Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day 1 and 2: In Transit and Dublin

Note: I started drafting this on Monday, but jet-lag and expensive WiFi stopped me from finishing.

After the weeks and months of waiting, the day of departure finally dawned.

Not surprisingly, I did not sleep well the night before. Just as I headed for bed, a migraine hit. In the morning my head was pounding. All I could think about was getting to the airport - without forgetting anything important.

Last-minute items stuffed into suitcases. Final briefing for the kids. Took a taxi to the airport - and almost got in three accidents on the way, our driver was such an aggressive driver. But we checked in early, whizzed through security, and found a restaurant for lunch.

Goodness, how I love those eyes!
Fortunately, all of our flights went smoothly - connections were a breeze, landings were unremarkable. The sun was just rising as we landed in Amsterdam.

From there we flew to Dublin, where we were greeted at the airport and checked into our rooms right away.  After a short rest (but NO NAP!) we went on a really short cruise on the canal that was right across the street from our hotel.
Our boat barely made it under the tunnel.
For anyone who has cruised on the Rideau Canal, this experience will be nothing spectacuar. BUT, this one came with a welcome cocktail.
Steve welcomed his first Guiness of the trip.
After the wee cruise, we had a bus tour of downtown Dublin. Oh, the architecture!
Georgian doors.
Apparently neighbours were very competitive when it came to ornamentation of their entries.
I want this window.
By then, everyone on the tour was fading fast. A quick dinner at the hotel, then back to our rooms for a good 12-hour nap.  The itinerary for Day 3 included a tour of the residential areas of Dublin (where many of the tragedies of The Troubles took place) and then on to Belfast.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

While We're Away

I'm pretty sure the kids were confident that they could relax while Steve and I are away. And they sort of will. I expect mealtimes will be a little more "catch as catch can" and dishes might pile up considerably higher than I would like.

But while I was stranded at the mall yesterday, I decided to pick up on an idea that my niece pinned on Pinterest. The idea is that you attach a certain amount of cold, hard cash to a specific job that is not part of anyone's regular chores.

Our kids happen to be broke right now (aren't all kids?) and are eager to find ways to earn money, so I took out a bunch of cash and grabbed some deposit envelopes at the bank, and started writing out the chores I am willing to pay for.

Tasks and descriptions.
My system is not nearly as pretty as Carmona's, but I still think it'll work. I like the fact that you can see the cash through the little windows.

Here are the rules we established:

  • You cannot take the money before the chore is complete.
  • You may share the chore and are responsible for negotiating between yourselves.
  • When you have completed the chore, sign your name on the envelope and take the money.
  • Leave the empty envelopes at Mom's place at the dining room table.

I wasn't sure how the kids would respond, but it looks like they welcome the idea. Shortly after we showed them the envelopes, they began negotiating who would get which chores.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this works. If it does, I think I'll continue doing it. And perhaps making some prettier envelopes.

Friday, April 26, 2013

I need a vacation.

We are mere hours away from our trip to Ireland, and, boy, could I use a vacation!

The immediate lead-up time to a trip is always hectic, but today was especially nuts-o, for several reasons:

I had a lot of loose ends to tie up at work:
  • My boss will be staffing an exhibit in Vancouver (our first conference of several this spring), and my job was to prepare all the print materials including posters and handouts, as well as to coordinate all the shipping.
  • Almost immediately after I get back to the office, I will be heading to Toronto to staff an exhibit there. So I had to prepare all those materials and arrange my travel.
  • While I'm away, my new employee is starting. (It sucks that I won't be there when she starts, but she will have some time to get used to the office and learn more about our company.) Instead, I prepared some notes and materials for her.
  • I needed to draft four press releases for follow-up by my boss. At least two of those should be published while I'm gone.
  • I had to bring one of my peers up to speed on the changes I've made to our website and on our revised press-release publishing process.
  • I had to pack my office up before leaving as they will be re-reconfiguring it while I am away.
Complicating all of that was the fact that our office is being reconfigured and we were unable to work at our desks on Monday or Tuesday this week. It made Wednesday really stressful.

