Thursday, August 20, 2020


It's been 5 months.

Five months since schools were shut down, businesses were shuttered and the world as we knew it was at a stand still.   We've had an earthquake and hundreds of aftershocks.  We've had fear and panic and paranoia.  Those first few weeks and months were just horrible and awful, weren't they.  No idea if the whole corona virus was really going to kill us all, or if it was a hoax, or if it was here to stay.

Then, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by those horrible police officers and the whole world erupted.  There are still protests every day around the country but they don't get much air time.  The news media has moved on to the upcoming election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump (heaven help us).

Five months later and we're wearing masks apparently in Salt Lake County through the end of 2020.  Places are sort of open, but with precaution.  In five months I've eaten inside of a restaurant twice and minus doctor and physical therapy appointments can count on two hands how many times I've been into a store.  I've been to the grocery store once and have turned into one of those crazy germ people whose cautiously optimistic and puts on a brave face for my kids but is also totally afraid of my own shadow.

Since the world went into panicked hibernation in March we've done the following.

*Sold our home of 9 years.
*Moved out of our home, into Ross parents town home in a 55+ community and lived there for 10 weeks.
*Online school from home (miserable experience)
*Ross working from home (stressful for all 5 of us, especially in a 2 bedroom town home in a 55+ community)
*Ankle surgery, 5 weeks in a wheelchair and all of the emotional baggage associated with throwing my life in a tailspin I wasn't quite prepared for.
*Moving into our new home.
*7 state road trip to Minnesota for a Howden family reunion (UT, WY, SD, ND, MN, MT, ID)
*Adjusting to a new house, more working from home, isolation, physical therapy, learning how to drive again, and continuing to isolate to keep everyone healthy.

The mental game the last five months has played on our family (I mean, on the world) has been intense.  I've seen my children suffer from bouts of intense anxiety and some mild depression.  My husband isn't meant to work from home.  I'm an introvert who needs her space and quiet time and that went out the window in March, even though there have been some moments of quiet in recent weeks where I've been alone and it's been good.

This has all just been so nuts.  There aren't words for what a disaster this has all been, or how intense it has been for every single American - well except for those ultra wealthy a-holes who keep getting ultra wealthier....but that's for another day.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel?  The boys go back to school next week, with masks on and pages and pages of safety precautions listed out by the schools.  But school will be so good.  Routine will be so good.  Friends and teachers and learning and a sense of normal, even though it isn't normal at all, will be so good.  Utah's covid cases have been dropping, or at least manageable, or whatever it is, and we're going back to school.  I'm not sure how long it will last - I'm hoping it will last for a while, but they are going back and maybe this madness can end for a bit.

Or maybe our lives will be like this forever.

Who knows.  It's been 5 months.  It *almost* feels normal now.  What's the rest of our lives, right?

Saturday, August 08, 2020

All my hair is falling out

In March of 2018 I had a procedure.  It could have been performed "outpatient" and sedated in the OBGYN office with the door closed but I chose to do it in an OR under anesthesia.  Because of the bedes and my goofy health record I just felt better doing it in an operating room.

The procedure was an endometrial ablation.  Google it.  It changed my life.

In March of 2019 I had surgery.  After having some intense abdominal pain off and on for a couple of weeks, I got an appointment with my internal medicine specialist.  She sent me for a CT scan and thought I maybe I had diverticulitis.  The CT scan showed some random tissue growing around my ureter, potentially messing with my kidneys and bladder.  After an appointment with a very grumpy urologist who was not interested in helping a woman in her early 40's, I was back at the OBGYN who agreed to do an exploratory laparoscopic procedure to see what was the root of the problem.

The surgery that was supposed to take 90 minutes took almost 4 hours.   The tissue was a severe case of endometriosis.  All the tissue was carefully removed so as not to damage any of the ureter and kidney stuff, as well as a baseball sized ovarian cyst and my left Fallopian tube.  Good thing I didn't need that anymore.

The recovery was pretty okay and I came home from the hospital with photographs of all my insides that were fixed up; four nice bruises and some internal stitches that after several weeks started to make there way out of my skin.  I was told by my doctor to just trim the strings and let them do their thing.

