20 November 2010

Sweet Potato Enchilada Stack

From Taste of Home: Simple and Delicious
Prep: 20 minutes
Bake: 20 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
Cost: $1.69/serving

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 T water
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 10-oz can enchilada sauce
2 t chili powder
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
3 8-inch flour tortillas
2 c shredded cheddar cheese

1.  In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the sweet potato and water.  Cover and microwave for 4-5 minutes or until potato is tender.

2.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.  Stir in the beans, enchilada sauce, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and sweet potato; heat through.

3.  Place a flour tortilla in a greased 9-inch deep-dish pie plate; layer with a third of the beef mixture and cheese.  Repeat layers twice.  Bake at 400º for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly.

Recipe modifications: I used two small sweet potatoes, because - well, it's what I had.  I used two onions, because - uh, well, I typically double up on the onion factor (sorry Cristi and Ria).  I used whole-wheat tortillas since I rarely eat white anything.  I used low-fat cheese.

19 November 2010

Yes, I'm still here

Hey everyone.

I keep meaning to blog about the Kansas race.

But I've got some other stuff going on lately, and not all of it is stuff I really want to (or am ready to) blog about.  I've had some family drama, some health drama, and I've been feeling low because I'm really feeling the effects of some of my closest friends leaving Philly (the most recent was Kirsten leaving last week for Oregon).

For those of you who have managed to be über-supportive through all of this, I thank you very much.  And some of you fit into this category even though you never knew.  :)

29 October 2010

The Dover Race

Sorry it's been awhile.  My life has been complicated for the past few weeks, but more on that later.  Back to my vacation time with Mom.  When we left off, Mom and I were about to enjoy the Dover race package that I had won, compliments of NAPA.  The proper name was the NAPA Race Day Experience, or NRDE.  We were welcome at the NAPA chalet all day, which was located in Hospitality Village.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We woke up at 4:00 a.m. and left my flat at 4:30 a.m. after a short pit-stop (ha ha) at Sunoco (The Official Fuel of NASCAR) (where my mom ACTUALLY tried to buy the clerk's uniform off his back!!!) for breakfast.  We pulled into the Dover parking lot exactly two hours later.  Breakfast service at the chalet started at 8:00 a.m., so we planned on napping in the car for an hour, which would give us half an hour to wake up and find the chalet.  However...

Right in front of us were these tailgaters who were literally sitting on their tailgate and hitting the Corona.  The fellow on the left insisted on shouting "PUT THE LIME IN THE COCONUT!" every few minutes.  Not, mind you, singing the entire song - no, no; just that one freakin' line.  After a few repetitions of that, I wanted to put my lime in his coconuts, if you know what I mean:

They were literally about five feet in front of our car.  Mom decided she couldn't sleep with them staring at us.  I mean, it isn't as if they were staring at us on purpose.  They were just kind of mindlessly staring ahead (except when something caught their attention to the side, which is when I took the opportunity to take this picture), and that's where we happened to be.  Then, of course, they decided they needed a trash bag out of the back of their truck.  That's when the view REALLY improved:

 While I was busy snapping this picture, Mom was dying laughing at something happening to our left, which I did NOT get a picture of (sadly).  You know those port-a-potty tents?  Those little tents that you can take camping with you that hide port-a-potties?  These people who had camped out in the parking lot hadn't staked theirs down, and it fell over.  Mom laughed so hard I thought she was going to (sorry, I can't help myself here) pee her pants.  She was all, "I hope no one was in there!"  Meanwhile, to the right of the guys in front of us, we watched a guy (who had a grill in the bed of his pick-up truck) pull up about five inches, get out, shake his head, then back up three inches.  Hope that helped, buddy.

We finally made our way to the NAPA chalet, where we received a really nice goody bag.  The bag itself is a nice backpack, and in it is lip balm, a set of earplugs, a mini Sharpie, a decal, a diecast, a hat, a koozie, a poncho, and a coupon for wiper blades.  They gave us breakfast, an offer for a track tour (which Mom and I skipped), and a lunch buffet (burgers, hot dog, potato salad, pasta salad, mac and cheese, coleslaw, brownies, etc.).  We also got to enter a drawing to win Martin Truex, Jr.,'s helmet, and we could submit a question for the Q&A session.  Speaking of the Q&A session - most of the people there were people who are NAPA employees or who are somehow affiliated with NAPA, but you could tell they definitely weren't race fans.  The guys at our table had actually gone online, printed out information about Truex, and were studying for Q&A session.  Mom and I were cracking up.

Martin made his appearance, answered a few questions (no, we didn't have to answer questions about him - shocking, I know), gave away his helmet, and dashed away to the Drivers' Meeting.  I felt bad because a few people booed when they announced he didn't have time to sign autographs, but it was written on the information we received with the schedule of events that no autographs would be given, so I don't know what was wrong with these people.

I will say that the hospitality workers were pretty awesome.  No sooner did you clean your plate than they whisked it away to the trash for you.  As soon as you approached the drink barrel, one would approach from nowhere to ask you what you wanted (God forbid you should actually get your hand cold digging for your own drink!).  If you were headed to a trash can with something, they'd take it from you.  It was actually uncomfortable at times - "No, really - I can throw it away myself, but thanks!"

Martin Truex, Jr.

 Before Martin showed up, we had wandered around to some of the other chalets to see if any of the other drivers were making their appearances.  We caught the tail end of Jeff Gordon's appearance at the DuPont chalet.  If you look VERY carefully, you can see his silhouette smack-dab in the middle here (ignore the grumpy-looking woman in the foreground; I don't know what her issue is):

Jeff Gordon, I promise!
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that after Martin's appearance, I SPRINTED like all hell (not easy to do with a year-long groin injury) to the Interstate Batteries chalet to try to catch the future Mr. Min (aka: The Elusive One), but I was told I missed him by about two minutes.  Drat.

All of these activities pretty much took us to time for driver introductions.  We made our way to our seats, with a quick stop at the restrooms first.  And we had to laugh at the sign on the bathrooms:

Go Fast; Team Tylenol: Feel Better Fast

The race itself was great.  Our seats were amazing, and unlike at Kansas Speedway, when the national anthem ended there wasn't a race to sit down first because the seats are so close together (and bleacher style) that you want to claim your butt-space before your neighbour gets her/his butt down before you do.  This will be a spoiler for those NASCAR fans who are REALLY behind on race news, but I was very pleased when The Guy Who Drives Chad's Car won the race.

The Guy Who Drives Chad's Car doing his burn out.  Chad had given him strict instructions NOT to hurt the chassis.  "Burn all the rubber you want.  DO NOT HURT MY CHASSIS."
 After the race, we got to watch the cars go into the haulers and the haulers pull out.  The way this is done at KSS, you can't see this at all.  I took several pics of different haulers, but I'm only posting the most beauteous one of them all (and I took about six pics of this one):

The most gorgeous hauler I ever did see.
Then we got kicked out of the speedway.  Literally.  The usher guy asked us to leave about four times.  We were busy pointing and laughing at something and weren't done yet.  It was really Ria's fault.  She wouldn't answer her phone.

12 October 2010

Mom's Visit

When we were in Charlotte for the May races, I won a NAPA Race Day Experience to a future race. I was sent a list of several races (I think it was about 8-10 races), and after I found out that I wouldn't be attending school this fall, Mom and I decided to attend the Dover race. The plan was that she would fly out here for a bit to visit me and go to Dover, then we would fly back to KCMO together to attend the KSS (Kansas Speedway), and I would spend a few more days back in KC just chilling with the fam.

While Mom was here, it was important to me that she meet some of my friends that she hadn't met before who I had wanted her to meet. It was tricky because our time was limited and she had come armed with a list of things she wanted to see and do, too. This was complicated somewhat because her energy level is compromised by her Sjogren's Syndrome. Plus, as some of you know from my Twitter posts, I had been sick and bed-/couch-bound for about the ten days prior to her visit and wasn't feeling like attacking the city myself.

Nonetheless, we were able to fit in visits to South Street, Jeweller's Row, Fabric Row, Reading Terminal Market (my mom's favourite Philly haunt), and a few restaurants that I wanted to introduce her to.

On the Thursday before the Dover race, we met Ria, Curtis, and their daughter Angie. Forgive me for totally cheating, but I'm going to link you to Ria's blog and you can read about our Thursday over here on her blog. Trust me when I tell you that it's worth the read; we had a great time.

