Nothing beats accidentally eating a nut (for a nut-allergy person) to give an exciting kick to a vacation.

I write this at 35 thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, where blue and clouds stretch as far as the eye can see, warily sipping my coffee and hoping the remediation I put into place for said nut, worked. Because there is no wifi on the plane, if you read this, it worked.

As part of our trip we were given first class seats by my newly minted father-in-law (thank you Gary!!), and not only is there fancy breakfast on the plane in first class, there is fancy two-course breakfast. I opted for only course one: fruit plate and a pastry. The pastry that arrived on my fruit plate did not have immediate visible nuts; it looked like a bran muffin. I eyeballed the male person and boychild’s pastry, which looked like a pastry (complete with icing and almond slivers), and then eyeballed the innocuous-looking bran muffin. I asked the cabin steward if it had nuts and he said, “Hm, let me check”, wandered off into the kitchen, wandered back and said, “No, it doesn’t have nuts.” I asked the male person to take a bite out of the muffin to test it, and he said he didn’t taste any, and the lady on his other side chimed in that it was “just a bran muffin”. I cut the muffin into four pieces, saw no nuts, and proceeded to throw caution to the wind.

You think I’d learn.

About six minutes later I had eaten most of the muffin when the telltale “crunch” happened. Leveraging a couple of napkins, I declined to swallow, and then sat back in my chair wondering if, in the earlier bites, I had gotten one. I sat and wondered if I was being silly, if I was imagining things, if the itchiness in my throat really was because we slept all night with the AC on (after all, it was itchy when we drove to the airport). I gave up and decided to settle the matter once and for all.

The first class loo has orchids on the little table, and is infinitely cleaner than the economy class loo.

Aside from this, the flight has been an absolute treat. Coffee is served in real mugs, juice and water are in real glasses. The seat width accommodates me and should I so choose, my bag; the legroom is luxuriant. When we had got to the airport we were the beneficiaries of Microsoft’s dedicated check-in line (in the first-class section but leveragable even if you are not flying first class) and expedited security. I can complain about the lack of wifi I suppose, but I just don’t think that can happen in trans-oceanic flights. Besides, this is the first vacation I have taken in 11+ years where I do not have my work laptop, nor do I have work email on my phone (I disconnected Exchange from my iPhone). I had planned, right up to the end, to bring my work laptop “just in case”… but the unfortunate reality is my laptop bag can carry either two laptops, or one laptop plus necessities. The decision was made for me.

Which brings me to some real introspection as to why I (and many of my compatriots) feel the need to bring a laptop with me and/or stay connected to work when on holiday. My father had an interesting point: the kind of people who need that connectivity usually do so because they either “live” their work, or they feel they “have” to in order to make up in quantity what they lack in quality. (If you’re under the impression that my father is an extremely frank talker, you’re right). He has a point: I’m guilty of both. In the case of the former, I usually take a job with the view that someone is paying me to do something, and it is a reflection of my name and reputation the work I put out. So I get emotionally invested in work, at least to a degree, which I am certain has shown itself in one or more meetings or email missives. Alternately, I have enjoyed extremely flexible schedules at these positions, which leads me to wanting to demonstrate accessibility in return for those flexible schedules. I’ve had people marvel at email response at 3am and 7am and 11pm; that is a combination of drive, excitement about the product/project, and raging insomnia.

What does it mean, then, that I can blithely leave my work behind for nearly ten days? A certain degree of comfort: I am working in a company where they trust me to be on deck when I’m on deck, and they seem to actually want me to unplug when I ought. If they really, really need to get ahold of me, it’s not to build a PowerPoint deck or fix a TFS ticket or build a spreadsheet, it’s going to be so they can rent by brain (which they can do via cell phone, in an emergency). This has not always been the case and I’m both excited and nervous at the prospect.

Or maybe that’s the nut.

Please Stand By

Greetings from Chicago O’Hare, and my second time EVER being here not as a business traveler. Bonus points for the food court between K and G gates.

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and we left Seattle at midnight local time “last night”; ergo, we are running on about three hours’ sleep. The reality of flying to a non-major city (hello, Jacksonville) is you either spend your entire day, or your entire night, flying, because you’re going to be stopping over someplace that is not quite but almost entirely out of any reasonable travel path between your points A and B. In this case to maximize our time with family and fun, we are spending the entire night. It’s not completely awful.

