Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween with all the grandkids

Daniel the postman

Daniel as a monkey which Oliver was last year. When he saw Danny in the outfit, he wanted to be the monkey again

Daniel and Maya

Maya and me. We match.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Last flowers before it freezes

Shanna, Daniel, Josh and Julia from last Sunday

The wind was blowing hard and the temp was in the high 30s when I ran this morning. Please winter, don't come! A field I ran by had hundreds of Canada geese loading up for their trip south. A short legged orange animal darted in front of me. A fox kit? It was too small to be an adult. The crows in the trees near by started cawing loudly at its appearance. Later hidden in the underbrush just a few feet away from me, two deer were startled by my appearance and went prancing away. One was a multipoint stag. A runner had passed them about 15 seconds before me but I was the one who spooked them.

My arm has 8 teeth marks on it. Daniel loves to bite and bites hard. He, of course, has been told not to do this but biting must be so much fun!

We have pumpkins for the kids. Later they will be carved. Ms Maya will be a ladybug; Daniel a monkey; and Oliver a postman (his choosing).

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Dinosaur Museum

Daniel at park

D in stroller

Oliver on slide

Maya close-up

Oliver on the lion in front of the museum. It is said that the lions will roar IF a virgin ever walks by them. His right eye is bruised from a fall on the stairs so no fancy family pictures for us on this visit

Shanna inside of the dino's mouth

Flowers for Shanna's wedding anniversary
The days go by quickly as evidenced by me constantly filling my revolving pill container to keep track of my thyroid replacement. Every other day I take a Prilosec, still haven't been able to wean myself from it, and every day a baby aspirin (probably why I can't wean myself) that might prevent a cancer recurrence.
Babies are a lot of work , more so than I remember but then, I didn't have them so close together and Shanna was the easiest baby ever. But her babies are not good sleepers.

We took them to the Natural History Museum yesterday, the dinosaur museum, still basically the same as when I was a child. I went there regularly, even when I was living in New York, as we visited my grandparents who did live here. I was not impressed with the dinosaurs as a child. What I was impressed were the stuffed baby opossum and baby skunk families, all of which still look terrified in death. The skunks have faded to brown and white. What is gone are the Native American dioramas showing how different tribes had lived. These were removed for not being accurate and/or politically correct. Also gone are the fetuses in jars. Oliver was only mildly interested in the dinosaurs. He preferred to run back and forth through the exhibits.

We did go out today for lunch without the babies who are with their Tata. Shanna is now out with her friend who now lives in Morocco with her 7 month old but is in town  visiting her mother (which is one reason Shanna is here now). I remember them as 6 year olds sitting in the brownie circle. I gave each girl one minute to tell a highlight of the past week stopping girls from interrupting with their more exciting tales. Most of their stories centered on tooth loss and doll acquisitions, Cabbage Patch  Preemie dolls being the favored. This little friend piped in after someone said that they had gotten a preemie that she was a preemie herself weighing less than 2 lbs. Now she has her own baby.

The public health nurse visited Ms. Maya today: 16#12oz and 26 " tall. 99%tile for both height and weight. Naomi has now passed her clinical tests and book tests and is ready for real patients next week.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just the facts, ma'am

One of my chief responsibilities as a medicinal chemist was to record all my activities in my notebook. I was to write my experiments in such a manner that those 'skilled in the art' could reproduce what I did. I was to never put opinions in there such as This might have worked if I didn't spill most of it on the ground or put emotional responses such as Three f**ing weeks down the drain! or Lesson learned! Never trust anything so and so publishes!

If something worked well, I didn't draw a smily face or a sad face when all I got from a reaction was black tar. Occasionally I described crystals as 'beautiful' but that was pushing the envelope. I once descibed some crystals as opalescent and soon after my boss, who must have read my notebooks after I went home told me the correct term was 'nacrelescent'. The notebooks belonged to the company as did everything that I made or wrote. It was still considered polite to ask to see someone's notebook. Later, we had electronic notebooks, which I hated, which anyone could read what you were writing and there was no Statcounter attached to it. I assume it was protected by numerous firewalls as the last thing the company needed was for a competitor to hack into it.
While we were cleaning our parents' home out, I found my mom's diary for 1949. She would have had no trouble adjusting to recording just facts in a notebook as the diary consists solely of facts; no emotional responses whatsoever. I found only one 'emotional' word in the whole journal which was the word 'adorable' used to describe baby hamsters. She further described the baby hamsters to look 'just like little hamsters'. I suppose if she were pressed to describe herself, it would be that she was as tall as a 5'6" tree.
A sample entry for Tues. June 14, 1949

Married 4:00
Prestbyterian (sic) church by Dr. Lemon-reception at League
1st night at Pantlind Hotel in Gr. Rapids 150 miles

For the description of the honeymoon, she recorded the name of each hotel and what their daily mileage was.

Nowhere does she say how she feels.

Shanna and the boys are off to see the other side today. Shanna can only whisper as she has laryngitis. I went to the Y to work on my neglected muscles. The drastic storms predicted yesterday turned out to be only a little drizzle. Still it is much cooler.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The day that the sun forgot to come up and Lady TaTa

In honor of BC month, see with Lady TaTa singing Mammogram ala Poker Face.

