Sunday, March 28, 2010

Heart Surgery

I always loved science, specifically anatomy and physiology. I really loved when we got to dissect pigs and frogs in high school. As a psych major, we weren't required to take any advanced A&P courses in college,  but we did get to do neuroscience. I loved it. During 'family dinners' my junior year of college, I would tell my housemates all about the brain, specific neurotransmitters, why people can't quit smoking, why smell is so strongly associated with memory, why we get drunk and then subsequent hangovers... I thought I was going to study the brain as a career. As it happened, I got the opportunity to work in a few very applied settings, and realized that I really love the application of science to solve practical problems.

However, if someone had told me that I would get to watch surgery as part of my professional life, I would've laughed. I feel like the luckiest person in the world when I get to go into the operating room. I am always amazed at what happens in there. Before we moved to Scotland, I used to get to go down to the cardiac surgery operating rooms whenever I wanted to and watch the surgeries (I wasn't just going down to watch, it's not a sporting event, I actually did some studies and all that). The awe never has worn off for me.

When I first started spending lots of time in the OR, my job was to help think of ways to improve teamwork and patient safety in the cardiac surgery division. However, that's pretty difficult when you know absolutely NOTHING about the task that the team is trying to accomplish. So for a few weeks, I just went down to the OR and watched. I remember the first surgery I was in, the surgeon introduced me to the team, and the circulating nurse asked if I was squeemish. I told her I didn't know, becuase I'd never seen anything like this before. She said 'if you start to feel woozy, just try to fall backward' (ie: not onto the sterile table). Helpful tip.

As the surgery started the circulator came over to me and said 'You can go stand up at the head of the table if you want'. So I went around where the anaesthetist stands, and asked if I could look over. Side note: in some surgical disciplines, they hang a sterile sheet between the patient's head, where the anesthetist works, and the surgical field. The sterile sheet is a bit like a huge flexible post-it, with adhesive on one side that sticks to the patient, and then gets pulled up and clipped to IV poles on the anaesthetic side. This way the anaesthetist can monitor the patient's head and all their equipment without worrying that it'll get blood on it from the surgery.  Surgeons and anaesthetists call this the 'blood-brain barrier' (brain joke!). Anyway, so I went around and stood on a stool and looked over the sheet. The surgical assistant was watching me (probably for signs of faintness, and to make sure I didn't touch anything sterile), and when I caught his eye and almost laughed out loud. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a heart! A real heart! It was beating, moving, keeping the patient alive, even though their chest was cracked open. It looked like a science project. As a novice, I almost forgot that there was a person, a living breathing thinking feeling person, attached to the open chest that I saw.

The heart is awesome (not in the 'duuuude! awesome!!' way, but in the formal definition of the word). It's not like a balloon that fills and then empties. Rather it's a muscle that twists on itself to push the blood through. It's such a complex thing. If you make a fist with your hand, and then squeeze it, pinky first, then ring finger, middle finger, index finger, and hold it, then release, that's a beat. It is a muscle. You can strengthen and train it like you can any other muscle, and it atrophies or stops working properly if you don't care for it. On the outside, it looks very smooth, usually pink, but it depends on the age of the patient and the progression of the disease. The inside is very complicated, lots of small compartments and intricate muscles and valves that open and close to allow blood and nutrients in and to push waste out. When one of these valves or chambers is broken, it means that bad things are coming in when they shouldn't, and good things aren't coming in when they should.

In order to do heart surgery, the team must stop the heart from beating (in most cases, sometimes they do beating heart surgeries) which they do by re-routing the blood into a machine that oxygenates it and sends it to the brain and body, and that takes the waste out when the blood comes back the other way. There are about a million very complex steps to this process, which I know very little about, despite some very patient and intelligent people explaining it to me over and over. This is called cardiopulmonary bypass. The point is, they have to stop your heart in order to fix it. They have to do a manual reset.

