Sunday, June 29, 2008

Happy 90th Birthday!

Uncle Ken's 90th birthday party was a tremendous day long celebration. I think it was everything he wanted, and it certainly surpassed my expectations.

The roads in the countryside of Wales are not much bigger than your car - that's one small compact car - and are lined on either side with tall hedgerows. Unbelievably, these roads are for 2-way traffic, but you hardly ever meet another car. If you do, one of you has to back up to the nearest slight widening in the road, then both of you have to get up on the grassy banks to then pass within inches of each other.

Also, none of these roads are well signed. We had to navigate these little winding roads to get to my cousin Chris' sheep farm, and the written directions we had one important left turn described as "right." But we did find it eventually, and found the old man.

It was so great to see Uncle Ken. He looked the same as ever, just slightly thinner. He gave me a great long hug, and was very interested in meeting Anna and Colin. There were lots of other cousins to meet also, people from all branches of the family tree. Sometimes it was a bit boggling to figure out how we were all related, but everyone was so enjoyable.

The farm house is quaint and cozy, so the party was in a large white tent. Also in hilly Wales there's almost no space large enough and flat enough for such a tent, so Chris had crushed gravel poured for the floor. My heels sank into this substrate, making the balancing of myself and my champagne glass even more precarious than usual, but I was in good company, and anyway, Chris soon let me borrow a pair of Wellies (rubber farm boots) so I could go see his Black Welsh Mountain Sheep and short black Dexter cows.

The kids made fast friends with some children that were close in age - Chris' granddaughters Amelia and Hanna, and his step-grandson Roman. All day long they were tearing up and down the green hills, collecting moss (Colin is particularly fascinated with moss since he's never seen it before), finding slugs and nuts and old sheep horns, climbing the stone walls, and trying to set off the real cannon (blessedly, no ammunition). The little girls in their pastel party dresses, playing ring-around-the-rosey, London Bridge is falling down, and Duck-Duck-Goose looked like little fairies under the green mossy trees.

Ken had wanted all the family to sit at a long table with him at the head, and Chris really made that happen for him. Ken did look so pleased as he looked down the long table at the many generations present. We did miss having my sister Steph and her family there, and she was mentioned many times. After a lovely catered lunch, we toasted him and ate strawberries with cream and cake. Anna was brave enough to sing one of the songs she learned in school for him - which he loved, and my dad sang some of the old songs with him.

After a few hours we said a sad goodbye to many of our distant relatives/friends -- most of them had 2-5 hour drives to get back to their parts of England. Those of us who could stay moved to the glass conservatory by the house. While the kids continued to run up and down the hill, we sipped Gin and tonics. Simon got Uncle Ken to tell a few war stories - Ken was gone for 6 years in WWII, fighting in Northern Africa and Italy. He always tells war stories, and I've probably heard them all, but I loved hearing them again.

Chris and Val grilled some of their lamb, some beef burgers, and some free range chicken for a late supper. Then sun eventually did go down around 10 o'clock, and it was time to drag the tired children back to town to bed. We were so sad to see the long, lovely day end, even Anthony. We were all scheming to find a way to all get together again soon, for another happy celebration. We don't want to have to wait for Ken's 100th birthday! A few more rousing songs - America the Beautiful, Jerusalem, Home with the Armadillo, the Everly brothers' Dream - and we were off down the hedgerowed roads to our beds.

Friday, June 27, 2008

So far, very good

We're in Wales today, and its grey and cold (about 50), and we are loving it. Wales is full of tiny towns, green hills, and loads of sheep. We are at the Red Lion Inn, and its so old - timber and plaster walls, slightly crooked floors, BUT with all the modern amenities, like a large warm shower, big fluffy towels, soft beds, TV, and free WiFi. :-)

The flight over was pretty uneventful, smooth sailing, except try as hard as they might, the kids did not sleep at all on the flight. They were bickering bitterly as soon as they got into the back seat of our rental car. 5 miles later, both of them were asleep, slack jawed, and stayed that way until we got to Tewkesbury. Its a little village on the River Avon, and we easily found my parents and their "long boat". As I've mentioned before, its a skinny long boat, like an RV on the water. The kids did pretty well with just their backseat cat nap, and enjoyed steering the boat up the river.

