Monday, January 26, 2015

Post 10 of 15: The Latest Pottery Update

In yesterday’s pottery class, we continued throwing on the wheel and trying to perfect our techniques when it came to creating the perfect cylinder. Hells belles but it’s not easy. To be honest, even if we spent all 10 weeks just doing this same thing over and over, I doubt I’d have the skill level to make anything without help by the end! I will not be discouraged however; each week I dutifully roll some clay, throw it on the wheel, hit the gas pedal and attempt to not fling clay off in all directions and injure my fellow classmates.  This week I managed to finish with TWO pieces: a cup/glass type thing (I will not be adding a handle) and a narrow, deep soup bowl. To be fair, I get to a certain spot on each piece and then I’m afraid to go any further (based on previous outcomes) in case I ruin it. Our instructor came by and helped me to work the clay up to form the sides and smooth out the interior.

At the start of the class, we began by cleaning up the pieces we had finished the previous week, cutting off excess clay and adding a bit of shape. After two weeks of this, I’m feeling more confident. I had to ask for help for one small part of the base of my soup bowl but other than that, it was all me. I think part of the credit needs to go to my fancy new tools.

They were nice and shiny for about 5 minutes.

We discussed glazing at the end of this week’s class and that started me thinking about how I’d like my pieces to look once they’re finally finished. I surfed the great Google machine during my lunch hour today and now have definite ideas for painting/glazing the pieces I’ve already finished. I can’t promise they’ll look professional but I hope they come out halfway decent. We won’t be working with the glazes until the last couple of weeks, I believe, so there’s time to ask lots of questions and check out YouTube.

There are 7 weeks left in class and I have three items that I’d really like to make (and have turn out):  a nice sized serving/popcorn bowl, a chip/veggies and dip platter, and something I’m going to keep hush-hush about for the moment. I want it to be a surprise!  Don’t worry, you know I can’t keep secrets for long so you’ll probably find out pretty soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Results Are In

My doctor's office called on Thursday and asked me to come in on Friday to discuss the results of Tuesday's CT scan. My brain was going in two different directions after I hung up. Either they weren't going to find anything or I should prepare myself for something serious. His nurse can't give me any details and I knew better than to ask. So, I just sucked it up until my appointment.

So there's good news and some so-so news. The radiologist's report came back with three items. First and foremost, there was nothing to indicate the inflammation I've been experiencing or that could be causing it. Soooo, now we continue to wait. The next step is the rheumatologist appointment which I should hopefully be getting a call about next week. Dr. H was surprised that I hadn't been called yet - he checked the specialist's scheduled appointments (ah the joys of being in the same clinic and using the same systems) and there are available appointments as early as the first week of February. Dr. H sent a follow up email while we were still in the exam room - fingers crossed.

Next, the CT scan showed very small nodules in my lungs. The radiologist and Dr. H aren't concerned about these - they are often the result of an infection at some point in the patient's past and unless I was a "high risk" patient (e.g.: heavy smoker now or previously, or if I worked in a dangerous industry like asbestos or uranium), there should be no need to do a follow up CT scan in a year. We chatted a bit about these but I'm not worried.

The final item though has me a bit bothered. There was evidence of fatty tissue in my liver. This would be a slight concern for any person but for me, doubly so. You see, my paternal grandmother, my beloved Nana, developed cirrhosis of the liver due to fatty tissue. She was a very large woman and had diabetes, neither of which did her any favours. Organ failure as a result of her cirrhosis was what eventually killed her. Given that I also take after my father's side of the family, I need to be aware of the potenetial ramifications of not trying to deal with this now. Dr. H however isn't freaking out over this. Each time we do a full set of bloodwork, he orders a liver enzyme test and every time, the results come back normal. He's said that for now its a good idea to eat sensibly and be aware, but until the numbers start going up, I shouldn't worry.  
Unfortunately, I am a bit worried given the family history. Something I can do right now is to lose a bit of weight. While that seems easy peasy lemon squeezy, there are a couple of things to consider. First, due to the ongoing inflammation issues, I can't do a lot of strenuous (or even semi-strenuous) physical activity. Effectively, this takes the "exercise" part out of the "diet and exercise" which is usually prescribed for those looking to lose weight. Second, because I have ovarian cysts, I have a tougher time losing weight than someone with the identical body size/shape as me. Basically, if you have two identical versions of me, one with the cysts and one without, and we both eat the same and do the same amount of exercise, the version without the cysts would lose more weight faster. Ain't I a lucky gal? This also results in me carrying most of my weight around my middle and excess abdominal fat contributes to fatty liver. It just gets better and better...

