Friday, May 30, 2008

3 countries, 21 days, 1 pair of underwear

The countdown is on for our big trip, and I got a package today from a travel clothing website. I was lucky; everything I ordered fit well except one pair of pants.

The title above refers to the tag line for the snazzy underwear I ordered. Its made from soy (plus a little spandex) and is supposed to breathe and dry out within 2 hours after you hand wash it in the hotel sink. Don't worry; I ordered 2 pair, and I'll likely take a couple more! (but not one for each day, either!)

(not me)

I've also been studying my Italian, reading my old texts and listening to some CDs from Alissa. (thanks, Alissa!) Practicing listening is very helpful, since those darned Italians speak so fast! Gli italiani parlano multo rapidemente!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Also starring Colin

Colin discovered the tomatoes turning ripe this weekend, and was very excited! (He also took me by the hand to show me that the zinnias had returned and were blooming) We all eat tomatoes in season, but Colin and I really relish them!

He ate them both, spilling jellied seeds all over his shirt. His long sleeved shirt, over his hoodie, that he picked out to wear himself on 95 degree Saturday. At least I made him wear shorts and sandals to the Farmers' Market.

Colin is perplexed by some of the doubled squash and cucumbers we picked out. What do you make of them?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ballet Ballet Ballet

This weekend was consumed by Anna's ballet recital. There was a long dress rehearsal on Friday, performance Saturday night, performance Sunday afternoon, and then portraits this morning. Even though it is a very young school, the director tries to make it as professional as possible. Still, it was a lot of ballet. Good thing Anna loved every minute of it!

I worked backstage on Saturday night, helping little girls with their costume changes and putting makeup on. Its amazing the eyelashes on some of these girls once you put some mascara on! It was a lot of fun, but I didn't get to see much dancing.

Sunday I sat in the audience with the family. Anna loves to dance! You can tell she is precisely doing all her steps, but she is also BEAMING from the stage. She has no stage fright. Her face is so elastic as she expresses cold, joy, worry, and happiness as needed in her dances. Watching her happiness totally made it worth sitting on those hard little seats during all those (yawn) jazz dances.

Anna was thrilled to have Nana (a former ballerina herself) and her classmate Katherine in the audience.

Anna has become good friends with this great little group of girls. They are looking forward to dancing together this summer.

Mommy, are we done with all these photos yet?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yellow Letter Day

Hooray for the season's first tomatoes! Yellow pears, ripe and ready to eat.

I had them in a salad that doesn't often occur naturally in nature from the same garden - the last of the season's spinach (harvested a week ago) and the first of the season's tomatoes (harvested tonight).

Che bella!

Monday, May 19, 2008

My big, fat, exhausting weekend

Colin's big 5th birthday was this weekend, and we were stuffed with celebration. Auntie Emily flew in Friday midday and took a cab to my work. We snuck off to eat some TexMex at Chuy's, then she hung out with me the rest of the work day. Meanwhile, my MIL brought cousins Henley and Rian to our house.

Saturday morning brought the arrival of Auntie Stephanie, cousins Paige, Graham, and Evelyn, as well as Nana and Grandad. We had lovely cool weather in the park for Colin's party, with a moonwalk, pizza, and friends.

Since he had a steam train last year, Colin requested a diesel this year.

Uncanny how the cake Anthony made matched the shirt Emily gave him.

Sunday morning we got up early, and Anna, Anthony, Francesca and I ran a local 5K. Anna was shocked and thrilled to win her age group (females under 9 years).

We spent a few hours at a local German-themed fest, but it was hot. Too soon we had to take Auntie Emily, the last guest to leave, back to the airport to New York. We all went to bed early Sunday night.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An ounce of heartworm prevention...

I saw a new client last week. Her dog had vomiting and diarrhea. She has 3 dogs and a 2 year old son, just moved to the area a few months ago. She had to take another of her dogs to the emergency clinic the week before with diarrhea, where the dog was diagnosed with hookworms and whipworms. Now this dog was sick, the third was normal so far.

I took the little dog back to the lab to get a fecal sample, and what I got looked like pure watery blood. I checked her blood count; usually red blood cells make up 35-50% of the blood volume. This girl was up to 70%. Although she was losing blood in her stool, she was losing more fluid, making her dehydrated and extremely hemoconcentrated.

I did not find any parasites in the stool, but it's very likely the stool is so diluted with fluid that my test wasn't accurate. I recommended hospitalizing the little dog and putting her on intravenous fluids to replace her losses, and also to give her a heartworm test. Her dogs have been off heartworm prevention for a while, which is unfortunate since it also prevents intestinal parasites. I treated the dog for parasites anyway, and want her to bring in another stool sample to send to the lab next week.

While we were discussing my plan, her son was persistently tottering after the dog, giving him repeated hugs, usually on the hindend since the dog was patient but tired of all the toddler affection. "I feel bad," the owner said, "We've kind of let the dogs go since he was born."

