Saturday, November 19, 2011

On information and application

In starting to write a new blog post today, I found this one I wrote a few months ago and forgot to post.  So I'll post it now  :)  Better late than never!

A friend of mine made a comparison today that I thought was quite apt. He was visiting another university to look into their religious studies program, but found that there wasn't much being done to implement what was being studied. He likened it to the difference between studying physics and engineering. Physicists learn a lot about how the universe works, but for the most part the focus is on knowing theory. Engineers on the other hand learn how to apply the principles they learn to make something that works. They may not understand all the theory, but that doesn't stop them from attempting to build something useful. My friend made the comparison with regard to Islam, but I see this being just as prevalent within Christianity. We have too many scholars, and not enough do-ers. So many people are eager to debate theology, but the practical application of that in their lives is mysteriously absent.

Many people think that since I've been in school for so long that I like learning things just for the sake of learning things. But that's actually not true. I like learning things that are applicable and relevant to my life. Otherwise, I just get bored. For instance, if you had told me a few years ago to learn about chemical surface modifications of polydimethylsiloxane, I would have fallen asleep after the first sentence. But once I started research, I had a problem to solve and suddenly that information was relevant to me, and I started reading up on it in my spare time. For the information I couldn't find, I ordered some products and conducted some tests to see what would work.

Some people think that the solution to all their difficulties in Christian life is to learn more. If only the Pastor gave more insightful sermons. If only they read that bestselling new book. If only they go to seminary or Bible college. I submit to you that our problem isn't with knowing, it's with doing. We're a culture that's over-educated and under-experienced. Learning more theology isn't going to make you more loving towards that coworker who gets on your nerves. Studying Bible commentaries won't give you the courage to go volunteer with the homeless. Christianity is not a theoretical field, it is applied. Maybe it's time to stop trying to have everything figured out and be responsible for what we know. Once we're willing to act, it's easy for God to correct our misconceptions and adjust our direction. For those who aren't willing to act, no amount of information will ever be enough.

Now the irony of this is that right now it's only a blog post. Just another piece of information floating around on the web. So here is my challenge to you this week: take a piece of theory you know, even if you're not sure if it's 100% correct, and transform it into action. I guarantee that through experience you'll learn far more than studying could ever teach you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thesis of DOOOOM!

Every so often, I need to stop in and make one of those "I'm still alive" posts, for everyone in blog land that might be wondering (or not wondering, as the case may be) what has happened to me.  The number of half-written blog posts in my drafts keeps increasing, and meanwhile my actual blogginess keep decreasing.  But I do have a very legitimate excuse at the moment!  That excuse happens to be a 40-pages-and-counting behemoth of text and figures known as the fearsome enemy of grad students everywhere: the thesis.  Ok, so it's not actually my enemy.  In fact, there are times when I'm downright chummy with the thing, but after spending the bulk of my days staring into a computer screen typing out words, I need to take my free time elsewhere.  Alas, that means away from you, my friends of the blogosphere, but be consoled by the fact that very soon I shall be graduated, and very soon I shall have all manner of wonderful things to share with you!  And speaking of wonderful things to share, here's a picture I snapped on my street this week (plus a bonus contrast-enhanced version that I'm using as my desktop background right now, so feel free to snag that if you like it).  I love rainbows so much!  I've been sharing this pic with everyone, because some things are meant to be shared  :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What do you really really really want?

Last week, when chatting with my roommates, one of them shared how she has started to recognize the things that she wants, and her tendency to avoid those things when there wasn't a guarantee of success in order to avoid being disappointed.  Looking at my own life, I saw that this is true for me as well.  I always go for the things that I'm relatively sure will work out.  But are those the things I want?  How do I even learn to see the things I truly want?  I've always tried not to want the things I want, because the more I want them the more I'll be disappointed, so I tell myself that I don't need anything and that I can be happy with whatever.

You see, this has been a question God has been asking me a lot lately.  "What do you want?"  And most of the time my answer is, "I don't know."  And when I do decide I want something, how do I know whether this is a desire of my heart according to how I have been made, or merely a product of fear or selfishness?  

Regardless, any revelation is only information unless it is transformed into action in one's life.  So I decided to start with something small.  I want a cat.  I've wanted a cat of my own ever since I moved away from home 10 years ago.  Somehow, circumstances were always against me, and I kept putting it off.  But now, newly determined to chase after this dream, I set to work.

I was actually very surprised at how easily my roommates agreed to this plan.  My landlord was not enthusiastic about the idea, but seemed as though she could be convinced.  I decided that an adult cat would be best, and scoured craigslist to find a suitable kitty.

Before I knew it, I was driving home with Kitty, complete with her food, toys, and automated self-cleaning litterbox.  All free to a good home where kitty would be loved.  The owners and I agreed on a one week trial period, since there were a few potential obstacles to Kitty being happy here.  The first being this:

Meet Chopper, my roommate's Boston Terrier.  He's a cheery little guy who is content as long as he can be around his people.  We weren't sure how Kitty would react to him, and at the beginning it was all growls and hisses from her, and whimpering and shaking from him.  However, after a while they seemed to become somewhat indifferent to each other.  First hurdle passed!

The second trial was that of allergies.  Would Kitty prove too allergen-producing for another of my roommates who has a mild cat allergy?  After a few days of watching, it seemed she was fine.  Second hurdle passed!

The third trial was that of Kitty's consideration of the property.  Would she pull up the carpet, scratch the hardwood floors, or pee outside her litterbox?  Because that would give her an immediate eviction from the landlord.  Once again, Kitty passes with flying colours.

