26 December 2009

On a Cold Winter's Night ...

Another Christmas come and gone. Sitting here with the Bohemian, bathed in the glow of Christmas lights and our computer monitors, Nora Jones adding to the late night ambiance after a long and good Christmas day. The Ex is back at his hotel, Male Offspring and Not-So-Teen Demon are dreaming of sugarplums snug in their beds, dishes are done, dogs are tuckered out, wine is poured ... it was a good day.

Tonight, during a break in the dinner preparations, I went outside for a few minutes, and thought about passing time. It was one of those rare Seattle nights - crisp, clear, glowing moon, twinkling stars, the whole bit. Maybe the rarity is a good thing; when you add Christmas lights, slightly chilled Shiraz, and the distant sounds of a busy kitchen to the aforementioned twinklyass stars, it all adds up to one tall glass of melancholy. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, I'll leave it at that, and just say I'm exceedingly glad for the time with my family today, glad that we're healthy and together. I'm thankful for my children. I'm thankful that their dad could come spend Christmas with them. I thought about people I miss today, and people whom I know only via the wonders of The Internets. I'm a slackass blogger; you all know this. I entertain myself with thoughts of you accepting this as an endearing foible. Hey, my blog, my fantasy. Whatever. Seriously though, merry merry to all my cyber friends. Connections are important, whether in the flesh, or in the heart. So here's to making it through another year, and to connections that help maintain our tenuous hold on sanity. Merry thoughts, all.

01 August 2009

Adventures in Spanish Class

So I'm taking two classes this quarter, including Spanish. Given the work I'm doing with the school district and the commissioner position with the city, I figured I need to get off my ass and hablar. My German and Hungarian aren't doing me much good these days.

Please. Look at me, acting like I ever could ever actually speak Hungarian.

This is the first time I've tried to learn a language without living in a country where that language is spoken. Immersion is the way to go, folks. Also, having learned other languages is an advantage because concepts are familiar, but it's a disadvantage when the teacher calls on you, and you  pop out with something like, "Igen, tengo harom Kinderek," or some other fucked-up linguistic amalgam.

The instructor is excelente. He's a native Spanish speaker who doesn't baby you or move at a snail's pace. Thankgawd. My kids' high school Spanish teacher was this white lady with the absolute worst gringa accent ever. Like when you jam pencils in your ears to make it stop. School districts won't hire qualified native speakers but will hire less-proficient people to teach a language. The only native speaker in my district is the Chinese teacher, and I bet you $10 that's only because they couldn't find a non-Chinese person who speaks passable Chinese. Sounds kind of like affirmative action for white folks.

But I digress. So, my class. It's amazing, the comments that fall out of people's mouths. The instructor sometimes mutters under his breath that he only has X number of years before he can retire. He gives "cultural points" for extra credit. You have to write about one of his recommended books, films, restaurants or dance places.

I wish he'd never assigned that shit.

Classmate 1 (raising hand): So, for the cultural points ... does Azteca count?

No. Not even kidding. But that was fine compared to what came later.

Classmate 2 (to me): Well, for my cultural points, I had a coffee date with a Spanish man!

Me: (ohmyfuckinggod) I ... didn't realize you had a friend from Spain.

Classmate 2: Oh, he's not from Spain! I wish!

Me: (here we go) So, he's not Spanish.  He speaks Spanish.

Classmate 2: (blank stare) Um ...

Me: If he's not from Spain, he's not Spanish.

Classmate 2: Well, he's ... where is he from? Oh! Brazil! He's from Brazil.

Me: Brazil? And he speaks Spanish? That's interesting ...

Classmate 2: Well, not really, seeing as he's from Brazil!

Me: They speak Portuguese in Brazil.

Classmate 2: (blank stare) Well ... I don't know about all that, but a date with a Spanish man should work for cultural points! And, he was muy caliente!

Then there was the time she slipped me a note about our instructor that said, "He's such a Latin macho! But I like him!!" Yeah, I'm sure the professor will be thrilled that he meets with your approval in spite of his alleged machismo. The reason he has been pegged as such is that he insists on proper grammar and pronunciation, and doesn't do a lot of hand-holding.

 I'm thinking that makes him a "good instructor" rather than a "Latin macho", but what do I know.

So I go to this study group the other day. I was invited by a woman who speaks English fluently after only two and a half years in-country. Spanish will be her fourth language. I figure she knows how the hell to learn a language, I'm studying with her. Another woman in the group, a self-professed conservative Republican proceeded to trash President Obama, informing the younger students that the President is a socialist who's gotten the country into debt. Yeah, honey, I think the last eight years had something to do with that, actually. Anyway, she had these gems to offer:

Classmate 3: Well, my introduction to this culture was dating a Spanish man for five years. I was practically a member of his family! But I never learned the language.

