Sunday, December 30, 2012

Internet Archive Love

Earlier this month my organization had our annual board meeting at the Internet Archive in San Francisco.  We have  a relationship with them through their Open Library project, though I've been a fan of them for years because of their awesome Wayback Machine.   Since one of the Internet Archive's goals is to archive every page of every website, you can check out what sites like Yahoo looked like back in the day.  Remember Lycos?  Here's a nifty screenshot from 1999.  Remember Beanie Babies?  And how everything used to be curated by subject? 


So anyway, you can have hours and hours of fun on the Wayback Machine, and I highly recommend it for fun on a rainy day.  It's also useful.  I had a geocities website on Colonial America that I started right after college in 1998.  I got lazy and stopped updating it, and eventually geocities deleted it since it hadn't been updated in ages.  I thought all my essays and links and everything were gone, until I found it on the Wayback Machine and was able to save a copy.  So cool.

The Internet Archive also does all kinds of crazy stuff in addition to the web archive.  They digitize and archive home movies.  They record TV from countries all over the world to have an archive.  They digitize and lend out digital copies of books, the Open Library.  They are, in a word, awesome.

And they do it all from a church in San Francisco.  And we got a personal tour from their founder, Brewster Kahle.  The main offices are in the basement; the Sunday School room.  They have people scanning books in a separate scanning facility.  They have DVR's recording TV from all around the world.  

But the coolest part of the Internet Archive is the sanctuary.  It's huge and could easily hold a couple hundred people.  Every Friday they have a free lunch where anybody can just go in and learn about what they do.   And when you work with the Internet Archive for three years, they make a statue of you, that sits in one of the outer two rows of pews.  It's incredibly freaky, but so awesome, too.

   
Spot the real humans... there are two of them in this picture.

If you live in San Francisco, you should totally go to the Internet Archive some random Friday to meet them and see the awesomeness that they create.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to Build a Feral Cat House with Few Tools and Having Practically Failed Shop Class

In case you haven't noticed, Old Man Winter is staring down at us, getting ready to pounce.  We try very hard to take care of all the cats that run around the neighborhood, and sadly, since we live next to a forest, there are a lot of people who abandon their animals near our property, and those poor little creatures wind up hungry and cold on our deck (there is a special place in hell for people who abandon a domesticated animal in the forest).

I was looking for a simple and easy way of providing some shelter to the outdoor feral cats.  It warmed my heart, seeing all the many pages of articles and videos from creative people who built creative cat shelters. Rubbermaid even got in on the action by letting people buy their storage containers at wholesale prices. All of it reminds me that there are lots of good people in the world who care for the neighborhood animals.  

So I was looking at some of these shelters thinking, "but they look like they require tools, and I nearly killed myself in shop class..."  (I was particularly drooling over these from the Urban Cat League.)  J has tons of tools, and knows how to use them, but I am not so gifted in the ability to handle a screwdriver.

Here's my few-tools-required, very-little-measuring-required, doesn't-require-scary-materials, and can-do-in-an-afternoon shelter, modeled by Polly, before it went outside.




Materials needed:
18 gallon storage containers (I used two, since I was making a two-story condo).  About $8/each at Home Depot.
2 sheets of foam insulation, though if you do it right, you only need one.  I bought the heaviest stuff, and it was about $9/sheet.  
Boxcutter or knife for cutting plastic
Hair Dryer to heat up plastic before you cut it
Liquid Nails (about $5)
Duct tape (because if you're me, you will spill the Liquid Nails and need to reinforce it all with duct tape anyway.  About $5)
Tarp, if you live in a place that gets a lot of rain (About $10)
Bedding: most sites recommend using straw or hay, which won't hold dampness when it rains.  I just used old blankets and clothes.  

So, the gist is, you're going to use the insulation to build a little condo, and put the storage containers inside.  The insulation will hold the heat from the storage containers, and if you make them long enough, you can slide the storage containers way back so that rain won't splash in, and there will be protection from wind.

So, step one is to cut out the pieces.  I am notoriously awful at measuring, so I just sat the storage containers on top of the foam, and did it all through eyeballing it.  I don't recommend this way.  If you're smart, you'll take a measuring tape to Home Depot, measure the storage bins, and then, with that information in hand, give the measurements to the nice man next to the cutting machine, and he will make the cuts for you.  They generally charge a dollar or so per cut, but if you look like a sweet ditzy girl, they won't charge you.  At least, that was my experience.  One other note of caution; that foam insulation makes a Godawful mess, so keep a shopvac nearby.  

So you've cut out your pieces, and then you want to glue them together, into a little box.  Have the silver sides facing in; that's the side that will hold the most heat.

If you're me, you will totally mess up one side, have to take it off and do it again properly, leaving a stripe down the side.  But whatever, this is the no-brainer way to do it, so you can manufacture while watching Love Actually and it will still be ok.


Big Boy is checking out the new box.  I put the storage container inside to make sure it fit.  Lucky for me, it did.  Barely.

Next, you do this all over again, to make a second level.  And glue on pieces for the back, too.  While the Liquid Nails is setting, I went around and used duct tape all around all the seams, just to make it solid.  And I have to say, I'm quite proud of how solid it is now.  When I shake it, it barely moves.  Mama Cat, who is now about 18 pounds, jumps up and sits on the top of it, and it just barely shakes when he lands on it.  It is a solid unit.

When you have both pieces glued together, you should have a two-story condo that looks like this.














Now, the fun part: cutting entrance holes in the storage bins.  Heat will make the plastic softer and easier to cut.  You can use a hairdryer to soften it up a bit.  You want to make the holes small enough so that the cats can get in, but predators (ie raccoons or coyote) can't.  It's better to start with a smaller hole and make it bigger if you need to.  You can always cut more out.  You can't make a big hole smaller, though.  So cut it out, and check to see if the cats will fit inside.

Make sure you use duct tape around the edges, because they are sharp, and you don't want your little one to scratch their belly trying to get in and out.

The best part is filling up the storage bin with blankets and bedding for them to get comfy.  They will create their own little nest, so don't worry too much about making it perfect, but give them the raw materials and they can decorate how they'd like.

The storage bin will look like this:


Then you put the storage bins in the condos - one on the top and one on the bottom.  The insulation surrounding each one will keep the cats nice and toasty.  Slide the bins back pretty far.  The other thing I've done is place an old bath mat in front of the storage bin.  It acts a bit like a doormat.  The cats get all the water and dirt off them before they go into the storage bin, so their inside home stays warm and cleaner.

Now take it outside, and see how the cats like it.  You may want to create a little foundation for it to go on - I just used a couple of 2x4's that were lying on the deck and put them underneath, spaced out evenly, to keep the unit off the ground, and also to add some additional protection against splashing.  Depending on how comfortable and trusting your ferals are, you might have to feed them a few times inside the home so they get used to it, and associate it with goodness.

When it rains, I throw a tarp over the entire thing, again, just as some additional protection.  If you leave it hanging over a bit in the front, like in my picture below, it will deflect the water from the homes.  All day today Mama Cat sat on the upper floor cuddled into a blanket, looking out at the rain.  I think he really enjoyed feeling like he had a porch, and could watch things, while still being warm and dry.  I feed him in there when it's raining, too, so he never has to come out and risk getting wet, which is the worst thing for cats to be (can lead to pneumonia, for example).

And even when he's outside his storage bin, the insulation still keeps a lot more heat in than if he was sitting outside.  When I reach my hand in to pet him, it's a good 5-7 degrees warmer when he's just sitting on his porch.  His storage bins get downright toasty when he's in one.


