Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alternative Lifestyles

As I've mentioned before, my parents are full-time RVers.  They sold their house about five years ago and they travel around the country (and beyond) at will.  Sometimes they take jobs.  Three years ago they spent the winter working at Disneyworld, which they loved.  This fall/winter, they are working for Amazon.com, helping with the seasonal rush.

They just sent me a link to an article in USA Today which characterizes these seasonal workers as desperate - just more evidence of the terrible economy, with the implicit message that SOMETHING SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT THIS!  But my parents claim that the vast majority of the workers at their RV camp in Campbellsville, Kentucky, are not in dire financial condition.  Their observations are anecdotal, but so are those of the journalist.

My parents actually are there for the money - they're saving up for a trip to Europe.  But, as they also point out, "many of us wanted to experience work as a change of pace.  After all, our lifestyle is a continuous vacation."

Desperate?  Not.

Monday, November 29, 2010


My latest MRI revealed that I almost surely do not have lupus, psoriatic arthritis, or any other systemic autoimmune disorder.  That's great news!

What I do have is tendonitis.  I also have the equivalent of carpel tunnel syndrome in my ankle (tarsal tunnel syndrome), plantar fasciitis in my heel, and other inflamed areas around tendons and ligaments.  That's all in my right foot and ankle, so we're assuming that the pain in the other areas of my body is of the same nature.  Since I've had no injuries and I don't overuse any of these parts of my body, my doctor thinks that I might have a genetic condition that makes me more susceptible to damage to my connective tissue.  Basically, I'm fragile.

This concierge physician I hired is finally starting to pay off.  The rheumatologist who ordered the MRI wanted to send me to a podiatrist for the foot problems and to a hand surgeon for my hand, and to specialists for every other part of my body that hurts.  She did not integrate the evidence.  My concierge physician did, and assures me that we will keep working to understand why this is happening so it can be treated in the most appropriate way.  He agrees with me that it is absurd to see separate doctors for each area of the body.  He and I agreed that the best step now is for me to go back to the pain specialist who performed my PRP therapy two years ago and get it done again.  It cured me for over a year last time, and the fact that it worked is consistent with this tentative and vague diagnosis.  I'm a little worried that I won't have time to get it done before the donor egg process interferes, but I'll find out in the next two weeks.

After that, the doctor wants me to have the genetic analysis he originally suggested.  His very first theory about my pain was exactly this (apparently there are rare but known genetic disorders that cause this kind of fragility), and I thought it was such a remote possibility that I didn't do the tests.  I'm still not sure what it would get me to do the genetic testing - I mean, I don't know if it would affect any decisions about long term treatment or management of my condition.  I plan to talk to the doctor more about that in a couple of months, as well as discussing what else might be causing this besides a genetic abnormality.  (The genetic analysis is expensive and not covered by insurance.)  For now, I'm just trying to get myself back to being functional without meds.

But I'm feeling a huge sense of relief since getting this diagnosis.  It's somehow much less scary to have tendonitis than lupus, even though I really have no idea yet if my condition could be degenerative or have other long-term effects that are worse than lupus.  But knowing that my pain is the same thing that people feel when they have tennis-elbow makes it seem less mysterious and threatening.  I guess the real issue is that I have less uncertainty.  Not knowing what was wrong with me was such a huge source of stress.  Not knowing why it would get worse and worse was scary because I never knew where it would end - at one point I was convinced I would be bedridden in a hospital within months.  Now I know that it gets worse because I keep moving.  I can't really live without moving, but at least I have a framework for understanding what is going on in my body, and I can develop a plan to deal with it.

I have to admit that I also have a sense of relief and validation that now I know that my doctors and others can't write me off as a hypochondriac.  I've had crippling pain, with absolutely no evidence of a health problem, for years now.  I've had dozens of tests which, until now, have all been negative.  I've been told to consider what I deem to be irrational, non-scientific answers such as fibromyalgia (whose definition is essentially "mystery pain" and so means nothing) and leaky-gut syndrome (which claims to explain practically every ailment known to man, and so can not possibly explain anything).  I went by my own independent judgement and refused to accept anything that did not make sense to me, or which conflicted in principle with the rest of my knowledge, and I've been vindicated.  Even when I was wrong (by not following the concierge physician's initial advice), I had good reason, and I ended up at the truth in the end.