Me: (Again with the Spanish man.) So ... he was from Spain?

Classmate 3: Well, he was half Mexican and half Apache on his father's side, so you know ... [waves hand, dismissively] but his mother, she was born in Spain, so ...

Me: So he was Mexican as well.

Classmate 3: Well ... anyway, you know how most Mexicans have, you know, Aztec or Maya background? Well, he had Apache, so he had the very defined cheekbones. He never cut his hair; his father told him never to cut it because he was a warrior, you know. I got in touch with him some time later, and asked if his hair was still long, and he was all [mimes annoyance] "Yeeesss...", and I was like, dude, you're 55 years old now!

Me: That's his culture, it doesn't have an expiration date.

Classmate 3: Oh, totally! I know! He was just beautiful! So exotic! Anyway, the reason I'm taking this class is so I can move somewhere and teach English as a Second Language. I want to get certified to teach Spanish too.

Another classmate: Really? Where?

Classmate 3: Well, I lived in Arizona for years, but never even crossed the border, because you know, [dismissive wave] Mexico, I just didn't care. But Spain or Argentina ... I'd love to go there! Yep, much more interested in Spain or South America than Central America or Mexico. But I wouldn't say that to my friend!

Everyone else: ...

Classmate 3: In fact, another friend -- he's a very wealthy Argentinian -- actually said to me [mimes snootyassedness] "You're speaking with a Mexican accent!"  But I wouldn't say that to my friend, the one I was telling you about!

Me: What friend? (wondering how this chick is picking up a Mexican accent when our instructor is Puerto Rican)

Classmate 3: Oh, my friend who helps me with my assignments. She checks all my homework for me. She's Mexican.

Are you fucking kidding me? So ... your friend is good enough to check your homework, work on your assignments with you, and basically help you get an A in the class, but you don't want to pick up her accent or visit her country? In fact, you want to learn her language in order to move to one of the countries with a higher population of what you consider white people, and get paid to teach -- probably in a position where your friend, the native speaker who helped your ass pass this class, wouldn't be hired.

 What the hell, people?

Needless to say, she clammed up when I started up about how great it is that our instructor is a native speaker, because some schools pass over the native speakers to hire gringos, and then you don't get good instruction, because they're, you know, [dismissive wave] not as qualified.

I'm going to go off before I hit Spanish III, I just know it.

21 July 2009

Help! I'm Being Held Hostage by Facebook!

I'm still alive. I've even been online. Just ... not here. Okay, let's just get this over with. I'm a Facebooker. I know. I know! Resistance was futile.

I only did it as a way to connect with a group of kids who went through this year's Freedom School. But it kind of sucks you in. Like the Borg. I was all, "I'm only going to friend the Freedom School kids. Oh ... and the adult community organizers, I guess they have to be on there, too." But then, I realized I can't not accept my kids' friend requests. And then these requests started coming in from real-life friends who were already Facebooking. So it was like, okay, but only these friends; it will be a great way to stay in touch, since I suck ass at that kind of thing. Then my uncle, aunt, cousins and sister were on, and then folks I used to hang with in Hungary, and then ... yeah.


It's kind of chapping the ass of my comfort zone though. You can't be anonymous on FB. Blogging, yeah, anybody can see your blog, but they don't know it's you. Unless you tell them. And with a pseudonym, no one can search for you. It's safe. Like you have control. You don't have to worry about pissing off the mayor or your coworkers or your mom with your "crazy Left Coast notions". You may piss off strangers, but who the hell cares?

I found myself wanting a compartmentalized Facebook experience. Like, one FB window for my ultra-liberal homies, another FB for family who just want to know what the kids are up to but don't want to hear about universal health care, another FB for the official city/county people I do work with, another FB for the old crew, another FB for the youth we're mentoring ... you know, like that.

But no. That's not the way Facebook works. Oh, no. It's one big old cyberfest. La-di-da-di, everybody. It brings all your circles of contacts crashing into each other like a giant cyberpileup. So the atheist uncle is BAM, right there with your conservative Republican relations. Your antiracist friends? BAM! Right there with that guy you knew in the 90s who says "Heil Reagan!" Your kids, right there with the folks you used to hang with in that little bar with the ... well, you get the picture.

So I'm adjusting. It's completely different from blogging. And I've missed being here with you bastards. I feel relieved to be back in my Cowbell world, actually. But FB has it's own place, and ... I guess it's cooler than I thought it would be.

Holy hell, people, I'm a facebooker.

31 May 2009

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode VIII

Episode VIII: Shiver Me Timbers

Thanks to those who thought to call the authorities. I am not rotting among the worms and beetles in the crawl space. It's been sunny here.

