skillet is hard to flip when every bit of it is oven-hot.

So D rescued me. He peeled the peaches from the farmer's market and sliced them into a pile of juicy, golden wedges so I wouldn't get hives all over my hands. And when the cake came out of the oven, he gamely clapped a chopping board over the pan, palmed it with ease, and inverted the whole mess with a daredevil grin. I loved him for it.



In the past, I counted on him to be that rescuer for bigger things, things with greater emotional stakes -- family and all its traps, especially. I leaned on him because I (understandably) couldn't lean on myself. Then our own problems began to emerge, and I was alone, still unpracticed at being there just for me. We learned to avoid conflict -- easier to step around each other, swallowing our frustrations so as not to have those all-out fights, ones that would leave me waiting for him to patch me back up.

It's not sustainable, that dynamic. And I've known it for a while but haven't had the resources within to draw upon. But I'm working on that now, relearning, in a topsy-turvy way, how to repair myself.

I won't lie: it sucks. On many days, I'm not sure which end is up, and figuring it out leaves me spent and spread-eagled. And let's not forget afraid -- I fear that after so many months of emotional wreckage, D will have reached his limits. He has reached his limits. I've felt his patience wear long past thin, and it's terrified me. I can't learn quickly enough.

But he's still there, waiting, willing to offer a hand if I really need it. I think we both sense there's a new equilibrium to be gained for me and for us.

For that, I can only be grateful.


For the original recipe, click here. Modified recipe to come.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Still scattered

Post-vacation brain fog continues to dog me. A new week is in progress but I'm somehow still standing at the starting line. Am I losing the ability to focus? Or maybe it's all the change in general that's been going on around here. Transitions mean feeling like I have two left feet. Not especially effective for maintaining a straight trajectory ...

But, in taking stock, I can say that by the end of last week, I did turn in a 30-page chunk of work to my independent study advisor. Not the same advisor directing my thesis, but another professor on my committee who happens to be supervising some summer research I've been doing on the side. It's thesis-related, just not formally so. The work is quite different from the kind of writing I've been trying to do, so much so that it almost feels like a completely separate discipline. But it examines the same material -- family -- and I've needed a new angle from which to examine the past: one less fraught. My instincts tell me to keep going even though the other part of me, the one having fits that I've written so little on the actual thesis, is sighing and wringing her hands. "This is just procrastination! You'll never finish if you get sidetracked so easily!" she says.

Well, 30 pages, whatever they're about, is 30 pages more than I ever got staring at the thesis file for the last two months.

In between sessions with the research, there have been other happenings afoot. Or shall I say, not-happenings. I took this shot while waiting to get on the highway, going home from my counselor's office.


After telling him that I didn't want to continue with him anymore.

Okay, I didn't say it quite like that -- I said I needed a break of indeterminate length. I couldn't, for my own sake, truly abandon the work I've done with him by closing the door for good, so it's there, in storage. But the end result is the same: no more awkward silences in his office when I've run out of things to say, waiting for feedback from him that almost never comes. I was dreading the conversation because of that very silence I was sure I'd be met with, but I got through it. And he seemed to understand.

Just in case things ended up going particularly badly, though, I reminded myself right before my appointment that I had this waiting for me at home:


She was originally our latest foster, but after a week, I knew she was the perfect kitty for both me and D. We have slightly different tastes in cat personalities -- he favors the enthusiastically playful ones; I like the mellow ones who will cuddle -- and this little lady has both traits in abundance. Not a typical combination, in our experience! So we made her an official part of the family Troubadour right before we left for Victoria.

She says hi. When she's chosen a name for herself, I'll post it (yes, even kitty gets a pseudonym). But for now, she wants to go back to enjoying my lap, which she just discovered as a prime napping spot. I was afraid she'd never try it out, but today -- !!!


For more !!!, check out the Intentional Happiness project here and here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A return to ordinary

Sometimes after a trip, I welcome that. Home, with its familiar spaces and smells and schedules, can be a relief after living out of a suitcase, not knowing what time the next meal will be.

Then there’s post-trip disorientation. What was the plan for the day after the return? Oh, right -- there wasn’t one. But there’s laundry and mail to sort and groceries to buy and the rhythms of the week to relearn.

Monday was one of those days-after where I couldn’t get my bearings.

Trip photos! Let’s look at those, said one voice.

Deadline coming up for thesis work, said another. You haven’t touched your writing since early last week.

Anniversary !!! -- don’t let that evaporate, a third voice chimed in. Blog already, before the high is too far into the past. Not that you won’t have fond memories of it all, but writing about it won’t be the same.

What are you making for dinner, asked a fourth. Ugh, there’s nothing in the fridge, and D’s going to be home in a little while, and then you’ll have to go to the store, and you’ve done nothing all day.

Shut UP, I wanted to say.

Ultimately, I’m glad I saved the details of the weekend getaway for a separate post -- I think I need the boost to help me through the wall of current reality. (Have I really done nothing but laundry this week? No, but that’s all that really feels like a measurable accomplishment!) So, a virtual escape is in order. To ...


Victoria! Specifically, Butchart Gardens. This was one of our few planned destinations for the trip. To give ourselves maximum exploration time, we left Seattle at noon on Friday and arrived for a mid-evening dinner (after a little bit of driving and two ferry rides). Which allowed us to get to the gardens early Saturday morning.

It was, as you can see, VERY sunny. It was pleasant in the shade with a breeze, but wandering the big open beds left us quite warm.

The enclosed butterfly garden down the street was amazingly cooler, despite the temperature and humidity that have to be maintained for its winged tenants. We managed to snap some pictures of several beauties that posed for us. An identification guide is available here.






We had trouble capturing the elusive Blue Morpho –- the brilliant sapphire color on its wings is only visible when they’re open, and this species tends to keep them folded while feeding. (These guys below are licking up some tasty banana juices.) But D managed to sneak a peek at an angle.


And this one, newly hatched from its chrysalis, had to let its wings dry -- so it couldn’t fly away.


After a day of flora and fauna, we were ready for dinner at a darling spot in old town Victoria. Bonus !!! –- a corner booth that gave us extra privacy (see, that’s the corner):


And from another angle:


To the left, you can see part of the beautiful antique door that was repurposed as a wall to enclose the bench seat. I thought it made for a special little nook.

The next morning was an early one, as we wanted to fit in a bit more sightseeing before catching the ferry back home. Major !!! for my own personal pot of coffee at the hotel restaurant:


Properly caffeinated, we set off on a tour of the harbor via one of these cute little pickle boats.


They have impressive maneuverability –- so much so that the captains perform a “water ballet” with them, set to the Blue Danube waltz, on Sunday mornings. Naturally, we timed our tour to end just before the performance so we could watch. (I did get video -- but the patience to edit it requires some sleep first.)

Then it was off to a nearby castle for some history on a man who came to Victoria as an indentured miner and died the richest man in British Columbia. (The photos on the website are better than any I could take in the lighting there.)

And finally, on our way to the ferry, a side jaunt to the Fisgard lighthouse.


I figured I’d gotten to see a lighthouse on the eastern coast of Canada exactly a year ago, but (very sadly) without D -- why not make up for it with one on the west?

Now I’m home, and the week is nearly over. Still dealing with post-vacation inertia? Oh, yes. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We actually did quite a lot in those 48 hours away -- all very much worth it.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

To the guy at the Johnston & Murphy store

It's been a few unbloggable weeks. The outcome of all that will be good things in the nearish future, but the reality of December has been a lot of tension between D and me. So we weren't in the best of moods Monday when we decided a last-minute trip to replace his formal footwear was necessary. We leave this morning for sixteen days with the family (both sides as usual).

In a break with tradition, my parents decided they wanted to do New Year's Eve in New York City. At Lincoln Center. Which will be amazing and novel and likely a very good time. But we haven't been to any event that posh in years and D was feeling a bit self-conscious about the not-really-formal loafers he'd been wearing with his suit to the last few dress events (weddings where no one would really care what was on his feet). The pair of shoes he bought for our own wedding was destroyed in the Great Deluge of 2008, and we hadn't found the motivation or justification to invest in another. But the upcoming trip seemed like good reason to D. So we headed out, damaged leather in hand, to see if we could find a similar pair from the company that had sold us the first.

The guy behind the counter was chatting with another customer on the way out the door when we arrived, but as soon as he saw our Trader Joe's bag (clearly containing something other than groceries), he asked how he could be of help. We pulled out the shoes and told him what had happened to them.

"You've got to be effing kidding me," he said, turning them over in his hands. We both smiled at his candor. He seemed a bit older than we were, closer to our parents' age, but not quite there yet.