If you think about it, one of the most common ways to placate the boredom, frustration, and general weariness associated with modern travel, is your electronic leash. It may be a laptop; it may be an iPhone or a Crackberry. It used to be a book, but books are losing this race. I am sitting at our gate and follow me around the room: teenager across from me on iPhone. His Dad on iPhone. Behind him, lady with full back and arm tattoos (thanks to her tank top) pulling her cell phone out of her bag. Business lady on an iPad. Businessman on a Blackberry. Other businessman eating, iPhone, iPhone while eating, iPad, something-not-quite-an-iPad but not a Kindle, either.

Our connectivity gives us the opportunity to not connect with others. Anyone stuck in an elevator with (shudder) other humans will note two things: 1. The propensity for an elevator full of strangers to be, in fact, an elevator full of strangers looking at their smartphones, and 2. That the people in the elevator, in the absence of interpersonal communication thread active as they entered the elevator, will space themselves out as far apart from each other as possible. (E.g., if there’s one person in the elevator they’re dead center or in the corner. If there are two, you have upper corner and rear opposite corner. Three are usually one in front middle, two in the rear corners. Four = all four corners. Five = all four corners plus one in middle. And so on.) If ever you’re bored and don’t mind messing with other people’s personal space (and yours), deliberately defy this mechanism.

Yours truly is on her laptop, as it is my electronic babysitter as we wait at the gate for a couple of hours. This is wholly unremarkable with the exception that I know, coming up, I will have a day without connectivity.

I tried, the other night, to trace back how long I’ve had some form of connectivity (to the internet, I suppose), and as best as I can figure that started when I moved back up to Washington and started working for Premera. I think we’re looking at Spring 2001. But the connectivity wasn’t all-encompassing, all-binding until I started working for Expedia, 3 years later. I’ve had a blog since 2005 (not this one), “smartphone” of some sort since 2006, a Twitter account since 2007.

Nine years at Expedia trained me to expect emails 24/7 (this is the boon to working for an international company and having international internal customers). Moving  to Sur La Table has meant a dearth of weekend email. After about 6pm on a Friday it slows to a halt, and doesn’t kick up again (apart from automatic job notifications) until Monday morning. Twice now I have sent myself a test email to my work account to verify that it’s still working.

My addiction to this connectivity is starting to get noticed, and, while normally the recipient of a shaking head or an arched eyebrow, has spawned a bet by Grog the Luddite (Grog works with me, sits in what is referred to the “Man Cave Annex”, and does not understand addiction to connectivity. For “fun”, Grog went to Montana to go do crazy physical acts – like carrying other grown men for ½ mile – in high heat). Grog has declared that for a full 24 hour period, I am not to have any connectivity. To test myself. Like an alcoholic preparing for a day without booze I’m already nervous and wondering what my coping mechanisms will be. It will help that the day selected is a day we’re at the Magic Kingdom all day, right? Well no, because then I don’t get to do my Foursquare check-ins. And what about using Yelp reviews to pick the better eating options? And what if something happens at work?

Because that’s the real crux: what if something happens at work, and they need me, and I’m not available? That’s bad enough. What if something happens at work, and they don’t need me – or discover I’m not needed? Ridiculous, yes, but when you love your job that’s the irrational fear that comes with it.

So Friday it is. From Thursday night whenever I hit the rack, to the following Saturday morning when I awake, I will be totally, and completely, offline. The phone will be on to receive calls, but all email accounts will be turned off, cellular data will be turned off, and my phone will just…be a phone. By way of publishing this now, I am that alcoholic putting in place an integrity check: I’ve SAID I’m going to do it, now I have to do it.

I honestly don’t know what my reaction will be. I wonder if I’ll be irritated by the lack of convenience – or if like a mosquito bite I ignore it long enough I simply forget it? I will be sure to blog all about it… on Saturday.

