Sunday, February 29, 2004

Leap Day

It's been a mostly sedate weekend (I'll blog details tomorrow morning), but I couldn't pass up having an entry on 29 February.

A friend of Evelin's from the Babydust and P&B multiple miscarriage boards was two weeks past due and we've all been hoping her baby would come soon and ... she did today (actually last night, but she's in New Zealand so it was on the 29th). That's so cool.

Friday, February 27, 2004


It's always struck me a bit odd how fasting during Lent is defined. Here's what has to say about the Catholic Church's official position:
Fasting as explained by the U.S. bishops means partaking of only one full meal. Some food (not equaling another full meal) is permitted at breakfast and around midday or in the evening—depending on when a person chooses to eat the main or full meal.

Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat.

According to Father John Huels in The Pastoral Companion (Franciscan Herald Press), abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consommé, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard.

Huels states that even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning. And Huels notes that no one considers gelatin or Jell-O to be meat.

Huels gives a norm long used by moral theologians: If in doubt whether a particular food is considered meat, look to the common estimation of persons in the area. Custom is the best interpreter of the law.
First, as a vegetarian, the idea that abstaining from meat means that you can have meat broths, etc., is a bit odd. But it's also to see how the restrictions have changed over time from no food to one big meal at midday, from no meat at all during Lent to no meat (although fish is allowed) on Fridays. And, variation is allowed from Diocese to Diocese to accommodate local conditions and custom.

As I noted yesterday, I'm not really religious myself, but I did grow up in an area steeped in Catholic culture, which has definitely influenced me. I have almost always given something up for Lent, but a few years ago, I decided to do a water-only fast on Fridays during Lent. After skipping that obligation for the past two or three years, I decided last night that I wanted to do it again this year. That decision may have been influenced by the fact that I ate an entire chocolate-covered matzo, and missing a day's worth of calories could only help.

[ASIDE: That Manischewitz offers a line of snacks and chips branded "Noshables" makes me smile; it's a great use of a Yiddish word.]

I model my Lenten fasting after the Yom Kippur fast, starting before sunset on Thursday and breaking the fast after nightfall on Friday. I don't, however, abstain from water. (Hey, it's my fast, I can make my own rules, right?) One year, I decided to observe the Ramadhan fast and I followed fairly strict fasting guidelines that included prohibiting water (although I was allowed to rinse my mouth, just no swallowing). I kept it up for about a week.

I guess it's the ascetic in me that urges me to occasionally take up these self-denial rites. Perhaps it is like the regular fasts (upavāsa) in Hinduism, which are designed to cleanse the body and to bring one closer to God. (Upavāsa means both "to fast" and "to reside closer to God.") Fasting also gives a degree of empathy with what others are doing — Yom Kippur, Ramadhan, Lent, Ekādaśī-Upavāsa, etc. — for reasons of faith or devotion.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Fear the Turtle

We hear a lot about non-native animals and plants wiping out local species, but most of the time, it seems be things like zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) taking over the Great Lakes or the northern snakehead (Channa argus), a.k.a. "Frankenfish," that invaded a Maryland pond a few summers ago.

Of course, any species outside of its home niche can become invasive, which is the case with red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta), which I just think of a cute turtle common where I grew up, but, according to Đài Tiếng nói Việt Nam, the Vietnamese foreign-service broadcaster, they are a serious problem:
A dangerous invasive turtle species, the red-eared slider, was found living in Hồ Hoàn Kiếm lake in the centre of the capital city [Hà Nội] last week.

"The appearance of the red-eared slider at a time when water levels are dropping and food resources are dwindling is a real danger," Professor Hà Đình Đức said.

The biologist said the species, Trachemys scripta, was native to the United States and was a popular pet in many countries, but is also listed as one of the 100 most dangerous invasive species in the world.
Adding to the problem is that Hồ Hoàn Kiếm lake is home to Hoàn Kiếm giant softshell turtle (Rafetus leloii), an endangered species so rare that it's almost considered cryptozoologic.

Some scientists believe the R. leloii in Hồ Hoàn Kiếm to be capitive specimens of the equally rare Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), which is believed to be extinct in the wild, according to Conservation International's "The World's Top 25 Most Endangered Turtles" [PDF].

According to legend, Lê Lợi (1385-1433) was loaned a magic sword by a giant turtle living in the lake, thus the scientific name R. leloii. After using the sword to drive Chinese troops from Việt Nam, Lê Lợi returned the sword to the turtle, which is why "Hồ Hoàn Kiếm" means "lake of the returned sword."

Lent, Diet Coke, and Moray Firth Radio

I think I have too many things running around right now: work is a pain; I may be freelancing on a project at Evelin's university (I talked to the people there after the OB/GYN appointment on Tuesday, but last night Evelin said another department may be delaying things); we're coming into a ton of prework for a big convention (both the daily newspapers at the show -- that's right plural, we do a morning and evening edition -- and the preshow coverage for my regular newspaper). Add to that the baby worries/joy, and it's no wonder that I haven't been sleeping well.

Yesterday, to keep the disturbing Evelin to a minimum, I got out of bed around 4:30 a.m. after trying not to toss for about 45 minutes and just went to work early. This morning, I went down to the basement to do a little exercise followed by websurfing until she work up. I'm tired at work, but not exhausted (at least not yet), but it doesn't help that I traditionally give up caffeine for Lent, something I realized at 5:00 a.m. while driving to work and thinking how good that morning Diet Coke would taste.

[ASIDE: I am one of those people who has coke (generic form of the word, a.k.a., soda, pop, cola, or soft drink, depending upon where you’re from) for breakfast. I used to drink a lot more of it than I do now, but with all the infertility issues, Evelin convinced me it couldn't hurt to cut down on the Diet Coke intake. I went from an estimated liter or three each day to one 20-ounce bottle. It's not that I don't drink coffee and/or tea, I just prefer the cold fizzy stuff, particularly in the morning.]