It's been a real strain on my self-confidence, though.  If I were Howard Roark or Dagny Taggart I might have been able to travel this path without self-doubt, but I have had a lot of self-doubt.  Coming to this place now is more than just a step towards physical health - it's also a great lesson for my mental health.  I just spent three years trying to solve a problem and it seemed that at every turn, there was someone or something trying to convince me that I was deluded.  But, by persisting and relying on my own judgment, I did solve the problem.  Or, at least, I've begun to.  It's a great boon to my self-esteem, which, lately, has been very fragile itself.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cats, Fairies, and Supermodels

I didn't intend to watch this kind of movie for Family Movie Night - it's really a kids' only kind of flick - but Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue was okay.  I stayed awake and I laughed at the fat, mean cat a couple of times.

Speaking of cats, we almost put ours to sleep today.  He's been peeing in places other than the litterbox and howling at night and tearing up the carpet and really just doing all the evil things cats do.  We put him on Prozac last week because we're so desperate.  But he didn't pee at all for at least two days so this morning we called the vet and they said it would cost $1200-$2000 to unblock him.  (He has a condition where crystals form in his bladder and can block his urethra, a potentially fatal problem which he's been treated for once in the past.) We are not spending any more money on this cat when all he does is cause us stress, so we prepared ourselves for the worst.  Our only hope was that he might pee out of sheer terror as soon as we put him in his carrier.

We got "lucky" and he did just that.  I can't say I'm all that relieved.  In that hour or so when I thought this might be his final day with us, I felt a huge burden lifting off of me.  No more allergy attacks, no more dread of cat-urine-smell every time I enter a room, no more unwanted half-hour serenades at midnight and sunrise, no more pawing at Sam's bedroom door to awaken her to get my attention, no more claw caps, infected scratch wounds, or Achilles-tendon bites (cats must have an instinct about that vulnerable area of the human body), and no more contests to see who can get down the stairs undamaged when six legs are twisted together in unnatural ways.

We've decided to give him two weeks to shape up.  If the Prozac doesn't kick in and help him by then, it's over.  I'll miss him a little bit, but not as much as I've missed my last cat, Geddy.  (We put him down while I was pregnant with Sam.  He was 17 and he'd been with me my entire adult life.)  I think Adam loves Jinx a bit more than I do, but he's okay with it, too.

The real heartwrenching part of this is how it might affect Sam.  She loves this cat.  She probably spends an hour a day tormenting him.  (Now you know why he needs Prozac.) We put the claw caps on him because she never did learn to avoid getting scratched.  Actually, she learned, but not the lesson we would want; she learned that if she provokes him, he'll attack her and she can try to duck out of the way and if she does it is HILARIOUS and if she doesn't then Mommy or Daddy will give her hugs and cuddles.  Hey, it's a win-win!

So, I guess I'm pulling for him just a little bit.  And seeing that fat, mean cat in the movie reminded me that I can't really complain.  I knew what I was getting into when we brought him home ten years ago.  All cats are like supermodels - they're gorgeous, vain, stupid, vindictive, petty, and prone to hissy-fits.  In other words, they're entertaining.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


My computer seems to have healed itself.  I hope we're not headed towards Skynet, but I'll take what I can get right now.

The cat peed in the litterbox and the dog has not thrown up yet.

Sam has a ruptured ear drum.  She's on the meds now and she will heal herself, but she was in a lot of pain last night and I had to sleep in her bed which means that I'm stiff and sore and getting by on very little sleep.  Still, it was worth it when I woke up to dim daylight, opened my eyes, and found her watching me with a sweet, loving smile on her face.  Then she touched my nose with the tip of her index finger and said "boop" just like I might have done to her.  It was just about the sweetest thing she's ever done.

So I have some Little Things, even today, to be thankful for, along with many Big Things like my family (and the potential for enlarging it), my good, good friends, my Best Job In The World, my travel plans, and much more.  And you know, writing it out like that actually makes me feel the emotion - not so much of gratitude, but of appreciation.  Thanks, Thanksgiving, you came just in time this year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Little Thing

Sammy [eating her crackers and butter]:  Sometimes I like to rub my finger in the butter and put it in my mouth.

Me: That's ok, as long as you aren't spreading it all over the table, but just eating it that way.  Does it taste good when you put it on your finger or something?