"Can they be repaired?" D asked, with a hopeful look.

The guy inspected the tear by one toe, the creases and abrasions from three days of water-logging. "You hadn't even had them for very long," he clucked. He tapped for a few seconds on his computer keyboard. "What's your address?"

We gave him the information. He hummed a little as he tapped some more, clicked through a screen or two, examined the labeling inside the shoes. At last, the machine spit out a foot of paper, which he folded carefully before handing it across the counter.

"I like you," he said, with an extremely pleased look on his face. "And no, the shoes can't be fixed. But because you are such nice people, a man in brown shorts is going to appear on your doorstep in three days with a brand-new pair of these."

D and I gaped. As far as we were concerned, we had not been very nice people for most of the day. But, it seemed, the universe had decided at that moment to send us some love anyway.

We thanked the man profusely. "No, no," he said, "I'm happy to do it. I figure the last thing you need to worry about replacing after an ordeal like that is a pair of shoes."

He couldn't have known that the incident in question had happened two years prior. And he couldn't have known what these last weeks had actually been like, bloggable or otherwise. But his wanting so much to give us a bright spot in our day was what touched me. It couldn't have come at a better time, refreshing my view on life when I needed that most.

So thank you again, sir. You did more than I think you realized. Or maybe you knew. Either way, I'll have this memory as I head off into the holiday. Despite what this month has largely been, I can say, because of your kindness, that I feel more optimistic about what remains.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wishful thinking

I bit down on my tongue. Hard. Held my breath, fixed both eyes on a spot on the carpet by the bed, told myself don't cry. I'd managed to get from Seattle to the panhandle of Texas despite surgery, despite infection, without letting on to anyone how I was feeling. My doctor had cleared me to fly, and I needed to go home. For my research, I'd told myself -- to look firsthand at the photos and old letters from my parents' early years together, before I was born, to begin untangling their story for my thesis. That's what I'd finally realized this project was about.

Don't cry, I thought harder. Don't cry don't cry don't cry. But my mother had her arm around me.

"You've been so good," she said. "It's okay, you don't have to be strong anymore today."

Don't have to be strong? Since when did she ever use words like that? The spot on the carpet dissolved into a uniform blur and I buried my head in her shoulder, bewildered but relieved.

"You're so warm," she said after a few minutes.

I lifted my head. "It's fine," I said. I reached for a tissue and glanced toward the door, hoping my father, who usually spent the evening watching TV on the couch just outside the room, couldn't hear us. "This fever's not as bad as the first."

My mother frowned but said nothing, a hand still holding tightly to my shoulder as she surveyed the suitcase on the floor, the airline ticket stubs on the nightstand. "You've had a long day. Now you should just rest."

I pulled the robe she'd lent me closer, leaned my head against hers, and closed my eyes.

*

I remember getting sick as a kid -- flu, strep, bronchitis, the usual. All of which meant long mornings at the pediatrician's office that smelled like old vinyl seats, worn-edged board books, and that nose-wrinkling soap you found only where there were doctors. We never said it aloud, but I don't think my mother or I particularly liked that place.

My mother tended to look worried during those visits, but not because of me. My father would be irritated when he got home. While he doctored the sick every day at the hospital, giving his all to an endless string of cardiac patients, he didn't tolerate illness in his own house. Most of the time, he'd just ignore the problem, leaving my mother to handle all the nursing duties -- administering medication and fluids, keeping track of symptoms, cleaning up vomit. On occasion, he'd pop his head into the bedroom doorway to assess the situation, but he never crossed the threshold.

He did, however, expect my mother to keep the rest of the house running as usual. A hot meal ready to serve, the newspaper waiting by the couch, bills paid, phone calls made, my younger sisters bathed and fed. If things weren't as he felt they ought to be, he'd whine -- at me ("Are you still throwing up?") and at her ("How much longer before dinner? It's getting late."). My mother couldn't help growing annoyed in turn. She never said anything directly to me, but the look on her face when she was caught between my needs and his said plenty: he wouldn't cut her any slack. Couldn't I?

Hers was obviously wishful thinking, but I felt guilty all the same. So I learned to downplay how I was feeling, even if I was miserable. It was better than feeling like a nuisance, even if I wished deep down that it didn't have to be that way.

*

My body remembered this as I leaned against my mother, so many years later, in the dimly lit guestroom of my parents' new house. The mattress on the bed was old, but the comforter was brand-new to match the pillow shams my mother had sewn. "To update things," she'd said a few weeks earlier on the phone, telling me how much she couldn't wait for me to see what she'd put together. She'd wanted to work on the room sooner, but in my parents' nearly four years in Panhandle, she hadn't gotten around to it until then. It didn't matter to me -- being with her, no matter what kind of bed I slept in, was what made home feel like home. Though I did like what she'd chosen, knowing that I would be the one to curl up there.

And how I wanted to do just that. But I didn't want to move while she sat next to me, holding me close. How I'd wanted this too, in those moments when she'd been forced to choose between me and my father. Even early that evening, he'd only grunted, when my mother mentioned I'd been ill, and then complained about what had taken her so long at the grocery store, where she'd gone to get the fresh fish he'd wanted for dinner. Nothing seemed to have changed.

But my mother's arm stayed around me as I glanced toward the door, listening for sounds of the TV, long after the meal had ended. "He's gone to bed," she said. "Don't worry about him."

I dabbed at my eyes, not sure what to say. But for once, she seemed to understand how much I needed her, even more than I'd realized.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Things I am grateful for, or an epistle to the powers that be


Dear Life:

You and I have had our ups and downs this year. Mostly downs, by any measure, but let's not quibble over the finer points therein. Suffice it to say that in general, 2010 has been unmatched in this Troubadour's experience of "rough patches," "tough spots," "suboptimal circumstances," or any other euphemistic label you'd like to slap on it -- despite multiple appeals for relief. To which I have to ask, at the risk of sounding repetitive: WTF?

I have not, in the past, been a big bright-side seeker. I lost my innocence a little too early on to develop the habit. But I'm willing to try almost anything at this point, given the November you've served up so far. And as tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I figure now is as good a time as any to start. So whatever you are -- an entity indifferent to the human plight or one whose intentions for me have yet to make any sense -- listen up.

In the last week, I was grateful for the following:

  • Getting to see one of my dearest friends from college, who happened to be interviewing in Seattle for a medical residency at the UW and needed a place to stay. Never mind the kidney infection you decided to make apparent to me with a raging fever and teeth-rattling chills, about the time her flight was going to arrive. The ER was on the same route as the airport, so it was convenient for D to drop me off and continue on to pick her up. A reunion in one of those skimpy hospital gowns was not what I'd envisioned, but I have never been happier to have company. The laughter that came from behind the curtain in my ER bay for the hours we were stuck there should be proof enough of that.

  • Having my white cell count remain oddly normal in the ER, despite the fact that the infection had already spilled into my bloodstream by the time the poor nurse assigned to me found a usable vein to get the IV antibiotics going. (Is laughter, indeed, the better medicine?) The delayed immune response fooled the hospital into discharging me on the same night rather than admitting me for what was actually a much more serious condition (bacteremia, with the potential to turn into straight-up sepsis). It was nice to get to spend a few extra hours with my friend outside the hospital, which we used not wisely but very well. We took the conversation home and didn’t end it till nearly 3 a.m.

  • Having the blood cultures come back soon enough the next day to get word to my urologist, who promptly called in the extra antibiotics I would need to make sure the infection was properly treated (the ER doctor prescribed only 7 days' worth; turns out I needed 14). Without them, I would have been short on meds for the length of my research trip. Which brings me to ...

  • Getting to go on said research trip, despite the severity of the aforementioned infection. I know the party line, per the infectious disease consult ordered by the urologist, was to cancel my plans, but she and I decided that the calculated risk of getting on a plane for a few hours to spend a week essentially under my parents' care (the arrangement was for me to stay with them while doing the research) was reasonable to take. Yes, you made me pay for it by giving me more chills and fever while I was somewhere over Utah, but I was armed this time with enough antipyretics to kill a buffalo. So I'm still glad I went. Recovering in Panhandle, Texas, is essentially no different from recovering in Seattle. And Mom's chicken soup beats any I could make.

  • Being lucky enough to have scheduled my return flight between that arctic front's passage over Seattle and its subsequent arrival in Panhandle. For a few days before the anticipated snowy cold snap, we were concerned that I might get stuck in Texas for the holiday, leaving D on his own for Thanksgiving. But I'm home now, thanks to a little mercy from the travel gods, and we will have turkey together tomorrow. Given the last month's health ridiculousness, we will not be throwing the usual fete we love to put on nor will we be traveling to share the holiday's bounty with the numerous folks from out of town who have invited us. But we are glad that I'm on the mend (for real this time, we hope) and look forward to the long weekend, if only just to rest.

