Losing spark

Posted by barb on Apr 22, 2011 in Family, Random Thoughts

It might just be me, but I’ve always felt that I have a bit of a spark. It could be that my spark is a love of life, or maybe a love of other people (as long as they aren’t behind the wheel of a car). Maybe it’s the humor I tend to find in life. The spark manifests itself differently in different contexts, but in general, it means that I always have a smile for friends and strangers alike. I also am usually ready to give people a laugh when its appropriate (and occasionally when it’s not). While I’m not the most social person, I’d like to think that when I do interact with others that I pass along a little bit of my spark.

I feel like my spark is being snuffed out. I no longer want to even look at other people – friend or stranger. Honestly, I could go through a few days without talking or looking at anyone else. I don’t feel like getting out of the house. I don’t want to go to the movies. I don’t want to scrapbook. I don’t want to sew. I don’t want to do a puzzle. I don’t want to play video games. I want to sleep. I want to cry. I want to just shut the world out.

I know that this is just depression from everything that has gone on in the past couple months. I’m hoping that the spark will come back in time. But I’m starting to see how “those people” become “those people”, because if I just gave in, I’d become one, too.



Holding Pattern

Posted by barb on Mar 17, 2011 in Random Thoughts

I am not really grieving my Dad yet. Instead I’m still in a holding pattern, emotionally.

The last time we had a death in the family, I remember being in “project mode” in the days leading up to the funeral. During this time we were so busy making plans for the funeral and viewing that there was little time to completely break down (which is not to say there weren’t complete break-downs, but they were limited due to knowing that we had a lot to do). Then after the funeral is when everything really started to sink in, and we truly started to say our good-byes and come to terms with our loss.

With Dad we can’t yet start to let things sink in. Why? Because he left Mom in a huge financial mess. Without getting into details, let’s just say that there’s money owed to the IRS and there is no equity in the house. Basically Mom has nothing besides her social security income.

So, instead of starting to mourn Dad, we are still in crisis mode: where is Mom going to live? Can she bring her cats? What do we do with Dad’s personal stuff? Normally they recommend that you don’t make big decisions for a year after such a loss, but we don’t have that luxury – we can’t afford the house beyond April.

We are also mad at Dad for leaving Mom in such a state. I know that he didn’t mean to leave her like this. He had no intention of leaving us right now – he had made lots of plans for his recovery and beyond. The main reason he was in such dire straights is because the economy is in the shitter and the construction business isn’t doing very well right now (Dad was a carpenter). But its hard not to be mad, especially because he hid from Mom just how far in the crapper their finances were.

The only ray of sunshine is that we have a friend of the family who deals with closing estates. He’s helping us to navigate this confusing time, and going to make sure that Mom gets the most out of her social security as she can.

I’m afraid for when I leave crisis mode – I know this is going to hit me pretty hard. But for now I’m just exhausted, angry, and in a holding-pattern.

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Not what we expected

Posted by barb on Mar 12, 2011 in Random Thoughts

Please hug your loved ones a little tighter today….and every day. I will warn you in advance that this journey does not have a happy ending.

I’m writing this from my Mom’s house in Minnesota. I came here on Tuesday, March 1st to be in town for my Dad’s heart surgery. He was going to have a valve replaced and a bypass on Wedesday (March 2).

Dad was almost cocky going into the surgery – assumed he’d be in the ICU for a couple days, then in a regular room for a few days, then heading home. He had made plans for his recovery at home, purchasing a foot-operated recliner, since he wouldn’t be able to operate a regular one for a few weeks. He also had a TV installed in his room on the main level, since he wouldn’t be able to get the basement for a while. I planned originally to stay until Friday, when we thought he’d get out of the ICU. I figured at that point I would be fairly comfortable leaving Dad, knowing that he was on the mend.

On that Tuesday, Mom and Dad (along with my niece, Anya) picked me up from the airport after an informational class about recovering from heart surgery. During the afternoon, Dad was busy making sure that things were in order at the house so Mom would have a relatively easy time while he was in the hospital and during his recovery. This included a trip to the car repair shop, where the owner gave him a loaf of focaccia bread – somehow Dad always knew which day the owner would have fresh bread! That evening, we decided to go out for dinner, Dad, Mom and I. We went to Pizza Luce in St. Louis Park, and had a fun time. (Mom and I obsessed for a while about a closed-off door near our table, until the waitress opened it up for us to see that it was just another dining room.)

We had an early-morning on Wednesday, needing to get Dad to the hospital by 5:30 AM. The whole family showed up to see Dad off, including Dad’s best friends, Dick and Sharon. We took a picture in the waiting room.

