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:  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.