Throughout history, emotions have been associated with the heart, although most scientists will say that they exist because of interactions in the brain. I've said time and time again 'I know it in my heart' or 'my heart is telling me...', 'my heart goes out to you', 'my heart will go on' (just kidding) etc. Even in the bible there's reference to God hardening pharoh's heart. Aristotle (I think it was Aristotle) rejected the brain, seeing it a superfluous to the heart, which he thought was the seat of emotion and reason. Historically, the Egyptians thought that the heart was the center of emotion because the pulse would change with great emotion, and would create visible differences in the psyche.

There is some research that says that the heart has an effect on emotion because it effects blood flow to the brain and oxygenation, which makes sense. Negative emotions, stress, frustration, anxiety, can lead to heart diesease. It's also been shown that the heart has a very strong electromagnetic force, because of all the electrical activity that's going on in there. I suppose this is why sometimes I can swear that I've felt my heart hurt or swell or twinge when something really good or really bad is happening. 

Its really interesting to consider that there's such a connection between the physiological and the psychological. I've heard that a lot of heart surgery patients feel like their heart is giving up on them when they are faced with heart or valve disease. Like their heart rejected their body. Maybe all it needed was a manual reset? I don't know. There's a small but forceful push in medicine to start to investigate more holistic treatments for patients- ie: treat the patient not the disease. Using things like yoga, psychological therapy, homeopathy, etc. as a compliment to surgical intervention to fix a leaky mitral valve.

In my work, I don't interact much with patients, rather with their care-givers, hoping to improve the system in which the care-givers work, thus improving outcomes for patients. But this is a really interesting, and entirely different perspective that I've only recently begun to think about.  Obviously, it's something I need to think about more.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Americanicity is as gooder than you

I wanted to write my first post on this blog when I got inspired enough to say something that mattered to me.  Over the course of the last six months, I've had several unique opportunities to experience being an American in a different way than how I grew up.  I've lived in a foreign country since June 2009, and I only know one other American in Aberdeen other than my wife.  

Several months ago, I bought dinner form a fish & chips shop down the street, and struck up a conversation with the owner while my fish was in the fryer.  He asked if I was American, I told him I was, and he asked if I had voted for Obama.  I smiled and nodded, not sure of how he would respond.  He gave me a big thumbs-up and said in a eastern European accent," I love Obama!  He is great man, and I wish my country had him."

Admittedly, I've toned down my political intensity level since the elections, and Sarah's been keeping me up to date on the progress of various legislation and political warfare.  I still read CNN and BBC, but much more casually than during the elections.  Once Obama had been elected, I thought I'd let him take it from there.  But, today was different.  Today, the House of Representatives passed history-making legislation to help provide health insurance to many of our citizens who are so desperately in need.  Estimates put the number of uninsured Americans at 32 million.  As Sarah and I went to sleep last night, the vote still hadn't occurred and we wouldn't know the outcome would be.

When we woke this morning, we read the news and I was...happy.  Not bouncing off the walls, but happy.  As the day went on, I thought more and more about what had just happened.  An initiative that traces its roots back to President Theodore Roosevelt has taken a monumental step.  Millions of people can now afford to take care of their own bodies.  It is truly a great day.  A day to be proud!  To be excited for what we have accomplished!  There are certainly plenty of those out there who disagree with providing cheaper health insurance, though those complaints seem to come mostly from people who already have it.  But, like so many other issues, we disagree and we must move on.  

As I close, I'd like to say that I am a Democrat.  I'm a damn proud Democrat, but I am a prouder American.  I take personal offense to the notion being spread out there that Democrats are unpatriotic, socialists who either want to see our great country fail, or were stupid enough to be duped into voting for someone who does.  My wife and I are intelligent, well educated, and have a roof over our heads and food on our table every day.  However, we understand that we are not all given the same fortunes of life; that alone, we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  It is NOT okay to acknowledge that tremendous gaps exist in our country and to say," well, that's just the way it is."  We must strive each day to eradicate poverty and ignorance, to improve the lives of our fellow man no matter if it takes one presidential term or one million.  We who have, must extendour hand to those who have not.  My government ought to be an extension of that thought, and today, to my deep gratification, it was.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Renaissance Man

One of the hardest questions that I've ever been asked is 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' Seriously, I have absolutely no idea. Still. And I'm getting a PhD. Not that that makes me smart, rather it makes me specialized an a really specific area. Really, is that a good idea?? ONE specific area? I dunno about this.