My time in the sun, while incrementally addressing my Vitamin D deficiency, ultimately pulled me into yet another episode of housing woes.

There's a planter box in my front yard, about 8'x8', framed by landscaping timbers. The timbers go on to form a retaining wall that runs the length of my driveway. The previous owner -- you all remember him -- the guy who made $100,000 profit from a scant two years of home ownership? The guy who sold me This Old Motherfucking House about a week before the housing slump was announced? Yeah, well, he let grass completely overtake the planter box. Since moving in, I've been showcasing an 8'x8' square of monster grass. Oh, and a Japanese Maple tree. It's in the box, too. I wonder if my neighbors were ever able to reconcile their envy?

Male Offspring, adjusting his iPod about halfway through the de-grassing.

Male Offspring dug out all the grass for me, on account of my lameass frozen shoulder that can't operate a simple manual shovel. Grass roots run deep, people. Deep. Good thing the boy's got first class tickets to the gun show. We found Hens & Chicks (the plants, not the animals) buried in the grass. I rescued them, and replanted them. Took forever. Anyway, my yard was finally going to look nice! I bought plants. Perennials. Forget that annual shit. Go with the ones that come back every year. I also got mulch and peat moss and gardening gloves. Cute ones. The plants are still babies, but by midsummer that box will be bursting with bloomage.

Yeah baby, time for a little respect from the neighbors. That's right.

Right: rescued, replanted Hens & Chicks, plus other formerly buried plants.
Left: monster grass.

Anyway, everything was going fine, until I noticed the retaining wall was falling out toward the driveway at the point where it's supposed to connect to the planter box. Shit. Also the timbers at the front of the planter box were looking dicey. We took out a few pieces to assess the extent of damage, and found some serious rot going on.

Holy hell. I just wanted to plant some friggin' plants and lay some mulch. But that's not how This Old Motherfucking House rolls.

So I spent about $60 on galvanized steel brackets, a drill bit as long as my forearm, and some bigass galvanized screws. The plan was to remove enough dirt that we could pull the retaining wall back in place, reattach everything with the brackets, and call it a day.

Long story short, it didn't work. Apparently, a wood retaining wall is supposed to have vertical support posts sunk in concrete OR these things called "tie backs" -- pieces of wood attached to the wall's backside, buried in the ground, anchoring the wall in place. My retaining wall, of course, had neither.

Who chooses wood in this never-ending rainhole anyway? CheapAss former owners who make a quick profit and leave you with a fucked up house, that's who.

De-grassed dirt and rotting timbers exposed. See the wall falling out toward the driveway?

So we're going with the interlocking concrete block option. The DIY ones that don't need mortar. Yep. Time all is said and done, probably about another $500 dropped on This Old Motherfucking House. At least they won't rot before I sell this joint.

This shit was not even on my summer project list! Here's what was on my summer project list:

1. Re-tile moldyass shower tiles (this is going to be a bitch of a job).
2. Replace 80s wood vanity, fixtures, and cracked bathroom sink.
3. Replace linoleum floor with tile, and paint bathroom walls.
4. Install window blinds.
5. Replace rotting front deck.

Yes, CheapAss Former Owner used 1/2" thick untreated boards to build the front porch. In the Pacific Northwest. Bastard. New lumber and a nail gun or drill that can handle wood screws is going to be several hundred right there. I did not need another outdoor project, people!

Other possible items for the summer project list included:

6. Refinish wood floors formerly covered by urine-spotted burgundy carpet (another bitch of a job)
7. Replace fucked up, mismatched tiles of fireplace hearth.
8. Paint over uglyass dining room paneling
9. Paint TeenDemon's pink and orange walls. This requires some kind textured paint skills, since her walls were spackled by a blindfolded drunk at some point in TOMFH's history.
10. Install closet organization systems.
11. Replace 1980s ceiling fan in dining room.

None of this even touches my 1950s kitchen with its ancient wood cabinets shellacked in Paint Coats of Many Colors, and its olive green and brown laminate counter.

Seriously, I did not need this retaining wall bullshit. And it's got to be scheduled when Male Offspring is home, but he's working overtime on homework and finals so he can leave school early to go visit his dad in friggin' Oman until sometime in July.

Really, Son? You chose world travel, diving certification, and adventure over building a retaining wall?

For now, the front of my de-grassed, soon-to-be-beautiful planter box is not filled with gorgeous trailing plants. Rather, it is being shored up with big bags of mulch, so as to keep the remaining dirt and new baby plants from being washed into the street. Hello, Tackmeister? Nice yard.

I guess I'll have to wait a while for that respect from the neighbors. At least my new roof looks good.

