Monday, November 15, 2010

Wow.  Total bureaucratic fail at work today.  I guess we won't be doing that wetland enhancement project after all. So much for looking at the big picture.  Let's just keep grazing and mowing it.

Sometimes it's very discouraging being a biologist.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I did a little canning this fall, though not as much as I would have liked.  Shockingly, I didn't make a bit of jam.  Since I still have an adequate (roughly, oh, five year?) supply of jam in the pantry, I think we'll survive.  However, since I bought ten pounds of cucumbers at the last Farmer's Market, I did make pickles!

This is seven quarts of cucumber dill slices.  I got this bug in my brain that I wanted crinkle-cut slices for these pickles, and bought a mandoline.  I've wanted one for years, and finally just went ahead and got one, already.  Plus, the mandoline makes quick work of thin-sliced potatoes, which I hate doing.

When I made the sliced pickles, I kept back the smallest cukes and used them to make two quarts of whole baby dills.  And finally, as an experiment, I made three quarts and two pints of zucchini dill spears and chunks, out of an absolutely enormous zucchini that a friend gave me.  All those zucchini pickles are from one zuccini.

I tucked all these pickles away in the pantry for a month to let them ripen and cure.  Emma and I cracked open one of the jars of the whole cucumber pickles today, and YUM!   Crunchy and fantastic!  Can't wait to try the rest!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yes, yes, I know that Halloween is past and the world has moved on, but I have to show Emma's costume from this year.  It was too good not to share.  Besides, if the stores can start putting Christmas decorations out in early October, I can show Halloween pictures in mid-November.

Can you guess who she went as? 

(Wow, that was a toughie, wasn't it?)

Yes, she was our very own Princess Leia.  This was my favorite costume she's ever had.    The dress, the hair, everything - the overall effect was so completely recognizable.  And the super-terrific bonus?  It was absolutely free and required minimal effort on my part.  The dress is out of her dress-up box (a hand-me-down from a friend), worn with a white turtleneck under it. 

It was the hair that really made the costume, though, those trademark buns.  That is not a wig or clip-on buns, that is her own hair, which is long enough to touch the chair seat when she sits down.  I rolled up each side into a sock bun, using an old pair of her toddler socks as the base of the rolls.  It took all of five minutes.

Even better, the friend we went trick-or-treating with had the perfect costume to go with hers.  This was totally unplanned.

We went to the trick-or-treating costume parade through the downtown shops on October 30, and it was so much fun.  Everywhere we went, she was instantly recognized.  Everyone smiled, and cries of "Leia!"  followed us along the way.

I saw Star Wars when it first came out in the theater in 1977, when I was six.  I think it's great that today's six and seven year olds are still obsessed with it, an entire generation later.

I couldn't decide which was better, watching Emma having fun collecting candy, or watching the people watching her.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

OK.  I think I need to write this out and get it off my chest.  I wasn't going to because it's pretty personal, but it goes a long way to explain why I've been silent for so long.  It was life-controlling, and I had no room for anything that wasn't absolutely necessary.

This is probably going to be more than the world needs to know, but I need to say it, and who knows, someone else in a similar situation may read it and be helped.

WARNING! TMI ALERT! This post may contain Too Much Information!

As I mentioned a couple days ago, I recently had surgery. I actually had two procedures: endometrial ablation and tubal ligation. Having this done was a strangely difficult decision for me, and I'm not really sure why.

The backstory is that I have been dealing with menstrual irregularities for several years, in which I would bleed heavily for weeks or sometimes months at a time. Especially this year, it got much worse and I bled continuously and very heavily from the end of May to the end of October. Thank goodness for my DivaCup.  Often I would lose 3-4 ounces of blood per day, which is more than is lost in an entire "normal" period.  I estimated that I lost roughly three gallons of blood in five months.  I felt like I couldn't go anywhere or do anything because of the bleeding. Of course I did do things, but the bleeding and how I was going to cope with it was always right up there at the front of my mind, the first consideration.   Obviously, this is not a happy situation, either from a physical or mental health standpoint.

The excessive blood loss meant that I developed severe anemia, though I didn't know it at the time. Let me tell you, anemia is not fun. I was tired to the point of exhaustion ALL THE TIME, and felt like I had no reserves at all.  Absolutely none.  At one point in August, I was mowing the lawn and had to stop three times to sit down, catch my breath, let my heart rate return to normal, and stop feeling like I was going to pass out. Our lawn is not that big.

Looking back, I think I've been anemic to one degree or another since I was a teenager, except when I was taking birth control pills. When I was on the Pill, my cycles were clockwork regular, not heavy, and normal-length. If not on the Pill, my cycles were all over the place; irregular and heavy.  On the Pill=not tired. Coincidence? I think not.  I was found to be mildly anemic when I was pregnant, and took iron supplements. But for most of my life, the doctors just told me that in order to fix my tiredness, I should get more sleep and eat more red meat. Multiple doctors told me this.  They just shrugged and told me that heavy bleeding and irregular cycles were just something that some women had to deal with. So I did.