When I was a kid and people would as me that question, my response was 'a ballerina, a mom, a lion tamer, a doctor, a dentist, a pastor...' all at the same time. I would say this list in one big breath. I am sure whoever asked the question was like 'Oh what a lovely little girl. It wouldn't hurt to smack her every once in a while'. I wanted to do everything, and I wanted to do it ASAP.  Can't wait. There's too much to do! In college, I decided on psychology mainly because it allowed me to study people, which is just about the only thing I'm good at.

I asked Mike what he used to say to this question and he said a policeman then a businessman (like his dad), then a musician. In college he thought about psychology, religion, politics... all very different with a wide variety of practical applications. His desires had a more logical, reasonable progression. (This is one of my favorite things about Mike- he's very thoughtful about everything.) Even as a kid, he wanted to find a profession that involved things he liked doing and do things that people he admired did.

For both of us, as we've gotten older and despite the fact that we both have advanced degrees, the answers aren't much clearer. My answers have become 'an improviser, a researcher, a doctor, an actor, a writer, a psychologist, a political operative, a chef, a mom...' Mike's answer is 'Lets just say, work in progress.'

All of this has made me wonder about historical figures that have managed to excel in many different disciplines, specifically how were they able to become experts in so many different fields? Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Schweitzer, Leon Battista Alberti, Nikola Tesla. How did they do it? Were they insomniacs? Where did they get the money to learn for so long? How were they able to think so deeply about so many different things? What books were on their bedside tables? How did they become Rennaisance Men?

A Renaissance man is someone that excels in many different fields. Predictably, the idea comes from the Italian Renaissance, a time of open and extensive creative and scientific exploration.  During that time, people believed in Renaissance humanism, or the idea that humans are "empowered, limitless in their capacities for development, and led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible." (Wikipedia- I'm a little ashamed). People sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts.

But being a Renaissance man takes this idea one step further. You can't just be interested in lots of different things at a superficial level- that makes you a generalist. You have to be more thoughtful than that- proficient, accomplished etc. in many fields. You need to play an instrument, write non-fiction, be able to program a computer, speak German and Norwegian, and publish your poetry in a peer reviewed journal regularly. Oh yeah, and be athletic. So when you're done with that history on the origins of macadamia nuts, go run a marathon.

As a graduate and ongoing student of a liberal arts education, I think this is a great idea. I subscribe completely to the philosophy that humans are limitless in their capacity, the idea that it's not just your academic pursuits that are important. It's more than that- it's art, it's deep thought, it's physical. It's learned from more places than a classroom.

However, it occurs to me that this is incredibly difficult in this day and age. We are not interested in polymaths. Even the colloquial 'jack of all trades, master of none' is used in a self deprecating way. We want experts. Superspecialization is highly valued- you don't have doctors, you have orthopedic surgeons with an interest in 2nd knuckle breaks of the left index finger. And, I would bet, if you had a break in that pesky 2nd knuckle, you'd want the specialist, not a generalist. I would too. Our education system isn't built to accomodate a specialization in more than 3 subjects. And 3 is probably too generous. And as you get further and further into education, you get more and more specialized; my academic journey is a perfect example. First I studied lots of stuff, then psychology, then human factors, and now leadership. It's like an upward funnel. And as you go up through that funnel, you get more financial rewards, so there is implicit (or explicit) value associated with increased narrowing.

I looked and couldn't find a good example of 'today's renaissance man'. I wish we had one. Is there too much knowledge out there, too many particulars, for anyone to be an expert in more than one subset of one topic of one subject?

We'll just call this a work in progress.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Signs of Hope

Last Thursday, on my way into school, I came across a very unique sight: a man dressed in black pants, nice work shoes, a collared shirt, and a red sweater vest, washing his car. It was 8:38 am. My first thought was, what a hopeful thing to do.