The family seeing Dad off to his surgery

They took Dad back to get him in his hospital gown, and ready to be wheeled off to the OR. Before they took him, we were able to see him one last time.

Dad ready to be wheeled off to surgery

As they wheeled him off, we all sent him with well-wishes – he didn’t want us to say good-bye. My last words to him while he was conscious were, “I’ll see you soon, Dad,” along with a big hug.

From there, the family went to the hospital waiting room. Mom was issued a beeper along with a list of the events that would trigger the beeper, such as entering the OR, Dad being put on the heart and lung machine, closing OR. We were also issued a number for Dad that would appear on a computer screen telling us about those same events. The surgery was supposed to last about 6 hours.

Our first clue that things were going awry was about 6 hours after the surgery started. Dad had not entered closing, and was still listed as on the heart and lung machine. Mom got a page shortly after that and went to talk with a nurse (?) about Dad. Turns out that the repair and bypass had gone fairly well, but they were having trouble stabilizing Dad’s blood pressure to get him off of the heart and lung machine. They had also discovered that his aorta was slightly damaged, so were doing some kind of repairs to that.

Finally, around 6 or 7PM, Dad was finally out of surgery and brought up to the surgical ICU. The surgeon came to talk with us about the surgery and Dad’s current state. It turns out that Dad’s bad valve was much thicker than a normal valve – a normal one is cellophane-thin; Dad’s was a good half-inch thick. Because his heart had to work so hard to push blood through that valve, his heart beefed up (the surgeon called it a “Schwarzenegger” heart). Unfortunately, in beefing up, one of his heart chambers became much smaller than it should be. The surgeon was surprised that Dad had come into the hospital under his own steam. This, and the damage to the aorta, were all surprises during the surgery.

Because Dad had been on the heart and lung machine so long, he had taken in a lot of extra fluid (40 pounds, from what we heard). He was so bloated that they were unable to close his surgical incision. They covered it, plus he was on high doses of several blood pressure medications, a ventilator, and was being kept in a coma-state so he wouldn’t aggravate his open chest. The surgeon indicated several times that Dad was “a very sick man” – but somehow I don’t think it completely sunk in for any of us.

After another hour or so, we got to go in and see Dad. I won’t lie…it was pretty shocking. He was on the maximum amount of life support, and he did not look much like my Dad, but we still thought he would get better. Wednesday night we decided to all go home after we saw Dad. My Mom’s guest bed felt so good that night…

…until 6:20 AM, when Mom woke me, saying that the hospital had called and told us to get there as soon as we could, Dad was going back into surgery. I dressed in about 2 minutes. Mom, too. We also had a little girl who slept over, so we got her dressed and out to the car. Somehow we also called my brothers, Dave and Kevin, and my grandmother, but were in the car by about 6:30. While I drove, my mom also called Sweetie to see if she could pick up Gram in Red Wing (an hour drive away). Kevin called a few minutes later from the hospital, wondering where to go. Mom asked Kevin how he got there so fast, and Kevin replied that he had wondered why it took him so long. Time was playing funny tricks.

We didn’t get there in time to see Dad before the surgery, but we knew that ahead of time. We went straight to the surgical waiting room and proceeded to wait. We had no idea how long it would be, not even sure if they would have to put him back on the heart and lunch machine, which we thought would probably kill him. It turned out to be a short surgery, and when the surgeon came back, he was fairly happy. He explained that they had trouble regulating Dad’s blood pressure overnight. When they went back in, there was some blood pooling around his heart, so they put in a few more drains, which seemed to solve the problem. The surgeon indicated that it was the best possible reason he could think of for Dad’s overnight condition.

At this point the days start to run together. We decided that we wanted to have at least someone at the hospital at all times. That first night I slept in the hospital waiting room with my Mom and both brothers. Subsequent nights I made Mom go home and sleep while Dave and I slept in the hospital. My husband arrived from Virginia on Friday, because after Thursday’s surprise surgery I thought it would be best if he were here. Mainly I wanted him here to help out with my Mom and Grandma, and I needed him here in case anything went wrong. Sigh.

Dad also went on full-time dialysis to regulate the fluid in and out of his system. My best friend was worried at this point, because she had never seen someone come back after their kidney stopped functioning. However, the surgeon told us on Saturday that Dad was making small amounts of urine, so his kidney seemed to be coming back. They continued the dialysis to try and pull fluids from his body – trying to lose some of that 40 pounds of fluid-weight he gained. They had to do it slowly, because slight changes to his body caused changes in his blood pressure.

Dad went back into surgery again on Sunday, but only to clean his wound to make sure no bacteria were present. They also pulled out the balloon pump helping his heart, because he didn’t seem to need it anymore.