When finally, out of desperation, I went to the doctor again in September, my hemoglobin levels were so low that if they had been half a point lower it would have been considered life threatening. When the doctor called with the blood test results, she told me to get to the grocery store now and buy iron pills and orange juice. Don't wait until tomorrow. That was a little scary.

At my followup appointment, we discussed options. She said that hormonal imbalances were the cause of the excessive bleeding and irregularity, and the most obvious course of action would be to go back on birth control pills. I am not willing to do this, because every brand of pill I've ever tried does bad things to me. Been there, done that. Yes, the regularity is nice, but it comes with grouchiness, depression, weight gain, and generally feeling horrible about myself as a person. So that was not an option.

The second option she offered was to have a full or partial hysterectomy. That seemed a little extreme. I have no desire to go into immediate menopause, or risk the rest of the known side effects like cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. So that was not an option either, not if there was anything else that I could do.

Her third option was the endometrial ablation. This procedure surgically removes and scars the lining of the uterus to reduce or eliminate bleeding. Since it's obviously not a good idea to become pregnant if you have no uterine lining (it would result in an ectopic pregnancy), sterilization is indicated. She suggested tubal ligation.

So why did I have such a hard time coming to terms with having this done? I'm not really sure. Part of it, certainly, is the finality of it. I can never have another baby. Never mind that I have a beautiful daughter, am turning 40 in three months, and Shaun and I don't plan to have any more kids, of course, but still. I destroyed a part of my body, the part that nurtured Emma for nine months. I will never get that back. That part of my life is over.

Then one night, I had a thought. If I had appendicitis, I wouldn't hesitate at all to have an appendectomy. It wouldn't even be an issue. Just do it, fix it. I don't plan on having more children, so what's the problem? My uterus is a part of my body that is not functioning properly, which I am not currently using and do not plan to use in the future.  So I went ahead with the surgery.

Now I've never had surgery before. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. I was terrified. I had my wisdom teeth out in college, but in the dentist's office. The only other time I've been in the hospital was during childbirth, and that's not quite the same thing. That was a happy occasion, a generative occasion, and I was not losing a part of myself. I was scared, but I was not unconscious and for the most part I felt in control of what was happening to me. In a very real sense, I was doing it to myself.

With this surgery, the doctors were doing it to me. I felt vulnerable. They were going to be rummaging around inside my body and I wouldn't even be aware of it. I will say this, though- deep slow breathing works as well for controlling pre-op hysteria as it does for getting through labor contractions. Seriously, I was nearly in tears when the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me beforehand. I was briefly in tears when they left me alone for 5 minutes before wheeling me down the hall to the operating room. Breathing helped and somehow I managed to hold it together. Then they make you scoot off the gurney onto the operating table, by yourself. It's like going to your own doom. Giant lights. Many trays and carts. Lots of monitors. Nurses tossing around phrases like "Foley catheter" and "intubation".  I'm a biologist, I know what those words mean.  Next time: sedative, earlier, please.

I've never had general anesthesia before, and it's weird. They started a saline IV in the pre-op room, then when I got to the operating room the anesthesiologist added something to make me feel "floaty," then I think he put a mask over my face, and then I woke up two hours later. The anesthesiologist asked me how I felt, and I remember answering "Sleepy." I think I also might have said "leave me alone", but I really hope I didn't say that out loud, because the anesthesiologist was nice.

Once it was over, I was fine. Not too much pain, and I went home 3 1/2 hours after waking up. Which is ridiculous when you stop to think about it. They knocked me out, cut me open, did a bunch of stuff, and then just sent me home. They did make sure that I could keep down liquids and also pee before they would let me go, though. Ah, healthcare.

I slept most of the first day. Surprisingly, I didn't have that much pain, as long as I didn't move around too much. I didn't need the Percocet, or even Advil. I didn't take any pain medication at all after leaving the hospital.  I was crampy from the ablation and the laproscopy incisions (two, from the ligation) hurt if I bumped them or contracted my abs, but otherwise it was fine. I mostly stayed in bed the rest of the day Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday was better, and I even did some laundry and the pile of dishes in the sink. By Friday I was up all day, and feeling mostly back to normal.  My belly was still a bit sore, but I could get up out of bed or a chair and bend over with no pain.  Today I'm feeling a bit bruised, but otherwise fine.

The ligation was much more invasive than the ablation, and had a longer recovery time.  Which is ironic, because it was the ablation that was the primary objective; the ligation was just an "extra" to make sure I won't get pregnant.  If I hadn't had the ligation, I wouldn't have needed general anesthesia, and I would have been back to normal in a day.  Anyway, it's done, and I'm fine.