I wondered if he had a job interview that day... or maybe a big date... or maybe he was taking his kids to school and was trying to impress the other dads with his sparkley black Beamer... maybe he was about to pick his girlfriend and ask her to marry him... maybe it was a birthday present for his 16 year old son... maybe he's a secret agent and just finished repainting the car and was washing off the excess (I obviously know nothing about painting cars... or being a secret agent).  Anyway, my imagination took off, writing the first few lines of a whole host of potential stories for this gentleman. As I walked, I realized the common theme among them being hope.

Inspired by the go-get-'em attitude I imagined for Mr. Red Sweater Vest, I decided to spend the next two days looking for signs of hope.

As a scientist, I had to first figure out exactly what it was that I was looking for, ie: what is the definition of hope, so I will know it when I see it. So I went to the Magical Interwebs ( Interestingly, hope is both a noun and a verb, and as I chose to use it, 'hopeful' an adjective, hopefully, an adverb. It's kind of like 'smurfy' for those of us who are children of the 80's (or parents of children of the 80's). That, in and of itself, was a nice, albeit tangential, metaphor for what I was looking for- hope is defined many different ways and takes on many different forms, depending on what you are looking for and how you want to use it.

Thursday, looking for signs of hope was really easy. It was a beautiful day outside. I had a good meeting with my supervisors. We put together an outline for the next few weeks, and promised to meet again. This was a hopeful activity, according to my definition- it showed that they are 'looking forward to with desire and reasonable confidence' (definition 1 of hope as a verb).  As I was walking home from work I passed the construction site of the new library the University is building- definitely a sign of hope. I walked past a local middle school and there were guys outside painting lines on a soggy field in the shape of a small running track- sign of hope. I ran into Mike and Opie on the way to the park, Opie about jumping out of his skin with hopefulness- petmeletsgototheparkandjumpinpuddlesiloveyoucanweeatpetmeiloveyou. To him, we are the 'person or thing in which expectations are centered' (definition 2 of hope as a noun). Later over dinner, Mike and I spoke of the future, as we often do, another implicit sign of hope. What will happen when we are done here, what do you want to do next, what's recorded on the DVR... I can go on, but I won't- suffice it to say, there were lots of signs of hope on Thursday.

Friday was not as pretty outside. It was fine, not warm or cold, gray, a bit of rain on and off. As I walked into school, I didn't see Mr. Red Sweater Vest. It was drizzling the entire walk, keeping my face and jacket covered with a nice sheen of damp. The things that I had seen as hopeful the day before now seemed a bit forlorn. They didn't look hopeful... they actually looked a bit... apathetic. They weren't filled with potential energy any more. They were stagnate. The field, so hopefully painted the day before, was submerged in a puddle-lake at one end. It seemed to say, yeah, thought you could do something with this. That was dumb. The huge crane at the building site was still, looking like it couldn't be bothered to move. It had exhausted itself with all its efforts of the previous day. Silly girl, thinking that there were symbols of hope all around. Really? I'm just a crane. A crappy, rusting, lopsided crane. When I got to work, everyone seemed to be stuck. It wasn't one of those excited Fridays were everyone counts down the minutes until 5, then goes for a beer after. It was a Friday when people come and go, with their heads down, trying to make sure no one notices when they duck out at 2.  I remembered my promise to find hope, thought of Mr. Red Sweater Vest, and it occurred to me that he could've been a cab driver, just coming off the late shift. What a difference a day makes.

It made me realize how much power I have over my outlook. When I actively engaged in looking for hope, I saw things that looked like hope. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When I kept my mind and eyes open, looking for the positive, I saw it. When I was a little weaker, waiting for hope to come to me, I didn't find it as readily. In fact, I saw the opposite. I saw mediocrity, satisfaction with the status quo. It really is in your perspective.

Later Friday afternoon, I had to go to a meeting about a new house that Mike and I viewed on Wednesday evening. I was meeting the landlord, trying to make sure she liked me, trusted me, wanted me (as a representative for our family) to live in her house. I felt like I was in middle school again, trying to sit at the cool lunch table. As it turned out, things went great. She was lovely. She liked me. We had tea, and we are now officially friends... maybe not friends, but at least owner and tenant. Talk about hope. It's good. And tomorrow's a new day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I made a traditional Scottish meal for dinner tonight! Stovies. In honor of this, I will do my best to write the rest of the blog and recipe in Scottish.