I'm not a particularly religious person, but growing up in South Louisiana, I was surrounded by Catholicism, so it wasn't odd for us to give up things for Lent even if Presbyterianism doesn't require it. Since I tended to drink so much caffeine, it made sense to give it up each year. I viewed it as a bit of detoxing for my body, plus it annoyed me to be addicted to the point where I would have withdrawal symptoms. Today, I'm noticing a low-level headache, but hopefully it'll be gone in a few days.

Right now, I'm looking forward to "All Scottish" this afternoon on Moray Firth Radio (MFR). I just discovered the station's webcasts from Inverness, Scotland, last week, and it's a great little station. The music is a mix of typical pop and AC stuff, not all to my liking, but it's listenable and surprises me from time to time (right now, they're playing Was (Not Was) "Walk the Dinosaur," which I don't think I've heard it at least 12 years, followed by The Housemartins, "Happy Hour"). It's also cool to get the afternoon traffic reports for Inverness. The programs are in English, not Scots, unfortunately, but I guess you can't have it all.

The MFR webcast follows the AM channel, which airs specialist shows each week night, including "All Scottish." Presented by Andy Ross, Ben and John the Prof, the show features a ton of contemporary and traditional Scottish fiddling, piping, and other Scottish music; I stumbled upon it last week, and I've been looking forward to hearing the show again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Women's Writing

The Washington Post had an interesting article yesterday about nushu (女書 (traditional) or 女书 (simplified), nü3shu1), an understudied Chinese script traditionally used only by women.
Nushu in some ways resembles Chinese, if some of the characters were stretched and altered. But it also differs in many respects. For example, according to researchers, the letters represent sound -- the sounds of this region's Cheng Guan Tuhua dialect -- and not ideas as in the Chinese ideograms that men studied and wrote. Nushu was written from top to bottom in wispy, elongated letters in columns that read from right to left.
Skipping past the simplification that Chinese writing expresses ideas not sounds, it's a beautiful script. The online version of the story has a picture of the script on a blackboard, but the print edition included a poem. I couldn't get a very good picture of it, but this should give a passable glance at the script:
The poem reads, in part, "The mountains are green, the water is beautiful and how nice is the scenery. Furthermore there is nushu, which is amazing."

The most complete site online for information on nushu seems to be Orie Endo (遠藤織枝)'s World of Nushu. Endo, a Japanese linguist, has been studying nushu for the past decade or so, and his site has a lot of images of nushu as well as notes for a lecture introducing the script and the social factors that led to its development, use, and significance.

[ADDENDUM: More info about nushu, and a deconstruction of The Washingon Post article at Keywords.]

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

8 Weeks, 3 (or 4) Days

Evelin had her first "regular" OB/GYN appointment this afternoon. Everything is looking good for right now. The little fellow/gal is measuring 8 weeks, 3 or 4 days (the doctor measured twice: the first time it was 4 days, the second 3 days), which is exactly where we should be.

We could see the diminishing yolk sac, and the bubble of the placenta, as well as little arm buds. And, unlike the first ultrasound, I could see the heart flickering away. We didn't get a bpm measurement, but the doctors weren't worried by anything they saw.

The first doctor was a visiting doctor helping to cover while another doctor was out. She was pretty cool, and gave us a lot of good reassurances. And the doctor who did the ultrasound was great printing out lots of blurry little pictures.

We got a big bag of reading material, samples of various prenates and other stuff, and were probably immediately signed up for some mailing lists. We also were given the name of a high-risk OB that we can see to arrange for the CVS, amnio and other tests that will need to be done in the coming weeks. Evelin is below the age where an amnio is suggested, but because of all the multiple abnormalities discovered when we did IVF with PGD, it makes sense to have the testing done.

I have to keep reminding myself that there's plenty that could still go wrong, but it is absolutely amazing to be this far along in the pregnancy and for all the early signs to be so good. (I have a bit of a fatalist attitude much of the time, and optimism doesn't always come to me easily.) But I am seriously stoked. And scared. Very scared.

The funniest thing is that I seems to be exhibiting some signs of couvades, a.k.a. sympathy pregnancy. The constant need to nibble is probably a nervous thing, but I definitely have been having problems with insomnia. I keep waking up around 3:30 a.m. and toss and turn (much to Evelin's dismay) for a few hours. I'm also exhausted in the afternoon/evening -- probably related to the not sleeping so well.

Monday, February 23, 2004

They Call it Mardi Gras for a Reason ...

Happy Lundi Gras! I'm swimming in king cakes this year. My mother has been very nice almost every year since I left Louisiana to arrange for a king cake to be sent up to D.C., Massachusetts, or wherever I have been living at the time.

The past few years, however, have been a time of tribulation. Ever since McKenzie's went out of business, my family has had to search for a decent king cake (and their buttermilk drop doughnuts are sorely missed, too). As Arcade, "Tulane's lifestyle magazine," noted a few years ago:
For the record, the only proper place to buy king cake is at McKenzie's bakery. If you're not sure where your local McKenzie's is, pick up a stone and hurl it in a random direction. You can't throw a rock in this town without hitting a McKenzie's, K&B or Popeye's.
Sadly, K&B Drugs was long ago gobbled up by Rite Aid, and McKenzie's is also lost to history. And with the loss of McKenzie's there has been a need to find a new king cake. Two years ago, mom sent one from Gambino's, and last year she sent one from Haydel's. Both were yummy, but none compare to the memory of McKenzie's king cakes.

This year, she turned to a locally sourced king cake (locally meaning from the North Shore instead of from Orleans or Jefferson Parish). This was the first year this bakery has tried shipping king cakes to the Louisianan diaspora. The cake itself is pretty tasty -- the dough is a little more like strudel in consistency than brioche (which is what I consider traditional), and it's more heavily iced that the traditional McKenzie's king cake, but such is the fashion these days -- but the shipping, well, let's just say there were a few problems.

On Friday, my mom called to inquire whether or not Evelin and I had received anything. When told "no," she let out a few choice words for the bakery. Apparently, there was a bit of a misunderstanding, and the bakery had shipped the cakes on Wednesday via UPS Ground service, instead of overnight or two-day. She called them back and got things rearranged so that fresh king cakes would be sent out overnight (for arrival either today or tomorrow): one to Evelin's office, one to mine.