We would go in to see him periodically, telling him about the people who visited and left comments on his CaringBridge site. I’m sure he could hear us. My cousin-in-law, Devon, makes and decorates cakes, and often gives Dad a tupperware full of cake and frosting. Every time we told him that she had cake in her fridge for him, and that she might just toss it if he didn’t get better soon, his blood pressure went up. I know he was fighting.

The nursing team was fabulous. We tried to stay out of their way, but they were more than happy to have us in the room when they could work around us. They would keep us up-to-date on his medications and condition. It seemed that Dad was making baby-steps in the right direction. By Sunday, Dad was off of two of his blood pressure medications; however, due to a national shortage, he had to be switched to two other ones Sunday, which were not as good as the initial one they had him on.

I don’t remember much of those days. My nieces where there Wed – Fri and came back Mon morning (they spent the weekend with their cousins). Two of them got to go to see Disney’s Princesses on Ice on Thursday, the other went to the MN Rollergirls on Saturday. I spent the time playing Zoo Tycoon and on a crafting project. I didn’t really have the brain power for much more. I did go to my Mom’s house for a few hours every day to nap and shower.

We also bonded with another family there with their mother. The first night, they were told she would not make it through the night. By Monday, she was off her ventilator and causing “trouble”, so they gave us some hope. Unfortunately, there was another family there who had just had to make the decision to discontinue life support. This put Mom and me in a bad state, wondering how we would handle that decision if it came to that.

Monday morning, my brothers and I went in to see Dad around 6AM – we wanted to get in before the nurse’s shift change (when we weren’t allowed in) between 7 and 8:30 AM. The night nurse, Kevin, was very optimistic – he said Dad had had a pretty good night, and he was able to pull another liter fluid. There were some issues trying to deal with the new blood pressure medications, but all seemed to be well by the time we went in there at 6AM.

When I came back to the waiting room after breakfast (around 9?), we were still unable to see Dad. This wasn’t terribly unusual – Dad’s shift change always seemed to take a bit longer than the blackout, so we weren’t overly worried. At this point, it was me, Dave, his girls, and Dad’s friend, Dick, in the waiting room.

Around 10:30, a nurse popped into the waiting room and asked if my Mom was there. She was not, and the nurse said to get Mom here as quick as she could. I called home to get Andrew to bring Mom and Gram to the hospital. I also called my best friend. Shortly after that, Dad’s surgeon came in to tell us that he wasn’t sure what was the problem, but he was going to go back and try a few more things on Dad.

What seemed like a couple minutes later a couple of doctors came into the room. It was still just me, Dave, his girls, and Dick. We didn’t know these doctors, but they had apparently been on Dad’s case since Thursday or Friday. I don’t know exactly what they were saying…I still thought they were coming with news that they had stabilized him. Then one of them started saying, “we did everything we could for him…”, and I started thinking, “wait…that’s what they say when someone dies. What are they telling me this for? They must be wrong.” Then it started to hit me. Dad was gone. He fought, but it was just too much for his body. My Daddy was gone.

Kevin arrived soon, then my sister-in-law, my best friend, my husband, Mom and Grandma. One of the hospital chaplains also showed up. I’m not religious, but I know he was a comfort to many of my family. After about a half hour or 45 minutes, we finally got to see Dad – we had asked them to remove all of the tubes and machines from him, so it took them a while to clean him up.

Finally we got to go in his room and say good-bye.

So please hug your loved ones tightly today and tell them how much they mean to you.

Dad on a big ship in Duluth

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Just Hanging On

Posted by barb on Feb 23, 2010 in Cute Pets, Pictures, Random Thoughts
Duncan's tries the new bed, too

Ares enjoys the new crinkle bag

Artemis tries their new bed

I keep thinking I should blog more, but when I sit down to do it, I find I don’t have much to say. This year has been so stressful, and I find it hard to be inspired by much. The house has this pall of sadness over it, and every day at home is a slog. I’m watching Ares to see what side-effects of chemo he may develop, constantly watching what he eats and checking the litter box (yes, isn’t that lovely). Also constantly trying to see that Duncan has food any time he shows interest, and that it’s food he likes. One has few external signs that he’s sick, but I know the cancer is eating away at him. The other has lost nearly half his body weight and feels so fragile to the touch. It’s hard enough to face losing one, but facing losing two just seems inconceivable.

Mostly I try to celebrate them, taking pictures and snuggling copiously. Then, of course, I have to make sure that Artemis, our non-sick cat, gets enough attention, too. Often she feels left out because I’m not facing losing her sooner rather than later. So it feels like every day at home is just all about the cats. And all about the prospect of loss.

