Monday, September 22, 2008

Guess who came to dinner?

Carmi’s Thematic Photographic theme of the week is nature and, boy oh boy, did we have some nature in our backyard tonight.

(I’m sitting here laughing at my own joke, which is funny to no one else but me because you all haven’t seen my backyard. My backyard is full of nature. We’ve got a forest back there, with trees that tower over our house and make me nervous when the wind comes up. We’ve got a little creek. We’ve got a tree stump big enough to seat four for a formal dinner. We’ve got bushes and flowers and berries and grass and squirrels and birds and neighborhood cats and wandering dogs and lots and lots of weeds. Considering we live in a metropolitan area, our backyard is a virtual Nature City, which is itself an oxymoron. Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Anyway, tonight we had some extra nature. Child Two and I had just come in the side door (which, as its name would imply, is between the front yard and the back) after her piano lesson when my husband said, “Make sure the door is shut. There’s a bear in the backyard.”

Child Two ran downstairs to the window. I ran upstairs for the camera. Then I heard some kids riding their bikes in front of our house, so I ran out to tell them to go inside until the bear was gone. Then I ran downstairs just as the bear went behind the playhouse and into the forest.

I missed it! And for nothing—those darn kids didn’t go inside anyway. We get evidence of bears in our yard, if you know what I mean (it’s no fun cleaning that up, let me tell you), but this was our first bear sighting in over a year and I didn’t see anything.

A while later, when I went onto the deck to bring the laundry in, I saw that the bear was back. I ran inside for the camera—which, for some ridiculous and unprecedented reason, I had actually put away (when do I ever do that?)—and ran downstairs. This time, I saw him (or her—I’m not sure, as there were no babies around and it’s hard to see the defining bits under all that fur).

Most of the pictures are blurry since I was panting from all that running, and I was shooting through a window in less-than-great light. And most of the picture are of his/her bum as he/she ate the few blackberries on our bushes. And there was a big splotch of something on his/her flank, which, in our benevolence, we’re assuming is mud. But still, here are the best ones.

It's time to fatten up for winter. At this time of year, black bears spend up to 20 hours a day eating, consuming up to 20,000 calories every day. It's slim pickings this year; the berry crops are very small due to a wet spring and summer.

Here you can see part of the forest. By the way, that weed in the foreground is not 20 feet tall. There's a big slope between the house and the bottom part of the yard.

Our visitor followed up his berry dinner with a mouthful of grass for dessert.

We can't help getting excited to see such amazing creatures in our own backyard, even though we know it would be better for them if they didn't live in such close proximity to humans. It's been a very hard summer for the bears; a lack of food has led some to be much bolder than normal and several have been shot. People's ignorance doesn't help them any, either. We hope this one can safely make it through to hibernation.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Don't just sit there!

Deep vein thrombosis. Pulmonary embolism. Not sexy or funny subjects, but the topic of many news stories this week after the surgeon general put out a call to action to prevent these life-threatening conditions.

You might think this is a problem only for the jet-setting crowd (does anyone actually say jet-setting anymore?). But let me tell you, it’s not. Anyone who stays put for a long time—in an airplane, in a business meeting, sitting in front of a computer—even during the three-hour long The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers—is at risk for developing a blood clot.

I’m going to tell you the story of my blood clot. If you don’t want to read all the way through my verbosity, just take this message to heart: Deep vein thrombosis affects up to 600,000 people in the U.S. every year. One in every 100 of them dies. For untreated DVT, the rate is much higher.

Don’t sit still, people!

Several years ago, as I sat in a crowded classroom for a full-day class, my left leg fell asleep so badly that I wondered what I would do if it didn’t wake up before the class ended. Crawl to my car? Ask a classmate to carry me? Sit there until my husband came to find me?

Two weeks later, I woke up in the early hours of a Saturday with a cramp in that leg. Or at least I thought it was cramp. But it didn’t go away, not that night or the next day or the next.

Since I was on the Pill and had read the little brochure that warns about blood clots, I called my doctor’s office first thing Monday morning. The earliest appointment the receptionist would give me was on Wednesday.

Thinking that it was just a muscle thing and no cause for panic, I tried to get rid of the pain while I waited for the appointment. I stretched. I walked and walked. I massaged my calf.

I drove to and from my all-Saturday class 100 miles away, working the clutch through heavy San Francisco traffic. It’s amazing that I didn’t suffer an embolism right there in the middle of 19th Avenue.