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself


Having nonchalantly signed up for Tough Mudder (NB: I didn’t actually yet sign up for it but I said I would so I will), I was initially apprehensive at the idea of a cold ice bath and a bout of electroshock therapy. But I spent a portion of this flight (greetings from 35k feet) actually looking at the event obstacles, both volume and detail, and see that there’s a whole lot of scary in store for my teammates and me.

Tough Mudder is aptly named, and aside from a couple of obstacles that include electrocution, and a couple (or 4) more that include ice baths, there are several that include enclosed spaces, and a few that involve heights. Oh, wonderful. It’s like someone gift-wrapped all of the things that freak me out and handed it over in one giant muddy package.

I can handle bugs, spiders, pretty much any liquid that comes out of an animal (thanks to a small child and a Zoology degree), heights that will kill me, the dark, speed, guns, knives, the unknown, and swimming with sharks. But while ice baths and electrocution are unsavory, confined spaces and heights that will only break a bone or two scare the high holy crap out of me. I have no idea how to train for this, except that this will be 10-12 miles of “suck it up and deal”.

Seemingly unrelated, but totally not, is a book I picked up recently that discusses (among other things) the value of “stuff” vs. the value of “experiences”. The bottom line is that we value the “experience” more than the “stuff” for the same dollar output. “Stuff” doesn’t necessarily make us happier, but “experiences” do; even people who do arduous, un-fun things reflect back on them and value the experience. (Anyone who has given birth or finished a physical event they weren’t really prepared for — cough — can testify to it having been a lot more fun AFTER it’s over).

I’m clinging to this. To be absolutely, perfectly frank, I want to quit this event before it’s even started, because I know not only what it will mean in terms of preparation, but that at some point I’m going to be stuck in a small, enclosed, dark space; I will be cold, I will feel useless, and I will want to quit, and the only reason I won’t is that I’m too stubborn to do so.

Here we go…

A Did Not Equal B. I Don’t Know Y, Either

Someone very dear to me told me about a year ago that I kept succeeding and succeeding at things, and one day, I was going to fail at something, and it would be interesting to see how I took it. Sad to say, that time has come. I bombed my Calculus test. (Please do not read a Perfectionist’s “I got less than an A” into this). The fact of the matter is I went IN to the midterm with a 98.5% cumulative grade in my homework assignments and discussion groups. (Yes, you can have discussion groups in Calculus. Yes, they’re about as stimulating as you may think.)

I left the midterm with a 74% in the class.

You don’t have to have taken Calculus, or anything other than some very basic Algebra, to know that I bombed the midterm. Here’s the rub: math is cumulative. So how could I get all of the homework *right*, but the test so very, very wrong?

“Taking Calculus online is probably the hardest way to learn it”, my teacher had warned us. Still, I went in feeling confident, I left the test thinking I may have gotten two (2) problems incorrect, and so the grade was a shock to me.

I withdrew from the class.

The numbers are thus: I could have stayed IN the class (I’m taking another one), been a metric stressbunny, and possibly toiled enough to bring that grade up to a B –*if* I aced the next Midterm, *if* I aced the Final. Statistically speaking that would mean one thing would have to give in my life — and since I can’t give on motherhood and work pays the bills, school had to give. I’m still taking my other class (that one still have my A, thanks, the midterm isn’t until this Wednesday — I’ll be taking it from Rome) but, given current conditions, I can’t take a class where the context is not intuitive… or at least not right now.

Many friends recommended Khan Academy, which I will likely play with as I get a little more time; but quitting and/or failing at something (it amounts to the same thing) was a huge disappointment and I didn’t take it well. It got bad enough to where I was wondering if I was having a midlife crisis, then I realized at 39 I am in fact, mid-life, and things really got ugly for a couple of hours whilst I wallowed in self-pity and the belief that I wouldn’t amount to anything.

It’s been about five days since my reality check and I am feeling better — a lot of peripheral stress died down and I realized that I can still take classes and still toddle on to the goal — just perhaps a bit slower, and without the ability to phone it in.

I took it as a sine.

Burn, baby, Burn

As per usual, I find myself horribly sunburnt. As per usual, my son is a light tan color. 