The boat is a great way to see the English countryside. Anna and Colin loved feeding the geese, swans, and ducks. The second day we had some terrific Cornish Pasties for lunch, and a fabulous Indian meal for dinner. However, when we sat down for the Indian meal, Colin started eating pompadums, but soon looked like a slowly deflating balloon, until eventually his head was rolling on the table. He fell sound asleep on his Grandad's lap and didn't get to eat any of his lovely Biriyani. Well, he did go to the great park on the riverside THREE times, as well as walking all over town, and spending all morning boating in the sunshine and fresh air. I even got a slight sunburn!

Today we drove to Pembroke (as in P. Welsh Corgi - didn't see any, but I did see a mutt with suspiciously short legs). There is a huge castle there built in the 1100s. It was drizzly but the kids spent hours climbing up and down every tiny spiral staircase up every tower. The history is palpable in these old stones.

Tonight we're going to eat fish & chips, and tomorrow is the big birthday luncheon. Hopefully I'll be able to post again before leave this wonderful pub.

Monday, June 23, 2008

And, they're off!

This morning we're off on our big trip! We managed to all pack in 1 large carryon and 1 small backpack each. The iPods are charged and full of movies. I gave everyone a haircut yesterday. I took Francesca on a 3-mile jog yesterday and said goodbye; she's staying alternately with Fran, Julio, and Stacy. The manny is staying here to watch the cats, hens, toad, and fish; he's taking us to the airport today.

We are so excited! Of course, today is just a travel day, but when we wake up, we'll be landing in London. I'll try to post from the road.

Ci vidiamo a piu tardi! (see ya later)

(PS on a sad note, the bulldog puppy got much worse and had to be euthanized. I'm glad you tried, Alissa.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Adorable Pediatric Patients

We spent a lot of time this morning oohing and aahing over this adorable bundle of wrinkles. He's a bulldog puppy with immune mediated polyarthritis and anemia. Poor guy, all his joints are inflammed and hurt so much he won't even walk. We aren't sure why he's anemic, too, but its probably from parasites. He didn't initially respond to treatment, and his owners lost heart and decided to euthanize him before they got any further attached. But Alissa couldn't do it, and convinced them to sign him over to our clinic. He was marginally better today, so several staff members are jockeying to adopt him. Bulldogs are infamous at vet clinics for having tons of medical problems, but this one is SO CUTE, we can't stop cuddling him and kissing him and wishing he was ours.

A really good client of mine feeds a colony of stray cats by the college, and told me about this little guy who wasn't using one of his front legs. He was completely wild and untouchable. However, feeding and talking to him every night, she eventually tamed him enough to pet him. Finally she scooped him up and brought him in to me.

He was scared but no longer feral. His little left arm was slightly contracted with large abrasions on the top of his paw and the tip of his toes. He had no voluntary muscle control, the muscles were all atrophied, and when I clamped down on his toes with a hemostat he just blinked at me -- no feeling, either. He must have had some severe injury to the brachial plexus - the bundle of nerves that supply his forearm. While a person would keep a "dead" arm for cosmetic reasons, a cat or dog eventually traumatizes it enough that it gets infected, then they start chewing on it... it's gruesome. This guy had been getting along without his arm for weeks, so I knew he wouldn't miss it.

Today I amputated his leg and neutered him (might as well as long as I'm removing superfluous body parts). The picture above is actually him post-op. One of our new receptionists is going to adopt him, so I'll get to see him grow up. SO CUTE!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


At the grocery store today, Colin asked the lady sampling yogurt smoothies, "May I please have a pina colada one?"

"Good job asking so politely!" I told him. Then he turned around in the cart to take the little Dixie cup, bobbled it, then spilled the entire contents into my open purse.

I freaked out a little (!), but the sample lady was so nice and insisted I use her table to clean up the mess. So, I emptied the contents of my purse onto her cart, and wiped yogurt off my cell phone, checkbook, tampons, pens, lipstick, etc. It even got into my wallet and onto my credit cards. It's going to smell great in a few days.

"Oh, no, Mommy, I'm so sorry that happened to you," said conscientious Anna. "I am SO GLAD I didn't do it!"

Colin said, "Can I have more smoothie?"

Monday, June 16, 2008

Visiting Waco (with photos, wait for it!)