I'm not freaking out but now the desire to lose a few pounds takes on a whole new angle. While I don't want to live to 100, I would like to live into my 70s and do so relatively healthy. So, the pop will, with some great effort, be limited to weekends and eating out will be cut back drastically. Home cooking? Less bad stuff, more veggies. 

So, there it is. Overall, some good-ish news, some not so good-ish news but nothing to get my panties in a twist over.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The tests continue...

Yesterday I had my chest CT scan. The morning started off bright and very early. I was out of the house by 645 to be at the University of Alberta Hospital by 715. I was given a form to fill out and within 2 minutes of sitting down, I was being called for a chest xray.  I hadn't even taken my coat off yet! No waiting once we got to xray either - in and out in five minutes. Then, it was off to the CT scan area. After watching a short video about the procedure, I was whisked away to get prepped. All that this involved was having a needle inserted into my arm and a plunger dose of injectable dye attached to my arm.

Again, no waiting. I sat down in the waiting room, needle affixed to my arm, and managed to just get comfy (as well as I could given the situation and the chairs) when they came to get me. My nurse/technician for the CT scan looked almost exactly like Sean Hayes from Will and Grace. I was a bit apprehensive about the actual test. I knew it would be slightly claustrophobic but it wasn't until I actually laid down on the bed and saw just how coffin-like the machine is that I started to get nervous. Adding to my growning nerves, I had to hold my arms up and behind my head with the IV line for the dye held in my fingers. I don't know much about the process but it seemed that they took one picture without the dye, probably for comparison, before the injection and a second picture with the dye. Fortunately, I didn't have to slide completely into the MRI/CT machine. My head, neck, and shoulders (and IV line holding arms) were outside which allowed my nerves to calm down a bit. It felt as though it took longer than it probably did - it may have lasted only 10 minutes but it seemed twice as long. 

The whole process was smooth and uneventful. Everything went well and once again I was throughouly impressed with Alberta's quality medical staff. Each and everyone I encountered at the hospital was friendly, funny and seemed to be happy. I had originally been told the whole process would take two hours but I was in and out in just over an hour. My family doctor should have the results before the end of the week. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Restaurant Review: Three Amigos (Downtown Edmonton)

This will be the my last birthday post for this year, I promise!  A couple of my coworkers offered to take me out for lunch last week to celebrate.  I decided to be bold and told them it didn't matter where we went, whatever they decided would be fine. One of them suggested Three Amigos, a Mexican restaurant just down the street from our office.  I had walked by numerous times and was curious to try so I said yes.
I opted for the chicken enchilada. It seemed like a relatively safe (and tasty choice). I'm not a big fan of beef or pork when I eat out. I have to admit I was seriously disappointed.  The enchilada's had nothing but oil and chicken inside the tortilla, the rice was bland and tasteless with chunks of something I couldn't recognize and that big black blob is refried beans. I've never ever seen beans that colour. We asked for all three sauces so we could each get a taste - there was a spicey green salsa, a tasty red one (milder) and a mole sauce which had absolutely no flavour.  

I didn't eat very much of my meal and told my friends that I was just getting really full. I'm sure that at least one of them guessed that I didn't like it although I said it was fine. I didn't want to hurt their feelings, especially since one of them had been to their south side location before and loved it.

When the waitress heard it was my birthday, she brought out this cute shot of tequila for me. Considering I had to go back to the office after lunch, I wasn't about to chug it. Instead one of my friends decided it shouldn't go to waste so he downed it.
The best part of lunch for me, besides the fantastic company, was dessert. Originally thinking I'd go for the deep fried ice cream sandwhich thingy, the pineapple empanada caught my eye and I was sold. They used canned pineapple but that was fine. The empanada was perfectly cooked, lightly coated with cinnamon sugar and everything was drizzled with caramel sauce. I especially loved that it looked like the Cookie Monster when he smiles (just me?). 

My opinion? I wouldn't go back again. Three Amigos is an "authentic Mexican restaurant". I don't know if this is authentic or not but I didn't like it. If you're looking for Mexican, I'd recommend Tres Carnales.

