Saturday, January 11, 2014

Newark 3am

After I have walked concourse C failing to find a coffeeshop, Josh tells me that Dunkin Donuts is the Starbucks of the east coast.   Urbanspoon says there is a  Starbucks here but my up-all-night eyes cannot see it.  

The kids are asleep.  

There were drifts of dirty snow along the railroad tacks and the wide glass windows are radiating cold.  Frost brought no coat so Josh is in a t-shirt  while fist has the sounders jersey.  Frost said he thought it was going to be hot. 

We are going to wake the kids shortly to get a bite to eat before boarding.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Heritage Kitchen

For lunch, I ate coconut grouper at the Heritage Kitchen beach shack which sells local reef fish caribbean style. I had been waiting to visit for a few days but they are only open Wednesday through Sunday and close early (6pm) on Sunday so I had missed a few opportunities. After serving my fish and Wren's soda, the chef and her friends sat at another table under the coconut fronded shelter and played a card game while smoking cigarettes. The rain washed over the sea and gave it a smoothed out appearance. In the distance, beyond the lee of the houses and palms on the shore - the water was rippled by wind but we were perfectly protected. Heritage Kitchen by the Sea on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Nosology with a Wolf

Today I visited a doctor of noses and related orifices.  His name is Dr Wolf.  His nursing assistant did my intake, giving me a scratch-and-sniff test to see how acute my smelling was.

The only scent I could smell was mint.

"I can't really smell any of these" I explained to her after scratch-sniffing the little brown patches on the card.   She said I had to guess to score the test.  There was no "don't know" option.  I said that was wrong because then I had a 25% chance of getting one of the listed smells right while the truth was I didn't know at all.

She said "I can smell it from here!"

I had been listening to an NPR program about power poses.  Apparently dominant animals of all species assume open, wide stances which communicate dominance to others as well as to the self. The nurse was in a power pose at her terminal - legs akimbo, shoulders back - so she was used to obedience.  I tried not to cross my legs like a victim but did, involuntarily.  It was partly because I had just washed my hair and left it wet which is an unusual thing to do in winter and made me feel socially awkward.  I felt that everyone was thinking about my hair so I guessed what they smelt like.

I scored 1/3.  I really did smell mint so I was okay with that.

After that the Wolf doctor came in.  He was wearing a Sounders lanyard and looked happy.  Even as a doctor he was very nice, witty, informative and (I hope) thorough.  He spritzed my nose with two unpleasant liquid drugs (novocaine and something else to dilate my nostrils) and then stuck a long thin tube with a light on up my nose.  This told him that I have no nasal polyps or inflammation in the nasal passages.

The nose squirters
 He asked if I had had major head trauma or surgery, which I have not.

His conclusion was that I have either post-viral or idiopathic anosmia.  Idiopathic is a good word for "we don't know".  It means "arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause".  Its origin is actually the Greek words for one's self (idio) and suffering (pathos).  From Wikipedia I learned that the term comes from nosology.   "Nosology!" I thought.  However, nosology has nothing to do with noses... but is the science of classification of diseases.  So, my disease is either post-viral or unique not-yet-understood type of suffering.

The Nose Doctor has referred me for a brain MRI.  I asked him if it was likely that I had a brain tumor.  He said it was not, however in cases of "a disease of one's own kind" anosmia, it is standard protocol to look for a tumor in the part of the cortex where the olfactory nerve enters the brain, or connects to it.  I don't recall the exact mechanism but he showed me a picture and pointed at some nerves.  Here is a picture in case you are diligent about understanding all this.

Parts of the nose (not the one showing the olfactory nerves)
The reason's that I am unlikely to have a brain tumor are:

  1. This has been going on a long time;
  2. I am not having headaches
  3. I don't have blurred vision
  4. I am not falling over
  5. or Having personality changes (although, he pointed out that I am unlikely to have noticed if I am, and so I am asking YOU, if I am much altered).
  6. In his entire career of referring anosmiacs for MRI's he has never found one.
The reason that I might is:
  1. I cannot smell anything even though my nose-part receptors look fine so perhaps something is wrong with my brain-part receivers.
I am not able to get an MRI soon because our health insurance is not officially through yet and so the Imaging department won't schedule an expensive procedure like this until they have authorization.  I have given them the COBRA contacts in hope of achieving this but it may have to wait till we return from holiday.

