Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cap of the Day: GTA4 Release Day

It rained buckets here today so I just threw on a hat. Of course, as today was *Grand Theft Auto IV* launch day, I chose appropriately. My husband brought this nice swag home a long, long time ago and it's been mine since he unpacked it. As he is traveling this week, I picked up our copy of GTA4 but have left it unopened on our coffee table. It's going to sit there until he gets home. It won't be any fun firing it up without him - so I won't. Really. I really won't. Can't do it. Seriously.

This IGN review of the game was interesting. Best game he's played in the last 10 years? Really? Feel free to taunt me and tell me how much you are enjoying the game. It won't bother me at all. I'd be happy to know you guys are enjoying yourselves! :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dismantling the Shrine

One of the things that I need to get done before June is to dismantle the shrine to me in Chicago - otherwise known as my old bedroom at Mom's house. My mother is moving to a nice condominium that is about a mile from her current home at the end of the summer. My sister and her family are buying my mother's house and need to start moving things into Mom's house in order to get their current home ready to be put on the market. I started this process the other week while I was in Chicago. It's a bigger project than I originally thought it would be. These days, I stay in that room whenever I visit my mother but I never really took the time to look around my old room. I basically sleep in the room and watch a little TV before falling asleep. There's a lot of stuff in there though!

I always wondered how long my old bedroom would stay in a time warp. It looks like a younger version of me still lives in that room. On a regular basis, the sheets are changed and the room is cleaned by the maids - regardless of whether I will be visiting or not. I don't even live in the same state anymore. I moved down there when I was in Junior High School. When I say “down there” I mean into the basement bedroom. I don't know what my parents were thinking by agreeing to let me have the bedroom in the basement. It is two floors beneath everybody else's sleeping quarters and has a door to the outside in the utility room next door. I could come and go undetected as I pleased, if I were so inclined. Lucky for them, I wasn't inclined in that manner - most of the time.

The room is full of old stuff - I'm closer to being 40 than to 30. It's got two walk-in closets and they were still full of my clothes when I got there last week. There's a double desk along the wall and it still has my Apple IIc and an Apple dot matrix printer on it (It still works & I still have all of the original software) as well as a huge old IBM PC from God-knows-when. There are trophies, medals, ribbons, paddles, tassels and certificates that are going to be homeless soon. The bookshelves are full of books . There's a teddy bear that my grandmother bought me when I was 7 and a ton of office supplies. (Anyone that knows me well knows that I am weak for office supplies). There are documents from every period of my life in that room - and I guess I should go through all of it before I just chuck it all. The TV in that bedroom is so old that it isn't cable ready even though it is a Sony color TV (a tank) and has a remote control. My signed Blackhawks hockey stick from the last year Chelios & Roenick played for them together is in there. My old autographed Cubs baseballs are still there. My yearbooks and facebooks are all in there. What's not down there?

I tackled my closets that week. My sister and I filled an entire Honda Pilot up with bags of barely worn clothes and accessories and drove them to the Salvation Army location in Des Plaines, Illinois. There was absolutely no space in that SUV for anything else after we filled it with my clothes. I filled my mother's garbage bin as well with things that nobody should be caught wearing. I filled a box with purses, wallets, hair accessories, jewelry and other cool things for my cousin's little daughters in Virginia to play dress up. I didn't keep anything in my closets except for the clothes that my husband and I wear now and just have been keeping there so I don't have to pack anything when I fly between Boston and Chicago. I really don't think I would have had so much stuff in there if I had managed to keep wearing clothes that were sizes 0, 2 or 4. Live and learn. Heh.

