Blog: June 2008

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Pennsic prep (mostly)

Sunday was a planned work day for my Pennsic camp -- specifically some house repairs. Last year we replaced several sections of siding that had gotten mushy because we didn't know from day one that caulk is important. There were some sections we didn't get to last year, so we attacked those this time. Dani and I had done a scouting mission and several camp members had gotten together two weeks ago to prime and paint plywood, so this "should" have been easy. That noise you hear is heavenly laughter. :-)

When we did that scouting mission (a month or so ago) there were lots of wasps or hornets swarming around. (I was disinclined to get close enough to armed insects to determine which these were.) We've had nests before, so I brought up some chemical weapons this time -- and we found nothing. Ok, we found an occupied bird's nest (they can stay until Pennsic), but no wasp/hornet nests at all. That's great, but a little mystifying.

First lesson learned: a power inverter works better if you have the cables -- or, failing that, if the cables are not in a car at a gaming convention in Columbus. Oops. We were so careful to make sure I had the box before Dani left for Origins; it didn't occur to either of us that the full-looking box was not actually full. Fortunately, Alaric is handy with copper wire, which he was able to pick up on his way up to Cooper's Lake.

Second lesson learned: the circular saw really is too big for the power inverter (I think the person who thought it worked last year was mis-remembering), but a jig saw is good enough to make straight cuts in plywood. (A lesson we learned last year is that you can't really measure for the replacement piece until you've removed the old piece, which means cutting on site.)

Third lesson learned: rain is wet. :-) Ok, we already knew that, and we knew we were gambling some on the weather. We got rained on twice, but each time only lasted about 15-20 minutes and people were smart enough to come down from the big metal ladder. :-) A bigger storm rolled in as we were finishing, so we got to drive home in that.

We've had some impressive storms in the last few days. I don't think we got the predicted hail this afternoon, but on both Saturday and Sunday there were some pretty fierce winds and impressive light shows.

After I got home (and cleaned up) Sunday night I was able to visit with college friends from Seattle for a couple hours. I'm not certain they had had their first kid when last I saw them, and they were in town this weekend to drop him off at CMU's pre-college program. Wow -- been a long time. It was good to catch up some (though it was incomplete).

Random bits

The most recent gathering of the Transarc doc group was Saturday afternoon at a home half a mile from mine. (While I don't remember the hosts from Transarc (I don't think we overlapped), I did share a Hebrew class with them once.) At one point a person I've worked with twice, and tried to recruit, asked me "are you still loving your job?". I gestured toward another person sitting there and asked "have you met my grand-boss"? I then explained that any answer I gave under the circumstances would be perceived as either untruthful or unwise, depending, so I couldn't answer that question just then. I also pointed out that another attendee now works for me, so she shouldn't ask her about it in front of me. :-)

It took a couple weeks (after making an online reservation), but I finally got my confirmation for the NHC summer institute (Jewish learning program). So now all I have to do is decide on an airport and make reservations. Trains do not go there efficiently. That's a pity; I would like to be able to take a train somewhere someday. Doing the "airborne sardine" thing is over-rated. (Hmm. I'm taking it as a given that no one else from the Pittsburgh area is going, but I should check. Driving could work with the right group. But there is no way I'm taking such a road trip myself.)

Erik saw my vet tonight for a followup after his visit to the emergency clinic last week. He is eating but (still) not as much as he should be. I am to give him fluids for a while. We are waiting for an appointment for a consultation with a specialist, who'll look at the ultrasound and advise on options, including surgery. Poor guy. He's active and otherwise happy near as I can tell, but he does seem to have a case of ADR (Ain't Doin' Right), and I hope they can figure out how to fix it soon.

It's a little disconcerting to realize that my cat has better health care than many people who can pay (but live in places where there's none to be bought).

interview game: Alaric

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Questions on Sh'lach L'cha

The rabbi pointed out an oddity in this week's portion this morning (for which he did not have an answer off the top of his head): at the beginning of Sh'lach L'cha, when the spies are enumerated, we have "from the tribe of Ephrayim, Yehoshua bin Nun" and then, later, "from the tribe of Yosef from Manashe, Gadi ben Susi". Yosef, one of the twelve sons of Yisrael, doesn't get his own tribe; instead, his sons Ephrayim and Manashe are elevated to full tribal status. So why does the torah give the extra lineage in one of these cases but not the other -- and especially skipping the first instance (where you would expect it were there only one)? The rabbi checked Mikrot Gedolot but didn't find anything there.