Sammy:  No, it tastes good when I put it in my mouth.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No Such Luck

Well, since I wrote the last blog post this afternoon, I've found out that we still don't have reliable internet access (and now Adam's computer is not working properly either), the dog has started chuffing like he's going to puke again, and the cat has not yet used the litterbox.  Oh yeah, and our brand new microwave, which has been replaced once, repaired once, and jury-rigged once, is making funny noises again.  Oh yeah, and Adam and Sam are sick.  I don't know what is wrong with this house but I feel like we're cursed.  Well, I was stress-free for a few hours.  Anyway, the point of this post is that I might not be able to blog much until I get the computer problems resolved.

Wedding Weekend

Whew!  We just got back from our whirlwind trip to Atlanta where we attended a wedding (congrats, C&T!).  I don't even need to write about it because Jenn (happy birthday, Jenn!) covered a lot of what we did on her blog - go check it out!  I have to add, though, that the dancing was so freaking awesome.  I hadn't danced like that in years.  I'm so happy that my pain was under control that night and didn't interfere with my fun one bit.  As Jenn says, Adam and I were crazy on the dance floor.  Those Atlanta folks probably think we're party animals now and I think I'll let them just keep thinking that.

We totally wore Sammy out.  She just refused to go to sleep at Jenn's house and Adam had to make the 1-2am trip to pick her up.  He's my hero - thank god he didn't drink anywhere near as much as I did!  But Sam is still catching up on her rest.  I didn't really plan on any naps for her and I think we pushed her way too hard the whole time.  I feel kind of bad about it - the poor kid.  She slept the whole way home on the plane and then went to bed without dinner as soon as we got home at 7:30 last night and then slept until 9am this morning.  I let her be late to school - sleep was more important.  Especially after the two massive tantrums she threw while we were in Atlanta.  This was not the first time that hotel security was called on us, but I hope it was the last.  I don't know what people expect you to do - muzzle the child?  The security guy suggested ice cream.  First of all, I'm not giving my child who is spitting and hitting and biting a reward for that behavior, and second, I really don't think it would work.  She'd probably throw it in my face.

On the other hand, I'm feeling rested and wonderful.  When we left on Friday, I had two broken computers, both animals were sick and puking and peeing all over the house, the coffee maker was broken, Verizon had just flaked out about moving a fiber-optic line (that they mistakenly ran through my drainage pipe!), and I was in a lot of pain and totally stressed out.  I think I got the computer problems resolved this morning (new router and new antivirus software), the carpet dried out while we were gone (man, it really is nice to be able to clean those FLOR carpet squares in the sink!), the animals seem to have recovered (we're putting the cat on Prozac - seriously), and my pain is much lowered (I got something of a diagnosis last week which I'll write about soon).  I still have a broken coffee maker and I have to call Verizon again, but it all doesn't seem so overwhelming anymore.  I guess I really needed a break.  I'm determined to go forward and avoid the build up of stress.  Luckily, Thanksgiving is going to be really mellow and we have no travel plans for Christmas, so the only real big thing for me to stress over is the donor egg project.  Think I can remain calm?  We'll see.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Okay, You Win

Me:  Okay, it's time to get out of the car and go in the house.  Can you clean up your poopy underwear while I make lunch?

Sam [whining]:  Nooooo!  I don't want to get out of the car!  I want to say here.

Me [turning around to face her]:  Do you think we should just stay in the car all afternoon?

Sam:  Yes.

Me:  I don't know.  I'm getting pretty hungry.  We won't be able to eat until we get inside.

Sam:  But I just want to stay here and have lunch.

Me:  All of the food is inside. Do you have any proposals?

Sam:  I think we should go inside.

Me:  Okay.

Sam:  But I don't want to clean up my poopy underwear.  I just want to keep my poopy underwear on for my nap.

Me:  Okay, but if you leave the poop on your bottom for a long time, it can make your skin hurt.  You know, just like when you eat too many grapes?  It can make your bottom hurt really bad.  But it's up to you.

Sam:  I think I want to wipe my bottom and put on new underwear and pants.

Me:  Okay.

Sam:  But I don't want to clean up my poopy underwear before lunch.  I just want to keep them on, because all the clean underwear and the wipes are upstairs.

Me:  Okay, that's fine with me.  [Later, as we were walking inside]:  Oh, Sam, I think I'm going to have to change my mind.  I can't sit at the table and eat lunch with you because you smell very bad.  Can you go clean up first?