In all seriousness, this exercise has taught me a few things.
  • Nothing lasts forever. I never thought my mom would move out of that house. Oh well.
  • Other than sentimental items, no things that I kept in that room add to my current happiness. If anything, the things that I held onto (or - more accurately - failed to dispose of previously) feel like a weight on my back and are really more of a burden than anything else as now I have to deal with them.
  • If I buy it now, I'm using it now. I'm not saving anything for later use anymore. I seem to be a hoarder by nature - that has to stop. I have lots of unused 5 1/4” floppy disks, 3 1/2” floppy disks, pencil leads, pads of paper, staples, markers, audio cassettes, everything - totally unopened and unused. That's bad.
  • If something is two sizes too small to wear already, get rid of it. You'll more than deserve a new wardrobe if you make it back down there again.
I think that short time in Chicago has helped get my mind in the right place for this weekend here in Massachusetts. This weekend is our big purging weekend and my husband promises that we will go through all of the stuff in the house that we've been holding onto for no apparent good reason (boxes of business school case studies come to mind - ha ha). I'll be back in Chicago to finish up cleaning out my old room next month. I'll also have to help my mother find new furniture for her new place. I think by the time June rolls around, I'll be ready for a vacation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cleaning Up by Cleaning Up

Spring has definitely sprung around here, as the thermometer and blooming daffodils will happily report. As I am feeling much better these days, I decided that I should start my spring-cleaning effort. One of my goals for this year is to de-clutter our house.

Yesterday, I figured I would start out slowly. If I set my goals too high right away, I may just get discouraged by the size of the project. So I determined to just tackle the refundable can and bottle situation and the piles of loose change.

Massachusetts is one of the few states with a bottle deposit (along with VT, ME, NY, OR, IA, CT HI, CA, DE and MI). It’s been in place here since 1982 and requires a $0.05 deposit on beverage cans and bottles. I vaguely remember having to return bottles in Illinois when I was very young but I don’t remember having to do that there since my parents started letting me see PG movies.* Over the winter, our cans and bottles piled up in containers in the garage and so I took them to the grocery store and fed them individually to a refundable can-eating machine. I stood there and fed almost 300 cans into this machine one-by-one. There seriously has to be a better way – because for all of that effort – the storing, the hauling and the feeding to the machine, I got a lousy credit of $14.90. The only difference between taking those cans to that machine for my money back and taking those cans to the town landfill and throwing them in the aluminum bin is the cash – they would end up in the same place in the end. Whatever – I was just glad to get them out of the garage and used the credit for some groceries.

The piles of loose change were a trip to collect and haul. I keep a jar behind a framed photo on the kitchen desk. If my husband or I have loose change that we throw down somewhere, I’m apt to throw it in that jar. Well, the jar was looking full so I went hunting for more change in the house so I would only have to make the one trip for a long while. I found quite a bit, actually. Who knew? I hauled a big canvas bag full of plastic bags of change to the Coinstar machine (sitting next to the refundable can-eating machine). When I was a kid, we used to haul change to the local bank and the bank would happily dump it all out in a coin counter and deposit the money to your account. Since that doesn’t happen anymore, Coinstar is my preferred choice for converting piles of coins into a more useful form. If you want cash back for your coins, they charge an 8.9% fee for their service. However, if you convert your coins to gift cards or eCertificates, there is no additional fee for you. I never convert my coins to cash as I think the 8.9% is pretty steep and as any gift card to Starbucks or e-certificate to Amazon.com isn’t going to last long in my house anyway. There are several other stores participating with Coinstar, but I usually only convert to those two. I walked out with a Starbuck’s gift card for $50.03 and an eCertificate for Amazon.com for $187.52. I’d say that the Coinstar exercise was much more rewarding than the refundable can exercise was.

In the end, I’d say I cleaned up all the way around.

*[There’s a new proposal in Illinois to add a bottle deposit there as well now. I really hope it doesn’t pass as, in my opinion, it’s a bigger pain than it’s worth. I take my garbage and recyclables to the town landfill, where they are separated and recycled properly already. Having a can and bottle deposit just adds a trip for me to a store where I can get a credit for my cans and bottles and necessitates the stores to have the dumb (always in need of maintenance) machines to accept the refundable containers and dole out the credits. It’s not like it’s a ton of cash either – so a person with more money than time will just skip the step of returning their refundables and toss the stuff in the trash. Anyone who says these bills are a wide-spread conservation effort doesn’t see the reality of the situation. These bills do, however, reduce litter, as collecting refundable containers has become a small industry for some people. It makes me wonder if the powers that be actually want you to go back for your deposits.]

