Friday, November 30, 2007

Ten months, busy thoughts

Today is ten months. One day this month, tomorrow is already December. It seems less like a monthaversary this month. Maybe because there is only one day to mark the death day and the birth day, and so it is all garbled together. It is certainly not oppressively hard like nine months was. I know better than to declare some corner or other turned, as tempting as it would be after last month. I've had good stretches before, I've had monthaversaries that didn't feel heavy, and neither was ever permanent. I learned my lesson-- this is fluid and unpredictable.

I've been anticipating the ten months, thinking about it on and off through the week, wondering how I would feel when it got here. In the end it was a busy day, too busy to really sit with my feelings, and maybe that is why it was easier. It occurred to me today, and feel free to call me dense for only figuring it out now, that next month is going to be hard. New Year's Eve and eleven months. The worst eleven months and one day of my life. Will I be able to enjoy the festivities? To be happy that this most cruel year is over and gone? Or will the ghosts of the last New Year party, in the same house, with almost the same cast of characters, chase me down the twisty passages of memory? We shall see, I guess. We shall see.

The day was busy because Fridays are short days at school, and today I was picking Monkey up together with a classmate, and taking them to our house for a playdate that was to culminate with the other girl's family coming over for Shabbat. As I still hadn't caught up on housework from being gone over the weekend and land sick upon our return, I left for work latish today, and used that morning time to rectify the domestic situation some. Which still left me with the need to stop by a store on the way to the school and then cook once we got home. In the end all of it got done, even if a little slower than I meant it to be. The girls had a great time, including many changes of costume and not a single fight, the meal came out very well, and the company was more than pleasant.

I even had a moment of perspective today. Driving to the school, with a store stopover, I was listening to the local radio program about the shortage of fuel assistance money this winter. With the prices high and budget allocations less than in the 1980s, bad, bad shit is going down. People trying to find extra jobs, second, third jobs, and time in their weeks to work those jobs. Seniors eating every other day to save enough money to pay the bill. They called it heat or eat dilemma. Children showing up in ER with burns from their families trying to keep them warm with light bulbs, heaters, anything. The doctor they had on said she saw one former preemie stop breathing. Can you even imagine that? After weeks or maybe months in NICU to have your child endangered in and by your own home?

And even when less extreme, when not life and death, it still has consequences. Babies and children who don't get enough warmth and nutrition in the cold months are not developing properly, not learning, not playing, limiting their life potential. Limiting children's life potential by cuts in federal heating assistance programs. Yes, I had a moment of personal perspective, most certainly. After all, my biggest immediate problem was what to cook for dinner so that everyone will enjoy it and it wouldn't be too much work to get done.

But then, and this is where I alienate any Republican readers I might have, then I got upset. I got upset that despite promises during the pre-election campaign to increase funding for the fuel assistance program, current administration cut it and is trying to cut it again. I got upset that while no CEO will ever be left behind by this administration, not one but two winters will have to pass before there is any hope for people who are so desperate that they attempt to keep their kids warm with light bulbs. Because let's face it, January 20th, 2009 will still be half way through the next winter, and it's not like this issue will be the first sent for signature to our next president.

This issue is not one that lands itself to individual action. A tank of oil is costing over $700 now, and with thousands of working families and seniors struggling, this is a disaster and it needs a government solution. The government that is currently run by people who don't believe in government as an agent of positive change. It's not a self-fulfilling prophesy, it's a farce. And this is the same party where a former minister running now for its nomination responds to one of those what would Jesus do questions with "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That's what Jesus would do." That hypocrisy, of dispatching with ideals they claim to stand for when practicalities of the office weigh on them, while acting like piousness is the proper measure of a person's character, is still making my head hurt.

You know, way off in the future I want Monkey to go to a good college. But I want her to get there because she works hard, not because a large chunk of kids in her cohort got their development curtailed by a cold winter years and years ago.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

All hail the waterproof camera

I have been working on my vacation pictures, hoping for a single photo essay. Turns out it is taking a while, and so I thought I would share a couple of my weird shots with you. All taken on or under the surface of the ocean.


I never got around to visiting an ophthalmologist to get a new batch of contacts before we left for the trip. And, admittedly, water acts a bit like a lens, but certainly not well enough for me to deliberately stage a shot like this. In fact, I didn't find it until I started looking at my haul. I must've pressed the button accidentally. Or was it JD? Either way this is found art, I guess. Or maybe accidental art. Yes, I like this designation.


With this one, I certainly meant to take a picture of the composition. What happened next, with the flash, reflection, and optics I have no idea. But I kinda like the result.

More pictures, including, maybe, me on the wall later on this weekend.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Half Birthday

I realized some time during the day that today is JD's half birthday. Which means I know exactly where we were and what we were doing six months ago. We were having a little birthday celebration in our rented apartment with his two classmates who still reside in the Old City and their families. The food was good, although nothing fancy. The company, though, was outstanding. Unfortunately, the food portion of the event is significantly easier to replicate than the people one. The latter is impossible, actually. What with the visas and the time difference and the extremely short notice.

But hey, any excuse is a good excuse for a little party, so Monkey and I stopped by a store after school and got everything we needed for a close approximation of that birthday meal. I called the three friends who live nearby and have live-in nannies to see whether they would want to come over. Only one couple could make it. But we had tea, and fruity drinks (just back from the ship anyone?), and cake. I even managed to clean up the kitchen and surrounding areas and obliterate most of the evidence of the I don't have it in me after returning from the cruise and being land sick neglect before they showed up. I am not at all tipsy from the fruity drinks, but I am sleepy. Very sleepy. So vacation pictures will have to wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On grieving and abiding

Tertia started this thing a couple of days ago where she asked a number of bloggers who have experienced loss of some kind to talk about grieving and how to approach a grieving friend. Go read them all, I can wait.

At first I didn't think I could have anything to add. I mean every one of the guests of honor has pointed out exactly why the stupid platitudes are stupid. So why keep wasting electrons? And yet, I felt like there was something in the air, something that the loss bloggers understood instinctively, but did not articulate. Because it is so a part of who we are now, this understanding. In matters of education, concepts that are routinely not articulated because they are so much a part of the foundational understanding of the field that experts often forget that it is possible to not know or understand these concepts are said to fall into an expert blind spot. I guess I am presumptuous enough to think I can illuminate our expert (a dubious flipping distinction if I ever saw one) blind spot. So here goes.

We hear time and again that people say stupid shit because they don't know what to say. That they say stupid shit because they want to help, because they feel badly for us. Um, yes, maybe, sort of. It is my contention that stupid shit is generally about making the situation seem less sucky than it is ("at least you are young-- you can always have another" anyone? Yes, because my children are much like trading cards, and I can surely live without the damaged one). Or making it seem like it had to be this way ("it's all G-d's plan." That G-d of yours is rather a sadist, don't you think?), or that it is better that it is this way. Many other lovely sentiments have been covered by the original group of bloggers in Tertia's circle, so I will leave the recitation alone. I will sum it up by saying that I believe that people say stupid shit to make themselves, and not the grieving person, feel better. About the unfairness of the universe. About this being OK. They want it to be ok. Or they want to "fix it."

But here's the deal, here's the thing that we don't articulate enough because we know it too well. Ready? OK. Grief is what happens when nothing can be fixed. We grieve because it can no longer be fixed. Dead babies, dead husbands, dead parents, dead friends, they don't come back. And even if you have another baby, marry again, or end up with a supportive step-parent or a new close and dear friend, they, each of them, is a different person. Not the one you lost. Not a replacement. Parents of special needs children can't have back what they lost either. They build a new life, learn to set different milestones for achievement, but they can't have their ideal normal back. None of us can. This is why we grieve, because it can't be fixed. It's the forever of it that is so daunting.