So. Here's to a happy Thanksgiving. May what remains of 2010 offer much to be grateful for. (I wouldn't mind, though, if the things to be happy about were packaged with fewer associated challenges ...)

Sincerely,
C. Troubadour

Saturday, November 13, 2010

In which I am a bad patient

This whole recovery thing is not what I'd anticipated.

Don't get me wrong -- I know I had surgery, which means not trying to do more than my body can handle. Even if all that that entails is sleeping A LOT. (Seriously, I had no idea I could crash all day and then still sleep a full night without waking up in the middle of it.) But I'm off the prescription pain meds as of today, which means I have a clear head for the first time in 48 hours (yay!) even if I'm still stuck in bed.

It also means the gears are turning.

They should, if anything, be turning on Chapter 4 of the thesis. (Forgot to mention somewhere in the last two weeks -- I turned in a revision of Chapter 2 and a new Chapter 3 to my advisor!) If recovery continues as expected (and it should), I should be cleared for a research trip I'd had in the works long before the health mess ever happened. That's scheduled for next week, so I'm looking guiltily at my files, which I need to back up and organize so I can make the most of my time while I'm up to my elbows in old photos and supplementary documents. Actually finishing the Chapter 4 draft would be good too.

But the kitty is pawing at the bedroom door, which is not conducive to any sort of concentration, and the ibuprofen is only so effective, and I've been distracted by more pressing thoughts since I got my brain back.

It's been an isolating year.

Seattle, I've been told, is a friendly place but a difficult one in which to make friends -- as in those who will make room for you in their established social circle. This cultural oddity even has a name: the Seattle Freeze. Seriously, a name? How's that for intimidating. I know I haven't tried my hardest in the last year to reach out to people, but I have tried, despite all the other stuff I've written about here (2010, you've been difficult). I've gone to get-togethers hosted by D's work colleagues; tried to start conversations there with the wives and girlfriends; suggested and pursued follow-up lunch dates, coffee dates, dinners. Much response?

* Crickets chirping *

I'm still looking and asking, because it's not healthy to be so isolated. I've even gone so far as considering sites like Meetup.com (where there are actual references made to the Seattle Freeze). But a lot of what's offered isn't quite my style -- dance parties on a boat in themed costume? Sure, but I do better in smaller settings. Then how about speed friending? Um, that's kind of an oxymoron.

How about just a meal and some good conversation?

I know, these are things I shouldn't be worrying about before I can walk around the house without feeling exhausted. But being stuck in bed gives you a lot of time to think. And I'm thinking my list of local friends could use some rejuvenation.

So, dear bloggy friends (how I wish you were geographically nearer). How do you make opportunities for new friendships where you live -- and encourage them to grow?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The last thing I remember

... is the room beginning to spin.

It was kind of cool, the pinwheeling, marbleizing filter that had suddenly fallen over my eyes as I lay on the operating table. I wanted to remove the oxygen mask to tell the anesthesiologist what I was seeing, but before I could reach for it, I was out.

*

And then someone was saying my name, and I was propped up in some bed with a lot of blankets but I was still cold and there was no way in hell I was opening my eyes because -- well, there was just no way in hell. "We're going to move you to a recliner, okay?" the voice said, bright and sonsy. "Just swing your legs over the edge and we'll help you stand."

Amazingly, my body complied. (Apparently, I'm very good at following directions even while semi-conscious.) Teeth chattering, limbs shaking, eyes still mostly closed -- why the recliner? I wanted to ask; let me stay in bed, please. But I couldn't muster a word. It didn't matter, though, because I was out again before I hit the chair.

*

At some point, the urologist came to talk to me. "We got the stone," she said. "It was impacted."

"Great," I said. And then I remembered why I was there to begin with.

The suspected kidney stone from early September never passed. And after weeks of waiting, hurting, and bleeding, it was time to figure out if the stone was the problem or if something else was going on. So I met with a urologist -- not the one who first found the stone but another recommended to me after my third trip to the ER. She scheduled the imaging studies for yesterday -- x-rays, with contrast injected into the urinary tract -- to see what there was to see. If there was indeed a stone, it could be taken out at the same time, while I was under.

"How's your pain" -- suddenly, that other sonsy voice was speaking again -- "on a scale of one to ten?"

"Two?" I ventured. My bigger concern was my ability to think or move (or were they really just the same thing?) -- both still muddied and slow and exhausting, like trying to levitate from a bed of quicksand.

"Good. I need you to drink something -- can I get you apple juice?"

My brain cleared for a moment. Apple juice equals sugar. "Don't think I can have it -- prediabetic," I said, eyes still closed.

"Water, then," the voice said. "And how about some crackers?"

"Can't," I said, fighting harder against the quicksand. "Carbs."

"I don't want the pain meds to make you nauseated," the voice insisted. "I'll bring you just a little to nibble on."

"Okay," I said, too tired to argue or try to explain anymore.

*

They're eye-opening, these moments of limitation. I'm used to being able to handle my own basic needs. When I can't, I fight hard to do it anyway -- for weeks, I've gone without more than over-the-counter pain relief because I needed to be able to function. To drive a car, to take care of household chores, to engage with other people just to feel connected to the outside world. And to monitor my health care in a system with a lot of cracks in it. I can't do that effectively on stronger meds, though, apparently, I still try.

I'm clearer today, but only just. I made the mistake of letting the pain meds wear off at one point yesterday, hoping to get my brain and body back, but it was too much. So here I am, typing five words a minute, reaching for clarity that feels just beyond my grasp.

I think I'm okay with that. Fragmented as this memory will be when I return to it in a few days or weeks, it will be here. To remind me that the limitations I feel are relative. Three days ago, I was complaining about not wanting to work out. Today, it's not a question of want at all. I'm just glad to be able to get down the stairs on these jelly-filled legs to brew some coffee. And come right back up to bed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Warning: rant ahead, or a peek into the mind of a food-anxious freak

What follows is an account of one day in my battle with disordered eating. I have fought this problem since before I was old enough to drive a car. It is one of the reasons I finally sought professional counseling through a dietitian this summer, though I didn't know it at the time.

In the months since my work began with the dietitian, I've made many gains. But under the right (wrong?) circumstances -- such as the recent weeks of stress -- backsliding happens. I'm writing about that for the first time here, now, because it's better than keeping silent.


I should have paid attention to the sinking feeling this morning.

It's the kind you get when you haven't eaten in a few hours and your blood sugar dips. Your stomach is growly and your head gets thick and it is all you can do to remember where you were supposed to go next -- much less what you were supposed to do once you got there -- on that list of errands you'd set for yourself.

It was another early morning. And you didn't count on things taking so long. Take a snack, your brain was saying as you headed for the car, wishing you could just stay home. But you were tired and you didn't want to have to have that snack. In the fuzzy logic -- or plain mule-headedness -- of on-the-way-out-the-door thought, you told yourself a doctor's appointment, a haircut, and an in-and-out trip to the grocery store should not take more than three hours. You'll be home right on time for your next meal,* you said. Screw the snack. It's extra calories you don't need. You've lost a little weight in the last month -- don't you want to keep things the way they are?

So you get through your appointment. When you get to the salon -- the bargain-basement walk-in one that also happened to put out a coupon that you needed to use this week if you wanted the additional savings -- you find two other people ahead of you in line. Okay, no problem. You flip through the look books since you haven't had a trim in six months -- better find a picture of what you're supposed to look like so whoever on the rotating staff is assigned to you will do the job right.

And you wait.

And you wait.

And you wait some more. No reason things are slow except that there are only two people working. By the time the woman with the scissors is ready for you, you're regretting that snack you told your brain to forget. The stylist does a good job, a thorough one. So thorough you're wondering if she's cutting each hair individually. And this is just a trim? The morning you thought you'd still have, after finishing these errands, slowly begins to slide out of reach. But, oh good, the stylist is finally done.

This, if you weren't going to take that snack, is where you should have gone home right away instead of trying to stick things out.

After leaving the salon, you head over to the grocery store. What did you need? It takes effort to remember, even though it's just two items. One of them -- salad greens -- wouldn't even be necessary if the greens you bought last Thursday, with an expiration date of November 10th, hadn't already decomposed by the 7th. But you need those greens. What the hell else are you supposed to fill up on if bread and crackers and cereal and all the rest of the food you've ever loved can only be eaten in portions that would make a mouse cry?**

At last, you do get home. You make that salad -- a quarter of an apple, an ounce of goat cheese, not quite a tablespoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tossed with the greens -- and slap some turkey with mustard on low-carb bread. It's a good lunch, a filling one. But you've eaten the same damn lunch for five days straight*** because you've been on autopilot with everything else going on. And now you want what you know you can't have: anything with more than 15 grams of carbs per serving. In any quantity you like.