Fourth hurdle is that of the unknown.  That which cannot be predicted.  Kitty developed an obsession with the outdoors.  She meows at both the front and back door when anyone is nearby there, and tries to sneak out at every opportunity.  Last night she succeeded and disappeared, frolicking in her freedom for a good two hours before coming back home.  This, unfortunately, is a deal-breaker.  My house is on a very busy intersection with heavy traffic at all times of day.  It wouldn't be long before Kitty's carcass would turn up on the side of the road.  So, she shall now be returned to her owners, who will continue to search for a loving home for her.

There was a day where I was getting depressed and thinking that I shouldn't have gone ahead with this idea in the first place, that it was a stupid idea that was doomed to failure, and that I could have saved myself the disappointment if I'd never gotten my hopes up in the first place.  But, I felt like God was saying that He could handle my disappointment.  That even if things go terribly awry, He still works all those things together for my good.  Typically, in this kind of situation I'd try to convince myself that I hadn't really wanted a cat that much in the first place, so it didn't matter if it didn't get to stay.  And in denying my disappointment, I'd deny God the chance to comfort and heal in this situation.  So I let myself be disappointed.  And I gave that disappointment up to my loving Father, and He in turn gave me peace enough to cover the whole situation.

There's another lesson I've taken away from this experience.  One night at the kitchen table, Zana asked me, "Why do you love cats so much?" There's all the typical answers one might give that I rattled off - they're clean, cute, independent, fuzzy, companionable - but the question stuck with me over the next few days.  In observing Kitty around my roommates, I finally put my finger on the answer.  One of the biggest reasons I love cats is because my family loves them too, and growing up that was something we shared together.  Anytime the cats did something cute or funny, we'd run to tell each other, and laugh about it together.  It brought us closer together, and joy shared is joy magnified.

I have decided to abandon the quest for a kitty at this juncture.  Not because of logistics, but because my roommates are just not really into cats.  They tolerated Kitty just fine, but in the words of Pastor Steve, "Toleration is a passive form of rejection."  It was a little bit painful to me to see Kitty being rejected by my roommates whom I love.  My happiness is having Kitty here was only the small happiness of my own self, lacking the magnification of having others to share it with.  Kitty has helped me to see that the true origin of my desire for a cat lies in the desire for greater connection with those I share my home with.  

I'm glad I had Kitty for this week.  I'm glad I took the risk to go for what I wanted, despite the fact that it didn't work out.  I learned a lot that I never would have known otherwise.  And I think this is just a small object lesson for me, that I can now apply to other areas of my life.  I don't want to just take the cautious route of guaranteed success anymore.  Perhaps there's no way to find out exactly what I really want until I just go for something that I think I want, and chase it until the things I truly want become clear. 

So how about you?  What do you really really really want?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Living in a world of words

Much of my life lately has been spent writing.  Now, normally I would enjoy such a task.  Writing, after all, is the medium in which I best express myself.  However, my style of writing is... well, it's this.  What you've been reading on my blog, for however long you have followed.  It's not just a string of bland statements, but it's a conversation between us.  This is my element, where I am most comfortable.  I love to communicate things in a way that makes sense to me, and hopefully to you as well.

The writing that I find myself doing now is Academic Writing.  Not just any kind of Academic Writing, but the sciencey stuff.  That means cold impersonal sentences stuffed full of incomprehensible jargon.  There's no life in it.  It's painful to me, to have to put my words into such a form that I disdain.  Alas, the culture of academia gives me no recourse, and I must struggle on, editing and re-editing, to find the exact precise form that will make my paper as publishable as possible.

If only I could be a science journalist.  Now THAT would be much more fun.  Perhaps after I'm done with this manuscript and it gets published somewhere, I'll write you all a fun and interesting summary in real-people language.

In the meantime, I've been getting out to enjoy the weather as well.  Recently my brother came to visit from Ottawa, and there was much fun to be had as you can see from the above picture of playing in the cherry blossoms.  What this picture doesn't show is the crazy hailstorm that happened 10 minutes prior which completely soaked us all from the knees down. Never a dull moment in Vancouver!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Los Angeles Excitement

Know what I love? I love meeting people who challenge me to see the world in a different way.  I had the privilege of that experience on my recent trip to LA.  The trip was for a conference, but I went a day early to visit my cousin who is interning at the LA Catholic Worker.  They're a group devoted to social justice and serving the poor in downtown LA. They live in a big community house and practice living in community with each other as well as serving the poor.  Community is something I've been thinking a lot about lately (more to come on that later in another blog post) so I was really interested to see how their community is structured.  But in my time there I learned a whole lot more.

Let me take you on a chronological tour of my day there.  On Wednesday morning, we woke up at 6:30am and went downstairs to have breakfast with the rest of the residents of the house.  This includes not only the staff and interns, but those who are staying there for a variety of other reasons.  I talked over breakfast with a woman who had moved there when one of her loved ones was in the last stages of terminal cancer (if I remember correctly).  The house also serves as a hospice for those who are dying.  She shared with me about the pain of watching him pass on, but told me that his ashes are buried in the garden and she walks out there to talk to him regularly.  She herself is an ex-convict and hasn't been able to hold down a steady job recently with so much turmoil in her life, but I could tell that at the Catholic Worker house she was loved and supported.  I could see that she still has an amazing future ahead of her, and that the LACW is helping her to get there.  

After breakfast we all piled into a couple of vans to drive over to Skid Row and pass out breakfast to the homeless there.  There was tension in the air as we pulled up because earlier that week the police had basically told them that if they came back, they'd take all their stuff.  However, there's nothing that can keep them from fulfilling their mandate of feeding breakfast to the guys on Skid Row twice a week as they have always done.  They came armed with a letter from their lawyer stating that nothing they are doing is illegal, nor does it violate food safety standards.  The police didn't show up however, so we didn't have to implement any of the emergency plans they'd come up with, and everyone had a very peaceful breakfast.

