Archive for May, 2008

What’s the Story of Stuff?

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Amy recently mentioned a terrific 20-minute film by Annie Leonard called, “The Story of Stuff,” which is a cheerful critique of our western consumerist economy. It highlights both equity issues and environmental impacts, and explains why our current way of life is simply not sustainable. I encourage you to check it out!

Annie Leonard's Story of Stuff

The Kitty is my copilot

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Tibbs has always been Daddy’s boy. I caught them having a shared moment today and the resulting photo was too cute not to share:
the Kitty is Bill's copilot

Behold the interloper(s)…

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

At one point this afternoon, Bill glanced at the Kitty on the kitchen counter and laughed. “He’s just sitting there by the window looking straight up!” I surmised that he was probably watching birds, but I tiptoed over to see and found something even more amusing:

Tibbs regarding the squirrel thiefThis squirrel, holding a pecan, sat on a branch perhaps 30″ beyond the glass. For several minutes, Tibbs and The Squirrel sat there motionless, regarding one another, presumably each questioning the right of the other one to remain.

Occasionally, church is just the thing

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Recently, I mostly feel ambivalent about going to church. We started exploring St. Stephen’s about nine years ago, before we were married there in 2001. I really like the small feel and progressive church community. Later, I got really involved with the social justice ministry called The Metropolitan Organization. But within a year or two, I burned out because the organizing work I was doing through church was much too much like the organizing work that I do all week. As a result, church stopped feeling like a place for me to recharge. For the last six months, I have only attended once a month, on the day I’m responsible for altar guild.

Since today was my day to get up early and take care of the altar changeover, I headed to bed early last night in the hopes of being rested. However, a certain Someone played Oblivion until the pre-dawn hours. He woke me on his way into bed and I laid awake for an hour. Instead of waking rested, I woke up cranky and anxious after a final two hours of fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep. For a final insult, I realized in the kitchen that I had failed to make it to the store yesterday, so I went off to church this morning uncaffeinated as well.

Somehow though, church came through for me this morning, managing to soothe my surly disposition. First, today’s gospel concluded by saying, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” That’s good advice I often need to hear again.

Then, we sang the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish — “Padre nuestro” — in honor of an upcoming mission trip to Honduras. I had never heard it in Spanish, and this lilting, folksy version resonated with me much more than speaking the King James language ever has.

After the eucharist, we received a blessing attributed to St. Theresa, that I liked so much I will share it here:

May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing that you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love. It is there for each and every one of us.

Isn’t that simply beautiful?

And finally, I was caught off guard when I recognized the final hymn of the service. “Seek ye first” is one of my favorites — simple and beautiful — and we sang it during our wedding ceremony. I was so surprised and delighted that I sniffled and wept as I sang.

I guess that the service was just what I needed. I left feeling considerably more charitable than I arrived, and able to head off to the store with clear purpose and a light heart. At least this day, at least for a little while, church was again a place of renewal.

Shocker rocker ending: Cook takes 2008 Idol title

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Wednesday night, I watched the two-hour American Idol finale with Amy (by phone). Actually, Bill watched it too from NYC (and he knew how it ended two hours before we did since his hotel room doesn’t have a DVR). Eight weeks ago, I mentioned that I was impressed by David Cook‘s Idol performances. Of the top dozen contestants, this 25-year-old rocker struck me as both the smartest one in the lot, and also the most mature performer on the show. I wanted him to win!

However, Idol is only partly a talent competition; it’s also a marketing machine for corporate sponsors, including Apple, AT&T, Coke, Ford, and of course, Fox. Their brazenly pervasive use of product placement is truly something to behold. This show is all about cash and marketability, and there’s no question that audience demographics determine the winner.

So, while David Cook made an impression on this thirty-something married lady, the 17-year-old David Archuletta seemed far more compelling for all the cute teeny-boppers in the show’s audience. When it came down to the final vote, Amy and I figured that Archuletta would capture the title, and consoled ourselves that David Cook is good enough to be assured of a recording contract tomorrow anyway.

