Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gearing Up For the Big Get-a-way

Here it is, folks - the last week of school, and time to prepare for the big summer road trip.

On Friday, the girls and I will pile into the van and head off across freeways with steadily decreasing designations for the start of our summer vacation. But before we can leave, there is a lot of preparation to do.

This past week was already a busy one. I ordered a half-dozen frozen ducks, and had to defrost the freezer to make room for them. Then on Friday, we loaded the sauna into the van for our Saturday delivery. The lady who bought the sauna lives 4 1/2 hours away in Houston, so most of our day was spent driving and unloading and driving again.

Fortunately, the apartment where we made the delivery was near an Ikea. Score! We had in-store credit and a completely empty van! The temptation to fill it nearly overwhelmed me, but I exercised caution and just bought four small things, including some lemon cookies. Yum.

This week is going to be a mad dash to the finish line. I need to get the van lubed and a windshield chip repaired, clean the bathroom, mow both front and back lawns, get Alyssa's braces wire adjusted, shop for two weeks worth of food for Kara, and re-buzz my hair. This is in addition to all of the packing that needs to be done.

Yup, it's going to be an exciting week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Guest Blogger: Lyme Awareness Month, Part 2

Continuing our two-part series on Lyme Disease for Lyme Disease Awareness Month, we welcome back my wife Kara as guest blogger.

To make matters even more complicated, ticks also carry other infections. If you have Lyme Disease, you will most likely have one or more of the other infections. The 3 most common co-infections are Bartonella, Ehrlichia and Babesia. Others include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, mycoplasmas and viruses. They further complicate things by adding their own symptoms. The co-infections are pretty stealthy as well and do considerable damage.

So by this point, I'm sure you're thinking – OK, so if a person thinks they have Lyme or one of the other infections just go to the doctor and get tested. Not that simple. The “standard” test for Lyme Disease is the Western Blot. When it is performed by a “normal” lab such as LabCorp or Quest, this test is between 10% and 30% accurate. The CDC has known this from the start and has always said Lyme diagnosis is a clinical diagnosis. As in, diagnosed by the patient's symptoms. If a patient's symptoms are shouting, “Lyme Disease!”, a negative test result for Lyme Disease does NOT mean you don't have it. In many patients, it takes a while – some, years -- for the body to start producing antibodies. On the flip side, if the patient is very ill, their body may have stopped producing antibodies. Lyme and its co-infections are experts at literally turning off the immune system so it won't fight.

So how does one get diagnosed? Igenex in Palo Alto, CA is the best lab for diagnosing Tick Borne illnesses. Their western blot is about 70% accurate. It is also best to visit an LLMD. The majority of Mds do not know about Lyme Disease. Even when they say they do, they do not.

Once the patient is diagnosed and treatment begins (hopefully by an LLMD) there is hope for recovery. Much depends on how severe the case is and how long the patient has been infected. When the antibiotics kill borrelia or any of the co-infections, there is a die-off effect. The dead bacteria are very toxic and the body must dump all these toxins. The toxins make symptoms much worse and often create new or bring back old symptoms. Most patients feel much worse before they start to feel better. This can go on for months or years. Then, finally, there is progress and the healing process begins!

There are over 20,000 cases of Lyme Disease diagnosed annually. (See CDC's website.) The CDC conservatively estimates the number of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed cases to be at least 10 times that – 200,000 each year. They believe the actual numbers to be much higher.

Here are some websites that have good information about Lyme Disease. The last one is the movie trailer for “Under Our Skin”, a documentary about Lyme Disease.

If you have any questions, please ask. We can direct you to good sources for more information.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Guest Blogger: Lyme Awareness Month, Part 1

Readers, today we have a special treat: my wife Kara has written a couple of posts to help us observe Lyme Disease Awareness Month, which has been going on since the first of May. This is the first of two parts.

Thank you, Kara!

