Monday, June 26, 2006

My First Rose

(Originally posted on Sunday, June 25, 2006 by Tim)

As I mentioned in Saturday?s post, I managed to contract a fairly nasty case of poison ivy earlier this Summer. This resulted in a truly surreal experience working out a couple of weeks ago. I?ve told this story to a number of people and none of them seem to appreciate it as much as I do. Not one to be discouraged, I?m going to subject you to the gory details in some hope of satisfaction. The story is a little long so you?ll have to bear with me. Moohahahaha!

Roughly a month ago, I managed to get a swath of poison ivy on my face while moving a wood pile. I?ve never been good at recognizing the stuff. It was growing on top of the wood pile and I stuck my head right in it. The result was about four days of agony from Monday until Friday when I started taking steroids to suppress my immune system. Note that all steroids do not help you build big muscles. This steroid tells your immune system to chill out so you can sleep at night. Things quickly got better from the poison ivy point of view after that. The rashes stopped itching and faded to a shadow of their former selves.

The remaining problem was the side effects of the steroids. I?d been experiencing some difficulty sleeping and some nervousness over the week of steroid treatment as well as a little bit of difficulty with my vision. I?d also noticed about four pounds in weight gain (half of which I have now managed to lose). The vision part was concerning me and I decided to finally read the full package insert.

The package insert describes things such as irritability, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, muscle loss, negative nitrogen balance, vomiting?wait a second?MUSCLE LOSS!?!?!?! Once I read about the possibility of muscle loss, that settled it. I stopped taking the things immediately.

So I still haven?t gotten to the surreal part. Between the poison ivy and the various things I?ve tried to treat it, I?d been really off my game for about a week and a half. With that, I hadn?t managed to work out. The night after I had stopped taking the steroids, I planned to work out, but I got a migraine right before we left the house. I decided that it had been too long and I wasn?t going to let the migraine stop me. I took my normal 800 mg of ibuprofen and we headed out to the gym.

Now when I work out, I usually start with the bench press. The first set of repetitions are usually agony. I have an old swimming injury in the shoulder of my right arm and it literally screams through the entire first set. Seriously, you can hear dogs barking in a half mile radius around gym when I start lifting. After the first set, I assume some endorphins kick in because the rest of my sets are far less painful.

So the surreal thing about my workout a couple of weeks ago was there was no pain. I sat down to do my first set and felt nothing. My muscles still fatigued at the same point, there just wasn?t any pain. I kept looking at the bar to make sure there were weights on it. No one else seems to fully appreciate the story but it was a really weird experience. My sister in law (Jes) is a physical therapist and she thinks that it was a combination of the anti-inflammatory steroids and the ibuprofen. I?ve been considering taking some ibuprofen before workouts, but I probably need the pain to keep me from pulling something by trying to lift too much.

So that?s my story. I don?t have a cool picture to go with it so I?ve posted a picture of my first rose. I?ve never planted a rose bush before and I decided to try two in the front yard. I get good sun out there and I?m hoping I dug a big enough hole to make up for the orange clay that masquerades as soil in this part of Virginia. I was worried for a while as the rose bushes didn?t seem to be doing that well. Jes even commented, ?Well, at least you got one.? This is the flower in the picture. It?s a little sickly and I really thought it was all I was going to get for a while. I think the bushes were getting beat down by a spat of rainy and overcast days. We?ve recently had a long streak of hot, humid, and clear. They seem to be doing much better and I counted eight buds last time I looked. With a little luck, we?ll have blooming roses for Dalton?s birth.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


(Originally posted on Saturday, June 24, 2006 by Tim)

I?ve managed to get bitten by the composting bug. I think the start was when the 2 cubic yards of topsoil I ordered was only 1 to 1.5 yards and was full of nails. Actually, it?s probably a result of the garden bug and having orange clay two inches down in our yard. I?ll write more about the garden later.

While I was reading up on composting I found a bunch of advertisements for these bins that you turn every day or so to get compost for the garden in two weeks. ?Wow! Compost in two weeks! I?ve gotta get one of those!? These were my exact thoughts including the explanation marks. I was a man on a mission. I then looked at the price of these bins. They range from $150 on up and I?d have to wait for it to be shipped (and shipping cost, don?t forget shipping cost). They are just plastic containers mounted on a frame with an axle that makes them easy to turn. I figured that I could build my own cheaper.

What I had in mind actually involved no building at all. I could just buy a 50 gallon garbage can and roll it around the yard every day or two for mixing. Solid in my plan, I drove to Home Depot to find they didn?t have any cans over 32 gallon. Curses! Fortunately, we live in strip mall heaven so I got back in the car and drove to Lowes and was able to find a 45 gallon can.

The first thing I added to the can was grass clippings from the yard mixed with leaves left over from last year (or the year before but who?s counting). To my dismay, I filled the can with only 25% of the clippings from mowing the front yard alone. Hmmm, maybe I need more cans. I decided that I?d best see if the can idea worked before I set up platoon of cans in the backyard.