06 May 2009

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode VII

Episode VII: Where's the Heat

It's been a while between TOMFH posts, in part because I apparently skipped the mother of all disasters. I realized this today, upon trying to figure out what episode I was on. (Had I known this was going to be a friggin' series, I'd have paid more attention to the numbering from the beginning.) Click the home.improvement tag for the big picture of my lovely abode.

Anyway, while cleaning up the series numbering, I realized I'd never even mentioned replacing the gutter that fell down in front of my garage door, let alone replacing the roof.

Yes, the roof.

 Last October I actually had to replace the entire roof. I'm sure you all can imagine the cost. I'm sure you can imagine my reaction to discovering the sound of steady dripping, one rainy night at 2am, as I crawled through the attic portal in my closet, juggling my flashlight, plastic buckets, and the wood planks that served as a makeshift crawlway to prevent me from falling between the rafters and crashing through my living room ceiling. Yes, it would've been one hell of a ranting, railing, TOMFH post, but apparently I was too traumatized to write about it.

So. Moving on.

Today's episode. The water heater stopped working.

Yesterday I was home sick. That's another thing -- looking back over my TOMFH series, I realized these things often happen while I am sick. Just one more way this house sticks it to me.

Anyway, a sick day seemed an opportune time to address my maddeningly slow internet, so I called the cable guy. Then I realized he'd have to get behind the TV cabinet. Seeing as there was enough dog hair back there to build another dog, I got out the vacuum. And promptly blew a fuse.

So when Male Offspring said the water wasn't very hot for his shower, I figured I'd blown the water heater fuse too. No biggie. We flipped the breaker switch, figured we'd be back in hot water by morning.

You know where this is going. It wasn't the fuse. Of course it wasn't.

It won't surprise you to know that my water heater, like my furnace, is located under the house. Of course it is. I crawled into the dark maw this morning, but couldn't actually get to the damn thing, due to to the expert job Teen Demon and I had done wrapping it in its own special "water heater blanket". So the damn brokeass thing is warm and cozy, while I am reduced to scrubbing my goosebumps in a cold shower.

No, I am not yet that desperate. I stink. You all know how I am about the cold.

So I am now "troubleshooting". The son remembered that the water had seemed unusually hot the last couple of days. Best case scenario, it overheated, tripping its auto shutoff dealy thing, and I just need to reset it. Those of you who are longtime TOMFH readers know that this most certainly will not be the case. Mid-level scenario, I will need to replace the thermostats, or possibly the elements. As with the oven, I think I can do this myself, although draining the thing will be a bitch, seeing as how it's in the crawl space, below ground level. Worst case scenario, I will waste my money on replacement elements, and after much aggravation, end up buying a whole new water heater, paying some guy with plumber's crack $5,000 an hour for installation, and crawling back under there to wrap the new heater in a new cozy insulation blanket. It's a given that no one will be available for install for at least three days, and I will freeze my ass off taking cold showers, because that's the way This Old Motherfucking House rolls.

If you don't hear from me, tell the authorities to look under the house.

04 May 2009

Luis Ramirez's Murderers Walk

Last August I wrote about the murder of Luis Ramirez. Today I read that his murderers, local football heroes in the small town of Shenandoah Pennsylvania, have been officially deemed not guilty of murder by an all-white jury. Apparently they are merely guilty of "simple assault".

I am sickened, but not surprised.

My original post was called Hate, Murder, and Small Town Football, because it was as much about the particular dynamic between small rural communities and their football heroes as it was about the brutal murder of Luis Ramirez. When I read the details last summer, my first thought was, these boys are going to walk.

Shenandoah is a small town of 5,000 in Pennsylvania. I went to high school in a town of about 6,000 in southern Ohio. When I read the quotes from local police, the histories of the accused boys, and the comments of some of the townspeople, it was familiar territory. Not the murder, but that certain feel within an insulated community of "born 'n raised" folks and the relationship they have with their football team. It's not something that can be found or understood in cities, or even the suburbs. It's not something easily explained. But it is real. Real enough that I knew - and I bet the people of Shenandoah knew - that in the end, these boys would walk.

What message does this verdict send, as our country becomes more and more polarized, the anti-immigration crowd becomes more strident, and Swine Flu is associated with a nationality, a skin color? What message? Will the next drunken mob of high school heroes, amped up on testosterone and hate, take heed from this verdict, or will they feel righteous and invincible?

Last August I hoped justice would win out in the end. I hoped I would be surprised by the verdict. In the end, those boys walked. And I am not surprised.

Photo: Joe Spring, New York Times, Sep-07

28 March 2009

The Hell That is Frozen Shoulder

I have Frozen Shoulder. Again. I had a it a few years ago, before I started blogging. Never heard of it? Neither had I. It's officially called Adhesive Capsulitis. See, your tissues freak the hell out and form bands of tight, inflamed adhesions throughout the capsule surrounding your glenohumeral joint. This scarred and inflamed capsule constricts the joint, locking it into its own private hell. Range of motion is severely restricted, pain is basically comparable to having your shin broken with an axe, and duration can range from a few months to two years or more.