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will know that our family has Lyme Disease. All four of us. Since we have been diagnosed with Lyme, we often get questions about how we all “happen” to have it. Quickly followed by “What is Lyme?”, “How do you get it?”, “What kind of symptoms do you have?”.

We hope that the knowlege you gain here will be of help to you or someone you know and love.

Lyme Disease is the #1 vector borne disease. It is a serious bacterial infection caused by Borrelia Bergdorferi, a spirochete. It is transmitted most commonly by ticks. Once infected, humans can transmit it sexually and also congenitally to the fetus.

A bit about ticks: Ticks are little creatures but they carry big diseases. They can be as tiny as the period at the end of this sentence. Or smaller if they are in the nymph stage. Ticks are found in grassy or wooded areas. It used to be that you would only see ticks in these areas. Today, this is not the case. Ticks are found just about anywhere. The most common place to get Lyme Disease is in your own yard. Most people do not know when they've been bitten.

There are most likely over 100 strains of the pathogenic borrelia (Lyme) bacteria in the United States. It is a spiral shaped bacteria that literally bores itself into the tissues and then inside the cells and hides there. By doing this, it is able to evade the immune system and often goes undetected. This bacteria can also “sense” danger and hide in a cyst. When it does this, it cannot be killed by antibiotics. The cyst must be opened first.

Lyme Disease can either be an acute or chronic infection. The acute illness happens soon after you are infected. Symptoms MAY include a bulls eye rash (really any rash), or a “flu-like illness” within 2 weeks or so after the bite. The infected person may experience fatigue, fever, sore throat, swollen glands, nausea and other more typical flu symptoms. ** The rash occurs in the minority of Lyme infections and is not a reliable indicator. ** OR you may not have any symptoms at all. Remember, this is a very stealthy bacteria. If there are symptoms, you should go to the doctor and be treated with antibiotics. If caught at this phase, often, this is where the infection ends.

If the borrelia is not killed at the acute phase then the infection becomes chronic. This is where it gets tricky. Lyme is a multi system, multi symptom illness. It effects every organ and tissue in the body. Lyme can cause approximately 75 different symptoms which include both physical and psychiatric symptoms. It can “pop” out all at once unexpectedly or slowly percolate over a lifetime coming up 1 or 2 seemingly unrelated symptoms at a time. Symptoms may totally disappear and then pop up years later. If there is a trauma to the body, it may pop out all at once.

No two people infected with Lyme Disease have the same symptom set making it very difficult to diagnose. It is often mis-diagnosed as Multiple Schlerosis, ALS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, Lupus, and arthritis just to name a few. Lyme Disease is known as the “Great Imitator” because of it's ability to mimic other diseases. The average chronic Lyme patient sees 9 doctors before being diagnosed. I was super-lucky in this area – Dr. #28 diagnosed me. The vast majority of chronic lyme patients are treated by a “Lyme Literate Medical Doctor” or LLMD.

Common symptoms of chronic lyme disease include extreme fatigue, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, fever, tremors/muscle twitches, burning/tingling sesations in extremeties, numbness, anxiety, memory loss, confusion, depression, weight gain or loss, allergies, muscle aches, joint pain, head aches, sweats, hearing loss, light and sound sensitivity and many others. You can see a more extensive list here and here .

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mixed Blessings from the Sky

We've always had a television. However, for the past year or so, we haven't had any TV reception. Our rooftop antenna got beaten to death in a hail storm, and it was nice not to have the added distraction.

That all changed this week, as we got the DirecTV antenna attached to the side of our house activated and a receiver box installed. Now we get enough programming to fry the brains of a small city.

It's nice. But I'm scared.

Now, this is not to say that the girls haven't been watching TV during the last year. They have. But it's all been pre-recorded stuff. Anna has become an expert in all things Cosby Show, and regularly quotes from the various episodes.

And Alyssa has watched Toy Story 25,263 times. So there was a viewing problem even before we got the satellite turned back on.