Following that we walked over to the government buildings for the LACW weekly vigil for peace.  There was a giant bag of protest signs to choose from, including such slogans as "Stop the war in Afganistan!" and "Who would Jesus bomb?"  I chose a sign that I felt I could agree with completely and wholeheartedly (see below) and my cousin likewise had her favourite Spanish sign.
Perhaps I've just been in the charismatic church for too long, but I was expecting a prayer vigil to involve like, praying out loud, maybe making declarations of God's peace or something.  So I confess to feeling a bit judgemental when I found out that it involved silent contemplation and very slow walking around the block where the government buildings are.  But as we were walking, I was praying about it, and I felt like God wanted to teach me about faithfulness, by seeing the faithfulness of these people.  Maybe it didn't look exactly like what I imagined a prayer vigil to be, but they have a level of commitment that's far and beyond anything I've ever done in my life. 

After circling the block of government buildings, we stopped out front, and one man read out a name of all the soldiers who had been killed in the past week.  Then he offered up a prayer for them and their families and a prayer for a peaceful future.  I thought that was a really cool way to honour the soldiers and not to minimize their sacrifice.  

After lunch back at the house, we went to the weekly community Bible study, which actually turned into a strategy meeting about what to do when the police arrived next.  There was talk of chaining themselves to oatmeal pots, how to best accomplish such a task, and whether a practice run would be helpful.  Despite all the differing opinions in the room, when the question was posed who was prepared to be arrested to continue serving breakfast to the homeless, nearly every hand went up. (An update from their website indicates that there has been one arrest so far.  The full story will likely come out soon in the next issue of their newspaper publication, the Catholic Agitator.)  Discussions were concluded with glasses of wine for everyone.  

Reflecting on my day with the LACW, I was thinking about how much Christians like to talk about helping others, but how little we actually put that into practice.  Sure we do sporadic events, but let's face it, we haven't been very good at building long-term relationships with people that need it and walking with them through the hardships of their lives.  Making someone a sandwich is easy, but building a relationship and investing time into them is much more difficult.  Preaching someone a sermon is easy, but standing with them in the midst of divorce, grief, addictions or whatever else can be hard and painful.  I might not completely agree with the theology of everyone at the LACW, but regardless of that they are not people of talk, they are people of action.  They are people of love.  Not only that, but they are incredibly faithful and trustworthy.  They're not content to sit back and be comfortable while others in the world are suffering.  They are prepared to sacrifice their comfort and even their freedom on behalf of those they are serving, to the point of being arrested and imprisoned.  I want that for my life.  I want that kind of faithfulness.  I want that kind of commitment to the kingdom of God, where serving those this world considers the least has the greatest reward.  Jesus said that whatever we do for even the least of people, we do it for Him personally.  What an honour!

I'm not sure yet how this will tangibly affect my life, but thinking back on this experience unsettles me.  It unsettles me in a good way (not in a guilt-inducing way - I live in a condemnation-free zone as per Romans 8:1), because it challenges me to change how I think and how I act.  I wonder, what will I pursue at all costs, no matter what opposition comes against me?  What will I cry out to God for day and night until He answers me?  Who are the people that I can serve, who are waiting for me to stop being self-absorbed and step up into being a woman of action?  What do I want to accomplish with my life?  Some people have an unmistakable calling of God on their lives to a specific thing which God makes clear to them at an early age.  Then there are others of us who find God asking us the question, "What do you want to do? What do you love? I will bless you in the things you choose." I find, I still don't yet know what I want to do when I grow up.  I'm still trying to figure out the things that I want, that are most important to me.  But when I do decide, I want the commitment and passion I saw in those at the LACW.  So that people will look back on my life after I'm gone and be inspired by my faithfulness and perseverance.  I want to leave that kind of a legacy for my (potential) children and grandchildren.  

Alright, that's enough for tonight.  I'll write you again soon, blogland.  Until then, be safe, be joyful, and spread a smile to someone else.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Update - in which I am awesome

Hi blogland!  As Shelle recently commented, it is true that I haven't posted in ages.  Not to say that I haven't written anything, in fact, I have about three substantial posts half-written, but need some time to sit down and finish them properly.  Time that I haven't really had lately.  Haven't even been knitting, in fact.  But to distract you, I shall post some pictures of the scarf I finished a couple months ago.  It's the latest installment of the knitting request list, which means I'm due to move on to the next one.  Though, it seems like everyone is having babies so I might do some baby knitting first.

Scaf specs:  Doubleknit, half wool half acrylic.  Design by the recipient Reizo Ryuu aka darkshadow aka DS. The design is the emblem of the Hidden Village of the Sand from the anime Naruto.  

Even though I've been so crazily busy, it hasn't felt like it.  I've been getting  lots of sleep, and even started doing pilates with my roommate, as well as intentionally making tasty healthy meals in the house.  Yes, most of my free time is filled up with homework, but I'm not succumbing to my undergrad tendencies to throw everything out the window and become an academic workaholic.  I'm trying out this new "diligent but balanced lifestyle" thing, and it's pretty awesome.  

I write to you at the moment from YVR airport, en route to LA.  There's only two weeks left to the semester, and I'm dashing off to sunny California to visit my cousin and attend a conference.  I'll probably have to work like a maniac when I get back to finish my term project in time, but for the moment, I shall enjoy this beautiful vacation.  Who knows, I might even make some sporadic updates from LA.  We shall see.  Till next time, be well, be happy, and have a beautiful day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

OWOH Winners!!!