So what's a friend to do? Abide with us. (I heard that word before, read it most likely, somewhere in the IF blogosphere. And then Julia Uncommon signed her email to me that way, "abiding with you," and it just summed up all the kind things she said before, helpful, thoughtful things, explained why it was easy to hear her, why it was such a relief to have someone say these things to me.) Just be with us. Don't try to fix it. Don't tell us it is not as bad as it could be. Don't tell us it's ok. It's not. This is why we grieve. And yes, I know it's hard to see us suffer. And you want to do something. Well then, Snickollet has a lovely list. The genius of it is that it doesn't minimize the forever, it is not trying to fix the thing that will never be fixed. It simply is something you can do to help your friend walk this shitty grief road (that happens to run right along the life road-- this is why this practical stuff is so great).

I've talked about this stuff before, about how we don't get into each other's faces about what or how to feel, about how we abide. So if your friends are grieving, abide with them. It's the least, and the most, you can do.

Monday, November 26, 2007

To complete the picture

After we missed the baggage check-in time for our flight by 4 minutes, got bumped to the next flight, found food and coffee, JD noticed a video arcade and suggested to Monkey that they partake of the pleasures of adrenalin for quarters. Monkey, the same girl who only three days before demonstrated such care about proper nutrition for her baby doll, entrusted the same doll to my care with the following words of wisdom.

We are leaving the doll. She will only get in my way. Because holding the doll and shooting is sort of inconvenient.

Vacation pictures coming soon.

P.S. Tried again to get the feeds on the blogs already on my roll, and for most it worked. Seems the reader was being temperamental when I was setting the thing up last week. Will try to add all the other feeds I mean to include sometime this week. There is also that small matter of actually working that I have to pay some heed to.

The short of it

We are home now. This is my entry from yesterday, Sunday, November 25th. Today's entry coming soon.

I made it up the climbing wall on the side other than the one I tried yesterday. Which likely means that it was in fact a geometry issue that foiled me up the first time, and not my own ineptitude. Woo-hoo.

I couldn’t, however, climb the waterpark wall that requires one to haul self out of water onto the holds in the inflatable climbing islands. Ways to go. And a worthy goal for, oh, the next five years or so.

Can’t stop thinking about whether B’s baby has been born. Less than 12 hours now until I can find out. Today's note-- apparently, not yet. Waiting with baited breath, still. Good luck, B and J.

The Wall and the Ocean

This is my entry for Saturday, November 24th. Copied and pasted, at the airport. The connection is uncertain, and we need to head for security. More later, from home.

I braid the top part of my hair. I washed it only yesterday, and this will surely ruin it. But that’s alright, we will be snorkeling later, and I always need to wash it after it’s been in the ocean. I don’t actually think about snorkeling right now. This is a reconstruction, I don’t yet know this is what I will be writing about, and I put it in after. I have a choice of telling you or not, since this is my reconstruction. I decide to tell.
       I braid the hair so the helmet can fit better, easier, more precisely. Precisely and precipice, are these two words related? I think they are. But not then—this too is a reconstruction.

The brochure they put in our room last night said tonight there will be a formal dinner. Coat and tie for gentlemen, cocktail dresses for the ladies. I didn’t bring a cocktail dress. I don’t know that I own one I still fit into. I brought my aunt’s to the first cruise we took, but I have since returned it. As is, I know that the hair will be enough trouble, getting it washed along with everything else we will have to do this afternoon to make it to our dinner time without missing out on the off-ship part of the program will be tight. So they should just lay off with the dress. What are they going to do, I think, not let me into the dinner? I take weird, illicit pleasure in smarting for this fight. Even as I know it will never happen. I could show up in a t-shirt and shorts, and they would probably still let me in, with a disapproving look undoubtedly. Nevertheless I keep imagining how easy it would be to shock their lights out. I don’t have one that fits anymore, I would say. You see, my metabolism has really gone to shit ever since my baby son died. I don’t want to spend the money on a new one. The dress, not the son.
       It really does bother me. They could’ve said “formal attire preferred” or somesuch, something that provides for some freedom, even if the freedom is of a restricted variety. This is our vacation after all, and it is good to have choices. This cocktail dress thing, it’s like a uniform, like there will be some celebrity judge or other at the entrance to the dining room deciding your fate. This is a fetching number. Please, come in, and may I recommend the duck? You, on the other hand. What are you thinking showing up in pants? I do not care that they are petite, and thus fit, or new, or even fancy. I do not see a cocktail dress, but I do know for a fact there is a buffet on the upper deck. Enjoy.
        Relishing this imaginary opportunity to bring them down to size is childish, even ludicrous, unworthy of the story I would tell them. But still, here it is.

I already have my shoes on. Surprisingly, the first pair she offered me fit. They are funny shoes. There is an opening in the material on the top, right where the laces start their ridiculously long march up the foot. There are so many holes, rows of holes for the laces to thread through, absurdly many, many more than on regular sneakers. Maybe figure skates have that many, but it’s been years since I laced up my own and many months since I laced hers. I don’t remember.
       The helmet goes on, and is adjusted, then this black contraption over my middle, then it is clicked in place, twice, and I wait. My head is feeling a lot more substantial with the helmet on. My field of vision is only a little restricted, I will need to be able to see straight, right, left, as far as an arm’s reach. The rest is not as important. I wait. There is a girl of 14, maybe 15 in front of me. Her brother is taking pictures and egging her on. When she lets go and gives up, he makes fun, relentlessly. It’s my turn now.
       Use mostly your legs the man says. Most people overuse their arms, and then they get tired too fast. OK. At first it’s easy. The first several steps are close enough together that I take them in seconds. Then it gets harder. The holds get funky, hard to grab with your hand. And if the grip is uneasy, it’s hard to push off the next step, it’s uncertain. But I grab the next one. Then another one. Hey, I am doing pretty well. Oh, wait. Now what? I need to put my foot where my hand is, and there is no good place to put the hand. Well, there is, if I was about a foot taller, but I don’t have the reach. I try the red stone to the left, even though the yellow ones I have been using are supposed to be all I need, but even the red one is no use. JD is taking pictures. I am sure they will not be kind, they will, instead, show just how much extra weight there is on me. I don’t feel bad about it, or not too bad in any case. The body has its purpose now, the hope for it, trying to mess with it, to ask it to also loose the weight seems greedy. These are reduced circumstances, and one makes do.
       I look around some more, but I can feel my fingers slipping their hold. I let go and grab the rope, just like he told me before. I can’t reach I say, bring me down. He lowers me, gently enough, no need to repel. I made it about two thirds of the way up the climbing wall. Pretty good. Tomorrow, I think, tomorrow I will try the other yellow track, the ones kids are climbing. I should be able to reach there.
       I am surprised to find my arms are jittery, and my hands. It didn’t feel like they were doing too much work up there, but I guess that was deceiving. I had to hold on, tight, so there was tension, and this is that tension, released. I return the shoes, with my still trembling hands. The woman who gave me the shoes said kids have to be six to try this. She is five, and so I did not write her into the form for who else my consent covers. I know she wants to try, badly. I don’t see them checking anything, no computer, no magic link to the central brain that knows all there is to know about us.

On our first cruise, with another company, there was a strict rule about the age cut-offs for the camp. Five, and you are stuck with three year olds. Six, and you are with the big kids. There was no way to jump the group. None. For this cruise, then, JD tried to age her a bit, add on about six months. But he had to give the passport numbers, the real ones. They checked the DOB there, and when we showed, she was listed as five. We told her she might have to go to camp with little kids, and she said ok. But then we showed up for the sign-up, and they said it was ok, she could jump to the older kids group, and as long as she did well there, she could stay. That is where she is right now, at camp, in the bigger kids group.