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Back and Valium: Friend and Foe

A few weeks ago, as I was disembarking the Cathay Pacific airplane that safely delivered us to Los Angeles from Hong Kong, I took a misstep. I didn't fall. I almost did though - and on several levels, I'm beginning to think that it would have been better if I had just fallen in the jetway instead of catching myself in the way that I did.

Apparently, when I did this - after the 14 hour flight - I strained some muscles in my lower back. Supposedly, I could have pulled some out of their normal place. Mind you, I didn't have any back pain at all during our next flight from Los Angeles to Boston - nor did I have any back pain for the next four days. It hit me all of a sudden as I was sitting at my desk typing and it hit like an electrical storm in my lower back. I slumped over onto the floor in pain - that was nasty. There wasn't one position that felt comfortable. I couldn't sit. I couldn't stand. I couldn't lie on my back, my side, my stomach - nothing. It just hurt. I downed Advil. It got better as the day progressed and by the next day, the pain was pretty dull. It was there, but it was dull - so I didn't go to a doctor. The pain was gone for four whole days and then it returned for two. Then it left again for a few days - but when it came back, it was seriously ticked off and refused to leave.

I saw a doctor in my primary care physician's practice. After examining me, she determined that she didn't think my problem was neurological (whew) but she thought I could benefit from monster doses of Ibuprofen and either physical therapy or a chiropractor. I took the monster doses of Advil and left for Chicago the next day. Any physical therapy or chiropractor visits were going to have to wait until after I got back from Chicago.

The pain got way worse while I was in Chicago and when I got back to Boston, I went back to the doctors' offices. I saw a different physician and she also agreed that she didn't think my problem was neurological but she had XRays taken anyway just to make sure. She said that I should not see a chiropractor ever and thought that the combination of Valium and frequent back massages would help me. She didn't think the Ibuprofen was strong enough. My back muscles were stiffening and had been strained. If the problem persisted, physical therapy is the route she was suggesting. Seeing two doctors in the same practice and hearing two different points of view on my back situation kind of reminds me of the differing vet opinions for our dog's back. Ugh.

So I have been taking Diazepam (Valium) for the last 10 days. I don't like to medicate - ever. The doctors think that I may have autoimmune hepatitis - so I like to baby my liver a bit. Tylenol is a definite no-no so I stay away from Acetaminophen. I'll take Advil if I have to but I'll put up with aches and pains if it's not too bad just so I don't have to medicate. I've even stopped taking my allergy medications - except in the cases when I have a bad reaction. I can put up with sniffles and sneezes as long as it's not too severe. I did, however, take the Diazepam - I didn't think I had a choice. My back ached constantly and I was willing to give it a go. Thankfully, with the daily massages and the medication, my back has gotten better. It isn't 100% better yet but it has improved enough that I only take the Diazepam at night and not during the day anymore - thank God!

If I can avoid it at all, I will always avoid taking Diazepam. For me, personally, though it helped my back immensely, it didn't do good things for my mood. I'm usually pretty hopeful, in general and I usually have a decent amount of energy to get a lot done in a day. Even though I knew that I truly was one of the last people on the planet who had any right to complain about anything or be sad about anything, I was sad. I was sad and unmotivated. Add to that somewhat uncoordinated, tired and not capable of operating my car while on medication and I was downright miserable. I'm not a mopey person and I was mopey. I don't think it affects everyone like it affected me. That medication was great and yet it sucked. I loved it and I hated it.

