25 December 2008

Happy Christmahanukwanzasolstivus

May the coming year find you exactly where you need to be, and may the root vegetables protect you through all trials.




23 December 2008

The Night of the Root Vegetables

Tonight we might have gone to our friends Molly & Don's annual root vegetable party to welcome the solstice (delayed a day because of the ton of snow we got over the weekend) and honor the humble root vegetables which provide us northern folk with sustenance through the long, dark winter.

Considerable quantities of food and wine might have been consumed.

Fantastical sculptures might have been created from root vegetables.

Illegal fireworks might have been lit, amid much fanfare.

A giant effigy of a parsnip might have been set ablaze to welcome the return of the light.

I can, however, neither confirm nor deny any of this.

What I can confirm is that we had to shovel most of the knee-deep snow out of our driveway ourselves because a) the ^&**&%%# plow guy never showed up, b) Wendy & Paula's plow lady pushed a huge mountain o' snow up in front of the shed where their snowblowers reside, and c) Paula's tractor (with front-end loader) was occupied most of the time getting a stupid farm visitor unstuck after said visitor decided to drive down a snowy embankment to the barn. In a station wagon. And then proceeded to run said station wagon into a snowbank every single time Paula got her unstuck.

I can also confirm that the Japanese sweater is finished! In time to wear it to breakfast with Franklin and Sue on Wednesday morning! Pictures to follow.

Oh, and don't be too surprised if photos of strange root-like creatures should appear here without warning.

20 December 2008

A Few Photos

Things have been scarily slow at work lately. There's usually a bit of a slowdown going into the holidays, but I've not seen anything quite this bad in recent memory. I have no doubt that it's the economy. I was looking last night at state unemployment data over the past several years. There's typically a transient increase over the winter months, as seasonal positions close, but for the past 6 years, unemployment in the month of November was in the range of 4.5 to 4.8%. In 2000 it was 3.1%. This year it was up to 6.2%. There's not much to be done but ride it out, but it's still worrisome.

One of my patients last night, though, was this young barred owl, who had apparently been hit by car. As it turned out, there was a very nasty open fracture in one wing that was in a location that couldn't really be repaired, which is an indication for euthanasia. Because owls and other birds of prey are federally-protected, however, it's not an entirely straightforward matter. As a veterinary facility, we have a bit of leeway when it comes to providing emergent or short-term care until these birds can be transferred to a rehabilitator, but without the requisite federal permit, we risk running afoul of federal law if we perform euthanasia. So I didn't have a good option other than to keep the bird quiet, warm, and as comfortable as possible until I could transfer it to the Center for Wildlife (click on the button in the sidebar if you're looking to make any year-end donations).


Other than that, I had plenty of time to work on the Japanese sweater front. This is just before I cast off the underarm stitches:


I'm now on the raglan decreases, so things are speeding ever faster toward the end of the main kniting. I may even be done with this in time for Christmas Eve breakfast with Franklin and Sister Sue. This will be the third year in a row we've gone out for breakfast on Christmas Eve, so I guess that makes it a tradition. Hopefully Sue's husband Phil (now our state's Senate Majority Leader) can join us again this year, too.

And lastly, a little Tuck update. The good news is that he's been with us for one wonderful year as of this week. The not-so-good news is that his initial tracheal wash culture yielded a somewhat nasty strain of E. coli, which is resistant to several common antibiotics. I'm still hoping that I can knock this thing out, though, and have ordered a nebulizer to try delivering drugs directly into his lungs to break up the mucus and to get a third antibiotic right in to the source. If this doesn't work, then there won't be much option other than managing it as a chronic lung disease - similar in some ways to dealing with cystic fibrosis in humans. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that, as I've watched two cousins die from CF and know what a slog that disease can be. Still, I'd do anything for this little face.