This time we stayed at the Hyatt Grand Cypress, which is gorgeous and had more amenities than we could possibly use (climbing wall, full gym, golf,  bikes, shuttle to the major parks). It had the Orlando-typical waterfall pools (complete with waterslide), great pool service (THANK YOU VONDA AND EDWARD!), and wonderful restaurants. (Note: when the chef comes out of the kitchen and hands your son a chef’s hat that he can keep and then talks cooking with you for like 15 minutes, you feel pretty awesome).

We spent three days at Magic Kingdom, including obligatory Pirate Adventure Makeup and 3 back-to-back turns on Space Mountain, and one day Harry Pottering at Universal. Note: I don’t care how bad you feel about whatever may be going on at work or in your personal  life, it’s hard to not grin like an idiot after 3 rides on Space Mountain.

It was hard coming back home. It was very hard getting on the scale. :p

Frankly France

My boss is French. My skip-level is French. And I think I’m becoming a closet francophile, but NOT because of them. We had an offsite.

In Lyon, France.

For those not in the know — which, until about a week ago, included yours truly — Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. I was there for 4 days and gained approximately 1 pound per day, and so we can all acknowledge that this was due to the fantastic food. I ate everything and then some, and in a country where bread is served at every meal (and contains only the classic ingredients — none of this corn syrup business or dough conditioners, thank you very much), this was no small feat. Oh, and the wine.

The Wine!

As I stated, my bosses (plural) are french. And so when it came time for wine to be decided, the menu was handed to them, and after a studied reflection of the menu and nonverbal cues between them, they’d summon the wait staff and give them the cursory order. In French. In other words, I couldn’t understand a bit, and so I can’t repeat what they ordered, but everything tasted wonderful. (In the states I eschewed French wines as “dusty” — not a speck of it in France. Not sure what is up with that!)

I see I’m babbling. Let me go at it chronologically:

After a day of travelling — Seattle to Heathrow, Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, CDG to Lyon via train — I checked into my hotel (the Radisson Blu, which has unparalleled views in Lyon and quite the nice breakfast!). It was 10pm at this time, and the short walk from the train station allowed me to see the perfect pinks and oranges of the sun as it set. Bracing myself for “French disdain of the American”, I asked the concierge downstairs for restaurant recommendations.

I was presented in a charming and friendly manner with a map, highlighted directions, and two options: did Madame want something “safe”, or did Madame want something traditionally Lyonnaise? Madam indicated Lyonnaise, because I am not about to let a little jet lag in the way of Madame’s sense of adventure. A right from the hotel, and then the next right, and then a left, down two blocks: I found myself at a not-very-distinguishable bistro on a cobblestoned lane.

I was one of 3 tables at that time: a french couple having a romantic dinner, a set of Americans doing their best to keep all sorts of boisterous clichés in place, and then, well, me. The waiter switched to nearly-flawless English (and not in a disdaining way) when he discovered my French was non. He did want to make sure I understood what I was ordering as I was picking it out of a French menu but fortunately French is a Latin-based language and I can understand it just fine, I can’t speak it. Anyway, chicken with mushrooms and a side of ratatouille, and an okay bordeaux was dinner. It was beautiful (hey Kevin — the ratatouille was WAY better than that one we did, so we may need to revisit that at one of the HP get togethers), and then there was dessert.

Oh yes I did. I’m sorry, but my weight loss programme does not extend beyond the borders of the US, and so tarte tatin it was, and it was AMAZING. That, and coffee in a little demitasse cup.

Sated, I went back to my room… and woke up promptly at 5am. With the local gym not open until 8am, and no power converter (the three that I had brought with me did not work, and the person in charge of adapters at the hotel was not in until 9), I went for a run. Lyon is an excellent place to run — the walkways are wide, it’s mostly flat, and you cannot help but look at amazing architecture, beautiful scenery, and it’s cool in the morning even on a summer day. I only did about 4km — the knee is messed up again (that is another post for another time). However, it helped me feel better about the caloric intake of the night before.

I will say nothing of the meetings in Lyon that I was there for because they are proprietary to my company, with the exception that they were incredibly productive and useful. I was surprised because usually these sorts of things are endless power point decks and stifled yawns, but by day 3 we were still active and passionate about what we were doing, and had come to a better understanding of how each wheel works in this little clock of ours. I came home with 7 pages of notes.