My biggest fear now is that the annoyance factor is going to go through the roof. I don't worry about Anna picking inappropriate shows to watch - she's got a better eye for appropriateness than I do. But the shows she likes annoy the snark out of me - so much so that I'm tempted to block the Disney Channel.

Hopefully the kids won't suddenly turn into total TV zombies, and we won't have big, knock-down fights over viewing limits.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Tin Grin - Still Some Issues to Resolve

Alyssa got her braces today. Here's the before (complete with eye-patch, but that's another story):

and the after:

She did pretty well during the installation/application. Not perfect, but she managed.

Unfortunately here at home things aren't going quite so well. One of the wires has poked into her cheek, and it's been a real challenge getting wax on it to keep it from poking her again.

Also, one of the front brackets came off already. That means another trip to the orthodontist tomorrow. 20 minutes away. Nuts.

And dinner was a non-event. We had a very soft quiche-type breakfast casserole, but didn't get more than a few bites down her. Even water was a tough sell. I don't think she's really in that much pain, but more along the lines of discomfort.

Hang in there, Alyssa. You can do it!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sugar Cookies With Colored Frosting

Many of you know that artificial food colors have gotten the boot at our house, thanks to the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde effect they have on our girls. Not pretty.

The problem is, natural food colors are generally lacking in quality.

Well, the other day I bought some food colors made by India Tree. This purchase was inspired by Alyssa's repeated request for a Blue's Clues birthday cake, and the need to make it actually, well, blue.

India Tree had some colored sugar sprinkles that had some pretty impressive color for being vegetable derivatives, so I decided to give them a shot.

Today, as a test run, we made sugar cookies and frosted them with icing that used our new colors.

As you can see, the blue (red cabbage) was still a little bit purple, but much better than any other natural colors we've tried. I was able to get a very nice magenta out of the red (beet). If we ever need true red, I think I'll add a tiny bit of yellow (curcumin) and a lot more of the red.

The results are delicious. However, I'm not exactly sure what to do with all the frosted cookies now. I'm don't think they'll stack very well in the jar.

California Dreamin'

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the San Diego area for work. I spent my evenings down by the beach. I really miss the ocean.

A plan was hatched that first night, watching the sun dip towards the waves: I could bring the girls to the beach as part of our summer vacation.

Now, San Diego is not quite on the way from Dallas to Salt Lake City, but it's actually not all that far out of the way. We would only be adding another 10 hours of driving. The hardest part is the cost of the additional hotel nights, but it looks like we may be selling the poplar sauna, so that may not be such a big issue after all.

The schedule, however, is not working out quite the way I wanted. See, the little ice storm we had a while back knocked the kids out of school for a day, and they will now be using a make-up day. Because of what that does to our departure date, the day we would be able to spend in San Diego is a Sunday, and that presents some problems.

We've been working very hard at our house to try and keep the sabbath holy. We're not as perfect as many, but we're making the effort. So the thought of playing at the beach on Sunday doesn't sit well with me. (Ironically, I don't have a problem with driving all day on Sunday - still trying to figure out why that is.)

Anyway, I'm messing with my various options. I could have the girls miss the last day of school, and then we'd be at the beach on Saturday instead. Or we could leave on schedule and stay yet another day by the beach, giving us a Monday to play with. But that would delay our arrival in Utah by three days.

Those faithful readers who live by the sea: What kind of sabbath-appropriate activities do you plan at the beach?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mixed Blessing: The Kitties are Gone

Jezebel and her kittens are now residents of a nearby goat farm. Giving them away wasn't nearly as traumatic as it could have been. I don't think anyone even got watery eyes.

Except maybe me, but I'll blame that on having just finished mowing the lawn. Yeah, that's it. I'm sure I got some dust or grass pollen in my eyes.

The yard had grown very long with the cool rainy weather and the three weekends I was out of town, and vanity required me to cut it. I like to at least pretend to be a minimally competent groundskeeper when guests come to call.