Chowder Head and A Pot to P*ss In

I was tempted to not go to my pottery class today. I'm enjoying it although I admit its frustrating not really being able to master it within 3 hours... For the second weekend in a row, I haven't much of a chance to relax.  I'm not complaining; both weekends have been filled with fun family stuff on the Saturday but having to go out for a good portion of the day on Sunday as well has left me knackered. This weekend it was a visit with my Dad and Step Mom. As an added bonus, my step sister Samantha and her son Broden were in the city and joined us. We don't see this side of the family very often so it was a lovely visit. Plus they brought Christmas and birthday presents! 

Pottery class today was a continuation of our last class - trying to master the basic cylinder shape. Let's just say they're not my thing. Ack ack a dack. Only three attempts at throwing something on the wheel and coming away with a recognizable, keepable piece of pottery.  I ended up with a bowl (I'll try and get a pic of it next week).  My piece from last week has dried quite a bit and at the start of today's class we began cleaning them up and shaving bits off that looked icky.
Note - fingerprints.
This is pre-shaving/cleaning. Once again, I didn't quite master the techniques she described. Frustration once again.  Grrrr. I am sooooo looking forward to non-wheel based pottery (fingers crossed). We haven't fired any of the pieces yet nor decorated them with glaze, slip or etching. Not sure what this is going to be used for or how I'm going to decorate it when it comes time but I've still got a couple of weeks to think about it. While other people in the class are turning out 2, 3 or more pieces per class, I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to things I make (this applies to my knitting too which is part of why I don't take requests). My goal is to come out of each class with just one semi-decent piece.  
The remainder of my day was spent making a yummy vegetable chowder/cream soup and baking another chili cheese loaf.  Perfect pairing. I made it home in time to catch the final 5 minutes of the Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers playoff game. Sadly it did not end the way I was hoping so I'll now be cheering for Seattle to beat either the Colts or the Patriots depending on how the second game turns out. Please let it be the Colts; I DETEST the Patriots.

Hmmm, what's the difference between chowder and cream soup?  Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pottery is Not For The Meek

I think I underestimated how difficult pottery was going to be. Yesterday was the first of ten pottery classes I signed up for at Christmas. I've wanted to try my hand at it for years but never got around to trying it until yesterday. Yikes.  It is tough.

We were a small group, about nine students, allowing our instructor, Carol to help each of us when we needed it.  After a quick run through of the studio rules and a brief introduction on how to prepare your clay and throw it (literally) onto the wheel, we were off. 
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Needless to say just about everyone was apprehensive. Within a few minutes though we all had clay on the wheels and were doing our best (unsuccessfully) to make something that resembled anything other than a lump of rapidly drying clay.  I messed up my first attempt and had to start over.  Within a few minutes though I had a second round going and stopped when I couldn't remember the next step. As Carol walked by my wheel, she glanced down, pointed and said "That's PERFECT".  I was so pleased with myself, I forged ahead.  Seconds later, I had put my finger through the side of my cylinder and ... had to start from scratch again.

Thankfully, on the third round, now two hours into the class, I managed to shape something that looked not too bad. Wisely, I waited for Carol this time to help out.  She took over and made a few adjustmens.  I finished it off with a nice lip at the top.  And then... panic.  How the heck was I supposed to get this off the wheel and onto my board for drying?  Oh dear god. All that work and I would likely ruin it within seconds.  The girl to my left had already finished one small cup and she gave me a few pointers. Somehow it made it onto the board without falling apart or being crushed by my Hulk hands. Sure, there were a few (a lot!) of fingerprints embedded in the once perfect looking side and there was a slight dent in the beautiful lip I had somehow unbeknownst to me created but I did it.  Its currently sitting in the back corner of the studio on a shelf covered by plastic awaiting whatever we're going to do with it next week.

I had time to quickly attempt a fourth throwing and managed to get something that looked like a plate. I was pretty pleased with myself although again, I don't know how I managed to get to this point.  Unfortunately, the centre was thicker/higher than the sides and I couldn't figure out how to fix it so I had Carol come by.  It was not meant to be.  Not my fault this time... While Carole tried to bring the sides up to try and turn it into a bowl, it somehow turned into a piece of abstract art.  She said it could be salvaged as a interesting candy dish or something like but I figured it was best to just junk it. 