This morning, two packages arrive. Both labeled UPS Ground. Before opening things, I checked the tracking numbers: These are both of the Wednesday-shipped king cakes. (One was supposed to have gone to Evelin's office, one to mine; instead, I got both). I called my mom, who was going to try to see if my father got tracking numbers for the next-day king cakes, but, in the meantime, I called Evelin and she said to just let my office tear through both king cakes. (These are both cinnamon-filled; the replacement ones are cream cheese-filled -- very untraditional, but supposedly quite tasty and the filling helps keep the cake moist during shipment.)

So far, one of the is 70% devoured; the other is untouched. Hopefully, afternoon munchies will get rid of the remainder before the end of the day.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Country Roads

We didn't head into West Virginia, but Evelin and I did take a bit of a drive today. We started off needing to check how long it would take (approximately) to get from her office to the OB/GYN so that we could be prepared for the visit on Tuesday. Then it was out to Rockville to pick up more Lovenox from the pharmacy. (We go to the pharmacy up in Rockville because it's in the same building as our fertility clinic -- <happy dance>the one we were discharged from</happy dance> -- and they tend to have all the fertility drugs in stock at any given point. Plus they're really nice people and not a giant chain.

Once those tasks were done, we headed north. My original plan was for us to take a short hike up Wolf Rock in Catoctin Mountain Park. Normally it's a 1.5 to 8 mile hike, depending upon which trail you use, but there's also a parking area for rock climbers near the outcropping, so I figured it'd be an easy scramble up to take in the view without tiring Evelin out.

However, just past Frederick, I glanced over at the clogs Evelin was wearing and quickly figured out we weren't going hiking. Other thoughts were Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, which was closed for the season, and just to keep on driving. So that's what we did.

We went up Route 77 through Catoctin Mountain Park and ended up in Smithsburg. A few years ago, we ended up buying a lot of apples from an orchard there, but we took a much more roundabout route to get there, mostly because we'd been looking for a pick-your-own apple place in West Virginia, missed it, and kept on driving across the Potomac into Maryland.

From Smithsburg, we turned and headed up toward Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and then turned back to the east to head toward Gettysburg. We realized that we'd driven along some of the same routes looking for Adams County Winery.

As we came in toward Gettysburg, we stopped at Weikert's Egg Farm to get a dozen "Eggs from Free Walking Hens." ($1.50 for a dozen large brown eggs: Not bad.)

As we were driving into Gettysburg and trying to decide if we wanted to do Civil War stuff or just to keep enjoying the drive, I realized one selfish reason I'd like to have a little kid: The Land of Little Horses. I think I'd feel a little less silly asking for two adult admissions to a place like that if I could at least pretend that my 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old was the one who wanted to go.... (We decided to wait a little while before visiting The Land of Little Horses ...)

At about that time, it was nearing noon and Evelin realized she was getting a bit peckish. We stopped at the first place we saw in Gettysburg, The Historic Farnsworth House Tavern, which was okay. There wasn't much vegetarian on the menu, but they made me a cheese sandwich, and the hot cider really hit the spot.

We then headed back south, driving along the edge of the battlefield, and passing through Taneytown and Westminster. As we were passing Westminster, my ice-cream radar kicked in. Two or three years ago, Evelin and I went to the Maryland Wine Festival. It was a fairly hot autumn day, and on the bus back to the parking lot (there wasn't enough parking at the fairgrounds, so they used buses to shuttle people to/from the offsite parking), we noticed Hoffman's Home Made Ice Cream.

It was very good ice cream, so, when I thought I recognized the road, we took the turn and there it was. Evelin had black cherry with chocolate jimmies; I had mint chocolate chip in a sugar cone.

Friday, February 20, 2004

I Want My Baby Bok, Baby Bok Choy*

I don't know if she was involved in insider trading or not, and while some of her ideas are just too much for my tastes, Martha Stewart does have some good recipes.

The March issue of Living has an article on Asian greens that included a tasty looking recipe for baby bok choy in a ginger and garlic sauce (not online at this point). It was dead simple and a good source of folic acid for Evelin, so we gave it a go.

Basically, the baby bok choy were halved, soaked, and then boiled for about 6 minutes. At the same time, thin slices of garlic and minced ginger were sautéed in sesame oil until soft. To the oil-garlic-ginger mixture, tamari and oyster sauce (Oriental Supermarket in Arlington had a vegetarian oyster sauce, thankfully) were added. Once the sauce was heated through, the drained baby bok choy were tossed in the sauce.

The end result was really, really tasty. It didn't make much for a full meal, but it'd be a fine side, maybe for somesort of tofu or served over soba noodles or something.

The only bad thing was the smell of the sesame oil and boiled bok choy lingered in the kitchen for a while, and Evelin's nose (always sensitive) is working overtime right now.

There are several different varieties of bok choy/pak choi (Brassica chinensis), and I'm not really sure what the proper characters would be: 青菜 (qing1cai4, "green vegetables"), 白菜 (bai3cai4, "Chinese cabbage"), 小青菜 (xiao3 qing1cai4, "little green vegetables"), 冬菜 (dong1cai4, "winter vegetables"), or something else.

Switching gears a little, the baby bok choy was grown in Maryland, so it didn't have to travel too far to get to me, and apparently there are a few farms on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic that specialize in Asian fruits and vegetables.

*Headline blatantly swiped from The Boston Globe.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Stupid Internet Toys


Weather Loach

Battle Rating

BetaBlaster was found, still alive, lodged in the throat of a dead man

Can your fishy beat BetaBlaster ?
Okay, I ran into this game from Gremkin via Less Than Nothing; it's both really silly, and pretty funny.

You make up a name and BattleFishies generates a BattleFishy. Put your BattleFishy's name in the input box of any other BattleFishy, hit "submit," and, voilà, you find out which fishy is the toughest. Or as BattleFishies phrases it
Two fishies clash.
The Aquarium is too small.
There can be only one!
If you want to test it out, see how PsychoSwimmer stacks up against BetaBlaster.