Spending an afternoon and $50 in materials can make a huge difference in the life of a cat, or two,  stranded outside with no shelter this winter.  And anyway, how else can you build a two story home for $50?

----
EDIT 2/27/13: We've been having crazy winds here - up to 60mph - and the cat house, with the cats inside it, is intact.  The cats are snuggled and warm, and only slightly freaked out about the wind because they have such a cozy spot to rest.  I'm definitely building another one next year!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Well that was nice...

I got an unexpected treat yesterday when I walked into my office.  Some anonymous nice person sent me a bracelet from The Fertile Garden on Etsy.  There was no name; just an unsigned card.  What a lovely surprise.  

In case you hadn't noticed, I've been a bit depressed lately
.  Plus, I'm on Letrozole now.  It's actually a medicine that's used to treat breast cancer, but it helps with fertility because it lowers your estrogen level, and makes your body think you're going into menopause, so you release a bunch of eggs all at once in some last-ditch effort to procreate while you still can.  The downside?  I have a bunch of menopause symptoms.  I'm a cranky mess, and I cry at every tiny thing.  

The upside?  I could get away with just about anything and blame it on the meds.  Sadly, J has been in Amsterdam for a week, and hasn't been here for me to milk the situation with the way I'd like.  Lucky for him.  Not so lucky for me.

(Have I mentioned that I'm seriously over this whole being infertile thing?)

Anyway, whoever sent me this, thank you.  It made me smile.  I will wear it and feel a warm anonymous hug.  


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In which I grumble about the inequities of the world

I've been avoiding blogging lately for a couple of really good reasons (travel for work, NaNoWriMo come to the top of the list) and a really lame one.  My thoughts, my world, and thus the things I would write about, have become darker and deeper lately.  Maybe this is a product of growing up, but I don't like it very much.  It is now filed into the folder of Grown Up Things I Don't Like, along with visiting a financial planner, writing a will, and remembering to get regular physicals.

Reason number one: Infertility

Maybe it's because, after over three years of trying, and two years after having a stillborn son, I'm still not pregnant, and approximately $6000 has gone to the Loma Linda Center for Fertility when I could have spent that money on another trip to Iceland.  And this fertility merry go round could go on forever if we let it.  I had originally set a deadline of the end of the year for us to decide what next steps to take.  But at my last appointment, the doctor decided on a new drug to replace Clomid, and wants to continue for a few cycles on that, so the ride could continue.

I don't like this ride, and I want off.

The drugs arrived today from La Jolla Discount Pharmacy (a bright spot in this ordeal - they are really great, and if you ever need meds, I highly recommend them.  They're cheap, and really friendly.  And I haven't been paid to say that.)

I notice that it says I'm supposed to take them at night because they could make me dizzy.  What kind of drugs am I putting into my body, I wonder?  I google them, and the penny drops (duh) that all of this is medication messing with my hormones, which is similar to the hormone therapy that women going through menopause get.  Which has a lot of risks associated with it.  I found out today that use of my drugs for a year can seriously increase my chances of ovarian cancer, among other fun facts.

So wait.

I'm risking ovarian cancer so I can possibly go through pregnancy, which may or may not lead to a baby.  Really?

I'm so over it at this point.

So that's reason number one why this blog could take a really negative spin.


Reason number two: I am becoming disgusted by humanity.  


I always suspected this day would come, and I'm hoping that I can shift it at some point in Seminary so that, if I ever have my own church and congregation, I can, you know, preach to them without being disgusted.  But people are making it very tough for me to love them right now.

First, the day after the election, I get facebook defriended by a girl whose status was: "I pledge allegiance to the Koran of Iran, and to the Communism for which it stands."  Later in the comments, she compared Obama to Hitler, sharing that she had been to the Holocaust museum and was blown away by the similarity of how Obama came to power and the rise of Hitler.  I pointed out in the comments that a) we weren't lugging around barrels of money to buy bread because of horrible inflation like my grandmother in Leipzig did, b) as someone whose father and grandmother risked everything they had to come to this country, I found it disgustingly offensive that she would make such a comparison.  And finally, I pointed out that she had mixed her metaphors.  Iran is a theocracy and Communism, from everything I always learned, isn't big on religion.

Why have we all become so venomous to each other?  Why is Fox News (aka Bullshit Mountain Network for those who watch Jon Stewart) allowing people like Bill O'Reilly to say that Romney lost because over 50% of Americans want something, and the white majority is dead.  Fuck him.  But really.  Fuck him.  How do people like that live with themselves?  How do they sleep at night?

The other day at 7-11, I was getting the sunday newspaper (since I'm a coupon queen now).  The guy in line ahead of me was buying cigarettes.  The girl behind the counter asked to see his ID.  That pissed him off and he said, "how about if I call immigration on your Mexican ass?"  She calmly responded that she had been born here, so he could call anyone he wanted.  I asked him what world he lived in that he could be such a douchebag to a woman.  He told me to shut my mouth.

Look, I know the world isn't made up of douchebags.  I know the other people in line were as appalled as I was by his outburst.  But has stuff like this always happened?  Because I don't remember it.

I'd like to blame guns or video games or something obvious like that for our collective move towards douchebaggery.  And who knows, that might be part of it.  Maybe it's the food we eat.

I think I'm becoming an animal rights activist in this process.  A hundred years ago, people killed animals that they knew, and they ate them, and you knew that when you ate beef, you were eating a cow.  You probably knew the cow.  It had been your cow, or your neighbors.  You had respect for the life cycle.  You weren't all tree-huggy about it, and you didn't see the cow as a pet, but you still had some respect for the fact that humans were at the top of the food chain, we killed animals, and we ate them.

Now we go to the grocery store and buy ground beef wrapped in plastic and we have no idea what that cow went through so that we could eat it.

If you eat pork, this is the pain that you are ingesting into your body every time you take a bite of yummy bbq:
  


"A breeding sow spends her entire life confined in a crate made of steel bars where she cannot turn around or stretch her limbs when she lies down. The floor of the crate is slatted, but she still ends up standing and sitting in her and her piglets' own filth. She has litter after litter of baby pigs until she is considered spent, and then sent off to slaughter. Confined sows exhibit neurotic behaviors such as chewing on the bars of the crate and rocking back and forth."
-
http://animalrights.about.com/od/animalsusedforfood/tp/FactoryFarmingFAQ.htm


No wonder we're all stressed out.  Factory farming like this didn't exist a hundred years ago.  Or even fifty years ago.  For the first time in human history, in the past few generations, we have started consuming food farmed not by individual farmers, but by enormous conglomerates who are more concerned with profits than our health.  I firmly believe that you can't put that much pain and disrespect into your body and not be affected by it.  

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that everyone who eats meat is a douchebag.  I know plenty of non-douchebag meat eaters.  My husband is one.

But the fact that we as a people are ok with millions of creatures, who did nothing but be born into the wrong place, suffering in horrific ways so that we can get some cheap food, which we don't even need anyway given the obesity epidemic going on - the fact that we can just sit by and not even care about those fellow creatures with whom we share the planet...and we have pets, and we walk our dogs, and we ride horses, and we give money to the humane society, but we don't give a damn about those animals...I can't reconcile it.  Are we just numb to it?  If we actually really got present to the pain and agony that they experience so that we can get a cheap chicken with a huge breast, would that pain and guilt just overwhelm us?  That's what I'm going with, because the alternative - that we really just don't care - seems too depressing to think about. 