I almost had to beg to get the ultrasound. Due to the illogical rules of our insurance company, the doctor couldn’t order the test to find out if I had a blood clot unless she was almost certain that I had a blood clot. And she wasn’t. I was too young. I didn’t smoke. There was no family history. I hadn’t taken a long flight or suffered a blow to the leg.

I tried logic: This was a life-threatening condition, not the common cold. Eventually she agreed and I got the test that afternoon.

For me, a mom of a kindergartner and a toddler, the ultrasound was like a spa treatment. Lying in a quiet, darkened room as a very handsome technician put goop on my legs, I almost fell asleep. He told me that my doctor would get the results that evening.

The next morning, I called the office and left a message. I called again and again. Finally, at 6:30 pm, after another day of running around and potentially dying, I got a call. The doctor told me to lie down with my leg at a 35-degree angle, right now. Get someone to pick up a prescription for a blood thinner, right now. Go to a special clinic first thing in the morning to learn how to inject myself with a second blood thinner. And for goodness’ sake, move as little as possible.

I’d had that clot for two and a half weeks before I learned that there was indeed a reason to panic. I can only be thankful that it hurt like hell, because for some people the first sign of a clot is collapse.

And so started six months of a scary anticlotting medication. My body needed such a large dose that the nurse practitioner in my doctor’s office said “Holy shit!” when she asked me about it (aren’t they taught that saying “Holy shit” is not a confidence-instilling response?).

I had to watch my diet and other medications carefully to avoid dangerous interactions. I wore a very fashionable Medic-Alert bracelet, so that people would know that I could easily bleed to death, and lovely compression stockings to keep the blood in my legs from pooling. I gave myself shots in the abdomen (and was very grateful for that roll of baby fat still hanging around). I met a lot of great lab technicians as I went for the blood tests that made sure the medication was balanced (daily for the first few months, then every other day, then twice a week, and finally once a week for last few weeks).

I was told to avoid activities that could involve falls, bumps, or other trauma: no horseback riding, bike riding, motorcycle riding, waterskiing. Not so hard. But also no cutting myself, no bumping into things, no falling down (if you know me, you know what a complete klutz I am). I was told to use an electric razor because a regular one was too dangerous. A few weeks in, I got hit hard in the head with a soccer ball and spent a day wondering if my brain was bleeding.

For the first two weeks, until the medication was balanced and the clot was stabilized, I was supposed to remain as motionless as possible, while somehow also driving myself to the hospital, taking care of my kids, working, going to school, and watching for signs of an embolism (chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, falling down dead). I was told that “any movement of your foot or leg can send that clot flying through your veins and into your lungs or brain” (more stellar bedside manner from my medical team). I carefully considered every trip to the bathroom and to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Just how desperate was I for that cup of tea?

I also got to be a pushy self-advocate with a doctor who, going through some issues of her own that eventually led her to take a personal leave, made life-threatening mistakes with my medication, and with a receptionist team who didn’t appreciate my daily calls to the office for blood test results. I had learned hard lessons about advocacy during my first pregnancy and I was more than willing to be “that woman” who called until she got an answer.

Now, over seven years later, I still have post-thrombotic syndrome caused by permanent damage to the vein where the clot was. If I sit on the floor too long, I can feel the blood pool in that vein. My leg often aches; high-impact exercise and yoga cause it to hurt for days (on the bright side, I have a great excuse for not jogging!). I'll never be allowed to take estrogen again, in case it was a factor. I’m at higher risk for developing another clot and any time the pain is particularly bad or long lasting, I start to worry. I can’t sit still for long periods of time, which, because I work at home, means I make frequent trips to the kitchen “to stretch my legs” (= to get a cookie). I constantly nag my kids not to let their extremities go to sleep.

Before I went through this experience, I had no idea of the dangers of sitting still or crossing my legs. If I hadn't been on the Pill at the time, I would probably have ignored the pain, maybe with dire consequences. The moral of this very long story is this: Be aware of the causes and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, and get up and move around!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Improg word: Euphoria

Last week’s improg word was euphoria. I waited all week for some euphoria-inducing event to happen so I could write about it. How about getting up at 6:30 on Sunday morning for Child Two’s soccer game? Or maybe getting the dreaded grocery shopping done? Pulling out a huge pile of the morning glory that is not-so-slowly taking over my garden and heading across the lawn toward the blackberries?

Is my life glamorous or what?

As I usually do, being the glam language geek that I am, I looked up the improg word. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say:

euphoria (n.): a feeling of well-being or elation, especially one that is groundless, disproportionate to its cause, or inappropriate to one's life situation.
And, as I usually do, I learned something new. I had thought that euphoria was extreme happiness—the kind of thing you experience when you realize that those are your lottery tickets numbers on the TV screen—or the feeling you get from altered-state inducing substances, which I don’t do (anymore). But if you want to be technical about it, jumping up and down when you win the lottery is not true euphoria because it’s completely appropriate.