On Friday, we got together with Rachel (aka: Med Student), Kirsten, Peter, and Sue. We went to Mixto for supper (a Cuban restaurant in the gaybourhood), followed by dessert at Scoop de Ville in Centre City.

Rachel and Kirsten

Mom, Peter, and Sue

11 October 2010

National Coming Out Day

I know I owe y'all updates from Dover and Kansas Speedway, but today is National Coming Out Day, so I want to focus today's blog post on that instead.

Most of you know that I identify as bisexual. What a lot of you don't know is my journey. In recognition of NCOD, I wanted to take some time to document that. Usually on this day, I make a list of all of the things I am (a domestic violence survivor, a rape/incest survivor, a queer, etc.), but this seems more important, especially given recent current events in this country.

Whenever my friends and I play "first tv crush," mine is always Jo from "The Facts of Life," played by Nancy McKeon. She was attractive, she was tough, and she worked on cars (what more could I ask for?) Meanwhile, all of my female friends in school were crushing on Ricky Schroder and Kirk Cameron. Hmmm. One of these things is not like the other.

Throughout school, there were guys who I was interested in (I distinctly remember getting yelled at for kissing Mike G's arm on a field trip), and my mom was convinced that Scott from across the street and I would get married some day since we hung out all the time and seemed pretty inseparable for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, there were still girls and female celebrities that caught my eye. Confusing.

One night, I was at my grandma's house and we were watching "The Women of Brewster Place," and the old man accused two women of being lesbians. I asked grandma what lesbians are, and she replied curtly and with disdain, "It's two women who love each other." "Oh! So you and mom are lesbians!" "NO. We. Are. Not!" Con-fu-sing!

When I got to undergrad, I started dating guys, so I decided I must be hetero. It's just that I just also appreciated how attractive women are. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that, right? But by the time I moved to Philly and started law school, I decided that I had been wrong all along and I must be a lesbian. I was just way too attracted and interested in women to be straight.

So I started coming out as a lesbian. It didn't go over too well with Mom, so I kind crept back into the closet with her and we just pretended like that day hadn't happened. But my friends rolled with it. I mean, hell - I was at Temple Law School at the time. If liberal law school peeps couldn't handle it, who could? But then it was hard because I was still attracted to guys, and I felt like I was always having to hide that. Or having to keep it a secret that I had dated guys before. Or when talking to lesbians, I'd do the whole, "You know, the guys I dated before I figured it out" thing and we'd laugh and they'd go "Oh yeah, I've been there, too - ha ha ha."

See, I'd only ever heard the term "bisexual" once in my life. It was at an undergrad cast party (one of my minors is in theatre), and it was in context of "I know you're interested in that guy, but you should stay away from him because he's BISEXUAL." I really had no idea what it meant (other than that he had sex with both men and women), but it was clearly BAD and EVIL and something to be avoided at all costs. And if YOU were bisexual, people would want to avoid you, too.

Fast forward several years. I've dropped out of law school, I'm miserable because I'm a Southern Baptist-raised girl whose lesbian-identified but really like guys and is convinced she's going to Hell either way, since God only wants straight people in Heaven. Enter a wonderful therapist, stage right. We got the religious issue righted pretty quickly, but then we focused on the sexual orientation issue since that one was more frustrating, confusing, and persistent. She suggested that I may be bisexual. I suggested she was insane. She asked me if I knew what bisexuality was. I told her not really, but I knew it wasn't anything I was. She told me when I was ready to discuss it, I should let her know.

Eventually, through a lot of talking with her and with some really great friends, I came to understand what bisexuality is, and I understood that I am, in fact, bisexual.

I have since come out to the people who are most important to me in my life as bi. And that is my coming out story.

A slight aside: For anyone who has yet to visit the "It Gets Better" project started by Dan Savage to encourage LGBTQ youth after the recent suicides of several teens who were the victims of homophobia (why are bullshitting ourselves and calling it "bullying"?), go be inspired here.

06 September 2010

Baby Cardigan Craze!

Now that both gift recipients have received their gifts, I can safely post this. To be fair, I don't think either of them are regular readers of my blog, but just to be on the safe side, I'd hate to have the surprise spoiled.

Both of these friends were classmates of mine in my master's programme, and I was really happy for them when I found out they were expecting babies this year. I know they'll make excellent parents, and I hope I get the meet the recent additions some day. The chances of meeting Lilliam's daughter are much greater since she lives in Philly, but since Ferdman now lives in Las Vegas where he's hard at work studying to be a doctor, I'm not sure when I'll get to meet his daughter.

The cardigan I did for both baby girls was the same pattern, but I did them in different fibres. Lilliam's girl got a 100% cotton cardigan (Blue Sky Skinny Cotton in pink), while Ferdman's girl got a superwash wool (Lorna's Laces in Douglas Fir). Both yarns were acquired at Loop, as were the buttons for both cardigans.

The pattern is the Peaches and Cream Cardigan by Sandy Scoville, which was.. okay. I made several changes to the pattern as written because I found the pattern cumbersome. It wanted me to pick up stitches from the side and start the sleeve, but I decided to do the sleeves and them just seam the on. There were also several errors in the pattern, such as how many stitches to cast on and which rows to repeat. I also found the wording for the shaping to be unnecessarily clumsy.

Despite all this, I'm quite pleased with the results.

03 September 2010

Health Update (again)

I saw the PM&R specialist again yesterday (aka: the hip doctor). He's the guy who told me over the phone that I had managed to tear some cartilage in my hip joint. Well, in person, apparently, you get MUCH more information. In addition to the torn hip cartilage, I also have a retroverted femoral head. This means that the ball part of the ball-and-socket hip joint is torqued back out of the joint. In my case, it's not completely out of the joint, which is why I can still walk, climb stairs, etc., but it's why I have a lot of pain, I can hear a "click" every time I take a step, and why I have to be careful with how I move (such as getting into/out of cars certain ways).

Based on his physical examination (which consists of him moving my leg in painful ways and then asking "Does that hurt?" Oh, really? You couldn't tell by the way I just grimaced and yelled "Yaaah!!"), he's also not convinced that I might not have a slight hernia or a pulled/strained abdominal muscle. Keep in mind that this is all the same issue that started in early November. Yes, that's right - ten months ago now that I've been in pain and have had limited range of motion (ROM) of my left hip. It's awesome.

So we're going to try four weeks of physiotherapy. He's officially recommending three times a week, but he's mindful of my unemployment situation and said that he feels I'm intelligent enough (ha!) to go in once a week, learn the exercises, and do them at home the rest of the week. And the idea is that every week the exercises will increase my ROM and decrease the pain. If it doesn't, he wants to do another MRI to look for a hernia or abdominal issue. At that time, we'll also consider steroid injections.

My PCP and I discussed this, and we decided to hold off on the second opinion (from an orthopod), which we had been leaning toward since the PM&R doctor had seemed kind of lackadaisical the last time I had spoken to him on the telephone. But now that he seems to have a more specific plan and has given me more information, we feel more confident with him.

My PCP asked me what his plan was in the event that I have a hernia, and I told her that I hadn't asked. She told me that I'm most likely looking at surgery. Awesome. Can't wait.

But the best part of the exam? When I was lying on the table, face up, fully-clothed, he's pressing on me (just above my groin), and says, "Bear down as if you're having a bowel movement, BUT DON'T ACTUALLY HAVE ONE!!!" (Yes, he actually said that last part with urgency in his voice.) And it made me wonder what had happened that made him learn to add that part with such urgency in his voice. I mean, believe me when I tell you that I certainly had no plans on having a bowel movement in his office, in my clothes, with both him and his resident staring at me. But I fully believe that someone else must have in the past, yes?

20 August 2010

DrPH News

On Wednesday, I officially got news that my application for the DrPH programme for which I had applied was rejected. I think it was nice of them to let me know a full 34 days before classes were to have started. But the chair of the programme did handwrite a note of the bottom of the form rejection letter that reads "please call me if you'd like to discuss," and a neighbour of mine who's a professor told me this is a VERY encouraging sign.

Thank you to those of you who supported me through the roller-coaster of emotions this summer while I waited.

And now that I know that I won't be attending school, I'll start the job search in earnest. I had been hesitant to do so because I didn't want to start a job only to tell them that I had to leave because I found out that I was beginning school. And then, a few years later, have a bad reputation in the public health community for having shafted XYZ organisation.

So, now that my days are unscheduled for the next however long, I have contacted Michael Waltrip Racing (you may remember that I won a RaceDay Experience when I was in North Carolina) to claim tickets to the Dover race. Mom is going to fly out here, and we will go to that race together. Then we will fly to Kansas City together to attend the Kansas race together (those races are back-to-back weekends.