A week from today we leave on our trip! There's loads to do, but the kids and I made a road trip to Waco today to visit my Grandmother and Great Aunt Sudie. These sisters have lived together for years now, and recently moved within their assisted living facility from a "bungalow" to an apartment in the "big house." This move was precipitated by Aunt Sudie's health problems and physical decline, and my grandmother's progressive loss of vision due to macular degeneration. It felt like a priority to visit before our big trip.

However, you should know that my grandmother is known to be a force of nature, a woman who takes French lessons and line dancing, who is the life of every party. She is not frail. And I am pleased to report their new digs are not a step down. In fact, they have more living space than before, and now it is lined with windows. The only thing they gave up was their small kitchen. Now they have a tiny area (kinda like a wet bar) with a microwave, coffee maker, and mini fridge. The whole place is like a nice dorm room with two handicap-accessible bathrooms.

"I don't cook anymore!" my Grandma said, liberated, showing me her abbreviated kitchen. It is sad, because she was a legendary Southern cook. However, she seems happy with the change, and now the meals in the dining hall are a focus and purpose for their day.

Shortly after we arrived, Anna the ballerina changed into her ballet costumes. Grandma loves ballet but could not make it to the recital; plus she likely could not have been able to tell which one was her great-granddaughter on stage. A private performance was much better. I brought Anna's recital music on CD, and she performed the "Kite Dance," then immediately gave an encore (the audience was very persuasive), then did some of her exam exercises, then a bunch of freestyle dancing, to much applause. Colin built a track with blocks for his cars.

We also told Sudie (a former Spanish professor and linguist) that we had been listening to our Italian language CDs on the drive up. Boy, her eyes lit up when Anna and I repeated our simple sentences! "Mi piace ballare e cantare." (I like to dance and sing, Anna said). Other than that, Sudie did seem very pale and a little detached from the present. She was wearing a bulky sweater (over 100 degrees today), and was concerned Anna would be too cold in her skimpy costume. "She doesn't have thin blood like you!" Grandma told Sudie.

Grandma Dulce insisted that Anna wear her beautiful costume to lunch. Well, why not, the recital is over. So many elderly people gazed at Principessa Anna first with delight, then with warm smiles. My grandmother introduced us to half the residents.

First up at lunch was the salad course. There was a choice of jello, cottage cheese, or green salad. My kids were delighted that they were serving Red! Jello! and ate with gusto. For the main course we had chicken fried steak with gravy, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Also there were wonderful warm yeast rolls which we spread with real butter - my kids ate 2 each. We don't eat this kind of food at home, but my kids loved it. Sudie was mightily impressed with their appetites. "Colin ate more than me!" she said. For dessert was New York Cheesecake. "Is it from New York?" Anna said, and I could tell she was thinking of my sister, Auntie Emily. "No, it's New York style," I told her. It was obviously made in house and was very good (not too sweet).

After lunch Anna danced a little bit for some residents and got up on the little stage and sang a school song (without amplification) for the few people left. "She has a little bit of her great grandmother in her, doesn't she?" their caretaker wisely said.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

About that Triathlon

I did complete my 4th Danskin Triathlon on Sunday. It was hot and grueling, as always. Don't I look beat in this photo as I approach the finish?

But then I saw my support crew - Anthony, Anna, Colin, Kareen, Leah, and Cole - and perked up to sprint across the line.

This year wasn't nearly as fun in previous years. The past 2 times I got to do it with Emily (and boy was I missing her). Last year I found it so inspirational to do it with Kareen and Leah, but they were too busy this time around. Really, it's something you have to dig deep and do on your own anyway - that's part of what makes finishing so inspiring and confidence building. It's just more fun with buddies.

Also I guess I was bummed to be slower this year than the last 2 years. Previously I always improved my time each year by a few minutes. It took me exactly 2 hours this year.

But! I did see the oldest competitor on the course. They write your age on the back of your calf. It was her 3rd time, and this year she had 80 on her leg. "Go Phyllis!" I shouted when I saw her. She is my inspiration to keep doing it every year.

Hopefully next year some of you will join me. It's just a 1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, and 3 mile run (or walk). Read about my race in 2007, 2006, and 2005.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Home with the Armadillo

When I went out to pick tomatoes today, I saw this little bottom poking up under the leaves mulching the lemon tree.