We pick her up for lunch. She is excited about all of it. The morning at camp, desert with lunch, snorkeling that is next on the agenda, and the pirate parade with camp tonight. We tell her about the wall, about how we will try to sneak her in tomorrow, but it may not work. We talk about the rules. Some are bad rules, they make no sense. And then it’s ok to break them. But kids can’t decide by themselves which rules are bad. If you don’t like a rule and you think it can be broken, come talk to the parents, and we will decide together. It can’t be that you just want to do something that the rule doesn’t permit you to do. You have to explain why this rule is not making sense. No cheating.
       We are off. Off the ship, to wait on the pier for everyone else, who is apparently not as paranoid about the tour leaving without them. Lucky I brought my book. Not lucky, predictable. I bought it at the airport and carry it with me everywhere to read every chance I get. Which I don’t have that many, as it turns out. Or maybe I am just not a very fast reader. I can read faster, but then I skip things. I am reading this one carefully, savoring, hanging on every word. I even go back to check something once.
       The first part of snorkeling goes well, very well. She finally figures out how to work it all, and is excited to see all the fish. She tells me so with the snorkel still in her mouth, so it comes out muffled, but I still get it. She gets cold, and needs to go up for a rest. When I go to get her again, we forget her inflatable west, and that messes us up, she tries to breathe with her nose, gets scarred, wants out. JD takes her on the boat. There is only ten minutes left, so they stay, and I get the camera and go chase the fish.
       I love the colors of the tropical fish. Corals too, their shapes, their colors. As I chase an angel fish, paparazzi style, I catch another one in my lens, a light purple one. Wow, but it’s pretty. And then it occurs to me that things under water are not actually the color we perceive them to be. This here is the original case of who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes? There is a conversion table, and you should be able to figure it out from physics. But I don’t remember the table and I don’t remember enough optics to figure it out. Will have to ask JD to see if he does.
       Back on the boat, I dry myself off, pack up, peel an orange. And then I see them, out on the deck, playing the Old Country version of pat-a-cake. I sneak onto the opposite side of the deck and shoot some pictures. I have no place in that moment. It is sweet, and it is for the two of them. I know, too, the futility of trying to capture it on film, or in zeroes and ones, as the case may be. But I try anyway. This is my family, happy. I need as much of that as I can get these days. So even an image, a reflection, a shadow will have to do. Something to hold on to, for later.

Deducing the title of the book I have been reading is left as an exercise to the reader. Any takers?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Before I go

About to leave the hotel room and the internets with it. Before I do that, I wanted to ask you all what do you figure it says about Monkey's upbringing that at one point at breakfast this morning she declared her baby dolly hungry, then promptly pulled down the top of her dress and stuck the dolly's face to her nipple? And then sat, holding the dolly in place with one hand, operating the fork with the other, and chatting non-stop for the next several minutes? What?

Updated: It's not the nursing that was noteworthy-- I've seen that many a time. It was the apparently nonchalant "nursing in public" complete with impressive multitasking that was cracking me up.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Good Housekeeping

We are in a hotel tonight. Getting on a cruise ship tomorrow afternoon, for a quick three day jaunt. Because of this, Thanksgiving was a lunch affair, potluck with my sister, involving a limited number of dishes, since, you know, we had to leave for the airport. We did well, by which I mean that the food was good, we stuffed ourselves as I believe is required by both state and federal law, and yet, except for the bird, there weren't that many leftovers. What was left is my sister's problem, since we, as I believe I mentioned, left.

Also, if you would like to take a plane trip, and have no preference as far as the date of said trip is concerned, may I suggest the fourth Thursday in November? This, this is what travel should be. The airport was a breathe, so much so that I got a 15 minute chair massage at Brookstone that I didn't have to wait for and nobody except Monkey bugged me while I was enjoying it. Monkey, excited as she was by the prospect of the next four! days! of! fun!, thought it was unfair that I got to sit in the chair and is it her turn yet? Although in fairness she was really good for most of the day today while we packed and cooked and did some last minute things.


So I did pretty well with this unofficial NaBloPoMo deal. I was too chicken to sign up, but up until today did in fact post every day, even if some days I had valiantly fight sleep to accomplish this important goal. The next three days I can't be sure of my connections to the civilized world (read: internets), so I can't be sure I will get to keep up with this. Here's my solution-- since I am not officially signed up, I get to bend the rules. My newly bent rules, then, allow me to write the posts for the next three days off line and to post the whole bunch when I get back. Whatdayathink?


JD's repeat test was Monday, and we got the results yesterday. They are somewhat improved, although not enough to avoid serious interventions. Some of this might be random fluctuation, and some may be the supplements he started taking after I spent some hours in heart-to-heart conversations with my dear friend PubMed. Hope, that bitch, showed up the moment I started reading the report, and she is still hanging around, whispering all about how we might just get away with IVF only, sans ICSI. We'll see. He has to go give the lab vampires some blood after we get back, and he has an appointment with the urologist after, and then I get my ultrasound and we both see the RE. I am going to try to not think about any of this on the cruise. Although I am not really expecting to succeed with this.


And finally, I started updating my blog roll and setting up my google reader last night. Got a good way through, but am not nearly finished. I was bummed, though, by the number of blogs I can't get a feed for. On my blog roll I marked them with a *. I certainly understand if you did that on purpose-- there are certainly enough reasons to. And I promise I will still click through. But um... if it wasn't intentional, would you mind setting your feed free? Pretty please?

Oh, and if you don't see your blog on the roll, it is probably because I am not done updating it yet. But feel free to leave a comment to tell me you can't believe yours wasn't the first blog I added on. I can't believe it either. I was actually planning on staying up to add a bunch more tonight, but I am falling asleep, and I think that at this point it would be wise to give in. So the rest of the updates will have to wait till next week. In the meantime I am going to read for a couple of pages and kill the lights.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blog book tour: The Daring Book for Girls

My very first official review. With a reviewer copy of the book and everything. Woo-hoo! And the fact that I was one of about one hundred did not dampen my spirits one bit.

First, I have to admit to having had great big hopes for The Daring Book for Girls. And not just because it was promoted as "our" answer to the much praised and much criticized The Dangerous Book for Boys (criticized for, you know, the "for boys" part). I mean how could you not anticipate a book that pairs "daring" with "girls"? Written by Mother Talk's Andi Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz it promised to be a nice ride.

And mostly, it is. A book that tells girls to use power tools to build a flower press and a scooter, teaches them to tie proper knots, tells them to try something 200 times (assuring them that they will get it by then), and doesn't just instruct them on how to make a paper construction that flies but also explains what makes one of those fly will always have a soft spot in my heart. I also appreciated the many cultural mainstays that I do not have in my repertoire in their English-language versions on account of not growing up in this country-- jump rope and hand clap rhymes, for example, and slumber party games (although what is up with an independent chapter on palmistry, especially one so prominently placed at the beginning of the book, on page 8, I will never know). Add to that cartwheels and back walkovers, and you have my daughter's undivided attention too. She can do those things owning to her gymnastics training, but seeing the instructions, complete with diagrams, right there on the page made her think it is a very cool book.

Speaking of said daughter. When the book first arrived, she wanted to know what it was, so I read the title to her. Her reaction? "Why is it only for girls? Boys may like things in there too." Yes, kiddo, yes they would. It appears my constant assault on gender stereotypes is working (insert evil laugh and creepy hand rubbing here).

All of that said, however, this book was put together, from concept to sale, in a matter of months, and, unfortunately, it shows. While some chapters are written in flowing prose replete with witty turns of phrase, others are choppy and awkward. They feel like they missed their appointment with an editor. In some places fact checkers dropped the ball. I mean, seriously, sulfur is so not a component of DNA, let alone a main component. Phosphorus is not a main component either, but at least it is a key component.

The educator in me is cringes at slights of hand, even for brevity. Those math tricks, for example, are for sure useful, but I would've appreciated that section a lot more if it included explanations of why they work or, at least, a challenge to the readers to figure it out.