HR2606 passed in the House today.  It's a gas "enhancement" line, according to the bill's title.  What it really does is allow a "natural" (from fracking) gas pipeline to go through Gateway National Recreation Area, the world's oldest national park.  Fracking has, by all accounts, proven to be dangerous.  Pipelines destroy wildlife.  When are we going to learn that short term profits aren't any good if they destroy the planet in the process?  When I graduated from high school I got a Geo Metro.  It got 40mpg.  That was in 1994.  Are you seriously going to have me believe that in 20 years, we could figure out a new and dangerous way to get gas from places in rocks that we couldn't get before, but we couldn't figure out how to make all cars get 40mpg?  Or more?  Really? I smell bullshit.

Look, there are plenty of people out there doing good, fighting fracking, caring for animals, and making the world a better place.  Most people try to do this every day.  But why does it still have to be such a struggle?  Have we as a people not evolved any further than this?  Will humans just always chase profits at the expense of pain, squeezing workers, destroying the planet?  Is that just the human condition?  

I know that we all see life through the glasses we're wearing, and right now I'm wearing depressing glasses.  And I keep seeing things to reinforce that. 

The good news last week was that we as a nation stood up to the Koch Brothers and showed them that, despite their best efforts, our democracy couldn't be bought.  That's good news.  

But overall, it's looking a bit dark to me right now.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The 80's really were that bad: or Fun with Google Images

You know what's great?  Remembering the really bad hair that people had in the 80's.  How were these guys considered hot and/or sexy?

Air Supply:  "I'm all out of scissors, I'm so lost without them..."


Hall & Oates:  "oooh here it comes, watch out girls it's my my badass mustache..." 


Def Leppard:  "Pour some hair gel on me..."


REO Speedwagon: "I'm getting more split ends then I ever thought I would... but
I can't fight the home perms anymore..."  

It's not just a thing of always looking back on the past and thinking things looked silly.  The whole big hair fad of the 80's was just terrible.  Heartthrobs and singers in other eras were still hot.  Exhibit A:


David Cassidy: dreamy vacant expression, hair that's long, but not too big...
oh, I think I love you, David Cassidy...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How to feel 19 again, in a bad way

When I was a teenager, after I got my license, I went on a lot of road trips.  My poor parents never knew exactly where I was.  I drove to California, I drove up the east coast of Canada to Novia Scotia, I drove all around.  Sometimes I slept in rest stops in my car, a giant Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera that let me stretch out quite comfortably in the back seat with my big comforter over my head so people couldn't see I was a girl alone.  Other times, if I was feeling particularly flush (or had a new credit card), I'd spring for a hotel.  It was never nice hotels, though.  Not like the kind I stay in now for work, with stocked mini-bars, name-brand toiletries, and Sleep Number beds.  Nope, I stayed in the beat down cheapest places in towns you've never heard of like Groom, Texas.

(Speaking of which, I will always have a bone to pick with Groom, Texas.  Picture this: you're driving along the freeway at night, half asleep because you got in the car somewhere around Kingman, Arizona, and you get to Groom, Texas, which is famous - if you can call it that - for having a 19-story cross.  It's Texas, so it's flat, right?  And at night they light this thing up so the astronauts can see it.  But think about the shape of a cross, especially a white one, lit up, at night.  As you're driving along, bleary-eyed, listening to too much Lyle Lovett, sipping your coffee, suddenly you perk right up, because, holy f*ck, that's a tornado up there!  ShitCrap what are you supposed to do?  It's getting bigger!  It's getting closer!  Are you supposed to get out of the car?  What if you get out and the car lands on you?  It's coming right towards you!  Holy shit.  Who can you call quick to tell you what you're supposed to do with a giant tornado - sheesh, it must be 19 stories!- coming your way in Texas?  There's a ditch by the side of the freeway, are you supposed to go in there?  It keeps coming closer!  Should you stop?  

But, hang on, it looks like...what the hell?...is that a giant...seriously?...somebody built a giant cross that looks like a tornado and lit the thing up in the middle of Nowhere, Texas?

I have no idea how many people have thought that the cross in Groom, Texas was a tornado, but it scared the shit out of me, and for that I refuse to ever stop there...I stop in Amarillo.)

Anyway, where was I?

Cheap hotels.

It's been a while. 

Monday night I stayed in the worst one ever (I was paying - it wasn't for work - so I thought I'd be cheap).  I had no idea that Pasadena could do "creepy" so well.  The Swiss Lodge in Pasadena is hands down, the most godawful place I have ever been in my entire life. And that's saying a lot, because the Super 8 in Kingman is pretty bad, too.  

Here's how to tell if your hotel is super-ghetto:

-  They don't keep the tv remote control in the room, but instead give it to people when they check in.  What could be the reason?  If they're afraid of people ripping them off, surely they still can?  I don't get it.  Either way, it's weird.  Even once you get into the room, the channels don't work right.  It's an old tv with the DirecTV box sitting on top, and you have to set the tv to be on channel 13 or something before the DirecTV channels kick in - it's like in the old days with a VCR box when you needed to have it on channel 3.  This would be ok, except nobody tells you that.  So you have to figure it out on your own.  

- There are spiders in the toilet.  This is just gross.

- There are no deadbolts or chains on the doors.  I solved this by jamming a chair under the doorknob - just like I did when I was 19! - but it didn't inspire a lot of confidence.

- When you check in, the guy at the front desk keeps asking you whether you're there alone.  You finally make something up about your husband maybe joining you, just because he's creeping you out so much.

- In the middle of the night, people are screaming in the parking lot.

- The ringer?  There are leftovers in the refrigerator.  Maybe it's the maid's lunch?  I don't know.  

The moral of the story is:

- read the reviews of a hotel before you book it.  If there are a ton of bad ones, and only a few good ones to try to skew the average, assume that those are employees.

and...

- When you're 36, things that were ok when you were 19, ain't ok any more.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pictures from Monterey (and funny local news)

We were up in Monterey for our anniversary weekend - 6 years (says the girl who never wanted to get married in the first place...sheesh...).  I was at the Internet Librarian conference, which they always schedule conveniently in a beautiful place over my anniversary weekend.  So thoughtful of Information Today.  So by day I went to sessions on eBooks and web design, and then got to get all romantic with hubby in the evenings.  Sweet!


We went to a monarch butterfly sanctuary in Pacific Grove.  It's along the butterfly's migration track, so it's kind of like a giant Pilot Travel Center, and by late November, the trees are just covered with them.  The early ones were already starting to scope out the area when we got there.  In the pregnancy-loss world, lost babies are called Butterfly Babies, and we had fun trying to pick out which one was Baby T.  We think we caught him showing off his flapping skills here.


I took pictures of the ocean and hummed Enya's "Caribbean Blue" over and over, much to the chagrin of my husband.


And the waves.

While J showed off his rock-climbing abilities.  His neck is still intact.






And we watched it get dark over Monterey Bay while eating Pinkberry.  The 30 Day Sugar Detox is over, but it was the first dessert type of food I've had since September 16.  Crazy.