At any rate, each day had breakfast in the hotel — oh, the cheese! — and a prearranged luncheon. Dinners were out on the town with the bosses, and that was where the careful wine menu scrutiny/ordering took place. Dinner conversation was equally as pleasantly a surprise as the meetings themselves: our party included two from Hong Kong, one from Amsterdam, two from London, the aforementioned two French, a few Americans, an Italian Australian, an Italian Italian, a Swede, and three from India (originally). I discovered many things, including that restaurant service and gratuity expectation/practice varies widely globally, that personal space in social situations does as well, and that the US is sorely behind in languages for its children. Case in point: my colleague from Amsterdam had mandatory Dutch and English until she was 10. Then French was added in. Two years later, so was German. She took Latin and Greek for fun.

(If you’re counting that as six languages, let’s take note that she knew a handful of words in other languages including Spanish and Italian).

At any rate: Lyon was pretty, with a variety of architectural styles but mostly consisting of the beige stucco/stonework and reddish-tan roofing, most buildings not exceeding 4 or 5 stories. We visited the local cathedrals (the two biggies, anyway), if I can get them off of my iPhone I will post pictures.

In short: Lyon is a 2-hour train from Paris and worth it.

As to Paris: I spent half of one day there (by the time I got the train and metro sorted out). In that half of a day I saw the Arc de Triomphe (larger than expected, and there were people at the top, which I hadn’t realized was possible), walked down the Champs-Elysees (endless shopping possibilities, but I’m not a shopper and people were thick — in both senses of the word), walked around the Louvre (not in it, I’m afraid, time being what it was), and down to Notre Dame (did walk in, it is GORGEOUS).  If you’ve ever seen the TV Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, you will learn how they figured out how to make the heavy stone archways (and not have them pulled down by gravity and killing people, for example) or the architectural purpose of flying buttresses; and this makes the Notre Dame all the more impressive. That, and the realization that all of that lovely colored glass was done without chemicals — or not the way we think of them. For example, did you know that in order to get RED glass you need gold?

I didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower, as I dawdled (dawdled??) in my walking — the architecture in Paris is AMAZING. You can tell the difference in building ages just by their accoutrements — who has gargoyles, who has scrollwork, what kind of columns were in fashion. Some buildings are relatively new — say, mid-1900’s– and about twenty feet wide, having been risen between two older buildings that formerly may have had garden space between the two. Cobblestone streets abound, and the smell of everything is in the air. I don’t know a better way to describe it, but I’m in love, I truly am.

My only dinner in Paris I had close to my hotel (Hotel Ampere, 17th arrondissement, absolutely beautiful in and out) and was a fixed-price with some choices. I sat outside, so as to watch the people walking by — I love people watching — and had a very leisurely dinner. The service was very friendly and attentive, I had to ask the people to my left — four older French people, two older couples — if tipping was okay or would elicit offense. I had to do this in Spanish as it was the only common language we had, their English being only fractionally better than my French. (I am not dissing them at all — at least they spoke another language! Never mind two. America, we need to catch up!) After some discussion, they agreed that the service was very good, and that leaving service (propina in spanish) was okay — in this instance. Of course she would not be offended, I just needed to realize this was only done when it was *really good*, not as a matter of course.

Morning came on my last day, with enough time for a quick breakfast and then 4 Metro lines (kinda like our subway system) to the RER train, back to my flight. In all, travel on my last day took 22 hours. I was very happy to see my bed.

I will be seeing France again though. I politely informed the male person this morning we are going back and spending some real-time there. He took it rather well.

An Open Letter of Apology to My Spin Class Instructor… the New One

Dear Instructor Deb,

I know I’m not in class right now, and you need to know what happened, because I LOVE your class. I love the music (that remix of Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious? the one with the Indian drums and guitars? Is AWESOME!). I love you (in a totally platonic, non lesbian way). I love the new bikes. I love the old bikes. You have singlehandedly (or double wheeldly) made me love the gym.

And I’m not there today. I won’t be there next week, either.