In the end, the can idea works. It takes longer than two weeks I think, but I stopped rolling the can around in the yard weeks ago. I had done a lot of asking around about how different people did their compost bins. To one question, I always received a uniform answer.

Q: How long does it take your system to generate compost?
A: I don?t know.

There?s an important realization imbedded in this answer. People don't know how long it takes to make compost because they don't use it very often. The only time I would use the stuff is in Spring when I turn the garden. Once the excitement of starting a compost pile wore off, I realized this. Rolling the can around the backyard isn?t much fun either. There will be no gaggle of compost cans in my backyard after all.

So now my goal is to build a compost bin. As usual, I?m trying to do it in the cheapest way possible. My first idea was to build a ?box? by restacking the wood pile in a shape that allowed a cubic meter of compost pile. This idea was a bit of a disaster. Not only was there barely enough wood for two sides, but there was poison ivy growing on wood pile. Three weeks and an intense treatment of anti-inflammatory steroids later, I?m ready to make another attempt at building a compost bin.

This time, I?ve decided to build the bin out of used pallets. I called around multiple places and it seems that most everyone is good about recycling these things these days. There are a couple of industries in Christiansburg that bring their pallets to the dump, but I never managed to get in contact with them. I finally managed to find a source of pallets at a receiving warehouse.

I first attempted to pick the pallets up last week. I figured I would put one or two in our Honda Accord and make 2 to 4 trips (I figure I need 4 pallets). Unfortunately, all the pallets available were too big to fit though the doors or in the trunk. I asked the guy at the warehouse if they had an smaller pallets and he (while looking annoyed) said that they rarely get smaller pallets and they don?t hold on to them when that happens. Discouraged, I drove home thinking about how I might borrow a truck without too much effort.

While recounting my woes to Cat, she mentioned that I could strap pallets to the top of our Honda Civic. If you?ve seen our Civic, you will have noted that it has been lacking a garage for most of its natural life. In addition, it has lived in Los Angeles (high ozone) and I?d swear that someone decided to apply wax to it using a medium grit sandpaper. Needless to say, we?re not worried about any damage to the paint as a result of the transport of pallets on its roof. Once again, I set out for the warehouse to obtain some pallets.

My plan was to pick up four pallets in two trips. I would do them on separate days as the warehouse is on my way home from work. When I showed up yesterday, I poked my head into the office and asked the guy if it was still OK to take the pallets. He said it was fine, but was generally grumpy in the exchange. Now I?m not sure if grumpy is his baseline state or if he was regretting agreeing to let me have the pallets. I figured I?d best get while the getting was good and take all four pallets in one trip. The result is in the picture above.

First, I placed a piece of cardboard on the top of the car. While I don?t really care about the paint job, I?m not going to go out of my way to destroy it. This turned out to be a better idea than I thought as the pallets had some slightly protruding nails. Next, I stacked all four pallets on the roof (wondering if the roof could take the weight) and poorly secured them with one loop of rope. Pallets are heavier than I thought and I didn?t want to ask any of Grumpy Guy?s staff for help. Go go weight lifting. Maybe that?s why I?m a bit sore today. I then drove home trying to not go faster than 45 miles per hour in fear that the pallets would blow off. Being that I live in rural Virginia, I ended up with Bo and Luke revving the engine of the General Lee behind me for the last few miles. Fortunately, I made it to the turn off to my house before they broke out those dynamite tipped arrows they are so fond of.

One funny thing is that it rained last night. I was too lazy to unload the pallets when I got home. I just pulled the car, pallets and all, into the garage. Our garage is small and short, but I made it with several millimeters to spare.

Outside of composting, I?ve been continuing to work on beans and rice recipes. My current favorite is the one below. It?s a little bit bland if you don?t go heavy on the cheese and salsa.

Beans and Rice

½ lb dry black beans
1 small onion, diced
1 jalapeno, diced
2 cobs corn, decobbed
¼ cup cilantro
black pepper
2 cups brown rice (dry)
cheddar cheese, grated

The night before, place black beans in a pot, cover with water, and cover pot. Allow beans to soak overnight. The next morning, drain the beans and combine them in a crockpot with the onion and enough water to cover the mix. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Add diced jalapeno and decobbed corn. Increase crockpot temperature to high and cook for an additional hour. During this time, cook the brown rice according to the directions on the package. After hour, add the cilantro and salt and pepper to the beans to taste. I add 1-2 tsp of salt, but I like things salty. To serve, add one scoop of rice to a bowl. Add one scoop of beans on top. Add a layer cheddar cheese (the amount depends on how cheesy you are, I add lots). Top the mix with a dollop of salsa.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Help, I can't see my toes!

(Originally posted on Saturday, June 24, 2006 by Cathy)

Help! I can't see my toes!

For that matter, my ankles have been on vacation all week, so I haven't seen much of them either.