This shit hurts, people. It has three stages:
  • FREEZING: this is when you're basically wracked in pain. All the fucking time. Two kinds of pain, actually: chronic pain that is worse at night, and acute just-kill-me-now pain when you accidentally move past your ever-decreasing range of motion. This is where I am now.
  • FROZEN: this is when the pain supposedly starts to fade, but the capsule has basically locked your arm into a very limited range. Good luck wiping your ass. This is the time to introduce excruciating physical therapy, in order to try and coax your shoulder into moving again.
  • THAWING: this is where your motion is supposed to gradually come back. It's not very common to regain your full range of motion. The agonizing PT is continued through this phase.
So yeah, I had this three or four years back. Took over a year and a half to run its course. I remember when I was diagnosed. I thought Frozen Shoulder sounded stupid. Like some wimp-ass diagnosis for big crybabies or hypochondriacs. Adhesive Capsulitis sounded better, but still. Didn't sound like a "real" condition, like torn rotator cuff, or bone spur, or something badass like that. I soon found out different.

Frozen Shoulder is not for pussies, people.

Put it this way; I had three babies with no drugs. Two of the offspring were just under nine pounds, one was just over nine pounds. No drugs. I made it through shin splints in basic training with only Ben-Gay for relief. Hell, I made it through basic training, period.  I had two wisdom teeth pulled with only local anesthetic. I can do pain. I'm a woman. But dealing with that Frozen Shoulder wore me down. It was rough.

And it's back.

The other night my shoulder suddenly seized up in a cramp. (This would be the aforementioned "acute pain".) I screamed like a girl and cried. Literally. Screamed and cried. Male Offspring was about to take me to the emergency room. Of course, he probably just wanted to drive, but still. He gave me what he called hug therapy afterward. This is from a teenage boy, folks. If I had to deal with that pain for the length of a labor ... I couldn't do it. I'd be screaming for the drugs in five minutes.

When my shoulder started hurting a few months back, I figured I had wrenched it somehow, you know, with my active lifestyle and all, and didn't think much of it. But as time went on, I had to face the fact that I was having a relapse. According to the literature, relapses are extremely rare. Surprise, I'm one of the lucky few who get to experience that rare treat.


This time is worse. Worse because I know what I'm in for. The first time, I could trick myself. You know, say things like, "Maybe I'll be one of those people who heal in a few months." or "The physical therapy will speed up the process." Complete bullshit, but it had a psychological placebo effect. This time, I know what's up. I don't think I can do this again, people. It's like getting scared of childbirth once you're already pregnant. Ain't no getting out of it now - you're in it for the duration.

And my neck's not long enough to gnaw my arm off.

I can't tuck in a shirt, let alone reach in a back pocket. I can't hook my bra. I can't reach across to wash my other shoulder. Shaving under that arm? Please. Deodorant is spotty at best. Taking a coat off sucks.

Washing, drying, and styling my hair mostly one-handed is frustrating, painful, and makes me mad as hell. It also renders me unable to let go of my anger and resentment toward Laura, the heifer who butchered my hair. Every day I hate her more, and I'm not generally into hate, except for George Bush. I'm telling you, every day it festers, and that shit's not healthy. Catching her in an alley while armed with a pair of pinking shears has replaced winning the lottery as my main fantasy.

Showering has become a dreaded ordeal and leaves me feeling like a big crybaby. I've considered going to work in pajamas rather than face getting dressed. And my pajamas aren't pretty, people. Sleep is difficult. That's an understatement. I'm ODing on Valerian and Unisom. I don't want to go on prescription pain relievers or sleep aids, because of the length of time involved with this thing. I mean, popping hard drugs for a couple of weeks or even a month is one thing, but when you're talking upwards of a year, that's something else. Who wants to end up like Rush Limbaugh?

The worst is making involuntary movements - like if you stumble and try to catch yourself, or automatically reach out to catch something, or if something startles you and makes you jump. Agony. There's a fraction of a second between the time you make the movement and the time that agony slams you like a rabid water buffalo on crystal meth, when you realize what you've done. That's the fraction of a second you consider bashing your head on concrete to knock yourself out. But there's not enough time.

To add to the fun, it's my right shoulder. I'm right-handed. I already mouse left-handed at work, so that's okay, but I'm starting to do other things left-handed. I'll be ambidextrous by the time this shit's over.