On the personal end of things, I hit a couple of speed bumps.

Despite a 3-week course of antibiotics, my sinus infection did not clear up, so I had to see the doctor, who prescribed a different (and expensive - thank God for medical insurance!) antibiotic. So instead of working till 5 today, I had to leave early. 

(I actually would not have made an appointment today. My sinuses are bad, but, with my history, I've had worse. But I'd had a sinus x-ray on Monday and the results show that my right sinus is fully cloudy. That was more than two weeks into my course of antibiotics, so I fully expected it to be clear. I'm glad they caught it, though, because flying with a sinus infection ain't fun.)

The visit to the doctor was straightforward. But when I got to the mall to fill the prescription, I accidentally locked my keys and the prescription in the car.

To add to the fun, I had left my cell phone at home. 

In the end, I used a pay phone (Did you know that it now costs 50 cents to make a phone call?) to call home. My older son, Peter, convinced younger son, Brin, to bring me my phone and the spare key. Brian ran all the way to the mall, so I treated him to a burger while we waited for the prescription to be filled. 

And I still have to pack. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mission: Accomplished

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping with Steve and, while he bought meat and staples, I bought fruits, vegetables, bed linens, a bath-tub mat, a couple of inexpensive shirts, and a pair of bright yellow rainboots.

The produce cost about $35; the entire tab was close to $200. Now we know why there is a big trend towards super-stores. As I've mentioned many times before, it is a darned good thing that Steve does the grocery shopping. My morning sleep-ins save us a lot of money.

Anyway, I gingerly tried the boots on in the store. They were snug, but not pinchy. When I got home, I tucked in the arch supports I bought last week and they were surprisingly comfortable.

It was only after taking them off that I noticed my foot popping as I walked around barefoot. It was a strange sensation as the ball of the foot hit the floor and rolled forward. It did stop after a few minutes, so I think it's temporary. Steve thinks I may have done something to a ligament, so the arch supports are a very good idea.

Today, we went for a walk in the forest - to enjoy the sunshine (and build up my store of vitamin D) and to try out the boots.

Spring is still in the very early stages here: the ground is sodden, the very earliest of flowers are braving their way above ground, and the buds are juuuuust beginning to push their way out. We walked for about three or four kilometres, just enough to find that the boots were just fine.

We sat down to have an ice cream (yes, I know it was only 6 C, but I was HOT) and I remarked on an odd smell I'd noticed a few times during our walk. I thought it smelled like pot, but it had followed us, so that didn't make any sense. Steve said it smelled like rubber, at which point I realized it was the darned boots.

There is no way I was going to have my entire wardrobe/suitcase smelling like that for the entire trip, so I decided I would leave the boots at home.

We continued on our way and mere seconds later an elderly woman walking towards us paused and said, "Those are just beautiful!" and pointed at the boots.

Well. That nailed it. I'll bring the boots. I've put them on the front porch, hoping the rubber smell will dissipate. And I'll pack them in plastic bags so they won't contaminate everything.

And knowing my luck, Ireland will have its driest spring on record this year. Which is fine with me, as it is really difficult to hold both an umbrella and a camera.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting Ready for Wet Weather

Eeep! Only ten days till we leave for Ireland!

Way back in January, our April trip seemed so very far away. But here we are, almost within packing distance. There were only two special items that I thought I needed to purchase before our trip - and both were Ireland-specific, because I expect the weather to be wet.

This covers the exact period we'll be in Ireland.
Source: Accuweather
You know that a region has generally grey, rainy weather when it shows a picture of the sun and says "an afternoon shower." I think the Irish may be a touch optimistic.

So I thought it would be wise to purchase a rain jacket. For my camera. (I already have a good 3-season jacket for me.) I don't much mind if I get wet, but my electronics are on shaky ground with me, so I figure I'd better treat the camera right. The salesperson at the camera store tried to sell me this:
For ONLY $150!!!