On the one hand, I know that it’s “just my cats”, not like it’s a human that’s sick. On the other hand, Ares has been part of my life since 1996, and Ducan since 2000. It’s hard to pretend it doesn’t matter because they’re “just a pet”, because I’ve never seen pets as “just pets” – they’re family members.

So for now, I’m just hanging on. Hoping for the best, and often cursing that hope. Follow her blog for any pets reviews.

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Oh 2009, how I misjudged you

Posted by barb on Feb 15, 2010 in Random Thoughts

Dear 2009,

I was ready to be done with you sometime in the middle of the year. Honestly, I wanted 2010 to come quickly, and put you behind me. I truly believed that 2010 would be present the opportunity for a fresh start, a shiny new year to bring a new attitude.

Sadly, it looks like I may have misjudged you, 2009. I may have been ready to be done with you too quickly. Little did I realize how much 2010 would suck so early on.

Sure, I was uncertain of my job situation much of last year, working less than full time most of the year. I traveled for a few job interviews, from New Paltz, NY to Midland, TX. Finally offered a job in Mississippi the same week I found out I could stay at my current job. Not sure why I had to go through all the interviews…seems like it was for nothing; though I suppose whatever doesn’t kill you, blah blah.

But that all seems like a bad dream now. 2010? Has sucked worse in the first month than all of you, 2009, all put together. Okay sure, I love that our basement has been re-done, complete with a full storage room. But that doesn’t outweigh 2010’s bad stuff. Okay, I could deal with the dumping of snow….don’t like it much, but I can deal with it.

The topper is that we have two sick cats. Duncan has lost almost half his weight, and we can’t seem to get it back up. Ares has cancer, which we first found out about January 4. So far we have had a slew of tests for Ares, removed a tumor from his ass, and started chemotherapy. He’s doing really well, and each time we decide on another therapy or treatment, I do some soul searching to make sure that we’re doing the best thing for Ares. I don’t want to put him through stuff just because I don’t want to lose him – I want to make sure that his discomfort is short and has some measurable benefit. The good news is that cats don’t respond to chemo as violently as humans tend to. The bad news is that the chemo is our last shot – the cancer is a bad one, that tends not to respond to chemo, and tends to grow quickly. But at this point, it’s either chemo or making him comfortable….certainly not ready for that yet.

Anyway, 2009, I apologize for underestimating you. After seeing 2010, you’re not so bad.

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To work or not to work, that is the question

Posted by barb on Sep 21, 2008 in Random Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, my government manager mentioned that she had been talking to our project manager about taking me on full-time through the next fiscal year. Prior to this, I only knew that my full-time employment was only guaranteed through the end of this calendar year. For any normal person in that situation, with no future job on the horizon, it would be good news that their employment could be continued for another 8-10 months.

I’m not normal.

Currently I work on three different tasks at work – one is a research task for 50% of my time, one is a web development/science support task for 30% of my time, and the last is an education and public outreach task for 20% of my time. I only like one of these tasks – the outreach task. The others are things to be tolerated (an loathed).

Sadly, the full-time position that my one manger is offering, is actually an extension of the web development/science support task. This is the longest-running of my tasks, which started over 5 years ago. For over 4 years, I have hated that job. A big part of the problem is that I often have *nothing to do* – I’m not talking about nothing meaningful or nothing interesting, but rather nothing at all. Another problem is that when I write new text for a web page, I can’t get anyone to approve the text. The result? First, I have a bunch of new web pages that I’ve worked hard to research and write, that just sit on my computer without going live. Second, our web pages get further and further out of date. And does my manager think that turning this into a full-time job is going to relieve these problems?

My outreach position can continue my funding through May (at the 20% level), so I asked about maybe doing the new position at the 80% level through May so that I could at least continue some part of a job I like (that’s not how I worded it with my manager, of course). She didn’t seem to like that idea at all – she’s convinced that they’ll need me full time.

As it happens, Andrew and I are in a position where we can survive on just his salary (pending a large amount of budget-trimming). So, do I take the full-time position just so I’m taking in cash, feeling like I’m contributing to the household? Do I take some time off?

If I were to turn down this position, I would still be able to work the 20% time on outreach. In addition, I would plan on working on my writing – I’ve been told that my fiction is publishable, but to do that I need to polish up some of my stories and research which markets I should submit them to. The house needs a top-to-bottom cleaning and some work (painting and such). I’d also like to work on getting CraftyPhD
up and running. Plus, it would be nice to have some time for my science blog. There’s no way to fit all of that into my life with a full-time job.