I ran inside and grabbed the kids and my camera. A Nine-banded armadillo! These little creatures are so funny. They're like a rodent in reptilian armor. They can't see or hear or smell very well, so its easy to get really close to them. With such a lack of awareness of the world around them, I don't know how they really survive. Now we finally knew what had been making those mysterious holes in the garden and on the crushed granite pathways. They are insectivores, but I'm sure this cutie was also the animal that gnawed on a few of my cabbages this spring.

Oh, hello! Didn't see you standing there! He sniffed with his funny little cone of a nose and twitched his velvety ears, then loped off to hide behind the air conditioner. Anna and Colin were very excited. I hope he avoids the local dogs, cars, and teenaged boys so we can see him again.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Jiggity jig

I got home from the conference just in time to rack my bike for the triathlon, then take a shower to go to Beverly's high school graduation party.
Congrats, class of 2008!

My children have inherited my love of tree-ripened peaches, which Cinda & Co have a small orchard of! I happily took a bag of slightly blemished but intensely delicious fruit.

I love love love this photo of Anna that Anthony took of her running and squealing at the party. With his new Nikon fancy-pants camera. It was such a nice evening to sit outside, the breeze kept it cool and mosquito-free, and the landscape is still green and filled with wildflowers and cattle.

If only I'd looked this good running the triathlon! More on that later...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Free as a bird

As I drove away from my house yesterday, I had the most uplifting sensation of lightness and lack of responsibility. That is, I only had to pack and be responsible for myself on this little trip. I get to hang out with hundreds of other vets, many of them experts in their fields, eat out, sleep in a hotel, hang with my buddies from work. What's not to love?

Heightening this sense of freedom is the fact that two of my colleagues are traveling with newborns, who are adorable, but still physically demanding on their moms. They had to pack A LOT of stuff, enlist family members' help, and don't get to go out at night like us. And there's a vet with us whose with child, so she gets to go out but doesn't get to drink margaritas on the Riverwalk with the rest of us.

So, Anthony, I DO miss you and the kids, but I am so enjoying this time away, acting like a vet student with no test to study for. And thanks Joey, for holding down the fort!

Off to hear about feline asthma...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Busy Start to Summer

Tomorrow I am headed to San Antonio for a vet conference. This week, Anthony gets to stay home alone with the kids. I'm heading back Saturday to rack my bike for the triathlon. Saturday night is my cousin's high school graduation. Sunday is the triathlon itself (and my niece's 1st birthday). Monday Anthony leaves town, just for 2 days, and we have annual check-ups at the pediatrician's. Swimming lessons start, as well as a special ballet class for summer.

Less than 3 weeks to our trip. Feeling a little overwhelmed already!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

End of suffering, End of day

Sorry there haven't been any work stories lately. It's either been too mundane or too sad. Both on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, the other vet I was working with and I stayed after closing to euthanize the patients we'd worked on that day. Makes one want to go straight home to a glass of wine!

Saturday's emergency case was a cat that had been attacked the night before by a dog. The owner heard the ruckus but didn't find the cat until mid-morning. By then he looked like he was checking out: lateral, pale, shocky, low heart rate, and body temp so low it didn't even register on the thermometer. He was 18 years old, very matted, now covered in blood, fleas, ants, dirt, and leaves. My team, moments before jovially talking of weekend plans, immediately set to work - we started IV fluids, placed a circulating warm air heating pad, gave morphine and ampicillin, hooked up the EKG. Blood pressure was also unreadable. We started shaving mats off the cat's body to evaluate the damage. There were lots of bite marks on the legs and pelvis, then we found a quarter sized hole in the abdominal wall. The mesentery (lining around the intestines, not the guts themselves) were oozing out the hole, and the more I tried to clean around it the more it kept spilling out. Even though it was getting contaminated by dirt and dried leaves, I had to just bandage the belly while we stabilized him. It would be a long time before he would be ready for anesthesia and a surgical repair.

Eventually his body temp rose to 91, 92, 93 (normal is 101). We never could get a blood pressure reading, but at least he went from white to pale pink. We revived him enough to get a blood sample, and found he was in advanced kidney failure. Not too surprising for an 18-year-old cat, but it didn't bode well for his recovery. I told the owner with kidney values like that, IF he made it through the grueling recovery and surgery, it may be for just a few months of life. The owner wisely chose to let his cat go, even though his partner was on a plane, not there to help him make that decision or say goodbye. RIP, Ashley.