But that’s not what happened. The first surprise was that the show ran long and our DVRs ended the SD broadcast with host Ryan Seacrest saying, “The winner, by 12 million votes, of American Idol 2008 is David…[click]”. Fortunately, the HD feed revealed the surprise outcome. In the end, with 96 million people voting, David Cook beat Archuletta. Woo-hoo!

If you’re interested, you can watch the finale recap and David’s final performance online at AmericanIdol.com. But if you miss these videos, don’t worry. I know we’ll see this guy again! Whee!!!

David Cook wins American Idol

Amy observed wryly that as many votes were cast for American Idol Tuesday night as in the last U.S. presidential election. But then, Idol lets people vote early and often. I only got to vote for president once in 2004. :-)

WFN…WTF?!?!

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Fishin'...in HD. Seriously.
With Comcast raising rates and testing the limits of how much we like TiVo vs. going back to satellite, I perused the lastest offering from Dish Network over the weekend. What compelling content do they have to entice us to switch? In a word, fishin’. Yes, there is now fishing. As a channel. In high def. That someone pays for. To watch. Sober.

WTF?

Iritis revisited, part 3: under pressure

Monday, May 19th, 2008

A few weeks ago, I read Jason’s post about feeling older, given soreness and joint pain after helping his mom move. I can really relate!

This week my doctors are trying to figure out the cause of my lower back pain, and whether it has anything to do with the inflammation in my right eye. I went today to receive the results from my MRI. The good news: there is something causing the pain in my back. The bad news: there is something causing the pain in my back. Sigh.

L4-L5 — 8 mm posterior disc herniation, interfacetal degenerative change, and mild posterior ligamentous hypertrophy with moderate central spinal stenosis and bilateral neural foraminal narrowing; there is a a question of a small free disc fragment posterior to L5

So for some reason, my lumbar vertebrae are compressing one of my spinal discs and causing it to bulge. But more concerning is that there is also narrowing (stenosis) of the bone channels (foramina) where the nerves and spinal cord run. These “degenerative changes” could be normal if I were 50 or older, but I’m not. We don’t know yet why this is happening.
diagram: herniated spinal disc
Diagram of a herniated disc borrowed from WebMD.

I would hope that the herniated disc will be treatable within a few months with anti-inflammatories and physical therapy focused on strengthening my “core” muscles. But the other issues are problematic. So my doctor wants me to see a neurosurgeon or orthopedist who specializes in spinal conditions before I do anything interesting. Another weird thing is I’m again (still?) running a low-grade fever, and we’re not sure why. Hmm…

Fortunately, we have great insurance, and we live just two miles from one of the largest and best-regarded medical centers in the world. That means I have lots of specialists to choose from. Unfortunately, I have to wait a while longer for answers.

Iritis revisited: Labs, x-rays, and MRIs, oh my!

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Two weeks ago Saturday, I woke up with an uncomfortable eye condition called iritis, or inflammation of the iris. I had not experienced any eye trauma, and I did not appear to have any eye infection, so there’s a possibility the iritis is related to some kind of systemic condition. Since I have also been experiencing lower back pain for months, my doctor ordered a battery of tests to rule out some scary auto-immune disorders that often trigger iritis.

Last week, I went for a dozen x-rays of my chest, lumbar spine, and sacroiliac joints. The chest and hip films looked normal. But the spine x-ray showed what the radiologist called “degenerative changes” including “disc space narrowing and osteophytes” (bone spurs) at L4 , L5, and the lumbosacral junction, as well as a possible “pars defect” (herniated disc). So on Friday I went for an MRI to get a better picture of what’s going on in my back.

Bob before MRI MRI machine magnet safety warning

I actually enjoyed the process, so in case you haven’t had an MRI before now, I will describe it. (There’s also a great explanation of MRI in Wikipedia.) The first challenge is not bringing any metal or magnetic media anywhere near the magnetic field: no jewelry, no glasses, no underwire bra, no cellphone, no billfold. The second challenge of an MRI can be claustrophobia. Fortunately, this machine was “open” on both ends, as you can see above. I also closed my eyes.