I don't know if there is anything to be read into this or not, but the BattleFishy named George W Bush beats BattleFishies named John Kerry and John Edwards easily, but against BattleFishy Howard Dean, it is a tie.


Well, I'm Still Voting for Him

Howard Dean has stopped campaigning, but hasn't dropped out of the race, which is a fine distinction that allows him to keep his delegates and hopefully a good degree of influence come convention time. I know things haven't looked good for him for a while now, but I still hoped there'd be somesort of rallying for the doctor.

Kerry is a fine candidate, as is Edwards, and either of them will have my full support once the convention selection is made, but come Super Tuesday I will pull the lever (or punch the button, twist the knob, or poke the screen with the stylus -- we've had different electronic voting machines for each of the past three elections, so I don't know what we'll be using come 2 March) for Howard Dean.

It will be a symbolic vote, but not a protest one, designed to help keep the Democratic Party on a left-of-center tracking that promises to ensure a better America and a more secure future for all us.

I've been wearing my "I Want My Country Back: Dean for America" badge and getting lots of positive comments (and a little extra scrutiny* at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport) from random people. Most of them, and I agree, said that while Dean wasn't going to win, he did the party a great service in rediscovering its core values. Or, as a commentator on NPR put it yesterday: Dean gave the Democrats a backbone transplant, which was sorely needed after the 2002 elections.

From Dean's speech yesterday:
This Party and this country needs change, and you have already begun that process. I want you to think about how far we have come. The truth is: change is tough. There is enormous institutional pressure in our country against change. There is enormous institutional pressure in Washington against change, in the Democratic Party against change. Yet, you have already started to change the Party and together we have transformed this race. Along the way, we’ve engaged hundreds of thousands of new Americans in the political process, as witnessed by this year’s record participation in the primaries and caucuses.
By getting new people involved and invested in the political process -- "... the power to change Washington rests not in my hands, but in yours. Always remember, you have the power to take our country back." -- Dean has done much to help reënergize the electoral base. Now, it is up to all of us who were attracted to Dean to continue the battle to retake the White House, the Congress, and the country.

*Apparently, because of how I'd rolled up my jacket, the badge looked like a knife of somesort to the TSA agent at the x-ray machine, and the guy (presumably Republican) passing through security after me urged them to give me an extra going over because I was a Dean supporter. That actually made me laugh.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


I think this is a really cool rural-development idea: The Roundabout Outdoor Play-Pump.
Cavorting on a roundabout has always been fun for children. Now pure, clean borehole water can be pumped into water storage tanks while the playground roundabout equipment is in use. The Play-Pump is a specifically designed and patented playground roundabout that drives conventional borehole pumps, keeping costs and maintenance to an absolute minimum, while entertaining the children.
Basically, as kids spin around on the merry-go-round, water is drawn out of the ground into an easily accessible storage tank.

To cover maintenance costs for the Play-Pumps, advertising is sold on the sides of the storage tank. The advertising space can also be used for educational campaigns about HIV/AIDS and other issues of concern. Trevor Field, one of the principals behind the Play-Pump, made his fortune in outdoor advertising, so I guess the billboard aspect of the project is no surprise.

In a report yesterday afternoon on the Play-Pump, "The World" called it "a merry-go-round with a mission," giving kids both something to play on and an easy-to-tap supply of clean water. World Bank DevNews has some photos and this quote from Field: "There's nothing quite like children's power as a pure energy source."

According to an article in Engineering News, more than 300 have been installed across South Africa and the first ones have been in use for more than a decade.

I’m Back

I made it out of Charlotte on a mid-morning flight as snow flurries were blowing around town. There weren't any real worries that the snow, such as it was, could delay the flight, but we were deiced. All in all, the show got quite hectic towards the end, but it wasn't too bad, but I'm very, very glad to be home. (I also had the chance to talk to Anita, even if I didn't get to catch lunch or coffee or something with her and Dave.)

Evelin had her class last night, so I didn't get to see her until after 8:00, but I came home to find on the dining room table Monday's sonogram, the discharge slip from the fertility clinic, and a couple of different prenates. I also found this:

Yes, those are the Hallmark Blushing Bears ("A bear pair with a magnetic attraction…when their noses touch, her cheeks blush! It's Valentine's Day romance sealed with a kiss.") together with a little Boyd's Bear that I bought Evelin while she was at her one and only appointment with the hoemopath.

I'll admit it, I was suckered in by the Cinderella-esque Blushing Bears adverts, so, despite Evelin's ordering me not to get them, I bought the bears for Valentine's Day (and immediately ran outside with the boy-bear to ring the doorbell after giving them to Evelin).

I was too relieved/distracted on Monday to take in all the info from the ultrasound appointment over the phone, but once home Evelin schooled me on everything:

First off, we've been discharged from the fertility clinic. The cool part is the discharge report lists under treatment "spontaneous pregnancy," which has a nice ring to it (spontaneous coming from the Latin [suā] spontĕ, meaning "of [one's] own accord"). We now have to figure out if Evelin's going to work with her regular OB/GYN, or if she'd rather get a referral to one who commonly deals with high-risk pregnancies.

She is getting Lovenox injections as a "just in case" measure, but beyond that there are no special meds.

And the due date is early October, which would mean a Libra (or maybe a Virgo, if he or she is a few weeks early). Not that I really believe in astrology, per se, but it's comforting to see that among the most compatible parents for a Libra child are a Gemini mother and a Leo father. Evelin and I are the opposite of that, but it should still be okay, right?

Monday, February 16, 2004

:-) :-) :-)

The newsroom has been massively busy, and I didn't want to post with a bunch of people over my shoulder, but I heard from Evelin ... all is well. The heartbeat was 147, and the fetus is measuring 7 weeks, 2 days.

Evelin somehow locked the keypad on her cell phone and couldn't call me right away, so I was sitting around The Green (the park across the street from the Charlotte Convention Center) for about an hour waiting for the call and getting progressively more and more nervous. Eventually, I figured people were going to start looking for me, so I headed back inside and, shortly thereafter, came the call.