16 December 2008

Just Another Night on the Job

It struck me that I haven't showed any gruesome work photos lately. Due in part, of course, to the fact that there haven't been a lot of really good gruesome work photo opportunities lately. Last night made up for it a bit, though, with a very nice older border collie who came in for being inappetant and generally not herself for a couple of days. Something felt wrong when I palpated her abdomen, so we took an x-ray, which I've annotated here for you:


So I took her to surgery and removed this:


Given the location of the mass on x-ray, I figured that it would most likely be either a splenic torsion (not terribly common, but we see them occasionally) or splenic mass (very common). It was neither. This mass was attached to her large intestine pretty close to where the colon enters the pelvic canal and turns into the rectum. Odds are that it is either a leiomyoma (benign) or leiomyosarcoma (malignant), which are tumors of smooth muscle and fairly uncommon, but we won't know until a pathologist evaluates the biopsies. The mass weighed in at a hefty 4.7 pounds (2.1kg), which is about 12% of this dog's body weight. That's like a 150 pound person having an 18 pound mass. Impressive stuff.

This oddity aside, the last couple of nights have given me enough time to get a bit of knitting done. I've gotten through one full pattern repeat on the cable panel of the Japanese sweater front. Only 7 more to go.


I also darned a couple of holes on Tuck's first sweater. I don't think I have any more of the original yarn, so I used some of the C220 I'm using for the Japanese sweater, since it was handy. I haven't done a lot of this sort of repair, but it looks pretty good. Reminds me a bit of those commando sweaters with the shoulder patches.


And speaking of Tuck, his pneumonia has come back. When I got up yesterday afternoon, I noticed that he was breathing a little bit harder than normal, so I checked and he had a low-grade fever. X-rays confirmed the pneumonia, so I did a transtracheal wash to see if we can figure out exactly which bug is causing this and started him back on antibiotics yet again. This time I'm thinking a 6 week course is in order. Meantime, I'm seeing if I can get any additional input from specialists on an online forum for veterinarians. I'd like not to have to put him on antibiotics every month, but I'm worried there may not be another option.

14 December 2008

The Ice Storm

Written Thursday at around 11:20PM:

At the moment, I'm writing this on battery power. We're getting an ice storm, and the last hour and a half has been one of listening to transformers explode and branches crack, while the power blinks off and on. Now it seem to have gone out for perhaps 40 winks, so candles are lit and we wait to see what happens. It's only just below freezing, so the house should stay warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing overnight, should the power decide to stay out for a while. Still, it makes me wish we had a way to heat with wood.

We had friends Kit and Melissa over this evening for a while, which was nice, and Kit's wife Sue and son Jesse also put in an appearance for a bit. For our guests, I made a lentil/quinoa tabbouleh which turned out fabulously and was easy peasy to make. Here's what I did, more or less:

1 dried cup green lentils
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup chopped parsley (I used flat leaf, which I like better)
juice of one lime
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (Okay, a couple of glugs. You know I don't measure things)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt to taste

Remember to rinse the quinoa in cold water first to remove any residual saponins, which are very bitter. Bring the lentils and the quinoa just to a boil in separate saucepans, each with 2 cups water, then reduce to simmer until expanded but still a bit firm - this should take 20-30 min for each, so monitor closely. Rinse with cold water, then mix with a mixing spoon in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients. Enjoy!

I also sliced up some pears and kiwi fruit with some cheese my mom sent us for the holidays, one of which was a stinky cheese that the very same variety that figures in my worst cheese experience ever. It's a stilton from the little village of Colston-Bassett, in the East Midlands of England. I've actually been to Colston-Bassett, so when I saw some in Whole Foods several years back, I had to buy it. It smelled like the bottom of the manure piles at farms I also visited in that area, though, so I could only manage to choke down a couple of bites before giving the rest to me friend CJ. I'm pretty sure my mom didn't remember that this was the cheese, but this particular chunk was much more edible - drier and more crumbly -so long as I ate it in small pieces with the fruit and crackers. I was pretty sure that Kit would love it, though, and I was right on the money.

Oh, and speaking of kiwis, I got a package in the mail today from James, that contained an Irish linen tea towel with prints of different Aran stitch designs, some Jaffa candies (yum!) and a skein of some gorgeous sock yarn from his shop. Hopefully soon I'll be getting a package off in his direction with a little something special. I've been told it should be ready before Christmas, so I await patiently.

And now I must be off to see if I can scare up some more tea lights.

So, now it's Sunday afternoon, and I'm at the clinic. Shortly I'll be running off to shower and shave and generally make myself presentable to the general public. As of 2PM, when I left the house this afternoon, we were still without power, but the rising temperatures mean that we're less likely to have to worry about pipes freezing at this point.

