Hey there, foxy…

Today was a productive animal day.

This morning started off with two fox sightings – an arctic fox and a red fox (in different locations). I was able to get some really nice shots of both, tho my photos of the arctic fox turned out surprisingly noisy/grainy for some reason.

After the foxes, we hopped aboard helicopters to spot polar bears from the air. The group split up between two helicopters. Our group saw about 7 or 8 bears (including a mother with cub) and even a trio of moose. It was a cool experience (my second time in a helicopter), but it was also a bit disappointing, especially after we heard from the guys who were on the other helicopter. Our pilot would spot a bear, point it out to us, and then basically fly off after just a quick look. There was no time to even try to snap photos (especially for those of us sitting in the back trying to shoot through foggy windows). Heck, we barely had a chance to spot the animal before we were off to the next one. And when he did circle to get a better view, it was never on my side. Still, it was a fun experience.

In the afternoon, our original plans were thwarted due to unexpected circumstances. But as we were driving along, someone in the group spotted another fox. Our guide tried to get ahead of where she thought the fox was going (while the other vehicle parked where it was) but she was out-foxed (yes, pun intended) and the fox ran across the road closer to the other vehicle as we were walking that direction. I managed to get a few shots, but it was late and dark, so there isn’t much to do with them.

We also learned that a mother and at least one, possibly two, cubs had been spotted in town just around the corner from the B&B where 4 of us are staying. We didn’t hear it, but apparently there were some shots fired (blanks) to scare them off around 5:30 this morning. We did find paw prints in the snow tho – mama’s paw print is bigger than an adult human’s footprint.

The last couple days, especially today, have been a little tough with my Crohn’s. There are only a handful of restaurants in Churchill and the menus are fairly similar at all of them – and they aren’t necessarily friendly to someone with digestive issues. Sure, I could probably make it easier on myself by ordering more selectively, but it would be food that I just don’t like or that is really boring. So I have ended up having a few meals that didn’t sit well with me. Fortunately, it has mostly been at dinner, so I just had to make a bee-line to the bathroom when we got back to the B&B. Today, lunch caused me some problems. Fortunately, we lingered in town a bit before we hit the road, so I was able to take care of things without any impact on the afternoon. My gastroenterologist would not approve. But, other than those moments, my health and energy have held up and I have none of the pain I was having as recently as a couple days before leaving on the trip.

I don’t know the plan for tomorrow yet. Apparently a film crew will be joining us for at least part of the day (our lead guide has been working with them on a project related to polar bears), so that could add another interesting element to the trip.

All in all, despite some disappointment (and a little digestive upset), so far this trip has been well worth the money.

Arctic fox:

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Red fox:

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We made it back safely:

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Moose from about 300 feet above:

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Look at those paw prints! The cub’s were almost as big as my foot.

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Where are you, polar bears?

Today was…

That’s it. It was.

We went out on Tundra Buggies – giant behemoths that must be based on some sort of military personnel carriers – to look for polar bears. We did spot one, and I did get a couple of decent pictures of it, but that was all we had to show for about 7 hours of sitting cooped up in the metal beast with about 3 dozen other people. Once again, the winds whipped up the snow and visibility ranged from poor to nearly white-out conditions. So even if bears were around, we wouldn’t have seen them. A lot of people on the buggy just fell asleep.

Tomorrow should be interesting. I’m told we are going out in helicopters. Eep!

This is a tundra buggy:

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This is the inside of a crowded buggy…

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This was our visibility most of the day:

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But we did see this bear, at least:

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Brrrr….

Greetings from the frozen north – Churchill, Manitoba. And I do mean frozen – temps have been in the single digits with wind chill making it feel like -15° or so. Still, I can’t complain – a month ago, I wasn’t even sure I’d be healthy enough to make this trip (who am I kidding – I told the gastroenterologist that I had no intention of missing it).

I am here with some other folks hoping to shoot polar bears – with a camera. Unfortunately, just before we arrived, the wind shifted to be from the north and the Hudson Bay had a major freeze. To the polar bears, that signals that it’s time to move on, and it appears most of them have.

