19 June 2014

Thimbleberry Trail and Heart Lake

Today Stephen and I went up Thimbleberry Trail for a nearly 3-mile hike to Heart Lake. It was a pretty, although muggy, day and there isn't much tree cover on this trail. Also, it's a pretty vertical trail, so my left knee, which I strained on the Indian River trail, was on fire the whole way up. When we got to Heart Lake, we walked out onto the small boat dock there and Stephen threw Nika in the water. It occurred to us that Nika had never swam before. Suffice it to say she's simply not cut out for the water. She forgave us quickly as she shook off the brisk water and headed back down the trail toward the car.

09 June 2014

Oh, the grand old Duke of York...

Stephen and I went for a spectacular hike all the way up Indian River trail to the waterfall. It was more than 10 miles round-trip and I am spectacularly exhausted, but it was well worth the journey. Here are a few pictures and videos for you to enjoy from the comfort of the nearest chair.

06 June 2014

How many PhDs can I fit into one post?

I didn't mention it before, but my braces were removed about a month ago. It's amazing the difference.

Before (September 2012)

After (April 2014) I have to say, all in all I'm pretty happy with the result. Besides having straight teeth, I can actually fit dental floss between my teeth, which is a huge improvement. My dentist is really excited about how well my teeth straightened up and now we're going to begin work on some minor cosmetic dentistry, mostly involving evening out my bite and whitening my teeth, particularly one that has yellowed after a root canal many years ago.


In other news, my heart is broken.

No, really. It’s true. Literally.

I have mitral valve prolapse, which is a fancy way of saying one of my heart valves is deformed and doesn’t do its job. It regurgitates blood in the wrong direction, so my heart has to work twice as hard to pump my blood in the right direction, so that it can flow where I need it to. You know, like my lungs and my arms and legs.

I’ve known about this condition for 3 1/2 years, but it’s likely I was born with my heart this way and never knew it. In fact, it appears to be a hereditary anomaly. I went to the emergency room one night with a ruptured ovarian cyst and the P.A. on duty noticed a murmur. I thought, “I have a murmur? What does that even mean?”

I told my doc about it at my next regular appointment a few months later and she decided to run a bunch of tests, bloodwork and an echocardiogram. That’s another fancy word that means ‘ultrasound for looking at your heart.’ The results came back and suddenly I was a heart patient.

It was easy at first. I was told everything was fine and I could do everything as I normally do. I was told I’d need to have an echocardiogram once a year so that it could be monitored, but that it was unlikely to get any worse.

But a couple of months ago, after my last echocardiogram, I found out it had become worse.

Now I have a cardiologist and I have to travel 1,000 miles to see him. Distances are big in Alaska and my doc is in Anchorage. I met my cardiologist for the first time last month and he ran more tests. He took more blood, ordered another echocardiogram, and ran an EKG. He listened to my heart and told me it was “moderately severe.” I thought, “‘Moderately severe?’ What does that even mean?”

He told me I needed to come back for a transesophageal echocardiogram, which is a really fancy way of saying he wants to get an ultrasound of my heart from inside my esophagus. Stephen and I just came back from Anchorage yesterday. The doc said I’m going to need surgery within the next five years, but it would most likely happen within the next 6 months. He told me that I’m a really good candidate for my valve to be repaired. This is good, because replacement valves don’t last very long and may require blood thinners for the rest of my life.

He's referring me to one of the best heart surgeons in the country, who happens to be in Spokane, WA. He said this surgeon is a specialist in robotic heart surgeries and that I won’t need my whole chest cut open, just three to five small scars, where portals will be made under my arm. Recovery time should be under 2 weeks.

I googled this surgeon and read everything I could find. He seems like a good surgeon. He has a whole list of degrees and certifications. He graduated from Harvard. He gets good reviews on the internet.

Then I found this video:

I think I’m going to be ok. I think I’m in good hands and that I’m a relatively low risk patient, regarding overall health. Sometimes I get palpitations or pressure in my chest and I worry, but mostly, I think I'm going to be just fine. I have good doctors and good support. Best of all, I have Stephen, and he's going to do his best to make sure I'm ok no matter what. ❤

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25 May 2014

A beautiful day for a picnic

It was so beautiful outside, even after working a full shift at The Pub, I couldn't wait to get out and enjoy the sunshine with Stephen and the kids. The sky was clear, there was a light breeze, the tide was low, and the temperature hung around 70°F, 60°F in the damp shade of the forest.

Stephen made some sandwiches and packed them along with a bag of chips and some sodas. We loaded everyone into the car and made our way out the road to Starrigavin camping area. We picnicked in a small clearing that had an available table. It seemed everyone wanted to enjoy the weather, but even so it wasn't difficult to find a spot that felt secluded. We enjoyed our picnic dinner among the trees and flowers until the bugs chased us out. It was a good day for mosquitos and bumble bees, as well.