--
So today my mom left on a group tour of Scotland.  She parked in the shopping center where everyone was meeting to get on the bus to the airport, and promptly locked her keys in the car, along with all her bags.  Being prone to panic (it's where I got it from) she decided the best option would be to break her window, so that she wouldn't have to make the bus wait for her.  Never mind that she is in Pennsylvania, where a massive hurricane is set to arrive early next week.  Nope, she thinks it's a good idea to take a hammer to that sucker, and break her window.  Only thing is, the window doesn't break, despite the fact that she has biceps molded by years of working at UPS.  Eventually the tour operator saw the commotion, came over to see what was going on, and called triple A, who got her keys.  But the whole episode made J think of this funny local news video.  Breaking into a car is harder than it looks, I guess.   This has the bonus of being a funny bit of local news, as well as an informational instructional video. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shabby-Fertility-Chic

So one of the drawbacks of fertility treatments is that it's expensive.  You get all crazy from the hormones, and you get to pay a lot of money for the privilege.  Consequently we are taking budgeting to a new level.  I'm not really a fan of getting into more debt over a reluctant baby, so we're cutting back on all kinds of fun stuff (travel, Target) for now.  Since we know it's for a finite period, it makes it much less difficult, and we can see it as a bit of a game.  That being said, once we get done with this, I'm going to try to keep up my new habits so that we can continue to save money.

For example, I never buy anything without first searching for coupons.  My mom was/is a passionate coupon-er, but it's been a long time since I've scoured the Sunday paper with scissors.  I feel like an Old Person for what I'm about to say next - bear with me - And now there's the Internet!  (See?)  I had no idea that you could literally just google, oh, "Viva paper towels coupon" and get a dollar off.  Who knew?  Well, I guess the people who are saving a dollar on my paper towels knew.  But I never did.  I feel like a total putz now.  I already felt putzy enough because I didn't catch on to Gagnam Style until it had like 300 million hits on youtube.

Anyway, we're also cooking everything.  Like, everything.  In the past month or so I've made cheese crackers, soft pretzels, and potato chips from scratch.  I've cooked all kinds of new dishes like a kickass tofu carrot curry.

But the holy grail of making your own snack foods are pop-tarts.  Again, call me late to the party - apparently people on Pinterest have been making pop tarts for years.   But better late than never.

I love pop-tarts.  But I'm not a fan of the junk they're made of.  Or what a rip-off they are.

So I made my own.  I wimped out and used pre-made pie crust (but that's only because I had made my own pie crust for a mushroom-and-leek tart earlier and was feeling especially lazy)

Assemble the following:

Premade pie crusts
one egg
filling - I used strawberry jam  That Smitten Kitchen recipe lists all kinds of super ideas like savory pop tarts, ones with nutella, etc.  I'm going to experiment.



Cut out dough into a pop tart shape.
Cover one side with a light coating of beaten egg
Fill with jam (I'm going to need to practice this to see exactly how full to stuff them - mine keep exploding)
Cover with the two egg-covered sides going together (the egg somehow binds the crusts together)
With a fork, press down around the edges so that the two sides are together
Poke some holes in the top
Bake at 400 for about 13-15 minutes (keep an eye on them to watch when they look brown)
Take out of the oven, and let them cool
Eat without feeling guilty

Below I have my final result.  The little ones actually came out really good.  The big ones were too big, and I had stuffed them too much, so the one exploded.  Still it wasn't bad for a first try.  I'm definitely going to do them again, and make them smaller.  Still, for the equivalent of about 12 complete pop tarts, even splurging on the pre-made pie crusts, I was about about $4.50.  ($2.29 for the pie crusts, $.30 for an egg, and $1.99 for the strawberry preserves).  And they aren't loaded with a bunch of gunk I don't even want.

I like this thrifty thing.





Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Soda-Sobriety Chronicles: Day 33

It's been 33 days since I've had a soda.  As my 30 day detox was winding down, I found myself starting to get more liberal with sugar, but I have learned my lesson.  Friday I was baking pumpkin muffins with a cream cheese frosting center.  I thought, "well, the entire muffin only has 12 grams of sugar, so I can take a little bite of this cream cheese frosty goodness and that will be barely a gram or two, right?" So I take a little teeny bite, and almost instantly I had an enormous headache.  Lesson learned.  No highly concentrated sugar/cream cheese frosting mixtures for me any time soon.  

Sunday I was driving home from the lake where I had my walk, got to McDonald's, and I thought, "I really deserve a diet coke.  If anyone deserves a diet coke, it's me.  Yep, I'm going to finally get a diet coke."  But then I found myself driving right past McDonald's without stopping for my diet coke.  I did stop at 7-11 for a newspaper, and again I pondered the soda fountain, but I didn't get any.  

Today I was grocery shopping and there was a Chick-Fil-A across the parking lot from where I was parked.  Without getting into a post about the CEO's political ideas, let me just say that I'm a fan of the diet coke at Chick-Fil-A.  I am slightly embarrassed at what a connoisseur of diet coke I have become over the past 23 years of drinking it.  There's something about the syrup level they use, as well as the foam cups, and the ice, that makes it my hands-down favorite (followed closely by Sonic, which also has foam cups and magic ice).  I'm not a fan of McDonald's diet cokes, to be honest.  Maybe it's the paper cups.  Maybe it's the ice.  They just seem off to me.

(I'm not a fan of diet coke from a bottle, I can tolerate a can, but my most favorite kind of diet coke is from a fountain, with lots of ice.  Just thinking about it makes me a bit misty-eyed.)

Anyway, so I was loading the groceries, and I thought, "ok, I'm going to pull my car out of my spot, drive across the parking lot, to the drive-through, and I'm getting a diet coke.  I'll make it small.  I gotta get a diet coke."  So I drive to Chick-Fil-A and I am almost at the drive-through when a giant pick up truck with a Romney sticker pulled in front of me and beat me to the entrance.  I took it as a sign, sipped my water, and morosely pulled off.

The thing is, I feel so good without drinking soda, and now that I've gone longer than any time since I was 13, I don't want to risk messing that all up, and having to start over.  Because seriously, the first week was hellish.  The cravings were terrible.  Now it's bearable.  I really only miss it about ten times a day, which beats the ten thousand times a day I was missing it a month ago.

So here we are.  Somehow I have managed to go for 33 days without having soda.  I'm thinking it might be fun to go for another 33 days, just for giggles.  I'm kind of feeling like an alcoholic with the whole one-day-at-a-time thing, but it really does work.  Today I said, "nope, no soda today.  Maybe tomorrow."  And if I tell that to myself every day, eventually I will have amassed a lifetime without soda (though that thought scares the crap out of me - a lifetime without soda?  What will I drink when I'm at the movies eating popcorn?  What about if we get pizza?  You can't eat pizza without soda?!?!).

It's nice not only being soda-free, but having so little sugar in my system that I get an instantaneous headache when pure sugar enters my mouth.  

I highly recommend it.




Saturday, October 6, 2012

Soda Cravings

So I'm on Day 22 of my Sugar Detox.  And I capitalize all that because it's all Very Important.  I haven't had soda in three weeks and two days.  And all I want in the world right now is a giant diet coke.  From 7-11.  A monster-gulp 50 ounces of caramel goo in carbonated water.  

I'm officially over most of my sugar cravings.  I have some oreos in the cupboard that have been there for a month, and I looked at them today, and considered them, with their chocolate and icing sweetness, their crunchy goodness, and all I could think was, "meh" and then I sighed.  There is a half gallon of peach ice cream in the freezer, and it does nothing for me.  Nothing at all.  

The pumpkin spice "lattes" at 7-11 do nothing to tempt me, either.  I really don't miss them. 

But soda.  Ah, fizzy sweetness.  How I miss you, and long for you.

I'm thinking about joining a 12-step program.

That's all I can think about right now.  Giant plastic cups overflowing with sweet fizz...

(But, I'm down 8 lbs since I started this sugar detox, which makes it about 32 pounds total from my highest weight.  So it's worth it.  I guess.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Funny Local News and More Fertility Crap

My husband got a tenor saxophone.  He hasn't played in 15 years, but his high school has started an alumni band, and they might play in the Rose Parade in 2015 or something, so he's been re-learning it.  The first couple of days were pretty painful.  For a little while, I understood how my parents felt when I was 10 and learning the violin.  But he's getting a lot better, and when he jams he reminds me of a skinny Bill Clinton, which is weirdly hot.