Meanwhile, I was warned to pay attention for smoke and gas leaks.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Today we have faced two mysteries and solved one of them.

Where are the plankton?
The first relates to our plan to sample plankton.  Frost is going to be missing a week of school for our upcoming trip.  Public Schools do not like children to go missing even for tropical island vacations (or perhaps, especially so).  They send you information about how even planned absences by middle-class kids are correlated with lower high-school graduation rates and worse test scores.  Plus, it stresses the teachers.  So, in order to qualify as an excused absence rather than being truant (the really bad kind of absent) they require you to fill out a form to show how you will make the trip EDUCATIONAL.

To answer this question I made up a project to compare zooplankton in a few samples of Puget Sound and Grand Cayman water.  I gave Frost a notebook and explained it to him.

Being a more experience truant than I and also more teenage, he said "Mum, you realize we don't have to  do this.  I can just say "I am going to educate myself by looking at tropical fish or something."

Ignoring objections, today Frost and I sat down to make some fractional mesh sieves to strain water for plankton of  various sizes.  We had been given the nitex mesh by a friend who is a marine biologist.  I followed instructions online and Josh sawed our PVC pipe into the correct lengths.  Frost glued the nitex on with silicone adhesive and they looked great.

The 100 micron sieve.  It has a line on it because our first outline was wrong. 
We drove down to Golden Gardens and I gave Frost some water shoes and told him to wade into the water and full a bucket.

"You never said I had to go in the water.  Its freezing.  You go to be kidding" was his reaction.  To be honest everyone else on the beach was wearing ski jackets and mufflers and clustering around smoky fires.  A few people were running around the beach wearing bicycle helmets with balaclavas under them.  Frost rolled up his pants and waded in the sea.  Wren cried about the wind and the water and the blinding sunshine and the fact that it was taking away his screen time but we persisted.
Frost wading in winter
We strained a few buckets through the fractional sieves and there was a lot of 'fine stuff' in the sieves.  So we took the water and the stuff home.  However, when we looked at our sample under 100X 200X and 400X - there was no plankton just fragments of leaves: tiny, tiny leaves.

200x seaweed fragment from Golden Gardens
We found a few odd things - a leg about 100 microns long that looked like a spider-leg - some small drifting rice-grain yellow things but nothing that looked like plankton.  So, we wonder if we have to strain more water to get enough plankton to see.  We wonder if the plankton is deeper down or further out.   Frost is learning that science is not about finding things out as much as finding more mysteries.

What was the crunching in the night?
Last night, at 3.45am, we were woken by Beezle barking a lot.  He stood up in bed and barked "warning, warning".  I fumbled for the light switch and failed to find it.  Josh tumbled out of bed to fight (or at least face) the source of the noise.

He padded around the house for a bit and then came back to bed saying it was nothing.  But I couldn't sleep again.  I got up and checked all the doors, checked Frost, checked the computers.  Everything was quiet.  Eventually, I slept again but all day we were puzzling about the noise - a repetitive crunching sound that made Josh think of a cat scratching something near his ear and me, of someone dragging their fingers back and forth on an old corrugated washing-board.

The mystery was solved at bedtime when I went to run a bath and found a large bag of Tostitos in it.  Frost said he had been eating them in the bath while hiding from Wren and a friend on a playdate.  Now, our cat 'Kitty Haiku' likes to drink water from the bath.  We have deduced that, in the dark of night, she jumped into the bath and landed ON THE BAG OF TOSTITOS (a jumbo Costco bag).  She was freaked out and tried to jump out, thrashing around on the giant bag of Tostitos.  Beezle started barking and she fled.

This explains the noise and calms me, somewhat.

I am not inserting a reenactment although it would be entertaining.  Josh is eating the thrashed-upon Tostitos as I type.