Saturday, March 12, 2011


Well, so it's been a year. And, as is the way in life, things are different but still the same. I quit my job at the second veterinary clinic where I worked in order to decrease my hours and save my sanity. I picked up a few more hours at the primary clinic so I wouldn't be entirely destitute, and I'm trying to live on less. Not much fun when you have only eight bucks left in your budget week, and I eat cheese and crackers for dinner occasionally, but I have a home and a car and, better yet, I have not felt like yelling at a client, quitting my job for a lucrative stripping career, or banging my head against a hard surface since the new schedule has happened. I'm sure my friends and family appreciate this part as well.

It's a hard job sometimes. When I tell people what I do for a living I often get one of two responses: "I always wanted to be a vet but couldn't do that--it would be too hard," or, delightedly, "Don't you love what you do?"(The expected answer being yes). Maybe I'm just too honest to answer with a simple "yeah" and move on. Or maybe I'm not like other vets--but in talking with my colleagues I think I am. (And this may come as a surprise to you, but substance abuse and suicide are fairly common in my profession, sadly.) But I don't always love my job. In fact, sometimes I hate it. But probably not for the reasons people might think. I wanted to become a veterinarian to be useful, to help others (animals and people), and to find meaning in my job. But like any job, there are parts I'm good at that I like, parts I'm good at that I don't like, and parts I'm only average at. (For my vanity, I don't think there's anything I'm terrible at, though I could be wrong. Hey, still employed.)

And as for the first comment: I know what people mean when they talk about what seems hard about my job. But the things I find hard aren't always the things that people expect. What's hard for me is explaining inconclusive test results to owners, when we both really really wanted answers. What's hard is explaining why we have to run another expensive test when this one didn't get us there. What's hard is giving advice and having people ignore it. Of course the sickness, the illness, that's hard too. But sometimes the sickness has a second side for the doctor, completely separate from the terrible fact that someone's pet is sick. There is the thrill of diagnosis, the skill of answering the why and the what to do that is rewarding. In fact, this is the key, I think, to the reason why I did become a vet and the people that make that first comment didn't. It's tied to the other common thing I hear, mostly from younger people who are giving reasons for why they want to go to veterinary school: "Oh, I love animals." And the most valuable thing I can say to these folks is this. You must love more than animals. Loving animals in my profession is almost beside the point. Of course you love them. But so do a lot of people. It's called owning a pet. But you have to have something beside the love of animals to get you through the hard days, or truly, the sickness and the illness WILL bring you into a dark place. You need to love science, and medicine; you need to have the curiosity, to feel the little twinge of excitement when you get an interesting case, and the surge of satisfaction when you figure out the answer. You need to love giving advice, and be prepared to let go of your ego and sense of responsibility when people can't hear the advice. If you go into this profession with only a love of animals, you will have no reserves when they die.

And even with that love of medicine, some days are hard. Today was hard. And so I write to think of the things that do get me through, because today I lost a patient. And he was a good dog, a well-loved dog, a dog that his owner would have done anything to save. And there was no way to save him. No superhero, no magic, no medicine that could have saved him. I can be grateful his death was quick and painless, and that in some ways this death may have been kinder than the one I see more often: the long, grinding, slow halt. But today that thought is not a comfort. I am simply sad that he is gone, and sad that all my knowledge and skill would have done nothing for him. These are the ones you carry with you for years, and that you struggle with. I struggle with: how to carry them without letting them turn into heavy stones in the heart, how to move forward. For as much as he was not my dog, grief calls to grief, and becomes a sign of how we all suffer loss. How do we go on when those we love die? How do we remember them without living in darkness, and how can we not grieve? It is natural to comfort one another, but I think we are too quick to passify and to turn away from painful feelings. Maybe it's ok to sit with grief a while, and be with sadness, and feel sorrow. Maybe that's another way to move through loss.

Hey buddy--you know who you are--I'm sad. I feel terrible for your mother, who is devastated. You were a good egg, one of my favorite patients. And I will always remember you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Poem Falls into the Silence

As my husband is currently finishing up his Master's degree in Education, I found this appropriate.

Did I Miss Anything?

Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning

Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here

by Tom Wayman
From: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead
Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More gardens is good

See the garden grow!

I am winning the battle (but will always be losing the war) against weeds. I am very tickled to see all the growing that is happening outside our house. Sowing seeds is an act of faith, and I realize I seldom perform such acts (or at least, ones I notice so clearly). Some of them came up, and I was happily surprised. The roses are also MUCH happier than they were last year. I have yet to address their aphid problem, but they seem to be soldiering on. Funny how they grow so easily here. I grew up thinking of roses as the ultimate prissy flower, watching my mother try to baby them through the North Carolina heat, and the June bugs. So I watch my roses now with wary pleasure, ready to lecture them severely if they start acting uppity.