Speaking of hot, we're doing another cycle of IUI this month, which means that J got to give me a shot in the hip today.  We sure know how to keep it interesting.  I'm getting really cynical about this whole thing.  This will be the third cycle, and I know that it's supposed to end up that you get a baby out of it, but I'm honestly resigned to this just being a giant money pit.  A woman in my choir said that a more empowering word might be that I'm just surrendering, but I think she's just sugar-coating it.  I'm 110% cynical at this point.  I go through the motions - acupuncture (which I really don't like), cut out caffeine,  etc etc.

But I'm not buying it that anybody gets a baby out of this procedure.  And then I start freaking myself out because I'm so negative, and I think I should be positive because maybe I'm making myself not be pregnant by being so negative, and then I think that if I keep thinking I'm going to make my head explode.  So then I sit in a bubblebath for two hours with my head under the water, ignoring everything except the cats trying to play with the shower curtain.

That is all.  I'm a cynical hormonal mess at the moment.

In that spirit, here's some funny local news, because it's been a while.  Nothing's funnier than farts and local news.  Mix it together for some magic alchemy.



Sunday, September 30, 2012

28 hours of Alone Time

Jonathan was away on Friday night in Arizona visiting a friend.  Which left me on my own, with the cats.  Here's how I get Wild and Crazy on a Friday night when I'm by myself:

- Get my feminist rage on with Tori Amos.  I seriously love her.  Ever since my friend Nikki introduced me to Little Earthquakes my senior year in high school, I've been obsessed.  But I don't listen as much as I used to.  I've found that Tori Amos tends to give a lot of men migraines.  They can't handle all the feminist anger.  I had a boyfriend once who said my beloved Tori was like nails going down a chalk board.  He didn't last in my life, but she did.  So far J hasn't gone to that extreme, but I don't like to push the limits.

- Play a lot of Skyrim.  Here's how I do it when I'm by myself and I don't need to worry about someone coming in and taking the tv from me when I'm on a break.  I do some Skyrim, then I do a couple of work emails, then I walk around the house just to pet all the cats.  This is a cycle I enjoy.  But when J is home, and he sees me at my computer with Skyrim paused, he assumes I'm done, and switches the game to Modern Warfare, or whatever kind of violent war game he's into at the moment.  With him gone, I don't have to stay rooted to the couch.  I prefer it my way.

- Listen to Christmas music while I put out the fall decorations.  I have more autumn decorations than I do Christmas ones.  The oranges and browns really appeal to me, and I have boxes and boxes of plastic pumpkins, light up jack-o-lanterns, purple and orange lights, and orange garlands.  These make me very happy, and my favorite time of year is when I get to climb on the furniture to reach the ceiling to hang the garland.  When J is home he's worried I'll fall off my desk, or break something, so he invariably hovers and makes me nervous.  I like doing the decorating when I'm by myself.  I can arrange and rearrange all I want without him reminding me to be careful.  Of course, in fairness to him, I am a massive klutz, so he has reason to worry.  One time I walked right into the bookcase and hit my head really hard.  It was right in front of me.  I can't explain it.

- Watch Harry Potter movies on my computer *while* playing Skyrim.  This takes attention and multitasking skills that most men don't have.  Plus I've seen them all like 78 times, so if I watch them when J is home, he just rolls his eyes.  Sometimes as he's walking away I try a spell on him, but it never actually works.

- Listen to Peter Cetera music.  If it can be called music.  This is also something that makes J roll his eyes at me, and honestly, I don't blame him.  But in fairness to me, he doesn't have the same nostalgia with it as I do.  Let's go back 20 years, to 1992.  I had just bought a Sega Genesis from a guy I worked with, and was obsessed with Wonder Boy in Monster Land.  Peter Cetera came out with Restless Heart.  I had a drivers' license, and drove a Colt Vista, listening to the aforementioned Restless Heart.  I drove to Dairy Queen to flirt with Josh H., on whom I had a massive crush.  It remains one of the most embarrassing episodes of high school for me.  Josh was cool and distant, troubled, a kind of sickly puppy that I wanted to scoop up and fix.  He was also dark and brooding.  And he thought I was annoyingly happy.  Finally he asked me out, and I....freaked....out.... I told EVERYBODY at school, I even told teachers, I was just so freaking excited.  That was before I learned to play it cool.  Man, that did not go over well.  Josh cancelled our date, teaching me the lesson that it's always better to not show your cards, especially with boys.  I didn't always remember the lesson.  But I learned it then.  

Anyway, that fall I also had money from my job as a tour guide at Rock Ford Plantation, an 18th century home of an Adjutant General during the Revolution.  I was a super-cute and talkative tour guide, and I loved wearing my Regency outfits.  So I had money and went shopping at Express, and sometimes bought stuff before it even went on sale.  All of this to the soundtrack of Peter Cetera's silky voice singing about love and loss in such a poppy way that you couldn't help but dance along.  So Peter Cetera isn't about the music for me.  He's about being young and carefree and driving a kickass minivan.  (Oh, and I still think PC is super-hot; so much so that I put him on my List - ie people I get to make out with if I ever meet them.  I don't know who all is on J's list, but I don't care.  Other people on mine are Fernando Alonso, and really any Formula 1 driver.  Also Nick Clegg, the leader of the LibDems in the UK, because if I imagine him in a sweater, I am reminded of Colin Firth.  Colin Firth is also on my list, but only if he's in a sweater.  Or a suit.  I can't imagine him in jeans and a flannel shirt, for example.)  Oh, and to end the story about Josh, he never did ask me out again, but I ran into him when I was in college, and at my skinniest and most confident, and I felt really good about that.  Like I got to get the final word or something.  

- Sit in a bubblebath for three hours.  I reminded myself of that Seinfeld episode when Kramer was doing everything in the shower.  I drank wine, I read a book, I listened to music, I washed my hair, I had a snack, I read a magazine, I watched some tv on netflix on my laptop...  really, life would be better if we all spent more time in bathtubs.  Someday I'd like to try to do my job from the bathtub.   Set up a little desk right next to the tub, with my phone and laptop, and I would be good to go.  

- Play the piano.  We have a piano that we bought me back in LA, and I rarely play it, but I need to start again.  Right now I am learning Beethoven's Pathetique sonata.  It's broody and depressing and filled with angst.  And I'm learning it, literally, one measure at a time, very slowly.  But whatever.  It makes me happy.  I like looking at my old music books from when I was in junior high school.  I doodled all sorts of funny things all over them.  Like the names of boys I was in love with.  Then I'd cross them out when I was in love with someone new.  So there are crossed out names all over the front cover.  It's very comical.  Now I just print out public domain music from the internet, so my music is doodle free.  Which is kind of sad, really.

- Dress the cats up in Halloween costumes.  The rest of the house is getting decorated.  They should too.  Or so say I.  They would disagree.  Whatever.

So yep, that's how I spent my Alone Time on Friday night and Saturday.  I so totally know how to party.  I can't stand the excitement.  Honestly.  
 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sugar and Spice

About two weeks ago I had a bit of a revelation.  I realized that I am completely addicted to sugar.  How did I find this out?  Through the font of knowledge that is In Style magazine.  No, seriously.  I was having a really bad day at the office, I drank two full-sugar sodas, I ate full-sugar cake, and towards the end of the evening I felt like full-sugared shit.  Then I was reading my magazine, and there was this quiz to see whether you are a sugar addict (You can take a similar one here: http://www.vanadia.com/stopbeingsweet/quiz/).  My answers qualified me as a serious, no question about it, full blown sugar addict.