It's been a banner year: I lost a job, lost Oscar, got rejected from a school, and for those of you especially close to me, you know about The Big Drama going on this week that I won't be blogging about for matters of personal security.

15 August 2010

Bidding Adieu to Kristi

In 2001, I went to an event at the Asian Arts Initiative. At this event, I met a woman whose name I no longer remember. One thing led to another, and this woman eventually asked me if I might be interested in being interviewed by this woman doing her dissertation on Korean-American adoptees and transnational/transractial adoption issues. Sure, why not.

That researcher was Kristi. She called me, we set up an interview. She was nice and interesting. It wasn't one of those "add water, instant friendship" kind of things. But over time, we forged a friendship. I became more involved in her research - sitting through mind-numbing adoption meetings with her, watching videos, and reading adoption propaganda. I went to her dissertation defence. She came to my thesis defence.

She told me just how wrong a certain guy was for me. I avoided her for awhile after that because nobody asked her. And, of course, she was right. I'm comfortable spilling my business on my blog, but not hers, so I'll just say that throughout the years we've talked a LOT about relationships, parenting, politics, careers, feminism, and the intersections of all of those.

Today, we met for about an hour a few hours before she had to be at the airport. Her older daughter Nina was with her, but her younger daughter Iris was getting in some time with her friend. (Kristi's partner Tom is already in Charleston in their new house.) While Kristi and I talked, I let Nina play games on my BlackBerry. "Min, can I play THIS one? How about THIS one? These all CAME on your phone????" Kristi looked at me and said, "See, THIS is why girls need more than one mom in their lives - for the games on their phones."

I'll miss Kristi. She's one of those people who will tell you what you need to hear, whether it's what you WANT to hear. If I'm ever fortunate enough to be a parent, she's the kind of parent I'd want to be - a very "it takes a village" kind of mentality. Her relationship with her partner is one I greatly admire. They take time for themselves, even though they have two daughters who are both active with extra-curriculars. They don't really have "his" friends and "her" friends. They know they don't have a perfect relationship, and they don't pretend to. So they - gasp - communicate with each other about issues.

It's easy to say these days that you'll still keep in touch - email, IM, text, Skype, etc. But she starts her new job (she's a professor) next week, and she'll be getting Nina and Iris settled in their school, helping them meet new friends, hell - she'll need new friends, too! And all of that just isn't the same as dropping in to see the new artwork that the girls have hung on the walls of their art studio, going to their School of Rock concerts, or guest speaking at Kristi's classes.

I didn't take my camera with me today, but here's a picture of Kristi and me from a few years ago, on the day I graduated from Drexel with my MPH. Good luck in Charleston, Kristi!

ETA: Original pic deleted when blog was moved.  But here's a pic of Kristi from several years ago.

11 August 2010

State of the Min

The Summer of 2010 has been, well, interesting.

I want to thank everyone for being so supportive while I was mourning the loss of The Ocs. Every once in awhile, at the most unexpected times, I get hit with grief. Like when Med Student (who some of you know as Rachel) and I were eating at the local Vietnamese restaurant and she mentioned that she wished she had been able to have gone to free Goo Goo Dolls concert as part of Philadelphia's Welcome America (Fourth of July) celebration. I burst in tears, and she was like, "What happened? What's going on? What just happened?" When I finally stopped crying, I explained that I had also wanted to go, but that was Oscar's last night with us. And we just sat there, in the middle of the restaurant, holding hands for awhile.

Or the other day when I was talking to Ria and I mentioned my cats. And then I realised that I don't have cats, plural, anymore. And then I called my mom and cried.

I believe I emailed everyone who left a message for me on the blog who also left their email address, and I received a lot of messages on Ravelry that I believe I've also returned, as well. When I started modding the Free Pattern Testers group, I never realised that I'd meet such caring people with so many of their own stories to share, too!

I've also got another really frustrating situation going on right now which has my life in extreme limbo. Some of you know about it, especially local friends. But when I have definitive answers and know the implications of what's going on, I'll spill all.

In other news, I had my regular three-month check-in with my doctor last week. I'm still low in Vitamin D, so she switched me from 3,000 IUs a day to 50,000 IUs a week. And since I've been having very minor right upper-quadrant pain again (very similar to what I was having two years ago when the gall-bladder in-and-out of the hospital fiasco began), she did a bunch of blood tests and gave me an ultrasound order in case the pain gets worse, and I can decide whether I want to go in for the test. If the pain continues, I can make an appointment with my GI specialist, and I'll have the baseline pancreatic enzyme levels and U/S results for him to see.

She's also sending me to an orthopaedic specialist for my torn hip cartilage to get a second opinion since neither of us are particularly pleased with the progress I've been making with the PM&R guy I've been seeing. But first I need to see him one more time to get my MRI results back, my records, etc. And of course, he's on vacation for the next two weeks. Yay.

And the latest (which I made some vague references to on Twitter): Those of you who have ever tried to hang out with me in the summer know I'm terrified of hanging out outdoors. It's not that I'm not an outdoors person - it's that I'm allergic to pretty much every bug ever. If a bug looks at me, I'll get a huge-ass welt that will itch until forever. This past Saturday afternoon, I had what I thought was a bug bite kind of between my breast and my underarm. So I did the usual - took an Allegra (an oral antihistamine) and treated topically with Benadryl cream (also an antihistamine). But still I itched... and itched... and itched.

Until Saturday night around 11:00 p.m. when I called Mom pretty freaked out. My entire underarm area, going up to part of my triceps area was covered in what looked like tiny bug bites. Now, usually if I've just scratched a single bug bite a lot, I'll break out in hives, but my hives will be really large, and I know what they look like. And when I take an Allegra and slather on the Benadryl, it'll take the hives. But I'd been doing that all night, to no avail. So I was pretty freaked out. Mom and I went through all the usual suspects - no new foods, no new clothes, I had gone tromping through the woods, etc.

Sunday morning, when I woke up, the area hadn't spread, but it now looked like one huge rash (and when I say huge, I mean it - but I'll get to that in a minute). Instead of tiny bites, it looked as if my cat Felix had taken a fire engine red paint can and spilled it on me overnight. I blame Ria. She's the only person I know who has regular access to paint cans.

To make a long story short (or is it too late?), I spent the weekend not sleeping from the discomfort. I was very tempted to go to the ER - not because I thought my life was in danger, but I was simply that uncomfortable and unable to sleep. But my ER copay is $75 and a doctor visit only costs $10. And it being the weekend, I knew I'd have to sit for hours to see someone in the ER when they'd do the same thing the doctor would do. So I continued with the Allegra, Benadryl, and I threw in an ice pack every once in awhile (but since I only have one ice pack, that only worked every few hours).

I finally saw a doctor Monday afternoon. He measured the rash for my chart, and it was an impressive 6" x 8" (told you it was huge). He gave me a steroid taper, which I'm VERY familiar with, as someone with moderate-level asthma. He also told me to switch to hydrocortisone cream instead of Benadryl (or to alternate) since the Benadryl wasn't being effective for me. And to continue with the ice pack. I told him the biggest problem was just that I was "very uncomfortable," and he laughed a bit wryly and said, "I would imagine, from how red and how large that is, that would be the understatement of the year, my dear."

It's getting a little better every day, but that could just be because Fe got some paint eraser from Ria. I'm not sure. Mostly I'm happy that I can read and knit again. Not being able to use my right arm at all for those few days was a killer. While I'm ambidextrous and could use my left hand to eat and write, not being able to use my arm was interesting. (I had to keep it still because if I held it down, the affected upper arm area rubbed against the underarm area, which hurt. And if I held it out even a little, the skin pulled and stretched, which also hurt.)

So... that's my summer so far. Yay!

In the words of Daria, "Is it fall yet?"

05 July 2010

In Memoriam: Oscar

19 February 1996 - 05 July 2010

Last Tuesday, Oscar and I went to the vet, got some steroids, and hoped that he'd start doing better. On Wednesday, we heard that his thyroid levels were too low, adjusted his meds accordingly, and hoped for the best. But he was already doing better, despite refusing the meds. Having been a social worker for "the aging" (aka: old people), I was aware that sometimes sick people (and animals) perk up for a bit right before they die. So even though Ocs started to ambulate better and even though he joined me for a shower, I was afraid to hope. But by Saturday night when he full-out JUMPED onto the love seat, my heart soared. I hugged him tight to my chest, told him I'd missed him, and welcomed him back. Little did I know.