I awoke at 7:15 am to total darkness. A half hour later, it wasn't much lighter. Are my clocks wrong? Did the sun not come up today? A black cloud blocked the sun. So it begins, our descent into darkness. Yesterday, screaming alarms touted a wind advisory for today when a mass of cold air hits the mass of warm air hovering over us currently. Tornados are possible. West of us, the weather has been refered to as a 'chiclone'. Well Boston has its 'Nor'easters', Southern California has its Santa Anas, we might as well have Chiclones. I seemed to have only a narrow window of running time so off I went into the dark wind. Still there was some time left before the forecasted deluge. I decided to take Oliver to the park so his mama could rest. She has a sore throat. But no, he wanted to stay home and no he didn't want to have fun. I took him kicking and screaming (are we having fun yet?) assuming that once he saw the park, he would forget about being mad and then proceed to enjoy himself. I asked him if he wanted to go to the Big Kids Part or the Little Kids Part ( the park uses the age of 5 to separate the two; Oliver is a few months short of 3 but he likes the bigger slides). He wanted to go home. I said that we would sit until he made a decision. He lay down on the path hellbent on not having fun to teach me a lesson. A loud tractor came up the path making him scramble for my lap but he refused to look or talk to me. Soon Steve found us and sat with us until the wind started to pick up.
These boys are a lot of work. Having colds and having Daniel teethe have made them grumpier and unwilling to leave their mother's grasp. She so much needs a break.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The family dinner

Julia and Daniel

Maya and Oliver

cute outfit compliments of a good friend in Fort Worth

Ms. Maya at 16 weeks

Maya, Oliver, and Daniel at 4, 32, and 14 months
cute video of Oliver and Sunny

Yesterday we all had dinner at Josh and Julia's. The babies all took turns in being in a bad mood. At one point, all three were crying. Josh gave Julia a look to say Are we ready for this?. Hopefully they are ready..easier if you don't have 3 babies around at once.
The weather was especially nice as it is today also.
It would be great to have the kids all together more often. Shanna and Ramy would love to move back especially as housing costs so much in Boston. Hopefully UM will attract the right business at our former worksite to make that possible.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Orange and blue

dining room with orange and blue wallpaper with my orange flowers

Orange and blue glass in the window

My new lamp set against the offensive wallpaper
Nothing screams 70s more than orange decor. Our house was once a model for the subdivision. Everything was wallpapered. Our bedroom had yellow and green paisleys all over the wall with special arches built in. One bedroom had mainly black with gold threads throughout. Our living room, with its cathedral ceiling and skylight, has blue and orange wall paper along with the dining room. Most of the bedrooms and the living room and dining room had orange shag carpet to match. This stuff is gone. Underneath were beautiful red oak floors. There are built in cabinets and shelves in both the living room and dining room that are a dark cream. The walls that aren't wallpapered are light cream. We have a large blue couch in the living room and a cream  colored chair that looks badly worn out (couch is in OK condition). All the furniture is oak of some sort.

Since moving in, we have remodelled the country kitchen with its harvest gold appliances and copper back splash. It is now white, black and gray. The faded vinyl floor (large south window bleaching it) was replaced with black speckled gray ceramic tile. Three of the bedrooms have remodelled at least twice apiece. Only Josh's with its cream walls and under the wainscoting, brown patterned wall paper remains untouched. It remains a shrine to his and Naomi's athletic  achievements with the shelves full of trophies and various memorabilia. Our own bedroom is bright peach and purple with sage green accents. I have a rug that matches the green, purple and peach. I know that sounds hideous and it will have to go when we sell the house in favor of something neutral but I like it.

So the moms came over the other night in part to see Shanna and the boys. I tried to make the dining area nice with an ecru lace table cloth, a black and gold tea lamp set all lit on the sideboard, my blue dishes, my orange candles, my orange flowers in a blue vase etc. I also had my new lamp on the sideboard instead of what was previously a nice lamp that I had paid big bucks for at an art fair but doe not work any more. I had considered using my grandmother's stuff: fine china, silverware, crystal etc but the boys running around made me decide to postpone it. But my stoneware is pretty and it matches the decor. I thought things looked nice but the evening sorta turned into a fashion intervention with suggestions on reupholstering the orange seat cushions (bought when we were married 33 years ago) and of course, losing the wallpaper. Well I know the living room is unsalable but it was way down on my list for things that needed to be fixed. I ended up a bit sad; so much to do and not a clue on needs to be fixed first. I am still hell bent on fixing all 3 bathrooms, untouched since they were built.

My food turned out at least with the grilled curried scallops, the coconut rice with petit pois, stir-fried veggies and the artichokes for an appetizer. My friend had red velvet cheesecake which she placed on orange leaf shaped doilies that looked nice against the dark blue plates (and matched my wallpaper!) We went through lots of wine. These ladies were part of our post partum support group formed 31 years ago so they all have babies Shanna's age. Now Shanna has her own babies. I wish she'd join a similar group in Boston but she seemed to enjoy being one of the moms the other night. Also joining us was Ms. Maya as Naomi and Dontae had a 'date-night". Not the best night to choose that and Ms. Maya was very unhappy for some reason.

Later both Oliver and Daniel got sick and cried alot of the night. Shanna did not get much sleep. When Daniel is ill, he refuses to let Shanna out of his grasp. As she took her shower, nothing I could do would console him. They are gone temporarily to visit the other side. Tonight we will have a big family dinner at Josh and Julia's and I hope to take pictures that don't suck.