Hello again blogland!

Well, I haven't yet updated you all on the things that I should be updating, like part 2 of the appendix story (short version: everyone is surprised by my speedy recovery!) but in my defense, catching up on the schoolwork I missed while in the hospital is no small task.  Anyhow, don't worry about OWOH, because I am here to announce the winners of this marvelous event!  Also, I am overwhelmed by the plethora of comments and kind words you have all given me this past week.  I seriously seriously want to give prizes to everyone.  Because you are so cool!  And you all have these totally rad blogs that I'm still visiting and enjoying!  But alas, I have limited finances and resources, so I have to settle for 3 winners.  Oh, did I say 3?  That's right.  BONUS WINNER!

So, here's the deal.  I got so into this whole wire and dice thing that I made some more earrings.  Is that cool?  I just couldn't help myself.  So, here are the first two of my randomly chosen winners with new and improved pictures!!!

Congratulations to Gail, commenter #4, who wins the d4 earrings!  She is an amazing storyteller and I was definitely giggling to myself as I was reading through her blog.  You are such a warmly caring person Gail, and I am so glad to have met you through this event.  I also refute your statement that you have no authentic creative talents to share, because your writing is so creative and you share so much of it with us.  Hope you enjoy this little doorprize!

Now, since I promised I'd add another prize if I got over 100 entries, congratulations are in order for Deci, who has a wonderful blog called Gem Trails full of copious amounts of information for aspiring jewelry artists and wannabe's like me.  I almost feel bad passing off my shoddy beginner work to such a pro, but I've found at least as a knitter that I so often give away all my knitting that it's delightful and so much more meaningful to receive knitting from someone else.  So Deci, congratulations, and I hope you enjoy these wire-wrapped d10's (see?  There's a crazy unintentional theme going on here with the dice numbers and winners... God totally has a sense of humour) that rather surprised me with how nicely they turned out as I whipped them together at the last minute today.  I shall be back to your blog again and again I'm sure, as I branch out into more adventurous jewelry crafting.

And wait, don't go yet, there's a BONUS PRIZE!  Yes, that's right, one extra prize, but NOT chosen by random.  The last winner is chosen by meeeee, and I feel quite justified in bringing some choosification here at the end cause it was a last-minute decision on my part, and I wanted to do something for someone who left me a really fun comment leading to a really fun blog, thereby expanding my friendships in blogdom.  And there were lots, and I love them, but I have to say, my choice this round goes to Sunshineshelle, whose self-proclaimed talent is eating leftovers (LOL!) but is actually quite an amazing artist with a whole family chock-full of artistic talent.  So, for you lovely Shelle, just for being you, I present these one-of-a-kind d8 earrings, again just a tad mis-matched because I bet you roll like that too   ;)

I'll be contacting the winners momentarily, and hopefully they send me their addresses before the weekend so I can get these all mailed out.  

Thanks to everyone who played in OWOH!  Hope to see you around!  And I really will get back to regular blogging soon, promise!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

OWOH 2011

We interrupt your regular blogging to present: the One World One Heart 2011 Event!


For those of you regular blog readers who may be confused, it's like a giant meet-and-greet for bloggers, where everyone offers doorprizes for stopping by to visit their blog, and hopefully new friends are made in the process as well as everyone has a chance to win really cool stuff.  I participated in this a couple years ago, and gained some good friends out of the deal, so I figure, let's give it a try again!  This is the fifth and final OWOH event.

So now, for those of you dropping in to visit from OWOH, welcome to this little corner of 1's and 0's that I call my own.  I'm not exactly typical of the type of blog you see in this event.  I'm a hardcore geek, and consequently a lot of the knitting/sewing/crafting I do reflects that.  I love creating things, but I also love creating communities and I'm currently the guild leader of the Order of Pointed Sticks in Guild Wars, as well as a moderator over at the anime forum Gotwoot?, and a part-time member of the fansub staff there (no, I do not speak Japanese, but I speak darn good English and put that to use as an editor).

My blog, which is neither about baking nor electronics (I know, the title may be a tad misleading), started out just as a place for me to post up pictures of my latest knitting projects.  This was in my pre-ravelry days, so I had nowhere else to collect my knitting pictures.  Since then, it's evolved into a place more for me to collect my thoughts and process some of the things I've been reflecting on.  I am unapologetically Christian, and my scattered thoughts here reflect that, since it forms the basis of my worldview and holds together my day-to-day life.   Blogs are one of those wonderful things where you can write and say the things that are uniquely you, so this blog here is about as real as it gets.  My despair, my struggles, my triumphs, and all the little things in between.  With a good dose of knitting and crafting still.

Anyhow, whether you take the time to browse around or are just jumping in for a chance at the doorprize, you are very welcome here and I'm glad to have the chance to meet you!  Speaking of prizes, here is my offering:

Yes, the picture quality is terrible.  I have temporarily lost my camera cable, so cellphone camera will have to do until I clean my room and locate that missing cable.  But you may have guessed despite the blurriness and pixellation that this is a pair of earrings, made from wire-wrapped d4's.  I made a pair for myself last year and get compliments on them wherever I go.  The 4 is up on purpose because anyone wearing these must be rolling max for style!  Ahaha... ok, that was a terrible joke.  They're both blue and speckled (again, hard to tell with this picture) though slightly different shades.  On purpose.  I mismatch my earrings as purposely as I mismatch my socks - different yet complementary in colour while matching in form.