Then I turned into a detective, to see just how much I needed to cut back.

Do you ever notice on food labels, the sugar is listed there with the carbohydrates and fiber, and both carbs and fiber have a percentage next to them - ie the percentage of carbs in the cereal based on the recommended daily amount you're supposed to have... look next to the sugar number.  There's no percentage.  So you don't know how much sugar you're supposed to have based on the labels.  J's 20 ounce bottles of Sprite have over 50g of sugar, but they only have something like 20% of your daily carbohydrates, so it must be ok, right?  Wrong.  The average American consumes more than 20tsp/day of added sugar.  According to the American Heart Association, women are supposed to have no more than 6 tsp of extra sugar/day.  That's about 30g.  So J's soda has nearly twice the daily recommended allowance in it.  Note that fruit and sugars found in milk don't count towards that total because they are nutritional - this is purely sugar for the sake of sugar that we're counting here.

The syrup to make my vanilla latte has 25g/serving (2 tbsp).  That's not even counting the frozen yogurt, the sugar I put on my oatmeal, the coffee creamer, etc etc.  Seriously, I can easily eat 100g/sugar a day, no problem.

Well, I knew I needed to do something about this, and so I am embarking on a sugar detox.  I found a couple of programs online that promised you would kick your sugar addiction in 14 days, or 10 days, or 30 days, yada yada.  Everybody seems to have a sugar-program.  I found one I liked called The 30-Day Lift, which doesn't promise that you'll be sugar-free in a month, but does help you wean your way off of sugar so you're eating less.  Every day you get exercises to do, and an audio recording to listen to, giving you ways to lower your sugar intake.

So now, thirteen days later, here's where I am:
I'm eating about 20-30g of sugar/day, which for me is amazing.  I haven't had soda in 2 weeks, and while I did drink a lot of sparkling water the first week, just to give me something fizzy, I decided I wasn't really a fan, and I mostly just drink plain water now.  That's actually the hardest part for me.  I want a diet coke so freaking bad.  A few days ago, when I realized I wasn't pregnant from the last IUI cycle - another story entirely - I told J that I deserved a diet coke.  Dammit, I had earned it.  But somehow I made it through the day without having any soda.  (And in case you're wondering, I'm avoiding artificial sweeteners as well because they have been shown to increase sugar cravings by stimulating your taste for sugar without giving you any real sugar.)

I've lost about 6 pounds.  I'm not doing this to particularly jumpstart my weight-loss again, but the weight loss is an added benefit.

I haven't had any heartburn since ditching the sugar.

I have way more energy.  I eat lunch around noon, and then at about 3pm I eat a handful of nuts, and that easily keeps me going until dinner. I don't snack in the evenings anymore, except maybe eating a few crackers when I take my nighttime fertility meds and vitamins.

The first few days were really horrible, though.  I was jittery all the time.  I could literally taste sugary stuff on my tongue.  I was crabby and had awful headaches.  In between there I was also traveling up to San Francisco and presenting at a conference, so I had some other stresses going on, too.  But I successfully avoided the call of Auntie-Anne's in the airport, and learned how to make my own soft pretzels at home, without all the added sugar (which is a different blog post...all I can say for now is that Auntie Anne can bite me - and I'm allowed to say that; I went to school with their whole family and remember when she just had one little stand at the Downingtown Market).

I still have a smaller version of my iced mocha in the morning - coffee, 1 tbsp of chocolate syrup, and some milk, all over ice.  It's yummy, and since I make it small, and measure out my syrup, it's not absolutely terrible.  That's really the only sweet thing I have all day, but I get the extra grams from bread, and the cheerios I've started snacking on (I have turned into a 3 year old).

If you're thinking about cutting back on your sugar, obviously talk to your doctor, and check out these links below.

NPR: Too Much Sugar Can Be A Heart-Stopper
Mayo Clinic: Don't Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners
141 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health






Monday, September 24, 2012

The crazy sh*t people do in the name of science

Did you watch the Venus Transit this year?  You know, when Venus's orbit makes it appear that it's going across the sun, and it happens every 110 years or so?  Well, that's not entirely accurate.  It happens in pairs - just a few years separating each one, and then nothing for another 110-ish years.  We watched it through the clouds in New York City in June when I was there for BookExpo.  We went to a spot along the waterfront where they had telescopes, and even though I couldn't see much, it was cool to see something historic.

But three hundred years ago people took it way more seriously.  I'm reading this book about it, Chasing Venus.  So apparently Edmund Halley (of Comet Fame), in the late 1600's, heard a story about an astronomer who had seen Venus when it crossed in the mid-1600's.  Telescopes were just brand new then, so most astronomers didn't have access to them.  So Halley starts doing some advanced math, and he decides that if you get enough people to go out into the world, in all different places to measure the times of the Venus transit - ie when it crosses in front of the sun, and when it leaves - that you can figure out how far the sun is from the earth.  And do some more calculus, and you can figure out the size of the universe.  Which was a really big deal back then.  Now we know the universe is Really Big, and Expanding, so we don't worry too much about it.  But Halley was super concerned about it.

He talked to a young astronomer, Delisle, and made him promise that even though Halley wouldn't be alive for the next transit, he (Delisle) would spearhead putting together a panel of astronomers who will go all around and take these measurements - he even outlined what measurements you needed to take, and how to do it.

Fast forward to 1761, and the Seven Year's War is going on (we know it better as the French and Indian War) and these scientists from France, England, Russia, Prussia, Sweden and even the American Colonies are all trying to coordinate sailing through hostile seas in the middle of a war to watch Venus.  I won't give away the story, but suffice it to say that they learned a lot, and by 1769 (the war was over by then) when the second of the pair of transits came around again, the scientists decided they needed to go even further, to the South Pacific, and they wound up finding Australia.

So here's the deal: in the middle of a giant world war these people traveled through the arctic on sleds, through treacherous roads, in hostile seas, risking their life to watch a little dot move across the sun so that they could figure out how big the universe was.  And all because an old guy in Paris told the Paris Academy that Edmund Halley told him that he once heard of a guy who had seen the transit a hundred years before.  Seriously?  Would you risk your life on a story like that?

And here I could barely get myself to the pier to watch it through a telescope a few months ago.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

in which we help Mama Cat utilize one of his nine lives

Mama Cat was named before we knew he was a boy, when we thought he was a female because he was so much smaller than the Big Bruiser who was hanging around our property when we moved here.  There were a lot of cats around who looked like Mama Cat, so we figured that s/he was their Mama.  Hence the unimaginative name.  The Big Bruiser had feline leukemia and had to be put down in the spring of 2008, and after that, Mama Cat came around a lot more.  At first he would run whenever he saw us.  Then he gradually started to trust us, and was able to figure out the correlation between us being around, and food being in the dishes outside.  Finally he let us pet him.

He's secure enough in his masculinity that he has never minded being called Mama Cat.

Mama Cat is a fighter.  His fur is bristly and regularly matted down with blood from the cuts he gets when he scrapes with other cats, or the raccoons.  Mama Cat knows our schedule and waits by the door for me to bring him wet food, and even as I'm pouring it into his dish, he hisses at me.  Mama Cat doesn't purr very often.  Sometimes several days at a time will go by without us seeing Mama Cat, but then he'll make an appearance, sometimes with a fresh cut, and we continue to feed him his favorite turkey and cheese meal.