The biggest challenge of any MRI is staying completely and utterly still throughout the imaging. My scans only took 20 minutes, though some can take an hour or more. I only had to lie on my back, so I expected it to be easy. I was also counting on yoga breathing to help me be calm and still. But once I was in the machine, I suddenly worried that using my diaphragm to breathe deeply might cause my spine to move, so I needed another approach: visualization.

MRI scans involve a LOT of noise. The first sound I noticed was a soft-but-incessant boom-che, boom-che, boom-che — like a snare drum/high hat rhythm. The MRI tech told me afterwards that it was the sound of the cooling pump for the superconducting electromagnet, and that the pump was the most important piece of equipment in the room. But I imagined instead that it was a cheerful little drummer beating out a rhythm to keep me company during the scans. I knew it was silly but it made me smile.

The actual scanning process was LOUD, even through 29-decibel earplugs. I had five sets of scans, and each one sounded different. I understand that the radio transmitters were changing frequencies to systematically alter the alignment of hydrogen nuclei in water molecules in my body to reveal various internal structures. But that’s not what it sounded like:

  • The first scan sounded like the zzzrt, zzzrt, zzzrt of a slow dot matrix printer;
  • the second was like the slow ehng, ehng, ehng of an alarm clock;
  • the third scan was the loudest, like the fast-and-insistent errrn, errrn, errrn of some car alarms;
  • the fourth was like the fast-and-steady zshun, zshun, zshun, zshun of a sewing machine. I imagined that my mom was repairing a seam or assembling a costume, and that she looked up and smiled at me while she sewed; and
  • the last scan sounded like a cacophonous combination of the third and fourth scans.

Every now and then, the table I was on would lurch to a slightly different position. It got warmer and warmer beneath me as the imaging continued. And in between scan sets I could hear my cheerful drummer: boom-che, boom-che, boom-che. He definitely made the process go a lot faster!

I am hoping fervently that the changes in my back are simply lingering effects from when I hurt my back in Nov 2006 and Oct 2007. I am hoping the MRI will confirm this, and that my doctor will just order six weeks of physical therapy and tell me I have to do crunches everyday for the rest of my life. But it’s also possible that I hurt my back because of changes/weakness resulting from another disorder, like ankylosing spondylitis (AS). That’s why the doctor ordered a battery of blood tests as well.

The good news is that AS and the other spondylarthropathies all share a common gene marker, called HLA-B27, which they can test for. The bad news is that my blood test came back positive for the gene. That doesn’t mean I have AS — about 7% of people in North America carry the gene while only 0.1% of people in the US have AS — but it means they can’t rule out the possibility either, which is scary. I have to wait until Tuesday to get the MRI results and more information from my doctor. In the meantime, I am struggling to find peace while waiting and pondering the possibilities. But I guess that means it’s time for more yoga breathing.

Live from Las Vegas, it’s Miss Emma!

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Bill and I are back in Vegas this weekend to meet Cindy & Paul’s brand-new baby, Miss Emma Story!
Emma Story
Emma was born Wednesday May 7th at 5:55 pm by caesarian section. She weighed 8 pounds 3 ounces and was 20 inches long. Here for your viewing pleasure are some photos we snapped in their hospital room Friday (click thumbnails for full-size photo):
Emma's first head shot
Emma at ~48 hours old
Proud papa Paul
Paul as the proud papa
Cindy and Emma
Cindy as the new mom
Paul makes baby burrito Emma baby burrito Bob holding Emma
They’re just two days in and Paul is already an expert “burrito” maker! Afterwards, he let Bob hold Emma.

That’s it for now. We’re heading back to the hospital where we’ll help the new family pack up and take Emma home. More soon!

Hello summer!

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Houston is 88I broke a sweat driving home from acupuncture today. I’m no weather girl but I know what that means. It’s official: summer is here and Houston is hot.

Yes, I realize that the official start of summer is more than a month away, and that it will assuredly get much, much hotter. But it’s time to switch to shorts, bust out the reflective window shade, and think twice about parking in full sun. I call that summer!