Now, if I were a professional photographer planning to specialize in waterfalls and seascapes, I might consider it. But I was looking for something more like a Ziploc baggie with an opening for the lens.
Yes! Exactly like this!
Source: Op/Tech USA Rainsleeve
It was less than $15. The salesperson was a little disappointed when I snapped it up. Must be commissioned sales.

The next item I wanted was something to keep my feet dry. My experience travelling is that if your feet are unhappy, the rest of you is unhappy. If you follow this blog (or are a Facebook friend), then you know that I recently injured my right foot. Badly. No broken bones, but lots of bruising and swelling.

About a week before that injury, I went shopping for a cute waterproof shoe or boot. Preferably a shoe. I found an adorably red zip-front shoe and decided to come back and buy a pair after payday.

Well. When I hobbled back and tried the shoe on my swollen foot, I could not pull the zip up. I have very high arches (The saleswoman said they were more like ski slopes -- no lie.), and the zipper barely made it up before my injury. After the iPad attack, it was futile.

Slip-on rainboots were also out of the question.

Then I remembered a pair of really adorable Doc Martens I saw over Easter.
Can you even BELIEVE how adorable these are?
Unfortunately, they are not available anywhere in Ottawa. I looked. I did find a pair of their pink high-tops.
Also very adorable.
Unfortunately, the vamp did not open wide enough to accept my badly beaned foot. I returned home disappointed. So it looks like my good old Chuck Taylors are going to accompany me on this trip.

See how far down the vamp they unlace? Perfect!
They aren't waterproof - at least not yet. I may Scotchgard them just for a little extra water resistance. But they do have thick soles and are supremely comfortable for me. (As with most of my shoes, I put arch supports in them.)

And I may bring some Ziploc baggies for my feet.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unsound Mind

One of the bizarre things about chronic depression is how it can just sneak up on you. You're going along, doing fine, then . . . you realize that you've been increasingly miserable for . . . weeks.

Shortly before Christmas last year, I found myself feeling hypersensitive, for lack of a better word. Things that I ordinarily would have taken in stride suddenly made me weepy and kept me awake at night.

I thought the winter break would be a good respite for me - and it was - but it was not enough to tip the scales. I added yoga to the mix, only to find myself with tears rolling down my cheeks as I lay in corpse pose.

A few weeks ago, I decided to increase the dosage of my happy pills. And that's all it took. None of the external factors have changed, but now I am back to feeling "myself." I feel resilient, confident, balanced.

The bad news about this is that I'm now at the maximum dosage, according to my doctor, though I've been at almost double this while under the care of a psychiatrist. Still, it is an indication that it may be time to adjust my medication, maybe try something new. I'm not thrilled at the idea, but I'm looking at this with a longer view.

From "Spotting the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder"

I've started wondering about Seasonal Affective Disorder. Although I wrote above that "none of the  external factors have changed," one external factor has changed: the amount of daylight. And sunlight is known to stimulate serotonin production . . . As I get out in the sun more this spring, perhaps I'll be able to reduce my dosage of medication. And I should probably investigate getting some special lamps before next fall.

I've also been thinking about the ever-present analogy with diabetes, it being another chronic disease, but one for which no one apologizes for needing medication.

(I will point out that people with Type II diabetes do feel shame for having "caused" the disease.)

But back to my point. I'm going to give a short (simplified) lecture here about the difference between Type I and Type II diabetes.

Type I (formerly known as juvenile diabetes) is where the pancreas does not produce insulin. At all. None, nada. The blood sugar therefore has no mechanism to transfer into the cells. It just floats around in the blood until is spills out in the urine. (Before insulin injections came along, doctors used to encourage diabetics to eat all the carbs they could, in the hopes that at least some of them would make it across the cell membranes.)

Type II (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) is where the pancreas produces some insulin, but the insulin isn't doing its job: the cell membranes have developed "insulin resistance" - so it takes more and more insulin to help the sugar transfer into the cells. The pancreas works harder and harder to get the cells what they need, but it can eventually exhaust itself and - ultimately, if not treated - become unable to produce insulin at all, thus turning the disease into Type I.