[CORRECTION: Evelin did lock the keypad on her mobile, but the main reason it took so long for me to hear from her was that she had to wait for a while to get into the ultrasound and then there was all the talking to the doctors, etc. She ended up calling from a payphone in the lobby of the clinic building.]

I was so happy, and more than a bit stunned. I guess I was getting myself a little worked up, but now I just want to cry happy tears (which is sure to get people either to stare or to ask questions) while I try to get things edited and set on page ... Okay, I need to get back to work.

Way Too Distracted

I am way too distracted here, 400-some miles away from Evelin and her ultrasound appointment. Last night at the printer went relatively well, but it goes to show how my mind isn't really with me right now. We had a <kick self>really, really stupid typo</kick self> on the front page that the printer noticed before I did -- to be fair, he was looking at the proof as he was bringing it over to us, but it should have been caught long before that point. At least digital technology makes it quicker, easier, and less costly to correct such blunders but still ...

Last night's big storm warnings turned out to be only a few flakes, but the local news crews are pumping up the possibilities for snow/ice tonight.

Okay, I need to figure out today's layout ... and to stop worrying.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Quick Post Before Heading to the Printer ...

With Evelin's second sonogram on Monday, it's a <drip sarcasm>perfect time</drip sarcasm> for me to be away at a tradeshow. She's promised to call or text me as soon as she can after the appointment, but still I feel guilty and sad about being away at this point in time.

This time, I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina, for just a few days, but it's a busy show with lots of things for me to worry about editorially, even if I'm distracted by the events of the past few days.

Last night, around 9:00 p.m., I took a walk around downtown. Charlotte has a fair amount of public art (at least in the Uptown area) and private art displayed in ways that makes it visible from the street. Especially neat, I thought, was The Green with its signs pointing to different cities to spell out author's names and the brick sculpture of children literally absorbed in a book.

One neat thing in the convention center is how the Charlotte Trolley line runs right through the building. I haven't seen any trains running through the building (actually, I haven't seen the trolley running at all; I think it's a limited schedule, and maybe winter limits it even further), and I'm not sure if the line is active this far or not yet. I can't tell from the map on the trolley website.

It is neat, however, that the trolley is run as a volunteer, nonprofit thing. That's not a solution for a serious public transit initiative, but as something to help ease congestion before/after Panthers games and to add the sights and sounds of a trolley to the cityscape (sort of like the National Capital Trolley Museum in Maryland, but actually in the city) it's pretty cool.

That walk looks like it was the extent of my free time: It's all days in the convention center followed by nights at the printer and then out of here ... assuming the snows don't hit too hard. Actually, if the planes don't fly, I think I'd have to rent a car to get back up to Evelin as quickly as possible.

Saturday, February 14, 2004


Even if I'm not 100% sure that I saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound yesterday, it is so cool that everyone else did. I guess, further along, we'll actually be able to hear it, which will be amazing. I woke up early this morning, and while lying in bed I was listening to my heartbeat and Evelin's, which was conducted through the mattress to my ear. All the while, I kept smiling, knowing that a third heartbeat was there with us.

Until now, I think one of the coolest things I've ever heard was a dove's heartbeat. I went along on rounds with a veterinarian friend of mine, and she let me listen to the bird through the stethoscope. The heartbeat was so rapid and delicate -- part of which was probably due to the stress of being examined -- but it really was an amazing sound.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Uncharted Waters

I have no idea what to say. Not only is Evelin pregnant. Not only could we see a little fetus. We saw the heartbeat. (Okay, Evelin saw the heartbeat; the ultrasound tech, doctor, and nurse saw the heartbeat; I think I saw the heartbeat, but I could have been looking at something else). 127 bpm. And we have a little fuzzy picture.

The doctor thought about 6 to 6.5 weeks, based on size (about 6 cm). Evelin will go back in on Monday for a second ultrasound, which will help figure out gestation, due date, etc. No evidence of twins or higher-order multiples.

We are sailing uncharted waters at this point. We've never had a β-hCG > 700 before this, and we've never seen anything on an ultrasound before, much less a heartbeat.

I'm a wee bit stunned.

However, given our history and the multiple problems that showed up during our IVF cycle, we know there could still be problems. That will probably stick in the back of our mind for a while. But, right now, it's big smiles all around.

Where's My Squeaky Toy?

First things first, Evelin was a little worried that she came off poorly in yesterday's entry. Not my intent. If anything, it should have illustrated the way she can ignore little stray noises much more successfully than I can.

I tend to need a certain degree of noise to work. I was one of those kids who had to have the stereo on when doing homework, and I still need the radio or some CD playing throughout the day. When it's too quiet, I can't concentrate; instead, the music or whatever creates a wash that I focus on blocking out while simultaneously focusing in on whatever I'm editing or writing.

But this doesn't always work. Some musical styles are harder to block out; the same is true of news/talk programming. Commercial radio is the worst; the discongruity between the adverts and the music is very difficult to focus past, especially considering how long some stopsets are these days.

That's why the idea of hiding the phone and calling it worked better for me than Evelin. She wasn't too concerned about where the noise was coming from. Me, I would be like a dog whose favorite squeaky toy had just been hidden. I HAVE TO FIND IT...

Okay, back to the tenterhooks. The ultrasound is at 10:15. I am at home because my office is too far away to go in for the morning and then come back to Maryland. Evelin is at work. I'll pick her up in an hour or so.

I'm so damn nervous/keyed up … like a dog whose favorite squeaky toy has just been hidden.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Smilin' and Dialin'

As might be expected, I'm still smiling about the β-hCG test results. Judging by the numbers (43,861), Evelin could be six weeks along or even further. Or she could be less far along and pregnant with multiples. We'll find out more tomorrow ... on Friday the 13th. I can't decide if that is a bad thing or just funny.

[ASIDE: I keep catching myself writing "we" when talking about being pregnant; I know it's not uncommon parlance to use first-person plural to describe being pregnant, but it still strikes me as not quite right for some reason.]