I was basically stuck at home for a week and a half in a sucky mood. I didn't tweet much - because who really wants to tweet when you're in a bad mood? I wrote a blog post on the day that I started taking the Diazepam and then couldn't find it in me to write any more. I couldn't find it in me to just read my friends' RSS feeds (sorry guys). I didn't call my friends or family - who wants to talk with someone who seems to sigh every ten minutes? Really, I was afraid I'd start crying on the phone or something. I went on like everything was fine though because that's all I could think to do. When I think I might be getting sick, I act like I'm not and usually, I don't. I thought that if I acted like I was fine, I would be. My poor husband would come home to me, usually looking like I got run over by something and seriously try to make me feel better. As if he didn't have enough going on during his day. The man is practically a saint and knowing that actually made me feel even worse - he made me feel better - but then that made me feel worse. How the heck does that make any sense at all?

As my back progressed, I determined yesterday that I wouldn't take the Diazepam during the day anymore. I got so much done yesterday that I kind of surprised myself. Today, I'm in a much better mood - finally. Though I can have a refill of the medication, I think I'll throw it in the medicine cabinet for extreme back pain only. I think the next time I step off of an airplane onto a wet jetway, I'll be a lot more careful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Looking for a Third Opinion

Sooner than later, my husband and I will be looking for the opinion of a veterinary orthopedist regarding our dog's back and knees. That will be opinion #3 as our vets in Chicago and Boston don't seem to agree on the next course of action for her. One would think her treatment path would be close to black and white, but somehow it's really not. Poor pup's probably sick of seeing vets so much lately, but I'm hoping opinion #3 will shed some more light on her situation.

Sam had X-Rays of her spine taken while she was at our vet in Chicago last week having her procedure. Our Chicago vet thinks she should have a prophylactic surgery on her spine that would make a future spinal problem unlikely. It's called a fenestration. He has identified calcification in two of the spaces between her vertebrae. Our vet in Boston, who did her post-op follow-up yesterday, only sees calcification in one of the spaces on that same X-Ray and sees where there might be a case for some narrowing in the other - but not really. He doesn't recommend any prophylactic surgery on her back at all. Basically, he says that even if a dog has calcification between her vertebrae, that does not mean she will ever have a problem with her back. In fact, the absence of calcification or narrowing in a dog's X-Ray doesn't mean that the dog won't have a back problem. So - one vet thinks she should have preventive surgery for her back and the other doesn't think there is enough basis for any surgery at this time. In fact, he doesn't think a surgery should be done unless she has major symptoms of spinal issues. Could they be any further from one another in their opinion? They both have reasonable points of view and are both very good vets. It makes it hard for us to know what to do next.

When it comes to her rear knees, it's the same situation. Sam has luxating patellas. Basically, her kneecaps float and sometimes, they stay out of place & off to one side. When this happens, her leg seems to lock up and she kicks it out and the kneecap snaps back into place. We've known about this condition since she was a puppy. Our vet here in Boston doesn't think that she needs surgery on them until they bother her regularly. If she's pulling up lame frequently as a result of her knee condition, then he thinks we should revisit the idea of knee surgery for her. He feels that there are always risks involved in surgeries and that if surgery can wait, it should. Our vet in Chicago says that her knees aren't going to get better - just worse. So, if they're not getting better, she should have them fixed sooner than later. So, no agreement there either.

If you're wondering why our dog has two vets, it's because we split our time between Boston and Chicago. Her primary vet is in Boston, as it's our primary residence - but she has required the care of a vet when she's been in Chicago more than a few times, and thankfully, my family is well-acquainted with a very good vet there as well.

So - I guess we're going to find a veterinary orthopedist for yet another opinion. We'll be reading up on her situation and our options and see what yet another vet has to say on the matter before we do or not do something about her back and knees.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What What in Her Butt?

Disclaimer : Way more information than anyone needs to know - but I feel compelled to write about this anyway. Read at your own risk.

