» Archive for April, 2011

Women and men and preconceived sexual role traits

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by kara

In the course of my new job, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about traditional societal sexual roles and how they can colour our expectations of the people we meet on a daily basis.

In one instance, my co-workers and I were talking about women in nontraditional fields of employment. One co-worker is ex-military, and explained why he would be reluctant to have females serving alongside him on the battlefield. He talked about how difficult it would be for him to ‘allow’ a woman to be in harm’s way, because he has been programmed since childhood to protect the ‘weaker sex.’

He said that he would be distracted with worry over the fate of the delicate flower next to him in the trench, and that would probably cause him to fight less effectively.

I said “Wait a minute–if there’s a woman next to you, she’s undergone the same combat training as you, has the same weapons and the same capability to defend herself and cause the enemy serious harm as you do.  She also has the same equal responsibility to look after YOU that you have to look after her. And you’re telling me that you can’t overcome the instinct to protect her? You can’t treat her as a teammate and let her do her job, while you do yours?”

He said that no, he couldn’t, at which I replied something rude about evolution evidently not catching him up, and him thinking with his male sexual organ instead of his brain.

Another day, a coworker and I were talking about love interests and dating. She commented that men just naturally have a wandering eye, and that because of their penis and men-ness, are expected to wander. “They can’t help it, they’re men,” she said, shrugging. “That’s what men do, right?”

And again, I said “Wait a minute. Just because they’re men, they’re expected to be unfaithful, and they’re held to a different standard of fidelity?! That’s HOOEY.”  Except I didn’t say ‘hooey’, I said something else much more descriptive.

This co-worker is an intelligent woman, much younger than I, an attractive, engaging woman who I thought had a higher level of self-esteem. I was saddened and shocked to find that she truly believes these antiquated stereotypes of expected behavior for men.

Come ON, people!  Just because men have penises, that doesn’t mean they have no self-control! Let’s all agree that men are rational, evolved beings who do not need to think with their hoglegs, and who can overcome the programmed knee-jerk reaction to ‘save the wimmenfolk’ and then jump their bones.

Although…if one IS a man, arguing that one “just can’t help it, I’m a man, you know what animals we can become” could be a very handy cop-out. How many will take that easy way out, even though they know it isn’t true?

Knife sharpening kit saves money, makes cutting safer

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by kara

My trusty old Olfa Touch-Knife, plus brand new edge, courtesy of the Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker 204.

So I came down with some type of lung crud and can’t muster up a lot of energy to do anything today, but I did manage to get my hair-cutting shears sharpened in preparation for our fuzzies’ weekly grooming session. Everyone will get the hairs between their toes trimmed THIS SUNDAY, whether they like it or whether they don’t, so I got out my Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker 204 Kit and went to town.

And as long as I had the kit out, I decided I might as well sharpen EVERYDARNTHING in the drawer. Now our chef’s knives, Grandpa Plagens’ meat carving knife, all the paring knives, and even the fershlugginer vegetable peelers are all sharp and fresh! Joy!

Everybody who uses a cutting implement of any type will tell you that a sharp knife is easier and safer to use, because you don’t have to apply as much force to cut successfully, so there’s less risk of fumbling the cutting implement and losing control–along with a limb or eye or something else equally useful. Sharpening is something that should be done on a regular basis.

In the beginning I didn’t sharpen my knives regularly, though. Sharpening knives used to be very intimidating for me, because I didn’t want to do it wrong and ruin the edge.  Yes, I knew that if I screwed it up, I could always take it to a professional and have a little snack of crow while they fix my mistake. But you gotta remember that I don’t like to screw up in the first place. Hence, I never tried.

Plus, I hate to pay someone to do something for me that I should be able to do myself. Having the kit at home means that I can (and should) sharpen my knives myself on a regular basis. Along with saving money on medical care for accidental knife wounds, this saves money by letting me keep the very good quality knives I’ve selected and not purchasing new ones to replace them merely because they’re dull.

I’ve really got no excuse for avoiding this task. I’ve got that amazing sharpening kit, sitting right at the back of the knife drawer, of which I can’t speak highly enough. The Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker base holds two brass safety rods and the triangular ceramic sharpening rods at exactly the correct angle (35 or 40 or 12 degrees, depending on what you’re sharpening) and it comes with a comprehensive manual and even a DVD for Pete’s sake. One would truly have to have a glass eye and wooden banana (in the words of my sainted mother, Norma) to screw it up with the 204.

And you can use the kit to sharpen just about anything that has an edge or functional sharp point. Have a wood plane that needs some refining?  You can use the 204 to sharpen that blade–just be careful, because the brass safety rods don’t deploy for the configuration to sharpen a plane blade. Does your ice pick, awl, or upholstery needle need a new point? It’ll do that as well, along with thinning and pinking shears, and my little Olfa Touch-Knife craft cutter. Honestly, I think I bought that darn thing when I was in high school, and I still have it–I just use the 204 to put the edge back on it every once in a while, and it’s ready to help me clip coupons every Sunday.