Oh sure, if I spent half of every day on my side, I could probably get my ankles back, but lying on my side is a good recipe for napping, and how many hours a day can you nap?

(Nevermind, don't answer that.)

I can't see my stretch marks either. They're all on the southern hemisphere, and I can't see that low in our bathroom mirror without standing on the edge of the bathtub.

Standing on the edge of the bathtub isn't seeming like a good idea, considering I can't see my toes.

Therefore: no toes, no ankles, no stretch marks either.

Problem solved.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Birth Plan

(Originally posted on Friday, June 16, 2006 by Tim)

Sorry for the long hiatus on blog posts. I had a goal of one a week and I?ve somehow fallen off the wagon. One would assume that a wagon moving at a speed of one blog post per week would be pretty easy to catch up with. Somehow it hasn?t worked out that way for me. I think the subject would make a pretty good unit conversion problem for my Chemistry 101 class.

?You are on a wagon moving at a speed of one blog post per week. As a result of too many gin and tonics, you?ve fallen off the wagon. This is followed by a bad case of poison ivy and too many video games. This gives the wagon a two month lead on you. If you can type at a speed of 40 words per minute, how long will it take you to catch up with the wagon??

As you may know, Cat and I want a natural birth. It?s difficult to achieve this in many hospitals and we don?t have a lot of choices for health care here. We have decided that our best chance to have the birth experience we want is to have a home birth. We have a midwife we like and we?ve taken natural childbirth classes to prepare for the big day. However, there is still some chance that we could end up in the hospital. Cat could go into labor before Wednesday of next week. This would place Dalton at less than 37 weeks and our midwife would expect us to go to the hospital. We also could have some sort of emergency. To prepare for these possibilities, Cat and I have written up a birth plan to hand to the staff at the hospital.

A birth plan is a series of requests to the birth team, doctors and nurses, at the hospital. Ideally it is polite and aimed at convincing the team to respect our wishes during the birth. Here?s my first draft?

?Dear Medical Establishment Drone,

We wanted a home birth. The fact that you are reading this means that we are profoundly disappointed. We might have considered a hospital birth, but the poor quality and selection of medical care in this area obviated this as a rational choice. Obviously, since we are here, things are a bit messed up. Please review the series of guidelines below to help prevent your screwing things up further.

1. No pain killers. We don?t want any painkillers. These things disrupt the normal course of labor, they make it hard for the mother to push naturally, and they cause respiratory depression in the baby. In addition, when you turn the things off right before delivery, things are much more painful for the mother as she hasn?t had a chance to build up natural endorphins. Don?t offer us any painkillers. We don?t want to hear you say the words epidural, lidocaine, procaine, demoral, or morphine. We know that you hated organic chemistry and kept losing points for drawing carbon with more than four bonds. If you can?t explain the biochemical mechanism of action of a compound, you really shouldn?t be administering it. If we feel any of these compounds are necessary, we will let you know.

2. Intermittent listening as opposed to constant fetal monitoring. We know how much you love the machine that goes ping. In addition, it was very expensive and you need to keep billing the insurance company to pay it off. The problem is, you monkeys just can?t read the thing right. Multiple medical studies have shown no predictive power in the use of constant fetal monitoring. In fact, the literature supports that intermittent listening is just as good for preventing poor outcomes and that constant fetal monitoring increases the rate of cesarean and instrumental delivery. Look, your attention needs to be focused on the mother, not on a TV screen with fun graphs. We all know you couldn?t plot data correctly in college and that you?re no better reading it now.

3. Free access to food and drink during labor. For goodness sake, labor is 14 hours long for first time mothers. What on dog?s green earth makes you think that depriving the mother of food and drink is a sane course of action. Of course mothers get exhausted and you need to pump them full of chemicals and perform cesareans when you don?t let them eat.

4. No augmention of labor. We know that you want to deliver the baby so you can make your second golf game of the day. Look, you?re not good at golf. Your golf partner knows this, your wife knows this, we know this. If you type ?worse than the Three Stooges at golf? into Google, your home page comes up as the top hit. I?m not trying to hurt your feelings here, well not much, but it?s unreasonable to be so hair triggered on inducing labor. Medical studies have shown that there are no adverse effects associated with letting labor go as long as it needs provided there are no signs of distress in mother or baby. We?ve attached the studies in the appendix. Yes, we know reading is hard and, gasp, thinking while reading is even harder. The attached papers are devoid of graphs and structures of molecules so it shouldn?t be really scary. In addition, we?ve highlighted the relevant sections for you to make things easier. Please look them over. You can go in your office and close the door so as to not be embarrassed by the cleaning help catching you trying to follow the tables with a strained look on your face.?

I figure this ought to do the trick. How could they resist my persuasive intellect on the matter?

In the end, I?m really hoping we don?t end up in the hospital. After Wednesday, if we?re in the hospital, something will be fairly wrong. It?s unlikely that we will be able to reasonably avoid interventions as they will be necessary.