Sam:  Nooooo, I don't WANT to!

Me:  Well, I can't sit at the table with you with that smell, so you can eat alone or you can clean up while I make lunch.

Sam:  Mommy?  Will you come upstairs with me while I clean up?

Me:  Okay.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Miracles of Modern Medicine

It's official: We've given up on nature and we're going with science!

About a week ago we finished up the diagnostic testing necessary to enter the donor egg program.  I had had almost every possible fertility test, but Adam had to have some tests.  Since we never had a problem getting pregnant, male infertility was never at issue, but obviously we don't want to go forward with this radical and expensive step only to find out that there was a problem on his side.  We both also had to be tested for a bunch of common infectious diseases.  I'm actually not sure why, but whatever - we're clean.

Adam and I spent about 45 minutes together at my computer picking out our top three choices for donor, but the process is so dynamic that, by the time we sent our choices in to K. (our coordinator), none of them were immediately available.  So K. sent us fresh list of donors who were open and we picked another and we made a match!

We had to decide if we just wanted to pay for one embryo transfer or plan ahead for a possible second try.  Our clinic offers a package where you get two "fresh" cycles plus any "frozen" cycles made possible with frozen embryos.  A fresh cycle is when they take the eggs from the donor, fertilize them, and then transfer one or two of the resulting embryos to the recipient a few days later.  If there are extra embryos, they can be frozen and saved for possible future transfers.  The success rate is a bit lower, but still higher than our chances the old-fashioned way.  If you just pay for one fresh cycle, you have to pay a-la-carte for the freezing process, the storage, and the transfer of any extra embryos.  (You have to decide whether or not to freeze extra embryos before you know if you've achieved pregnancy.)  We decided to buy the "multicycle" plan, where all of that is included along with a second fresh/frozen attempt if necessary.  The only thing you don't pay for up front with the multicycle plan is the second donor's fee, if necessary.  Of course if you get pregnant immediately, you've spent more than you needed to but it's a good deal, and I figure that paying for two tries up front gives us a great exit strategy.  If we paid for each try separately, there might be more temptation to continue on indefinitely, or at least, to agonize about whether to try again. This way, I know right now that we aren't going to go on trying forever, but I also don't feel anxious that we only have one shot.  In fact, with the addition of frozen cycles, we might have more than two tries, and frozen cycles are fast and easy.

The other big decision was that we are going to do a "split" cycle.  This means that we share the eggs produced by our donor in this cycle with another recipient.  However, since our donor had nobody else waiting, we're sharing the eggs with the clinic (they provide a frozen donor egg service and so can use the eggs).  So, if the donor produces ten eggs, we get five and the clinic gets five.  We get the extra if there is an odd number, and if the donor produces less than eight, we get all of them.  This plan is much less expensive because we only pay for half the donor's fee, but we have only half the opportunities to create viable embryos. This is one reason that it was very important to me to pick a donor who had at least some history of producing a lot of eggs.  It's no guarantee, but our donor has produced an average of 22 eggs when she's cycled in the past.  The average at our clinic is 15.

Once we have viable embryos, we might have to make a scary decision: whether to transfer one or two.  Our clinic does not do more than two at a time because multiples (twins, triplets) are not considered a successful outcome.  We'll deal with that issue later, but I think since we've paid for the frozen cycles up front we'll feel less pressure to transfer more than one at a time, if that even comes up.  It's possible we'll only have one embryo, or even none.  Anything can go wrong at any time in this process.

K. is creating our "calendar" right now.  She has to sync up mine and the donor's cycles.  It's amazing - they can actively manage our cycles so that exactly when my body would have produced an egg, the donor is producing eggs.  The recipient's role is actually easier than the donor's.  I plan to document the whole thing here, but for now, all I have to do is take the birth control pills.  About a month from now, things get more intense, with ultrasounds, bloodwork, and more meds, including self-injections. Immaculate conception is scheduled for the first week of the new year.

'Tis the season for miracles.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Books for Me

So now that I've written about TV and books for Sam, and TV for me, it's time for an update on what I've read in the past couple of months.  I’ve read some really great stuff lately!