Right now it is 70 degrees. Can you believe it? Although there was a frost the other day, my flowers weren't touched. Since Shanna has been gone, I've been running. When she's here, I don't want to miss out on being with them as it is so rare now.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to isolate a drug

Every year a Huron High school would be selected to shadow me when I was working as a chemist. What does an organic chemist do anyway?   We have nothing to do with food grown without pesticides. I made compounds to be tested as potential pharmaceutically active agents. We did not like to use the word 'drugs' as it is a pejorative term. Running reactions did not take up much of my time. What did was trying to isolate my desired compound from a mixture.(later writing reports justifying my existance started to eclipse this but I digress comme d'habitude)To give my young charge some idea how I did that, I had them isolate caffeine from tea. Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug there is with more than 90% of the world ingesting it in the form of coffee or tea or soft drinks. It is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.I am addicted to it but I have weaned myself off of it in the past so it is not a strong addiction.  Caffeine is fairly soluble in water especially hot water but it is more soluble in organic solvents such as chloroform or ethyl acetate. One tea bag infused in hot water provides about 90 mg of caffeine. To ensure we had enough to look at, we used two tea bags.  Now tea is not pure caffeine. There are plenty of other compounds such as tannins, polyphenols, etc that we would need to separate the caffeine from. Chloroform would be my first choice to extract but mindful of liability, I opted for the 'natural' solvent ethyl acetate as I see it sometimes referred too as it is found in small quantities in fruit. For some biology project when I was a child, I was given a 'killing' jar for insects that had cotton balls saturated with ethyl acetate on the bottom. I remembered the smell. Esters (which ethyl acetate is one formed by reacting ethanol with acetic acid-this situation arises all the time in nature) generally are supposed to smell good. Ethyl acetate does not.
To extract, we took the cooled tea (cooled so we would not have a bomb situation) and shook it up in a separatory funnel, carefully venting it, with ethyl acetate. Separatory funnels are wide at the top and thin at the bottom where there is a stopcock. We let the layers settle. Ethyl acetate is less dense than water so it is the top layer. If we had used the very dense chloroform, it would be the bottom layer and because of that alone, it would have been a better choice but I am trying to not expose anyone to its toxicity. Even so, all work is done in a hood which sucks any fumes away from us. We have gloves and safety glasses on too. We extract the aqueous layer (the water) twice. With a pH strip of paper, we make sure the aqueous layer is not acidic. If it were, the caffeine would form a water soluble salt and we would not be able to extract it until we made it basic. Caffeine is colorless but it does absorb uv light. I have my student place a small drop of it onto an absorbant glass plate and look at it under uv light. Yes, something is definitely in our 'organic' layer. The aqueous layer remains brown but the organic layer is a bit colored also. We let the water layer go through the stopcock into one flask and let the ethyl acetate layer go into another. We add powdered magnesium sulfate to our ethyl acetate flask. This will form crystals of magnesium sulfate (Epsom's Salts) when it combines with the little bit of water that dissolved in the ethyl acetate.  We filter the solids away on a sintered glass funnel (huge improvement over a pleated paper funnel used in college) that is fitted over a thick walled glass flask fitted with an adaptor that we can attach a vacuum to. Gravity takes too long. In our hood, we have valves that can access 2 levels of vacuum. One level is about 25 torrs and the other about 10 (normal pressure is about 760 torrs). If we want to have a stronger vacuum, we have pumps good for about 1 torr or so. Some days, if the big pumps somewhere in the sky have not been maintained, we hardly get less than  400 torrs. In this case (often) we say the vacuum sucks. This is an example of a chemist's oxymoron. The vacuum sucks because it doesn't suck. Now we need to get rid of the ethyl acetate. It boils at 78 deg C vs water boiling at 100 deg C. In general, we don't like to heat our compounds any more than necessary as they can decompose, although caffeine is a very stable compound surviving roasting and fermentations. To get rid of
 the ethyl acetate, we use a device called a rotary evaporater. You heat your rotating flask in a water bath under a vacuum converting your solvent into a gas. Cold water in coils converts it into a liquid again. Eventually all the ethyl acetate is evaporated away leaving what was dissolved, in our case, crude caffeine. Even using the 'low' vac, ethyl acetate will now boil away at 30 deg. We trap the fumes with a dry ice condensor. Dry ice keeps the condensor at minus 78 deg so no fumes destroy the pump in the sky and our fair city is safe from breathing its fumes.

Of all the materials I use in  the lab, kids love dry ice the most. It is solid carbon dioxide. At atmospheric  pressure, it goes directly into a gas as it warms (it is liquid only under great pressure). When visiting classrooms, I will  put a small piece into a latex glove, tie off the wrist part and quickly the glove expands into an enormous udder. Kids ask if it will pop and I just shrug. Well we just have to see.
Meanwhile ice crystals form on the outside of the glove particularly if the room is humid. I remember a particular teacher alarmed by its appearance. She thought it must be some toxic substance. I in turn was alarmed that a teacher would have no understanding of what constitutes air. Young kids also enjoy another demonstration with dry ice. I half fill a graduated cylinder with water (distilled gives the best results, who knows what is in tap water)and add a drop of base and universal indicator. The fluid is now dark purple. I add pieces of dry ice. Huge bubbles form and lots of fog. The purple turns blue then green then yellow then red until I add more base and the rainbow starts over. Magic! the kids ooh and ahh. Nothing is magic, I say if you know what is going on. Not all of the carbon dioxide is converted into fog; some of it dissolved in the water forming an acid  causing the pH to drop gradually causing the indicators to change colors
Carbonic acid: would you dare drink that?

 No!! They resound..
That sounds toxic!!
I explain the production of soda pop and why it goes flat...yadda.yadda.yadda.
We want to see more magic!