No uppity roses here. Look at all those greens! Salad, anyone?Peas. And beans. And tomatoes. Oh my.

My first poppy. And the first dahlia, which was supposed to be a late summer bloomer? Far be it for me to discourage you, dahlia, but it is June. Overachiever? Don't worry, me too.

We also planted a little rock garden with succulents in the strangely useless space between the house and the front walk. It sits under the eaves and hardly gets any rain. Perfect. All the succulents like it--they are blooming!

That's your garden update. No deep thoughts. Just dirt. Mmmm. Dirt.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


So, I promised a garden sequel. Let's revisit the house:

Here we are, the 1954 single-story ranch. The previous owner took very good care of the basics and left off the frills. The roof is solid, the foundation good. Inside, all the walls were white, the curtains were white, the kitchen was white, and the bathroom you have seen. Outside, all the ferns were sad and sunburnt. And at some point, the car was parked on the lawn. We didn't really get to a garden last year, but this year we were determined. The backyard is home to the mobile destruction module of doom (otherwise known as our 50lb tortoise, Rasputin) as well as the wild and wooly doglets, so we decided to keep the tender young veggies away from the depredations of our menagerie. Plus, less to mow! Behold:

Originally, there was simply lawn choking the iris and rose bushes, as well as a chain link fence. We have no photo records of the fence, as we prefer to erase its memory completely. Now we have the new flowerbed and two large raised beds for veggies. At some point, there may erupt another one or two beds on the other side of the (BLINDING!) white door. Not to mention maybe a new paint job for the house itself.

It has been lovely this spring, and I am jealous of all the flowering plants in other yards. I am partially assuaged that the people several houses down have a large magnolia tree with fuschia blossoms. I LOVE those trees, but they get quite large. So I can enjoy the blooms vicariously. Here's spring at my house, looking south.

That is, of course, my car in the foreground. I think about taking off the Cthulu sticker, but then it makes me giggle again. Maybe it's timeless. (You can't read it completely when you click on the picture, but the caption reads: "Why vote for the lesser evil? Vote Elder Party." Hee.)

Now, if only I had planted more daffodils last November. I'm a fan. As for the vegetables--this is why it's called a saga. You now, it continues...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Who am I? Where am I? What is this blog?

I claim amnesia. Really. I only just remembered who I am and that I used to write things on the internot (a Joelism).

FINE. Like all journals, diaries or other attempts at self chronicling I suck at consistency. Most of the time, my urge to write is driven by the grumpy part of me. As in, just another forum to bitch. But I refuse to use this space to whine constantly (or, as the Brits say, whinge--I love that expression), though I do reserve the right to do it occasionally. And I do believe heartily in self-editing, something that the current climate of blogging and twittering makes (sadly) unusual. I can whinge in my own head, but I don't really think YOU want to hear it. I'm usually just home from work when I have time to write, so I'm usually thinking about work and frustrations related to, etc. Also, I am trying (believe it or not) to be professional. While dealing with clients can be tiresome, and sometimes I just want to complain about my day and blow off steam, I take my job fairly seriously and believe that being in the medical field people don't want to hear you discuss their foibles and shortcomings (maybe this is a little different for a vet, since my true "patients" are hardly ever trying in the same way that their humans are, so I'm not usually directly talking about my patient). A doctor is someone you are supposed to trust. Sometimes we give them almost super-human status. This is a little bit too high of a standard (look into Atul Gawande's essays on medicine and learning); we do have to be human (and able to make mistakes), but since a blog is a semi-public forum, posting snarky stories about clients is different than complaining to a friend or even my own head. I certainly, even when discussing a difficult day, never use names to identify anyone.

Anyway, I've decided that what I enjoy about my friends' blogs is being able to keep tabs on the small joys and events that fill their lives. While I may not be very good at keeping up regularly, I can fill you in on a few things that have happened in the past few months.


When we moved in (March 2008), it looked like this:

The door is open in this picture, which is just as well since it's a vast expanse of hideous whiteness. One day to be changed, as will the strange pinky-brown (baby poop after beets?) color. It's a small house, 880 square feet, no basement or garage, but for all it's smallness it has an easy, open layout and a great backyard. Note the fern under the large window. Then note that the window in question faces west, which means we get a lot of very hot afternoon sun. Then consider the poor fern, who prefers damp and shade. Needless to say, he is happier after we transplanted him and his other hapless brethren to the forest behind the folks-in-law's house. Why people, why? Do you hate the fern?