When he woke up Sunday, he stumbled all the way down the hall, ending his trek by falling in the living room. Throughout the day, he got progressively worse. He had a bad fall in the litter box, in which he managed to flip himself over and ended up doing a face-plant in the litter. By the end of the day, he would only eat if I spoon-fed him baby food, and he would drink only if I brought a water bowl to him, and then he drank by putting the right half of his face in the bowl and drank sideways out of his mouth. He was non-responsive to pets or his name being called, and he was unable to walk or even stand by nighttime.

I called Dr. Kurpel first thing Monday morning, and described my boy's personality and symptoms. She said if I felt like it was time to say good-bye, bring him on in, and if she agreed, we could either do it today when I brought him in, or I could take him home to prepare myself and bring him back when I was ready. She then offered to transfer me back to the front desk to make the appointment, or said I could call back when I was ready. I decided I was ready to make the appointment then. I made the appointment for 3:40 p.m. Then I called Naomi and it was decided that she and Anju would accompany me to the vet's office. I asked Naomi to call the vet and get permission for me to bring Ocs in wrapped in his favourite blanket (a NASCAR blanket I won at Kansas Speedway two years ago). First, he couldn't stand or walk, so he wasn't going anywhere. Second, I couldn't bear the thought of leaving with an empty cat crate. They said it was fine.

Jill came over and got some pictures of Oscar. As Jill said, they probably won't capture the spirti of the Ocs, but at least I'll some more pics. We put him on his window perch, and hoped for the best. If any of them come out decent, I'll share them. Then Fe decided he needed to ham it up for the camera, so Jill got some pretty good pics of him, too. I tried to get some food into Ocs, but he refused food all day. Later, when Oscar and I left, I asked Felix if he wanted to tell Oscar good-bye, and I swear to God (and Naomi can verify this), Felix ran over to Oscar and they rubbed noses. No one will EVER be able to convince me that didn't mean something.

When we got to the vet's office, I made eye contact with Zoe (the ever-so-wonderful front desk woman), and I burst into tears. Zoe immediately grabbed a waiting room chair and said, "C'mon, let's get you into an exam room where you can sit down and be with him." Anju and Naomi came in with me, and I let Ocs lie on the exam table on his blanket. Dr. Kurpel saw him, and didn't even bother with all of the normal vitals. She saw him lying there, only his tail flicking back and forth occasionally, and I told her how the last 36 hours had been. She noted that when he comes in, he's usually pretty relaxed, but he was way beyond that. I replied that the only movement from him had been the tail. She said that, unlike with dogs, when cats flick their tails, it's a sign of UNhappiness - in Oscar's case, most likely pain or discomfort. Oh. Why did I feel instantly guilty?

A couple of times, while we were discussing some minor doubts that I had (He was like this last Monday, then he had five good days. What if we don't do this today and he's scheduled for another week of good days?), he tried to lift his head and just couldn't. At one point, he let out a strangled howl. She later told me that cats really only do that when it's their time to go. Their voice changes and gets deep, and it's a voice you only hear when they're about to go. And she said it was when she heard that that she knew it was his time.

She said that if I was still feeling like it was time to say good-bye to him, she completely supported that decision. I said I did feel that way, and I wanted to go ahead and do it today. She explained the procedure, and asked if I wanted to be with him for it. I told her that Oscar had been with me for everything, and I wasn't leaving him now. She asked me if I wanted some more time alone with him before she started, and I said it was okay - I'd been preparing since last week, really. Although she had explained the procedure before, she thoughtfully explained every step again as she did it. After a few minutes, she came back and gave Oscar the first shot to sedate him. She said she'd be back in a few minutes to check on him. At this point, I asked Naomi and Anju to say their good-byes to Oscar, as I wanted to be alone with him in his final moments.

Dr. Kurpel came back in after a few minutes, and started to insert the IV in Oscar's leg, but he wasn't sedated enough. So she gave him another shot, and we waited another few minutes. Finally, it was time. She gave him the IV drugs, and as soon as it was injected, she used her stethoscope to check his heart, nodded, looked at me, and whispered, "He's gone." She said I could stay in the room as long as I wanted to, she could bring my friends back if I wanted to, she gave me some materials on pet bereavement, and she told me I could call her anytime to talk if I needed to.

Then Dr. Kurpel and I had an impromptu little eulogy-esque type of thing for the Ocs. She said that cats sometimes put on a persona when they come in, but she could tell that Oscar was just Oscar - that he was really sweet and charismatic. And she always told him how handsome he was. I told her about the time that Oscar "buried" a dead bird under Mom's couch, and we only found it after we went looking for the thing that had made the house smell REALLY bad for three days. And how he planted his nose right in my ear at night so all I heard was his rather loud purr. And how he takes showers with me, and now showers will never be the same without him.

Before I left, I talked to Dr. Kurpel about Felix. See, Fe and Ocs were best buds. The very first night they were introduced, they were playing together. They actually woke me up that first night, and I thought they were fighting, but they were playing. And they've been pretty inseparable since; they groom each other, they play together, and they sleep together. So I'm worried about how Felix will react to not having his buddy around. She told me to watch his appetite and make sure he's eating. See if he starts hiding out. Monitor changes in behaviour. She said sometimes the surviving cat will take on the traits of the cat who passed. But, either way, just pay a little extra attention to him in the coming days, and call her if I have questions or concerns about the little guy.

We also talked a little bit about how confused I was about how Oscar went downhill so fast, then made this recovery for five days, then took a VERY sudden turn for the worse. She said that cats are especially good at masking pain and discomfort. But seeing at how quickly and aggressively this thing attacked Oscar, her best guess is that he had either a tumour or a cancer of some kind - that it went WAY beyond the thyroid issue, and anything I could have picked up on just from observing him at home. I just shook my head and sighed. Then she repeated her offer to call her anytime to talk to her if I needed to.

Once again, thank you for all of the support I've received throughout the last few weeks. Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for making me laugh, for the hugs, and most of all... for just listening to me cry on the phone (you know who you are).

29 June 2010

Oscar's Vet Visit

As you know, Oscar and I had an appointment with Dr. Kurpel this morning. Last night, I had tucked Ocs in next to me, growing increasingly worried at his glassy, half-closed eyes. He was showing no interest in food or water, and I was pretty sure I knew how the conversation with Dr. Kurpel was going to go. I woke up nearly every hour, and I finally woke up just a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off, and started about my day.

To my surprise, Oscar joined me in the bathroom as I was getting ready to go. He had gotten off the bed by himself and walked down the hall into the bathroom. Now, as background, he almost always comes into the bathroom whenever I'm in there (typical cat - he must know what's going on at all times), but for the past couple of weeks, he's had no interest in anything going on. So this was two good signs - ambulating on his own accord and showing interest in old "hobbies." Then he wandered into the kitchen for some water. Then the trouble started. He tripped over the bathroom scale in the hallway. He stumbled in the living room. After he drank some water, he couldn't turn around (whether from sheer exhaustion or inability to manoeuvre, I don't know), so he just laid down in front of the water (which had the bonus of pissing Felix off). But his eyes were no longer glassy - they were wide and alert. He was holding his head up better (although it was still shaky), and he seemed generally perked up.

So, to the vet we went. And, this is when I want to sing the praises (not literally, because that would offensive to your ears) of Naomi who graciously put her day on hold to accompany Ocs and me to the vet today.

Dr. Kurpel checked out his vitals and checked his leg reflexes. She also watched him walk a little bit. He still stumbles when he walks, and he often splays his hind legs out, as if he can't hold them under him properly. She also noticed the same thing that I had with regard to his front leg also starting to get a little wonky. His right front leg is showing some weakness (but I'm wondering if that's because he's using his front legs to compensate for his hind legs), and he's been crossing his front legs when he walks. We discussed next steps. The options she laid out were to go see a neurologist, who she said probably wouldn't be able to tell a whole lot without doing testing such as MRIs, CAT scans, etc., which would involve sedation (read: much expense). And, of course, that would lead to findings, which would lead to, "So, here's what we can do about that." Which leads to more decisions, more procedures, etc. So, basically, it's a whole path I'd be taking Ocs down.

I told her that I'd given it a LOT of thought last night, discussed it with Wise Women (read: Mom and Ria) and decided that it just didn't make sense for a 14-year-old cat who has lived a long, full life and already has chronic health issues (thyroid disease and suspected arthritis). Plus, as Naomi mentioned, with an older cat, the anaesthesia alone is already an increased risk. And, as we all know, with an animal, you can't just explain to them that they're being poked and prodded for a reason and it's all to make them feel better. So, with all of that in mind, I felt pretty strongly against the neuro option.