In March of 2020 I was supposed to have surgery to fix a nagging ankle injury and a very deformed hammer toe. 

This story needs to back up a bit though, to January 2019.  One one of the Saturday's in January, after a Jr. Jazz game, I went up for a layup in heeled boots and I lost my footing in glorious spastic fashion and fell. You may have felt the earthquake.  There was quite an audience laughing at me but the pain was so intense I thought I might throw-up.  Though I was laughing, it was just to hide the tears.  The pain was incredibly intense and having a really bad ankle it was obvious that my failed attempt at looking cool had earned me a pretty serious sprain.

This bad ankle had been haunting me for years before and continued to bother me the rest of 2019.  For Thanksgiving we went to Disneyland and one night in the town home we'd rented, as everyone was sleeping and my blood sugar dropped low I fell down the stairs heading to the fridge for a glass of chocolate milk.  Rolled my ankle and spent the rest of the trip in pain.

I'll make the story shorter now.

In January 2020 I paid my podiatrist, a really good guy a visit.  The x-ray showed that within the last year I'd broken my ankle and had ruptured tendons as well as some bone fragments.  The MRI a week later showed torn ligaments and confirmed that surgery was the only way to fix what was now, more than ever, my very fragile ankle.

In February, the surgery was scheduled for March 19.  Little did we know back then that Covid-19 would infect the world, everything would shut-down, and on March 19 Salt Lake would get hit with an earthquake.  Obviously the surgery was postponed and I was put on stricter than average quarantine orders so that when surgical centers opened again, I could be first in line to get the dumb ankle and wonky hammer toe fixed up for good.

At the end of April I got the call that surgery could go ahead for May 7th.  When the day arrived, I was the only patient in triage in the surgical center and my doctor was the only one operating that day.  I had to wear a mask the entire time, sign extra paper work and do things on my own that under different circumstances a nurse probably would have done had it not been for the Corona-virus.   I ended up with a fixed ankle that healed pretty quickly and a 4 inch pin in my toe for 5 weeks that left me wheel chair and crutches bound.  I don't recommend getting hammer toes fixed.  And, all of this went down while we were in the process of moving, doing online home school, and Ross working from home.  But that is a melodrama for another day.

Now, if anyone ever reads this, and has made it this far you are probably wondering what is the point of this surgical chronology?

The point is very simple.

All my hair is falling out.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Are you a Salt Spittoon or a Weeny Hut Junior

I'm not afraid to admit it, I really love Sponge Bob Square ants.  He's lovable and amiable.  There is generally a moral in every 15 minute story told.  He is a good guy, desperate to do well at work, make and keep his friends, and help people out, even "people" like plankton who aren't the kindest or nicest to be around.  He shows up on time, happy and excited to be there.  He is loyal and trustworthy, takes good care of his home, his pet, his parents.   

What's not to love?

I have a few favorite episodes too.  The one where Squidward has to take over the band and teach everyone to play an instrument to impress Squilliam Fancyson and the whole town comes through and performs an epic musical montage.  The episode where Sponge Bob becomes "normal" and greets everyone with, "Hello.  How are you?  Wonderful weather we're having." as his holes disappear and he becomes smooth and glassy.  My favorite episode is the one where all the jellyfish invade his home and have a raging party and he cannot get them to go away.  They trash his house, he cannot sleep and it's messing up his entire life.  Finally, Gary the snail figures out how to get them to go away.  Gary knocks his eyeballs together to create a beat and the whole ocean chimes in creating a rhythmic song to usher the jellyfish back to jellyfish fields, sort of like the pied piper.  Yeah, that one is my favorite.

Setting these episodes to the side however, there is one episode of Sponge Bob in particular we reference in our family quite a bit.  We use it often to not only define ourselves, but to categorize other people.  Yes, there is some judgement involved, but it isn't mean spirited, it's just a kinder, more gentle way to help my kids see that there are differences in people that they meet, and to help us determine what kind of people we want to become.