Anyway. When we bought the house, the bathroom looked like this:
Note the lovely faux marble plastic shower insert. And look! An original wooden sashed window. IN the shower. WOODEN. With the cute little mini-shower curtain that together with the regular shower curtain created a vortex sucking effect so that when showering, you had to fend off an unwelcome and enthusiastic plastic hug from both sides. By the way, the depth of that tub is exactly 12 inches from basin bottom to edge. A true foot bath. And by my standards, woefully inadequate. I am an inveterate soaker. I had lived with no tub for exactly 2 years. Far too long, for someone that takes baths almost every day. Do you like the adorable shell sink? The cabinet was so rotten at the bottom that eventually the front board below the doors fell off. We still have the wooden toilet seat, I confess, but mostly this is just due to laziness.

We put in a new bathtub before we moved in. (This involved removing the wall in my closet, but I digress.) But the bathroom remained in state of transition for almost 7 months, sadly enough. We showered in plastic sheeting for longer than I'd like to remember. Finally, a good friend took pity (and now can claim my first born child), and over a series of 3 weeks helped me put this beast together. Here we are laying out tiles for one wall.

I designed the shower on graph paper first, although I really only specified where major tiles would go, and we added the different colored tiles at random when we laid the walls out on the floor.

I should mention that this project started because we have a fancy tile place in town called Pratt & Larson. Their tiles are often hand painted and cost a month's supply in groceries. Lucky for us, they have a seconds store which carries extras, slightly damaged or off color tiles. My mother-in-law has been collecting these tiles for a while, so I first got the idea to use them when we were looking through her collection. So I went over to the seconds store, found a color I liked, and bought a bunch of light green tile I wanted to use. But then, of course, the much ignored and hidden art major took over my motor centers and headed me into the fancy tile section. The rest is, as they say, history.

This is what the shower looked like before the tile. Note the new VINYL window that Joel installed. With privacy glass. As much as I miss that sensation of being encased in a wet plastic hug, we now know that there is a lack of water dripping through the wall and rotting the window frame and bracket beneath it.

The color is a little off in these pictures. This is the far left wall. You can see how at first, you start with a plank (one you hope is straight) and tile upwards. After that, it's masking tape to hold the tiles to the ones above them.

That's me in the bathtub finishing the bottom tiles.

Here's part of the final result. I tried to make a montage of several photos to give a sense of the whole, but can't apparently master the photo program well enough to get it to work. Plus, I'm just not that motivated to learn how, since just remembering the way my back felt after three weekends of mortar and grout makes me want to stop posting this. Needless to say, I very much like my shower now and try not to notice the little places where things are not quite aligned (did I mention my inner perfectionist and my inner artist are in league and give me no peace?). The best part? I can shower now.

Here you can see the new sink. I figure if we ever leave this house, I'll just have to carve out the shower and re-install it. On second thought--I guess we just won't move. The children will just have to sleep in the shed, as there are no more bedrooms in the house. It'll be like a clubhouse-- fun! I mean, we won't lock them out so that they can still come in and use the bathroom. It'll be fine. As it is, I'm planning on attaching hooks to the (future--not pregnant!) baby's clothing so that we can just hang it from the ceiling. If I use bungee cords, it'll be just like a home-made "Johnny Jump Up." Social Services will understand; I hear they're very nice.

So ends the bathroom saga. Next up: THE GARDEN EPISODE.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Light entertainment about food

Not really normal for me, so all the better. Thanks, Jessi!

The following is a list from a blogger who has challenged omnivores everywhere to try everything on this list once in their lifetime. I must admit, I shall never meet that challenge, but I had fun thinking about it.

Directions for fun:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison (I've had elk, and there is some venison in my freezer, but I haven't tried it yet)
2. Nettle tea (Ugh. Tea. I can't handle it unless there is cream and sugar. I was spoiled by that trip to London at the age of 10)
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht (Not a big fan, but I've eaten it. The best thing to do with beets, in my opinion, is to slice them, cook them, and then stab then, while saying in an evil creepy voice "BLEEDING BABY BEETS." Great fun when you are young and forced to eat beets. At least everyone suffers.)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari (YUM)
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (No wine for me, can't have sulfites)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras (Sorry, this is one food I won't eat for ethical reasons. I guess we all draw line somewhere. Plus it sounds gross. The liver is the body's detoxifier. I choose not to eat it.)
24. Rice and beans (I should technically cross this one out. I hate beans. But I'd eat it if I were really hungry, with less protest than some of the crossed out things.)
25. Brawn, or head cheese (Umm. No.)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (Eek. Mouth on fire! Bad pepper!)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas (see number 26. Except substitute peas in the last statement.)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (Actually, I really like clams. But they don't like me. After three entirely separate incidents, I got the message and stopped eating shellfish in general.)
33. Salted lassi (No salty drinks, please.)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float (Boy, I'm weird. I hate rootbeer. Funny how opinions are so strong and so individual. However, I love a coke float with chocolate ice cream--go figure).
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (No strong alcohol. I find it too strong and exceedingly bitter. Just ask my husband. Hey-he gets a designated driver built-in, mostly.)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (Vodka's about the only thing I can handle, since it is disguiseable. However, I'd just as soon have the Jell-O without the vodka)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (Maybe, but I doubt it)
43. Phaal (Again with the spicy. I'd eat curry, but I have wussy American taste buds, plus spicy make my mouth itch. Is that normal?)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (see number 36)
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala (My favorite Indian dish)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (The Krispy Kreme doughnut originated in my home town. One of the most divine items. But secretly, even better: take a slightly stale glazed Krispy Kreme, melt a little butter in a frying pan, and re-fry that doughnut. You CAN improve on perfection. Plus, I grew up in the South-everything's better fried.)
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear (Tastes like apple. Only more dangerous to eat.)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I probably have had certain portions of this, but I think I can safely say I've never eaten a Big Mac. Just the plain old cheeseburgers.)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (Revisit #36)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (ditto)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads (Being in the veterinary trade, just can't eat certain organs, sorry.)
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (Have smelled it, and that's as close as I EVER want to get.)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (Oh yes, all of these!)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (See 62. Actually, I'd much rather eat a thymus than offal. I've seen too much E.coli in my time to eat intestines.)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (Alkyhol. Nope.)
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu (Also alcohol)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (TEA--run away!)
80. Bellini (more alcohol)
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (Sorry Monty Python.)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa (Apparently spicy. No can do.)
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano (Have eaten, do not like.)
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (No coffee either--how do I survive?)
100. Snake