She said she thought that actually made a lot of sense, and that she would make the same decision for her cat at home, given the circumstances. I felt SO relieved. I said, "Oh good! I was so worried I would leave and you'd talk about me to the other people here, like 'Man, I thought she was worried about her cat!'" She said, "Uh, you've MET me, right?" She said that she'd just told me about the neurologists at Penn because it's her responsibility to tell me about all of my options and let me make an informed decision. So, on to Option #2.

So said Ocs might have some kind of inflammation that could be causing all of this, so we could try a oral steroids. We discussed what the possible side effects of the steroids are, what could happen if we just do nothing, if the goal here is that the steroids help him or just make him not get worse (we're hoping for the former, but we'll settle for the latter), etc. If the steroids work, this will be another medication that he'll be on chronically. If not, we'll need to figure out what to do next.

She and I discussed quality of life indicators. Today, things for him are good. But yesterday and Sunday, they definitely weren't. (Oh, and I learned that purring doesn't equate contentedness. Sometimes, a purr can be a "pain purr.") The plan for now is that I will check in with Dr. Kurpel on Saturday, but sooner than that if Oscar takes a bad turn again.

Once again, I can't thank everyone enough for all the hugs, prayers, and thoughts you've sent our way. It means so much to me that you've been supporting Oscar, Felix, and me through all of this.

28 June 2010

Oscar Update, Part II

I just called the vet and spoke to her because despite what seemed like some good signs yesterday, Oscar was showing some not-so-good signs today. First the good news: I did NOT have to make A Big Decision today.

Now, the rest of the update:

Yesterday, we walked through the house (largely unprompted) - still swaying and stumbling, but not as much - and then used the litter box all by himself. This seemed encouraging as I had been having to helping in and out of the box.

Then, this morning, he fell getting into his box. And he stayed in his splayed out position until I ran across the room to help him. After that, he has pretty much refused to try to walk at all. At one point, I got him off the of bed and put him on the floor to try to get him to drink some water, and he wouldn't even try to stand up; he just immediately laid down. I picked him up again, and, again, he made no effort to try to find his footing. The third time, he tried and stood for a few seconds until his legs started to give, then laid back down. Okay, fine, message delivered. I brought the water bowl to him.

I also noticed today that one of his front legs seems like it is also starting to act a little gimpy, which is troublesome. This is what prompted the phone call to Dr. Kurpel. I don't like new symptoms! When she called, she asked how I was, I said I was fine; I asked how she was, and she said she was good. Then she asked how Oscar was doing, which is when I just burst into tears. I said, "I actually don't know, which is why I'm calling you." I explained that it seemed like he was doing worse, then better, and now worse again.

We talked about his symptoms, including his ever-increasing lethargy, and she suggested that I see a neurologist at Penn's Vet School, if I thought he was stable. If not, I should take him to the ER. A third option was that I could bring him back there and she could do a regular exam to make sure that everything that she could check was fine, as far as heart rate, lungs, blood pressure, temperature, etc. If anything there was funky, that would at least save me a trip to a specialist. I decided to do that first thing in the morning, and we'll discuss options from there.

I'm hesitant about going the specialist route since - honestly (and not to be mean, but...) I don't have a lot of money. I'm unemployed right now, and we're talking about a 14-year-old cat. A 14-year-old cat who I love dearly, but who already has thyroid disease. So I also want to talk to Dr. Kurpel about what kinds of things, in her non-specialist opinion, does she think we could be talking about.

I also want to thank everyone who has been really supportive to Oscar, Felix, and me throughout the past several days.

26 June 2010

Oscar Update

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that Oscar has been ill again.

We went to see the wonderfully awesome Dr. Kurpel on Wednesday because I noticed several days ago that Oscar was having some problems ambulating - he wasn't able to jump up onto the love seat, and was actually having to crawl onto it. I had also taken note that Ocs had missed the last several showers with me, which is not at all like him. In fact, when I can't find him, I'll just start the shower water running, and he'll come running (it's a handy trick). He seemed generally lethargic, but I had written that off to the hot weather; I mean, I wasn't really going out of my way to run up and down the hallway, either, you know? But when he started stumbling around my apartment like a drunken sailor, it was time to call the vet.

And they said, "Bring him in TODAY." Okey doke.

I took him in later that afternoon and Dr. Kurpel said she didn't think it was a stroke (because I didn't report Ocs seeming disoriented or tilting his head a lot), but she did suspect a vascular event of some sort. She said it can be a side effect of the thyroid medication that Oscar is on for blood clots to form, and if he has a blood clot, it could be making its way through his spinal cord. And if it is a blood clot, it should make its way through his system and clear up. She said that has seen cats before brought in with complete hind leg paralysis due to the thyroid meds, and she said that once it gets to that point, that only thing that can be done is to put the cats to sleep. I asked her what kinds of warning signs to look for, and she said not to worry, because if that was going to happen to Oscar, it would have already happened. Whew.

HOWEVER, if Oscar isn't ambulating well in the next few days, pretty much the only other thing to do would be MRIs and CAT scans to look for brain lesions and spinal cord lesions, which would run over a thousand dollars. She thoughtfully remembered that I was unemployed the last time we met and asked if I was working yet. I told her no. She was very honest in telling me that even if we did those tests and found something, there's only so much that could be done and even THEN, there would have to be discussions about the likelihood of success of those surgeries, quality of life after, etc.

While we were there, we did his routine thyroid blood draw, which includes kidney and liver function tests. She also checked his blood pressure and did a blood sugar test to check for diabetes. Sugars and blood pressure were great. She called me the next day to let me know that everything with his kidneys and liver looked great, and his white cell count was SLIGHTLY elevated, but it was so slight that she wasn't worried about it. However, his thyroid level is now too low (he's been too high all this time). She said she's seen it happen before in one cat that she treated where the hind legs get locked up due to hypothyroidism, so that could also be contributing to the problem. So we adjusted the meds that day. I'm to call her early next week (which is now in just a few days), and let her know if Ocs is doing any better. From there, we'll make any decisions we need to make. *gulp*

Yesterday... was not good. Oscar was unable to sit properly to eat or drink. After he ate a little, he tried to walk about five feet and fell over. I burst into tears and went over to pet him, only to find that he was purring away - at least one of us was happy. Last night, I moved the food and water into my bedroom (where the litter boxes are) so Ocs wouldn't have to leave.

Mostly, I'm spending a lot of time this weekend holding and petting Oscar - hoping for the best, steeling myself for the worst.

In the meantime, enjoy this picture Oscar making himself comfortable with my friend Rachel (who Ria knows better as Med Student):

25 June 2010

One year ago today...

I've been sitting here for about an hour trying to write this post. I wasn't sure whether to write that the world lost a legend a year ago, that I lost a personal hero, or that we all lost a musical/dance genius. Because it's all true.

He's outsold any other musical artist. He has inspired an entire generation of other artists in both musical stylings and choreography. He was the first black artist to have a music video played on MTV (remember when MTV actually played videos?). He co-wrote "We Are the World" with Lionel Richie, a song for charity, which was the fast-selling U.S. single in history. He's overcome personal demons, many of which have been documented (and vehemently denied by Joseph Jackson) and some of which I believe we'll never know about. He alluded to some of them in his single "Childhood." He unsuccessfully tried to overcome a painkiller addiction (acquired when his hair caught on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial), but the point is that he had the courage to acknowledge the problem and face it - not that he failed. And he was a great philanthropist; he gave over $300 million and founded the Heal the World foundation.

I still have things on my TiVo that I recorded a year ago when the tributes started. Some of them (like the video tributes) I've watched over and over again. But most of them I haven't watched at all because it's just too painful. I still can't believe he's gone, even a full year later.

Random events make me cry. During a scene in "We Are Marshall," the Jackson 5 song "The Love You Save" is played, and I burst into tears. Walking through the city the other day, I heard someone blasting "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," and I found tears streaming down my cheeks. I never knew losing someone I've never met could be so painful.

I understand that some of you reading this don't share my love or passion for MJ, but please be kind to those of us who are still in grieving and are in pain (in general, but especially this weekend). One of the women on my MJ board shared this story this week: She and her fiancé (who are getting married in a few weeks) were meeting with their DJ. Her fiancé mentioned to the DJ how much she loves Michael, and the DJ asked her, "So, have you gotten used to him being dead yet?"