 Fit leich?
(how you doing?)

Nae ta bad. Foos du?
(not too bad. How're you?)

Stovies are a Northeast Scotland tradition. Usually, they're made from the leftovers of the Sunday Roast, using the neeps (parsnips), tatties (potatoes), meat and a wee (a little)  bit of drippings all thrown into one pot. The origins of stovies are said to come from a time when masters would give their servants the left over food from Sunday lunch. They would take this home or to their quarters and make a dish that could last them all week and was easy to cook. This is a warm homey dish for quinies (girls) and loons (boys), wifeys (women) and mannies (men) alike.

Ok, enough Scottish slang. That's hard and I dunna ken (don't know) that I can keep going. 

For the beef. 
1 lb beef cubed (good scottish beef is recommended)
1/4 cup beef stock
1 cup water
1 cup merlot or other red wine
3 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 onion chopped

Cooked beef
3 large or 6 small potatoes, quartered
1/4-1/2 cup of milk
1/4 tsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp garlic

Roasted beets
4-5 beets roughly chopped into bitesize pieces (Fig 1)
olive oil or butter
salt and pepper to taste
Fig 1: Beet hands. Might be in your best interest to not wear a white shirt while doing this.

I cooked the meat a couple of days ago. You could probably do it all in the same day, though.

1. Sweat the onion and 2 cloves of garlic (chopped) over low heat.
2. Drizzle with olive oil.
3. Once onions are translucent, put the beef in
4. brown the beef- usually between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the size of the beef.
5. Bring water and stock to a boil in a large stock pot.
6. Dump beef and onion and garlic in.
7. Add merlot
8. add last clove of garlic
9. Simmer for 2-3 hours
10. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Drain when tender when pierced with a fork. Return to pot.
11. Pour milk over potatoes, smash with a fork- should NOT be smooth, remain chunkey.
12. Take meat and onion mixture (which should be amazingly tender now) and put into frying pan, along with some of the merlot broth (to taste).
13. Add potatoes. Over medium heat, heat through and mix together. Add rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.

For the beets:
Preheat oven at 350. At step 10 above, put chopped beets into a bowl. Drizzle olive oil or melted over beets. Sprinkle generously with salt, and not so generously with pepper, and mix it all around. Wrap in aluminum foil packet. Bake for 45-60 minutes.

Traditionally, stovies are served with piping hot with oatcakes, beetroot and skirlie (which is like oatmeal stuffing) but as Mike said, 'if you ate that, you'd sink to the bottom of the ocean'. So, instead, we had broccoli (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Dinner! Looks gross- a bit like 
German textbook food- but is tasty!!


Monday, March 8, 2010

The Subconscious Shelf

I just read on the New Yorker that they are doing a thing where you send them a picture of your bookshelf and they analyse you. I think this is genius. Unfortunately, we only have less than a quarter of our books here, but we've managed to adopt a few good books in need of a home. I invite you to analyse our book selection.

I am going to go ahead and give it a go, you know, being a psychologist and all. This bookshelf, although scant, shows that the people in this house have many assorted interests. A Rosetta Stone program, along side some academic books on human error (is To Err Is Human upside down?)- this says there are people in the house that like to learn. Complemented by a few 'self helpy' books by Eckhart Tolle- this indicates an some deep seeded need to 'find ones self', so obviously the owners are in their late 20's. Mixed in with some fiction, some travel books and a german dictionary, and finally a few political books, both historical (American Lion) and current (Dreams of My Father), all of which is an indication that these people like to dream big. The shelf is a mess, crowded with electrical equipment, and various soccer scarves claiming support. The books are laid sideways, indicating that the shelf is not ideal for the books it holds. Nor, apparently, is it big enough. There's more clutter on the top- this indicates that these people really aren't organized. And apparently don't seem to care. Go ahead, give it a go. It's kinda funny how well this actually kind of covers it.