Despite the inconvenience, we've done quite well overall. Being on municipal water, we didn't have to worry about losing water supply, though it's noticeably quite chilly. This storm has, though, driven home how badly we need to have a source for wood heat. Fortunately, Paula and Wendy do, so we've spent a good bit of the past couple days at their house enjoying the wood stove. I've also learned a few things I thought I'd share:

  • Our house doesn't cool down as rapidly as I feared it would, which is a good thing. When outside temps drop into the teens, however, a 2 liter bottle filled with hot water can help keep the pipes from freezing.

  • Hot water bottles, thermal underwear, and lots of blankets are enough to stay warm, even when the bedroom temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing.

  • Split pea soup (cooked on a wood stove), good wine, and good company are a really good way to make the best of a not-so-great situation.

  • One quart of hot water is all that's needed to take a decent sponge bath. It's also all you need to steam up the window and mirror in our bathroom when the temperature is about 46 degrees (That's about 8C, for the metrical folks).

  • When the hot water is gone, though, and you're all wet, 46F is very, um, bracing.

  • So is the toilet seat at 42F.

  • At a certain point, the refrigerator becomes redundant.

  • As previously mentioned, we really, really need wood heat. And a gas stove. Those two items would have made all the difference in the world.

In other news, I finished the back of the Japanese sweater! By candlelight! So now the front is in progress, which should be much more enjoyable, despite - or actually, because of - being a bit more complex. At the moment, though, I think I hear the shower calling my name. Mmmmmmm, hot water.

UPDATE: Just talked to David and we got power back at around 5PM!

10 December 2008

A Very Memorable Evening

Before I left for work Monday afternoon, I called David at the warehouse to decide whether or not to take Tuck to work with me (I did) and just to check in, since he's usually home when I'm leaving. One of the first things he said to me when I called was, "You need to make sure you don't get home too late tomorrow, because we might have plans. And you're not allowed to ask any questions." I'm kind of used to his surprises and not the type generally to get to wound up about it, so I dutifully didn't ask any questions other than, "What time is 'not too late'?" He told me by 6PM, which is usually quite doable even when I feel the need to sleep at the clinic, and so I went along to work knowing something was in store.

Fast forward to this morning, when it was snowing and the roads were getting a bit slick right at rush hour, and I was dead, dragging tired. I did the prudent thing and took a nap at the clinic, after calling home to check in and let David know I wasn't heading home right away. Plus I confirmed again the "home by 6PM" plan still stood.

When I woke up from my nap in the afternoon, however, I checked my e-mail and saw one from David saying that we needed to be leaving the house by 5:45PM and wearing nice-ish casual clothes for an evening out. So suddenly getting home by 6PM had turned into home, ready, and heading back out the door by 5:45PM, with me unshowered and leaving the clinic with no time to spare. Eep!

So I rushed home, called ahead to have David pick me out some appropriate clothing, and still took a shower (since I was in no condition to be seen in public otherwise). And then we started driving. All he would tell me was that we were heading to Manchester, New Hampshire, about an hour away, and asked if I had ID and my cell phone. Then as we neared Manchester, he got a phone call from an unidentified source and began discussing a meeting place.

I ran down a mental list of possibilities and had a bit of a short list of who the mystery person(s) could be, so I wasn't terribly surprised when it turned out to be his production manager, Christine, along with her husband, Michael. At the rendezvous point (Taco Bell), they hopped into our car and I was informed that we would be heading from there to Concord, the state capital another half hour away.

After we got back on the road, Christine let slip that she had just talked to her brother. This was a huge clue. Christine is originally from Buffalo, and her brother Art runs a nightclub there and has a second business as a concert promoter. He's a very well-connected guy, and Christine has all kinds of stories about the famous people she's met through him. Anyway, I knew that Art had promoted a show once before in Concord, for someone I'm a longtime fan of. So when we got off the freeway and approached the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, I was not at all shocked to see the name David Sedaris on the marquee.

Since Art was the promoter for this event, we had comp tickets for the show, which was especially nice given our current budget crunch. The best part, though, is that we all went out to dinner together afterwards. I got to spend an hour in a restaurant seated across from one of my favorite authors.