After I put Jezy in the cat carrier with her kittens, she sat down and sulked. I felt like such a heel - here I'd worked so hard over the last few months to build her trust, and then I betrayed it.

Yes, I understand that it had to be this way and we were very fortunate to find someplace where the whole feline family could stick together. Still, I felt dirty.

So I went and bought some ice cream. Cherry vanilla always helps.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Award-winning Musician

Tonight was Anna's band concert. For a bunch of sixth graders, they were quite impressive.

Here's Anna with Ellie the Baritone and the award she won as one of the most improved musicians in the band.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Twisted Satanic Freaks Need Not Apply

We're giving away our kitties. You probably know that already if you follow this blog at all.

We took them outside this afternoon and conducted a photo shoot.

Then we posted the pictures in an ad on Craigslist with a photo of each.

Of course, we're all freaked out about the thousands of people who get free kitties to make manapua and do other terrible things.

Please - one or two or four of you really nice people that we know: Take a kitty!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's WHAT Time?

I suppose sleeping for 9 1/2 hours at the end of a long trip is not so unusual. The fact that I didn't start sleeping until after 1:30 this morning, though, meant that it was 11:00 before I pulled myself out of bed. Little bit of a shocker there - I probably should have set an alarm.

It's good to be home, although the next 50 hours or so are going to be filled with busy-ness getting ready for this next trip. Not that the trip itself will require a lot of preparation, but there are a lot of things that I couldn't do while I was gone, and need to have done before I leave.

The lawn is one thing that should be on that list, but I'm going to ignore it for now.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hanging Out at DIA

There are storms in Texas tonight. Storms big enough that Frontier canceled my flight home. They booked us all on the next flight, which leaves 3 1/2 hours later than the original. My concerns about not having enough time to get dinner or have my suitcase make the connection appear to be unfounded.

Well, at least I hope the concerns about the suitcase are unfounded. I won't know for sure until the bag is in my hot, tired little hand.

But as for dinner, I did okay. I found a Kung Pao chicken salad, and it was good. Now I'm plugged up to a power outlet at one of Denver's handy little charging station, using their free internet access.

So aside from not getting home until around midnight tonight, this delay is not such a bad thing. And since so many people told me to travel safely, I suppose I have no choice but to wait out the storms.

Heading Home for a Few Days

The time remaining on this trip is now measured in hours. The time before I travel again is only measured in days. I'm not particularly excited about flying off on another trip less then three days after getting home, especially with Kara still sick with whatever virus is hanging out at our house, but a man's gotta do... well, you know.

I got my suitcase packed up this morning. I wasn't entirely sure that would happen. It was a pretty tight fit, and I still had a bunch of stuff to squeeze in. Then I noticed that the expand-o-matic zipper was in the closed position. Once I zipped it open, I had plenty of room.

The other reason everything fit is that I am leaving behind all but four of the 12 books I either brought, bought, won, or was given over the weekend. I saved Christmas and birthday money for the LDStormakers conference bookstore, where great bargains can be found. I picked up books from most of my writer friends, but failed to have them autographed. Why? I have no good excuse.

But since I knew I wouldn't be able to pack them home this time, and I'll be in town with the van in just over a month, I decided to share the bounty and spread the wealth by lending books to my sisters and nieces. That way they get some good reading material and my writer friends get some extra exposure. As the girls stood by waiting anxiously and I quickly wrote my name in the fronts of all the books, I had a glimpse of what a book signing might be like. That could be a lot of fun. I need to work on my signature, though.

I'll be leaving for the airport in a couple of hours, and should get home a little before bedtime. Then I travel again for work Tuesday evening, and don't get back until next Saturday afternoon. It's a trip to fix a tricky problem on an important printer, and probably should have happened a couple of months ago. But now it's an urgent issue, so I'm on my way.

But first, two and a half days of hugs and kisses and snuggles. Rumor is there may even be a party sometime tonight. I'll let you know.