There were other people in the studio who had clearly been doing this for quite some time as they pounded out bowls, cups and other items one after the other with ease.  It was inspiring and intimidating at the same time.  I don't think I necessarily have a future in pottery but I'll enjoy the class for the next couple of months.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Okey Dokey, Dr. Jones!

My birthday is coming up on Monday and to celebrate this year, we started off with a family lunch at Julio's Barrio on Whyte Avenue.  Mmmm, spicey Mexican fare.  Great for a snowy cold January day. Afterwards, Mom treated me to an afternoon at the Telus World of Science to experience the Indiana Jones exhibit.
I'm a big fan of the series. In fact, Raiders of the Lost Ark was what first instilled in me my love of archaeology and inspired me to study it at university.
It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.
The exhibit was fantastic, featuring items from all four movies (ugh, yes, they included Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which is the Indiana Jones equivalent of Alien: Resurrection IMHO).
Throw me the idol. No time to argue! Throw me idol, I'll throw you the whip!
It was interactive, with each visitor being provided a pair of headphones and a tablet.  At each display, there would be an item from the movie (some of them shown in my pictures here) along with a clip from the movie, interesting facts related to that item's place in the movie/series, and background information on how this particular item or part of the movie/series related to historical facts and archaeological evidence. There would also be a three digit code associated with each of these.
It's a transmitter, a radio for speaking to God.
By entering the code into your tablet, you'd be provided with video and/or audio clips to accompany the information provided.
Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations. You want to see it opened as well as I.
In addition to the items and information about the movie series, there were side rooms which introduced visitors to the real world of archaeology - explanations of how finds are interpreted, famous moments in archaeological history, techniques used and artifacts from digs in different regions around the world.  Some highlights included an introduction to cuneiform, the Nazca lines, and some of the early pioneers of archaeology.
I burned by fingers and I cracked a nail!
As if all of that wasn't enough, one final interactive feature of the exhibit was a "treasure hunt". Located throughout the exhibit hall, there were nine towers you could swipe your tablet against and visitors would be directed to solve a puzzle or riddle. This was easily one of the more appealing features to the numerous children who seemed to be disinterested and were dragged along by their Indy-loving parents (all of my generation who grew up with this series).
I managed eight out of nine.  I have no doubt I would have finished the treasure hunt but my tablet wouldn't work properly on the cuneiform wall no matter how many times I tried.  I'm very competitive...
 Choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.
Mom and I both had a great time. We ended up seperating pretty much from the second display onwards.  With the headphones/tablet combination, it made it difficult to talk to each other or stick together.
There were a TON of people at the exhibit on Saturday when we went. Moving around was difficult, especially in the side rooms. If you're going to go, I would suggest going during the week if at all possible.  If you're a fan of the movies, I highly recommended visiting before the exhibit moves on.  Its 

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Fire Alarm Frustration

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I hate firedrills.  Sure, I see their purpose but I hate them. Mostly because I'm usually in the middle of something important at work and I want to finish it. The fire alarm that sounded in my office early on Monday morning wasn't interrupting anything more than a quick game of solitaire before tackling my giant stack of emails that had built up over the holidays.  So, I grabbed my coat and headed down the stairwell with my coworkers (those that had come in early like me), taking it slow and steady so as to not aggravate my chest problems.  I made it down all 22 flights of stairs (yes 22!) without stopping and my chest felt fine.  My legs were wobbly but that's to be expected.  I then proceeded to the muster point, again at a turtle's pace.  A few minutes of waiting patiently and then we headed back in. All in all, the process from start to finish was maybe 30 minutes.

By the time I reached my desk, the inside of my chest was in open inflammatory revolt.

I'm not going to lie; it hit fast and it hit hard. I hadn't had this kind of pressure in my chest since back in September/October when this whole thing first began.  I lasted the morning at work before having to go home and lie down for the rest of the afternoon. The anti-inflammatories barely made a dent. When I woke up this morning, I felt relatively well but as soon as I started moving around again, it made its presence known once more. The only saving grace was that it was better than yesterday.  

My CT Scan appointment can't come soon enough. Part of me is hoping they find something so at least then they'll know what's wrong with me or how to go about treating me properly.  Until then, we continue on as normal - avoiding excessive physical activity and all the doctors shrugging their shoulders.  Le sigh.