Mama Cat resists being trapped and taken in to get neutered.  He's sat by and watched at least four other cats get caught in the trap, and he's wise to it.  It breaks our heart that he continues to live a difficult life with so much fighting, but we're a little afraid of him anyway, and I can't imagine how we can trap him now that he so clearly understands how the trap works.

A few years ago Mama Cat got an infection behind his ear, probably from a fight he was in.  He came around with an enormous bump on the side of his head, and we proceeded to try to heal him.  We put a heating pad on a piece of outdoor furniture where he would lay to keep warm, even though he was feverish.  We made a little shelter for him, and he didn't leave our deck for two days.  Eventually his infection broke, the wound healed, and he was back to his old self.  There have been at least three times so far where we were convinced that Mama Cat was on his way out. We say goodbye to him, and prepare ourselves for his death.  And then he'll go away for a few days, and come back, wondering why we're making such a fuss over him, and why we won't just put out some cream for pete's sake.

Last Wednesday we were again certain that this was it for Mama Cat.  He came up to the deck leaking blood and shit.  It looked gruesome - like someone had taken a bite out of his ass, literally.  He stunk of crap and death.  He was weak and his head was falling into the water dish.  He could barely make it up onto the lounger.  He would drag his ass and leave streaks of shit everywhere.  It was 11pm and we didn't know what to do for him.  Do we try to trap him and take him in to be put down?  It seemed a horrible way for him to die - Mama Cat, who always ran free and has never been in a car, having to drive 45 minutes to the 24-hour emergency hospital.  I know the actual act of dying might have been kinder to him, but getting there would have been torture.  No, it seemed like the best thing we could do was try to make him as comfortable as possible, keep his water and food nearby, and let him know he was loved.  Jonathan fell asleep on the deck with Mama Cat, and came back to bed in the middle of the night when Mama left.

All day Thursday he was gone, and we figured that he had walked into the woods to die.  At least, that was what we hoped for - a peaceful death for our friend.

Thursday night we looked out on the deck at the little cat carrier we put out with blankets when it gets cold, so the feral cats have somewhere to get cozy.  Mama Cat was in it, sleeping, still looking dazed, and still an enormous mess in his butt region.  Wow, we thought.  Mama made it through the day.  We again made sure he had water and food, and he allowed us to give him a lot of love.

Friday morning he was still on the deck, though not in the carrier.  Just sleeping by himself on the wood.  By mid-morning he had enough strength to go up on a piece of furniture.  Jonathan went out to sit with him, and within a few minutes, Mama Cat had cuddled in, and was laying on J's lap.

This was unprecedented behavior for Mama Cat, who barely ever lets us pet him.  Suddenly he was becoming a lap cat.  We were happy to be able to love on him (though we always washed our hands very thoroughly after petting him), but we thought it must be a sign that things were worse with him, if he was willing to be so vulnerable with us.

Friday night we noticed that he was starting to bathe his wound, and we were able to look at it more clearly.  All his parts were still there, so that was a good sign.  We thought maybe he just had a horrible infection that got out of hand, or something.

He still wasn't eating or drinking though, which worried us.  Cats need fresh water often - a vet explained to me once that a cat will die if they don't have water in what seems to me like a very short time - it was something like just 24 hours or so.  It's actually a preventative mechanism to keep them from starving to death - if there is no water available, there probably isn't much food either, and they start to shut down very quickly.

We were with him almost constantly all weekend, taking shifts of spending time with him.  We still thought that he was going to die, and that he had honored us by wanting to spend his final hours with us, and we were going to take that job seriously.  We weren't going to let him die alone.  We were committed to being there for him, however long he needed us, petting him and being part of this sacred journey that he was on.  Both Saturday and Sunday nights one or both of us slept on the deck with him.  We fell asleep on the lounger with him between us.  We picked fleas off of him so that he would be more comfortable and not have to scratch himself.  We picked the scabs of his old wounds off so that they wouldn't itch.  We rubbed his back and his legs.  We thought about what we like when we're sick, and we tried to do those things for him.

By Sunday morning Mama Cat was eating the gravy from a can of wet food, though he wasn't eating the food itself.  He would lick up the gravy, and then look at the food, poking at it with his foot, sniffing it, but not eating any.  We were happy with the gravy, though.  We kept track of the amount he was eating - every four hours or so he would get up, drink some water, look at us expectantly, wait while we got a can of food, lick the gravy, then stretch out and lay in the sun for a bit, and then go back to his comfortable chair.

At one point I sat down with him, and he rolled into me so that his back was against my leg.  I reached down and scratched his legs, and he lifted his head up for chin-scratches.  He was looking right into my eyes, and his expression had the most love, understanding, and depth that I've ever experienced from any living thing.  I could be anthropomorphizing him and just imagining the whole scene, but I swear, all the questions in the universe were answered in his face.

We still didn't think he was out of the woods yet, but we could see that he was fighting for his life.  One time while I was loving on him, I told him that he could stop fighting if he wanted to.  He had spent his whole life fighting.  Feral cats in the mountains generally live about 3 years.  They get eaten by coyotes, or they starve or get sick within that time period.  Mama Cat is at least six years old - he was fully grown when we moved here five years ago.  So he has been a scrappy fellow who has fought for every breath he was taking.  He did have us looking out for him, but that didn't stop him from taking care of himself his own way.  I wanted him to know that if he wanted to give up the fight, we were ok with it, and we would miss him, but we would understand.

I spent a lot of time thinking over the weekend while I was sitting with Mama Cat, stroking his skeletal body, which seemed to be shrinking away before my eyes.  I asked him why he thought he had to fight so badly.  Why couldn't he have just spent his life living in our woods, getting food on our deck, sleeping in the shelters we make for the feral cats?  Why wouldn't he let us take him to the vet and get him fixed so that he didn't need to fight so much?  Why did he make it such a struggle?  And then I thought that I could probably ask myself the same questions.  Why do we all make life so hard?  Why do we think it has to be such a struggle?  I wondered whether God ever wanted to shake us and tell us to stop fighting so badly, to accept all the gifts and love that are available to us, and to just be loved.

Early Monday morning I went to the pet store to see if there was any high-nutrition gravy I could give him.  If he was going to fight for more life, we were going to help him.  They recommended kitten food as the most high-calorie and fatty, and I also got some nutrient paste that they give finicky cats.  It made me so happy on Monday afternoon to see him eating the kitten food, and then looking up, giving me a little meow, asking for more.

Tuesday he ate about five times throughout the day, including some cream (note: giving cats cream or milk is really not good for their tummies.  They can't digest it properly.  Pet stores do sell milky products that you can give your pets.  I still give Mama Cat cream because he loves it).

And today, a full week from when he showed up leaking every kind of bodily fluid imaginable, he is comfortably laying on his cushion outside.  His tummy is full - today alone he's had two full cans of wet food, two cups of dry kitten food, and a few splashes of heavy whipping cream.  When we pet him now, we can't feel his individual ribs.  He is purring, and his breathing is even and deep.  He has cleaned himself up, and since he hasn't left our deck in five days, he hasn't been out fighting, and he looks like a handsome fellow with a shiny coat (though it's sprinkled with gray) and his eyes are bright.