And people say I'm picky....well. Maybe. Truth is, I find many foods bitter that others like, such as the coffee and alcohol. Even coffee ice cream is gross to me. I have gotten a little better, since I can take a little coffee in my chocolate cake, but given a choice I'll eat some other dessert than tiramisu. And then there's the allergies--sulfites, clams. And did I mention the texture thing? Pudding, creme filled pastries, custard, yogurt--they all give me the gag factor. The bean thing? Kind of a combo texture bitter thing. Damn. I really do like a lot of foods, I swear. And I have a few thing to add to the list. I've eaten squirrel, octopus, conch, star fruit, tobikko, anchovies, green tea ice cream (hideous and awful, but I've had it), and an entire seven course dinner based on mushrooms. So much to eat. Mmmmmm. Too bad it's bedtime.

P.S. I'm sorry I had to remove all the links, but I'm not versed enough in html to make the blog do what I want (namely bold, link AND keep things the same damn color at the same time) and with the links the format was getting confusing. So if you need to n=know what the heck everything is, either Wiki it, or go back to the original blog page (linked above), where everything is linked still.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Funny way to start a blog post after almost a year, I guess. But this week has been dramatic, making me wonder if there's something about the end of March that I should hide from next year (considering my March of 2007), or just sort of pushing me back into needing to say something about life by shouting it into the electronic soup.

Part the first. This has been one of those death/crisis weeks at work. As a veterinarian you do see plenty of death, and plenty of heartbreaking diseases and/or circumstances that lead to death. You don't get used to it, and you shouldn't. The best news for anybody who wants to get out of the ER and into private practice is that 1) you see way less death and, 2) often it has more meaning because the animals you see that are dying you know, you grieve for. Maybe number 2 should make it sound worse, but somehow, at least for me, it isn't. It's not easy, and it sometimes makes me cry later on that night, at home, where I try to leave work behind, but there's something noble? ethical? at least decent about providing that one final service for a patient; making it as quick and as peaceful as possible, and providing their family with compassion and understanding during a tragic and heart-rending decision.

Many weeks, I see no grieviously ill patients at all. It's been quite some time since I euthanized a patient, and I am grateful to the universe for that. And yet, this week many dear and beloved patients have struggled to their utmost and failed. The elderly dog with terrible immune-mediated joint disease that finally no longer responded to medication. The neurologic dog who howled and circled and stumbled all night. The 21 year old, 5 pound cat whose kidneys finally failed her. And we have had some near misses with grave undertones: the newly diagnosed congestive heart failure dog; the ferret with abdominal effusion likely from cancer; the ferret with a blood sugar too low to measure. Somehow this week has felt less like "the universe hates us" or perhaps "why do bad things happen to good people" and more like a gentle "all things end in their time; acquiesce to the slow march of time." I don't really know why, because I have definitely spent a lot of time in the why do bad things happen camp, but I am moved profoundly and quietly by this sense of grace in the face of grief.

Part the second. Several of my friends may be emotionally where I was last year; stunned, broken and full of doubt. From relationships lost to abrupt loss of future paths, this week has been scattered with little emotional shock-waves. To those I love I send as much support as I can. Whether that be talk or not, a silly card, or complete disregard of the subject at hand and a deep insightful discussion of the best easter candy to be had in the US, I'm there. It's spring here in Oregon, please call.