Jan 30, 2008

Restaurant Week

It's Restaurant Week here in San Diego, which means that many of our finest restaurants are providing three-course meals at a significant discount. The food still isn't cheap, but it's far more inexpensive than their standard prices; an appetizer, entree, and dessert from a limited menu total either $30 or $40. The participating restaurant list reads like a Who's Who of San Diego fine dining, so it's a great opportunity to try a new place.

Since it started on Sunday, D and I have gone to two of the local participants. It's sometimes difficult for us to choose a candidate...D has a no-seafood/no-stinky-cheese policy that tends to eliminate large portions of the list. We managed to find four or five in the North County Coastal area that would work, though we certainly won't get to all of them before Friday (the last day). Last night we went to Epazote Oceanview Steakhouse in Del Mar and both enjoyed our food choices....the creme brulee was especially delicious.

Anyway...if you're in the San Diego area, take a look. If not, Los Angeles and New York have their own versions, as do many other towns.

Jan 28, 2008

Daily Grind

Not a whole lot to report. The torrential rain has kept us from doing much around the city, so we've kept to the house aside from a couple of errand trips. On Saturday D and her family continued work on the backyard, adding some bricks to our patio and setting up a new (beautiful) table and chair set. After the rain stops for more than a few hours, I'll take a picture and post it here.

D has a Mon/Wed/Fri schedule this week, but grades are due tomorrow so there'll be an additional Tuesday visit. I'll be in customer meetings on Thursday and Friday (at least). Fortunately they're both in San Diego, so I probably won't have any major trips until next week. Unless something unexpected comes up, we'll just be hanging around and waiting for the Lost premiere on Thursday. For those who don't know, we watch far too much TV, and I've been looking forward to the new Lost season for quite a while.

Aside from our usual TV viewing, I have a new addiction to Mythbusters (on the Discovery Channel), where two geeky engineers try to debunk common myths by recreating them in a scientific environment. In recent episodes they built a lead balloon, tried to make a robot surf on a wave caused by explosives detonating in a lake, and fired hundreds of rounds into a hanging pig carcass to re-create Hollywood action movie physics. We've also been watching The Complete Jane Austen on PBS....this week was Mansfield Park....and quite a bit of political news/debates/results coverage.

I think we've officially decided not to attend the Celebration of Life at Children's Hospital. I thank you all for your input, both on the blog and through email. One of the emails we received was from a friend who went through a very similar situation at Children's with her baby. After reading what she wrote for her Celebration of Life ceremony, I think the event would definitely be too emotional at this point. It was incredibly touching, but to go through that with twenty different families......well, I'd have to buy stock in Kleenex before attending. Fortunately, we can RSVP for any future ceremony and have Andrew added to the list, so we can go when we decide that we're ready for it.

Jan 25, 2008

My Replacement

I don't think Willow really minds when I leave early for work.

When I told her it was rude to take my spot, she stuck her tongue out at me.

Jan 24, 2008

Celebration of Life

There's a "Celebration of Life" at Children's Hospital next Wednesday, and we still haven't decided whether we want to go. They have these ceremonies bimonthly to remember and honor children that have passed away since the last event. Apparently, there are between 22 and 35 children honored at each service.

While we certainly want to remember Andrew in every way possible, I don't know that this would be the right forum for it. I somehow doubt that putting the families of 22 dead children in a room together could in any way be interpreted as a celebration, and I don't know if the remembrance would be in the positive, thankful manner that we would like. The hospital's goal is to help parents begin the grieving process, and they provide chaplains, social workers, and 'child life specialists' to do just that. I don't know what a child life specialist is, but I really feel like we're grieving in the healthiest possible manner. We miss him, we appreciate the time we had with him, we remember him, and we move forward with the most positive outlook we can muster. There is obviously still a lot of good in our lives, including the time we spent with Andrew, and it's happier when we focus on those things rather than on our loss.

Perhaps I'm being hasty and judgmental, and maybe this ceremony would be really beneficial. But maybe not, and I don't want to realize that when I'm standing in front of a crowd of 150 people reading a poem about loss.