But, is this just selfish? Andrew supports my desire to turn down the job. But I’m worried about how much we need to trim the budget. Will he start to resent me for turning down full-time employment when I had the chance? Will I feel guilty over pursuing my interests instead of contributing to the household? I know that when I do find a job, Andrew and I may find our positions swapped, with him having trouble finding a position in whatever town we move to, but is that really a good reason to turn down a job now?

I have to give my decision to my manager tomorrow. I’m honestly not sure what will come out of my mouth at that time. Wish me luck.

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Nightmare Travel

Posted by barb on Sep 8, 2007 in Random Thoughts

It looks like I’m trying to cram all of my nightmare travel scenarios into one calendar year. As I write this, my vision is fuzzing out – the first sign of a migraine. Sadly, I can’t just hop in bed with the covers over my head, because that would put me out for 3-6 hours. Instead, I’m finishing my packing, watching a special on ice cream on the History Channel, and forcing myself to have a breakfast of leftover dinner rolls, Teddy Grahams and Diet Coke. The airport shuttle will be here to pick me up in about an hour.

My other nightmare scenarios?

  • Being sick while travelling – this happened in May when the night before our flight home from Montreal I was up all night. I won’t get into details, but let’s just say that it was a terrifying flight home, and not from turbulance.
  • Being sick at a conference – this happened this week. I have not been feeling well since Wednesday. I managed to go to all of the sessions, though I skipped the networking and special events. Gah.
  • Losing my camera – this happened last Saturday. I lost it after we did a walking tour of Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park. Not sure exactly where I lost it, but no one turned it in at any of the places we visited after I last knew that I had the camera. I bought a new camera Sunday morning, but lost all of my pictures of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses. Dad’s going to send me his, but I had some different ones, so I’m really bummed.

I know there are more nightmare travel scenarios – certainly worse ones – but I’m not about to mention them, as I still have two trips to take before the end of the year.

Share some of your nightmare travel stories (or worries) in the comments.

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Mental note

Posted by barb on Sep 3, 2007 in Random Thoughts

A 35-year-old skinning her knee is just pathetic.

Just sayin’.

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Close to home…

Posted by barb on Aug 2, 2007 in Random Thoughts

By now, most of you have probably heard about the bridge over the Mississippi that came down in Minneapolis yesterday evening. Regular readers know that I grew up in Minnesota, and I still have friends and family there, so this tragedy hits close to home. (And, oddly enough, Andrew and I are heading to Minnesota today to celebrate Sweetie and Jeff’s wedding.)

I’m relieved to report that my family is all alright (though Dad had driven on that bridge yesterday morning <shutter>). Sweetie sent out an e-mail last night, and she and Jeff were safe at home at the time of the accident.

The family and friends of those lost in this disaster are in our thoughts and hearts.



Bad Bike Ride

Posted by barb on May 5, 2007 in Biking, Pictures

Pink wildflowers

For the first time since I got my bike over 4 years ago, I’ve had a bad bike ride. Andrew and I have biked in 100-degree temperatures, put up with asshole cyclists, and pushed ourselves further on the bikes than I thought possible. But up until now, I’ve enjoyed those rides — the 100-degree day was still fun, because we were exploring some residential streets near our house that we’d never been down before. In fact, those streets were hilly, and even in the heat, I was able to navigate them without hopping off my bike and walking. The long rides we took last year zapped my energy for the rest of the day, but I really felt good about the day in general.

This morning seemed like the ideal biking morning – the sun was shining with a few clouds in the sky and the temperature was in the lower 60s. We set out at around 9AM, sans sheatshirts or jackets, in anticipation of the the temperature warming up a bit as the morning wore on. Silly us. Our first destination was a huge yard sale about 8 miles away, just off the W&OD trail, and by the time we got there, the temperature had dropped, the wind picked up, and clouds had taken over the sky.


Instead of turning back after purusing the yard sale (and picking up a couple books for our Halloween give-aways), we pushed on to Reston, just another mile or two down the W&OD. The hope was to spend a bit of time in Reston, where they were having a “Pet Fiesta”, rest up and then head back home.

By then, though, I was getting a bit cranky, I was downright cold, and just wanted to get home. We made it back into Vienna, but I was feeling iffy about whether or not my legs would be able to pedal all the way home. In Vienna, we had to part company with the W&OD trail, but still had 3 miles to get go before we were home. Just after we got off the trail, I got a raindrop right in the eye. The rest of the trip home there was a bit or rain, still windy, and just not a fun ride.

I actually did make it home under my own power, but I was completely wiped out. After a shower and lunch, I snuggled up under my covers with two cats for about 3 hours. I’m still a bit out-of-sorts.

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