Psychologically, I'm still in great need of fiction.  Any non-fiction seems like a chore (except my Italy guidebooks).  I am in the middle of Objectively Speaking, a collection of Ayn Rand interviews, but I'm having to force myself through it.  I'm finding that there's not much new there for me.  I've been stuck for weeks in the middle section which is a series of college-radio station interviews.  The questions are intelligent but they feel planted, and Ayn Rand's responses don't feel extemporaneous.  This might be over-editing, but I suspect it was the nature of the interviews themselves.  Since I already know Rand’s positions on most of the issues, what I’m really looking for in this book are those flashes of brilliance – no, not flashes, but the consistent brilliance that she shows in her off-the-cuff remarks.  Hopefully I’ll get that in the third and final section.

From the book swap at my gym, I picked up Agatha Christie’s Funerals Are Fatal, which I found to be a complete waste of time.  I don't know why I keep going back to Agatha Christie, but hopefully now that I've actually written this down, I'll remember how much I dislike these kinds of mysteries and stop picking them up.

I’ve read two more Dick Francis books from the stack my friend loaned to me.  I was bored with To the Hilt, but I loved Risk.  I continue to be amazed by Francis’ ability to create unique, but always admirable heroes.  I'm sure that eventually I'll start getting all of his characters and plots mixed up, but for now, each book still stands in my mind as a unique experience.

Through my online book club, I discovered a new author that I love:  Elizabeth Peters.  I read the first book in her Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.  It was a benevolent, intelligent adventure mystery with the most interesting, admirable characters!  Rational Jenn has a nice post about the series and I agree with her completely.  I’m excited to have a huge new list of fiction books to read now that I’ve discovered this gem.

I just finished Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card.  Leonard Peikoff recommended it on his podcast and I’ve loved his picks in the past (especially sci-fi author Frederic Brown).  I also dearly love Card’s Ender’s Game, but I thought Enchantment was a bore.  I’m not a big fan of fantasy fiction, and this was too wildly impossible and irrelevant to the real world for me to find much of interest in it.  I also thought it was very anti-technology, the characters were average people moved by fate, and the plot was not very exciting.  That was a big disappointment.  I wonder if I missed something.

I saved the best for last, so if you’ve stuck with me so far, you get the prize.  Go read Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day right now!  Aside from Anthem, this is the best dystopian novel I’ve ever read.  This book has a real hero who moves the plot by his choices and actions, the plot is full of twists and turns that I never expected, and it has some great themes.  I haven’t figured out the overall theme of this book yet, but it’s rich enough that I know I’ll read it again.  In fact, I almost want to read it again right now.  It was that great.

I’m still (somewhat) determined to keep going with my Great Books project.  I’m stuck on Augustine, though.  I think I’ll have to modify my plan to allow me to skip things that are just too painful for me to read, or I’ll never make it through.  So that is on the near-future agenda, along with tons of other exciting books.  They are all lined up on a bookshelf in my bedroom, waiting for me.  I love that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Weekend with Friends

There was no Family Movie Night again this weekend due to way too much fun with friends!

On Saturday we went to the National Gallery with our Objectivist discussion group and enjoyed some art using Luc Travers' method.  I promise to write much more about that soon, but there is too much to say in a quick update. Suffice it to say that a whole new world of art has been opened up for me.

After that we hung out with friends and had a campfire and ate chili and drank beer and bitched about home repairs, old farts who get in your way at Home Depot, environmentalists, and the state of the Objectivist culture.  I hope you all have friends like that.

Sunday Sam slept in and the animals kept their mouths shut so we all actually got a decent night's sleep.  We puttered around all day in little chores mostly related to our brand new deck and patio, which were completed late last week. I'll post photos soon.

Then Sunday night we had dinner with some new friends.  We ate spaghetti, drank Chianti, and talked about Italy, amongst other things.  Sam amused herself the whole evening by playing with their pets - two dogs and a cat. Once you have children it becomes difficult to have friends who don't, but pets help.

Next weekend we're taking a quick trip to Atlanta for a wedding and we'll get to see many of our distant friends.

I'm finally satisfied with my friends in life.  I don't really mean my particular friends, but my way of dealing with friendships in general.  There will always be new friends, and old ones will fade away, but I finally seem to be able to make and nurture the relationships that matter the most to me.  I know what I want from friends and I seek it out.  I have goals for friendships and I don't just accept the people who fall into my life.  One important goal has been to find local friends.  I started my Objectivist discussion group in large part for that purpose, and it's been a huge success for me.  That is a big achievement, and I'm proud of it.