I don't know how much more time we'll get with Mama Cat.  This winter might be too much for him.  Or maybe he will continue to hang on to life and we'll get another few years with him.  But I do know a couple of things.  I know that if a little creature comes to your door needing help, and you drop your plans and help it, it will be so much more rewarding than anything else you had planned.  We've been through something profound, the three of us.  Both J and I have been touched by the sacredness of spending that time with Mama Cat, when his life easily could have ended.  I'm so happy for Mama Cat now because even if he does pass away sooner rather than later, he has been vulnerable with us, and has received more love in the past week than many cats will ever receive in their lifetimes.  He has loved us, and for the past few days at least, he has accepted our love.

And that is a lesson that many of us humans, with our bigger brains and opposable thumbs, could stand to learn.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

fertility treatments (or how to drop $1200 on an unsuccessful IUI cycle)

J and I are going through Fertility Treatments.  I capitalize it as if it's a proper noun, a holiday, a day for turkey and apple pie.  It's more like Veterans Day.  Not a day for picnics or presents, but a somber time of reflection.  We have already done one cycle of IUI (Intra-Uterine-Insemination - or artificial insemination for those of you not in the know - which was me, two months ago) which wasn't successful, and are now going on to our second cycle now.  Which means I'm taking Clomid, progesterone, and J gets to give me an injection in my butt.  We really know how to keep the romance alive, I tell you.

It's an adjustment, this move into full on fertility work.  It makes the possibility that we may not be able to have children so much more real.  Up until now, it was always theoretical.  "If we lose another baby, we'll start the adoption process."  Or, "if I can't get pregnant by the time I'm 37 we'll start the adoption process."  I never really expected either of those things to come true, if I'm honest with myself.  It was something I hung on to, like an ace I never expected to need.  And yet, with each unsuccessful cycle, we get closer to the possibility that I might not actually ever go through a successful pregnancy ending with delivering a living baby.

It's made me sad, in a more profound way than I have been up until now.  Because I never really doubted that we would figure it out and be able to have kids.  And while I know that even if we do start adoption and stop fertility treatments I could still get pregnant later in life, the odds of that happening keep getting smaller.

IUI tends to work in 3-4 cycles if it's going to work at all.  We are just starting the second cycle.    Clomid on days 3-7 of my cycle ($20).  Day 12 ultrasound to see if my follicles are growing ($250).  Injection 36 hours before IUI ($98).  Sperm washing at the lab and Insemination on Day 14 ($600).  Blood test on Day 21 to see if I ovulated ($115).  Progesterone days 16-30 ($300).  You know I could buy a Louis Vuitton bag for what I will spend this month on fertility treatments?  And yet there's a lady in the grocery store with six kids hanging off her.  #notfair

But who said life was fair, right?  I made the decision to wait until I was older to start trying for a baby, and yes, we may have had some worse luck than others, but I'm guessing that if I had gotten married and started having kids when I was 24, things would look very different now.  Well, I'd have a teenager for one thing.  That would be weird.  I did what I did and it got me to where I am right now, and I don't really wish I was anywhere else.  Even in our sadness, J and I are still best friends, and we still laugh every morning.

I know I don't want to do IVF.  At least not now.  It's too invasive.  There are too many drugs, and too many hormones, and there are too many kids in the world who need good homes for us to spend money and energy on IVF.  So one way or another, all this uncertainty will end this fall.  We will either become pregnant, or we will start researching adoption.  Either way, it will be good to have the facts, and be able to make a plan based on them.

For now, we just embrace the uncertainty and keep our fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to "Do" Iceland in 2 Days


Take an Obligatory Tourist Photo in the Airport.  When the passport control person stamps your passport, and you notice that it's really light so you can't see the "IS" easily, go back and ask politely for a fresh darker stamp, and they will look at you like you're a funny American, but they'll give you one.  So now you have two Iceland stamps.  Sweet.


Rent a car.  Get a map.  There's only one paved road around the country, and you need funny kinds of insurance.  Like Gravel Insurance because the roads are - well - gravel.  And Ash Insurance because of all the volcanoes.  The lady at the car rental counter will tell you that if you drive around the southern part, you'll feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.  You look around at the tiny airport and think that you already are in the middle of nowhere.  It gets more nowhere-y than this?  Wow.


3)  Take the first obligatory picture of yourself.  You want to go to the Blue Lagoon first, because it's close to the airport, but if you get lost, you'll wind up in downtown Reykjavik, which is cool because then you can say you saw it.


Wow, you think, Iceland looks a lot like the desert around Victorville.  I came all this way to see Victorville?  Really?


Turn back around and get to the Blue Lagoon.  Ok, so they don't have this in Southern California.


Take a picture of yourself in front of the milky blue water.


Take a picture of your husband holding Cool American Doritos while being a Cool American.


Pay a lot of money to swim in the Blue Lagoon.  Yeah, it's overpriced, but it's the only place in the world that is what it is.  So you go by yourself while your husband waits in the cafe using their free wifi (the only thing that's free at the Blue Lagoon).  Just beware of your hair.  Cover it up with a shower cap, or don't get it wet.  Because all the minerals are great for your skin - your skin will feel amazing - but do a serious number on your hair.  Your hair will feel like straw for days afterwards, and it will take lots of hair masks until it comes back to normal.


After the Blue Lagoon, drive to the coast and see the sea.


You might find a fish carcass.  In which case you should hold it up proudly.



This lady watches out for all the vikings on their voyages.


The thing about Iceland is that, since it's right where two plates collide, the scenery changes drastically from minute to minute.  One minute: Southern California (only with red-roofed houses and full riverbeds)


The next?  Niagra-freaking-falls.


Get up close to the Falls at Gulfoss, but not too close.  There's not really any guardrails.  People will be right up on the edge, dangling their feet in, and you think they're pretty crazy, because if you fall into that swirling mess of water, you are not coming out alive, that's all I can say about that.


Take another picture of Gulfoss.


People like to pile rocks up for good luck.  It's pretty neat.


At midnight, if it's summer, go out and look at the daylight.  Kids have soccer matches at midnight.  I guess it makes up for the fact that they probably hibernate all winter.


Stay in a little tiny cabin next to a campground.  They have kitchenettes, so you can buy food at the grocery store and cool, because Iceland is 'spensive.


Pet an Icelandic dog.


Pay about $15/gallon for gas.


Drive the southern part of the Island.  It takes about four hours to go to Glacier Bay, where you'll see lots of glaciers floating around. 



Get a view of a Glacier.  Lots of busses will stop by here and you can go walking on the glacier.  But if you go a bit further, you'll be rewarded.


This was my first view of a glacier.  If it's your first time seeing a glacier, you might cry, too.  I bawled my eyes out like a little baby.   Words don't describe it.  Words can't describe it.  You think it's so sad that people will never see this in their lives.  People need to see this.  It's amazing.


J stacks up rocks like locals.


It's amazing, these little delicate flowers that grow in the tundra.



Check out more glaciers in Glacier Bay.  Stand next to a tour bus tying to pick up their wifi signal so you can check in on 4Square.



There are tons of these waterfalls coming out of the ground, just hanging out, waiting to be looked at.


Play in Skogafoss, another waterfall.  Are you ever going to get jaded of all these waterfalls?



Go right up to the bottom, because there aren't very many other tourists, and get splashed by all the spray.


Bond with cows.  Seriously, get out of your car, and go right up to them, and lay in the grass, and pet them.  They might snort at you.  But they might also lick your hand, which scratches.  You feel slightly smug being vegetarian, because you know you'll never eat these babies.



See another waterfall.  By the way, it's about 10pm right now. 

Go home, try to sleep through all the light.  If you have a hard time sleeping in daylight, take tape.  We stopped at a store and bought some to tape up the blinds.  

The next morning, drive back to the airport.  And start making plans for your next visit, which will, undoubtedly, last longer than two days.