Now, if you want to talk about happiness disproportionate to its cause—well, that I do experience on a regular basis. I know I’ll feel it tonight, at my first belly dancing class since May. Just being in that room with the noise of the music and everyone’s hip scarves, struggling to do glute squeezes or getting dizzy doing spins or constantly picking up the cane (I don’t dare dance with a sword) that will not stay on my head—I blame it one the silkiness of my hair, of course—is enough to give me a feeling of well-being or elation that some would think is disproportionate to its cause.

I felt it one day last week when, as my mom and I walked to my car after an appointment, we passed a florist’s shop and saw plants covered in baby cucumbers. We each bought one. I felt a disproportionate happiness from the sight of my mom, who is easily embarrassed and much too concerned with what others think of her, walking down the busiest street in town carrying a plant that she could hardly see around (I firmly believe that doing things like this is good for her psyche). And when I brought my own plant home, I euphorically kept going out on my deck to look at it. I am smitten with those baby cukes.

I felt it again yesterday when I checked the Improgging site and saw that last week’s word was still up. Since the Improgging Fool is like that cool teacher who lets you hand in your assignments late, this means that I can keep my perfect improgging score.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Green Friday--One step at a time

Now that the school year has started, the dreary, rainy, late-summer days have given way to sunny, dry, glorious ones. Of course. That’s life here in Vancouver.

Child Two and I have decided that this year we are going to walk to and from school as much as we can, driving only when we have a very compelling reason to do so, such as needing the car for a bunch of errands or an after-school appointment, having to carry something heavy or fragile, or very bad weather. If the weather is downright awful, however, we’ll be walking because we won’t be able to get the car off our road.

I used to walk everywhere I could. I would bundle my kids in the stroller to go to the grocery store, the library, the fabric store (doesn’t everyone make regular walking trips to the fabric store?), the video place—if it was at all feasible to walk, we would. Then we lived in California for five years, in a neighborhood where the only store within walking distance was 7-11. We couldn’t even walk to school.

Back in B.C., my kids were placed in a school not far from our house, directly uphill (and when I say “uphill,” I really mean “upmountain”). Getting there just about required grappling hooks and climbing ropes or whatever it is that mountain climbers use. I would often scale that slope to pick the kids up in the afternoon, holding tightly onto Child Two’s hand on the way back so she didn’t trip and roll all the way down. Climbing up in the morning was just too much for their short legs.

When that school closed, we moved to one in the next neighborhood over. It’s a longer walk and requires us to go both uphill and downhill each way, with two rather nasty hills on the way there. As with the other school, I often walked there (the hard direction) to pick them up, and on many mornings we parked just over the second bad hill and walked the rest of the way. But this year we agreed to try walking all the way as much as we could.

We decided to do this because of the obvious benefits. By my very rough calculations (made even rougher by the need to convert from imperial to metric—I came to metric late in my childhood and haven’t yet mastered it), if we walk an average of 50% of the time, we’ll save about $100 worth of gas this school year, not to mention reducing the amount of wear and tear on the car and the emissions it’s pumping out.

We’ve added a huge amount of exercise to our week—when we walk in both the morning and afternoon, I’m totalling 80 minutes a day, much of it uphill. We’ve both noticed that those nasty hills are getting easier—we hardly even slow down now.

We’re discovering some unexpected benefits, too. Our morning trip is not the frenzied rush it used to be. No longer am I trying to cram one more thing in before we go. We have to leave on time or we face dire consequences—hurrying up the hills, oh no!

Instead of driving past our neighbors, we’re walking past and saying hello. And, even more importantly to Child Two, we’re getting to know the cats and dogs along our route.

As we huff and puff, we talk about all sorts of things, from the environment to how overscheduled kids are today to what cats think about. When Child Two brings a friend home, the walk is full of laughter. She and her friends have started a new tradition: they find a good rock, kick it between them all the way home, and then put it in a special place in the garden.

On the way home in the morning, I think about what I’m going to be doing that day and find it much easier to focus when I start work. This is one of the things I miss most from my days of walking wherever I could: the transition between one place and another—a time to organize my thoughts, look at my neighbors’ gardens, and just enjoy the quiet.