In a somewhat related thought, I much appreciated the chapters on the queens of the ancient world, but was greatly disappointed by the coverage of the women scientists, engineers, doctors, etc. Aside from the highly US-centered nature of that coverage (and some other--although definitely not all-- aspects of the book) the tiny little paragraphs devoted to individual women in this category were woefully inadequate. Their accomplishments are only that much more remarkable for the obstacles they overcame, and there is not much room for the obstacles in the tiny paragraphs. I realize that space is a consideration in a book like this. Perhaps a companion volume then? The Book of Daring Girls has a nice ring to it. Or is it women?

Finally, I can't tell you how much I appreciated (read: loved) the entirely unsubtle and repeated mocking of the Disney pink princess image. Very well done. But, and I realize this might be taken as a nitpick, except I don't believe that it is given the subject matter being discussed, I did not at all appreciate sweeping uncomfortable subjects under the rug. Such as saying, in the section on real princesses, that Sheikha Maitha bint Muhammed al-Maktum was born, in 1980, to Sheik Muhammed bin Rashid Al Maktum. That's right, just to the sheik. Impressive, I thought-- the first man to self-fertilize and to carry a pregnancy to term. However, a quick google search told me that Maitha does have a mother, the second wife to the sheik, although nobody seems to know what her name is. A fact, I believe, worth acknowledging, as long as we are talking about royal life. Similarly, the authors used a different form of royal salutation to draw attention away from the fact that the princess featured right above Maitha, princess Haya of Jordan, became the third wife of Maitha's father. And the rug-sweeping is not limited to the Middle Eastern affairs-- other tough subjects are handled with a similar slight of hand.

So would I recommend the book for a girl in your life? I think so, but with guidance. Lots more guidance than I was hoping would be needed with a book like that. Still, I have high hopes for the second edition-- there will be more time, and unhurried care can be taken to address these many issues.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Oh gloomy season! Of the eyes enchantment!
Your beauty pleases me as farewell it bids.
(A.S. Pushkin)

It occurred to me a while ago as I was commenting on someone's blog that this could be the reason I like fall-- you can see the passage of time in the changes of the leaves, their fall, and eventual (if we are lucky) arrival of frost.

Spring, too, visibly marks the passage of time, but it is not exactly my cup of tea. Too cheerful perhaps? Don't get me wrong-- early spring, when the change is in the air, new hope, new leaves, I plug in and pay attention. I look forward to... To what, exactly? To sandals, ice cream outside, end of another academic year-- promises of things still months away. But as the greenery comes in, lush and loud, spring becomes almost too obnoxious for me, too sure of itself. In the Old Country there also were blooming chestnut trees to look forward to, and lilacs, both marking, perfectly on cue, the end of school year.

Nowadays, summer brings the sense of relief that, with exams written and graded, the calendar of academia has again released me to the wilds of unscheduled weeks, and I am freeeeeeeeee. It never lasts, the giddy sensation. In its place-- disorienting sameness of the bright summer days. Only the evenings, by the very act of their differentiated arrival times, give clues. But by then it's too late. In the Old Country we had seasonal fruit. Berries, too. June meant going to the woods to pick wild strawberries. I suppose I just betrayed my essential city-ness, my complete lack of green thumb, or even green eye, so to speak. I am sure to a gardener summer marks the passage of time no less clearly than if a solar-powered atomic clock was installed in a place of honor among the greenery, surrounded perhaps by one of those multi-toned grass designs. To me, however, summer is a static season.

I like winter, despite it being the ultimate static season, because it usually brings snow and skiing. And a multitude of excuses for getting together with friends. And snow. Did I mention I like snow? I am sure the fact that I very rarely get cold, but do easily get hot has something to do with this. And yes, that's another knock for the summer.

The fall then. The season when even the most inept nature watcher can follow the passage of time. The leaves-- the color, the fraction still attached. Air temperature, although the wild fluctuations have made this indicator a bit unreliable as of late. But they brought, earlier in the season, these crisp sunny days, my ideal fall days. This fall in particular has been especially bright around these parts. On my way to Monkey's school there is a little side street that still looks almost entirely yellowish-orange, and it makes me smile every time I drive by.

But this fall has been difficult, a downer. That it should it be this way, surrounded by so much beauty, is a little ironic. I imagine, I know in fact, that there are people who took this fall's brilliance as one more good thing about their great big good fortune in recent months. And I know there isn't much I can talk to these happy people about.

A loss, a child's death, it changes things. I knew it even that first night. Intellectually,I knew it then. I knew it enough to usually not fight the emotions when they came, sometimes extremely predictable and other times strange, triggered by the usual suspects and by the weirdest things. But I can still be surprised. This fall has been tough for reasons I couldn't quite place. Until looking at the first tiny, prickly snowflakes yesterday reminded me that time passes only for the living. And that there isn't a part of me that can't be touched by this thing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Recipe post

I am such a copycat. If you like garlic and cheese, though, I am your kind of copycat.

The Garlic Thing

1lb mozzarella or similar cheese
9 hardboiled eggs
[ Note: if you are comfortable with the metric system, it's 2 eggs per 100g of cheese. Just in case you ever wanted to make less than is needed to feed an army, I mean.]
garlic to taste (might need up to a bulb)
mayo to taste

Grate mozzarella and eggs on the smaller, but no the smallest side of a grater. You can also use a food processor set to a setting that would allow you to get similar results. Although to tell the truth, I sometimes go for the ease and convenience, and grate into bigger bits.

Use garlic press to crush garlic and add it to the cheese and eggs. (I use about a bulb of garlic for a pound of cheese, but I like my garlic to come through. And through, and through.) Mix.

Add mayo to taste. I like the whole thing to become smooth and just short of creamy.

Let sit in a fridge, covered, for a couple of hours or overnight to allow the flavor to permeate.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


There's a whole lot of leftovers. And a distinct feeling that the visit was way too short.

There are pleasures in life you don't realize you've been missing until you experience them again. It's been years since I've heard two guitars play together, amplifying, shading, enriching each other's sound, adding at once depth and intimacy. Next time we might be able to make it three. For many-many reasons, next time really can't come soon enough.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What's for dinner?

I was driving today, wondering, just a little, whether what I am planning to cook for tomorrow's dinner in honor of the nice out-of-towners really is too much, when Ira Glass came on the radio to start this week's This American Life. Actually, it was a pre-recorded program, about seven years old, but that minor detail didn't stop Ira from answering my question.

Certain days have symbolic meaning, whether we want them to or not. That's why it's important, I think, to overcompensate, to go big, throw a huge party, surround yourself with people, make a lot of noise.

Point taken, Mr.Glass. And thank you.

So currently, in various stages of done, I have
-National soup of the Old Country;
-Two trademark salads of the Old Country;
-Two trademark deserts of the Old Country; and
-Two of my favorite appetizers, also originating from the Old Country.

Still remaining to start and finish are two salads, one appetizer, two main courses, and two side dishes, one of them involving several pounds of mushrooms.

Why yes, I am showing off. Why do you ask?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Math is hard

My day so far:

Feeling reasonably rested when the alarm goes off: a plus.

Grabbing the absolute last 10hr parking spot (unlike on Tuesday, when I could only get a 2hr one, eventually resulting in an expensive garage re-park): a definite plus.

Underestimating the time it will take me to get out of the house and again the time it takes to walk to the gym from the parking meters, resulting in me being 22 minutes late for a 30 minute personal trainer appointment: a definite minus.

Getting to spend 25 minutes with the trainer anyway: a plus.

Deciding to stay for a 15 minute Abs class that I knew I would feel for a while about 3 minutes into it: ?????.

Realizing I forgot to reload my traveling pill case with my PCOS meds right before walking into Starbucks: a serious minus with a side of a major bummer.

Buying the muffin anyway, as none of the choices were any better: a minus.