We got lucky on our first day and spotted two different bears. I got some great photos of the first one. It was getting dark when we came across the second one, and it was a good distance away, so my photos are pretty grainy. We also saw an arctic hare. There were a couple foxes during the day, too, but they were moving too fast to photograph. I did get a picture of one’s butt, tho. (continues below the pix)

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Day two was… let’s call it an adventure. We drove around in blizzard conditions hunting for bears. At times, it was basically white-out conditions. We did spot some ptarmigans (aka snow chickens and related to partridges) and I got some good pictures of them. There were also some other small birds flitting around in some trees. (continues below)

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While we were at lunch, we got word that a mama bear and cub were spotted. We rushed out and did manage tho find them. Unfortunately, they were just too far away to photograph, even with the 150-450 mm lens I rented. Besides, the wind was so strong that my hands nearly froze the minute I left the car (seriously, this weather is intense!). Still, it was cool to see them.

Today was day 3. The weather conditions were better, relatively speaking. Temps were still single digits and the wind was brutal, but the snow wasn’t falling, at least, and the sun was shining most of the day. Alas, still no bears. We got in a few landscape shots and did manage to see a couple arctic hares, at least.

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Tomorrow, we will be on a Tundra Buggy that will be looking for bears in the conservation area / national park (private guides operate in a different area closer to town). The reports are not terribly promising – people we spoke to today saw 10 bears on their trip, but they were all out on the ice already and sounded like they were out of camera range. So we’ll see…

In the meantime, I’ll just soak up some rays while the sun is out…

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An update…

I’ve been quiet again lately. It’s largely been with good reason. Well, it’s a bad reason but a good excuse.

In my last post, I mentioned that I hadn’t been feeling well and had gone to the doctor. At that appointment, my doctor posited a few possible reasons and she ordered a bunch of tests, including an abdominal CT scan which I had a few days later. The following Monday evening, I found myself in the emergency room and subsequently admitted to the hospital. The CT scan seemed to indicate a tubo-ovarian abscess – basically, an abscess on my fallopian tube or ovary – and if that was the case, it could rupture with possibly dangerous implications. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – it wasn’t that. But I’ll get to that…

(As an aside, I learned that Monday is apparently the worst day to visit the emergency room. So, if you are going to get sick or injured, try to avoid Mondays.)

Around 11pm, after a roughly 5 hour wait, I finally got taken in to to an exam room in the ER. I would be there for almost 4 hours before being admitted to the hospital. Around 1am, I was wheeled off for an ultrasound, including one that was quite, ummm, intrusive. Around 3am, a gynecologist came by for further examinations (again, quite intrusive, this time with a med student observing). Based on her exam and the preliminary ultrasound reading, she felt I was not dealing with an abscess but likely something else.

I was admitted to the hospital that night and would ultimately spend 3 nights. Over the next couple days, I was visited by multiple doctors, including a gastroenterologist and a colorectal surgeon, in addition to the general hospitalist. I also was subjected to a battery of tests, including an abdominal MRI (which required me to drink a large quantity of a sickly sweet fluid) and a colonoscopy (which required drinking a lot of a very nasty liquid).

Ultimately, it turned out that my Crohn’s disease was active and I had significant intestinal inflammation (so severe the doctor couldn’t complete the colonoscopy). The doctor thinks my Crohn’s has been active for quite some time and that I had just grown used to living with the discomfort. Exacerbating it was a large ovarian cyst, which explains the image on the original CT scan. There also appeared to be some infection, indicated by the fevers I kept spiking. I was given IV antibiotics in the hospital and eventually sent home with two weeks worth of hard core antibiotics that left me feeling even sicker.

I spent the next few days at home, doing little more than sleeping. I suppose it didn’t help that I hadn’t had caffeine the whole time I was in the hospital, so I was probably experiencing a little bit of withdrawal. (I have now been basically caffeine free for over a month, only drinking a small cup of coffee on a couple of very early mornings. Surprisingly, I generally have had more energy than I remember having in a long time, and no afternoon crash.)

I am now feeling more or less back to normal. In fact, I feel better than I have in a long time. But the Crohn’s is still active and, as the gastroenterologist now treating me keeps reminding whenever I say I’m feeling pretty good, I’m going to have to treat it. That means IV infusions of a biologic medication for the foreseeable future. The cyst, at least, was expected to resolve itself within a couple of menstrual cycles (estimated around 6 weeks) and the pain/discomfort on that side of my abdomen has definitely subsided, so I suspect it has at least shrunk. I have an ultrasound scheduled just after Thanksgiving to see how things look and then the doctors can figure out how best to move forward.

For now, I’m in Churchill, Manitoba looking for polar bears. A month ago, I was worried I might have to cancel this trip. So, hey, it could be worse…

Sometimes little things have a big impact…

You never know what someone else is going through in their life. A simple kindness can brighten someone’s bad day, while a minor slight can make their world crash down around them. This is a story of the latter, unfortunately.