I've heard of some people who get bilateral FS. That's right, both arms at once! How the hell do those guys wipe their asses? Or drive? Or eat? Or do anything? Holy hell. If that happens, you'd better hope you have a partner or a live-in aide, because I don't see how you'd manage. It sucks having FS as a single person, even with only one arm affected. Basically, I can reach forward, to a certain height, with no problem. Any other direction is a definite no-go. At least I can type. Good thing -- that's pretty important for my job, hello. Like anyone needs a reason to stand out in this economy.

There is a surgical treatment option, but my HMO wouldn't go for it. Likewise the cortisone injections I've heard some patients get. The only treatment my HMO approves is physical therapy. Cheapass bastards. Last time, they did a few initial sessions with me, but basically handed me some papers with instructions and cartoon illustrations and told me to do it on my own at home. Then they collected their copay. But hey, we've got to guard against the evils of "socialized medicine" because US medical care is the best in the world!

Actually, maybe I was better off doing it at home. Check out this poor bastard. I can't even imagine being able to move my arm up that high, so he must be coming along nicely. Pay no attention to the screams. It's all about progress in physical therapy. No pain, no gain.

Brutal. My former drill sergeant is probably a physical therapist now. The one who got kicked out for trainee abuse. Anyway, this whole thing is making me really pissy.

I mean more than usual.

23 March 2009

Xylitol: Sugarless Gum Can Kill Your Dog

Last week Batman ate some Orbit Sweet Mint sugarless gum. The rogue canine taught himself how to pull open the junk drawer.  The top drawer. He pulled out a box of gum from Costco, along with a bag of hinges, instructions for the thermostat, a couple of magic markers, and some pizza coupons. I don't know how many packs of gum were left in the box, but in hindsight, I don't think it could have been many.

Oh. No wonder you look so guilty. Foolish Labradog, how much gum did you eat? Did you learn nothing from that emergency surgery situation? Yeah, that's right, hang your head, I'm talking about the Great Tampon Escapade, not to mention the Toothpick Incident. You'd think that would've cured you from indiscriminately snarfing down whatever you come across.

Well, when you're blowing bubbles out your ass, don't come whining to me.

But then, I thought, I'd better look this up. Just in case. And I was stunned. Orbit has an ingredient called Xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol, first harvested from the bark of birch trees in Finland and found in various fruits, vegetables, berries, even mushrooms. Xylitol has been used in Europe for some time now, but didn't find its way to the US market until about 2003. It's used in sugarless gums, candies, and in some baked goods.

Xylitol is great for humans: it's natural, has no aftertaste, is as sweet as sugar with only 40% of the calories, and studies have proven it actually reduces cavities. Something about the way it interacts with bacteria in the mouth. It's a godsend for diabetics, as it does not require insulin to metabolize, therefore does not impact blood sugar levels. And it tastes great. There are even studies suggesting a possible use in fighting osteoporosis! Great stuff, right? So what's the catch?

The catch, for dog owners, is that it can kill your dog. And it doesn't take much. I was lucky I didn't come home to a dead dog last week, people.

Dogs metabolize Xylitol much differently than we humans do. We process the stuff slowly. Dogs' bodies metabolize it all once. Xylitol tricks the dog's body into dumping massive amounts of insulin into the system, but guess what, there's no actual sugar there for the insulin to act on. The dog's blood sugar levels plummet, and acute hypoglycemia sets in.

Within 30 to 60 minutes, a dog can present with lethargy, ataxia, seizures, and even unconsciousness. Basically a diabetic coma. If it is not addressed quickly, the dog can die.

The other problem dogs face, in addition to the hypoglycemia, is liver failure. This can be accompanied by internal bleeding, due to clotting abnormalities. Even a dog exhibiting few hypoglycemic symptoms can end up with liver damage, or even acute hepatic failure. The liver damage may not manifest until 12 - 48 hours after ingestion, and it can be permanent.

There is no antidote for canine Xylitol poisoning. The acute hypoglycemia can be countered by inducing vomiting if the ingestion is discovered quickly, and/or by administering a dextrose IV solution. However, if the hypoglycemia is not treated quickly, liver damage or failure can follow, and vets are not able to do as much for that.

If you see any of these symptoms in your dog, especially if you suspect your dog may have had access to sugarless gum, candy, or sweets, get your dog to the vet immediately:
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated movements)
  • Depression
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Hypokalemia (decreased potassium)
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Unconsciousness
  • Liver dysfunction and/or failure

If discovered quickly, and you're sure about what your dog has ingested, you can induce vomiting using fresh hydrogen peroxide, 1tsp (5cc or 5ml) for each 10 lbs of body weight. (I've done this with Batman before, and it took 4 or 5 tsp. He weighs nearly 70 lbs. I did it with Mason once, it only took 1 tsp.) CALL YOUR VET FIRST: depending on your dog's symptoms, s/he may advise against inducing vomiting to avoid possible aspiration into the lungs, or if more than two hours has passed since the ingestion. Activated charcoal does not effectively absorb Xylitol in the stomach.