Getting my TB challenge test read and cleared: a plus.

That, plus my old immunization records which I was able to get from my alma mater yesterday finally getting my new employee ID: a definite plus.

Scoring a free flu shot along with that: a plus.

Narrowly escaping getting a booster after which they recommend not getting pregnant for 3 months: a serious whew.

Showing restraint in response to the nurse suggesting that I get the shot and just postpone conception until after 3 months: a heroic act.

Needing to walk back to the car to get the registration: a major windy minus.

Getting the parking stickers for both of our cars for the employee lot a couple of miles from my house and on the way to the school with an every 15 min shuttle service: a major plus.

So where do you figure does that put me for the day? Personally, I think it might depend on how much that Abs class stays with me.

Bonus material from yesterday, unblogged due to the severe sleepiness mentioned below.

Life lesson #7337:

If you work in a research building attached to the main hallway of a major hospital with a large and busy OB practice, you might consider bringing your lunch. Because if you don't, you might decide that it would be a good idea to get your lunch in the cafeteria that is located at one end of that main hallway. Predictably, then, on your way there and back you might encounter a few many pregnant women. If you are extra lucky, you might even see one in labor, dressed in hospital-issue gowns and socks and everything, walking the hallway. And for a special treat you might catch a glimpse of a few families leaving the hospital with their living babies. Bring your lunch is all I am saying.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Resistance is futile

I am falling asleep on the couch. And there is no-one here to tell me to go upstairs already and go to bed. JD is on a business trip and Monkey went along because friends live near where JD's business thing is, so she gets to play hooky from school to hang out with them. I really should take advantage of the nice bed all to myself, but this damned thing of posting every day even though I didn't officially sign up is keeping me here.

Very nice people from out of town are coming in tomorrow night, so I will be busy this weekend, but good busy. I took this picture last time I saw them.

Can you guess what it is?

P.S. I did get to the gym on Tuesday, and started my two free weeks. Going to try to get there again in the morning-- there is supposed to be a trainer there I can meet with to design a program. Woo-hoo.
And now off to bed. Waking up on the couch in the morning would be embarrasing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Home rules

We speak the Old Country language at home. We speak it everywhere, actually, as long as nobody else is inconvenienced by it. Monkey's English is getting better by the day, and we now have to talk about how each language has its proper sentence structure and idioms, and that to really speak a language it isn't enough to use the words, you have to have those other things right too. We have to talk about that mostly to squelch the word-for-word translated English expressions from sneaking into conversation, mind you. However, unlike many other kids we know, Monkey isn't putting up much of a fight about speaking the Old Country language, at least not for now. I am frequently happy about that, for a variety of reasons.

Today it was because when we got out of the car and Monkey said very loudly "Hey, that man over there is smoking. He is going to die soon," she did it in the Old Country language.

In the interest of disclosing just how fully I have been assimilated by the Borg blogs, I will admit to my first thought being something along the lines of "Baby Blue would be proud." My second thought was that, thankfully, her brother's death doesn't seem to have screwed Monkey up completely, seeing as she was remarkably unperturbed by the idea of the smoking man kicking the bucket. In many ways, she is still your typical five year old. Whew.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In the company of men

I have been thinking about my RE's nurse, the one who I apparently upset by getting upset. One of the things Dr.YoungGun said when he called, that I noted but let go at the moment because I clearly had bigger fish to fry right then was something to the effect of "well, you are upset, and now she is upset, and you have to understand that might impact your care." Again, not vouching for this being a direct quote, but this was definitely the meaning I took from it-- that she may choose to treat me differently, worse, not to put too fine a point on it, that, perhaps, I might find my phone call returned late, or that the next time I am in, the exam table might just end up covered with fine sandpaper, and that he would find those things understandable. I noted at the time that it was a weird thing for him to say, to almost announce that they are putting in a separate entrance for the troublemakers, and that I should be a dear and use it from now on.

I emailed the nurse today to say I was sorry I upset her. Not because I am afraid of sandpaper, mind you, but because I figured everyone is entitled to have a bad day. And, if I am completely honest, because we are coming up on the weeks when we get various fun and exciting tests done again, and I would like the results of those before the 22nd century, thank you.

It is funny to me, though, that Dr.YoungGun even mentioned it, that he apparently considers it ok and inescapable that one's feelings for a patient might impact how that patient is treated. It seems to me you would at least try to be fair, to put your personal feelings aside because, dude, these are people you are dealing with here. A couple of years ago I had a student who I was sure cheated on an exam. I couldn't do anything about it because I didn't have any proof. Worst of all? The student wanted additional help. Came to my office hours, and even emailed to ask me to set up more meetings. I remember thinking that I would crack and go postal on the student. I remember my colleague and mentor telling me that there was nothing I could do-- when the student shows up for extra help, you treat that student like any other. Wasn't sure I could pull it off. But I did. The student, btw, cheated again on a later exam, and that time we caught her.

So show me your scars-- do you have to deal with unpleasant people? Do you think that what you think of them affects how you treat them?

Monday, November 12, 2007

A long and boring day

First day of work today. Taken up entirely by the new employee orientation. Beh. Boriiiiiiiiiing. And for all the talk, I still don't have my new email address or internet access at my new digs, so I couldn't even read blogs while they were yapping. Should be fixed tomorrow. But I did set a new record for brickbr@aker on my mobile phone, a couple of times, and found out we have a very good fitness benefit. I will try to go in the morning and see whether I can make gym time work with my crazy-ass work schedule. The commute this morning was a dream, as was finding parking at a 10hr meter. Not sure whether either of those things will hold true tomorrow, seeing as today was a day off for some of my fellow commuters.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My, but this shit is insidious

Recently I got into it with a commenter on a grieving mother's blog*. The commenter was of the opinion that in order to get pregnant again quickly (the expressed wish of the bereaved mother), the mother should be full of light and happily awaiting the arrival of that next baby, since, see if you can follow this without your head exploding, there is a belief that a baby selects his/her parents, i.e. the baby's soul looks for and finds his/her future mother and father, and she (the commenter) would not choose to go to a sad mother. Still here? But want to smash something? Go ahead, I'll wait. Feel better now? Ok, moving on.

Not wanting to jump down somebody's throat in another person's house, I at first inquired politely as to whether she really said what it appeared she said. I got an unabashed confirmation that yes, while the mother can be sad for herself and the dead baby (and isn't that a generous allowance? don't we all feel better knowing we are permitted that much?), she should be full of light, etc. for the baby to come. So because I didn't think that calling the commenter an ignorant twerp from the la-la land was going to be particularly productive, I then proceeded to explain, in a very respectful tone, that (a) telling people how to grieve was wrong; (b) you can't split yourself in half; (c) if there exists a bereaved mother who was able to pull off the subsequent pregnancy without anxiety and complicated feelings about carrying her next child while she should be raising her dead one, I don't know a one among the many I do know; and (d) such advice does nothing but set up the grieving mother for self-blame if by chance her next pregnancy is not swiftly forthcoming.

The response I got back was, impressively, both patronizing and insulting. Not bad for two lines and one smiley face. I am currently undecided as to what to do next. A wise friend is advising me to let it go, to let that response stick out there like a sore thumb. However, walking away from a fight is not exactly my strong suit (what, you couldn't tell?), so I am still thinking.

What got me upset enough to write this, though, is a somewhat unrelated thought. We all know about the stupid things people say that, when inverted as logic dictates, place blame for things going badly squarely on our shoulders. Oh, you should think good thoughts. Oh, you should stay positive. Oh, don't let it get to you. Oh, you so deserve this one. Oh, you should be full of light and happily awaiting the arrival of the new baby. Right.

