Saturday, July 25th, 2009


Filed under: dogs,how to,vet — alison @ 08:47

I love watching vets work.

The vet opened the examining room door, looked at Pepe kindly and with happy anticipation, and called him to her by name. Pepe ambled in and we followed. [Cool vet tricks: How well does Pepe see and hear?  How is his gait? How does he respond to a new place? Is he confident or uncertain? Also: Communicate to Pepe’s bosses – yes, we both went – that Pepe is charming and loveable and worth this focussed attention. Establish trust.]

We told her we were there because Pepe’s seizures were getting worse but he couldn’t take the medication he had been offered. We wanted to try an alternative. The vet brought out his file to see what the notes were, commented that it was a thick file. We acknowledged that. We knew he was chronically ill and we weren’t expecting miracles. [Cool vet trick: set up the bosses for possible end-of-life conversation.]

We showed her the video Mark had shot of Pepe having a seizure. The vet had asked for this months ago, but it’s only now that he has them daily and on cue that we’ve been able to catch him at it. She watched once, carefully, asked questions about his apparent state of consciousness, then explained why she thought this wasn’t epilepsy but an epileptiform seizure. [Cool human trick: explain your reasoning so that your listeners know they’ve been heard and understood.]

Mark volunteered that epileptiform seizures were caused by tumours. The vet agreed that this was one cause, then proceeded to examine Pepe, explaining what she was doing at each step. His heart is fine, therefore his seizures are unlikely to be caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. She listened to his lungs and felt his lymph nodes for signs of metastasis but didn’t find anything obvious. [Cool human trick: explain your reasoning to get buy-in for your conclusions.]

She checked his vision. He has cataracts, but he responds normally to light shone in his eyes and can track a moving light on the wall. He reacts to a raised hand and tapping towards his right eye… but not his left. By this time we were anticipating the conclusion: his brain tumor was affecting the visual processing for his left eye. Aha! moment: so that’s why he let someone pet him while I was holding him the other day: he couldn’t see her approach. [Cool vet trick: she particularly wanted to check his vision because she’d noticed him hesitate as he walked into the room, as if he weren’t sure what was there.]

The next step, she explained, was an MRI. We protested: what would be gained? Well, she said, it was the only way to know for absolutely certain that he has brain cancer. We protested again: it doesn’t matter, because we won’t be treating the cancer anyway. She agreed, adding that a scan would be too expensive. [Cool human trick: Ensure the bosses own the decision.]

She proposed a cortisone prescription to reduce swelling. It might help temporarily. I said what I really wanted to know was how to decide when to bring him in for the final visit. Well, she said, daily seizures really are a lot. They’re physically hard for the animal. Plus, his head must hurt him terribly. [Cool vet trick: load up the bosses with information to make the ultimate decision easier.]

I was stricken by the notion of my poor little dog sleeping in dark rooms because he was laid low by headaches: I had assumed it was just general fatigue. I asked about pain medication. Well, she said, she didn’t want to give him morphine because it’s addictive, and he can’t take both NSAIDs and cortisone, but the cortisone is an antinflammatory and will treat the pain. If the cortisone works he’ll be happy and lively and his seizures will stop or be reduced. If it doesn’t work, or the tumour grows and the cortisone stops helping, we’ll know. But with the cortisone we might be able to buy him a couple more months. [Cool human trick: establish reasonable expectations and next steps.]

So far the cortisone seems to be working. He’s happy, has his appetite back, and is pissing like a fire hydrant. Two more months is just about right: he doesn’t like winter, so it’s good to know he won’t have to go through another one.

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Thank you L, K & E!