Under normal circumstances, we have a large bookshelf that goes in our bedroom, filled with various books- mostly novels and fiction- mostly Mike's- along with yearbooks and baby books stacked at the bottom (to anchor the shelf... it's not fantastic, it's from Ikea. I think it was called Smmrgdderf). We strategically placed some knick-nacks and photos on the shelf to make it more friendly looking. We also have a second small bookshelf that goes in the office or guest room that has both of our school books, along with various paper products (envelopes, bills, fancy paper, etc). We also put some books on the coffee table, and on the shelves under the side tables in the living room. These are the 'smarty-pants books' to make us look cultured. I think we had a photo book of the graves of famous rock stars along side GQ's Red Book of Style... and probably a Victoria's Secret. Arty. Finally, some books end up in a mini-library on our respective bedside tables... these are the trusty dog-eared bunch... (well, mine are dog-eared. Mike's are not... apparently it 'messes up the books'. I say it gives them character. This is a psychological quagmire that we will deal with later.)

This brings us to the books that most frequently ended up in the coveted 'bedside table' position. For me, the top books are 'The Tipping Point' which I have read at least 5 times, 'Eat Pray Love', 'Charlotte's Web' the first 'big-girl' (ie: chapter) book I ever read, any 'Harry Potter', some fiction-of-the-moment (The Reader or something like that) and usually a non-fiction by David McCullough or something my dad told me I needed to read. For Mike, these books are 'Ender's Game' (amazing book), 'Dune', 'The Godfather' (also amazing), 'Jurassic Park', and 'The Hunt for Red October'. Obviously, Mike is a fiction man. One of my favorite times of the day is when I get into bed, grab the book off the beside table, crack it open and start to read. Opie usually lays with his head on my tummy and it is a very peaceful time.

Thanks, New Yorker- that was a great idea.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Kitchen

 As my best friend Scare astutely pointed out to me a couple of years ago, I get pretty down during the winter months. I am constantly cold in the winter, and all of a sudden when spring comes, I realize that my shoulders have been in my ears because I am constantly bracing against the elements, both physical and emotional. I dive into work, and become highly functional- ie: not engaged, just functional. I never realize that I was sad until spring comes.  Once the thaw starts outside, my interior thaw begins. I realize that I have been putting away lots of things in order to make it through the winter, because I have limited resources, and most of them go towards keeping my head up. This last week I realized that one of those things has been homesickness.

I miss home. I miss things being easy. More than home, I miss my family. I miss those little daily things that make people family... the conversations, inside jokes, hugs, looks.... it seems to me that many of these daily things take place either in preparation for or while eating a meal. More specifically, they take place in the kitchen.

The heart of every home that I've ever lived in has been the kitchen. Not only is it the place with the food (which cannot be underrated) it is also the place of deep conversations over gallons of tea, the place where you open your college acceptance letter, the place where you play 'the magnet game' (2 points for getting the magnet to stick to the freezer part of the refrigerator, 1 point for getting it to stick to the fridge itself, 3 points and an extra turn for getting it to stick on the side), the place where you make enough crap mac to feed a small army after a night out, the site of the dog-bone hockey world championship, the place where you learned that the best way to ensure the family would come over is to make cookies, the site of poker games, the inaugural location of compulsory Friday night happy hour. I love the kitchen.

I have such fond memories of my grandmother's kitchen. Not only was good cooking knowledge passed down, but it was where I got to have her all to myself. As she helped me measure brown sugar, she would always impart some sort of invaluable knowledge: 'Sarah, we are making extra of these for the hospice patients', 'don't worry about measuring it exactly right, it'll be ok' or 'go get your brother, you should do this together'. I remember before Sunday dinners, she would be in there finishing off the gravy, I would be putting ice in the glasses on the table, somebody would be finishing the green beans and bacon... it was the smallest room in the house, yet it seemed to magically enlarge to hold everyone who was cooking, plus everyone who came in. Similarly, I've learned amazing things from my own mother in the kitchen. She taught me to try new recipes, to make sure to take time to sit and have a chat, to eat things that taste good, and then, learn to make them yourself. I always gravitate toward the kitchen when I am visiting people's homes. I suppose it's a sense of a well-being that comes from being in the kitchen. It is easy to have conversations there, easy to listen, easy to connect. Somehow, the kitchen is always warm. 