I actually saw Sedaris do a reading once before, back when I lived in Pittsburgh. I went with my friend Eve, and we waited afterwards for well over an hour in a very long line to get my books signed. Because of the sheer number of people, he had very little time to chit-chat and could only really make a brief inscription and sign the books, but he had a little rubber stamp with him and stamped each book when he opened it with something in Thai. I was told later that the word translates as "Inspected". He told me at dinner that he got the stamp from an office supply store in Bangkok and plans to do the same in Tokyo.

One of the things I always wonder about celebrities is whether they're genuine or if they've let it all go to their heads. The few I've met have generally been decent people, which is always nice to see, and David Sedaris doesn't seem to be an exception to that. The dinner conversation ranged all over - from the phenomenon of people constantly misremembering that my David and I are from the Norths (Dakota and Carolina, respectively) when we're actually from the Souths, to learning new languages, to kids vs. pets, to his irritation at Hugh painting his office lavender while he was away on a book tour - and I found the author to be quite delightful company.

It was, I think, the best surprise ever.

p.s., if there are any Torontonians reading this, he'll be doing a reading at Massey Hall Wednesday night (That's tonight!).

08 December 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Last night forecast low was 17F/-8C, but when I went to bed the thermometer read 12.4F/-10.9C, and the power had gone out twice from the high winds. The second time it was out for about a half hour, which was a bit disconcerting. Although we have an oil furnace, the thermostat and ignition are electric. It will be a happy day when we have a masonry heater (Finnish style, rather than one of those Baroque ceramic numbers) and rely primarily on wood.

Today, the National Weather Service was calling for a high of 28F/-2C, but it barely managed to squeeze up to 18F/-8C before I left the house. And I set my mittens down to get something and then walked out of the house without them. Tonight, we're getting single digits. All of it is good incentive to work on the Japanese sweater, which I did for a while last night by candlelight.

Meantime, I am continuing to play around with SketchUp. Look what I've done with the upstairs!

Upstairs Plan 02

Currently, the rooms on either side are divided up into two smaller rooms, so this plan will necessitate taking out a couple of walls which, IMO, have no good reason to be anymore. I suppose when the Tobey family were raising their eight kids (yes, eight kids, in a 1500 sq. ft. house), it gave them more of a sense of privacy, but for us, it just doesn't work so well. This also moves the east bathroom wall (this is standard N-is-up view) a further foot and a half eastward to allow some rearrangement there. And what is now our TV room/stash storage/retiring room, will, at least theoretically, become a combined office/crafting/retiring room. And the wall dividing off what we're currently using as a giant walk-in closet disappears for a more open bedroom floor plan.

Of course, the plan also requires raising the roofline to create a shed dormer, since the south face currently has only a half-wall and no windows. I hate this for several reasons, but the biggest are that it means we get less light in the winter time and we have poor airflow upstairs in the summer. Also, raising the roofline a bit on that side should open up a bit more attic space, and I really, really think we need to finish the attic to use it for storage. And insulate it a lot better.

Of course, it's much easier to sort it out in a freeware computer program than to come up with the money to execute the plans, but I figure it'll be another 25 years or so before we retire, so there's time. In the meantime, it's a fun exercise to think about how to make the best use of the space we have. David and I are fans of Sarah Susanka and her Not So Big series, and my ideas are largely informed by her ideas, though I'd say that, on some level, it's an aesthetic principle that I already understood intuitively.

In a nutshell, it's about using smaller spaces smartly (intelligent design?) - open floor plans, multi-use spaces, creating spatial divisions with fewer walls, creative approaches to storage, etc. Right now, as I've mentioned, our house suffers from some serious flow issues. Our nominal guest room is cramped and only accessible by navigating through David's very cluttered studio; the studio has no built-in storage; the kitchen is cold, poorly laid out, and only accessible through a very narrow doorway; and because the washer and dryer take up much of our side mud room, which is the main entry we use, the mud room has been essentially shifted into David's studio, which makes it even more cramped. Among other things.