Back to caffeine. In our flask, we have a brownish solid. To purify it, we have some options. Chromatography (time and solvent consuming), recrystallization (poor recovery and this stuff dissolves in almost anything..maybe heptane would be a good solvent choice) or short path distillation with the aid of some device called a Kugelrohr made from a coffee percolator and an automobile window wiper mechanism.To turn a substance that melts at 218 deg into a gas, we'll need a high vac meaning, we'll need a vacuum pump meaning more set-up of traps (I hate setting up traps). Our impure compound is in a flask within
the coffee percolator body. I heat  it to about 100 deg. The flask is turned by the wiper mechanism: pshoo, pshoo, pshoo. It is under vacuum at about 2 torr or so. The receiver is on the outside of the perc body. Soon white crystals appear in it. Success. We shut everything down. Only a black tar remains in the original flask.
I have the student put a small amount into a small glass capillary tube to see what temperature that it melts in the melting point apparatus. Taking melting points became much less important in the later days of my career but I had the student take it for historical purposes. It melts where it should. But lots of things melt around 218. How do we prove it is caffeine? We take a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrum ( medicine they use the same technology to create MRIs..somehow they don't use the word nuclear ). We dissolve about a milligram up in a milliliter of deuterated cholorform (the lone hydrogen in chloroform is replace by its isotope deuterium so it does not interfere with our results) and put the solution into a special thin tube. Our compound is exposed to a changing magnetic field. At certain frequencies, the protons or hydrogens of our compound will flip in a predictable matter. The magnetic field is produced by a supercooled magnet that renders heart pacemakers, credit cards and some watches, useless if you get too close. Running a NMR used to be a major ordeal fine tuning it, shimming it etc but now, all is done by computers and I just type how many scans I want and what solvent I am using. All spectra are permanently stored and dated. This can be important to the company if it is necessary to prove that they made a certain compound first. Caffeine has  a simple structure with the formula C8H10N4O2. Looking at the structure above, there are 4 types of hydrogens. We will have 4 peaks in our spectra: 3 of the same height and one  only one third the height of the other three. The smaller peak is on the left side of the spectra. Two of the methyl groups are very similar but the third methyl is further downfield. Our spectra is consistat with the structure. We could have a combustion analysis burning the compound and seeing what percent C, N, and H there are but that would take a day and my student would be gone.
That's how to isolate a drug.
Making a drug, another story.

Meanwhile my life is full of gurgling and sometimes crying babies. I will write more later.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Busy with babies

This morning was Shanna's break from the babies. She does not get many opportunities. The other grandmother lives near me (Tata..pronounced Taytah) and had them for 4 hours. Daniel does not like being separated from the mom, not even for 10 minutes while she took a shower. He wailed piteously and nothing I could do would distract him from his sadness. We went downtown and Josh just happened to see us walking. We met up with him and Julia for lunch.
The weather has been beautiful. So far, the frost hasn't killed my flowers. I did find some time to run yesterday out in the country. No time today though. The moms are coming over later for dinner. I have all these fancy dishes, silverware, glassware, French linens, etc from my grandmother that I never use. (Most of it is this orangish pink she favored wherease my dining room is dark blue and orange). I was considering using it for once but then I have the babies toddling around, maybe not this time. On the menu, so far:
Curried grilled scallops
Coconut rice
Stir fried Asian vegetables
The other moms will provide appetizers, salad and dessert. Everyone provides wine.
Steve likes to use the dining room as an auxillary storage place so I need to clean that out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Shanna and the adorable toddlers came yesterday. I will post pictures later assuming 'image updloads' will let me. There is some note it will be disabled tonight.The flight wasn't as terrible as it could be with 2 little guys who love to roam and hate to sit still and are quite vocal about their displeasure. Shanna could feel some of her fellow passengers cringing as she and her posse entered.

Oliver is almost 33 months and and Daniel is 14 months. They are unused to stairs though Oliver seems to handle them OK. Daniel has made an attempt to crawl head first. Electronic gizmos are an attraction and both love to press buttons on anything. Oliver is speaking more and more but still is very difficult to understand unless you know his particular language which has American sign language thrown in with it. He probably won't qualify any more for his special programs as he does put 3 words together, just not the correct 3 words and he usually leaves the last syllable off his words. But unlike most almost 3 year olds and unlike even older children, he can identify letters and what they sound like. He is very friendly and active. His younger brother tries to keep up with him but isn't nearly as agile. He already has a sizable vocabulary and does put final sounds on his words so he probably won't have the same speech issues. He is very charming with his big smile and beautiful eyelashes and curls.
This morning, all the babies were together at Naomi's condo. I stayed later to help Naomi study for her last test before getting to deal with real patients. Sample question:
Which aid would be most helpful to remind Mrs. Alzheimers' which room is hers?
  1. a current picture of her on the door
  2. a current picture of her family on the door
  3. her name printed in big letters
  4. a picture of her 40 years ago
Answer: 4. She doesn't even recognize herself in the mirror much less a current picture

We had our first frost yesterday as evidenced by frost on the car. It didn't kill my plants though as they are close to the house. According to our Neighborhood Watch, there is someone in our area chasing down female joggers asking for directions and then insisting they hop in his car to show him where he wants to go. When they refuse, he follows them  until the jogger manages to lose them. So far, this guy seems to be driving 3 very different vehicles but the vehicles are similar in that the license is covered up and the driver is covered up too so he can't be readily identified. Great, more things to worry about when out in the country.

Naomi, Maya and myself now have colds. Mine is very mild and hopefully will go away if I don't exercise today, not that I've had that much time to. It is still very nice out.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In the pink

Another beautiful, handmade card from Lesa, a BC survivor playing it forward with her company LittleLifePreservers.. This scan doesn't quite do it justice. I count 10 layers of colors including the pink, jewelled ribbon on top. The stamped graphic is hand colored and glittered. Within is a nice poem about surviving.