A Little Thing

The good part: Sammy finally understands that clean napkins don't need to be thrown away just because they've been removed from the napkin dispenser.

The bad part: Sammy now spits on every clean napkin that has come out of the napkin dispenser so that it will be dirty and can be thrown away.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

TV for Me

The fall season started just in time to give me something mindless to do when recovering from the last miscarriage.  I tried a whole slew of new shows, most of which I'm no longer watching. None of them were awful but they just didn't capture my interest.  The only new show that I'm still watching is Modern Family.  It's like an updated Cosby Show and it makes me laugh.  Oh, and Adam and I have watched a couple of episodes of Outsourced but it remains to be seen if we'll continue with it.  Adam is watching some kind of Zombie show and I try to watch it with him but I keep falling asleep.  I also gave up on Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica spin-off.  It would be nice to have a great sci-fi show again.

My old standbys aren't very exciting right now either.  I'm watching this season's Survivor but I have to force myself to keep up with it.  Some seasons are fantastic and some suck.  I watch it as a game show or almost as a sport, and there is no team worth rooting for this year.  I still watch House but the thrill is gone.  Mad Men was great but it's over for the year already.  The Office is always good for a couple of laughs, but it's really past its prime.

I guess my favorite show right now is Intervention.  I'm totally addicted to it! There's something about seeing drug addicts totally self-destructing that is fascinating to me.  I don't think I'm enjoying seeing them suffer or reveling in depravity.  I think part of what fascinates me is the "co-dependence" of the families involved.  (I don't really like the term co-dependence; I think it's more accurate to say that the friends and families of the addicts are evading the consequences of the "help" they are giving.)  I have some firsthand experience in this area and it's good for me to get a reminder of how counterproductive and self-destructive it is to try to "fix" another person.

Also, I don't think all the addicts are totally immoral, hopeless losers.  Many of them had severe trauma in their lives and they never figured out how to deal with it and they've put themselves in this kind of limbo as a way to cope.  And then they have the physical addiction which makes it that much harder to get out of the whole mess.  I do believe that their problems are 100% a choice, but that doesn't mean that moral, healthy choices are equally easy for all people.  So I root for the ones who seem like they want to face reality, but just haven't figured out how yet.  There are some addicts like that.  There are also some who are too far gone, and some who are nihilists at heart and just slowly committing suicide and burning a path of destruction while they do it.  Sometimes I can't watch the show if it is about someone like that, but usually it's not.  Most addicts are somewhere in-between, and I like to try to guess which ones will make it and which ones won't.  Unfortunately, at the end of the show you find out how they've done, but only a few months later.  I'd like to know how some of them are doing years later.

The other thing I've been trying to watch on TV is football.  I joined a Fantasy Football league as a way to try to jump-start my efforts to watch more football, but it didn't work.  I've watched about 2 half-games all season.  There is no reason I can't invest 2-3 hours a week to watching one single football game on Sunday or Monday night.  Sam is asleep and I watch that much other TV in a week anyway.  I think I'd enjoy just that much, but there is another problem: the games are on way too late here on the East coast.  I just can't make it through a night-game, and I have no interest in watching the last half the next day if I record it.  So, I think football is going to have to wait for a while.  I'm hoping Sam will want to watch with me on Sunday afternoons when she is a bit older.

It's interesting to me, though, that my favorite shows, reality television shows, do seem to replicate watching sports.  Survivor, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and even Intervention, all involve rooting for someone who is trying to accomplish something challenging.  They all require a lot less time-investment, though, and the challenge is not usually purely physical.  Everyone seems to mock "reality TV" as something that panders to our baser instincts, and some shows do.  But as a genre, I think the appeal of reality TV over the past decade has been due to its similarity to sports and game shows.  So, I miss football, but I'm glad to have an alternative.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Family Movie Night - Monsters, Inc.

Our on-demand cable service has a category just for Pixar movies.  Saturday night I read off the titles and brief descriptions to Sam:

  • Cars (it's about cars)

  • Toy Story (it's about toys)

  • Monster's Inc. (it's about monsters)

  • A Bug's Life (it's about bugs)

  • The Incredibles (it's about superheroes)

  • Ratatouille (it's about a rat)

  • Wall-E (it's about a robot)

As I expected, she said, "MONSTERS?????????"

Then she said, "What's that called again?" and I told her, "Monster's, Inc."  She said, "I want to watch that one.  Yeah, yeah."