Plus, it is such a joy to use a sharp implement. Makes me want to go back out to the kitchen and cut cauliflower and broccoli and cucumbers for broccoli salad, and maybe find some fish to fillet, maybe a roast to trim. Eh, maybe after my nap.

My body betrays me

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 by kara

For the most part I’ve always considered myself healthy. Yeah, I have exercise-induced asthma, but I’ve overcome that by avoiding exercise (grinning). I have a sensitive stomach, but everybody in my family is that way, so I just use a lot of over-the-counter antacids and anti-diarrhea medications, and don’t eat the day before a really important or stressful event.

I am usually in pain somewhere on my body, but I’ve always attributed that to my foolish youthful years when I engaged in behaviors like body building (trust me, ladies, even if you can leg press 450 pounds, that doesn’t mean you SHOULD), mountain biking (my friend Dawnn went with me off-road ONCE and refused to go again, stating that I was ‘crazy’) and firefighting (to this day, all I have to do is press on my right shoulder and I remember so clearly helping to lift a grass rig pump back onto a truck and feeling something ‘rip’ inside it). That shite all catches up with you eventually, so try to take care of yourselves, Dear Readers.

And if you look back a few posts, you can read about how I tend to faint pretty easily in the face of bodily insult, even though I don’t consider myself to be a ‘tightly-laced’ and fragile woman.  I’m hypothyroid due to an autoimmune malfunction, and just recently I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, another autoimmune disease in which my immune system attacks my moisture-producing glands.  It causes dry eyes, dry mouth, dry you-know, and general low-level misery.

Oh, and I’m also extraordinarily lazy and overweight, both of which may be either causal or resultant, depending on what type of mood I’m in that day. And don’t forget my history of depression, and a bunch of other stuff that has happened along the way: Carpal tunnel syndrome, gallstones, tonsillectomy…you get the picture.

I’ve always just dealt with things that come up by either a.) Ignoring them, or b.) Taking massive doses of over-the-counter meds to alleviate symptoms and making token efforts to improve my general health. There have been many bottles of vitamins purchased and discarded years after their expiration dates, having languished unswallered in the fridge.

Huh. (Counting on fingers, moving to toes.) All things considered…I guess I’m not very healthy. But I’ve never thought of myself as sickly.  At least, not until the Sjögren’s diagnosis.

It feels like this all started back in December, when I started bloating after I ate anything. Remember that I’ve had periodic instances of really bad stomach pain before, but a course of OTC omeprazole usually takes care of that. But the bloating…mygod. It’s difficult to BREATHE when one’s stomach is distended fully by whatever’s fermenting in there. My regular doctor advised cutting out dairy to see if the bloating was caused by lactose intolerance, but that didn’t make much difference, so I went to see a gastroenterologist.

Way back when I was 11 years old, I had really bad stomach pains which my doctor diagnosed by treatment–he said I had gastric ulcers, handed me a little bottle of Maalox and told me to drink some whenever my stomach hurt. At my first appointment in December 2010, my new gastroenterologist told me that this is not a valid method of diagnosis, that only an endoscopy can confirm stomach ulcers.  Okay, it’s not my fault that my childhood doctor didn’t scope me 31 YEARS AGO, and that I was not bright enough to insist on a visual examination of my digestive tract to confirm the diagnosis, so let’s move on to the present day, shall we? My new gastrodoc said we’d start with a nuclear study of my gastric emptying function, and if nothing was wrong there, we’d move on to scoping. That test was done mid-January, and showed nothing out-of-the ordinary.

In the meantime, I’d been having twinges, like little excruciating muscle cramps, in my parotid salivary glands. Whenever I’d see something appealing, I’d salivate, and then I’d feel sharp pain in my saliva glands. Weird, kind of reverse Pavlovian response. I pretty much lost my appetite due to the pain, but my saliva glands kept swelling and I kept chewing a lot of gum at work, because my mouth was so dry. (But don’t worry, Gentle Readers, I found my appetite again. Dangit.) I suspected a stone or stones blocking my salivary glands, kind of like what happened in my gall bladder, but on a much smaller scale. I didn’t put the swollen parotid glands together with dry mouth, dry eyes, fatigue, and all-over general pain.

On February 17, my glands were so swollen that I couldn’t see my earlobes when I looked in the mirror. I had a big square-jawed face like John Goodman, and wearing my headset at work or even turning my head hurt enough to make me pout. I visited my regular doctor the next day (Friday), and she somehow got me an appointment that same afternoon with an ear, nose and throat specialist, who picked out my type of thyroiditis and guessed Sjögren’s. Blood testing that following Monday confirmed I had both the Sjögren’s and rheumatoid antibodies.

So there actually IS something wrong with me. Oddly enough, hearing this diagnosis didn’t bring me down; it was actually a relief to know there was a reason I had been feeling so universally crappy.  My ENT put me on prednisone to manage the symptoms and I had my first appointment with a rheumatoid specialist on March 30.  Learned a lot about Sjögren’s and how I can get rid of the prednisone eventually, using other medications to manage the troubling symptoms.