You guys know the rules.  All you have to do to be entered in the draw is the leave a comment on this post and make sure I have a way to contact you.  The contest is worldwide, and I'll be choosing the winner via random dice roll on the evening of February 17th, after which there will be a congratulatory post with much fanfare.  If you're male and earrings don't appeal to you, leave a comment anyhow and I'll make you an alternate prize if you get chosen.

My theme for this year's prizes is DnD.  I'm currently lacking a group, alas, but I love the imagination and adventure of pen-and-paper rpg's.  Maybe sometime this year I'll find a fun group in Vancouver that fits my schedule, or else take the time to learn how to DM and make my own group.  But back to the giveaway, if I get over 100 entries, I'll add a secondary prize, also DnD related.  Maybe a knitted dice bag, hmm?  We shall see.  Comment away darlings, comment away.

Update:  Comments are now closed, winners to be announced shortly!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Exploding Appendix: Part 1

February 2, 2011 - 4:00am
I woke up from severe pain.  Seemed to be around my stomach.  I tried to remember the last time I'd felt anything similar, and my mind drifted back to a severe bout of food poisoning.  I tried to remember what I'd eaten yesterday that could have caused such severe discomfort.  Bubble tea?  I logged onto Guild Wars to help pass the time, hoping that I would throw up soon and be done with it.

After a some fun times extinguishing red dots with good friends, I was feeling a bit feverish on top of the relentless pain. Roommate Shirley to the rescue!  She found me some Tylenol as she was leaving for work, and told me to call her if I needed anything.  I cancelled my morning appointments at work and attempted to sleep a bit more, hoping to make it to my afternoon meetings.

11:00 am
At this point, I was in considerably more pain.  No vomiting or nausea.  I started to doubt my initial diagnosis.  I cancelled my afternoon appointments at work and spent an hour debating whether to tough it out and see if it would pass, or actually choose to think this might be more serious.  I tried all sorts of things to see if that might make me feel better.  Walking.  Sitting.  Slouching.  Lying on my bed.  Lying on the floor.  Lying upside down.  Nothing helped, and the pain remained.  This is when I put out the infamous Facebook status query:

  • Ok friends with medical know-how, what do you think. I thought I had food poisoning, but now I'm not so sure. Been suffering from constant abdominal pain since 4am and it's getting worse. Had a slight fever this morning. Do I take some tylenol and wait it out or try to skytrain to a clinic or something?
    February 2 at 11:47am ·  ·  · 

  • It should be noted that I was in so much pain at this point it took me about 10 minutes just to write the status.  All the while thinking to myself, "Is it really THAT bad?  I mean, it could be worse right?  Is it bad enough that this might be serious? Maybe I'm just being a wimp about it."

    One of the excellent responses to my query was the suggestion that I call the dial-a-nurse line.  Excellent!  I did so, and the nurse recommended I go see a doctor within the hour.  Hmm.  I also received a phone call from one of my best friends back in Ontario, whose mother had seen my facebook status and alerted her to my condition.  If I wasn't already decided on going to see a doctor, I'm pretty sure she would have forced me to over the phone.  This is what good friends are for.

    2:00 pm
    I tottered off the skytrain and arrived at the walk-in clinic.  The receptionist is brusque and dismissive.  "Care Card.  Phone number," she intones.  "There's a 2 to 2 and a half hour wait."  Well, that was discouraging, but not entirely unexpected.  If people left and failed to return, the line could be shorter.  I figured I'd take my chances here rather than going to emergency, because my possible ride, aforementioned excellent roommate Shirley, was otherwise engaged picking up Chopper the boston terrier from Doggie Day Care.  Chopper's mommy, roommate Marie, had left that morning for a trip to Vegas.  And there was always that elusive chance that the  line would be shorter than expected.  I had brought my knitting but couldn't pull it out.  Couldn't do anything except sit still and concentrate on enduring the pain.  All the while praying, "Please Daddy, let them call my name next.  Let me be the next patient.  I can't take much more of this."

    4:00 pm
    "It seems like it's your gallbladder," pronounces the doctor, "since the pain is a bit higher up.  Not unusual, in a young woman.  It looks very inflamed.  Sometimes these things calm down on their own.  You're in quite a bit of pain though, and there's the chance it could be the appendix.  You should go over to emergency and get checked out."  And so that was that.  "Looks like I'm headed for emergency after all," I remark with a rueful smile to the gentleman that's been sitting beside me for the past 2 hours in the waiting room.  We wish each other good luck and Shirley drives up to whisk me away to the hospital.

    Shirley offered to stay with me for a bit in the ER, but there's no telling how long the wait will be, and she has a number of things to accomplish before CG that night.  (CG being community group, the part of the week where the large impersonal mass of people in the church is broken down into smaller 'families' where we hang out, share, and pray with each other.)  Due to a recent flurry of changes within the church, CG's have been reshuffled a bit, my CG included.  It was supposed to be our first meeting together that night.  Our CG leader, Keum, was newly appointed, and that night marked his first night leading.  I texted him to update him on my status.  After a bit, of conversation back and forth he replies with, "We r coming.  B there soon."

    5:30 pm
    A little boy of about 4 years old stares at me and points.  "Sad!" He looks over at his mother, "Sad, Mommy."  She gathers him into her arms and says, "Shhhh, just sick, honey.  People here are sick.  The doctors will make them better."  I'm huddled over in my chair, trying to stop the leaks that have sprung from my eyes.  I didn't think the pain could get worse, but it has.  Constant.  Unrelenting.  Thank you Jesus for this strategically placed box of Kleenex on the low table in front of me.  Other patients in the waiting room keep flashing looks of concern my way, shaking their heads and furrowing their brows.  That girl is in trouble, their eyes say.