Earlier this week, I ordered a floral arrangement of sunflowers (his favourite flower) to be placed at his internment site today. For the past few weeks, I've been working on two MJ cross-stitch patterns. I was hoping to have them both done by today, but I only succeeded in getting one of them done; I think the other one will be done this weekend, though.

PS. Dear Joseph Jackson: Screw you for filing a wrongful death claim. All MJ fans should file one against YOU.

24 June 2010

Knitting for Mom

Last December, my mom travelled with me to North Carolina to drop afghans off to the Victory Junction Camp, which is a charity drive I organise every year through Ravelry. While we down there, I let my mom browse through some knitting books and magazines I had brought to see if anything caught her eye. She chose the Gossamer Stars Scarf by Kat Coyle.

The next day (actually, for the next two days), Cristi took Mom and I on a yarn/fabric/food crawl (hint: if you ever need a Charlotte yarn crawl, this is the woman to consult!). I found the yarn I wanted to use for Mom's scarf: Southwest Trading Company's Bamboo, purchased at Yarnhouse. Going by the yardage stated in the pattern, copiously doing the maths (since this particular LYS isn't local to ME and I had one shot at getting the knitting maths right), I purchased three skeins. As it turned out, I only needed two. Score!

This scarf is worked from the middle out - start with a provisional cast-on, work to one end, pick up the live stitches and then work to the other end. It's charted - yay, and is pretty simple. There was one stitch that I had to consult The Woman Who Knows Everything (aka: Brook) about because when I did it, it wasn't looking AT ALL like the pictures. But she fiddled with it and reported back that it wouldn't until I purled back on the next row. So I soldiered on. That, plus the knowledge that I had forgotten how to count to six solved much.

Mom and I agreed that this would be her combination birthday/Mother's Day gift (her birthday is 02 April), which worked out nicely since I'd be seeing her again in Charlotte late-May for the NASCAR All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600. My intent was to cast on the scarf during the Opening Ceremonies of the winter Olympics and use the scarf as my Knitting Olympics (as hosted by the Yarn Harlot) challenge. However, that was the time period during which Oscar was so sick, so that didn't work out very well.

However, the scarf did get done. And Mom was pretty pleased with it:

23 June 2010

George the Blanket

Late last year, I started a secret mission. I wanted to do a baby blanket for my close friend Brook. But this was quite the challenge. Why?

Because the person I usually consult when I need pattern ideas? Brook.
The person I usually consult when I need yarn ideas to go with the pattern? Brook.
The person I usually consult when I need help with the pattern? Brook.

Aye yi yi.

So I turned to Cristi instead. I explained the situation, and within about five seconds (if that long), she sent me the link for the Serenity Blanket by Laura Wilson-Martos. I picked out a yarn with the help of Kathy and Craig at Loop, my favourite LYS. My selection was Douglas Fir by Lorna's Laces, which has become my favourite yarn - it's so soft, they make magnificent colourways, and, well, I'm a sucker for alliteration.

The pattern comes in both written out form and in charted form. I love charts, but I occasionally referred to the written instructions just to make sure I was on track. The blanket is worked from the middle out. The first several rows are worked on dpns, but if I were to do it again, I think I'd try to see if I could magic loop it because it was pretty fidgety. In fact, I remember doing it a few times before I felt good about how it looked.

There was only one point when I had to stop and ask Cristi for advice, and there was another point at which I wanted to, but I thought it was a dumb question so I was determined to figure it out for myself. It was more a point of pure stubbornness. "I've been knitting for just over four years now, dammit! I should be able to figure out a basic pattern!"

The most irritating part was my own stupidity when I forgot how to count to two and I didn't discover it until four rows later. And at that point my rows were 400+ stitches each. And since the rows involved k2togs and YOs, I really just HAD to tink back... over 1600 stitches. At the time I didn't have blocking wires (mats, yes; wires, not so much). So trying to block a perfect square without wires was... interesting, especially with Oscar and Felix "helping" me. lol

But I was really pleased with the result. Brook deemed the blanket to be George (a girl) although the baby was Jamie (a boy).

22 June 2010

At long last - NASCAR HOF

As promised, here's the blog post on the NASCAR HOF.

When you enter, there's an exhibit of the various cars through the years. If you aren't paying attention, it seems as it the cars are just on a really cool inclining curve. However, for those who stop to - ahem - READ the signs that are posted (MOM, I'm talking to YOU!), you'll note that the incline is marked and represents the grade of different tracks on the circuit. And when the incline reaches 33º, there's a section where you can walk on the "track" - or, rather, attempt to. This isn't a great pic, because it's hard to see the whole "track" and the grade in a one-dimensional pic, but I think you can get the general idea:

On the floors above are exhibit halls. They had some of Dale Earnhardt's personal items, some of the cars, and the trophies. Mom and I got a kick out of the difference between the trophies from back in the day and now. Between exhibit rooms, they had hallways filled with memorabilia you can look at. And interspersed are placards with various drivers and owners who have allegedly made an impact on the sport. I say "allegedly" because at one point, I heard Mom say, "Oh my God," and I said, "What?" She said, "You'll see when you get here." About five seconds later, I said, "Holy crap. They'll let anyone in here."

There's a really great interactive area where you can practice being a jackman; try your hand at play-by-play (I wanted Mom to be Mike Joy to my DW, but she refused. She said she'd sit there and pretend while I did it by myself, but I thought it be lame to just do all the talking.); and there's a HUGE ASS board where you can see the owner's points, driver's points, manufacturer's points and how they can move around from race to race based on bonus points, etc. There were race car simulators where you could race your friends and family. And there's a Lowe's hauler you can walk through. (And unlike when I was at the grounds of Hendrick, I did not kiss the ground that Chad Knaus walked on. I knew this was a replica hauler. So shaddup.) And there's a Lowe's pit box. Where the genius that is Chad Knaus sits and works.

They really maximised all the space. For instance, even the elevator had an exhibit showing the evolution of the NASCAR logo throughout the years. And in the area in front of the stairwell, they had an exhibit showing the evolution of the firesuits throughout the years.

Please click here to take a look at the (over 100) pics I took at the HOF. I've barely touched on all of the things that are there, including the hilarious offer that DW made when a bunch of drivers all anted up when some stuff in one of the garaged mysteriously walked away. There are some really lovely tributes to fallen NASCAR comrades that I captured, and I hope you won't miss those. But I've tried to use this space to capture the entire feel of the HOF, albeit (somewhat) briefly knowing that not all of my readers are NASCAR fans.

In the coming days: a look at some recent knitted finished objects and a tribute to Michael Jackson on the anniversary of his death.

11 June 2010

A literary meme

I know I said the next blog post would be about the NASCAR HOF. But, see, this isn't a blog post; it's a meme. I won't tag anyone, but I'd love to see this pop up on various blogs, especially those of you who are librarian friends of mine (ahem).

(1) What author do you own the most books by?

Michael Connelly or John Lescroart


Okay, I went and counted. I have 16 Connellys and 16 Lescroarts. It's a tie!

(2) What book do you own the most copies of?

Charlotte's Web (3)

(3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

A little.

(4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (from the Outlander novels)

(5) What book have you read the most times in your life?

Charlotte's Web

(6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

Um. Charlotte's Web.

(7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

Rich Again by Anna Maxted. Awful. Horrible. I want to burn it.

(8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Heroes for my Son by Brad Meltzer

(9) If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?

Charlotte's Web. It's again friendship and love and how far we'll go for those we care about, but without getting SO deep. And E.B. White's writing style... it's just classic.

(10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

Edgar Allan Poe

(11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

I think a lot of Jane Green's novels could be made into fun movies without upsetting me too much.

(12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Simply because I've lived with those characters and that world in my head for SO long that anything on the screen would BE WRONG.

(13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

If I've had these types of dreams, I sure as hell have forgotten them. And that may be a good thing.

(14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?

Define lowbrow.

(15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

On one hand, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold earns a mention because it just sucked so much and I have NO EFFING IDEA why people went around praising it for a year (see my goodreads review for more on how I feel about that book). But on a more serious level, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is always really difficult for me. I first encountered it in grade five, and I've read it several times since then (the most recent time was last year), but it's a difficult one. Set in 1930s Mississippi, it explores living in the South from the perspective of a close-knit black family. Narrated by Cassie, a young daughter in the family, who really struggles with the social justice issues of the times.

(16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?