And is it significant that Yosef's name is attached not to one of the heroes of the story (Yehoshua), but to one of the defeatist spies who caused the forty-year delay on entering the land?

And on a much more minor note, why is Yehoshua bin Nun instead of ben Nun? (That's consistent, not just in this passage.)

interview game: Rani23

1. What's your favorite time of year and why?

Tulips, plus and minus a few weeks. I love all the brightly-colored flowers! And even when the weather is still cold and wet, you know it's getting better -- and it's not yet overly hot and humid.

2. In the past year, what's been your least favorite book that you've read? Read more…

Erik is home...

...and the vet at the clinic has no explanation for what happened.

They put him on IV fluids and hit him with injected antibiotics (which I understand to be more potent), and he started eating. This morning they said he had eaten "a little"; this afternoon it was "quite a bit" (though they didn't quantify any of this and I didn't think to ask). To my surprise, the vet did not propose exploratory surgery (and attack on the gallstone while in the neighborhood); rather, she suggested sending him home and following up with my regular vet in a week. My vet, in turn, has a surgeon she'll want to have consult. And I'll want to know an awful lot more than I currently know about the probable and possible effects of the surgery on him, short- and long-term. The last one was pretty rough on him but was overwhelmingly successful; I can't assume another surgery would be like that.

I know that in people they can use some sonic doo-hickey to break up kidney stones sometimes, but my vet is unaware of such things for cats at all or for gallstones.

I have a copy of the results from yesterday's blood test and the technicians' log of everything they did to him while he was there. When I got home I called my vet and read her parts of it, and she's confused too. They are supposed to fax her a copy (and if they don't I can). I have an appointment with her for next Monday.

Everyone I spoke with at AVETS described Erik as "very affectionate". Good boy. :-)

Thanks to everyone for the good wishes yesterday and today.

Remembering my grandfather

I recently found myself in a conversation about grandparents, and it made me think of one in particular. The grandparent I feel the strongest connection with, even though I had the smallest amount of time with him, was my paternal grandfather. It's odd what I do and don't remember: I don't remember what he looked like at all, but I remember his voice and I remember some of our time together. And while I don't specifically remember the incidents, I know that he taught me to think, to question, and to analyze. He surely taught my father the same things and my father taught me, so his influence carried on after him.

My grandfather came to the US from Italy when he was a child. I now realize that I know very little about his life before I was born. I know that my father was the first family member to go to college (grandpa was smart, not necessarily educated), but I realize I don't know how my grandfather earned a living, what took him to Ohio, how he met my grandmother, and lots of other things. Fortunately for me, my father will know many of these things and I can ask him.

Even with all that, though, I marvel at how close I feel to a man I didn't have nearly enough time to get to know.

Not how I planned to spend the afternoon

Erik has been increasingly lethargic and decreasingly interested in food since Friday. I gave him fluids both Friday and Saturday nights (that usually fixes it), but he was still droopy this morning. When he wouldn't eat, I pushed in some tuna juice via syringe in hopes of at least getting some nutrients in (and maybe getting him interested in eating more). Nope. I couldn't reach my vet (not surprising on a Sunday), so I figured we'd now be seeing her tomorrow.

That's when I noticed that his pink nose wasn't pink -- it was the same color as the rest of him. Jaundice, anyone? So off to the animal hospital we raced.

There was a lot of waiting around while they did tests, and in the end they admitted him. They are giving him IV fluids and injectable antibiotics and trying to get him to eat. I asked about appetite stimulants or IV nutrients and they said not yet (ask again tomorrow). They also said that while he (and his blood) looked a little jaundiced, the bilirubin level was normal. Weird. (His nose was also pinker by the end of the exam than it had been, though not normal.)

Coincidentally, he had an ultrasound earlier this week (looking for the cause of elevated WBC count, and it had been 15 months since the last one). My vet hasn't seen the report yet, but based on what was read to her over the phone, there were some issues there but nothing really urgent. The folks at the hospital probably would have wanted an ultrasound, so we'll just send them that one.

Interesting numbers from today's blood test:
ALT 1076 (1150 in May, 1200 in January or February)
AST 248
ALKP 419
GGT 13
WBC 20,800 (17,000 in May)

I don't know what some of those mean. (Never heard of GGT before, but normal is 1, not 13.) The first four are liver-related; the last is the white-blood-cell count (the high reading that prompted the ultrasound).

Also: pulse 228 (high), temperature 101.7 (normalish), weight 3.2kg (= 7 pounds).