The whole movie, she kept asking where the ink was.  The fact that one of the main monsters was a kind of octopus didn't help.

Adam and I loved this movie when it came out but both of us had forgotten all of it except for that amazing scene with the doors in the warehouse at the end.  The movie has some really sweet parent/child love moments.  When Sully's friend Mike berates him for taking risks for the sake of the child, Boo, he tries to remind Sully about all the values they have given up: their work, their goals, their friendship.  Sully replies, "None of that matters now."  And Adam chimed in, "Not now that he has a child."

I totally missed that the first time around.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Little Thing

Sam has finally learned to open the refrigerator!  (Well, it's more accurate to say that she has finally chosen to begin opening the refrigerator, since she refused to try at all until now.)  The day when she can prepare her own meals and snacks is just a little bit closer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Planning for Italy with Sam

Besides the new deck and trying to make a baby using an egg-donor, my biggest project is planning our spring trip to Italy.  I've always enjoyed the process of planning a vacation, and this one is especially exciting.

The first thing I had to do was to get a new passport. I lost all of my important papers, including my birth certificate and passport, during the Great Moves of 2007-2008.  I was very worried when I read on the Los Angeles County web site that it might take up to 14 weeks to get a certified copy of my birth certificate, but they got it to me in just one week. The passport was fast, too. Huge sigh of relief!

I also double-checked Sam's passport.  She went to Mexico when she was three months old so this is all old-hat for her.  I'm glad I checked because a minor's passport is only valid for five years.  We'll need to renew next year. Put that in the tickler file now!

Next, I asked Facebook to help.  I got lots of advice, and I compiled it all into a Word document (thanks, friends!).  I also asked a couple of real, live friends who gave me invaluable advice.  Based on all of that, we decided to stick with two cities for a ten day trip: Rome and Florence.  We'll also spend at least one night on the road in between, exploring the Tuscan (or maybe Umbrian) countryside via automobile.  I'm as excited about that part as I am about the big cities.

Now we need to book accommodations and flights. A quick search on Expedia told me that there are plenty of good flight options, so I started researching hotels and inns, figuring that availability might affect when we fly.  But then I realized that I needed some good maps and guidebooks before I could figure it all out.  Today I received Rick Steves' Rome, Florence & Tuscany, and Italy guidebooks, plus Streetwise maps of Rome and Florence. (I love those Streetwise maps for the US, so I'm hoping they will be reliable overseas.)

The first thing I did was open the Rome guidebook to the chapter on "Rome with Children."  It begins:
Sorry, but Rome is not a great place for little kids. Parks are rare. Kid-friendly parks are rarer. Most of the museums are low-tech and lack hands-on fun.

The good news for kids? Pizza and gelato.

As much as I like Rick Steves, this was a little bit offensive to me. Does he have kids? Or is my kid weird? My kid goes to parks and eats ice cream all the time. I'm confident that she will be utterly fascinated with just strolling the streets, and even with the art. Sure, we can't count on spending four hours straight at the Vatican Museum, but I can't believe that any of us will be jonesing for a playground.

Here is the first sentence in the next paragraph:
Rome's many squares are traffic-free, with plenty of space to run and pigeons to feed while Mom and Dad enjoy coffee at an outdoor table.

Sounds like a heavenly break from sightseeing to me. Actually, it sounds like New York without the cars. And Sam absolutely loved New York, including the walking, the subway, the buildings, and just being in a new, totally foreign environment.  Oh, and yes, especially the pigeons.

Anyway, we'll get into the sightseeing planning later.  Now we want to focus on getting inexpensive hotels in good locations for both cities - ones with private bathrooms and elevators and air conditioning, and maybe, if we're lucky, a little bit of ambiance. But really, we just want a comfortable place to sleep and watch videos and rest. I think we're going to try to hit Rome first because it will be hectic, then have a lazy day or two getting up to Florence, where I'm thinking the pace will be a bit slower.

Like I said, I love planning. I love trying to figure out all of these little details to make the trip as great as possible.  Planning doesn't mean scheduling every little thing, but it does mean being prepared.

Next up, I'll start working through Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary, which has been sitting hopefully on my bookshelf for eight years.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Objectivist Round Up

The Playful Spirit is hosting this week's Round Up.  Head on over now, ya' hear?