    Keum arrives first.  I seemed to have stopped crying by this point, though probably more out of dehydration than anything else.  I've had nothing to eat or drink since the day before, and I've been cautioned not to both at the doctors and here in case I end up needing surgery.  It's reassuring to have someone there just to sit with me and pray for me.  My own prayers at this point consist of, "Can this be over now?  I can't take it... I can't stand it..."  While we're still waiting, all of a sudden out of nowhere, a wave of nausea washes over me.  I jump up and run to the bathroom and throw up a few times, even though there's nothing whatsoever in my stomach.  In retrospect, I'm fairly sure this is the actual point at which the appendix ruptured.  Not long after, my good friends Sonja and Tyson arrive.  We pray together quietly in the waiting room.  It's a different kind of CG tonight, but CG nonetheless, doing what CG's do best: being family, being there for each other when you need it most.

    ?:?? pm
    I lost track of time after this.  I think I was called in around 6pm but things after this point get harder to remember.  Sonja came with me and I don't know if I would have gotten through without her.  I was in so much pain that I was shaking and convulsing.  I was breathing too quickly and all the muscles in my body started to seize up all at once.  I'm not sure how long this lasted for.  Too long.  Finally, after the doctor had given me a preliminary examination, they hooked up an IV and gave me some morphine and gravol. Why gravol? I thought, until the morphine went into the IV and I felt suddenly nauseous.  Oh, that's why.  It did nothing for the pain.  They gave me more morphine, and it took the edge off enough that I started to un-tense.   All the while, Sonja stayed by my side, a constant presence of sweet peace and comfort throughout my ordeal.  She took care of all the nurse-fetching, family-notifying, message-passing, and whatever else needed to be done.  Though we're not blood-related, I am honoured beyond words to have this deeply loving and sweetly caring woman as my sister.

    10:00 pm
    My brother Josh came as soon as he could after his opera rehearsal ended.  It's been nearly 2 years since our positions were reversed and I had a phone call that he was in Langley hospital getting an appendectomy.  By this time, my doctor was starting to suspect the appendix as the culprit.  Whereas the pain had been higher previously, it had now settled to the lower right.  Not a good sign.  The CT scan technician had already gone home for the night, so they had to call her back in.  The doctor said that in the case of young men, they'd schedule the surgery right away, but for me they needed a scan because there are so many 'fiddly little woman parts' packed into the abdomen, and therefore a lot more things that can go wrong for women.  I already knew what to expect, since I'd had a CT scan a few years ago (long story... involving my own stupidity and a half-pipe).  At that previous time, I'd been freaking out about having to get an IV in my arm.  Practically passing out the whole time just thinking about it.  This time around, I had no problems with the IV or any of the needles they stuck into me.  Being in a lot of pain tends to put everything else into a different perspective.

    The surgeon hands me some forms to sign and a nurse slaps a bracelet around my wrist signifying that I've been admitted to the hospital.  As he collects back the forms he reassures me that he does 2-3 appendectomies a night, and that I have nothing to worry about.  As we speak, my appendix is spewing poison into me, and it's imperative to remove it as soon as possible.  Sonja writes down a list of things to collect for me from my house.  Josh shares with me his stories of his own appendectomy.  He's so funny, I can't help but laugh.  They both accompany me up to the 4th floor where my surgery team is making preparations.  I'm completely relaxed.  Maybe it's the morphine.  I'm more than happy to trust my safety to the friendly and confident team donning their surgical masks.  I bid farewell to my companions and am wheeled into the slightly chilly operating room.  I have no idea what anyone is doing at this point because I'm no longer wearing my glasses.  Everything is a fuzzy blur of colour and motion.  The doctors are joking and laughing together, pulling me into their good-natured conversation, asking me with interest about my research, and sharing stories of their own of growing up in Ontario.  The last thing I remember saying before waking up is, "You guys are awesome."

    Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2!

    Monday, January 31, 2011

    Victory: The Bed Bug Saga

    I have declared complete and total victory.  Victory against anxiety, victory against fear, victory against sleepless nights, victory against insidious little blood-sucking parasites.... yes I am talking about bed bugs.

    I wanted to write up this post for two reasons.  Firstly, this encompassed a large portion of my life last semester, and is one of the biggest factors in my current lack of knitting and thus lack of pretty finished knitwear pictures on the blog.  Secondly, in all of my extensive bed bug-related research, I found very few success stories of people who beat the little varmints on their own without calling in an exterminator.  I want to let anyone who is currently struggling in a battle against bed bugs to know that there is hope, you can beat them, and I will tell you how I did it.

    This story begins in September 2010.  My knowledge of bed bugs was limited to the old saying, "Sleep tight.  Don't let the bed bugs bite."  I'm one of a large portion of the population who doesn't react to beg bug bites, so I was quite oblivious to the infestation for quite some time.  I was single-handedly providing sustenance for a whole colony of them, and didn't have a single mark on my body.  This I think, is one of the first signs of the grace of God on my life throughout this situation.  As bad as it was, I thanked God every day that I didn't have to bear the outward itchy disfiguring marks of the creatures' nighttime feedings.