You wait out the cravings. You're supposed to get on with the rest of the day anyway -- so the morning's gone, and you haven't showered yet, and the workout that you've been hating lately but that you cling to because it means your body still functions and your weight is still under your control needs to be done. But then the phone rings. And you're so lonely that you will totally blow another two hours talking when you know you'll be mad at yourself for shoving off more of the afternoon. Your resistance is waning.

When you hang up, you head for the kitchen. You need fuel for the workout, or that sinking feeling will get you halfway through. So you allow yourself some carbs.

But you've got no willpower left. Between the sugar lows and the lost morning and the loneliness and the sheer sense of defiance you have against all that the universe has thrown at you this year and the last with no rhyme or reason, you've HAD it. Before you can stop yourself, you've inhaled enough from the pantry to horrify your (former) endocrinologist and alarm your dietitian, the latter of whom you should call and 'fess up to right now so she can help you.

And I will.

Tomorrow.

* Eating meals at regular intervals is helpful in maintaining optimal blood-sugar levels and preventing binges.

** Obviously, this is a bit hyperbolic, but when your brain has no fuel, it doesn't process thought very logically or reasonably.

*** Creating variety, even only slightly, in what you eat can be helpful in preventing boredom, which can otherwise trigger binges.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Foggy

My writing brain is sluggish tonight. Yesterday morning started early for me; I had to beat traffic going downtown to have some labs drawn. And even though I slept in today, I'm dragging now. Thank goodness for the end to Daylight Savings Time. The day we "fall back" is one of my most favorite in the year.

When I got to the doctor's office, things were pretty quiet, unlike Wednesday afternoon, when I was there for follow-up with the new internist. The lab techs were just getting started with their preparations for the day -- filling syringes with flu vaccine, restocking vials for blood -- and I didn't have to wait to be called in. The woman with my lab orders waved me over right away and started tying a tourniquet around my arm.

"You fasting?" she asked.

I nodded. I hadn't been sure if the tests required it, but it seemed better to err on the side of caution than to have to reschedule the draw -- one of the tests could only be done first thing in the morning.

I glanced at the labels the woman had printed out for each vial of blood and noticed the number was remarkably short for what I'd seen on the day of my follow-up appointment. (The tech who had originally printed them that afternoon had advised me to wait, given the morning-only test, and have all the blood taken at the same time to save me an extra needle stick.) So -- "We're doing cortisol, anti-TPO, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D today?" I asked, just to be sure.

"Hmm? No, no, I've just got lipids and a hemoglobin A1c," the woman said. "Wait, what's your name again?" She fumbled around with her order sheet for a moment as I gave her my information. "Oh yes, I remember! The other girl said you were going to come back today to get everything done and she taped your other labels to the fridge -- "

We both turned to look at the refrigerator, whose doors were bare.

"Shoot," the woman said, untying the tourniquet. "Wait right here."

I've learned not to be surprised when snafus like this occur. Even as recently as Wednesday, there were some near-mistakes that happened -- the physician ordered the wrong test and only realized it when I asked her why she'd chosen it over an alternative that was purportedly more accurate; then the lab tech handling a urine test gave me the wrong label for the specimen cup and only realized it when I pointed out that it was for the second of two urine tests my doctor had ordered, which could only be done while I was symptomatic (I wasn't that day).

Is it just me, or does it seem like I'm having to double-check what shouldn't be mine to check in the first place?

The woman taking my blood Friday morning eventually found the labels she needed -- in a garbage can. Lucky for me; apparently, once those labels are printed, the request records leave the lab computer and go to a completely different facility where specimens are received (that way, the folks handling that step in the process know exactly what to look for). I don't know whether we would have ended up having to call the receiving facility to figure out what testing needed to be done or if anyone was even at said facility at that time of day. Either way, it wasn't going to be a simple fix.

So. I'm grateful that everything worked out in the end. I just hope the incidence of error drops in future visits. For the next set of tests, scheduled for Wednesday of the coming week, I'll be sedated -- and there's no way I can look out for myself like that!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two-faced

Halloween was a low-key affair this year. Last week, we again attended the annual pumpkin carving party one of D's friends likes to host, but we didn't go in with a plan as we did the first time. Just a gourd of a ghoulish hue and a vague idea of what we might put on it. Here's the end result:


A pair of eyes apiece -- the ones on the right are mine (adapted from a template) and the others belong to D (carved freehand).



I'm amused that the creepy gaze I thought I was creating ended up looking more concerned than anything else. I guess having another face emerging from the side of one's head would be a good reason ...

Halloween night in question was busy, and not just because we got about 200 trick-or-treaters (fairly standard in our neighborhood). We had a last-minute guest, one of our friends from Portland, who was supposed to be on vacation in Venice but had had his passport turned down the day before at the Portland airport. Too beaten up, the gate agents told him. His only option, if he still wanted to make the trip, was to get a new document issued from the nearest emergency processing center -- which was in Seattle.

"I'm going to be fairly rotten company," he warned me ahead of time. Which was completely understandable. But I paused before telling him that I might not be much fun either. Even though we've known each other for more than a decade, I still hesitated to say anything about what's been going on in the last few weeks. On the outside, there are no obvious signs that mark me -- perhaps I look more tired than usual and my clothes are a little looser, but no scars, no broken bones. Still, I've had my resources tapped repeatedly, dealing with unpredictable pain, diverting whatever energy I have into finding a doctor who will listen, waiting for a diagnostic plan to take shape.

As I hinted here, these aren't things I like to tell people in real life, not even my family, because pain, both physical and emotional, is so intimate. To admit to someone that you hurt is to take a risk -- that the other person will respond insensitively, that he or she will downplay your experience, that you will feel worse for having said something in the first place. So I've learned not to talk about pain out loud if I can get away with it; I do it in this space instead.

But with someone I've known so long, it also feels dishonest to pretend all is well. And I'd been run down enough in the last few weeks that the act of pretending was going to be too much in person, especially because the physical pain is so unpredictable; it can flare up at any time. So I told my friend in brief that I wasn't in the best shape. The result was an awkward few seconds on the phone -- he acknowledged what I'd said but didn't seem to know what else to offer. Then someone came to his door and he said he had to go.

So I'm still turning one face to the outside world and letting the other exist here. I wish there were a way to integrate them more. But for now, this is the best I can do.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A tour, as promised

By now, you've seen the front page here -- thank you to everyone for the nice things you've said or e-mailed as you've stopped by. Hopefully everything is actually working (no missing images or other obvious errors), but if you run into a problem, do let me know. I've tested and tested things, but Blogger still has its mysteries.

So what's new around here? Stand-alone pages! Thank you, Blogger, for creating these. This blog was beginning to feel a bit all over the place in the last few months -- since D and I had finally finished commuting, that initial topic running through the blog was no longer the primary reason I was coming here to write. But there were other themes that had been showing up, so I decided to group posts accordingly under some new headings, which are at the top of the sidebar at right. Yep, it's my filing gene at work again.

All the clutter in my former sidebar was driving me slightly nuts too, so that's been given its own space as well. If you haven't already checked out my blogroll, it's hanging out behind the button with the little mouse on it in the new sidebar. If I'm a regular visitor to your site and I've left your link off or mislinked to you, please let me know! And likewise, if you've blogrolled me, please check that my link is updated: thisroamanticlife.blogspot.com. The extra (a) makes all the difference.

I've been reading (mostly for my thesis) even though I haven't written recently about it -- those resources, along with other stuff I've found worthy of note on my bookshelves (real and virtual), are now behind their own sidebar button too. More to be added to the list soon. The library's been keeping me well-stocked in the last few months.

So there you go! That's the short and sweet version of the tour. Again, feel free to explore, and thanks, as always, for reading.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New starts

I've been busy, as you can see. After the last month's serious shortage of happiness, I decided I needed a project to make some. So I took a really deep breath and asked D if he would teach me some basics in Photoshop and CSS. The new look here is the result!

I'd been considering a redesign since Blogger came out with its new template editor, but nothing I saw out there really felt like me. Trying on templates? Kind of a cross between clothes shopping and interior decorating. Only so much fun when things out there aren't quite your style. But the idea of coding was more than slightly intimidating -- I'd never written anything before in a language other than the ones I grew up speaking or studying in school.