The dialing in this entry title is because Evelin and I moved a little closer to the current age. We still don't have cable, but we just got cellphones. We've talked about it on and off for a while now, but with Evelin teaching a night class once a week, she needs to be able to call me to let me know when to come pick her up and it was a bit embarrassing to borrow a student's mobile when she couldn't find a pay phone.

Since we are planning to use these primarily as emergency phones, we opted for a pay-as-you-go system: specifically, the teen-oriented Virgin Mobile. Of all the pay-as-you-go systems, it seemed the most cost-effective (add at least $20 every 90 days to keep the account active), even if the cost-per-call (25¢ per minute for the first 10 minutes of use each day, 10¢ per minute thereafter; 10¢ to send text messages, free to receive) isn't the best. And, if it turns out we are using the phones more than that, then we aren't tied to a contract or anything: We can sign up for a standard plan and then sell the phones on eBay or something.

There are some downsides, however. The phones are PCS-only, so they work fine in metro areas and along highways, but there's no roaming on an analog network or anything. And our house seems to be just on the edge of a cell site: For the most part a signal was present, but it did have to stop and search every now and then.

Originally, I was going to give Evelin the phone for Valentine's Day, but I figured with the news and all it would be good to get it into her hands as soon as possible, just in case she needed to call me about anything from anywhere (or at least anywhere on the PCS network).

When I got home, I snuck the phone under the jacket, which was sitting on a chair in the living room, just behind where she was working on the computer. Then, while I was preparing dinner (a simple vegetable stir-fry: mushrooms, onions, carrots, broccoli, snow peas, and water chestnuts in a sauce of plum wine, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar over brown rice), I dialed her phone from mine.

I'd set her phone up with "Copacabana" as the ringtone. At first, she seemed to not hear it, so I redialed and walked into the room asking, "Do you hear that?"

Evelin said she did and, with a little encouragement, began looking. Of course, her first instinct was to look outside, which didn't help. By the time she came in from the porch, the call had been missed. "Oh well," she said before sitting back down.

I snuck back to the kitchen and dialed again. This time, she hopped back up quickly, and started to run upstairs, thinking it was either in one of the bedrooms or maybe in the basement.

I dialed again. She knew it was a cellphone, but thought it was outside, maybe the neighbor's. Our neighbor does not (at least to me) seem like the sort of fellow who would have a Barry Manilow ringtone on his phone.

I took her hand and we danced a little to the ringtone and I backed her into the chair. As she was getting up, I said "Hey, you didn't break anything in your coat, did you?" Evelin, totally ignoring the hint to look under the fricking coat, just said "No" and started to go back to her laptop.

At that point, I could stand no more and told her to look under the coat, at which point she found the phone. Finally.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Holy Crap!

Evelin just got a call with the β-hCG results. The first thing she was told was that whenever they get a number higher than 5,000, they have to rerun the test. The second time, the number came in at 43,861.

43,861. That is a higher number than we've ever seen before, and could indicate that Evelin is further along than she or I had guessed. (The failed IVF cycle was sure to have messed up her cycle, and we just figured this one was long because of all the meds, hormones, etc. associated with the intervention.)

We have an ultrasound scheduled for Friday, so we'll see what that yields.

I'm a bit flustered at the moment -- not sure how to process this. Of course, it doesn't mean we're anywhere near being out of the woods -- especially considering the number of chromosomal defects that were found in our embryos during the IVF cycle.

43,861 ... 43,861 ... 43,861 ...


One thing about a 7:00 a.m. appointment to get a β-hCG test is that the alarm goes off early. Which also means catching some of "World Update" from the BBC World Service.

This morning, the story that the radio awoke us with was about the British Library's new Collect Britain website, and specifically the collection of English Accents and Dialects. The site features audio clips from the "Survey of English Dialects" and the "Millennium Memory Bank," capturing regional variation in English language.

There are 131 soundclips in the collection, and each includes a brief lexis to define bits of vocabulary, as well as notes/examples about the phonology and grammar of the speaker/dialect.

The other interesting thing is that many of the records (primarily those collected from 1950 to 1961 as part of the "Survey of English Dialects") are with rural folk, often farmers, so the recordings are about various farm tasks replete with specific vocabulary. There quite a few that discuss cutting hay by hand.

Also the Northumbrian clips in the collection are interesting to see the dialect continuum connecting English to Scots. For example, the 1955 interview with George Sparks of Allendale, Northumberland, mixes in bits of Scots terminology with his English (stirk, young bullock; fog, grass grown for hay and as a winter cover for a field).

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


Couple of things running around in my head.

First off, Evelin's pregnant. The First Response test had a good, strong line this morning.

Although the doctor cautioned us against attempting a natural pregnancy, we've been "not not" trying to get pregnant, and Evelin's cycle has been so messed up after the failed IVF cycle that, well, we didn't try to not get pregnant and it worked.

Of course, getting pregnant hasn't necessarily been our problem, which is where the worrying comes into my mind. This could be the one that works: Non-fragmented sperm could have met up with a good-quality egg with a properly firing mitotic spindle and, assuming the uterine lining is strong and a million other things, we could be on our way to a name change for this blog.

Or maybe not. That isn't what happened the first five times we got a positive home pregnancy test, and, while every time is a unique juncture of events, it's hard to not be worried.

And it sucks to be torn between joy and fear.

Evelin called the nurse to set up a blood test to start monitoring β-hCG levels, and we have to admit to the doctor that we ignored what he said.

Also, we went to the adoption informational seminar at the clinic last night. It would have been more help had it been a bit more structured. The three speakers (all of them social workers involved with adoption home studies and two of them were also adoptive parents) just introduced themselves and then opened up the floor to questions for the next two hours or so.

Those of us in the room were all in different stages of exploring adoption as an option, which didn't help, as those who had been thinking about it longer had much more specific questions that leapfrogged past the much more basic things others of us were wondering about.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Various Updates

A couple of things from the past week or three.

We made oatmeal pancakes again this weekend, this time trying them with ginger instead of cinnamon. Evelin liked them better with ginger (it was a toss up for me ... both ways are good), but we did decide that Lyle's Golden Syrup was better than maple syrup as a topping.