Filed under: children,cross-Canada,family,food,how to,Nora,recipes,travelling — alison @ 22:51

On our third day in BC, Nora took us to visit her friends in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. For some reason we only took one picture while we were there, like so:

Olympic Peninsula as viewed from near L, K & E's house


We stayed two nights. L is vegetarian, so in addition to bringing a bottle of wine, Nora volunteered me to make supper, which I did. It was simple and flavourful and asian-inspired, and I made three different dishes to maximise the chances that everyone would find something they could eat, like so:

red lentils
curry powder or paste
a little canola oil

Heat the red lentils in the oil, stirring until they turn pale. Add water, about four times as much as the lentils by volume. Keep cooking until soft, adding water as necessary. Dal should be soft and slurpy, not stiff. When the lentils are soft, stir in curry powder or paste to taste. Keep cooking on low heat for another fifteen minutes or so.

Carrots and Apricots
2 large onions, sliced thin
500 g carrots (1 lb), chopped into irregular 1-cm (half-inch) chunks
a fistful of dried apricots, sliced into 4 or 5 strips each
a little canola oil

Heat the onions gently in the canola oil while you chop the carrots and slice the apricots. When the onions are soft, stir in the carrots and apricots. This can be ready in as little as ten minutes after you add the carrots, but you can also keep cooking gently for another half hour or more as the onion flavour deepens and the carrots soften.

Rapini and Garlic
1 bunch of rapini
6 cloves of garlic, put through a garlic press
a little sesame oil

Boil a pot of water large enough for two bunches of rapini. Chop the rapini roughly and drop it into the boiling water. Leave it there for about three minutes or just until the stems start to soften. Pour out into a colander, rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and squeeze out the excess water. Set aside until just before you are ready to eat. (Blanching vegetables like this is scary to most people these days, because of all the vitamins that are leached into the cooking water. Note however that by completely immersing the vegetables in boiling water you cook them very quickly, and the reduced cooking time almost makes up for the leaching.) Just before you are ready to eat, heat the sesame oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the garlic then immediately stir in the rapini before the garlic starts to burn. Heat through for five minutes.

1 cup pot barley
2 1/2 cups cold water

Put the barley and the water in a pot together and cook over medium heat until done, about 45 minutes.

*** *** ***
This menu is easy to make because there is very little timing to worry about. Everything can pretty much sit on the stove until you’re ready to sit down. The rapini are in no danger of getting grey and mushy because you don’t stir-fry them until you’re sure people are coming to the table. It’s nutritionally balanced even if you’re a little kid and you can’t stand rapini.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Apple Berry Crisp

Filed under: Anne,food,how to,recipes — alison @ 06:49

Anne wrote:
>I do read your blog posts

Then you should comment on them!

>though I
>don’t really feel an urge to respond on your


> Liked the one about toenail clippings ;-)

Then you should comment on it!

>I have a request for you. Recently I made
>something like apple crumble, but the topping
>didn’t turn out great. I remember you making a
>very nice dessert out of fruit with some kind of
>crisp topping consisting of oat flakes and other
>stuff. Could you email me the recipe?

I will go one better: I will post it on my website!

*** *** ***
2 boxes of frozen mixed berries
6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 t salt
2 T cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter

Put the berries in a deep round baking dish and layer the apples over them. Put all the topping ingredients in the food processor and whizz. Sprinkle as much topping as you want over the apples and freeze the rest for another time. Bake half an hour at 375°F.

*** *** ***
Mark would like me to make this with about twice as much butter and sugar, so that it’s more candy-like. I say tough beans, it’s plenty yummy the way it is.

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Tidy Conundrum 1

Filed under: culture,fallacies,housekeeping,how to,naïveté,tidy conundrum — alison @ 21:41

(Possibly the first in a series.)

In my previous post I said that being tidy is hard for me because it’s complicated. For most people it’s the opposite. Trying to live and work in an unordered heap is complicated. Wandering through life quietly restoring objects to their rightful places is both obvious and rewarding.

So I thought I’d post about the things that my disorderly little mind struggles with so unsuccessfully. To start off: nail clippings.

I was brought up to clip my nails in such a way that the clippings would fly through the air and fall randomly to the ground. This always seemed a little odd to me. Breadcrumbs and sand are not disposed of by sprinkling them over the floorboards or the bedclothes, but apparently nail clippings are a special exception.