Tomorrow morning, our dog, Sam, is going to be taken to our family veterinarian in Chicago and will undergo a procedure that requires full sedation. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have already gathered that she has somehow grown an abscess that is a little smaller than a golf ball but was totally undetected by us, my in-laws, our vet in Massachusetts and our vet in Illinois until yesterday. As Sam is a 9.5 pound miniature dachshund and gets carried around a lot, it seems inconceivable that she could grow an abscess that size and nobody would detect it. What I didn't mention on Twitter is what kind of an abscess Samantha has: She has an abscess of her anal gland.

Yes, I know - ew. Dogs have two anal glands and they are located at about 4 and 8 o'clock around their anus. They are scent glands and some animals, like skunks, can empty these glands at will. Domesticated dogs cannot do this and the glands are usually emptied when the dog defecates. Some dogs have a problem emptying these glands. Some believe that dogs that eat cheaper food that does not have much fiber and causes soft stools are more prone to issues with these glands as their stools are not hard enough to push the liquid out of the glands during defecation. This isn't Sam's issue - She eats Prescription Diet w/d, which is a high fiber dog food. We're not really sure why she had an issue emptying this gland in the first place. What we do know is that somewhere along the way, she was unable to empty one of these glands and it got infected. Then it became abscessed to the point where she did not want to walk. How nobody noticed this while it was forming is baffling.

A lot of friends joke that if they were to die, they'd want to come back as our dog. To say she has a pretty good life relative to most dogs is a bit of an understatement. She gets a lot of attention and is usually glued to a member of the family on the couch or in bed. She gets bathed regularly, sees her vet for the smallest of things and even gets her butt wiped off with an unscented baby wipe after every single one of her walks. So how did nobody notice that she was forming an abscess on her bottom?

I guess we missed a sign along the way. The signs that a dog could be having issues with their anal gland include the dog trying to lick their rear or tail (not Sam), the dog showing signs of pain while passing stool (not Sam until this weekend) and the dog scooting their butt along the carpet or grass. Now, Sam has scooted a couple of times and we didn't think anything of it, really. We always thought that Sam was just a really neat and tidy dog. She's never shown interest in her rear end but if she was sick and had a messy experience outside, I'd have to rush her into the house to wipe her properly or she'd drag her rear on the grass to get herself clean. When we saw her drag her rear indoors, I ignorantly assumed she must have passed gas or something and didn't like the way it felt. It never crossed my mind that she may have a problem with an anal gland. Shame on me.

She was at her vet in Massachusetts as recently as February and had a full physical in January. She saw the vet in Chicago a couple of weeks ago to have her paw checked for a possible sprain. Maybe if I had thought to mention her scooting on the carpet a couple of times to the vet, she wouldn't have an abscess now and the vet could have drained the gland before anything too horrible happened. Ugh.

So tomorrow, Sam will have this abscess removed. Hopefully, all will go well and she won't experience any side-effects or have any complications from the surgery. Some dogs lose bowel control for a bit after the surgery - doesn't sound like a good time for those dogs. Poor pup is going to have a sore rear for a while.

My husband and I get to worry about her from Massachusetts, sadly. I'm scheduled to bring her back home to Massachusetts from her vacation at my in-laws' new place in Chicago next week. When she gets back here, we'll have to sort out the logistics for the knee and preventive back surgeries that she's going to be needing soon as well.

On a lighter note, I guess it's only appropriate that this bit from the April 2 “South Park” is still stuck in my head and has replaced "I'm Still Alive" as my current source of earworm torture:

MONDAY UPDATE: Sam's procedure went very well today. She handled the general anesthesia well and the vet said that everything went as planned. The procedure didn't even require a single stitch - so that's a really good thing. When she saw my in-laws in the vet's waiting room in the afternoon, she got really excited, greeted them with her usual face licks and wagged her tail quite a bit. She's been sleeping a lot since they got her home. She's clearly still a tad loopy from the drugs, but she's looking much more comfortable than she did before the procedure. The vet said her rear will be sore for a few days. Thanks to all of you who gave us your support and good wishes. We really appreciate it all and are very glad to be able to say that Sam is resting well tonight.