The catfish I photographed in Amazonia last week at the zoo is a shovelnose catfish (Sorubin lima, also known by the common name "cucharón"). I ran down to Amazonia before my panda shift yesterday because not knowing what sort of fish it was kept bothering me. I also found out that cucharón tend to spend most of their time floating diagonally with their nose pointing downwards.

In the rainforest atrium, both the callimico (Callimico goeldii) and dusky titi monkey (Callicebus moloch) were visible (one of the callimico came very close to me, hooting and whistling) and I finally got to see the two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus), who was walking below an I-bar at the back of the atrium and then down the wall to a feeder station.

I pulled out the seed packets (all from Burpee's) and here's the full rundown of this summer's gardening plans: Genovese basil; common chives; Brandywine, Super Sweet 100 hybrid, and yellow pear tomatoes; California Wonder sweet peppers; Clemson spineless okra; Baby's Leaf hybrid spinach; Scarlet Runner pole beans; and Super Snappy edible-podded snap peas. Already in the ground are five varieties of garlic (Spanish roja, Italian, music, Georgian crystal, and Inchelium red), rosemary, three or four varieties of raspberries, some blueberry bushes and strawberry plants in front of the house, daylilies and other edible flowers, and the fig tree.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that the drain in the upstairs bathtub was acting up. After a week of going back and forth in my mind (and searching lots of plumbing sites), I opted for an industrial/chemical solution instead of trying a more natural baking powder/vinegar solution. I'd already tried both water and mechanical snakes, as well as boiling water, to clear the problem, and I was worried that if I used a baking soda mixture it would rule out future use of a chemical solution, if necessary (mixing bases with acids and all). In the end, it took a full bottle of Drāno Max Gel, which probably is killing the Chesapeake Bay, but it did clear things up.

Tonight, Evelin and I are going to an adoption informational seminar sponsored by the fertility clinic we've been going to. No decisions or thoughts yet, but we want to explore our options ...

Saturday, February 07, 2004

3:00 a.m. Phone Calls

I'm at work this morning (it's the time of year that requires lots of uncompensated overtime, ergo no post yesterday), but I'm a bit tired and not just because of the phone call we got a little past 3:00 this morning:
Me: Hello?

Caller: Hey!

Me: Hello?

Caller: ¡La piña!

Me: ¿Que?

Caller: ¡La piña!

Me: ¿La piña?

Caller: ¡Si! ¡La piña!

I hang up the phone.
I asked a Chilean colleague if piña had any context beyond "pineapple," and he couldn't think of anything. However, he did suggest that I was mishearing the guy and that he was saying "la peña" (the cliff), which would explain why he didn't call back after I hung up.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Back to the Farm

There are days -- many, many days -- when I really want to pack it all in and move off somewhere to do something simpler: farm, make wine, make cheese, maybe run a B&B or a small grocery. I know that none of that would actually be simpler to do and would be a more difficult and much less reliable way to make a living, but the idyll of self-reliance and not having to deal with (at least some) petty annoyances is quite appealing.

Is this likely to happen anytime soon? No. Not unless Evelin's been buying lottery tickets and not telling me about it. But it's nice to daydream about.

Of course, some people do more than daydream. Yesterday, while perusing the Scottish Blogs webring, I ran across The Accidental Smallholder [ main | blog ]. Absolutely fantastic site and interesting blog that is getting me a bit geared up to think of what we'll be growing this summer.

Evelin bought seeds a little while ago, but I can’t remember what all she bought: sweet peppers, tomatoes, peas, and beans. Maybe okra. We've had such bad luck with squashes over the past two years that we aren't trying them this summer, but we talked about growing corn/maize in the side yard where it could be both ornamental and edible. And we have all the garlic we planted in autumn.

The GoldRush apple tree is years away from production, but hopefully the raspberries will be less stingy this year, and Evelin has been talking about wanting to try growing kiwi if we take out the fig tree. It's a fine little tree (Ficus carica lattarula, commonly know by a variety of names: Marseilles, Blanche, Italian Honey, Early White, Lemon, ...), and the birds and ants like it, but neither of us like its fruit, so we've been slowly pruning it away.

Another farm blog that's been interesting and insightful to read is Rock Farm [ main | blog ], a pick-your-own place in north Georgia.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

We Now Resume Our Regularly Scheduled Blogging

美香 enjoys her moment in the sun. Evelin and I have to wait for the doctors to consult with each other before figuring out what's next to be done, and I have too much craziness going on at work to worry about test results that don't present any obvious solution, so I will return to fertility blogging once we know more. In the meantime, it's back to the zoo.

On Sunday, I spent a bit longer at the National Zoo than I usually do when I'm volunteering. Evelin's bookclub was meeting at our house, so I cleared out around 1:00 p.m. and got to just bum around until my shift started at 4:00 p.m. It was a pretty cold day, which meant a lot of animals were off exhibit, but Mei3 Xiang1 and Tian1 Tian1 were outside, enjoying a nap in the sun. Apparently, they had a good play session earlier in the day and they spent much of the afternoon napping. (During the watch shift, Mei spent about 20 minutes eating bamboo and then was dead asleep for the next 100 minutes.)

After checking out the bears, I went through the Elephant House, where Kandula was stomping around and making a lot of noise. Malaika, the reticulated giraffe, was still cowing Randall, the Rothschild's giraffe, who was peeking out from behind his side of the enclosure ... but not much.

Giant South American river turtles (Podocnemis expansa) aren't the easiest of animals to photograph, at least not when they're in a giant aquarium.I then headed down to Amazonia, which is in an out-of-the-way corner of the zoo to begin with but construction for the farm/petting zoo has it especially isolated these days. After checking out the fresh-water rays, I discovered that the zoo has some new giant South American river turtles (Podocnemis expansa, also known by the common names "arrau" and "tartaruga"). The turtles would float around pretty serenely until I tried to take thier picture, at which point they'd suddenly swim off in a different direction. If my digitial camera had a faster shutter speed or something, I might have gotten a decent photo, but oh well. Less camera shy was the shovelnose catfish (Sorubin lima), who made for a neat picture.