The thing about the comment that started this spat, though, the one about the babies choosing their own parents, is that it places the blame on the babies. See, if you believe this you don't have to feel bad about crack babies-- they chose their own drug-addicted mothers. You don't have to feel bad about the children who are abused-- they chose their own abusive parents. You don't have to feel bad about babies who contract HIV at birth-- they chose their own HIV-positive mother. You don't have to feel bad about children without health insurance-- they chose their own poor parents. And if you don't have to feel bad about it, you don't have to do anything about it either. Insidious shit, isn't it?

*Don't look for it-- it's protected and in the Old Country language

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Yin and Yang

The form is pretty good, wouldn't you say? I also have one of them lined up head to butt...

Friday, November 9, 2007

The playground

There is a park with a playground a short walk from my house. I used to pass it on my way to work, and will again when I start the new job on Monday. I passed it today too, on my way to run some errands.

When Monkey was a baby, we used to go to that park. She would sleep in the pram, or breastfeed and then sleep, and I would read a book. Afterwards, we'd go to the grocery store and I would load up the rack under the pram with the groceries and go home. As Monkey got older, she mastered the swings, and the slides, and the shaky little bridge. As she got older still, she developed a whole posse at that playground-- a nice group of kids, all speaking the Old Country language, hanging out there with moms or nannies. That playground was a fixture of our lives.

Last fall they closed it for renovations, and I remember thinking that there would be all new equipment when our new baby will be ready for it. The playground didn't reopen until well into the spring. I've only seen it from my car's window since it reopened, but according to the scouting reports (Monkey, who went in the spring on her one day home with the nanny, and, of course, the nanny) it's nice, although the park by the music teacher's house has more challenging equipment.

Today on the playground there were leaves on the ground and kids in coats. Last time I remember looking at it, the sprinklers were on and kids in bathing suites and shorts were running through them. I feel like I haven't been to that playground in years, even though it has really been less than one. We've been to other playgrounds, the ones where Monkey can still find new tricks to try. This one is more for little kids, toddlers, babies even. And looking at it, all covered with leaves as it was today, it hit me-- we won't be using it next year either.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Parent-Teacher Tearjerker

On the way back from the parent-teacher conference last night I called my mom and asked her whether she was wanted to have a cry. I then told her the story Monkey's teachers told us.

Kaddish is an important prayer in Judaism. There are several versions, but the most well-known is the Mourner's Kaddish. Traditionally, there are pretty strict rules about who is supposed to say Kaddish, for whom, and for how long, but the more liberal denominations are much more relaxed about some aspects of it. Parents of dead babies, for example, are universally released from the obligation of saying Kaddish. Which is not to say that they (we) shouldn't do it, just that they (we) don't have to.

I was 16 years old before I ever heard of Kaddish, and I was 22 before I ever said it, for my grandfather. It turns out that, in stark contrast and on both counts, my daughter was five.

Monkey goes to a Jewish day school, which means that there is daily opportunity to participate in prayer. Kindergarteners join the school for small part of services several times a week, but they mostly do their own thing in their own classroom. Shira, one of Monkey's teachers, lost her father this past March, and so is still saying Kaddish for him. She told kids about that early in the year, but I didn't realize then that she says Kaddish at their "services" in the classroom.

The story, then. Sometime last week a two year old neighbor of one of the kids in Monkey's class, Leo, died. At their services, Shira reminded the kids that she says Kaddish for her father, and invited anyone who wanted to say Kaddish for someone to come up and say it with her. Leo came up to say it for the boy who used to be his neighbor. And then Monkey declared that she wanted to say it for her brother.

I looked at the teachers, tears in my eyes, and said thank you. For making it comfortable for her to do that, and for telling us. Because Monkey sure didn't. Kids being kids, though, a couple of times I wondered, for a fleeting second, whether some of the times and ways she speaks of A weren't mostly to score points, whether the hugs and kisses that I feel compelled to dole out to her as we talk of A and the bestest big sister in the world weren't encouraging her to keep bringing it up in ways not entirely organic. She always looks very sincere when she talks of A, so this has never been more than a fleeting concern. And to be fair, there have been times when she wouldn't talk about it for love or money. Yet, there was that tiny little piece of me that wondered whether in seeking to make it comfortable for her I wasn't overdoing it and encouraging her to bring it up simply because the topic usually comes with a hug or five. And not that she is otherwise hug-deprived in any way, mind you. That she volunteered to say Kaddish, and more than that, that she then kept it to herself, tells me there is no showboating here. Which then breaks my heart all over again.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

To Whom It May Concern

Mel is putting together stories on how having or not having insurance coverage for infertility influenced people's family building. If you'd like to contribute, please hop on the bandwagon-- this thing apparently stretches as needed-- write your post (try to keep it to four paragraphs), and send the link to Mel, preferably by tomorrow.

Dear Ms./Mr. Important,

Some days the knowledge that we live in a mandated coverage state is all that is keeping me sane. Please let me explain. I am a 33 year old woman, who was diagnosed, eight years ago, with PCOS-- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a condition afflicting roughly one in ten women in the United States, and a leading cause of infertility. At the time of the diagnosis I could not become pregnant as I was not ovulating. I chose to attempt to treat my condition by modifying my food and lifestyle choices. After over a year of hard work I started to ovulate on my own. Some months later I finally got pregnant, only to miscarry. Two more months and I got pregnant again. I was lucky enough to be able to carry that pregnancy to term and to give birth to my beautiful daughter, who is now five and a half years old.

On January 30, 2007 my family was visited by tragedy-- our beloved son died in utero at 34.5 weeks gestation from what the medical examiner later ruled to be an accidental pulling shut of two true pre-existing knots on his umbilical cord with a group B strep infection as a contributory cause. To say that our lives have been changed would be an understatement. I miss my son every day. The room that was meant to be his is woefully underused, its freshly painted walls a cruel reminder of how fragile our realities are. Listening to other people talk excitedly about their pregnancies and their plans for "when the baby is here" is hard for both my husband and myself. Many, many things are hard. My daughter now has to explain to new friends that she is a big sister, it's just that her brother is dead. All three of us long to add to our family, not to replace the baby we lost, a futile and impossible task, but because none of us feel as if our family is complete.

Attempting pregnancy after a devastating loss, knowing for sure that it can be you, that babies die, even the most wanted and loved babies, is an act of defiance and hope. Unfortunately, for us trying again brought new heartache and new bad news. My PCOS has possibly progressed beyond the point where non-interventionist solutions are possible, and we have recently found out that my husband's sperm have a serious motility problem. Our best chances of having another baby likely lie in the procedure called ICSI-- intracytoplasmic sperm injection, which is used to overcome male fertility issues by introducing a sperm directly into an egg. In addition, because I have PCOS, I am at statistically higher odds of developing OHSS, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, while undergoing stimulation with assisted reproduction technologies.

None of these possibilities are particularly pleasant to contemplate-- all involve significant physical and psychological challenges and an uncertain outcome. What is making this ordeal bearable, however, is knowing that we live in a mandated coverage state. Mandated coverage means that decisions about our medical care can truly be medical. We won't have to weigh the danger of overstimulation against the cost of a canceled cycle, and wonder whether we will be able to afford to abandon the attempt already in progress. We won't have to weight the danger to my life and health and to the lives and health of our potential children of a possible multiples pregnancy against the cost of a failed cycle. Instead, we will be able to choose to transfer only one embryo per cycle, perhaps increasing slightly the number of treatment cycles we will have to undergo, but decreasing significantly the odds of pregnancy complications, the need for NICU care, and long-term issues associated with prematurity. See, mandated coverage is not only the right thing to do, it is also smart policy. It won't just give many more women a chance to feel a life grow inside of them, and many more families a chance at building the life they desire, it will also take the dollar signs out of medical decisions, and in the process, ironically, will likely save money.