Without question, I've learned TONS in the process, thanks to D. There are a few bugs that may be out of our control (functionality on Blogger's part and browser weirdness) but I'm pretty happy with the end result, especially since this was my first real attempt at such a project. I'll tweak a little more, but only to fix behind-the-scenes stuff. The diversion's been great, even fulfilling -- so, mission accomplished!

I promise an official tour very shortly (but feel free to explore on your own). For now, there are chores around the house that need some serious attention ...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Square one

So, about Wednesday.

It was a small adventure, locating the clinic. The place is in an area of the city I don't normally spend much time in, so I was more than out of my element, trying to find parking, looking for the right building, attempting to understand the electronic directory, then finally giving up and guessing which floor to take the elevator to. No signs, and no one to ask.

I'd stuck all the information I'd gathered into a folder I'd recycled from -- believe it or not -- ninth-grade English class. (Last summer, as I was digging through the boxes of stuff that used to be in storage at my parents' house, I tossed the old homework assignments and kept the office supplies.) It was a little weird to feel the thickness of all that data crammed into the space that used to hold a semester's worth of journal assignments, but it was strangely appropriate too. Replace one narrative with, in essence, another even more intimate: blood counts and other analyses set in order like entries in a diary.

To my relief, I'd guessed correctly, and the elevator opened into the foyer of the office I needed. In a few minutes, I was sitting with a lap full of new paperwork.

I couldn't finish it fast enough -- a nurse took me back to a room very shortly. She indicated the examination table and the gown folded at one end, so I got undressed. Hopped up onto the paper liner, folder and forms still in my hands. I was still scribbling when the doctor came in.

"Hi," she said, as she headed for the sink to wash her hands. "I'm Dr. ________, but you can use my first name." She smiled and pulled a rolling stool up to my dangling legs. "What's brought you to our clinic today?"

I held up the paperwork. "I'm sorry; I'm not done with these -- "

"It's okay," she said, taking the forms and my folder, setting them on a chair out of reach. "Tell me what's going on."

I froze. The folder, which held my story, also seemed to have my voice in it. But the doctor was waiting, so I offered the first things I could remember: four specialists, each with their own work-ups, no comprehensive picture. "I need someone who can look at the whole, not just the parts," I said, nodding toward the chair.

She opened the file immediately, eyes widening. As she scanned the contents, I explained when my health problems had begun, trying to get a better beginning, middle, and end established for the fragmented narrative I'd started with. She nodded, taking notes, asking a question here and there to clarify. But for the most part, she listened.

When I was done, she closed her eyes, fingers to her temples, as if she was thinking hard. "This is a lot of information," she said, "and if you're willing to trust me with this, I'd like to keep it for a few days, just to synthesize all of it more thoroughly in my mind. I'm thinking several things right now, but I want to see exactly what's been done and what hasn't so we can put together some next steps."

I nodded. A doctor taking this kind of time before trying to formulate a path to a diagnosis? It was more than I'd hoped for. For the first time in months, I had the sense that I'd found someone who could help. But what kind of follow-up was she envisioning?

"Early next week," she said, eyes seeking mine with a reassuring expression. "I'll be in touch with you with a plan. We're going to get to the bottom of this."

This time, I think I can believe that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

And then things got ugly

I've been waiting.

At first it was just waiting for an appointment with a new doctor -- an internist to start with; she comes highly recommended. She works within a well-reputed medical center I've been referred to in Seattle, one whose philosophy emphasizes continuity of care: a single system, linking all of its specialists. Everybody has access to your records, your history. No faxing things to separate people, no need to dig channels of communication. They're already in place. But you have to have a primary care physician within the organization -- he or she acts as your point person -- before you can arrange to see anyone else (like, say, an endocrinologist).

So my appointment, which I made the day before my last post, is this Wednesday.

The same day of my last post, within the hour I hit publish, my body threw a hissy fit. I'll spare you a list of the symptoms, but suffice it to say, they weren't something to ignore.

We weren't sure of the cause, but the first suspect was that kidney stone. Its initial presentation was odd, which I knew, but it turns out the urologist's report hems and haws about whether it was ever even a stone. If it was, it's up and done something unkind. If it wasn't, then something else is going on and we need to figure out what that is.

In the interim between the Friday I got sick and this Wednesday (not quite three weeks), we've done some stopgap investigating. As much as I didn't want to, we went to an ER on the first Saturday (on the advice of the nursing consult service D's company provides to its employees) to make sure nothing imminently life-threatening was happening. After that, we were advised to follow up with a urologist. Of course, the earliest appointment I could get was after the first appointment with the new internist (this is how new-patient scheduling sometimes goes). I was still feeling off, so my remaining option while waiting was to go back to my current doctors.

At some point in April, when the endocrine guy was beginning to run out of ideas, he referred me to a rheumatologist (suspecting something autoimmune). "He's a very good diagnostician," he told me. So I saw that person in June (see what I mean about new-patient scheduling?) but in the end received no new answers after one more round of tests.

Given the new symptoms from September, I figured it might be worth going back to him. Fortunately, he had an opening the Tuesday after I got sick; still no answers, but he repeated his tests.

The Thursday of that week, we left for D's brother's wedding weekend, during which my symptoms got worse. Tack on one more ER visit.

Then we came home. Symptoms even worse. Decided to forgo the ER visit against most natural instincts, sensing from our track record that we wouldn't get answers. The rheumatologist's tests came back a few days ago with nothing new either. And now, we're here.

I've got all my paperwork gathered and organized, all the records I could pull together from the last eighteen months. I've sat down and charted from scratch on a timeline all the weird things that have happened with my body since I got diagnosed with prediabetes, and then some from the time before. I've noted diet changes, weight changes, GI changes, urological changes, medicinal changes, mental changes, environmental changes. There's nothing more I can think of to add.

I wanted to wait to write about any of this, hoping I'd have better news. But here I am, waiting.

I just have to make it to Wednesday. We start fresh there.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Them's fightin' words

I knew getting a dietitian was the first step toward some important changes, but apparently it's starting a small revolution.

I think I'm firing my endocrinologist.

It's not a straightforward story, but the short version is that on my visit to said endocrinologist's office last week to follow up on that pesky kidney stone, I updated him on the diet adjustments I've been making with the help of my dietitian. And he wasn't happy -- the caloric allowances she'd laid out for me didn't jive with what he thought I should be aiming for (he was advocating a much tighter budget). Not one to sit helpless when given conflicting information, I asked him to speak with the dietitian so that we could determine where the disagreements were in their assessments of my needs. His response: "Tell her that I have a subspecialty degree in metabolic disease" -- or some such field, I can't remember his exact words -- "and if she still has questions after that, she can call me."

Huh. Did he really think she (or I) was going to accept credential-waving as an adequate reason to follow his plan?

Sensing I was getting the brush-off, I e-mailed the dietitian after I got home, explaining the discrepancies between the recommendations, and expressed my concern. She immediately got back to me, promising to contact my doctor so that we could get the diet guideline questions resolved.

Apparently, he wouldn't talk to her.

Instead, he left a message for her with his nurse -- one that wasn't far off from what he'd told me to relay, from what I've gathered. And he's still refusing to take the dietitian's calls.

Is it ego? Insecurity? A control issue? All of the above? I'm done speculating. I need a care team, one in which the various members work together. If someone's refusing to communicate, much less collaborate, there's no way this is going to work out in my best interest. So I'm removing myself from his responsibility.

This has been a long time coming -- over the last few months, this guy has said and done other things that left me feeling unsupported and unheard. It's not worth going into detail, but each incident eroded my trust in him just a little bit more. I'm glad to be able to leave his service, knowing without question that the problems with him aren't "just in my head."

But finding that next person. I can't say I've got a lot of confidence in the current remaining team members (with the exception of the dietitian) -- they communicate minimally, by faxed lab results at best. This endocrinologist was kind of the only person who at least went through the motions of examining the bigger picture (he made the referrals to other specialists, so he got their letters back interpreting the results of their tests). I need someone willing to take the time to look closely, to pursue answers.

I happened to read Big Little Wolf's commentary on the doctor-patient relationship as all this was going on, and that, among other things, has reinforced what I've known for a while: that my search isn't going to be an easy one. But I'm looking because I have to. This mess -- or message service -- masquerading as coordinated care has gone on too long.

And I will totally sic all seven pounds of my attack kitty on the next M.D. who tells me his degree is what makes his plan (or lack thereof) superior to anyone else's.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bone weary

I thought the weekend was supposed to be for relaxing, but I think it's just allowed me to feel the weight of all the stuff from the past week (or two), now that there is space for that. And the feeling is necessary, so fine. But I'm warning next week right now: ease up or ... else.