First, a little background –

Ever since my ex asked for a divorce in mid-September 2014, just 10 days after my birthday, September has felt cursed. Maybe the curse actually began when we got married the previous September.  Since then, September – my birthday month – has proven difficult for me (with the possible exception of the time I spent in Switzerland, but even that trip had its negative points).

One of the little things I look forward to in September – a sense of normalcy in a month that has often been difficult – is our monthly departmental birthday celebration. For a few years, I was the only September, so I had my choice of birthday cakes. Now there are other Septembers, so we all reach agreement on a type of cake. I am usually fairly flexible with one caveat – no chocolate. I have never liked chocolate and I rarely eat it in any form.  So imagine my surprise when I walked in to our birthday celebration this week and saw not the strawberry shortcake we had agreed to, but a large chocolate cake.

I realize this is very “First World problems” and maybe I should just brush it off. But, as I mentioned, you never know what someone is going through. This has been a really difficult month for me on many levels and so I was really looking forward to that one little bright spot in an otherwise dark month.

This September started off so well that I had totally forgotten the curse.  Over Labor Day weekend, I went on two dates with someone who I had taken a liking to and who I was hoping to get to know better. My birthday (ironically, on Labor Day) started with brunch with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, then a visit to the spa for a massage and facial, and dinner with my mom. All in all, probably one of the best birthday weekends I have had in several years.

But that was the end of the positive this September. By that Friday, the person I was hoping to get to know better was out of my life (it came as a complete shock to me and it was particularly disappointing as I really would have liked to at least maintain a friendship). A little over a week later, I got some concerning test results after I went in for a physical. A few days after that, I started running a mysterious, intermittent fever combined with abdominal pain. It has been over two weeks since that started and it may be more serious than I first surmised.

I finally went to the doctor to have the fever and abdominal pain checked out on the day we had our birthday celebration. The visit raised several concerns (and a referral for a CT scan). Blood tests indicate some sort of infection and I am now awaiting the results of a CT scan. During that visit, the doctor had quite a bit of blood drawn to run some tests, which left me feeling woozy. But, as I told first the nurse, then the doctor, and then the lab tech, I was in a rush because I was looking forward to the birthday cake awaiting me.

I emailed the person in charge of cake for the month multiple times, letting her know first that I might be running late and then that I was done with my appointment and could, in fact, make it back in time for the celebration. I then rushed from the doctor’s office back to my office. At least 3 emails were exchanged – at no time did she ever mention there was a snafu with the cake.

I am sure my disappointment was obvious, although few people seemed to care – everyone else got a type of cake they liked, after all. Needing sugar after the blood draw, I grabbed some cookies from my office. “Why are you eating cookies before your cake,” a coworker asked. “Because I can’t eat any of this,” I responded, pointing at the cake. The organizer mentioned the bakery screwed up, so she got chocolate because she knew the other two liked it. She pointed out that she had gotten two fruit tarts (both of which had chocolate in them and both of which had kiwi, which I generally avoid). I reiterated that I don’t eat chocolate which prompted someone to ask if I was allergic – it shouldn’t matter why I don’t eat chocolate, simply that I made clear I don’t eat chocolate. Would it really have been so impossible for someone to at least pick up a cupcake or something more in line with my tastes? Would it have been so hard to genuinely apologize?

One of the other birthday people was stuck on a call that was running late and suddenly was unavailable until 3:15 – when I had to leave to get to another commitment. At that point, it didn’t matter to me – it was clear it wasn’t my birthday celebration anyway. My preferences and feelings had been completely disregarded by all involved.

As I noted, maybe I should let this slide by – it’s very “first world problems” and not a huge issue in the scheme of things. But, in the midst of struggling with the medical issues I am dealing with, and having the type of September I have been having, it was just really hurtful to be completely disregarded in that manner.

 

 

Why I believe Christine Blasey Ford

I am home dealing with some medical issues, so I took the opportunity to watch the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

I debated whether to post this, whether to go public with this. But watching Kavanaugh rage in his opening statement, listening to his partisan rant, and hearing him play the victim, seeing his crocodile tears and the disrespect he is showing women on the committee, I felt I needed to speak up. First, setting aside any sexual assault allegations, this man is a partisan bully who has no business serving on any court, let alone the Supreme Court.