I assured her I understood. All my pets moved way down on the priority list after the babies arrived. But parasite control is important, ESPECIALLY for families with small children. Roundworm larvae can travel through the tissues of human skin, causing an awful dermatitis. And it's extremely rare (700 cases a year), but the larvae can encyst in the eye of a human (especially children) and cause blindness.

I had her attention now.

After 24 hours of fluids, her dog made a good recovery and went home. The next week she brought in dog #3 for a check up. It's OK if you don't give your dogs as much attention after the baby is born. But realize that part of making your home safe for the baby is keeping the pets safe and parasite free. Think of your vet as "the other family doctor."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Big Trip

We have a big European trip planned this summer, with kids. It's been at least 2 years in the planning - my dear Uncle Ken in England, the one with whom I stayed with all those summers in high school - is turning 90! Since he's always been a substitute grandfather to me AND an all around nice guy, I wouldn't miss the party for the world. Unfortunately for us, his birthday is at the end of June, also known as high travel season, and this year jet fuel costs are soaring, and the dollar cannot keep up with the stiff-upper-lip of the British pound or the brawny proletariat strength of the Euro. "Ah well, it can't be helped," as Uncle Ken would say. We've been saving our pennies and our vacation time and are going anyway.

In the past we've had pretty good luck waiting until about 4-6 weeks before our departure, watching the travel websites and catching a good deal. Our tickets started out at $1400 EACH a few months ago. Its a gamble to wait, but we have been waiting and watching, noting that the planes are empty. My dad figures no one is traveling this year due to cost, not even school groups, etc. The prices did dip down to $1100, then agonizingly went back up. This weekend, 6 weeks out, the prices went down to $1100, so we bit the bullet and bought tickets. (Please note we saved about $300 X 4 tickets = $1200 by waiting.)

Each decision is fraught with indecision. Do we sit 4 across or 2 in front, 2 behind? Do we opt for 1 stop or 2, when the total travel time is better? Will kids sleep better if we leave on the trans-atlantic overnight flight at 6 pm or 9 pm?

We will be arriving in London and driving to the Stratford-upon-Avon area, famous for that wordsmith Shakespeare, where we'll spend a few days on a canal boat with my parents (more on that later), then on to Wales for the birthday party weekend. Then we'll fly to Frankfurt and spend four days with Anthony's uncle Volker. We're staying in a renovated 12th century (built in 1135) castle turned hotel on the Rhine, where we'll be drinking wine, riding trains, and teaching Volker how to use his new MacBook. I hope the weather on the Rhine during summer is better than the constant drizzle we experienced in the off-season! Then we'll hop another flight to Milan for the best part of the trip.

We have 10 days of vacation in Italy with my friend, Romina, who used to run a gelateria here in Austin, but has returned home and started a family. She has kindly offered to take us either to her family home in the mountains, or plan lots of day trips from her home base near Milano, to destinations like Parma (ie the town where parmeggiano reggiano and prosciutto comes from). After a nice long stay with her, we're taking the kids to the beach, Italian style, in Cinque Terre.

Man, we are all so pumped about this trip! We are talking about it daily at the dinner table. Anna is excited because we told her every day in Italy she can have gelato, cappucino, and really really good pizza. Colin is excited to experience so many forms of transportation in one week - jet planes! boats! trains! buses! Anthony and I can't wait to get back to the continent he practically grew up on, eating marvelous foods, drinking wines, speaking languages we aren't at all comfortable with, seeing dear friends and family...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers' Day!

I had a great day - brunch at El Chile, gorgeous breezy dry cool sunny weather, spent lots of time outdoors gardening etc, and harvested a ton of basil -- enough to make a double batch of pesto for dinner! That and a bottle of Avignonese makes for a great outdoor meal.

Colin gave me a candle in a decorated pot, with colorful splotches of paint and glued on bits of stuff. Anna gave me an "airplane plant," (because the mommy plant gives off little babies), decorated with this poem,

cooking, working, helping
at home
in the kitchen
at work
The best mommy in history!
Love, Anna Your first child

I loved it, and what Anthony wrote in my card: "You are the nucleus that holds us all together."

Friday, May 09, 2008

Later, alligator

I have lots of good stories to tell but Anthony just got home from Orlando, so I'm going to go give him some attention.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sixth of May

1. We've seen three of these docile little brown snakes in the yard in the past few days. Anna touched this one and I picked up the other two (which terrified my children that I might get bitten!). There must've been some eggs laid under the bushes.

2. We saw tadpoles in the creek for the first time this spring, and rescued an adorable blind snake from the water. They are no bigger than a regular earthworm (a nightcrawler could eat them) and SO CUTE!

3. Anna lost her upper left 2nd incisor last night at dinner, then the right one today at lunch. She was so chuffed to FINALLY lose a tooth at school, because she got a tiny plastic treasure chest to put it in, and now is part of the "Lost Tooth Club."

4. Since I had the afternoon off, I went for a swim, first time since last August. The water was cold but I need to get ready for the Danskin triathlon June 8th.

5. When Colin craves seafood, he says, "My head needs fish!!!" Somehow he heard fish is food for your brain (probably from Capt. Carlos). He was very happy that we had grilled tuna last night and salmon tonight.