I know that many people grieve in different ways, and that it might be odd to some of our friends and family that we haven't had a funeral or service yet. While I welcome any opportunity for our families to gather and would love an open house where we did nothing but talk about how cute Andrew was, I don't want people to travel long distances or go out of their way for such an informal event. I'd rather just visit people individually as we have the opportunity, now that we can travel again.

What do you think? Is anyone put off by the lack of ceremony? Appalled that we haven't had a church service? Miss us so much your head is going to explode? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, even anonymously....I won't be offended.

Jan 23, 2008

A Real Man Would Never Do This.....

Four months ago, I bought tickets to Corteo, the most recent Cirque du Soleil performance to visit San Diego. In order to get the best seats, I chose a performance time that I thought would sell more slowly....I picked a random Sunday and chose the matinee. Four months later, I now realize why I got pretty good seats. It's Super Bowl Sunday!!!!! What an idiotic move....how did I randomly pick that date four months ago? I don't think it will completely overlap, so we'll be able to see most of the game. If the Chargers had made it, I would have skipped the performance and caught the whole thing.

Anyway....I was scheduled to spend the entire week away from home again, but my late-week appointment was canceled. I was in the Bay Area on Monday and Tuesday, and I may have to go back on Friday. D is working Tuesday/Thursday this week, so we at least got to spend some time together today.

Jan 20, 2008

Work and Remembrance

It's been a little while since my last post...I spent the whole week in Boston and didn't have a lot of free time. I was there for some training (corporate HQ is right on the river in Cambridge) and got to see many of my peers that I had never met in person. Only a few of them know about Andrew (the ones from my region), and so it was a little awkward when people asked about my bracelet. I'm still wearing the green plastic hospital bracelet that we had to wear to get into the NICU. A few guys recognized it as a "just had a baby" tag and either asked about it or congratulated me. For the most part, I mumbled something vague and noncommittal and the situation went away without having to make anyone totally depressed.

I realize I could have fixed the situation by simply removing the bracelet, but I like the reminder it gives me and I'm not quite ready to take it off. D and I have ordered matching bracelets with jade beads (to add that green touch) in order to have a permanent remembrance. I haven't decided whether I'm going to swap the bracelets as soon as the new one arrives, or wait until the plastic one breaks/weakens/falls off on its own. I don't think the new one will have the same attachment to the hospital....as awful as the NICU experience was, it was the only place I got to see Andrew, so it was special.

All in all, the trip to Boston was very nice. Working remotely most of the time, I relish any chance I have to see my coworkers, both from this position and my previous job (prior to May). However, I was a little distracted on Tuesday, as the 15th of every month is a little more difficult than most days...Andrew would have been 7 months old.

Jan 14, 2008

Willow Update Video

After a week or two of resting,

having her staples removed,

and letting us help her out so she can heal,

Willow has come a long way. Only eight days separate the sling picture above from the video below....quite an improvement. The video is four days old, so she's doing even better now.

Elephant Seal Video

Since my flight to Boston was canceled last night, I'm still home to post these elephant seal videos.

As you can see, the females and juveniles can be a bit shy. This one was hiding in some brush so that it didn't have to deal with any of the larger males.

The adult males, however, are a different subject. It's in their best interest to look as menacing as possible, in order to scare away any potential rivals before having to physically fight them. To keep the other males on their toes, they will occasionally interrupt their nap for an unscheduled bellow.

This male was facing away, but is still an imposing figure.

This one decided to play it up for the camera. A few seconds later, he started moving toward us, freaking out some of the people on our tour.

Jan 10, 2008

Elephant Seals

While we were in Capitola after Christmas, we took a day outing to Año Nuevo State Reserve. A short drive north of Santa Cruz, this reserve is one of the few places that elephant seals make landfall on the mainland...they usually stick to islands just off the coast. The local seal demographics depend on the time of year (mating season, molting season, etc); we arrived during the early portion of mating season. There were about 150 total seals on the beach, most of them males; up to 1700 more breeding females will arrive before the end of the season in March.

If you're not familiar with elephant seals, they are quite different than the harbor seals you might see in bays (San Diego, San Francisco) or at parks such as Sea World. These grow up to 18 feet long and can weigh 5000 pounds, and the males grow a huge proboscis (nose) that they use for showing off to females and bellowing a distinctive roar.