After hours, you can call the ASPCA 24-hour emergency poison hotline directly at 1-888-426-4435. They may apply a $60 charge, but you don't have time to waste if your dog has eaten this stuff. If this happens after hours, take your dog to a 24-hour emergency animal hospital. You guys know I don't say that lightly -- I know how much that shit costs.

What happened to Batman? He showed few symptoms, but that is apparently NOT typical. He was lethargic, but not terribly. I paid $160 to have the vet run complete blood work and liver enzymes on him, and tell me he was going to be fine. My vet said a few dogs seem to react more mildly to Xylitol than most. Apparently Batman is one of those few. I feel like he cheated death. I swear that dog has nine lives.

Let me stress, that is not the norm. I read story after story on the Internets about people coming home to dead, unconscious, or seizing dogs. Dogs DIE from this. Not just a few here and there, either. Others are euthanized because the damage to the liver is too severe in the end. Some dogs are under critical care treatment for days or even a week. This is nothing to mess around with, folks. It happens fast, and it doesn't take much. A couple of sticks of some gums can kill a smaller dog. Batman is the exception - extreme illness or death are the normal results. Or maybe he just didn't eat that much? I read about a dog named Copper who died from eating the exact same gum that Batman ate.

By all rights, Batman should've been dead by the time I got home.

Most Americans don't know about Xylitol. Many vets are still unaware of the dangers. The number of cases is rising quickly, as more and more products use Xylitol. If the owner is unaware that Rover got some Tic Tacs from the car, or snatched some gum from an open purse, those incidents get chalked up to an unknown cause, so the number of deaths is probably higher than reported.

For the record, other sweeteners like sorbitol and mannitol are not harmful to dogs. The gum Batman ate had Xylitol listed as "less than 2%", with sorbitol as the first ingredient, and mannitol also listed. Other gums, like Trident, have higher amounts. Orbit made a new line called Orbit Complete, in which the main draw is the high levels of Xylitol. Like I said, it's great for human teeth.

There is pressure on the FDA and manufacturers to use warning labels. The FDA says they're in the business of people, not animals. The manufacturers are afraid people will think the product itself is bad, when actually it's just the way dogs process it. So, no labels yet. Greedyass corporate bastards. Capitalism at its best.

So no cookies, gummy bites, muffins, mints, or gum for Fido. I'm glad we still have Batman. I read a lot of heartbreaking stories about people who lost their animals. Be careful with your canine friends, people.

02 March 2009

Stalking Anthony Bourdain

I'm home with a roiling gut today. This is what it takes for me to get time on Male Offspring's computer.  I'm on the couch, hanging with my man, Anthony Bourdain. Yes, the Travel Channel. I know, right? Trust, this guy is no Rick Steves or Samantha Brown. No offense to Rick or Sam. Just not my thing.

I watched Samantha once. Destination Ireland. The whole time, I was like, okay, is she really trying to do a fake Irish accent? It was intermittent, but definitely there. Weird! And what's with the cheery, eager-beaver act? Girl would be perfect working the Starbucks drive-thru speaker at 5am. That brand of perky just pisses me off. But guess what came on right afterward? Anthony Bourdain's Ireland show! I know, too good, right? I don't know what those folks at the Travel Channel were thinking, unless they're going for a mass exodus of SamFans over to Anthony's side of the pub. Basically here's the difference: kissing the blarney stone with an affected faux-Irish accent complete with cheesy soundtrack, versus quaffing Guinness in a smoky bar after a walk through Belfast, Northern Ireland, touching on the not-so-cheery history between the Protestants and Catholics.

Yeah, pour me the Guinness.

Most travel shows work my last nerve with their exoticism and touristy bullshit. I will actually set a reminder for Tony's show. There I said it. I'm addicted to a travel/foodie show.

He's so goddamn appealing.

This guy is the only smoker and pork eater worshipper that I could consider dating. Or marrying. Or stalking. Whatever. Those of you who know how extremely anti-cigi I am, in addition to my vegetarian status, will appreciate the depth of my obsession, here.

Anthony's show, No Reservations, comes with a parental warning. A deliciously sardonic New Yorker, the FCC's obscenity rules are clearly not foremost in his mind. He tends to drink a lot. I don't mean like sampling a good Cabernet with dinner. I mean like slamming it back and dealing with the hangover later. He also says "fuck" a lot and is basically irreverent, caustic, and sexy in a tall, slightly bowlegged, boots-and-leather-jacket kind of way. He's likely to bust out with a "holy shit!" while masticating a juicy mouthful of meat, and you'll never catch him with an umbrella in his drink. And yes, he can occasionally slide toward disdainful when it comes to his travel and food compatriots:

I think the Travel Channel knows it's not getting Jamie Oliver or Rachel Ray when they throw their lot in with me.