    Getting back to the story, I had been sleeping less well than usual, and was troubled by dreams of insects crawling over me.  There were also strange little rust-coloured spots on my sheets some mornings, and I couldn't figure out what it would be from.  Looking back now, the signs are obvious, but at the time I was too busy with school and everything else to devote much thought to it.  However, shortly after, on a leisurely Saturday morning I was sleeping in, and had just woken up and was checking my email in bed.  I spotted some movement on top of my duvet, and felt a tinge of annoyance that a fruit fly would trouble my morning.  But as I inspected closer, looking at this tiny red creature, I realized that this was no fruit fly at all.  I squished it out of instinct and it exploded into a bright red smear.  Blood.  This was worrisome.  Not seconds later, I spotted a full-size dark brown adult bug scurrying across the duvet.  Upon beholding the horrifying cockroach-like visage of my enemy, I smashed it quickly and bolted out of my bed in sheer terror.

    One hot shower and an hour's worth of internet research later, I was feeling both more prepared to deal with this situation, and more horrified about the nightmare ahead of me.  If you have had bed bugs or are currently dealing with them you know exactly what I'm talking about.  If you have been spared this modern-day plague, let me enlighten you with a few facts about bed bugs.  I won't cite this list, you can google the information yourself if you feel so inclined.
    • They feed exclusively on blood, and need regular blood meals to reach adulthood and reproduce
    • They come out typically around 2-4 am when their food source is in deepest sleep, and need 2-5 minutes for a complete feeding
    • A single female bug, transported on clothing or a suitcase or backpack, can start an infestation
    • They like to nest as close to their food source as possible, hence they usually take up residence in bed frames, preferring tight enclosed spaces
    • They are VERY hard to kill, and most pesticides have no effect on them similar to cockroaches
    • They can fit in cracks the width of a credit card
    • They can live up to a year without feeding
    • Newly-hatched bugs are about the size of the head of a pin, while adult bugs can grow to be 1/4 inch long, and like an accordion they elongate after a feeding 
    • They are drawn to heat and carbon dioxide to find their food
    • Most professional exterminators charge a fortune to treat a room for bed bugs
    • The only thing that reliably kills all stages of bed bugs is heat
    This was full-on war.  With bed bugs, there are no half-measures.  It's all or nothing.

    Armed with my new knowledge I set out to buy some weapons of warfare.  First up, a bed bug-proof mattress cover.  Any bugs trapped inside would die of starvation, and outside I'd be able to more easily spot and kill the bugs.  This was a necessity.  It was also $80.  My heart sank when I saw the price tag because for a student, $80 is a lot of money.  Nevertheless, it was necessary.  When I brought it to the checkout, and as the lady scanned it she remarked, "Wow, you're very lucky!  These things never go on sale."  "Oh?" I said, thinking that I hadn't seen any kind of a sale sign by the rack. "Oh yes," she continued. "In the four years I've been working here, I've never seen them go on sale even once."  It turns out that I got it for 50% off.  Here yet again is the grace of God in the midst of my troubles.  

    Back home, now armed with a mattress cover, vacuum cleaner, and portable steam cleaner, I set to work decontaminating everything.  I began by clearing a perimeter around my bed.  Anything that was washable went straight into the washing machine followed by the dryer.  My first round didn't reveal any bugs lurking in the area around my bed.  Good.  That meant the infestation was contained.  Bed bugs are social creatures, you see, as well as being lazy.  They only spread out once there isn't any more room for them in their current nesting places.  And since my bed frame was wooden, with drawers built into the bottom, it offered plenty of prime real estate for my unwelcome guests.  

    Still, with bed bugs you can't be too careful.  If only a single bug is left alive, they can begin the infestation anew.  I needed to be extremely thorough.  

    I spent the next 12 hours straight taking apart my bed and blasting steam into every nook and cranny.  The steam kills the bugs in a second or two, and causes them to lose their grip on vertical surfaces and drop to the ground.  So every blast of steam was followed by the dropping of tiny carcasses to the floor which I could then vacuum up.  I learned quickly that if the force of the steam was too high, it would scatter the bugs before killing them, and they would run and hide somewhere else.  When using a portable steamer, it's crucial to wrap a cloth or rag around the nozzle to absorb some of the impact of the steam.  I had to steam every single surface, because bed bugs can leave their eggs anywhere, and the eggs are too small to see.  It was 12 hours of slaughter, and the entire time I was fighting the horror and revulsion of what this infestation in my bed represented.  I didn't eat all day because being around them made me feel nauseous.

    I think one of the reasons bed bugs cause so much trauma to the people who unwittingly contract them is that they prey on you in the very place where you should feel the  most safe, at the time when you are the most vulnerable.  Also, when dealing with an infestation, it is imperative that you do not start sleeping somewhere else.  This will just cause the bugs to migrate elsewhere, looking for food.  Then who knows where they'll end up, and if you'll be able to find and kill them.  No, you must sacrifice yourself each night as live bait to lure out any remaining bugs and keep them centralized around a single area.  If you want to kill them, you must continue to feed them.  As you might imagine, this does not lend itself well to peaceful nights.  The quality and amount of my sleep dropped dramatically.  The fight against bed bugs lasts for weeks, even months.  

    I implemented strict containment measures.  Everything inside my room was treated as possibly contaminated.  Any clean clothes which emerged from the dryer I put into a suitcase which I kept in the living room.  Anything which came out of my room had to go through the dryer or steamer before I would take it out of the house.  I stopped using blankets and sheets, and slept with only my sleeping bag on top of my mattress, covered in its white mattress cover.  Any bugs which wanted to get at me would have to walk up to my head where the sleeping bag opening was.  Every night before going to bed I put my sleeping bag, pillow, and pyjamas in the dryer for 10 minutes to kill any bugs which may have taken up residence in those items.  