I thought I would be clever and cup my hand over the clipper to catch clippings before they flew off and collect them so they could be tidily thrown out. Well. It turns out that this is Gross and Disgusting. Approximately on the order of pooping on the table. I have been shrieked at for my little piles of clippings, and my first boyfriend almost broke up with me, shaking with rage, when I forgot to throw out my tiny heap and he came home and saw it. This is fairly easy to resolve, of course: only clip nails when utterly alone and with a waste-paper basket within your field of vision. But I was curious. I could imagine that social convention dictates that a piece of nail, once separated from the digit that produced it, becomes so revolting that it may not be looked at or touched. Social convention dictates a lot of things that don’t necessarily make sense. But do all my friends and relatives truly believe that these repugnant objects dissolve into the air or melt into the linoleum?

I asked around, and apparently it’s true. Those horrible nail clippings evaporate if you don’t look at them. And you shouldn’t look at them. They are abhorrent.

Okey-dokey. Nail clipping and disposal in secrecy it is.

It was one of the first things I asked Mark when we met. He has lots of strong ideas about waste disposal and I thought he would be able to resolve the conundrum of simultaneously acknowledging both social convention and object persistence with respect to nail clippings. My confidence was well-founded.

Mark’s answer: clip nails into the bathtub where they will scatter randomly and… provide invisible traction for your feet when you take a shower.

I actually think this solution is a little gross, but I am so relieved to be living with someone who has a rule about nail clippings that makes any sense at all that I don’t quibble.

So. You see why tidying is so complicated for me? Every individual item could get a whole blog post.


messy (evolution of)

I remember when I was about four or five and my father was trying to get me to put my things away, I finally told him that I didn’t care. If he cared, he should put them away. He called me a princess. I was confused because in the books I read, princesses were always virtuous heroines but by his tone of voice my father didn’t seem to be praising me. I tried to get him to explain but he had lost patience by then.

When I was about ten or eleven I was sitting at the dining room table working on a craft and dropped something on the floor. I was about to lean over and pick it up, when I realised that I didn’t have to. I didn’t need it right away and it was perfectly fine sitting on the floor until I did need it. All I had to do was remember where it was. This epiphany was accompanied by a worried suspicion that I was going to regret my insight.

Anyone I have lived with has, with a single exception, complained about my messiness. With that single exception, none has cheerfully accepted my other contributions to the household as adequate compensation for needing to pick up after me.

When living with that single exception, who did not, after all, pick up after me, rather the opposite, the house was so filthy that when a pregnant friend we were chatting with on the sidewalk needed to pee, we lied and said the toilet didn’t work. I think that was when I faced the fact that there was something seriously wrong. We never discussed it.

In Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, there’s a scene where a pathetic, dependent character breaks something and there’s glass on the floor. This is one more contribution to a discouraging sequence of events, not because she attached value to the broken thing but because “now she would have to remember.” As in, it doesn’t occur to her to sweep up the shards; instead she will need to spend the rest of her life trying not to cut her feet by not walking in that spot. I was shocked to discover that I was a type.

For a couple of years one of my annual objectives at work in my performance review was to clean up my desk. I never really got around to doing a complete job. My boss eventually gave up. For the past four years or so my bosses have been elsewhere — Winnipeg or Mississauga or Toronto — and have not seen my desk.

It’s not that I like being messy. I don’t even like ordinary cheerful clutter; I love a stark, open, spare space. One of the first things I did upon getting a regular job was to hire a cleaning lady. It’s more that it seems too complicated. I like doing laundry, and do it diligently even if it means hauling it to a laundromat, even if it takes all weekend. Laundry is self-limiting. There is not an infinite amount of stuff that could theoretically be put into a washing machine. Once it has been washed, it needs to be folded and put away. Very simple. Not only that, I know where laundered things go. Clothes have drawers and shelves and hangers; sheets and towels have closets; dog blankets go back on dog beds; soft furnishings go back where they came from. If I start to clean a house I never know when to stop: there’s always something I didn’t get to and feel guilty about, always a decision that I don’t know how to make.