I went to a Sports Medicine Doctor today. I went there, because last weekend after finishing up an hour on the bike I decided, HEY! I totally signed up for a 5k in May, I should see what I can do on the treadmill. After three steps– at 5mph, we’re not talking fast– it really did feel like someone was stabbing me in the knee. This is not good, you will totally agree, so I decided to see a sport medicine doctor. My Sport Medicine Doctor — Madame le Docteur, actually, as she is Quebeqois — is awesome. I totally stole her from my friend Kevin. At any rate, today was my appointment with Madame le Docteur.

Madame le Docteur first asked me about symptoms, so I told her about the last two half marathons, and the triathlon, and the giving up running in early 2010, and the attempt at running. I told her about pain-free cycling, about painful cycling, and about how much I love my ibuprofen. I told her about the spectacular crunching noises my knee makes going downstairs but not up, about how I feel cold in my knees. She asked me when I started feeling pain and I said about 3-6 months ago, I noticed after a good hard spin class I’d be a bit swollen and it would be a bit tender. She raised a Gallic eyebrow and looked at me: “You mean to say, you knew you had pain in your knees, and you decided then to run?” I totally felt like I was in school.

Madame le Docteur (ok, we’re going to refer to her as MlD, for ergonomic’s sake) next instructed me to put on a pair of shorts. As I didn’t come equipped with any, she handed me a pair of oversized men’s boxers– printed with Spongebob Squarepants. I knew I liked her when I entered her office and saw it very zen, with draperies and cool paint colors and I wasn’t one of fifteen people she was seeing that hour. But when she handed me the Spongebob? I knew I liked her.

She tsk’d tsk’d over my pronation (known to me) and after various assessments (the sounds my left knee make are painful to hear, even for MlD, and she made me stop after 1/2 of one lunge), she declared:

  • It is highly likely my left leg is longer than my right
  • I am highly over pronated
  • The orthodic inserts assigned to me from my former Podiatrist are crap
  • I need six weeks of physical therapy, 2x/week, at minimum
  • That my last round of physical therapy was NOT what you do if you want to keep your knees. Those Bulgarian Split Squats? Yeah, those aren’t cool.
  • I need a bike fitting
  • I need new orthodics (duh)
  • I need Xrays
  • I need to learn how to McConnel tape my kneecap
  • I may not exercise (bike or run) without taping first
  • I have to wear an anti-inflammatory patch on my knee 24×7 for at least a week. This is different from what they’ll put on there in physical therapy.

And now the good news: I will be able to do STP. As long as I do what she says.

“We are going to make you work very hard”, she said in her stern french accent. “If you want it you will need to work for it.” Well.  I certainly will have to.

If only to make all of the @%(^#*$ appointments.  But let the record state: I really love M. le Docteur. Oui.

Tail End of a Wagon

Remember that part in Indiana Jones, where he’s being dragged behind the truck, through gravelly road, hanging on by his whip?

Harrison Ford actually did that stunt, although he was given extra clothing and they pre-dug a ditch for him to “ride” in. Somehow gravel down the front of your shirt at however many miles per hour doesn’t sound like a good idea, though.

I feel like that lately. Halloween came and went way too quickly, and I am inundated with Christmas decorations throughout Target and any other retail outlet (except, comfortingly, Trader Joes). Folks, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

At work, the machine is inexorably charging to the end of the year, an amalgamation of metrics, goals, initiatives, and projects, culminating in an end-of-year event in Las Vegas in which I must present (both personally and professionally). At school, the first progress reports have come out but the schooling gets harder, the volume of new things increases and the personal responsibility the boy must have increases — making the winter break a fantastical respite not only for the holidays (for he celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas) but for the break from seven hours of daily seating and applying oneself. At home, we are contending with the recent passing of a beloved grand (and great grand)mother as well as the imminent passing of the family pooch; it’s very unlikely she’ll make it to her 10th birthday (Christmas Eve).

Let’s not even get into my sporadic ability to get to the gym — four times last week, but it’s becoming a real project to get it in this week.

I’m attempting to slow down the truck — or at least add speed bumps — by putting new and interesting things here and there. For example, Thursday evening I am going to the Pacific Northwest Ballet to see the All Tharp programme. I have no idea if I’ll like it, the idea hit while listening to Twyla Tharp being interviewed on KUOW’s Weekday with Marcie Sillman.  I have a front-row, far right of stage seat. I will be able to see the dancers up close and personally, but at a hyper angle.