The anticipation was definitely worse than the surgery itself.  Much, much worse.  Here's hoping the ablation will be effective.  Supposedly almost 50% of patients don't bleed at all anymore, which would be nice, but I'll settle for normal length periods, even if they're irregular.  It doesn't solve the underlying hormonal imbalance, but at least I won't bleed to death.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

My goodness, two posts in two days- what is the world coming to?

I wanted to show off my new aquarium. I can't call it a fish tank, because it has no fish in it. This is a freshwater shrimp tank.

It's a 10-gallon tank, set up on September 12 with plants, driftwood, rocks, sand, etc from another tank to jumpstart the establishment of the nitrogen bacteria colony. It ran with only snails (Malaysian trumpet snails, one large apple snail, and one Juga plicifera [a native northwest snail]) for a couple weeks, then I added 29 crystal red shrimp on September 24.

crystal red shrimp

Aren't they pretty?

I've very much enjoyed this tank over the past couple months. The shrimp are now reproducing, and there are at least three little baby shrimp in there now, with many more mommas carrying eggs.

Crystal reds are a recessive mutation of naturally-occurring bee shrimp, which have a similar pattern but black stripes. They are so fun and personable. I love watching them pick through the plants. They have two-sided pincher hands on their front two pairs of legs, and they spend almost all their time grabbing at things to get up tiny bits of food.

Finally, just because it's so silly (and because I figured out how to use Windows Movie Maker to add music), here's a video of the apple snail taking a ride on the powerhead outflow.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Well. So. How the heck have you been? Apparently I needed a break.

Let me esplain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

In the past six months that this blog has been silent:
  • I went back to work, part time, again. It's been slow but relatively steady, and I've been working 4 hours a day on average. We had some personnel rearrangements in my group - we hired two new people, then the senior biologist (my supervisor) left for a new job, we hired her replacement, then one of the first new hires left, and the other was transferred to the engineering group. So we're back with only two in my group. I did get a raise.
  • I completed my first successful season as a vendor at my local Farmer's Market. I went into this with no real expectations for success; I mostly wanted to see if anything sold. My goal was to sell enough to make up the vendor fees. In actuality, the market exceeded my wildest expectations, and we made up the vendor fees in the first three weeks. It was a family endeavor - I had hand dyed yarn, handspun yarn, and woven, crochet, and knit items; Shaun made hand turned wood pens; and Emma made beaded earrings. Of all of us, I am most proud of Emma. My little girl made $401.25 this summer, selling $1-$3 earrings. This was a fun craft for us to learn together when Shaun was away at Friday Harbor for two months teaching. Better than a summer of TV, that's for sure. Anyway, Shaun and I are proud of her and she's immensely proud of herself. She put most of her money in her shiny new savings account, smart girl.
  • As mentioned, Shaun was away in Friday Harbor for almost two months, while Emma and I held down the fort here. I think she had a fun summer, between playing with beads (shiny, shiny beads! The Fire Mountain Gems website is way too much fun...), the Farmer's Market every Saturday morning, and a combination of playdates and daycare while I worked. Having Shaun gone is always stressful and we miss him, but at least we got to go to Friday Harbor twice, to take him there and pick him up. I really wish that Emma and I could have stayed longer than one day each time, but it just didn't work out that way. Maybe next time.
  • Emma and I took a trip to Arkansas for my grandmother's funeral in August, while Shaun was in Friday Harbor. A sad occasion, but it was great to see my dad and my mom's siblings, including all my cousins and their kids. Plus my sister, brother-in-law, and their baby bump! Emma was a champ during all the traveling, as always.
  • My computer suffered a catastrophic failure. I was required to purchase a new one, and getting used to Windows 7 has been traumatic to say the least. My photo filing program, ImageExpert, doesn't work with Windows 7, and neither does WinWeave! Argh! I hate upgrading. The one bright spot about the whole mess was that a wonderful computer tech here in town was able to rescue all the unsaved files off the crashed hard drive. Thank you, thank you!
  • Emma started second grade and turned seven. SECOND GRADE! SEVEN! How did that happen?
  • And last but not least, I had surgery last Tuesday. Nothing too serious, but it will hopefully take care of an ongoing problem I've had for a several years now and which basically ruled my life for the past six months. Another post on this may be forthcoming, unless it feels too personal. I'm currently enjoying four days off work, and being careful not to bump my abdomen on anything.
So there you have it. Of course, there were also all the little things that fill in the corners of life and make it interesting. Going for walks, a couple camping trips, listening to Emma read books, playing math games with her, setting up another aquarium for pretty freshwater shrimp, picking plums and making fruit leather, dyeing yarn, spinning, and all my other fibery endeavors.

I'm really going to try to post more often. I miss having this record.