Unfortunately, I don't think I've seen obscure ones. Although I have seen "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)." Does that count? ;)

(17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

I haven't had either. Oh wait, you meant...

(18) Roth or Updike?

Neither, but thanks.

(19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?


(20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

I love me some Shakespeare, but I've got nothing against Milton or Chaucer, either. One of my fondest memories from high was going through The Canterbury Tales in Mr. Anderson's class.

(21) Austen or Eliot?

I haven't read Eliot. So Austen by default (although I truly like Austen).

(22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

Apparently, see above. I wouldn't say that I'm particularly embarrassed by my gaps, though.

(23) What is your favorite novel?

Charlotte's Web (okay, it's a children's novel, but it's still a novel!)

(24) Play?

A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller. I fell in love with it in high when we studied it, they took us on a field trip to see it, and there's been no turning back since.

(25) Poem?

"The Bells" by Edgar Allan Poe, "Phenomenal Women" by Maya Angelou, and "On the Pulse of Morning" by Maya Angelou

(26) Essay?

Most anything by Mark Twain (I am a Missourian, after all)

(27) Short story?

Depending on my mood, I'll go for either Poe or Twain.

(28) Work of nonfiction?

(29) Who is your favorite writer?

Brad Meltzer

(30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Dan Brown. He's written one novel. The rest are all variations on that novel. He changes the location and the character names and calls it a new novel. Wow.

(31) What is your desert island book?

Can I just take Brad Meltzer and make him keep writing new books for me while I'm there? If I had to choose just one book (and not a series or the works of an author), I'd probably take Outlander because it's good and long. Or maybe the new edition of "Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness." Because between reading, I could sing and dance and not be embarrassed by too many people watching me. ;)

(32) And… what are you reading right now?

Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein

05 June 2010

The Red Bull Event (Finally)

Sorry the blog has been quiet. There was a change in travel plans; instead of me flying home on Wednesday as originally planned, Mom and Dale decided to just drive me back to Philly and then go home via the PA Turnpike then good ol' I-70. Although I got home a day earlier than planned, I think the sitting in a van for two days straight (and navigating from the backseat - since Mom's Garmin is STOOPID and Dale is blind in one eye and left his hearing aids in his suitcase because he "didn't want to have them in when we were at the track" although we were actually driving AWAY from the track) left me exhausted.

I still need to blog about the FABULOUS trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, so that will be the next blog post. But I keep referring to the truly awful Red Bull Racing Team Fan Appreciation Event (in conversations, in IMs, in Twitters, etc.), so I thought I should actually spill the beans on it.

The event was billed to start at 2:00 p.m. with driver appearances from 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. (drivers being Brian Vickers, Casey Mears, Scott Speed, and Cole Whitt). There would be a raffle for Red Bull prizes and memorabilia, a driver Q&A, an autograph session, and we would "learn the art of four tires and fuel."

We got there a little before 2:00 p.m. so we could figure out what was going on. We found out that most of the event was on this courtyard-like level, while the autograph session would be taking place down a double flight of stairs leading to the merchandise hauler (that had been brought in from Souvenir Alley at the track and staffed by the same LOVELY people - sense the sarcasm?). We were told that to get a ticket to the autograph session, you had to buy something from the hauler OR wait until 2:50 p.m. and hope there were tickets leftover and get one then. Now, let me back up to earlier that morning in the motel room: I had told Mom that I was putting my receipt from the Red Bull Team Shop in my track bag for when we went to the Speedway since Scott generally has autograph sessions there on race day, but you have to buy something from the hauler, and I would ask if buying $52.80 worth of stuff at the shop wouldn't count. And I was putting my receipt in the bag that day since I had seen it and it was on my mind, and I was afraid I'd forget on actual race day.

So upon hearing that now I need to buy something from the hauler to get a ticket for THIS autograph session, I'm really glad I had put my receipt in my bag that morning. So Mom and I go downstairs to the hauler, and I start to say to the guy that I'd heard from the woman upstairs that the conditions for getting an autograph were XYZ. He interrupts me and says, "You don't HAVE to buy something. You can get in line at 2:50 and hope there are tickets left." I said, "Okay, but what I want to know is if --" and that's as far as I get because he interrupts me and says, "Do you UNDERSTAND? You don't HAVE to buy anything. You can get a ticket free. OKAY?" I said, "Will you just let me ask my question?" He finally did, and then said, "She didn't give a ticket then?" I said no, but what I really wanted to say was, "Well, gee, Mister, she did, but I wanted an extra one for my imaginary friend, and that's why I'm down here arguing with you about it."

Mom and I go upstairs to check things out for awhile, grab some free Red Bulls for later (I can't drink them, but Mom and Dale can). Then we found out that the Q&A would be on the courtyard level beginning at 3:00 p.m., but the autographs would be at the hauler beginning at 3:15 p.m.... where people with tickets were already lining up. And, you know, the people with tickets were the same people who really wanted to hear the Q&A sessions (there were two sessions - one with just Cole Whitt and then the second one with the other three). And, honestly, they aren't REALLY going to make fans choose between getting autographs or hearing their driver speak, right?

Mom and I in the autograph line and then we start wondering if the line we're in is maybe the line for people who DON'T have tickets yet. So we ask the people in front of us if they have a ticket; nope. But the people behind us DO. So I stay in line while Mom goes to the front to find out what's going on. She comes back to report that the woman in the trailer was astounded that there were TWO types of people in the line, but said that she would be out shortly to organise us into two separate lines.

So I go upstairs where guys are giving out wristbands for alcoholic drinks. I asked for one (admittedly mostly because they had been asking everyone else if they wanted one and I'd passed through SEVERAL times without being asked once). I got carded, which is fine, but I got a side dish of attitude with it, which is NOT fine. Then I got the "Look, I'm just doing my job" line. I flashed my ID, along with "Yeah, I AM 35," got my wristband and walked off.

Now, I find the raffle table. The raffle tickets are a buck each and the proceeds go to the Speedway Children's Charities. Since you HAD to be present to win, I asked what time the drawing was (since I knew we had to leave early-ish because of the World of Outlaws race), and I was told 2:30 and 3:30. I bought two tickets, and only AFTER I bought the tickets did it dawn on me to wonder how I would be present to win at 3:30 if I was in line getting an autograph at 3:15.

So now I'm still trying to figure all of this out, I'm upstairs by myself, Mom is sitting downstairs in line by herself, I'm getting ready to Twitter about what a disorganised mess this all is when a guy in a Red Bull outfit comes up to me and asks, "Do you have a ticket for today's autograph session?" I said, "I do, yes, thank you. And, by the way, can you tell me a little bit about how this event is working?" He explained that as long as you had a ticket, you were guaranteed an autograph and didn't need to be waiting downstairs in line so I COULD hear the Q&A and get an autograph. I told him that he might want to explain that to the people in the merchandise hauler because they didn't seem to understand. I also asked him how I was supposed to be present for a raffle drawing at 3:30 and get an autograph at 3:15, and he admitted that was a good question. And he pointed out the person to whom I should address that question. I told him that, thus far, he had been BY FAR the friendliest, most knowledgeable Red Bull rep at the event, and that I really appreciated his time. He said that, as one of the people who helped organise it, he was sorry to hear that it was really frustrating for the attendees, but that he would be passing along the feedback because it was important to Red Bull that they portray a good image.

I go back downstairs to Mom (Red Bull in hand) who tells me that the hauler guy hadn't separated them into two lines. Instead, he just came out (WAY before 2:50, mind) and handed out tickets to anyone who didn't have them. Then he came back about ten minutes later and collected ALL of them again. And about five minutes after that handed them all out again.
By this time, they draw the first raffle at 2:30 and when they're done, they announce that they'll draw the rest of the prizes at.... 4:30 p.m. WTF???? So I go directly to the raffle table and ask them if I heard correctly. Yes, I had. And this is when I pretty much go postal. And this is when Red Bull Lady says the exact wrong thing to me, which is "Well, if you only bought two tickets, you only lost two dollars." The other raffle table lady points to Milan (the guy from earlier), and I think his Spidey sense was tingling because he was already headed our way and he said, "Is there something I can help with?"