Mark determined that part of my problem is that not everything has a place to go. I feel bad when stuff is lying around in heaps, but it’s not as though changing the situation is always a simple matter of putting it in its place. There often is no place for it, so more radical intervention is called for. When he moved in he put a lot more storage in. It helps. 

Still, the other day someone said that if I were an employee, she’d fire me; that if I were a roommate, I would be out on my ass in two days. She doesn’t even know me that well. It’s just that obvious.

My boss is in town for a day. I cleaned off my desk this morning in preparation, which mostly consisted of stashing papers and the binders into which they are some day to be filed, into drawers and bins where they will be invisible to the casual visitor. Still, I feel better.

Mark has been stomping around crossly for the past few weeks, issuing dark warnings that we both need to change if we value the relationship. I’m not sure I can change, exactly. But perhaps I can put “cleaning off the dining room table every Saturday” into the same doable category as “laundry.”

Sunday, September 28th, 2003

Re: Married Life

Filed under: consuming,fear,housekeeping,how to — alison @ 21:21

Hmm, this one seems to have hit some sort of sensitive nerve out there. I’ve gotten lots of helpful responses from people who seem to understand the place that properly done laundry has in a satisfying life.

So far:

Too much information/oversharing: three votes (including one cast vigourously by Mark).

While over the past years I have recounted amourous and occasionally unorthodox adventures and admitted dark urges to smash my chihuahua’s head open against a wall, these confessions are apparently a normal part of the public sphere or at least entertaining enough that their trespass into the public sphere was tolerated without comment.

The feelings of desolation that follow domestic disagreements with a legally bonded mate apparently enjoy no such license. Either they are too personal and not to be displayed because they are too boring (like nose-picking, tooth-brushing and breast-feeding); too personal and not to be displayed because they are too important (like how much money one makes); or occasion too much uncomfortable echo in the reader; or are simply not funny.

Whatever, I have been advised that by discussing laundry in public I went too far.

Separating laundry is an important aspect of clothing care: five votes.

Five friends seized upon the occasion to share their personal approaches to laundry, happy to share hard-won expertise with someone needing their help.

All are strongly in favour of separating, though the importance they attribute to different categories differs. Some separate icky from sweet; others, lint-generating from lint-collecting; sturdy from fragile; light from dark; large from small.

This probably doesn’t have much to do with laundry at all: three votes.

Laundry is not important enough to get that worked up about: two votes.

The bourgeois lifestyle is inherently violent: one intriguing vote.

Actual quote: “The bourgeois life is a violent life, it restructures all of everything into the space of consumerism & then isolates it. I think this re-channeling of desires from open-ended to the very concrete, with its limits but reassurances, is what you are going through. It’s the politics of capitalism in everyday life, not easy for any of us, and always in flux.”

When pressed for clarification, “bourgeois” was defined as middle-class with a separation of public and private spheres. “Yes, absolutely, it is much more convenient to do your laundry in your own machine in your own home. No question! But then you don’t leave the house.”

What I’ve settled with:

1) Domestic disputes are much scarier when you’re living together and legally married. Especially as Mark and I took the old-fashioned route of courting first, then marrying, then moving in together. Highly stressful.

2) Front-loaders do in fact require a different approach to laundry than top-loaders. You have to do a full load every time or else the machine gets unbalanced during the spin cycle. For our machine this isn’t fatal: it stops spinning, shakes the clothes around a bit, then tries again. But if the load is too small it will just keep trying forever and never really spin right. So it takes a bit of teeth-gritting to put things together that you wouldn’t have combined in a top-loader. Repeating to oneself that front-loaders are much gentler on clothes than top-loaders helps, as does viewing the washing process through the porthole and watching the machine toss your garments tenderly like an organic baby lettuce salad with raspberry-mustard dressing.

3) I’m still not combining mops and underwear.
Hugs again to all!

[originally transmitted by e-mail September 28, 2003]

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