Deck Builder PeopleGuys

The deck builder PeopleGuys have been working at my house for two weeks now. This was my big summer home improvement project, but it took me until now to get the thing started. We're tearing out the rotted old wood deck and patio in our backyard, and replacing them with a new wood deck with stairs, and a concrete patio to cover most of the back yard. I'm paving paradise (not!) so that I have as much man-made material surrounding me as possible. Grass, plants, and all the bugs and mud that go with them can be had at the park.

The day the workers arrived, Sam and I spent a lot of time watching them. They tore out the old deck so quickly - it was amazing. Sam was very concerned that the deck builder PeopleGuy would fall off:

I also got a kick out of this dude wearing a dress shirt and vest:

These guys never wear gloves. They use their bare hands to saw, to pull up the splintering wood, to shovel - everything. I get to teach Sam what all the names of their tools are (I had real trouble remembering the word "crowbar") and to gently note how hard they are working and what an improvement this is going to be. This is educational stuff! Every day on the way home from school Sam asks me if the deck guys will be working. I think she is fascinated.

Here is what our back yard looks like now, which is really not much worse than it was with the wood patio:

We had some back luck in the beginning - they had to order more wood, I had to move our cable box, one of the workers got sick, then it rained. Otherwise, they'd probably be done by now. But as it is, we've needed to actually walk the dog for two weeks for him to do his business, and it will probably be two more. What a hassle! But once the project is complete, we'll be able to let Toby out from the main level of our house, and he can go down the stairs to the yard. (We don't have stairs now outside, so we have to go to the walkout basement to let him out.  I find this appallingly inconvenient.)

Despite the delays, they've made a lot of progress.  Here is the deck now:

I'll post some photos when the project is complete. It's super-exciting - we're adding almost 600 square feet of outdoor space to our home and I won't have to look at that rotting hulk of crap anymore. And as a bonus, I get to shop for new outdoor furniture.  Woohoo!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


We don't have a lot of rules in our house for Sam.  Mostly, we correct inappropriate behavior when it arises.  We don't have a "rule" about speaking kindly to each other - when Sam yells or whines we just remind her that she is more likely to get our cooperation if she uses kind words and a friendly tone. We don't have a "rule" about bringing dishes to the kitchen when finished - when she forgets, we just remind her.  If she doesn't want to do it, I tell her that I'll have to do it for her, and that if I have to keep doing things for her, I might start to think she is not ready for so many responsibilities. (Responsibilities are a positive thing in our house - I guess almost the positive way of stating rules - and Sam does not like to lose them.)

When we do have rules, they tend to be transitory.  We use them to move Sammy along from one set of behaviors to the next.  For example, we have a rule now that she must look both ways and check with an adult before crossing the street, but the rule used to be that she had to hold an adult’s hand.  We also have a rule that she can’t jump on the couch.  She only needs a “rule” because she used to jump on it but now she is too big and that’s a tough transition to make.  The rule makes it easier for her to deal with.

One set of rules we have is The Dinnertime Rules.  We had to make rules because dinner was becoming an unpleasant nag-fest every night:  "Sam, stop banging your fork. Sam, don't spit your food in your milk.  Sam, don't pour your milk on your plate. Sam, stop interrupting."  Seriously, this would be the entire conversation every night and I realized that it was my most dreaded time of day instead of the idyllic family time that I had always envisioned.

So I wrote up The Dinnertime Rules on a whiteboard:

We started with the first five and added the rest as they became problems (the last one is mostly a joke – we do all of this with some humor – but yes, she was biting the table).  We explained that, in order to enjoy our meals together, we all needed to follow some rules (and yes, Adam and I ask to be excused if we leave the table before the others).  Sam understands this and she loves the rules.  In this case, clear structure and guidelines were necessary to break her old habits.  I mean, she did all of these things when she was younger and it was developmentally appropriate.  It was really hard for her to understand that she couldn’t keep spreading mashed potatoes in her hair forever. We had to send Sam to her room quite a few times in the beginning, but now we mostly just have to remind her.  Come to think of it, it’s probably time to get rid of these rules.  A whiteboard is a parent's best friend!

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Nepotism

Adam was interviewed for the Wall Street Journal's blog, Digits, about how his work relates to the current lawsuits over smartphone technology.  Pretty much the whole article is about Adam and his work and he is quoted extensively.  Cool!

What Smartphone Makers Can Learn From the Sewing Machine Patent War