I believe that in the grand scheme of things it is impossible to deserve to have a baby. The happiness a child brings to the family is beyond something one can deserve, ever. But I do believe that regardless of the accidents of our particular biologies we all deserve a chance to try. So please, Ms./Mr. Important, do the right thing, do the smart thing-- extend mandated coverage to the entire country. Because everyone deserves a chance to try.


Bereaved mother,

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Putting my gametes where my mouth is

I promised to tell you why I am not freaking out about the possibility that JD's one mutation can cause our sons to lack the sperm delivery vehicle. So here comes.

I teach biology and study how to teach it well. Which means that I demand one thing above all from my students-- that they think. Sad but true-- precious few show up these days to the institutions of higher learning with a good set of skills in this area. Much of what I do professionally is aimed at helping those who did not develop this skill set before surrendering themselves to my tender mercies. So I teach scientific process and reasoning, and I demand that my students apply both. Along with the body of knowledge available to them. So it only seems fair that I should demand no less from myself when the subject at hand is our very own reproductive decisions.

Let's take it step by step then. But before we do, we have to have a little vocabulary lesson. Partially because I am used to using the terminology, and partially because this stuff is complicated enough that using the terminology correctly actually helps to keep things straight (at least in my opinion). Ok, so our genetic information is encoded in a molecule called DNA. The shape of it is two strands that each have a direction running in opposite directions twisting together to form the famous double helix. The backbone on those strands is uniform along the entire length, and the information is encoded in the pieces that are located on the inside of the double helix and are called bases. There are four bases-- A, T, G, and C. These bases pair with each other to stabilize the molecule of DNA, A with T and C with G. This is how it is possible to reconstruct the sequence of each of the strands in the double helix by looking at the other-- just reverse the direction and write down the partner base. DNA in our cells is kept in chromosomes, of which we have 46, 23 from mom and 23 from dad. 22 of 23 are autosomes, meaning they exist in both males and females, and one is the sex chromosome-- females have XX (one X from each) and males have XY (X from mom and Y from dad).

Genes are units of genetic information. They encode which proteins are made, when, and in what quantities. Genes do not occupy the whole length of the chromosomes-- there are also stretches of DNA that have no function we understand today. Each chromosome contains hundreds to thousands of genes, in addition to that space we don't know much about. If one or more of the bases in a part of a chromosome that corresponds to a gene gets changed in some way-- deleted, repeated, substituted with a different base, whether, when, how much, and what protein is made may change. These different changed versions of the same gene are called alleles. In genetics problems alleles are usually labeled to indicate that they are versions of the same gene, such as D and d, for example. In real life, alleles are often named for how they differ from the "normal" allele which is called wild type. To the first approximation, we have two alleles for each of our genes-- one from mom and one from dad (except, of course, for the genes found exclusively on the Y chromosome).

Some alleles are responsible for differential traits, such as eye color, or a disease. Some traits are dominant, such that it is enough to have one allele associated with the trait to exhibit the trait, so an individual with alleles Dd would exhibit the trait. Other traits are recessive, such that in order to exhibit the trait an individual needs to have a copy of the allele from both mom and dad, i.e. only dd individuals will exhibit the trait. But real life is messy, and sometimes these dominant traits do not exhibit full penetrance, which means that some Dd individuals will exhibit the trait, and some won't.

And this appears to be the situation with JD'd mutation. He is a carrier (i.e. an individual with the Dd genetic background, who is unaffected by the disease but is carrying the d allele and can pass it on to his offspring) of a particular allele of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, the gene defects in which are responsible for cystic fibrosis (CF), but only when both copies are defective. Well, it turns out that this particular gene gets around, and in some cases of the congenital bilateral absence of vas deferens (CBAVD) the patients are of the Dd persuasion for the CFTR gene. Like JD, although he himself doesn't have that trait. And since he only has a D or a d to offer to our offspring, while I apparently got it made with a D and another D (i.e. I am DD on this as per the test at the time of my pregnancy with Monkey-- we may have to examine my alleles more closely to make sure one of the rarer alleles wasn't missed to make the final decision), our kids have a 50% chance of being carriers for this allele themselves. And if a kid in question is a boy, he might, with some probability, have CBAVD.

So why am I not running through the streets screaming my head off? Well, because it is entirely unclear to me how big the risk actually is. I couldn't find any statistics on what percentage of men who are Dd for CFTR actually have CBAVD. It makes sense that these statistics are lacking because men who can procreate successfully won't even know their genetic make up with respect to this. It also makes sense that the percentage has to be rather low, or the spread of CF would've come to a screeching halt some time ago since (1) to have CF you need to have two defective alleles; (2) one of these has to have come from your father; (3) if most men with Dd had CBAVD, they would not be able to procreate. So there would be no new CF cases. Which would be nice, but clearly isn't what actually is hapening.

Moreover, did you know that there is a lot of different alleles of the CFTR gene? And some combinations of d1d2 lead to CF. Some combinations lead to more severe CF, and some to less severe. I also found this interesting paper that showed that in many cases of CBAVD the patient is also d1d2 for CFTR (i.e it is possible that CBAVD is also a recessive trait for which not all culprit alleles have been identified, rather than a dominant trait with incomplete penetrance as I suggested above).

So what we have is unknown odds of passing along a genetic condition which may amount to infertility for a boy offspring of ours. The way to avoid these unknown odds is to go with PGD, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and to discard the embryos found to have the Dd variety. PGD, of course, comes with its own set of issues, such that not all embryos survive the test. And if we have to go with ICSI, we may already be looking at a smaller number of viable embryos.

If I assigned a problem like that to my students, I would want them to say that deciding on a course of action should depend on what the unknown odds are and on how much is the risk of having a baby with CBAVD personally important to us. To which I would have to say, right now, not important enough to discard an otherwise good-looking embryo.

And so we are back to weighing the probabilities-- the probability of a boy baby having CBAVD given the Dd genetics vs the probability that a good-looking embryo will be thwarted because of trying to prevent CBAVD. And I am not sweating it because I figure I will go and see what the genetics counselors have to say about these odds. Maybe there are actual numbers out there that will help us make a decision. I hope so. I will also suggest that my alleles of CFTR get reexamined to determine whether I am really only able to contribute Ds to our offspring. But in the meantime, the problem has no solution due to incomplete information, and we wait.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Who's your (fry) daddy?

We got a deep fryer yesterday. I've coveted one for a few months since my sister informed me that they sell them at C0stc0 and that my future brother in law is angling for one. That immediately reminded me that we used to have one, and JD used to make amazing chicken wings in it (proper chicken wings are apparently fried first and then shaken to coat in the sauce of your choosing), but it was of a small bucket variety with an un-heat-resistant lid, and consequently spewed hot boiling oil all over the place while it was on. The memory then spurred me to clean out my lazy Susans, upon one of which the aforementioned baby deep fryer was found, cleaned out, and placed in the donations pile of crap in my office (the stuff that, hopefully, one day will leave the premises to benefit someone else's lives). Associating that closely with a deep fryer, any deep fryer, in turn, led me to a chicken wings craving that went unsatisfied for months as the good local wings place closed years ago and the chain place does something ever so slightly untoward to their wings.

So we got the fryer yesterday. And we had wings tonight. And friends. Over, for wings. And wine. Somewhat respectable quantities of whine. So I am buzzed. And blogging while buzzed. And I think going to sleep now.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Student art

The wall of the corridor in the Art department directly above the gallery displays what is clearly a collection of student drawings of the same complicated composition the professor either thought out thoroughly or threw together on a whim. There are drawings of it from just about every angle except from below, and on just about every scale. Some are barely more than sketches, while others reflect considerable amount of time spent working on getting the texture of surfaces just so.

If you study the drawings long enough, you could start thinking that you have a very good idea of what the actual composition
looked like. At least until a thought occurs to you that the whole thing might have been made from scale models.

After that, twisting the camera to make it appear as if the wall on which the drawings hang rather than the stool in the drawing is leaning sideways might seem like a very clever idea indeed.