It's a forty-five minute walk from the visitor center to the beach where the seals gather. During breeding season, all visitors must be accompanied by a naturalist docent that decides on the walking route and provides information along the way. As you approach the main beach, there are lots of random seals that have hauled themselves into the dunes near the path. The dunes are rather hilly, so occasionally a seal would bellow from twenty feet away, invisible behind a rise....it's a very odd feeling. I'll post a video at some point, so you can hear their distinctive roar.

Here's a medium-sized male taking a rest. The males won't give up their spot on the beach to go out and get something to eat, so they have to conserve their energy when not mating or defending their harem. As it is, they'll lose up to 1500 pounds by fasting for three months.

When they want to make their presence known, the males will sit up and throw their heads back. This exposes their trunk-like noses and produces a more impressive bellow.

Here's a full-body shot to get a feel for their size. There's nothing in the picture for scale, but when the Chargers and Colts take the field on Sunday, this guy will weigh more than both starting lineups put together.

The beach is sparsely populated for now. At the end of February, you'll barely be able to see the sand in this area. With thousands on the beach and more spread throughout the neighboring dunes, they must make an impressive sight.

Jan 9, 2008

Back to Work

This week has been our first real week of work in a while. D went back on Monday; though she's been grading papers and tests the entire time, it's been many weeks since she's been in the classroom. Though she had the expected trepidation about going back and having to face so many people, it went well and wasn't as emotional as it could have been. Everyone has been very supportive...students, teachers, and administration.

Our schedules this week have kept us pretty separate...D works Monday/Wednesday/Friday and I had a trip on Tuesday. After going to bed at 3:30am, I had to get up at 4:30am and take the first flight to Seattle. After spending the day there and having my already-late return flight postponed by two hours, I didn't arrive home until around 1am. D went to bed while I fell asleep on the couch. Willow has been whimpering when put in her cage at night...I kept her in the living room with me so she wouldn't disturb D's sleep. By the time I woke up, it was practically morning anyway and D was leaving soon, so I finished out the night on the couch. Aside from a headache and a crick in the neck, it wasn't bad.

Willow is still improving. When she walks slowly, it almost looks normal, though she still has a limp and wobbles a bit. When she walks faster or isn't concentrating, it looks like she's had a little Jack Daniels added to her water bowl. We're happy with her progress though, and we're hoping it continues.

Jan 7, 2008

Willow Weekend

This weekend was very low-key and almost entirely focused on Willow. On Saturday we drove back to Orange County for a check-up with the vet. The rest of the time, we were either running errands or lounging around the house keeping an eye on Willow's progress.

Fortunately, Willow has made quite an improvement. Two days ago, she had zero movement in her back legs and was only standing (with a little support) for a few minutes at a time. Yesterday she was standing on her own for brief periods, but falling over after a few steps. Today she's walking all the way across the room. She's still very wobbly and isn't placing her feet exactly right....she looks drunk...but she's dramatically better than just a few days ago. The vet was very happy with her progress and thinks she'll get even better over the next couple of weeks.

We've stopped confining her to her cage at all times; instead, we've widened her area to just the living room. We're preventing her from getting on the couch or bed and putting her back in the cage at night, but a bit of walking practice will be good for her. It's pitiful to watch her stumble over her own legs, step on the tops of her feet, and occasionally drag a leg behind her, but it's wonderful to see signs of recovery. Hopefully it will progress at the same pace, and she'll be walking normally in a few days. Maybe I'll shoot a video while she's still swerving like a drunken debutante.

The vet also took out her staples, so her back looks a little better. The incision is still surrounded by holes where the staples were, but as the tiny bits of dried blood come off it will start looking much better. It'll take a while for her hair to grow back and cover the scar, but our little football welcomes any improvement.

Jan 5, 2008

Hawaii Dolphin Video

Here's a quick video from our dolphin swim. The roiling mass of dolphins trailing the pack is what they call a "mating pod." As I mentioned before, the spinners like to have fun while they travel, and we were given instructions to give a wide berth to such entanglements.