(I'm not very good at actually coming up with threats, but I'm cocking a very pointed eyebrow at Monday and everything after it. It's my teacher look, which actually won a stare-down contest in a teacher-training workshop many years ago. See that, next week? See that eyebrow?)

My thesis is moving forward for real. I have two solid chapters that make sense in succession and are pointing very clearly to a third, which is more exciting than I have the means to describe. But it's been drawing on a lot of mental resources, and when I've come to the end of the day, I've had nothing for anyone else. D and I both go through this -- he'll return after a particularly intense day, having successfully left work at work, but he doesn't quite make it home in his state of mind for several hours after he gets through the door. He floats in some kind of limbo that makes for pretty quiet dinners. I understand -- sometimes the brain doesn't reset for a little while. So I leave him alone until he's ready.

Last week was my turn to be zonked -- not just from all the research interviews and the mental gymnastics of writing, but from the emotional pull of trying to tell a difficult story. (Forgive me if I don't get more specific than that; I did just spend the week up to my ears in the details.)

I'm glad the writing is working. But it's at the expense of other pressing concerns I need to resolve, like the fallout of getting sick while no one was around. D and I didn't come through that situation in the best way, and we've wanted to talk about it, but I've been too frayed to do it without getting upset, which D doesn't deal well with. Our attempts to have a conversation about how we handled things on both our ends have been kind of rocky. And then there's the question about what all these seemingly separate problems -- blood sugar, GI tract, kidneys -- are really indicative of. I've pushed that out of my mind for a while, but Labor Day weekend was a reminder that all is not perfectly well and that we still don't have real answers as to why three different body systems decided to get wonky, all starting in the first half of 2009.

So I want some emotional reserves for this stuff. I know I can't always have enough for all of it, but for next week, I need more.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This


... is how I feel.

Last week's issues are more or less fading away (hooray!) but yesterday was another thesis deadline and I'm now totally brain-drained.

It's a mostly good sort of drained -- I feel like I hit a stride I hadn't achieved in ages, really writing, not just transcribing or starting a scene only to abandon it for a different start. For months, I'd accumulated those starts, 19 pages of them. Yesterday, I turned in a completed chapter with a beginning, middle, and end.

I'm supposed to be writing up a short item for another professor right now, but I think I'm still not quite recharged. Rather, I think I used up my quota of writing brain on an e-mail I had to compose this afternoon. I'd gotten an inquiry from a prospective student, asking about the ins and outs of my program (I'm listed as a student contact for such questions).

Of course, the applicant wanted to know what I thought about the classes, the faculty, etc., etc., and I'm glad to provide my take on my own experience -- which I can only characterize as mixed. But it's not something I share without a lot of consideration about context.

I imagine if you asked each person in my year what he or she thought of the program, none of the responses would be the same. There would be similarities in some areas, but also enormous differences, depending on each individual's personality and expectations. We're all as different as the work we produce. So whenever I reply to someone's inquiry, I have to emphasize the importance of asking other students the same questions he or she has asked me. And I have to word my response so it is absolutely clear that my experience is by no means representative of anyone else's, that in fact there are people I have met who would answer very differently.

For some reason, I don't trust these eager applicants to remember that. I'm sure there are those who will romanticize the "highly intriguing" and "highly illustrious" program I'm a part of (words straight out of today's e-mail), no matter what I say, only to be disappointed when they arrive (if they're admitted). Perhaps I think this because so many people I met in the program eventually found themselves disillusioned with it. The fact is there were (and still are) limited resources, not just in terms of funding but in terms of mentorship, and if you don't fight hard to be your own advocate when you feel like you're not getting what you need, you'll be less satisfied with your experience. I don't want the prospective students who contact me to go into the process of applying -- to this program or any program -- without the understanding that this is part of what will greatly influence how things end up for them.

And then there will be those who'll get turned off before they've gathered enough opinions, taking my comments, no matter how carefully I couch them, as bald-faced denunciations.

It's out of my control, in any case. I can only choose my words so carefully. I just hope I did a good enough job that it'll make the right difference to the right person, if that makes any sense. That's my reason for replying in the first place.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Every kidney has a silver lining, the sequel

Yep, this little nuisance again.

You'd think I'd recognize a kidney stone after the first one, but no, this one presented itself quite differently. Referred pain? You got it (rather, I did).

So a good part of Friday found me waiting here (the hospital's walk-in imaging clinic):


Not exactly my first choice for where to spend all that time. But when the ultrasound didn't reveal anything amiss in my gallbladder (a good thing!), the GI folks had to refer me to somebody else (with a practice in the same medical facility, but an entirely separate registration/appointment process). That doctor, whom I got to see only on the luck of some other patient's cancellation, sent me back to the clinic for an x-ray, which revealed the real cause of all the trouble.

The doctor was very kind and hung around after his office had closed, just so he could interpret the x-ray for me (it was late in the day when he ordered the test, so there was no way the radiologist would have the official report to him in a timely fashion). He could have gone home and told me to wait for the results, to be delivered by phone after the long weekend, with orders to go to the ER if things got worse before then. But he didn't, and I'm thankful. Because of his kindness, I was able to go home with an answer and greater peace of mind. I'm still under orders to go to the ER if anything untoward occurs, but given the size and location of the stone, that's very unlikely.

Who knew I'd be glad to have a kidney stone instead of the alternative?

(Don't get me wrong; it still hurts. But given the choice, while alone, I'd rather deal with a problem I can treat from home as opposed to something that requires hospitalization, no matter how routine. Who would feed the kitty?)

I just hope I'm not in for a repeat of this in the future. Especially since it occurs without warning and in such misleading ways! Worst fear: that it happens while I'm on a plane. If I'd gone with D on Thursday instead of staying behind to work on my thesis, I'd have been somewhere over Texas during the nastier part of that afternoon. I suppose I should thank my writing obligations for preventing that ... ?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Grumbling rights

I'm exercising them. Because the gods of timing just won't leave me alone.

The short version: D left town this morning to throw his brother a bachelor's weekend before said brother's wedding next month. This afternoon, the nagging stitch in my side that started yesterday after lunch turned into an unrelenting pain that still hasn't gone away. A trip to the GI doctor got me some prescription painkillers and orders to return to the hospital in the morning for a thorough ultrasound (the one attempted today wasn't clear enough, so we'll try again when I'm fasting). The hope is that the gallbladder doesn't need to come out.

I'm pretty good at being alone most of the time -- years of living apart from D while we were commuting has trained me well. But this is one of those instances where I really, really wish he were here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On a lighter note

It's been busy, as I'm sure you've guessed, but life chez Troubadour is back to normal as of yesterday. In relative terms, at any rate.

I'm not going to go into all the details right off, but I'm happy to say that my parents' visit was manageable. All the prep leading up to it figured significantly in making it so, but there were also moments that were enjoyable entirely for what they were, not because I used any magical thinking or conversational stealth to make a difficult situation better.

Troubadour Dad stayed for an extended weekend; my mother stayed for an additional week. During the last part of her visit, we drove down to Long Beach, a tiny town at the southwestern corner of Washington, for their annual kite festival. It's been running for thirty years, but D only found out about it early this summer.

Road trips to new places with Troubadour Mom are always fun because she still has her sense of adventure (my dad is another story, but Mom works on him every now and then). We were pleased to give ourselves lots of firsts on this brief weekend, which included:

Mom's first visit to Oregon! (We stayed Friday night in Astoria, which is just across from Long Beach Peninsula by way of this bridge.)


First time flying a Revolution kite for all of us, and the first time flying any kind of kite for both me and Mom. A master Rev flier was giving lessons to interested bystanders, so we lined up for a try. What a rush!




Mom even managed to land the kite on her second attempt without crashing:


These aren't easy to fly in light winds, but they can do amazing things. Each of the Revs in this clip is flown by a different person:


Then there was my first time dipping a toe in the Pacific Ocean. Even though we moved to Seattle three years ago, I'd never had the chance -- the Puget Sound isn't the same thing even though it's technically connected.



Two weeks of playing parental vacation director means more than a few things around the house are in need of attention. And the fall semester started yesterday! So it's back to earth after much flight. But I'm on both feet and glad.

First photo courtesy D; second, third, and above photo courtesy Troubadour Mom

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fire burn and cauldron bubble

Because I needed to take care of at least one of the items on my list of beefs just to get back some peace of mind over the weekend, I waged war on the mysterious (and impossibly hardy) microbes in our laundry.

I think we have detente.

We won't know for sure until D tries out the most seriously affected item (a t-shirt), but so far, everything else has proven to be odor-free. So, for your amusement -- and actual use, if you ever run into this problem -- here's what I did on Sunday morning. N.B.: this approach is only recommended for clothing appropriate for the regular hot cycle in your washing machine.