But it is the sexual assault allegations, and the absolute rage and victimhood with which he denied them, that compels me to speak. Like most women, I have my own decades-old stories. Yes, stories – more than one.

One incident occurred when I was in my late teens, in my very own bedroom. A family member’s friend, a few years younger than me, was at the house. I was in my own room, lying on the bed studying or reading , when he came in and locked the door behind him. He climbed on to my bed and made his way toward me. I put up my foot – or perhaps it was my knee – to block his way. I remember him making the kind of “come on, it will be fun” or “you know you want to ” comments that are often said in those situations as I pushed him away, making whatever excuses I could think of. Eventually I pushed him off the bed and physically pushed him out of the room as he laughed. To this day, 3 decades later, I still don’t know if it was all a big joke and he was messing around with me or if he would have done something had I not resisted. For years, I dismissed it as the former, but could never dismiss the possibility it was the latter and that he was testing how far he could push. I have lived with it for years, impacting me in ways I probably still don’t realize. And, no, I never told anyone about it until recently.

The second incident was a couple years later, when I was traveling alone in Prague. I was 19 or 20 and traveling alone (before Prague really opened up to international tourism). I was walking back to my relative’s apartment, where I was staying. Two guys (around my age?) came up to me and started walking beside me, one on either side. One tried to put his arm around me which I shrugged off. I tried to ignore them as best I could and kept walking a little faster but, moments later, as we approached an alley, one of them tried to guide, then shove me into the alley. I ducked and started running toward an open bar/restaurant I could see down the street. They didn’t follow – they just stood there laughing. To this day, I don’t know if they were just fucking with the tourist, if they intended to rob me or worse. I still look askance any time I’m walking alone and someone gets too close. Again, I never reported it, although I think I may have mentioned it to people about it over the years. I was a foreigner traveling in a country that was recently emerging from Communism – who was I going to report it to?

If we go back even farther, there was the time when I was in elementary school and wearing really short shorts (it was the 70s) while at the grocery store with my mom.  My mom was some distance away. An old man came up to me and said he could see my panties. I think he probably meant well, as disconcerting as it was. I think he was just saying I should cover up – I don’t recall anything lewd about it. But still… even if it was just a man telling a girl how to dress/behave, it has stuck with me for 4 decades.

I can guarantee you that not a single one of the men involved in my decades-old incidents remember them. I guarantee you no one nearby at the time remembers them.  But I do. They will forever be seared into my memory. I may not remember every detail, but I remember the incidents. I remember the men. I remember the laughter.

For these reasons and the millions of other stories out there, I believe Christine Blasey Ford and believe Brett Kavanaugh is unfit for the highest court in our land.

Things happen for a reason…

… and, in the same way, it seems people come into your life for a reason.

I mentioned in a couple prior posts about how my recent foray into dating didn’t work out and how the person was randomly on my mind recently. I think I now have a better sense for why the universe brought them into my life.

I have never been good about keeping up with medical appointments, including routine physicals. I was only about 4 months behind on that, but a few years behind on some other routine screenings. I have a pre-existing condition that makes one of those routine screenings particularly important and, at present, I appear to be having some issues related to it.

During a text conversation this person mentioned their own upcoming physical. At that moment, I was sitting at my desk, my computer and phone conveniently beside me, and nothing but our conversation distracting me at that moment (there was a contract I was taking a quick break from, but I digress). Without a second thought, I scheduled my overdue annual physical (for the very next week). Had that conversation happened at any other time, I would have made a mental note to schedule the appointment and then forgotten as work, school, or other distractions took priority.

Typical of such exams, my doctor scheduled a slew of tests. She also referred me to several specialists for additional testing. The results started coming in and there were a bunch of minor abnormalities, but the doctor felt most were not of concern. But last week, a different test came back with more concerning abnormalities. I have been awaiting additional results related to the issue, which finally came in yesterday. Fortunately, the remaining tests were normal, taking a huge weight off my shoulders. But it is a situation that will now require monitoring and more diligence in my personal health care.

Which brings me back to my initial point. I believe this person came into my life at this particular time for a reason. While I very much hoped we could remain friends when the dating relationship didn’t work out, I am grateful to them. They helped me refocus some of my personal priorities. But, more importantly, if not for that conversation at that particular moment in time, I would not have made that doctor’s appointment and would not have finally scheduled the other screenings. It remains to be seen what, if anything, comes of those appointments, but I will at least finally have them. And for that, I owe this person a debt of gratitude.