October is the month of pink. Two years ago when I was going through treatment, I felt surrounded by breast cancer. There is much contraversy surrounding turning breast cancer into a marketing tool. If all the extra profits from the pink objects actually go towards research or towards helping BC patients battle or  to help them recover, fine. There have been some studies saying this is not the case though. The companies defend themselves saying that they are spreading 'awareness'. Enough awareness already!

As to how pink I feel, I seem to be a clock running down. Today I didn't get out of bed until 9: true sloth. I did stay up later than usual watching the finale of my favorite Mad Men (which wasn't as good as I had hoped). But for the past 2 month, I've been getting up later and later. Maybe too much running?

Shanna and the boys come tomorrow. I can't wait.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The girl of many colors

I still haven't been able to capture her elusive smile.

Although there was a frost advisory one night ago, we still have dry, sunny days good for running. There are still plenty of fall colors.

Ms. Maya is a gemisch of many ethnicities: African-American, Jewish, Native American, Scottish, German, Irish, etc. My racist father definitely would not approve of her existance. As it was, he referred not so lovingly to his  6 grandchildren as 'half-breeds' and pretended not to know their names as if they weren't important to know. How did this person raised by well-educated people in the lap of luxury become so hateful? It is a mystery. As he grew older, he became more bitter and more outwardly racist. In high school, I tutored in the inner city. I brought home a few of my pupils. He was certain these sweet little girls would rob us blind even though they were 9 and 10. He refused to use the hospital his health plan dictated as it was in the inner city. However, much to his chagrin, having health care in the suburbs didn't guarantee no African American care workers. He frequently lashed out at them telling them that their people have moved into his neighborhood wrecking his home's value. What did he expect them to do with this information? Apoligize? If I was around, I would apoligize to the worker saying that my father wasn't right in the head, which would make him furious. As it was, the number one reason his home's value declined was he refused to maintain it as that would cost money. The African Americans he hated so much actually would shovel his driveway as they couldn't stand to see my mom struggling with the snow. And for the value of his home now, gone, gone, gone with the housing situation now. I am lucky to have sold it when I did.

I haven't accomplished all the chores on my list for this weekend. I was reading a book on health care hoaxes alot directed towards the health care industry overselling the benefits of mega vitamin doses though he also goes into specifics on how drug companies skew data to their purposes. Bottom line: don't believe much of what you read. One funny story I wasn't aware of: During WW2, German pilots were puzzled how British pilots seemed to detect German planes in the dark. The British planted information to make the Germans believethat the British's superior night vision was due to a heavy ingestion of carrots not due to radar that they really wanted to keep secret.
Oh the power of those vitamins.
There are some people out there that try to convince cancer patients to forgo chemo and just take vitamins instead to no good effect.

And my team lost another one. Ugh.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Soccer moms vs soccer dads

We are the champions! The first place team of the T/Th league (us) played the M/W 2nd place team. The winners of the 1 vs 2 then played. I or rather my handsome, young buff avatar scored the winning goal. My uncoordinated sorry self just cheered on the sidelines. No more soccer for a while. The indoor adult league plays too late. The other soccer mom is plotting another possible activity for our two guys. She is also an ice skating mom but her olympic avatar a few weeks ago has his achilles severed by a skate.

So there are soccer moms and soccer dads and they rarely sit together. On our many out of state tournaments, where would Sue sit? With the soccer dads of course! Many of the soccer moms thought it was a little strange that I actually knew the difference between being in an offside position and being offside. Or that I was just strange. Well I actually coached soccer despite being a total klutz myself and  had quizzed Josh relentlesly to prepare for his referee test. I do know the rules and despite me barely able to kick a ball, my teams usually won. As for the soccer dads, they usually welcomed me all except one. I really made him feel uncomfortable by my directness. Did he think I was coming on to him? (as IF!!!). He actually was in a field that required interpersonal skills so that puzzled me further. The other dads were mostly physcians in which interpersonal skills are nice but not toally necessary. His kid was on the same team for the entire 7 years Josh was. Finally in the last couple of years he seemed to accept me.

It is becoming colder and colder with a frost advisary tonight. I keep hoping dark, bleak winter won't happen but it will. On a positive note, Shanna and the babies come in a few days. Yay for that!. Friday is Naomi's day off from school and I visited her and Maya for a while. Ms Maya is content to stare at the ceiling fan go round and round. What goes on in their minds?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Can learning Italian prevent Alzheimer's?

No but it can delay by 3 years on the average in which you seek help for Alzheimer's according to a recent study summarized the other day in the WSJ. Apparently bilingual people are 3 years older on the average than those who speak only one language when they first complain of cognitive loss. Now the incidence isn't any less but the thought processes needed to juggle two languages gets people through the early stages. So my learning Italian wasn't a total waste not that I am bilingual by any stretch of the imagination. I can speak as a toddler in French and Italian and make very simple requests in Spanish and German.

Use it or lose it. In the chapters Naomi needed to study for her nursing test today, the importance of remaining active was stressed. If the patient can't move their own muscles, one has to move them for them.

Every morning as I sip my coffee made by Steve (he thinks I make a mess if I did it), I do one Killer Suduko. I am becoming quite efficient at solving them. I do the WSJ crossword puzzle on Fridays. When I had other papers, I'd do the Sunday NY Times one. Now I have a book of them but I got the hardest rated ones which are somewhat above my ability. I then run and return to eat. I take my meds as soon as I get up. Food interferes with my thyroid stuff. At one point I turned hypothyroid as I was taking calcium infested rolaids for my shredded stomach lining. Now I am very careful not to take my calcium supplements until 4 hours later.