6. After I got home from work and swimming, we practiced downhill pedal-less biking for 30 minutes, then Anna wanted to train for a 5k she wants to do in a few weeks, so we jogged and walked about 1.5 miles, then spent some time at the park with neighbors. Needless to say, the kids fell asleep very quickly tonight. I'm feeling pretty fatigued as well...

Monday, May 05, 2008


Anna has a big project due this week at school. Each child is making a poster about an animal (she picked jaguar). They have to research at least 5 facts and find at least one picture. Friday night I talked with her about some ideas of how we could execute this project.

Saturday morning while I was snoozing she did her project. She wrote out in pencil all her facts on scrap paper, cut them out jaggedly, and attached them to the poster with tape. While I admired her independence and enthusiasm, it looked awful.

As gently as possible I told her that I was proud of her for doing it on her own, but that the edges of the paper were curling up, and she hadn't used her best handwriting, and remember how we talked about making borders for all the facts with her colored cardstock? Now matter how constructive, criticism always stings, and Anna was crushed. I assured her we'd work on it together later.

The next day we peeled all of her taped-on facts off the board. Sitting at the computer, she typed them in herself, and I showed her how to choose an appropriate large font. I showed her how to use our photo cutter, and she cut them all out with nice straight edges. I penciled a straight edge across the top so she could neatly write the title across the top in her best handwriting. She selected different contrasting card stock to border all the facts and photos, which she arranged and glued herself in a pleasing way all over the poster board.

It took a long time, but she could definitely see the results. She thanked me several times for helping her. We really did have fun! We turned it into the teacher today (4 days early)!

Later, we worked on her bicycle riding skills - without training wheels. Folks, this is a hard skill to acquire. I remember my dad running beside me for hours when I learned. I put on my new running shoes and ran beside Anna. She knows how to pedal and how to brake, but has NO CLUE how to balance. I was running beside her but completely supporting her. She was veering towards the pavement at all times. I thought I would get exhausted from running, but I was exhausted from trying not to completely lose my patience and not to yell at her to try to correct herself. I recently read that once you have knowledge, it is very difficult to remember not having it, thus making it hard to teach this knowledge to a novice. I tried to keep that in mind and thought, there's got to be a better way.

So I googled, "how to teach your kid to ride a bike," and got lots of unhelpful sites that said, "Run beside them supporting the seat. Be patient and encouraging." BUT! I found one site that said take the training wheels off and put the bike seat low, so low that the child can put both feet flat on the ground. Then take them to a grassy area with a gentle incline. Have the child coast down the hill with their feet on the ground. They can learn to balance the bike without having to also learn how to pedal and steer simultaneously.

Anna did so much better with this method. We did also have to take the pedals off because they kept hitting her ankles. By the end of the second session she was coasting down the hill with her feet mostly off angled out to the side. She said going fast was fun, except when she fell! Once she gets this balance thing down, I know she'll be able to add in the pedaling.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reproductive cycle

I saw a new patient a while back. A young girl brought in a pregnant chihuahua who had received very little veterinary care over her lifetime. Her previous pregnancies all ended with dystocia (prolonged, difficult labor), and trips to the emergency clinic where the owner found out she could not afford a c-section. Subsequently she fortunately passed the unfortunately dead pups.

The owner did not want her dog to get pregnant again, and said she was pretty angry with her cousin when she found out he let is male dog get "stuck" with her. We calculated when her due date was from the date of that incident, and I gave her an estimate for a c-section. This time there was only one puppy - in people that means less complications than a multiple birth, but in dogs, especially small ones, it's trouble. One puppy all alone in the uterus gets all the blood flow, and usually grows too big to pass.

The girl had saved up enough money ($600) for the surgery. "My family never took dogs to the vet, because they said if you take them there they always get sick," she said. "But I never want to go through that again!" (referring to going to the emergency clinic with no money). I told her that I would definitely spay her little dog at the time of the c-section so she would not have to face this situation ever in the future. I noticed a small but deep scar on the owner's baby face, and wondered if not going to the doctor in her family extended to people, too.

The surgery was scheduled a few weeks later on a Thursday, but I got a call on Monday from the owner, concerned that she might be in labor already. I examined her and she was not, although her belly was now huge. I offered a blood test for progesterone that would help me more accurately time her delivery, but adding $70 to the bill was not an option.

The next day I got another call. The patient was definitely in labor! Of course, it would be on the day I was getting off early to pick Colin up from school. She brought her in right away and we went straight to surgery. I pulled a big puppy out of the uterus, handed it to my technicians, and then removed the baby-making factory.

"It's a girl!" we all shouted, then laughed, because usually we say "It's two girls and three boys!" after a surgery like this. The owner was overjoyed that her dog was fine and had finally delivered a healthy puppy. "Just make sure you get the puppy spayed when she's 6 months old!" I said.

Then the owner told me she, too, is pregnant. Yikes, she can't be more than 19 years old. Still, I am proud of her for at least taking charge of her dog's health and reproduction, for breaking the pattern of ignorant medical neglect for her dog.