Materials

large pot with lid (ours was a 6.5 quart)
distilled white vinegar
water
measuring cup
stove
large mixing bowl or other similarly sized receptacle
tongs or chopsticks

1. Using measuring cup, fill pot about halfway with hot water from tap (this will reduce time required to bring to boil). Note quantity of water and add about 1/12 this volume in vinegar. Cover and heat on stove until a rolling boil is achieved.

2. Place one laundry item in pot. Poke with tongs or chopsticks until completely immersed. You may add more if the items are small, but dyes do come out of fabric and may discolor other garments.

3. Cover and boil for 5 minutes, 10 for garments with especially resistant odor problems. At the halfway point, stir garment to resoak any parts that may have puffed out above water line from steam.

4. Carefully lift garment with tongs or chopsticks and transfer to mixing bowl. Empty pot and repeat boiling process with fresh vinegar solution for each remaining garment.

5. Place boiled items in washing machine and launder on regular hot wash cycle with detergent. DO NOT add bleach as this will mix with the vinegar to produce poisonous fumes. Select the extra rinse option on your machine if you have one -- this should help prevent any residual vinegar smell from remaining.

6. Tumble dry as usual.


And now, I'm off to the airport. Life will be unpredictable here for a little while, but I'll be checking in as best I can ...

Friday, August 6, 2010

The writing on the wall

It's not a good sign when you wake up and the first thought that flits through your mind is oh no.

I admit, I'd gone to sleep feeling anxious. Despite all the effort I've been putting in to take care of myself in preparation for next week, there's still this panicky thing doing jumping jacks in my guts, and no number of countermeasures will get it to calm the hell down. You can only trick the mind and body so much. Add to that the usual random obstacles life offers and suddenly the reserves I thought I'd been storing up look so much smaller.

I've been trying not to dwell on the less than pleasant stuff (and I'm good at dwelling, so this takes effort). But after a certain point, I can't ignore what's right in front of me.


So, my beefs with the universe, some trivial and some not. Because it all takes energy to deal with, and I really can't devote what's meant to be for my parents to this:

  • Introducing us to the most sweet-tempered, affectionate kitty on the planet but having her hate catnip and all manner of kitty treats, which are essential strategic tools for getting a cat to scratch her scratching post instead of the furniture. Also having her general aversion to drinking water and the aforementioned treats foil the administration of preventative dental care. (There are specific water additives and dental chews that can help if your cat is prone to tartar buildup.) Am I a bad parent for thinking dental care for a cat is a wee bit of a racket? You don't want to know the quote I got for the cleaning our cat supposedly needs, just in case her gums are reabsorbing one of her back teeth.

  • Making the price of a central cooling system so ridiculously high that even over the course of ten years, it will not pay for itself. We're lucky enough to have cooler summers out here, but during those few weeks when the temperature spikes, it's more than a little unpleasant in the house. This has been one of those weeks. As a result, I think my body has retained enough water for both me and the cat who will not drink. Which brings me to ...

  • Bloating. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? As if I really want to manage a visit from my food-obsessed parents while also feeling how uncomfortable my waistband is before being taken on a traveling smorgasbord with them.

  • Mildewing. Back in May, when we were visiting our friends in Portland, we stayed at their place. Well, they had a bit of a moisture problem in their linen closet (and their apartment in general), so the sheets we slept on definitely reeked of something foul. No worries, we said -- two nights and we'll go home, wash everything we're wearing, and all will be fine again. Well, we've put some of those items through the laundry three times now, and they STILL begin to smell after a few hours of wear. I'm at my wits' end (and it's time to do another round of general wash before my parents arrive). Do I take ye olde fashioned approach, boiling the clothes and whatever they're harboring in a pot on the stove? And how are we supposed to get around future invitations to stay for a weekend when we do very much want to hang out but obviously can't throw away what we wear after each visit? They'll think it odd if we book a hotel next time around, won't they?

Okay. I think that's all that's bloggable. Now I'm off to check on the kitty, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, she's gotten hungry enough to try the treat I left in her food bowl in lieu of breakfast this morning ...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On organization

Whoever came up with the idea of "a place for everything and everything in its place" -- that person knows the inner workings of my (home-making) heart. Places like The Container Store speak to some strange, deeply seated longing I still don't quite understand, a need to sort and streamline what I use around the house. Maybe because I hate actual housework, and organizing the tools I need to get things done in the least time possible makes all those chores easier to tackle before procrastination leads to neglect.

But The Container Store ain't cheap. So what's a girl to do?

Eat salad. And peanut butter. Not in the same dish! (Unless you happen to like them that way -- I'm not judging.) Then save the containers.

For months, we've been collecting the plastic clamshell boxes from prewashed greens, as well as the jars from all the nutty goodness D and I consume. Slowly, they've worked their way into our cabinets and closets, the former corralling sponges and bottles of cleaning product, the latter keeping random paper clips and rubber bands from scattering. And now that the shelves in the garage are finished, we're putting these makeshift stackables to use out there too. See?


Mind you, the clamshells aren't sturdy enough to bear huge amounts of weight. But for little odds and ends (in the ones above, a glue gun and its half-used ammo, random rolls of tape, and D's multi-accessory Dremel tool), they work perfectly. Attach labels and you're done. They're even see-through for quick perusal.

As for the peanut butter jars, this is my favorite use so far:


It's been one of those weeks where !!! has been with me mentally but not physically, so please forgive the lack of actual !!! index card in the photos. How about a button instead?

Intentional HappinessMomalom !!!Bad Mommy Moments !!!
On that note, I'm off to store up some more !!! before next week. Not necessarily to be blogged about, though it's so easy to want to -- I know, it's been kind of !!! all the time for a bit here, but I've needed it. Six days till the parents arrive ...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Powering through

The end of my summer course is coming up very shortly, and the project I've taken on (let's call it "thesis in disguise") is demanding some long hours.

The scope of it has turned out to be too large for the length of this mini-semester -- no surprise, given the amount of material I started with -- but whatever I turn in to my professor on Sunday won't be the end of the work. Just a "here's how far I got" submission. I'm hoping, after that, to keep going with this research into the fall so that it might help generate the writing I wasn't able to accomplish in the spring. So far, it's already done that -- just a few paragraphs, nothing huge. But they feel solid, and that is huge to me.

I'm wary. I feel like I'm emerging from a hole or a cave or somebody's badly ventilated basement. I'm afraid of things that will send me back to that place. My parents are coming to visit in exactly two weeks. And I think, if you've been following along, you know how much of an impact they can have on me, despite my best efforts.

The parents Troubadour love their food -- love eating it, planning where they'll get it next, taking special trips just to enjoy rarer forms of it, talking about it ad nauseum. An extended visit from them means their food obsession, among other delightful traits of theirs, will be unavoidable. For me and my food anxieties, this is suboptimal. Issues of control and neglect that have entangled us since we became a family get exacerbated, which either leads to ugly confrontations or one or more of us stuffing our emotions away because that's just how we've survived with one another.

Obviously, stuffing how I feel into the equivalent of a mental basement doesn't make for progress on my writing since my writing is about how I feel ...

So I'm putting some professional backup in place. First, the nutrition guru I found a month ago. Secondly, the counselor she recommended for the other work -- beyond just food -- that has to go hand-in-hand with the work I'm doing with her. I've started seeing the new counselor in the last few weeks, and I feel much more at ease with her than with the previous guy. So they're my go-to peeps for the twelve days in August during which D and I will be playing hosts (and afterward too).

In the meantime, we're preparing the house. We've had boxes in the hall since our guest room painting project began, and they've needed a place to go. There's no basement here, but we do have a garage, which Marketing Sis helped me paint last summer.

So last week, D and I finally got around to this:


What is it? Well, let's try a different view:


No? All right, then; how about this:


Yes, we put up shelves! And I learned how to wield this:


My parents, and all the insecurities they revive in me, may be looming in my future, but for a few days last week, I got some major !!! from revving that drill.

Now if we can just get everything sorted onto the shelves before my folks arrive ...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

As promised


Here's what we did to make our upside-down cake, modified from the original version in yesterday's post to make it Troubadour-friendly.