I’ve gone through my annual list of things I planned to do and learn this year — I still do not know how to drive a stick shift, I still do not know how to ski or snowboard (I think I’ll change that to snowshoeing or cross-country ski).  I’m not sure if adding these things is going to slow the wagon down enough for me to get on, or speed it up so I fall off.

Either way, I will still be contending with accelerated gravel a bit longer.

Whimper Whimper

I met with the surgeon today.

Apparently, adenocarcinoma sucks and what sucks about it is its metastatic rate (it gets big and ugly fast) and its recursion rate (it comes back, even if you get the whole tumor; you have to make sure you have “clean margins”* and even that is no guarantee). What sucks particular in Kumi’s case is that the tumor is right on, and around, her sphincter. I realize that may be too much information for you, but as the surgeon put it: there is a very good chance that she is going to be incontinent for life if he has to snip both nerves that control the sphincter.

The normal surgical method to ensure clean margins is to excise a gratuitous amount of tissue around the tumor — so if it were on her back, for example, he’d cut out a good half-inch all the way around, and just sew it up. But because it’s on her sphincter, he can’t do that. And if he is trying to get as close as possible to the edge of the tumor, it means the chances of getting good clean margins goes way down.

Further adding to the equation is that “rest of her life” — statistically, dogs with adenocarcinoma have an average of 8 months post-surgery. Without surgery she has a “few weeks to a few months”. There is no more accurate way to look at it, because of the nature of the cancer. And with the recursion rate post-surgery, and her age (she’s 9yrs 9mos, the average Malamute lives to 9-11 years), it wasn’t a good sign that the usually optimistic surgeon was telling me about all the tough decisions he’s had to make with his pets. (Veterinary surgeons are among the most optimistic people in the world — they have to be, because of all of the complications that surgery brings). He kept bringing up “quality of life” and “there’s no good way to go” and “I tell my wife that one of these days we’ll be lucky and have one of our pets go peacefully in their sleep”. 

*Clean margins – they excise the tumor and send it to the lab. The idea is as they slice it, all of the exterior edges should have noncancerous cells.


I was in New York last week, where I took full advantage of my hotel’s gym, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

I was going to talk about the travel aspect of New York, having decided that I travel more than I enroll for events, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

I have a sinus infection courtesy of the Newark-Seattle Continental flight I took, and that will very likely kill my ability to do the triathlon this Sunday, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

I have a dog. Actually, I have two, but I have a dog named Kumi that I raised from a puppy. She has spent the last five years being raised solely by me, and being a very good girl. I have taught her new tricks in the last few years (Stay — while waving a cookie in the face) and subjected her to a second dog (dubious choice but that’s done) and she’s been the only constant thing in my life in the last five years. She is nearly ten years old.

I found out yesterday she has cancer. What looked like a small lump on her rear (and appeared quite suddenly) is a tumor, and little bits of it are out to a pathology lab for testing. Bloodwork was done as well and that is out for testing.  She can have one of two kinds of cancer: one that’s annoying, will require surgery, and probably some lifelong(?) discomfort in her hind end.

The other means, as the vet put it, “we have to talk about solutions for her comfort”.

I know that talk, and I know she’s hedging, because I used to work in a vet clinic. The first day I worked there I watched an old man have to put his lab down, and the last day I worked there I watched a little boy bring in his dead bunny. It was 18 months of bad smells, pain, and lessons in emotional restraint. She is required to look on the bright side, but as soon as she took the biopsy and it bled, she said, “Well that’s not good”.

Kumi, aside from the aforementioned lump, looks like she always has. She’s lost a little weight, and she’s a little slower than she used to be, but she’s nearly 10 and that is expected. She still wags her tail, still runs around like mad given the opportunity, still eats all of her food and will happily help you with yours.

I don’t want to think about what “solutions for her comfort” means even though I know what they are. It means how long do you want to see your puppy alive and to what expense of their pain threshold or their ability to get around and remain continent. It means that it’s very likely that at some point, I am going to have to be the decider.

I really, really don’t want to be.