We’re taking our effort to live in more sustainable way one step at a time. And a lot of what we do out of concern for the earth’s well-being has a big impact on our own as well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Enough already--Month seven

The great house decluttering that we started in the summer is progressing—slowly, yes, but progressing nonetheless. This month I’ve decided to declutter by theme instead of by room. We’ve got a lot of paper in this house—books, magazines, patterns, work files, old term papers, kindergarten drawings, scraps with scrawled phone numbers, instruction manuals for things we no longer own. There’s enough paper here to start a serious bonfire (not that I would, since backyard burning is not allowed in our town). My computer, too, is stuffed full of paper of the virtual kind— thousands of old emails, unsorted photos, and outdated files. So this month's “Enough, already!” rallying cry is “Enough information, already!” as I try to keep my head above the piles while I sort, shred, file, give away, and recycle.

Of course, I can’t really say “Enough!” to information. My whole professional life has centered around information and I’m an addict. But what’s the use of collecting knowledge, ideas, and inspiration if it’s all so disorganized that you can’t find those darn instructions for propagating fuchsias or your third cousin’s address or that book (or, in my case, books) on funny word origins when you need them?

Shredding old tax returns is not really my idea of fun. But it’s not all drudgery. Since I can’t give up multitasking entirely, I’m combining this idea with my attempt to make more time for ponytail-requiring activities by going through the humungous file of recipe clippings I’ve been collecting for years and years. I have so many that the file is almost wider than this cat:

Like the general decluttering, this job won't get done in a month. But I'm expecting that by October 1st my recycle bin will be bulging and I'll be well on my way to making better use of the information I decide to keep.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #26--Faded hearts

Taken February 17, 2008, in Vancouver, BC.

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's
Thematic Photographic
theme of the week, faded.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see
my other blog. For other people's, see

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Catching up

I participate in three memes most weeks: improgging, Wordless Wednesday, and Thematic Photographic. Recently though, my meme fulfillment has been spotty. First, we took two trips out of town in just over a week—we were out, we were in very briefly, we were out again.

This was followed by a week of gearing up for the start of the school year and extracurricular activities, which involved much shopping: soccer gear, dance clothes, a flute, school supplies, shoes (how the heck did my son get big enough to require adult size shoes, and why do men’s soccer cleats cost twice as much as boys’? Is there twice as much material in a shoe one size bigger? I don’t think so). . . . The list was as long as my Christmas shopping list, and my credit card bill will be, too. We also squeezed in some outings which we’d meant to do all summer but hadn’t gotten around to.

Now it’s the first week of school, which means hours spent filling out forms (which are, for the most part, exactly the same as the forms I filled out last year, and the year before, and the year before that) and writing cheques. Really, for the form-filling-out, cheque-writing parent, the first week of school is just one big case of writer’s cramp.

I’ve also had to accompany Child One to his high-school orientation (how the heck did he get old enough to be in high school?). Yes, a parent was supposed to go—I didn’t just tag along. I did, however, find myself having a small anxiety attack about what I should wear, until I realized that I was not the one going to school with a bunch of adolescent fashion mavens.

And—oh, joy—soccer season has started. As manager of Child Two’s team, I am busy this week picking up equipment, updating the first aid kit, assigning snack days, emailing parents, printing up more of those forms we all dread filling out, and demanding that parents grip a pen in their now-clawlike hands one more time to write a deposit cheque before I hand them a uniform.

Even in a normal week I have a limited amount of time for blogging—that is, if I want to get my work done without my clients hanging over my virtual shoulder, wondering why the heck I’m writing about random words instead of polishing their prose. And because of that, I sometimes feel hemmed in by these memes. I have something I want to say—but, darn it, it’s Wordless Wednesday so I have to keep my mouth shut. I took a great picture—but darn it, today is the only chance I’ll have all week to post something related to the theme and this picture just doesn’t work. I have a great topic for a blog post—but darn it, how will I ever fit the word kumquat into it?

Now, I know that most people—normal people, those without the horrible drive for that 100% mark that often made me crazy during my ridiculous number of years in university—would say, “I don’t feel like doing that meme this week, so I won’t.” But even if I try to fool myself with such carefree bravado, inside it’s bothering me that I haven’t blogged about the word saving or posted a photo that fits the “poignant” theme.

Then, just like when I was in high school, I get the urge to rebel. This morning I declared, “I will go memeless this week!” (not related at all to going topless, thank goodness). And at first I revelled in the thought of all the non-meme-related things I could write about. I don’t have to write about the word coupon! Or post a water-themed photo! But as the day wore on, I knew that my mind wouldn’t rest until I at least got caught up on those improgging words.

So now I have managed to work the three improgging words I missed into one blog post, restoring my 100% participation rate—that is, unless the Improgging Fool takes marks off for late assignments.