I'll try to be a bit more positive for future posts. I'm just getting frustrated.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Baker!

So far, the goal of reaching 15 posts for the month of January is going well.  Two posts in the first three days.  Not too shabby although its still early.  Definitely happy to be blogging again and looking forward to what I might write about for the rest of the month.  It didn't take much for me to get back in the groove - just a new laptop and the willpower to open it and start typing.

The holidays are technically over for me. I went back to the office yesterday.  I was semi-productive, as much as could be expected given that a lot of offices I need to be in touch with are closed or most of their staff were still away.  Its difficult to schedule anything when you can't reach the people you need to contact in order to make various arrangements.  Oh well, it was nice to get back into the swing of things.  Monday things will be back to normal with just about everyone back at the office. However, I must say that if the holidays fall again as they did this year, I will just take that extra day off rather than work.  It seemed a bit pointless. Ah well.

I've become addicted to The Great British Bake Off.  Seriously addicted. I watched the fifth series in a day and I'm working my way through the first season right now.  Its seriously inspiring me to want to bake more.  Not just my fabulous banana bread muffins or Christmas goodies.  No, I want to bake bread, buns, cakes, and so on.  My good friend Terri received a KitchenAid stand mixer for Christmas and promptly made some absolutely delicious looking buns.  Reading her Facebook post reawakened my long standing desire for a stand mixer.  Combine that with my binge-watching of five seasons of a cooking contest and boom!  Karen must have a mixer.

I found one on Amazon.ca today for half price.  Oooooh how I wish I had the money for it right now. Alas, I will have to wait.  I'm hoping that perhaps I get an Amazon gift card for my birthday and apparently I'm getting money from Dad and Stepmum for Christmas the next time they come into the city. Oooh, just imagine all the things I could make!!!!

In the meantime, I'll be making another no knead bread this weekend to share with folks at work. Probably chili and cheese flavoured. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Year and a New Beginning

Happy New Year to one and all. I’d like to say I partied the night away but let’s be honest, I was in bed and fast asleep by 8:00 pm.  Surprisingly, I didn’t even wake up when the fireworks went off to ring in the New Year.  Living downtown, the noise is usually loud enough to scare the cats and rouse me from my slumber.  Nope, not this year.  Out like a light! To ‘celebrate’ the start of the New Year, I’m spending most of today cleaning.  Give everything a fresh start.  Laundry, washing floors, vacuuming, etc.  The Christmas tree and lights will be coming down and packed away for another year.  And if they’ll sit still long enough, the kitties will get a fresh brushing. 
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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not setting a list of specific resolutions for 2015.  For the past couple of years, I’ve made some general resolutions but like the majority of people out there, I didn’t stick to them.  Instead, this year, I’m focusing on trying to get a bit healthier to try and ease some of the problems I’ve been having over the past few months.  To get things started, I bought a scale a few weeks ago.  However, I purposely left it in the box and didn’t take it out until today.  I weighed myself this morning for the first time in months and it was both upsetting and a bit of a relief.  
You see, I’m at a weight that not only makes me unhappy, I’m sure it’s not helping how I’ve been feeling.  However, despite the lack of physical activity since late August/early September, I’ve only gained a pound or two.  That’s a relief considering I haven’t really been eating very well or very responsibly.  It doesn't excuse how heavy I've let myself become but there it is. To help myself along this year, I'll be posting a picture of my weight. I'm hoping this helps keep me accountable and encourages me onwards to a healthier and happier life.

2015 holds a lot of promise, as does the start of every year. I'm planning on taking advantage of more of the opportunities it will have to offer.  First up, my pottery class. I'm excited and nervous about it. Its only six classes and I'm going in with no expectations of my potential skill (or lack thereof). I've been wantng to do this for so long that I'm worried it won't live up to the anticipation.  Whatever it turns out to be, I'll enjoy the experience.

I'd also like to learn Swedish. However, Edmonton is not a hotbed of Swedish speakers and there seems to be no courses offered through the University of Alberta's faculty of extension or MacEwan University. The UofA does offer courses as part of a degree but they are for credit and not available evenings or weekends.  Still exploring options....

I'm hoping that all of you have a wonderful, health, happy and prosperous 2015!