Even Samantha Brown would have a hard time summoning a "wow" for this.

He eschews the tourist traps and five-star restaurants, heading instead for street vendors, family meals, and, as a self-described aficionado of the dive bar, any place where local home brew and home cooking can be found.

He will eat any local specialty, from seal eyes to chicken anus to still-squirming octopus tentacles. What's cool about that though, is that he doesn't do it in that "Ohmygod this is so exotic and freakish, watch me gross you out!" kind of way. (Looking at you, Andrew Zimmern.) No, rather than playing the obnoxious dude-check-this-out American, Tony, for all his general snarkiness, is all about genuine learning, about respecting and honoring the people, cultures and traditions of the countries he visits. He uses his show as a vehicle to challenge assumptions and stereotypes. You can see he is honored that people would invite him to their tables, share their food and their stories.

So yeah, I'm smitten with a travel show foodie. I was considering becoming a full time groupie, when my stalking turned up the inconvenient fact that he's now married, and has a little girl. He's apparently a very proud parent:

...she goes absolutely bat shit over risotto made with wild nettles. And when her Mom dips a finger in the local red wine, she greatly prefers it to juice. This makes me very proud.

Damn. I missed my window. Word on the street is, he even gave up the smoking in the interest of extended parenthood. Cruel irony. Stay sweet, Tony.

Okay, stay snarky. Whatever.

13 February 2009

Dear Split End Salon

Dear Split End Salon (Aurora Village in Shoreline, WA)

Thank you for the complimentary hair cut I received at your shop yesterday. Of course, the term "complimentary" loses its value a bit when it means free because we fucked your hair up so badly that we couldn't, in good conscience, charge you.

Please let your stylist Laura know that the Kristy McNichol look is over. As is the Florence Henderson mushroom top with accompanying flip. It wasn't cute then, and it's really just laughable now. The short, choppy layers, the butchered bangs, the feathering? Not flattering, and so not necessary. Let it go. Yes, I admit, I was crushing on Shaun Cassidy in the 70s, but do you really think I want to see an older, fatter version of him staring back at me from my mirror? That shit's not funny. This morning, while brushing my teeth, I had the overwhelming urge to pull a crazyass Britney Spears move with my son's clippers.

Also, I'd like to point out that the last thing a client wants to hear while sitting in one of your vinyl chairs, is the stylist sucking in her breath with an, Oh, Jesus! I'm so sorry... Yeah, really, that sentence should just never be uttered in a hair salon. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's legal cause for a justifiable beatdown.

Apparently, your current hiring practices include taking on the layoffs from Super Cuts, because I haven't had such a bad haircut since my mom swindled me into getting the Dorothy Hammill in 4th grade. Even the basic training cut I got at Fort Jackson worked better than this. Truth be told, my drill sergeant's cut worked better than this.  And he was bald.

When family, friends and colleagues do not reassure you with the requisite Bad Haircut Platitudes, you know it's bad. When your new haircut draws no comments at all, and you work around all women and gay men, it's a sure sign something has gone awry.

When you pathetically resort to fishing for compliments and only receive So ... what made you cut your hair? or Are you going to grow it out again? that's a clue that someone with some scissors fucked up your head in a major way. (Looking at you, Laura.) My own son brought me pity-coffee at work today. He also snapped a picture of my head with his cell phone before running away. I'm pretty sure it's already been sent to his sisters at college, or possibly posted on the Interwebs.

A military high-and-tight suddenly doesn't seem quite so drastic. I will not, however, be coming to your shop to get it. In fact, I will never set foot in your salon again. I've made sure to tell anyone who asks, exactly where I got my "interesting haircut". Nothing like a living, breathing - and yes, crying - advertisement, is there?

In closing, may I suggest you screen your stylists a bit more carefully? In this economy, I'd imagine you have lots of potential hires to choose from. A little quality control would be nice. You had a good thing going - Adrienne, Halona, or Nicole M. would never have let this shit go down. Your standards have slipped.

And Laura, honey, you need to know that being apologetic and friendly does not make up for me living with this fucked-up, feathered shag on my head. I'm sure you're a nice person, but you should not be wielding scissors in a professional capacity. If I were you, I'd cross the street if you see me coming any time in the next few months. If I knew where you lived, I'd put Nair in your shampoo bottle. That may sound bitchy -- okay, unhinged -- but listen, honey, someone actually used the word "bouffant" in a conversation with me today. Again, that shit's not funny.

Split End Salon, I spit in your general direction. Thanks for the memories.

Disgruntledly Yours,
A Former Client