We headed to the bird-viewing platform and made the loop around the estuary. The kids ran around, picking spruce tips to suck on and checking out interesting sights along the way.

After we finished the loop, we decided to go back down to the beach and let the kids play on the shore. They spent an hour or so moving large rocks and playing with crabs, mussels, ans small mud fish they found underneath. Eventually, we all felt the day winding down and started for home again.

It's nice to live in a place where a 3-hour getaway can feel like a real vacation, where we can get lost in the wilderness for a short time and come back again with almost no effort at all.

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22 March 2014

Herring Spawn

Really, there's nothing that can be shown or said to explain what the herring spawn means in town.

To the Tlingit, it represents the first opportunity of the year to harvest a traditional food from the sea. They cut hemlock swags and lay them in shallow water for the ever-so-particular herring to blast their sticky eggs all over. Later, the branches will be collected and steamed to loosen and partly cook the eggs, which are kept all year as a snack and an addition to a variety of dishes.

To the modern commercial fishermen, it represents a chance to get in on a very lucrative fishing season after a winter of indifferent fishing. The Sitka Sound Sac Roe fishery is one of the few derby-style fisheries still open in Alaska and brings a bunch of money, energy, and bustle to parts of town that have been laying dormant all winter. On the first day of the fishery this year, 5500 tons of herring were caught, enough to keep all of the local processors running 24 hours a day for two straight days.

Pair all of this with the fact that we're finally seeing sunlight for more than 50% of the day and the sun is out and the rain is less frequent and the temperatures are getting up to a balmy 45-50° and you have the start of an exciting time of year. When you further recall that herring are an important prey species to humpbacks and sea lions (and just about every waterfowl), someone with binoculars and a clear day and some caffeine can go all day without running out of things at which to gawk.


Earlier today, the kids and I went out to one of our local park/beaches. The tide was really low, so we had fun stomping on the pebbles and looking for clam holes. After that, we pulled off to the side of the road where a few other cars were stopped. I'd glimpsed something in the water on our way out, and I'm glad I followed my gut on this one. When we got out and settled by the side of the road, we could clearly see a herd of sea lions (probably 30-35 of them) feeding in a mass. They would all submerge, then blast out of the water. This was mostly a quiet affair, being more about eating than about personal space. Every now and again, though, barks and bellows could be heard. About fifteen minutes into watching this, a humpback decided to invade the sea lions' space, so we got to watch a blow about 100 feet off-shore. The whale swam out of sight behind some trees, but we continued to hear loud blows until we moved on. We stopped at two more spots on the way home, viewing different whales and sea lions at each spot. In all, we probably saw 15-20 whales (some feeding individually, others obviously bubble feeding but too far away for us to see well) and more than 50 sea lions.

After being home for a while, I looked out the window and realized that the activity had drifted close enough to town (the predation follows the food, after all) that we could now see it from our living room window. Here are a couple of crappy videos for your enjoyment. Try if you can to disregard the chatter of a pair of completely disinterested children.

05 January 2013

Shaking things up a little

At 11:58pm (1 hour ago), a 7.7 earthquake hit about 110 miles SE of Sitka at a depth of 3 miles. Stephen and I felt all of it and we started preparing for the inevitable journey to higher ground. The kids were fast asleep, the dog nervous, and we were just working as quickly as possible to make sure we had the most basic essentials to pack into the car. When the tsunami sirens could finally be heard, we moved the kids, the dog, and several hastily packed bags into the car and headed to the Sitka High School parking lot. We've been sitting here ever since, trying to listen for any further news on the situation. The initial tsunami was predicted to hit at 12:45am, but as you can see, that time has passed and we're still waiting to hear if Sitka has or will sustain any damage.

The size of the earthquake has been downgraded to 7.5, but the tsunami warning is still in effect. Port Alexander has seen 6" waves so far. At least three aftershocks have been felt between 1:10-1:35am, each at a strength of 4.15-4.8.

Cars are leaving the parking lot now, but we haven't seen or heard any changes on the warning.

ALL CLEAR. Traffic is nuts and the kids are begging for their beds. I'm missing my pillow too. I'm glad this didn't end up being bigger than it was and that everyone is safe.

A tsunami wave of 0.3 feet was recorded for Sitka, which is relatively insignificant. We are home now and I'm going to try to unwind and get some sleep. This was a very positive experience. It showed us that we are able to stay level-headed during an emergency, but also that we, as a family, need to review our preparedness for all of our emergency procedures. I imagine tonight's event may bring about talks of fire safety, among other things, which is good.