I left a message for my vet when I got home, and she called me back. (Hey, I didn't know that was her home number. I've always gotten a machine, so assumed it was office voicemail.) She will talk with the vet at the hospital tomorrow (or tonight if they want). She also had new information about the ultrasound: the message she had gotten from a staff member said two small "stones" but didn't say where (kidney stones? bladder stones? ?); she said she would have to see the report/images. But yesterday she happened to be talking with the doctor who did the ultrasound, and he said gallstones. Gall, liver... sounds related to me! So I called the hospital to relay that information.

I don't have a favorite hospital (among those available night/weekends). I first called my vet hoping for an emergency number; their message listed names and phone numbers of three emergency clinics. One is the place where Erik had his surgery in 2005, but I serendipitiously learned this week that the doctors who were there at the time are no longer there, so there's no reason to choose them. So it boiled down to: one is known to be hard to drive to if there's traffic (anticipating a trip in evening rush hour tomorrow); one is in a town I've heard of but not been to; one I know how to find and there was a positive article about them in the paper six months ago. So on the strength of that alone, I went to AVETS in Monroeville. If my vet thinks that was a mistake, we can fix it tomorrow.

Now, I guess we wait. Poor Erik! If the problem turns out to be a gallstone lodged in an unfortunate place, I wonder what the least-invasive way to treat it is.

Edited to add: relevant article from VIN.

interview game: Alienor

1. You seem to be more observant than Dani. Does this create any tension in your relationship? How do you deal with it (if yes)?

It creates challenges -- mostly not between us directly, but in matters involving his family. Their expectations of the Passover seder are rather different from mine, for instance, but they really want everyone to be together. We're still working that one out. And when we visit, their intentions are good for accommodating my Shabbat/holiday needs, but they don't have the habits and sometimes there are awkward moments as a result. For example, they'll plan to go to a restaurant on Saturday before sundown, not because they're rude but because they just don't automatically check sun times when making plans, and then I'll have to ask them to modify the plans or go without me, and then we work it out 'cause they're good people who want to be inclusive. (Well, there's one exception, but she's not a significant factor.)

With Dani himself, there have been some strains as he's gotten used to observance and I've gotten used to what he doesn't instinctively know, but I think we're in pretty good shape now. We just have to educate each other and never assume negative motives. During the early years he didn't grok some of the Shabbat issues, for instance, but he does now. We are not yet on the same page with respect to kashrut, but we've also agreed that he won't cook without my supervision, so that's fine. (Mostly he's not inclined to cook, and we have some non-kosher utensils in the basement that he's free to go wild with if he wants to make something problematic. The last time he wanted to do something that required them was for an SCA project several years ago.)

2. You and Dani have two Cruise tickets for anywhere. Where do you go?

Well, I'd discuss it with him, but my vote is going to be for someplace with ice (Alaska, Antarctica, Iceland...) or waterfalls. They're pretty, and I'm not much of a beach person (which seems to be the other common motif).

3. If you could start over fresh out of high school (but knowing what you know now), would you go to school (not sure what they call it) to be a rabbi instead of programming?

I would almost certainly go to seminary, yes. The ones I'm familiar with (that would teach women) require a bachelor's degree first to get in and don't seem to be picky about what that degree is in, so I suppose I could do both. I think there are some similarities between the studies of computer science and Jewish law, actually. :-) (I actually made almost that argument in my application to the para-rabbinic program...)

4. Is there a part of the SCA that you wish you could keep, if the bureaucracy and scheduling conflicts weren't an issue?

I'm not dumping the SCA, though I'm certainly scaling way back. If not for the scheduling issues and bureacracy/politics, I would like to cook more feasts. I never really got a long run at that, so I never had the chance to overdo it. :-) (Contrast with autocratting, which I'm not likely to go back to.)

If we weren't all so busy, and we had performance opportunities (that now would tend to pose Shabbat issues), I would also enjoy getting my music ensemble back together.

5. What little (almost inconsequential) part of your day do you enjoy the most? (like maybe the first spray of your morning shower, hug from your sweetie after a long day, whatever).

Two: the good-night kiss, and petting the cats when they hop up on the bed in the morning before I get up.


There is a tradition of staying up all night on Shavuot to study torah. There are various reasons for this -- it's an appropriate way to prepare for receiving torah, it's compensation for the Israelites falling asleep (midrash), mystical reasons having to do with "repair" of the world, and probably others. My congregation doesn't go all night, but what we get in several hours is quite fulfilling for me. I've learned the lesson about going elsewhere after we're done; the other places I've gone locally just haven't measured up for me. (Part of that is that the local, traditional options aren't so good for women, but that's not all of it.) Read more…