For the first 2 weeks, Naomi needs to learn and be tested on a lot of readings. Then she must learn many procedures. I can just help with the reading material. She's on her own for the procedures and clinical work. Steve watches Ms. Maya for about 2 hours until Dontae takes over. She has to pump during the day in order for Steve or Dontae to have something to give Ms. Insatiable.

This is the last week of soccer. Since his team was first place, they play the first team place team in the other league tomorrow. I left in the dark before the game was over. A wind had picked up and it started to rain. Indian  Summer might be over.
Finally my conventional morning glories are producing. Instead of the tiny dark purple blooms, I now have the huge pale blue blossoms. So pretty.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Middle of the night reading

For some reason, teenagers seem to think they look better making kissy faces. This is the result of Naomi's recent hair dye job. Wish she'd go back to her original beautiful color but at least this is closer.

Yesterday it was decided that I should have 'fall' hair instead of my very light blonde summer hair. Whatever. So now my hair is more carmel colored. I think I prefer the light blonde especially since it looked good with my  new pumpkin coat.

Today was intensive study day. No time to exercise but I guess I needed a break. Naomi needs to know how to deal with patients having various chronic conditions. There was a bit with her needing to diagnose certain conditions using 4 out of her 5 senses; the one missing being taste. No licking of your patients apparently though cystic fibrosis gives patients very salty skin. But just last night when insomnia drove me to read Love in the Time of Cholera, one of the characters, a doctor, diagnosed diabetics by tasting urine for sugar. Yum. This was before test strips though one of the discoverers of insulin's function set urine out to dry in the sun. If it attracted ants, it was assumed sugar was within.

I am liking Love in the Time of Cholera better than A Hundred Years of Solitude. Someone years ago gave it to me eagerly as it was her favorite book in the whole wide world and life changing etc but I just could  not follow it or appreciate it and have felt guilty ever since.

We had Mom's group at the  half-off margarita night place. I am still woozy from my peach and pomegranate margaritas. But nice company..

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Statistical significance

Recently there was a report that BRAC1 defects that lead to TNBC is less deadly than 'wild-type' TNBC (75% survival after 5 years versus 50%). What!?! In the past, BRAC1 carriers were counselled to have mastectomies and their ovaries removed even before any cancer appeared as they were at such high risk for getting breast cancer.
Summaries of this report did not make any sense to me so I read the original report today.
The study took 77 patients with TNBC. No mention of what stage they were or if their treatment was the same. These patients did not have a family history of breast cancer but they were tested anyway for the genetic defect. 19.5% were found to have it despite the lack of history (it is an autosomal dominant trait: you had to get it from one of your parents and there usually is a string of  prematurely dead realatives in your history). One of the conclusions the study made was that everyone with TNBC should be tested; not just those with a history.
They followed these 77 patients. After 5 years, 50% of the non-BRAC1 patients were dead but 75% of the BRAC1 ladies were alive. So it was concluded that BRAC1 TNBC is less deadly. Fair enough. But 19.5% of 77 is 15. Instead of the expected 7 or 8 deaths, there were only 4. My conclusion would be that their sample was way too small. My secondary conclusion was that not all BRAC1 defects are the same and the fact that it didn't kill their relatives suggest they have a less deadly type. Also the fact that TNBC killed 50% of women just like myself wasn't a day brightner but maybe they didn't have the same treatment as I did or were a higher stage.
I got my hair done today. The chemo curls are becoming laxer and laxer. I still have a little wave left though, my cancer gift.
I bought this very cool jacket at a boutique on the way there. It's pumpkin colored. Hopefully I won't be confused with the great pumpkin.

Monday, October 11, 2010


The two pictures above are oil paintings that I inherited from my grandmother. The artist's name is Carelli. Googling the name, I found it to be very common, even among Italian landscape artists. My grandmother purchased these  probably in the 1930s or maybe the 1940s. Maybe they were from a 'starving artist' sale but in general, my grandma didn't buy cheap. There is a sticker on the back of one of them that it was framed in Pasadena arguing against its Italian origins though the scenery looks more Italian than American. I am putting these out there in case they are familiar to someone in cyberworld.

Indian summer persists. The rain did not show up. I ran for 7 miles enjoying the fall colors.
I am trying to organize things here. One thing our investment property has that we don't have is storage space.

My morning glory dreams did not work out as I had hoped. Most of the plants form this huge ball of vegetation that I am lucky to get one blossom a day. Lots of dead leaves looking like bats hanging. I cut these away each day. I read some where that I could dig up my geraniums, shake off most of the dirt and store them dry over the winter soaking them in water occasionally. I have increased my plants considerably by sticking cuttings directly into the soil but storing them all in pots takes up alot of room.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


A year ago I was in Stresa, Italy. So, so beautiful and special. When will I be able to return?

Indian summer continues. Steve and I have been taking long walks while trying to plan our next steps.

Naomi starts her class tomorrow.

Maya is now 101 days old.

UM seemed to lose its magic despite its promising start.