Jan 4, 2008

Hawaii Day 5

Now that Willow is stable and very slowly inching her way toward recovery, I can again post about fun subjects like Hawaiian dolphin swims. On our last full day in Hawaii, we headed down to Kona and boarded a boat to track down (and swim with) some sea life. Spinner dolphins roam the coasts in huge packs, playing, sleeping, mating, and otherwise enjoying themselves. We thought swimming with them in this environment would be much more natural (and less restrictive) than the ridiculously expensive "dolphin experiences" available in the man-made lagoon at our resort.

Spinner dolphins are smaller than the bottlenose dolphins seen at Sea World (and in Flipper), but what they lack in size they make up for in acrobatics. They jump, flip, and spin in many different patterns....it really looks like they're having fun. A spinner dolphin can leave the water and make five full rotations before landing. Since they generally take their time and play along the way, their forward progress isn't too speedy, leaving plenty of time for us to swim along with them and occasionally interact. Our boat would find a pack and pull in front of them. Then everyone would enter the water and spread out, just in time for the dolphins to arrive and swim through our group. If you turn and swim in the same direction, they will sometimes interact with you. Though we weren't allowed to touch them (wild dolphins have a very limited immune system), they often got close enough to touch as they meandered back and forth. When the entire pod had moved past our group, we re-boarded the boat, sped up to get in front of the pack, and repeated the process. We were able to do this six or seven times in total.

It was really a fabulous experience, and I'd recommend it for anyone with the opportunity. There was only one rough moment, when I slipped coming up the boat ladder and went knees-first into the deck. I tore up my knees and shins a bit on the textured surface, and spent the rest of the trip bleeding into open water. D was nervous about sharks, but I assumed the continued presence of dolphins meant that there was no immediate threat.

Here are a few pictures from our trip....

The pod we were swimming with had 100-130 members, so there could be forty or fifty in view at any one time. They generally swam in pairs or small clusters, which you can see from this shot.....for a cheap underwater camera, this one turned out particularly well.

This was the dolphins' Jerry Bruckheimer moment, where they all got in a straight line and advanced in parallel.

If my camera were better, this one may have looked like a Wyland painting. As it is, the shafts of light are a bit obscured by lens junk.

After finishing our swimming for the day, we ran across a humpback mother and baby. The baby was only one or two days old, and we got to watch them playing for a bit before heading back to the harbor.

Jan 3, 2008

Back Surgery Pictures

These are obviously not the first post-op pictures I've put on this blog, but this scar makes me wish for the surgeons at Childrens....apparently they're a lot less dainty with pet surgeries.

As you can see, Willow's entire back has been shaved, and the incision has been closed with staples. The closure site looks good so far, and the staples will be removed at her checkup next week.

Here's a close-up of the scar itself.

In honor of a successful Rose Bowl victory, Willow wanted to be a Trojan football. Her staples look just like laces.

We've had to keep her mostly confined to a crate that we move with us between rooms (bedroom<-->living room). She doesn't particularly like being locked up, but she's gotten used to it after being caged at the vet for a week. She's not above pathetic looks, however....here she's giving us a sad-eyed pout.
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Jan 2, 2008

Home Sweet Home

We're finally settled in at home after a long Christmas vacation.....in the last two weeks, we've been to Orange County, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Capitola, and San Jose. It's been mostly a wonderful relief, though our relaxation was definitely tempered by Willow's back issues. I'll follow up soon with more detailed information and some pictures of her scar (it's nasty), but for now she's doing about the same as she was when we picked her up. It will likely be several weeks before there's significant improvement in her ability to move her hindquarters. She'll be on strict cage rest for at least thirty days, during which time we will continue her physical therapy and make sure she's taking it easy. She does five minutes of "standing exercises" twice a day, and we can walk her around at other times using a sling to lift her hind legs while she walks on her front legs. Fortunately she does have control over going to the bathroom, so we're not constantly cleaning up after her.

Last night we spent a quiet night in; we had Chinese food and watched the ball drop, and fervently hoped that 2008 would be better than 2007. We're shooting for no fires (or floods, or earthquakes), no premature casualties (children, grandparents, or anyone else), and no pet injuries.

In the next few days, I'll be blogging about Willow, swimming with the dolphins in Hawaii, seeing elephant seals in northern California, and various other topics. I hope everyone's getting back into the swing of things and having a great 2008 so far.