My gut issues may or may not be related to Sjögren’s, but I’m addressing those as well.  Colonoscopy and endoscopy are scheduled for tomorrow (I’m making light of it by saying it’ll be like when they dug the Chunnel, because they’ll meet in my middle) so hopefully my gastrodoc will find out what mutant goodness resides there.

There is no cure for Sjögren’s Syndrome, but I can’t picture it changing my life very much. After all, I’m not a competitive sportsman or working as a volunteer firefighter anymore, so I don’t have to have a tremendous amount of stamina or physical capability. (I am very glad, however, that I got my eyes LASEK’ed back in 2007, because I probably wouldn’t have qualified for the surgery now with decreased tear production.)

It’s just really…disappointing, for lack of a better term, to find out that I have this weakness. It feels like my body has betrayed me. I don’t trust it anymore, especially now that I know there’s actually something wrong, and every little twinge, ache or oddity I experience is now suspect. Last night, for instance, I had a 10 ounce bottle of citrate of magnesium as part of the scope prep, and after I drank it, I had a deep ache in my back, between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t help thinking about how women can experience back pain as a symptom of heart attack, and I wondered if I was having a heart attack (foolish idea!) or the citrate of magnesium was tweaking my kidneys. And DAMMIT, I do NOT want to have to worry about stuff like this.

I guess given how much trashy food, Diet Coke and alcohol I’ve consumed, toxins I’ve exposed myself to, and all the late nights and hard work I’ve inflicted on my body, that it really doesn’t owe me much in terms of fidelity. And I’m trying to eat better and treat it more kindly now, but I guess I should have been doing that all along, eh?

Alternative to no-calorie sweeteners?

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011 by kara

Recently I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder which screws with my moisture-producing glands. Quick-and-dirty version is that my body is trying to kill any tissue in itself that produces saliva or tears or mucus or digestive fluid or the like. More on that particular joy later.

My stomach is also giving me grief, and whether this is related to the Sjögren’s or not, I’ve had to make some changes in my intake. It seems that I can no longer tolerate either the carbonation or the artificial sweeteners in the gallons of Diet Coke or Coke Zero which I used to drink on a daily basis, so I must move to uncarbonated beverages which do not contain aspartame or sucralose. Given that I absolutely detest the “sugar mouth” bad-breath aftertaste I get after drinking beverages sweetened with sugar, I must then move to either an unsweetened beverage, or one that’s sweetened with stevia, which was recommended by my rheumatoid specialist.

Just to add to all this fun, I have also found it necessary to drastically cut down on my caffeine intake so that my freaking heart does not break out of my sternum and gallop off without me. Apparently this must mean my days of being able to chew No-Doz for faster absorption without any undesirable side effects are also behind me. Gettin’ old, fallin’ apart…

The obvious successor to Diet Coke/Coke Zero is iced tea, which is readily available unsweetened commercially, both in fountain and bottled versions; but what is NOT so readily available is DECAFFEINATED unsweetened iced tea. Top that off with the fact that I’ve become a bit of a tea snob, and I’ve become really difficult to quench.

So when I know I’ll be away from home, I provision myself with home-brewed, unsweetened, decaffeinated iced tea.  I’ll fill up my 32-ounce Speedy-Q travel mug with ice, wedge a straw in there, and fill the negative space with freshly-brewed decaff iced tea. I’ll fill up a metal Sigg-like bottle with the same, and the travel mug helps retain the ice cubes, so that during an eight-hour work day I might have to get just a little more ice from the machine at work. I try to avoid the water and ice at work, however, because it tastes to me like PCBs and carcinogens. Yes, I know I’m probably being foolish, but I can’t help the image of dumping industrial waste down my throat, and with the Sjögren’s I’m drinking quite a lot of whatever.

“But Kara,” you ask, “Why don’t you just drink water or fruit juice?” Good question.  I do drink water, and if it’s from my refrigerator (in-line filter + very cold) or from a Brita filter (very well-filtered + very cold) or from a refrigerated bottle, I drink a lot of it. But sometimes you want something with a little more flavor, like Coke Zero…mmm…no.  NO. NOT like Coke Zero.  Like orange juice, or water with lime twist, or…tea. Only problem with fruit juice is that a lot of it isn’t JUICE, it’s high-fructose corn syrup, and why would I want to drink a ‘fruit cocktail-style beverage’ that has more sweetener than a Pop-Tart? I’m trying to take care of my pancreas, here. Adult-onset diabetes is common in my family, and I’m really not wanting to hasten that at all, at all.

So I’m drinking more water, and experimenting now with things like iced mint tea sweetened with honey. I’m still working on where to get stevia in sufficient bulk quantities so we can experiment with mixing up a gallon of Kool-Aid to see if that will work. Yeah, I know, it’s kind of blasphemous to mix a health food with Kool-Aid, but my 12-year-old palate MUST have sweet. I’ll let y’all know how THAT goes.