On the menu tonight, artichokes and cheddar cauliflower, a bright orange kind grown locally.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Look closely: Made up of women

The most common cause of thyrotoxicosis (toxicity due to too much thyroid hormone) is Graves' Disease, an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies stimulate the thyroid into constantly over producing. Minor cause: thyrotoxicosis factitia in which the hormone is ingested in excessive amounts either purposely (as to lose weight!) or accidentally as in a documented case of hamburger thyrotoxicosis. What would that be? Seems that somewhere in the Midwest, there was a very large family. All of them except one came down with severe symptoms consistent with thyrotoxicosis although their thyroids looked normal.  What was going on? Why was the one kid different from the rest? Turns out he hated hamburger. Every night, the whole family chowed down on hamburger purchased on the cheap from a local meat packing firm. The meat was chock full of thyroid glands ground up. Other people in town had a more varied menu.

An old chemistry joke:
What's the difference between an enzyme and a hormone?
You ask this to a scientist. They would drone on and on how enzymes are always proteins, hormones could be proteins too but often are steroids, peptides, or other molecules. Both catalyst reactions. Heat and stomach acid would destroy most enzymes but not hormones necessarily (such as thyroid hormone!), yadda, yadda...
You can't hear an enzyme.

I showed up in the ER with a whopping case of thyrotoxicosis about 14 years ago. I didn't know what it was. I assumed there was something very wrong with my heart as it was beating out of my chest. My femoral pulse looked like someone was inside of me kicking out though more regularly and quickly than any baby could..about 120 times per minute at rest. Previous resting heart rate: around 50 as I was a marathon runner and a triathlete. But now I was having a very hard time running. I had collapsed on a stairmaster a few days before banning me from the fitness center until I had a doctor's OK. (I was used to a certain routine: I figured if I could climb so many flights in a certain time one week, I should be able to do it the next week and tried to ignore my flagging body). All sorts of heart tests ensued in which it was determined that my heart was OK. I eventually was referred to an internist who diagnosed me correctly in one minute. He had noticed that I was sweating sitting with only a paper gown on me when the temperature was around 50 due to some malfunctioning air conditioner. He, Dr. Death Breath, told me that my care would be under his chief resident, Dr. Doogie Howser, so named by me as he seemed impossibly young. Dr. Death Breath, so named as he seemed to be putrefying on the inside, managed to hang in there until last year when I had read his obit. Dr. Doogie dutifully went through the common symptoms of Graves' Disease. I had them all. He finally addressed a more minor manifestation:
Do you have frequent urination?
What's that?
Often. Having to urinate often.
I know what frequent means. I just want to know how often you think is often.
Well having to get up at night for instance.
That's not normal?
You never get up at night? (violating some cardinal rule of never asking a doctor a personal question but as you probably know, I ignore that one).
No. Never.

Well I guess I surround myself with abnormal people even though I am fairly sure they don't have Graves'. Who doesn't get up at night when they are in their 40s?

Of course as young as Doogie was, he might have been still wetting the bed. He still had baby fat. He was a slow talker. One manifestation of Graves' Disease is speaking very quickly (though rarely finishing a sentence; you're bored and on to the next thought. Listen to George Bush Sr. speech: no complete sentences, also had Graves'). I wasn't sure if he was speaking extra slowly as to somehow slow me down or he thought I had comprehension issues. People naturally slow down their speech when speaking to children, the younger the slower. I am guessing he thought I was five, at least mentally. ...this...medication...for

The next time I saw Doogie, a few days later after all the lab tests were in confirming Death Breath's diagnosis, he was accompanied by at least 6 similarly young people.
I hope you don't mind. This is a teaching hospital and rarely do we get to see such a florid case of Graves'.
Sure, why not. (at least there would not be any random sticking of hands up my vajayjay as by the OB interns while I was in labor with Shanna. By the time I had Josh, I became more forceful in dealing with these interns. One young man taking an intake history while I was in labor with Josh, kept asking the same question repeatedly as if I were deaf and as if I wasn't in the middle of a contraction. I sent him packing, the young snot. Don't ask questions in the middle of a contraction!)
They felt my impossibly hot skin. They noticed my very nice complexion (a plus of Graves'). They had me extend my arm and put a little piece of paper on my knuckles and timed the frequency of my tremors contrasting it with that of a Parkinson's patient. (this was somewhat appeared that I was nervous and I am not a nervous person. These stupid tremors made my job very difficult as fine motor skills were necessary. Also my handwriting went to hell. Also they did not go unnoticed by a certain co-worker who went to the powers that be or were to say that either I was on drugs of some sort or had poisoned myself in the lab). I gave them all a little speech educating them on the many manifestations of Graves'..
Then Doogie said Note her speech. Very typical of a Graves' patient.

 I clammed up embarassed. The show was over. It's like telling a patient that you are going to determine their respiratory rate and then expect them to  breathe normally. Not going to happen.

I took  an antithyroid drug for a year: PTU. This is the same substance formerly used in high school biology classes to determine if you were a taster, a genetic trait. No more monitoring genetic traits anymore; too sticky of an issue. Fortunately I am not a taster as it would be a very bitter substance to a taster and I had to take it 4 times a day as its half life was so short. Doogie thought I wasn't getting any better though by then I felt fine. My thyroid was still huge: he thought it needed to be destroyed and refused to give me any more PTU.