Did it work?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

That explains it

My synagogue installed our new cantor last night. There was singing (duh!), there were services (it was, after all, Friday night), and afterwards there was food (chocolate-covered strawberries, yum!). In JD's opinion, the services were too long. In Monkey's opinion they were just right as she got to spend most of them running around the building with her classmate whose family also goes to this synagogue. Seems just about everyone else I spoke to later agreed with JD's assessment. I actually thought they lasted about the regular time for Friday night services. With the addition of the speeches, of course.

Our Rabbi Emeritus was funny, short and to the point. Our President, who actually did the honors at the end was warm and to the point. Our rabbis made short remarks in the course of the service, and they too, were short and heart-felt. But there was an invited speaker, from the professional body of the cantors for my particular denomination, and boy did he take his time! With what seemed much more like a lecture than a speech, and led me to believe that this might be a canned speech he gives at cantor installation ceremonies, updated as required with short sections on each particular individual being celebrated.

But he did say, or rather quote, one thing that appealed to me. See, I am not by any means fluent in Hebrew. I in fact can barely read it, and my vocabulary is rather limited. Many prayers of the traditional service, even the ones that are very-very important (TM) don't do much for me. I read their English translations and think about what I see there, agreeing or disagreeing, or rather resonating or not, with each. There are also in the Jewish services prayers that are sung. I know the meaning of some of them well, and of others less well. Without a doubt and almost without exception I enjoy the sung prayers much more than the said ones. There is further division yet. Some sung prayers are pretty and I enjoy listening to them or singing them. But others, a few others, are a whole different ball game for me.

With those I get a feeling I don't think I ever discussed with anyone before, so yeah, feel free to think me a nut job. This is the feeling of being wholly in the prayer, of almost being sung by the prayer. I can follow the melody as it washes through and over me, comes out of my mouth, and heads for the semi-domed, fake-open ceiling of the sanctuary, where I perceive it joining with the streams from the other congregants to make a massive stream of beauty and power. A guy I went to (public) high school with, who grew up in a Reform household, but has since become an Orthodox rabbi, told me once that the minyan (ten adult Jews or ten adult male Jews, depending on your denomination) is required for some prayers because the power of community amplifies them and brings them to G-d ears. I am generally not so much a believer in G-d's ears per se, or in need of amplification for reaching said, most likely figurative, ears, if they do exist. But something about that shared experience makes me think there is a point to the requirement for the minyan.

The invited speaker last night was at one point talking about what cantors do, or, rather, what they do when they are good, what they should strive to do. And he quoted from a piece of writing I have never heard of before, Abraham Joshua Heschel's essay The Vocation of the Cantor. I didn't memorize the quote that struck me so much last night, so I googled for key words this morning. Here, then, is the revelation with which I walked out of the synagogue last night, delivered by the person least likely of all assembled there to enlighten me:
Verbal expression is in danger of being taken literally and of serving as a substitute for insight. Words become slogans, slogans become idols. But music is a refutation of human finality. Music is an antidote to higher idolatry. While other forces in society combine to dull our mind, music endows us with moments in which the sense of the ineffable becomes alive.

It's a strange thing for someone who spends so much time on the blogs to latch on to the put down of verbal expression. But it's not all verbal expression being put down here. It's the formulaic expression of pointless repetition. You can do that with words, you know-- say them without putting yourself into them, without really meaning them. It's much harder to do, in my experience, when you are singing.

I have wondered, for a long time, what it was about these prayers, these songs, that connected with me in this most unusual way. I think I have my answer now-- they bring the sense of the ineffable alive for me. And now I am going to hit publish and go get a drink. Before I chicken out, that is.

Friday, November 2, 2007


That's short for Bring Your Own Metaphor.

It's almost too easy, isn't it? Are they still trees? What's the use of their still standing? Is it any better that there are so many of them? Do they look funny to the other trees?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Wrung out

This nine months thing is kicking my butt. I am wiped out, wrung out, and sad through and through. Lori the Wise said in her comment on my last post that 3 months intervals in that first year felt to her almost like the trimesters, and I think she is right. When you've been carrying something for that long you expect to birth it at some point, traditionally right around that nine months mark. You expect relief, even if you don't know that you expect it. And for me, it hasn't come. Not yet.

Honestly, I don't know whether this is grief or infertility. Both are unpredictable and exhausting at this point. And they seem to be compounding each other. Contemplating getting to our one year anniversary not just not pregnant, but having not started treatments takes my breath away, makes me feel like the world-class looser, like there is absolutely nothing in life I can actually plan on. It's not like I don't know that to be true, I just could do without daily reminders. It is already clear that I will get to ski for most if not all of this season, and that thought makes me want to cry, to bawl my eyes out, to howl at the moon. I love my skis, high-performance women all-terrain racers that they are, and I love my boots more, the first ones I ever had that are actually comfortable on my short wide feet, the ones that allowed me to tackle much more difficult slopes with confidence. But thinking of putting them on and going out on the mountain? Instead of sucking on lemons to keep that nausea at bay? Profoundly sad.

We went trick or treating last night to the same neighborhood we went last year-- Monkey's best boy friend's house and thereabouts. I was afraid the ghosts of last year when I was waddling around there visibly pregnant would be hard on me, but it was ok. I only saw one dressed up baby, and I flinched, but other than that it was fine. After the kids finished collecting their loot, they played in the basement, and we talked with the parents who are our very close friends. Some wine was imbued, which certainly made things easier. Today five friends who work close by came to my house for lunch. We talked and laughed so much that it hurt. Afterwards, as I was driving to get Monkey from school, I realized that while it was very good to see them and to talk like that, bantering and laughing, with just the right amount of dead-pan and needling, it did exhaust me. Again. What the hell?

Dr.YoungGun called this morning. Apparently the nurse was very upset after talking to me and thought I was rude. Well, shit. I did tell her, made sure to tell her, that I was very upset, but at the situation, not at her. I guess she took it more personally. Fine, whatever. I wonder whether the RE would've called if she wasn't upset. Or maybe he was supposed to have been the one calling me with the ultrasound results in the first place, seeing as he said that he was away at a conference and couldn't call me himself then, and she didn't know exactly how to read the report. Anyway, the radiologist thinks that Immanuel is a hemorrhagic cyst, meaning some blood has leaked into it from a ruptured vessel. Dr.YoungGun gives it a 50-50 chance to resolve itself, and wants to do that repeat ultrasound in close to the six weeks the radiologist recommended. I am far less optimistic, but I agreed to wait out the almost six weeks because he agreed to schedule JD to see the urologist now for after the repeat test, as opposed to waiting for the results of that test to schedule the appointment. Of course tired and sad and unprepared as I was for his phone call, I forgot to ask whether they saw a corpus luteum on that ultrasound, since at CD32 today and with almost no symptoms until now, I suspect it's not there. I could be wrong-- I had some transient pre-ovulation like symptoms about a week ago, but they were more like the ones this past summer that turned out to not have been actual ovulation symptoms. I guess I will know in another week. I also forgot to mention to him that since after I talked to the nurse and told her that Immanuel wasn't causing me much pain, just some discomfort, the pain actually increased. It's still not terrible, and very manageable, and certainly not at the level that the internets describe these suckers causing if they burst, so oh well.

He is also sending us to see genetics counselors because he looked up JD's genetic tests from when I was pregnant with Monkey and realized that the mutation he is a carrier for has been associated with some likelihood of having congenital lack of vas deferens. This is not for JD, obviously, as he doesn't have that problem, but for any boy we might have. I spent some time on PubMed and decided not to worry about it for now. If I tell you why, most people's eyes are likely to glaze over, so I won't for now, but if you want to know, ask, and I will type that part up too.

So all of this is my long way of saying I am wiped out, wrung out, and sad through and through. And I start a new job in about ten days.