Whenever I am feeling especially isolated and homesick, I go to the kitchen because this is where I can reconnect with people that I love, even if they don't know I am doing it. Everyone in my family has a specific dish that they excel at from swedish meatballs to brisket to cookies to pie to soup to corn pudding. My best friends love to cook. When I make on of their recipes, I miss them desperately, but I love doing it because I feel that they are right there with me. It is very important to me to say 'this is Jord's polenta recipe' or 'Uncle Mark's chex mix' because it means that this other person is part of that experience.

In almost every house that I've lived in, the most used entrance to the house was through a door directly into the kitchen. A door directly into the heart of the home. I guess ultimately, this is what I miss the most. I miss walking in to my family's homes, straight into their kitchens- into the heart- finding something to eat, and settling in for some real time together.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dog people

We have a fantastic park not too far from our house. It's great, there's a small field with trees around it, and there's a huge field that's completely open, great for dogs to run in. We take Opie there twice a day usually, to let him run and because there are a lot of other dogs for him to play with. Usually, it's okay. Sure, you'll have the bully dog, the growler, the one with all the good toys, the humper, the yippy one, the ball thief, but that happens when you go to a park with other dogs. It's to be expected. I thought it was understood that if your dog fell into any of these categories, as the owner, you must be able to control the dog if they start to bother other dogs (or humans) or at least have the decency to apologize profusely, put the dog on a leash, and go to the other part of the park. It's dog owner code.

There are some people who do NOT abide by this code. They think it's 'cute' when their dog growls at others or call their dog 'silly little precious' while he is humping the crap out of another dog. Say 'she's just rambunctious' while she chews on your dogs' tail. This is not acceptable behaviour, in my mind. Honestly. And the worst part of it is- it's not the dog. It's the humans.

There are some bonkers dog owners out there. One said to me the other day that the reason that her dog nips Opie's ears and barks at him incessantly is because Opie won't chase him. Another said that her dog doesn't really like to exercize, that's why he steals Opie's ball. There's another that refuses to get her dog neutered because 'it'll hurt his manhood'- is that not the idea?!? Dogs are dogs. They are fantastic companions. They are amazing creatures. At the end of the day though, they are dogs.

I know there are some amazing dog owners out there. We know quite a few of them. And, this is not to say we don't absolutely adore our dog. Opie is an amazing addition to our family. I genuinely don't remember what life was like before he was around. He's a great puppy, but he is that. A puppy. I love him for it.

Perhaps our park attracts the weirdos. Maybe that's why we go there...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Anatomy of a Run

Sunday I went for a run- actually, the longest run I've ever done. 11 miles. For those of you that don't run, that's a long run. I am training for the Inverness Half Marathon on March 14.

In 2008, Mike went to Washington, DC for a summer internship and Opie and I were at home on our own for 3 months. Our lovely friends Molly and Todd suggested I do a 10 mile race with them. I'd never done anything like it so I said yes. I knew it would be good for my health, and I knew this would be a great way to tire Opie out. I figured I would train, do the race, wear the t-shirt incessantly, brag about my running prowess, and then never do it again. Little did I know this would set off a new lifestyle for me. Now, I buy running magazines, I ask for running clothes and running gizmos for Christmas, I talk about running to anyone who will listen.

I like running because my success and failure rest entirely with me. If I work hard, I see results- faster times, longer distances, and I feel stronger. It's something that's entirely mine. When I do well, it's because I worked hard. I can push myself. I can set myself higher standards than I've ever set- and there's a tangible result when I accomplish them. I love that running is almost always more about your mental strength than physical endurance. I love that it is so elemental. It truly is mind over matter.

I have developed various route for my runs- I have a 4 mile, a 6 mile, and a 10 mile route, all of which I can add or subtract small bits of to make a longer or shorter run. I go through phases on each run. The beginning phase is the 'awkward teenage romance' phase. First, I have to warm up,  muscles figuring out how to do this, not being able to believe that I am allowed to do this, adjusting my clothes (which I still haven't figured out how to get to stop riding up), fixing my gizmos into comfortable places. Once all this is sorted out, I realize that I am no longer happy and have to redo the whole thing.