Before there were treatment options for Graves'; one third would spontaneously get better, one third would have symptoms come and go; one third would die. I could have it surgically removed (no thanks: one of the mom's nerve to her larynx was severed in this operation, she had to breathe through a trach for a month and obviously couldn't speak) or destroyed by beta rays emitted by I131. Flash forward to the last time I saw my oncologist. She seemed unusually interested where I was getting my 'natural' thyroid replacement hormone. They have some form you fill out saying what meds you are on and if you need refills. I once said, yes I need a refill for Prilesec and was denied even though the doctor could fill it in a second versus me and the half hour long automated menu. I said, the natural stuff is no longer available (due to the manufacturer refusing to do the bioavailability tests needed) and am back to the Synthetic stuff, which I do not like. But I wondered why she cared until I noticed the smily neck scar. She had opted for the surgery as the beta rays might destroy her eggs. (my unsolicited advice: better get cracking with those eggs). Of course I didn't care that they fried my eggs. I was done birthin' babies. I do wonder if they damaged other crucial body parts such as the C cells within the thyroid and the parathyroids living on top of the thyroid. I wanted to discuss with her why she opted for the natural stuff as the official party line is that it should be avoided. But it is her business and considerably off topic. She was to be assessing me for recurrences and nothing more.

A beautiful day here and the biggest football game is on-going. So far, it looks good for UM. But anything can happen.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Maya art

14 weeks

Eyes still blue

The lamp I bought. Haven't found the right place for it yet

One of Josh's friends mom made this for Maya's wall
It is still Indian summer here. The leaves have turned about 50% now near my house. The soccer halves keep having to be shortened further as it is almost dark at 7:20 now. I went for a long run this morning, played with Maya for a while and then back to driving all over the county looking at houses to get ideas. What do we want anyway?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sweating the small stuff

When faced with a potentially deadly diagnosis, everything else seems to fade in just want to live, no matter what. But still irritations pop up..
  • Verizon. Recently I got a new phone. I could have had another one a long time ago but I didn't feel like weighing my options. Steve got this for me. It came with no instruction manuel although presumably there is one online somewhere. I spent a week not answering the phone because I didn't know how. I'd just figure out who called and I'd call that person back. I didn't even know how to shut the thing off. I had locked it in the car at one of those funerals I went to. Today a message appeared that an app that tells where the caller is from had been given to me for free for a while but now I must pay for it. Do I want to do this? There was no button to say NO. Any button I would press would potentially say I wanted it. This really irritated me. Steve called Verizon. After 15 minutes going through all the automated menus, he got a person who went through the many steps I would need to go through to opt out of this. Trust me, it was complicated.  Verizon has all sorts of sneaky ways to increase their revenue. This one should be illegal. And the app was stupid. It tells you only where the caller first got their phone service. If Shanna called, it would say Call from West Los Angeles CA. However she is usually calling from the other coast. Now if it would really tell you where they were calling from, that would be useful, not just to satisfy my nosiness either. Just a few weeks ago, I got another call from Josh asking me, where HE is. He didn't know. He thought he was in Canton somewhere and wondered when he was going to hit an expressway. He did know the road he was on but not the direction, etc. I have given up giving him maps and atlases. He ignores them or throws them away. He has a GPS too but it might be in Julia's car.
  • Naomi. It is always with some dread when I leave her in charge. Something might go wrong and she won't know how to handle it. Initially it looked like all was well with the world but then Steve spotted these purple smears all over the bathroom walls. I looked in the trash and saw hair dye (annoying enough as that is). There must have been an explosion of some sort. All she would say was it wasn't her fault and it wasn't purple. Could you at least apoligize? Sorry. I haven't seen the results of this dyeing either. She was careful to leave before we got home. Well we were going to redo the bathroom anyway...and I guess it's better she trashed our bathroom rather than our newly done investment property's.
  • Comcast. When we went to 'upgrade' our service, their agent promised us the world. When it actually came time to install the new package, certain services promised were missing. When Steve complained, he was told that the first agent had no business promising THAT. I smell a rat...Bait and Switch? Lesson learned: when dealing with slimy people, get everything in writing. Get names.
  • Truck drivers. If you are going to pass, pass. Just don't ride beside  the other truck for miles going 55.This kept happening over and over yesterday.  I think most of the trucks should be replaced by trains. On the super highways in Europe, drivers are very careful not to linger one second in the left lane if they aren't passing. Presumably the left lane is only for passing. I wish this would be enforced more.

Whine, whine, whine. But it is a beautiful sunny day and I am healthy as apparently another family member is too despite a scarier  (by alot) diagnosis. All is right.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Vacay yesterday

detail of building in downtown Holland

detail in restaurant. I'm looking for ideas for back splashes

Black squirrel eating nut. In Ann Arbor, the huge fox squirrel is the most common though the very aggressive but small red squirrel is increasing in numbers

Steve along Douglas beach which I ran overlooking this morning. Notice all the people.

I liked these grasses in front of our B&B

Holland restaurant. Looked cool inside and the food was good too

Our B&B in Douglas

Artistic bathroom in Saugatuck

Stuffed raccoon in our B&B

Oval Beach near sunset

Sunset at Oval Beach
Steve and I went on a short trip to the western coast of the state. Naomi begins her class next week and at least one of us needs to be around for Maya duty. At the last minute, it was decided she needed a TB test. It turns out her primary never was officially changed. To see her new one would be a weeks' wait so Naomi had to go back to her pediatrician. I'm glad I missed that appointment and the sidewards glances my way. Several years ago, she asked Naomi if she had any interest in sex. Naomi quickly said no and the subject was dropped to both of their relief.

So we had beautiful weather, took long walks on the beach, went shopping (got the coolest lamp and top), had nice meals, sat on the porch of our B&B drinking wine, used the hot tub...

I got up early this morning to run along a road that runs along the top of a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. There are some fall colors now (about 20%). It was very beautiful.

Josh had called to see why I wasn't at the soccer game. He had gone over to see the family of the woman who died last week. The dad pulled him aside and pleaded with him to please include his son as much as possible in the near future.


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