Peach and Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, August 2008

Ingredients
  • 5 1/2 oz. (1 stick plus 3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup erythritol* sugar substitute
  • 1/2 cup Splenda granular, divided
  • 4 medium ripe peaches, skins on, pitted, and cut into 3/4-inch wedges
  • 1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup Carbalose flour**
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried lavender
  • 1 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt 3 tbsp. butter in a 12-inch skillet (ours was stainless steel, works as well as cast iron) over medium heat, using a pastry brush to coat sides with butter as it melts. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Splenda evenly over bottom of skillet, and cook until Splenda starts to form a crunchy skin (will not caramelize), about 3 minutes. Arrange peaches in a circle at edge of skillet, on top of Splenda. Arrange the remaining wedges in the center to fill. Reduce heat to low, and cook until juices are bubbling and peaches begin to soften, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Whisk cornmeal, Carbalose, baking powder, lavender, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat remaining stick of butter and erythritol with a mixer on high speed, until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Mix in remaining 1/4 cup Splenda, vanilla and cream. Reduce speed to low, and beat in cornmeal mixture in two additions.

3. Drop large spoonfuls of batter over peaches, and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Bake until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Transfer skillet to a wire rack, and let stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife or spatula around edge of cake. Quickly invert cake onto a cutting board. Tap bottom of skillet to release peaches, and carefully remove skillet. Reposition peach slices on top of cake as needed. Let cool slightly before serving.

* This creams WAY better than Splenda but lacks sweetness, hence the use of both in our substitutions.

** When using Carbalose, a general rule of thumb is to lower baking temperature by 25 degrees, double the rising agent, and increase baking time by at least 5 minutes (can be more, depending on the oven and the recipe). All adjustments have already been made here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Upside down

Cake, that is. I'd found yet another recipe in the inspirational binder to try, but I needed some help because (a) I'm allergic to raw stone fruits and (b) a 12-inch skillet is hard to flip when every bit of it is oven-hot.

So D rescued me. He peeled the peaches from the farmer's market and sliced them into a pile of juicy, golden wedges so I wouldn't get hives all over my hands. And when the cake came out of the oven, he gamely clapped a chopping board over the pan, palmed it with ease, and inverted the whole mess with a daredevil grin. I loved him for it.



In the past, I counted on him to be that rescuer for bigger things, things with greater emotional stakes -- family and all its traps, especially. I leaned on him because I (understandably) couldn't lean on myself. Then our own problems began to emerge, and I was alone, still unpracticed at being there just for me. We learned to avoid conflict -- easier to step around each other, swallowing our frustrations so as not to have those all-out fights, ones that would leave me waiting for him to patch me back up.

It's not sustainable, that dynamic. And I've known it for a while but haven't had the resources within to draw upon. But I'm working on that now, relearning, in a topsy-turvy way, how to repair myself.

I won't lie: it sucks. On many days, I'm not sure which end is up, and figuring it out leaves me spent and spread-eagled. And let's not forget afraid -- I fear that after so many months of emotional wreckage, D will have reached his limits. He has reached his limits. I've felt his patience wear long past thin, and it's terrified me. I can't learn quickly enough.

But he's still there, waiting, willing to offer a hand if I really need it. I think we both sense there's a new equilibrium to be gained for me and for us.

For that, I can only be grateful.


For the original recipe, click here. Modified recipe to come.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Still scattered

Post-vacation brain fog continues to dog me. A new week is in progress but I'm somehow still standing at the starting line. Am I losing the ability to focus? Or maybe it's all the change in general that's been going on around here. Transitions mean feeling like I have two left feet. Not especially effective for maintaining a straight trajectory ...

But, in taking stock, I can say that by the end of last week, I did turn in a 30-page chunk of work to my independent study advisor. Not the same advisor directing my thesis, but another professor on my committee who happens to be supervising some summer research I've been doing on the side. It's thesis-related, just not formally so. The work is quite different from the kind of writing I've been trying to do, so much so that it almost feels like a completely separate discipline. But it examines the same material -- family -- and I've needed a new angle from which to examine the past: one less fraught. My instincts tell me to keep going even though the other part of me, the one having fits that I've written so little on the actual thesis, is sighing and wringing her hands. "This is just procrastination! You'll never finish if you get sidetracked so easily!" she says.

Well, 30 pages, whatever they're about, is 30 pages more than I ever got staring at the thesis file for the last two months.

In between sessions with the research, there have been other happenings afoot. Or shall I say, not-happenings. I took this shot while waiting to get on the highway, going home from my counselor's office.


After telling him that I didn't want to continue with him anymore.

Okay, I didn't say it quite like that -- I said I needed a break of indeterminate length. I couldn't, for my own sake, truly abandon the work I've done with him by closing the door for good, so it's there, in storage. But the end result is the same: no more awkward silences in his office when I've run out of things to say, waiting for feedback from him that almost never comes. I was dreading the conversation because of that very silence I was sure I'd be met with, but I got through it. And he seemed to understand.

Just in case things ended up going particularly badly, though, I reminded myself right before my appointment that I had this waiting for me at home:


She was originally our latest foster, but after a week, I knew she was the perfect kitty for both me and D. We have slightly different tastes in cat personalities -- he favors the enthusiastically playful ones; I like the mellow ones who will cuddle -- and this little lady has both traits in abundance. Not a typical combination, in our experience! So we made her an official part of the family Troubadour right before we left for Victoria.

She says hi. When she's chosen a name for herself, I'll post it (yes, even kitty gets a pseudonym). But for now, she wants to go back to enjoying my lap, which she just discovered as a prime napping spot. I was afraid she'd never try it out, but today -- !!!


For more !!!, check out the Intentional Happiness project here and here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A return to ordinary

Sometimes after a trip, I welcome that. Home, with its familiar spaces and smells and schedules, can be a relief after living out of a suitcase, not knowing what time the next meal will be.

Then there’s post-trip disorientation. What was the plan for the day after the return? Oh, right -- there wasn’t one. But there’s laundry and mail to sort and groceries to buy and the rhythms of the week to relearn.

Monday was one of those days-after where I couldn’t get my bearings.

Trip photos! Let’s look at those, said one voice.

Deadline coming up for thesis work, said another. You haven’t touched your writing since early last week.

Anniversary !!! -- don’t let that evaporate, a third voice chimed in. Blog already, before the high is too far into the past. Not that you won’t have fond memories of it all, but writing about it won’t be the same.

What are you making for dinner, asked a fourth. Ugh, there’s nothing in the fridge, and D’s going to be home in a little while, and then you’ll have to go to the store, and you’ve done nothing all day.

Shut UP, I wanted to say.

Ultimately, I’m glad I saved the details of the weekend getaway for a separate post -- I think I need the boost to help me through the wall of current reality. (Have I really done nothing but laundry this week? No, but that’s all that really feels like a measurable accomplishment!) So, a virtual escape is in order. To ...


Victoria! Specifically, Butchart Gardens. This was one of our few planned destinations for the trip. To give ourselves maximum exploration time, we left Seattle at noon on Friday and arrived for a mid-evening dinner (after a little bit of driving and two ferry rides). Which allowed us to get to the gardens early Saturday morning.

It was, as you can see, VERY sunny. It was pleasant in the shade with a breeze, but wandering the big open beds left us quite warm.

The enclosed butterfly garden down the street was amazingly cooler, despite the temperature and humidity that have to be maintained for its winged tenants. We managed to snap some pictures of several beauties that posed for us. An identification guide is available here.






We had trouble capturing the elusive Blue Morpho –- the brilliant sapphire color on its wings is only visible when they’re open, and this species tends to keep them folded while feeding. (These guys below are licking up some tasty banana juices.) But D managed to sneak a peek at an angle.


And this one, newly hatched from its chrysalis, had to let its wings dry -- so it couldn’t fly away.


After a day of flora and fauna, we were ready for dinner at a darling spot in old town Victoria. Bonus !!! –- a corner booth that gave us extra privacy (see, that’s the corner):


And from another angle:


To the left, you can see part of the beautiful antique door that was repurposed as a wall to enclose the bench seat. I thought it made for a special little nook.

The next morning was an early one, as we wanted to fit in a bit more sightseeing before catching the ferry back home. Major !!! for my own personal pot of coffee at the hotel restaurant:


Properly caffeinated, we set off on a tour of the harbor via one of these cute little pickle boats.


They have impressive maneuverability –- so much so that the captains perform a “water ballet” with them, set to the Blue Danube waltz, on Sunday mornings. Naturally, we timed our tour to end just before the performance so we could watch. (I did get video -- but the patience to edit it requires some sleep first.)

Then it was off to a nearby castle for some history on a man who came to Victoria as an indentured miner and died the richest man in British Columbia. (The photos on the website are better than any I could take in the lighting there.)

And finally, on our way to the ferry, a side jaunt to the Fisgard lighthouse.


I figured I’d gotten to see a lighthouse on the eastern coast of Canada exactly a year ago, but (very sadly) without D -- why not make up for it with one on the west?

Now I’m home, and the week is nearly over. Still dealing with post-vacation inertia? Oh, yes. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We actually did quite a lot in those 48 hours away -- all very much worth it.