So, there is this place called the Salty Spittoon.  Sponge Bob desperately wants to enter, but he isn't tough enough.  Sandy is tough enough, she gets in easily.  Sponge Bob knows that to get into the Salty Spittoon you have to be pretty rough and tumble, carry your own weight and stand up to any trouble that might come your way.  The Spittoon has a bouncer and try as he might, Sponge Bob cannot get past the bouncer. and through the batwing doors.  

Why does he want to get into the Salty Spittoon so bad?  Because the Spittoon is the coolest place in Bikini Bottom to hang out AND because the only other place in town spend, what I presume is your Friday night out is Weeny Hut Juniors.  This is not the place to be seen.  Weeny hut juniors is for little kids.  It's a gimmick.  It's easy.  They serve ice cream, not manly spittoon stuff (whatever that is) and Sponge Bob is desperate to not be seen as a weenie!

So, he tries over and over and over again to get into the Salty Spittoon.  He pretends to be a tattoo on a huge guy.  He pretends to be another person.  None of that works and he realizes that he has to be himself. Finally, he enlists the help of Patrick Star and after a little bit of craziness that only those two seem to conjure up, Sponge Bob is granted entrance into the Salty Spittoon.  His dreams have come true.  Of course things go wrong upon entering the Spittoon, but that's not the point of the story.

What's the point, you ask?

The point is this.  I am always encouraging my kids to be salty spittoons and not weeny hut juniors.  In our family we do hard things.  We try and try and try again.  We don't settle for easy.  We don't whine and complain (that much) and we work hard to move forward.  We set goals, we do what is right, we work around obstacles.

Living the last 5 months under the quarantine and looming uncertainty of the Corona virus (Covid-19) and making the tough decision to go back to school in a couple of weeks has been one of those tough "salty spittoon" decisions for our family.   We weighed the options, talked among the five of us at length and made the best decision for our family.  There is so much noise and static right now, and so much complaining surrounding the topic of going back to school it's hard to know what is the right choice.  Honestly, I think it's one of the many factors contributing to my migraines and hair loss but that's a different story.  

Mostly, there seem to be a lot of weeny hut juniors out there muddying the waters lately.

And finally, I just really like Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The Madrid Zoo and other things



After a day full of museums, it was time to take the boys to their natural habitat - a zoo!  We weren't sure what to expect from the Madrid Zoo but we did know one important fact, the Madrid zoo has PANDA BEARS.  Quinn was ecstatic to say the least.

The zoo was too far to walk to so we called a taxi and headed to a new part of the city, a part that was much more suburban. On the drive we saw some schools, some parks and playgrounds, and a much more residential, all be it still apartments, part of the city.

The entrance to the zoo felt a lot like when we went to the Tampa Zoo.  Very wooded and green and pretty lush.  Past the main gate, it wasn't quite as beautiful as the entrance but it was still good just the same.

Zoo Highlights:

  • 3 giant pandas, two of them awake, doing panda things - walking around, climbing trees and eating bamboo.
  • Giant ant eaters - we've never seen them before.  They were asleep, but they still get checked off the list.
  • 2 baby Asian elephants.  Quinn had never seen Asian elephants before, only African so he was sure to tell us all the major differences.
  • Baby gorillas and chimpanzees (in different enclosures of course).
  • Sea lion show, exotic bird show, dolphin show.  This zoo also had a small aquarium attached and did a sea world like show with their 9 dolphins on exhibit.
  • Sloth bear
  • "American animals" - on exhibit they had several bison and even an enclosure with raccoons, which seems pretty silly, but it's not every day you see a gaggle of raccoons staring right back at you.
  • Food - we ate lunch at the zoo.  Not a single gift shop or concessions stand opened until well after, maybe 2 in the afternoon and by then we were starving.  But, when we finally found, along with everyone else at the zoo, the one food stand that was open it was surprisingly good.  Madrid was huge on burgers and fries and the only thing the zoo offered for food was - yes - burgers and fries.
Zoo low lights:
  • Many of the animal exhibits and enclosures were very old fashioned.  Lots of concrete, little shade, no visible animal enrichment.  My little zoologist was pretty upset by a lot of the stuff he saw because he's used to seeing animals at American zoos.  The tiger looked sickly and the sloth bear (which we'd never seen before) looked very sad and lonely on his concrete perch. 
  • The zoo had grizzly bears.  Four of them.  They were the biggest bears I have ever seen in my life.  The four bears were much too large to be all together and they were definitely people trained.  They were begging for food from spectators and people were obliging.
  • Humans.  We were the only people at the zoo I heard speaking English, but there were more languages being spoken during our visit than I probably could ever guess.  But....BUT, there were so many people who were harassing animals, poking animals up close to fences and FEEDING THE BEARS.  It was sad and awful.  The boys were so distraught that people were clearly breaking the rules of the zoo and Quinn and Wyatt wanted us to find someone to complain to, but I'm not sure we saw a zoo keeper the entire time we were there.
We were at the zoo a long time.  Like, maybe 6 hours?  I was so surprised at the amount of time but it was a nice way to spend the day - in spite of the "sad" parts.  After the zoo, we got another cab and headed to another new part of town.  We were dropped off at a small church - the burial site of Francisco Goya.  There were no cameras allowed and the small chapel was guarded by two over bearing women in black, but it was truly beautiful.  Goya had painted all the fresco's on the ceilings and was entombed in the front of the church (is that part called the nave?).  I was a little nervous that the boys were going to knock something over in this church and get us into trouble, but luckily our quick visit was incident free.

After the church we walked down a very busy street towards a train station that also had a mall.    We got a small treat, rested our feet and then got another cab to take us back to our apartment.


We wrapped up the night with dinner and then heading to bed.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Madrid, day two :: Museums

Getting all five of us up, dressed, fed and watered on our second day was a little rough.  Jet lag was bringing us down.  Ross and I thought a good first full day would be a museum day - walking, but not too much and the boys like art.

We started our day at the Prado museum.  Once we figured out how to turn our printed tickets into real tickets and got through security and got past the woman who was just sitting inside and thought we were gullible enough to pay her for a tour and once we found the actual entrance to the museum we were all set!

The Prado was huge.  The Prado was elbow to elbow crowded.  The Prado was full of art depicting wars, greek and roman gods, with a little bit of the Renaissance thrown in.  The Prado had a great exhibit of paintings from Francisco Goya (famous Spanish Painter) and a lot of cool stuff that Rick Steves (the PBS Travel Guy) told us to see.  Most importantly though, the Prado was full of naked ladies...and a few naked men.

We warned the boys about the naked ladies.  We were all surprised by so many statues and paintings of naked men.  The boys were very mature about the whole thing, but the museum was just so big, and after a couple of hours so hot and they were so hungry that we ended up leaving.  Ross wanted to push through and see EVERYTHING but if we didn't get some food in Elliott's stomach soon, the trip was going to be over before it started.

So, we left.

We found pizza.  It was delicious.  We each drank two coke zeros.  We were ready for more art.

The second museum of the day was the Thyssen.  It was more modern, and practically empty.  It was awesome!  At school, the boys do a program called "art smart" where each month parent volunteers come and teach them about a famous artist.  They've been doing it for years and have a pretty good knowledge of some of the big names in art.

Wyatt was able to pick out van Gogh's all on his own.  Elliott knew Lichtenstein without us telling him.  Quinn was able to notice details in landscapes of the American west as places we've been too, or at least look like places we've been too.  As a mom who loves art, it made my heart so happy to see them so interested.  We saw so many of the big names in Impressionism through more modern art like Monet and Pissaro, Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe, Rothko and Pollack.  It really was such an amazing museum and a fun place to spend a couple of hours.

Our apartment was about a 5 minute walk from the Thyssen museum so once we were finished, we headed back to rest for a bit - still so tired - before venturing out for dinner and to explore Madrid some more.

For dinner we found a very tasty (and expensive) Argentine restaurant.  The boys were brave eaters, and tried some new foods as well as mounds of french fries.  Thank heavens for french fries.  We walked off our late dinner through Plaza Mayor where we got harassed by street vendors, explored a few souvenir shops and ate some more gelato before heading back for another deep sleep.


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