I explained that it wasn't the two dollars. It wasn't the donation to Speedway Children's Charities. It was the principle of the thing. It was yet ANOTHER example of just how disorganised and chaotic their entire event had been. He explained that he didn't know who had told me 3:30 but they were wrong, but he believed that's what I had been told based on me asking him that question earlier. He explained that things were running late now (Casey, Brian, and Scott hadn't started their Q&A) because they were at a television appearance that was running late, but they had been texted that they needed to be here NOW. I said that I understood that a tv thing was out of their control and I certainly didn't hold them accountable for that. But not being able to coordinate a simple autograph session with a Q&A? Or give people accurate information about a raffle drawing? For a three-hour event? Really?
I go downstairs to relay the newest development to Mom only to hear the hauler guy telling the people in line, "The drivers are upstairs RIGHT NOW doing their Q&A and will be signing in just a few minutes." I said, "Excuse me, but they aren't even here right now. They're at a television appearance. They've been texted and told they're running late. As soon as they get here, they'll do the Q&A, and THEN they'll be here."

Mom said that the whole time I'd been upstairs, the guy came down the line about every five minutes doing a headcount. The people in line were alternating theories on whether he was too dumb to remember the original count or whether he was trying to wait for a certain number of people.

FINALLY, the Casey and Brian got there and the Q&A started. Now, see, when they said Q&A, I had thought that the fans would get to ask some questions. Nope, instead some Red Bull guy asked some lame-o questions for about five minutes. And then we all went downstairs to get our autographs.

Oh, and the art of four tires and fuel? Never learned it.

After, Mom and I came upstairs (there was a candied apple place on the courtyard that Mom wanted to hit) and while Mom and I were talking, Milan wandered over with a prize from the raffle for me (a pair of driving gloves!). I have to say that Milan is excellent at his job - trying to de-escalate situations, telling us that he had spoken to his supervisor about our complaints, talking to my mom about how sorry he was, using a calming voice, etc. He explained that it was important to Red Bull that people leave with a good impression of the brand, and that he hoped the good-will gesture would go a long way.

I have to say that I feel good-will toward Milan but not so much toward Red Bull or toward the merchandise hauler staff or toward the Red Bull shop staff (the ones who told the other people in the store with us that Scott has a life and that's why he wasn't in the shop that day).

Anyway, that's the story of why Scott is lucky to still have me as a fan after all of that.

Oh, and we DID make it The Dirt Track. And that race got rained out. So it was a winner of a day.

But the highlight of my day? When Scott gave a thumbs-up when he saw the Scott Speed backpack and Scott Speed BlackBerry carrier my mom made me.

For the rest of the pics from that day (Speed Street, The Worst Event Ever, and The Dirt Track), click here!

29 May 2010

Well, that sucked

Yesterday... kind of a bust.

The Red Bull event... kind of sucked. BELIEVE ME when I say I will give the full details on that later. For now, we got in last night at 10:00 p.m. and it's now nearly 6:30 a.m., and we need to get going.

The World of Outlaws race... kind of rained out.

Pics from Thursday are here (the motel's internet wasn't working Thursday night, so I couldn't blog, and there wasn't enough time Friday morning). Unedited, uncaptioned. Pics from NNS practice, NSCS practice, another NNS practice session, and then NSCS quals.

Pics from last night are here. They ARE edited and captioned.


26 May 2010

Shops: Day Three

Let's cut to the chase. My pics from today are here. Edited and captioned.

Today's plan: Roush, Petty, and MWR.
Today's actual route: Roush, Petty, Earnhardt Ganassi with Felix Sabates, and RaceWorld (aka: MWR or Mikey's shop).

We hit Roush first (but not without a not-minor scuffle between Mom and her GPS). I scored another Christmas present (my first Christmas present was some Kyle Busch pajama pants) in the form of a Carl Edwards Aflac jacket. After hitting the gift shop, we hit the museum and talked to some of the Roush employees. We managed to meet one from Lawrence, KS (home of KU - BOO!!!), and we asked her what was going on today. We'd noticed that people were sitting in chairs outside, which puzzled us since Roush's fan appreciation day isn't until tomorrow. It ends up that people were ALREADY lining up and preparing to camp out in the autograph line; the autographing begins at noon tomorrow, and we had arrived around 10:30 a.m. this morning. We decided we wouldn't want to sign things for the people who were sitting in the sun all day today and all morning tomorrow.

Then he hit Petty, which is directly next door to Roush - as in you don't even have to leave the driveway. Roush and Petty share a gift shop, so in the Petty building, you just browse the lobby to grab some pictures and hero cards. The End.

On to EGR, which we hadn't planned on going to (my NASCAR friends will understand why, even though they host my beloved James), but we found out that they were mere minutes from the Roush/Petty campus. On to EGR. The gift shop is... odd. You walk in and James' stuff is on the left and JPM's stuff is on the right. There's a great divide in the middle, and that's it. And, really, there isn't that much stuff. Mom and I were both pretty surprised. Even from the visitor's lookout deck, there wasn't much going on in the shop. It was... odd. And the atmosphere there was just weird. Sterile, almost.

Finally, on to the FanFest at Mikey's shop. If you ever get a chance to go to a FanFest at MWR, GO. Make plans, do not change them, do not reconsider, do not let anyone talk you out of it. Part of it was like a mini-hospitality village - SO many free give-aways. There were moon bounces and air slides for kids, there were animals from local shelters (to be adopted, but also there for kids to adore and pet), a silent auction, and OH MY GOSH - the food and the raffles. But before I get ahead of myself, I was in fact able to print out my email affirming that I won an autograph wristband, and we claimed our prize. We wandered the silent auction, and I went NUTS when I saw that one of the prizes was a guitar autographed by Michael Jackson and his band, including Slash.

I got my autograph hat autographed by Trevor Bayne, David Reutimann, Michael Waltrip, Tim Brown, Ryan Truex, Martin Truex, Jr., and Michael Waltrip. The first session was Trevor and David, and I mentioned to them that I had flown in from Philadelphia to watch them race. David asked me where their cheesesteaks were. I said, "Well, I didn't know how you'd like them. Onions, mushrooms, peppers?" Trevor said, "Onions are good," and David said, "That all sounds good to me!" and I told them that next time I came down, I'd come bearing cheesesteaks.

The food to be bought was Cold Stone Creamery ice cream; cotton candy; and some other random fairground types of food. And for supper: barbecued pork sandwiches or hot dogs that came with macaroni and cheese or coleslaw, a bag or chips, and a beverage - all for five bucks. The best part was when I asked what kind of meat the hot dogs were made of (since I don't eat pork). "I don't know. I think it's standard hot dog meat." So I just opted for mac and cheese. She gave me a HUGE serving of pasta and just charged three bucks for it.

By that time, it was time to move to the stage area for the announcement of the raffle prize winners. There had been four boxes in the RaceWorld lobby: a Race Day experience, an Aaron's prize, a TireMonkey.com prize, and a $100 gift certificate to the RaceWorld shop. Each box said you could enter only once per person and you HAD to be present to win. So Mom and I dutifully filled out four slips, put one in each box, and hoped for the best, although we had no idea what any of the prizes except the gift certificate were.

By the time we got our meals, and found a seat, they had JUST started to call out the winner's names. They started by giving out some stuffed Lucky Dog's, and I was disappointed that I had missed an opportunity to enter a drawing for a free Lucky Dog. Then they started giving out some other random prizes, and Mom and I finally figured out that we HAD entered for these prizes, and they WEREN'T just drawing one person from each of the four aforementioned boxes. So we settled in for awhile.

Some really cool, kick-ass prizes went by, and Mom and I figured it was okay since we'd been pretty lucky so far. I'd won the Driver Intro passes (although we didn't use them), I'd won the autograph passes to Mikey's FanFest tonight, and really - how greedy can one family get? Then they called Mom's name (or some mangled variation of it) for a $100 gift certificate to Mikey's gift shop. It was the last of five such certificates they were giving away; I yelled at Mom, "THAT'S YOU!" (you know, just in case she had forgotten her name). After that, I settled back in because I figured after THAT kick-ass prize, really - just how greedy can one family get? I mean, seriously??? And then they announced the biggest prize of the night: a Race Day experience. Tickets to a future race, a meet-and-greet with Martin Truex, Jr., and some other race day perks that I don't remember (it's kind of a blur). And THEN. THEY. ANNOUNCED. MY. NAME.

I'll admit it. I screamed. And ran like hell to the stage. I got a card from the Director of Fan Relations with instructions to email him, and he'll email me back with a list of the 8-10 races from which I can choose to go to and claim my prize. In that email, he'll also outline all of the perks of the prize. I am SO psyched!!!!!

Then we went to the gift shop because we found out that Mom had to redeem her gift certificate tonight. So... shopping spree time! Here's the haul (the Trevor Bayne shirt was a gift for me; he's the newest member of my Harem):