Shovelnose catfish (Sorubin lima) a.k.a. cucharón

After looking around at underwater side of things, I moved upstairs to the walk-through rainforest atrium. During the summer, Amazonia can be quite stiffling, but in the midst of winter, the humidity and warmth were nice. I never found the two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus ), but the Goeldi's monkeys (Callimico goeldii, also known by the common name "callimico") were bouncing around at a feeder station and a number of birds were flitting around, including a number of tanagers and a sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) that was strutting around the edge of the atrium. A palm tanager (Thraupis palmarum) -- at least I think it was a palm tanager -- flitted around me chirping while I was hunting for the sloth. Jungle Walk has a lot of bird song audio, as well as video of all sorts of animals.


(blank space to get the above photos to work right ... consider it a Blogger workaround.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Doctor's Thoughts

Evelin talked to the geneticist at the fertility clinic this morning, and things aren't much clearer. Basically, he thinks the DFI of 29.2% is close enough to the 30% threshold to be a sign of a problem, but he doesn't think DNA fragmentation could affect the mitotic spindle checkpoint, which is what they think was going wrong with Evelin's eggs based upon the multiple aneuploidies discovered in PGD during our IVF cycle.

At the same time, the three presumably good embryos that graduated from PGD were growing rather slowly (and the cycle didn't result in a pregnancy), so my fragmentation could be an issue there.

The 8% aneuploid sperm rate isn't anything to brag about, but it is just barely (0.3%) above the normal range, so it shouldn't be considered a big deal.

Now, the geneticist is going to talk to the RE and they'll get back to us. So who the heck knows what the recommended course of action will be.

Here is more information about the SCSA test.

Oh, and Evelin found a study showing that no couples with a DFI greater than 27% got pregnant. Follow up surveys/studies did show a chance for those of us with a DFI >27%, but the odds ain't great (and I don't know how many of those ended with a baby vs. a miscarriage).

Monday, February 02, 2004


Well, I'd planned to blog about the zoo some as I spent a few hours there yesterday and took some pictures, but now I'm a bit distracted. Evelin got an e-mail this morning from the fertility clinic and we're not sure exactly what it means.

We'd been hoping that the sperm analysis, aneuploidy, and chromosomal assay tests would help us figure out one way or another where the cause of our multiple miscarriages lay. Instead, we got some borderline results that just leave a few questions open until we either have a consult or the doctor replies to my e-mail. (This is the testing that we have been waiting for results from since late December.)

Basically, two main tests were run on the sperm sample: an aneuploidy test to see if there are any chromosomal abnormalities in the sperm (detected with Fluorescent in situ Hybridization, or FISH) and a Sperm Chromatin Structure Assay (SCSA), which looks at DNA fragmentation and stainability.

The SCSA yields two results: the DNA Fragmentation Index (DFI), which is the percentage of sperm with moderate and high levels of DNA fragmentation (percent moderate fragmentation plus percent high fragmentation); and the High DNA Stainability (HDS), which the percentage of sperm with immature chromatin. HDS sperm have less chromatin condensation, which leads to increased DNA stainability (the higher the DNA content in a cell, the lesser concentration of free dye and thus lower stainability).

[ASIDE: Stichting Medische Voortplanting Voorburg in the Netherlands has a very complete Glossary of Acronyms in Reproductive Medicine.]

DFI came back at 29.2%, which is just barely in the "good" range (excellent is <15%; good is 15%-29.9%; poor is >30%), and HDS came back at 7.8%, which is "normal" (>15% is high). The aneuploidy test came back at 8% of sperm showing signs of aneuploidy, which is higher than normal, but not by much ("normal" is 2.9%-7.7%). Sperm count was 138×106/ml (not sure where that is in terms of "normal").

The final diagnosis from the doctor was "good to fair fertility potential," but considering our history of multiple miscarriages and the very low percentage of embryos that made it through PGD for transfer (3 out of 32) -- and, of course, none of those "took" -- we have to wonder if being borderline in terms of DFI and aneuploidy is just too many strikes against us.

These results also leave us wondering about Evelin's eggs. If the results had been conclusively "good" for me, then it would indicate a problem with Evelin's egg reserve. But since my results are borderline, does that mean that she also has borderline issues, too, and that my borderline status and her borderline status tips us over the edge? Or are her eggs fine and my borderline status isn't so borderline once we get out of the lab? Or is it just a craps shoot, and one day some of my good guys could meet up with one of Evelin's good eggs?

Frustrating. And waiting. And, I guess, still going to the donor egg, donor sperm, and adoption information seminars ...

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Multitude of Movies

Due to a little miscommunication, Evelin and I ended up seeing two movies yesterday. For a few weeks, Evelin has been wanting to see Les Triplettes de Belleville, so when I got the e-mail that it was opening at Landmark Theatre's new E Street Cinema, which just opened back in early January, I started planning for us to go see it. At the same time, Evelin was making plans with J--- to see In America at the P&G Old Greenbelt. So we ended up going to two movies yesterday.

Les Triplettes de Belleville was fun, definitely quirky and surreal, but a lot of fun. Even neater was the Dalí and Disney collaborative short, "Destino," that preceded the main film. The really odd thing is that the animation made Dalí's imagery a bit less surreal: You would see how the shadow of a belfry could transform into a dress, for example, and it all, somehow, made sense.

While reading the credits for Les Triplettes de Belleville, it was interesting to note how transnational of a production it was with animators in Montréal, Rīga, Paris, Angoulême, Brussels, and elsewhere. Evgeni Tomov, art director for the movies, talked about this some in an interview with AnimWatch.

In America was quite the tearjerker, but well done. The two little girls – Sarah and Emma Bolger – were quite engaging. Given how stiff the Oscar race is this year, I don't know if it'll win anything (perhaps Djimon Hounsou will nab Best Supporting Actor), but it was worth seeing.

Afterwards, we stopped by College Perk, a relatively new coffee shop that opened up in an old house that previously was an exotic bird shop.