    Every week I spent hours dismantling and steaming my bedframe.  And in the middle of this full-on war, I had to move.  I had been planning to move for a while, but the way that it happened is that I couldn't move directly to my new house.  I would be homeless and needed a place to stay temporarily for 2 weeks.  Ordinarily, this would be a difficult task, but doable.  In the middle of a bed bug war, this was a task of monumental proportions.  I had to send out my belongings to be stored at other people's houses, and my general fear and anxiety tripled, as I had nightmare scenarios play out in my mind about accidentally spreading the infestation to others.  Every single item had to be meticulously steamed before it was packed, and then put into either a plastic tote or a garbage bag inside a box.  Those items closest to 'ground zero' aka my bed, were given two, sometimes 3 steamings.  Things in the living room and kitchen were designated safe since they had all been in cupboards and shelves.  

    I ended up having to take 3 days off of work to do all this.  I lived in a state of constant fear.  The toll that this situation was taking on my sanity was beginning to show.  I don't have a lot of stuff, but once you have to steam everything you own, you wish you owned less.  The most heartbreaking part was my yarn, all my gorgeous wool and silk and alpaca, which had been closest to ground zero, and was now covered in the dust of shed bed bug skins and surrounded by their filthy excrement.  I couldn't even bear to look at it, so I stuffed it in a double-bagged garbage bag and inside a plastic tote.  Even though now there are no live bugs left, it'll all need a good soak in some Eucalan before I'll be persuaded to cast it onto my needles again.  

    I want to take some time to mention my Champions here, my church family who took the time to help me move and pack, and kept me sane in the worst part of this ordeal.  I generally have a hard time asking for help.  I hate being confronted with things that I cannot do on my own.  Even in times when I do ask for help, I have a backup plan of how I can do it myself.  There was no backup plan here.  If these dear friends had not come to my rescue, I would have been completely screwed.  Every person who came, and every minute they spent assisting me was absolutely necessary.  

    My biggest thanks goes to an amazing woman with a little purple truck.  You see, once you have bed bugs anywhere in your house, it's like you're a leper.  Everything you own, you must cry out 'Unclean! Unclean!' as a precaution.  Even though you assure people you have done a thorough decontamination, and that certain items were far far away from the site of infestation, no one will touch anything.  Thus, my attempts to find new homes for my living room furniture failed, and I had to take everything to the dump.  I don't even have a car, much less a truck.  However, in the moment where I was about to despair, or else pay over $200 for one of those professional junk removal services, my friend Jeannie came to my rescue.  Providentially, she was available and had the time to help transport my furniture.  Never have I been so desperate, and never has the help of a friend been so sweet.  

    However, even after having everything packed, stored, and having moved to my temporary residence at my brother and SIL's apartment, I couldn't shake the fear.  Every piece of lint looked like a bed bug.  The terror that the infestation had followed me still gripped my heart.  I still had nightmares about bed bugs.  I kept wondering whether I had done enough, whether they were really dead.  After moving, no longer sustained by the adrenaline of an impending deadline, I had a little meltdown and spent an entire day crying.  I went to work, but couldn't even read my computer screen through the tears in my eyes.  I've never cried so much in my life.  I'm not a girl who is easily prone to tears, so it takes a LOT to bring me to that point.  It was the point of being so completely overwhelmed that I'd used up all of my mental and emotional resources and just couldn't deal with anything else.  I felt this war had gone in favour of the bed bugs, because I felt defeated and helpless.  But once again thank God for good friends, because on this awful day of meltdown, my friend Mina came and took me out for dinner and made me a silly little card to cheer me up.  

    During this time of displacement and transition, I finally started to get some good sleep, and was able to look at the situation more objectively.  I'd had my doubting moments where I looked at God and said, "Why did this happen to me?  Did I do something wrong to have this plague visited upon me?  Why did you create something that sucks (literally and figuratively) so much?"  Now, I know a lot of theology and can easily dismiss these kind of questions on the basis of sin's curse applied to the natural world, spiritual warfare, etc etc.  But in my state of anxiety, frustration, and vulnerability, walking around in a daze of misery, I couldn't even refute my own questions with the truths that I know.  I didn't want to bring my friends down by letting on just how badly this situation was affecting me.  After all, it was my problem.  I had to deal with it myself.  Did I mention I have problems with asking for help?  At any rate, my victory was not swift and decisive.  It was a process of every day choosing to defy fear and declare God's goodness even if I didn't see it or couldn't believe it in my heart.  And every day, fear's foothold on my life loosened.  I stopped seeing bed bugs every time I closed my eyes.  I stopped my obsessive bed bug research.  Stopped putting everything I own into the dryer all the time.  Started to truly believe that my God is bigger than bed bugs, and that He would protect my home and the homes of my friends where all my stuff was stored.  I had done all that I could, and it was time for me to trust and have hope that God would take care of the rest.  

    It's been 4 months since I've seen a live bug.  When I moved into my new house, I put everything through the dryer again just to be safe.  I saw one dead bug in the process.  Since then, neither I nor anyone I know has been troubled by bed bugs.  The stats do say they can live for up to a year without a meal, but that depends very much on the temperature.  That stat is for refrigerator-like conditions.  The warmer it is, the faster they dehydrate, and the blood inside them hardens and they die.  So, I have no qualms at this point in declaring my COMPLETE and TOTAL victory over them, and everything they brought into my life as a result of the infestation.  This victory goes to me, and to my God who truly is bigger than bed bugs, and can redeem even the worst of situations.  If 2010 was a year of trials, I am declaring that 2011 is a year of victory.  This being only the first.  So listen up, everything that comes against me: I cannot be conquered.  I cannot be defeated.  I might be knocked down for a short time, but you better believe that I'm on the winning side, and there's nothing that can come between me and my destiny, cause God's on my side.