So what I've tried to do is identify changes that will, again theoretically, rectify those problems and leave us with spaces that we actually use, instead of a lot of cluttered, cramped areas that aren't so fun to spend time in. Since it's a very old house that's had a lot done to it over the last 300 years, I'm sure we'll run up against all sorts of unexpected issues, and I'm anticipating needing to consult an engineer at some point to discuss the feasibility of some of our ideas. Still, it's a very intriguing project and one I'm enjoying the hell out of.

07 December 2008

Nom Nom Nom


Proof that yummy food doesn't have to be pricey. Since I was short on foodstuffs here at work, I stopped by the local supermarket to pick up a few items and got fixings to make this tasty aloo matar (आलू मतर). I used curry paste, which makes the prep work much faster - always a good thing at work - and I left the potato skins on, which is my usual personal preference.

Speaking of Indian food, we went to our local Indian restaurant for dinner Friday night. It was the first time we'd been there since they remodeled and put in the dining room. Before, it was takeout only, but now it's a hopping place, which was very good to see. Raj, the chef, is a very sweet guy, and it's good to see him doing well. It was also good to see him and learn that his family in Mumbai are safe.

Progress on the Japanese sweater has slowed a bit, as I've been a little distracted by a new toy from the folks at Google. SketchUp is a 3D modeling program that's both way cool and a major time suck (Thanks, Leela! I think). I've been using it to try to create mock-ups of what I'd like the interior of our house to look like someday. This is my WIP for the upstairs:

"Upstairs Plan

If I had the $495 to shell out for the pro version I could make an animation of the model, but times being what they are, you're just going to have to settle for 2D. The big long-term goal is going to be to open up the floor plan so that we can really optimize our usage of the space we have. Right now the flow is very poor, but by moving a few walls around - and removing a few outright - we should be able to have a huge impact on the feel of the house. And since it's timberframe construction, none of the interior walls are load-bearing, which will make moving them a cinch. Relatively speaking, anyway.

In the meantime, we've got a little bit of a dispute on our hands over some replacement sashes we ordered from a local building supply store for David's office. We were looking for and expected clad exterior with wood interior and tried to make that clear. What we got was described as "stainable interior" but turned out to be vinyl with cheap wood-print veneer.

The window sales guy is trying to convince us that it's a great choice, since it was his fuck-up to begin with (We think he didn't do his homework and didn't realize that it was veneer.) and he doesn't want to get stuck eating the cost of custom sashes. We don't have any intention, however, of settling for something we didn't want, especially when it's liable to get dinged up and look like shit within a few years. So e-mails have been sent, and we're waiting to see if he's willing to make it right or if we're going to have to push harder.

And if it comes down to it, it really won't take much to put me in a fighting mood.

04 December 2008

A Dull Dullard

That'd be me, it appears. I just haven't had much to talk about lately, or at least haven't been very good at blogging about it. Part of the reason, not surprisingly, is work. I took on four extra shifts in November, which meant spending a lot more time at the clinic. As we've been experiencing a seasonal dip in cases, there's been very little of note there - an apparent uptick in immune-mediated anemias and thrombocytopenias, which is really the kind of thing that would only interest people like me, but little else.

Things on the knitting front have been similarly boring. I plug away on the back panel of the Japanese sweater, which gets longer a little at a time, but there's only so much potential blog fodder in a slowly growing mass of stockinette. Perhaps when I get to the front and begin working the cabled section it'll be slightly more riveting, but for the moment and considering I've been quite monogamous while working on this project, it's just not that blog-worthy.

The only real excitement of note lately is the effect the bad economy is having on David's business. Let's just say that things aren't looking particularly rosy at the moment, so I've been working on an austerity plan in the event that we're reduced to a single income for a while. Thankfully, that situation doesn't appear to be imminent, but I did sort out a workable budget that will allow us to get by on just my income for the time being and shift David's income into building a contingency fund, just in case.

If you're in our neck of the woods and want help us keep the contingency fund as just a contingency, or if you just need some nice holiday gifts (like alpaca socks!), David is planning a two-day sales event this Friday (10a-8p) and Saturday (10a-4p) at his company warehouse (click for Google map). Otherwise, the website (see the link over in the sidebar) has an online store, so go buy some socks for the people in your life who don't wear only handknits.

Meantime, I'll be here trying to think up something more interesting to write about next time.