Bear with me as I draw a parallel.

With depression, we have come to understand that if there is insufficient serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in the brain, patients feel depressed. (Or vice versa: depression may cause the reduction in serotonin. We don't know.) Modern medicine has made the miraculous (to my mind) discovery of SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) which allow more serotonin to remain available within the brain, rather than being absorbed.

In my case, I know I have a chronic serotonin imbalance, and have had for decades. What I'm wondering is if there is a comparable Type I and Type II to depression. Is it possible that my brain's ability to produce serotonin has gone from poor to negligible? In that case, inhibiting its absorption wouldn't really help.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Help! I've been wooooooounded!
Gosh, my feet are so pretty!
Last night, in vengeance for all the electronic devices I have damaged, my Kindle and iPad joined forces to attack me.

As Steve and I stripped our bed, the two devices leapt off my bedside table in a Kamikaze-esque swan dive, landing corner-first upon my unsuspecting foot. (I didn't see it happen; I just felt the results. But I'm going to claim that both devices attacked me because you can't prove otherwise.) I swore a blue streak but finished the job, then hobbled downstairs to play on the computer do something productive. As I sat there with my foot raised, I noticed an odd sensation.

Not quite a throb. Not a sting. More like . . . the skin on my foot was stretching, like it was about to give birth to an alien life form, as if my foot were some sort of pod extremity. It was only then that I removed my sock and stared at the blue lump rising victoriously to claim the terrain.

Of course, I immediately posted a picture to Facebook. (How, otherwise, would I get sympathy? Stephen had already gone to sleep and was not present to call the WAHmbulance!) Then I asked Emily to help me get ice and a tensor bandage on it.

I iced/compressed it overnight. But by mid-morning it was looking worse (see photo above, number two in the series of sympathetic-ouch-inducing pictures posted to Facebook). I also I began to receive anecdotal horror stories of people who had broken bones in their feet and had walked on them for days/weeks/months and done irreparable/chronic damage.

So I called my doctor. (Yay! I have my very own doctor!)

An hour or so after I saw the doctor, the technician who took the x-ray told me I could leave. She had said she would send me right back to my doctor if she saw anything dramatic, even though she is not a radiologist. (The radiologist will look at it tomorrow.)

So I went back to work, still scuffling and hobbling, but reassured that at least nothing major had happened.

But you KNOW that I'd been hoping for a dramatic x-ray. Of course I was! I mean, this is by far the most dramatic bruise I've ever had, but broken bones trump bruises in any game of Pity Me. I mean, how can I limp around the house and office because of a BRUISE? What kind of wimp does that make me?

Anyway. I'm back home now with ice and a tensor bandage.
Ahhhh. That's better.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cake Wreck

I haven't made fudge since I was a newlywed. It didn't work. I don't have the patience to boil the sugar, cream, and butter to the right temperature, so my fudges always turn out more like puddings.  Well, that changed tonight when I accidentally made fudge when I was trying to make frosting for Katie's birthday cake.

The picture above is what happened when I placed a dollop of the "frosting" on top of the cake. It almost instantly solidified.

It cracked the cake.
(The goo is black currant jam.)
In the time it took me to grab a spatula, the glob of goo turned into a mass of solid sugar.

There was NO budging that stuff.
Fortunately my family is one that laughs at mishaps such as these. So we plugged the candles into the fringe of cake surrounding the "frosting" and sang Happy Birthday off-key.

We didn't have 25 candles, so she blew out 12 1/2 candles, twice.
By the time we were ready to slice the cake, the fudge was so hard it couldn't be sliced. I guess I went beyond "soft ball" stage right to "hard ball." It sure looked odd, but it tasted delicious!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In a Family Way

Union Station
There was a woman standing down near the exit sign who thought I was
trying to take her picture and kept glancing nervously at me.
No, I'm not pregnant, but I did spend the weekend doing what my family does best: eating and talking.

And I took some pictures along the way. . .

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