The second phase is the good bit. This is the 'honeymoon phase'. It lasts anywhere from 2-9 miles. This is a lovely phase. Just go. My legs know what to do now, I don't even have to think. Everything is clicking. I am unstopable here.  I set my pace to my music, Chemical Brothers first, then Black Eyed Peas, then some Aerosmith, Ben Folds, and finish strong on Aretha Franklin. I find comfort in the consistency of this routine.

The third phase is tough... perhaps this is the 'midlife crisis' phase of my run. I dislike running now. I am almost home, and I just want to stop. I don't even have muscles in my legs any more, only lactic acid. I am questioning why I decided this distance was a good idea, why did I tack on that extra mile? I want somebody to pick me up in a car and feed me dark chocolate and take me home. 

The last phase is when I am home, creatively titled the 'home' phase. I walk in, exhausted, to my beautiful husband and dog, waiting for me. Opie licks my face as I try to stretch, and Mike gets me water or a gatorade. I shower, ice my knees, and rest with Mike. This is how it should work. This is when I like running.

Sunday, 3.5 miles in, my iPod suddenly stopped working. I was 3.5 miles in, facing a big hill, and without music. I haven't run without music in a year.  I didn't know what to do. Now that I am writing this, it seems ridiculous, but in my mind, this was a bit of a challenge. Ok, I thought. This is good. I will run and have to set my pace by how I feel instead of the beats. That's fine.

I started paying attention to what was going on around me, watching the houses go by, smiling at other runners, listening to the distant sound of the ocean, watching the clouds from the incoming rain storm, realizing that I breathe in exhaust fumes when big trucks go past... As I made my way down to the beach, I realized how beautiful it was. The winter ocean is incredible. It is green, angry and violent. It is unlike the oceans of my childhood, with their calm, patient waves. This ocean is insatiable. It is knocking wood barriers out of the way like they are twigs, it is rolling boulders onto the beach, even the seagulls won't go near it. There is a steady mist from the waves hitting the concrete barriers... the sun and wind are at my back and I just go. The other people on the beach are walking with their hoods up, bracing against the wind. I smile to myself, because I am not cold, you silly other people, I am loving the entire thing.

I get to the end of the beach and turn around. Holy crap. It's like the entire world changed when I got to the end of the beach. You know in scary movies, when the girl goes down a dark hallway by herself and pauses to take that last look over her shoulder, and when she looks back, there's the killer? That was this. That beautiful storm that was coming in- yeah, it's here now. The waves are no longer a romantic kind of angry, they are scary, and they are coming over the concrete barrier. The people with their hoods up are now smiling as they walk towards their cars, hugging their soon to be warm children, laughing to themselves as I run past- 'that silly girl, she looks freezing, and she doesn't even have an iPod. Bet she's American.' I am running through yucky sea water and litter, and am cold and wet. And as the weather does only in Aberdeen, the rain suddenly changes to hail/sleet/snow. A mix I call 'winter yak'.  I look down at my Garmin and realize, I still have 4 miles to go. I have to get home. I contemplate picking up the bus at a near by stop... I have no money. I could go to school and wait out the storm... I forgot my ID. I could call a friend... I have no phone. What was I thinking when I left the house? I have no way to do ANYTHING! Literally, all I can do is run home. Deep breath. Here we go.

I slog through the next 3 miles. I keep going because I know my shower is warm, and Mike is making chili for dinner. At the last mile, I have a short hill, then a long windy flat directly to my house. I get to the bottom of the short hill- all of a sudden, my legs reawaken. I didn't even realize they were numb. I start to go up the hill. I go hard, all I can hear is my desperate gulps of air and my feet hitting the the pavement. I get up to the top in no time, and am welcomed onto the flat. I start running- like really running. I can't believe that my legs still have juice. I am not in charge any more, by body is doing it all by itself. It is an amazing feeling. I guess this is the runner's high that I've heard about. I did my last mile in 7 minutes 44 seconds.

This is why I like doing this so much.