20 October 2012

What's so Amazing?

    It's been a while since I've stopped to write a thoughtful post here. I've been busy working on my other blog, KeaNeato.net, on which I try to make daily posts. That's possible because the posts are shorter, usually a photo or a link. Sometimes I do get a little more verbose, but I'm saving some things for Dragonfly Wars.
     For instance, I wrote a post on KeaNeato.net called "One Amazing Thing — How much do we reveal of ourselves to others?" I based the post, the question, on a book, One Amazing Thing, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Characters in the book are asked to share one amazing thing about their lives. I won't take the time to explain it all here — see my KeaNeato post.
     I'm following up on the question of how much I should, can, may, may not, reveal myself to others here because it's more the point of this blog. As I wrote in my first post here, this blog's title, "Dragonfly Wars," relates to the conflicts inside a person, between fear and beauty, ignorance and acceptance. It's about whether I should live my life "out loud" or keep myself safer by writing outside the lines (that is, in generalities).
     I'm not sure what that means, exactly — I'm having trouble expressing myself for some reason. I think that's because of the topic. I'm uncomfortable with how much I want to write about all facets of my life and how much of it I know might be too revealing.
     But writing just this much is like leaving clues that only make people guess at the answers, and guessing can be dangerous. Folks might think one thing about you and so their thoughts get caught up down one road or another, when you're just really meaning to point them to a path.
     Maybe I can do it a little at a time.
     So, I go back to the question: If someone asked me to tell "one amazing thing" about my life, what would my answer be? My first thought is there is nothing amazing about my life. Not in the sense of what we see as amazing in the lives of others — the real and fictional folks we see on TV and in the movies. Of course, those people have really lived extraordinary lives. Perhaps I'm putting too much into the word "amazing."
     Dictionary.com defines "amazing" as "causing great surprise or wonder." That's quite different from extraordinary, which labels someone as "exceptional in character," "noteworthy," and "remarkable."     So, that takes a load off, doesn't it? I don't have to be "exceptional in character," I just have to cause great surprise or wonder. I can do that. I've had quite the life. But, is it really that different from anyone else's? Maybe it's because who I am now contrasts so greatly to who I have been.
     I'm a successful editor; I have a master's degree in journalism, and I put myself through both undergrad and graduate school. You can read more about that kind of stuff on my LinkedIn page.
     But how did I get here? Well, for one, I have benefited from white privilege. What? Yes, I said it. It's hard to notice if you don't have anything to contrast it with, but I know it's there. I read a really good blog about this called, "Straight White Male: The lowest difficulty setting there is." The author writes that even if you start at a lower level than other people, getting ahead in the game is just easier if you're a straight white male. It's easier if you're a male in general, but compared to the lives of other women, Straight White Female has to be pretty low on the difficulty setting as well.
     But yes, I did start off with a lot of things against me, and life growing up was hard. Maybe very hard, depending on your point of view.
     Stop. This is where I start wondering — how much more do I write? Anything more and I'll be stepping over that threshold, revealing PRIVATE things. Not that there's anything to hide...
     Oh, the conflict! Maybe this is where I end for now — leaving us both hanging (you, the reader, and me, the writer). If I were writing anonymously, I might be more bold. Who am I worried about? What am I worried about? My professional life, my parents. What if someone I work for reads this blog? How will it affect my job? What about my parents? Is this my story or their story? Is it right to include them in this?
     So, "gentle reader," this is where I ask for your feedback, your thoughts? What would you do?

25 August 2012

Until Tuesday - Review on KeaNeato

I just wrote a review of the book Until Tuesday and I'd like you to read it. It's posted on my other blog, "KeaNeato!"

05 August 2012

On the Subject of Crates

    I recently read this article on the PETA website: "Animal Rights Uncompromised: Crating Dogs." The author writes, "a dog crate is just a box with holes in it, and putting dogs in crates is just a way to ignore and warehouse them until you get around to taking care of them properly."
    This is an interesting way to put it, and I'm not sure I can totally disagree with what the author says, as is. But I would prefer to say, from my own experience, that a crate is a place to keep your dog safe while you are away, a place of calm and security when you are at home, and a powerful method to ensure a stronger bond between guardian and animal.
     For instance, here is a photo I took this morning of Jasper just hanging out in his crate. He goes in there often, of his own accord.
     When Jasper first came to us (a few weeks ago), because he was a mature dog, we tried leaving him out of his crate while we were at work.
      The PETA author writes, "Crating is a popular 'convenience practice' that is often used on adult dogs. It deprives dogs of the opportunity to fulfill some of their most basic needs, such as the freedom to walk around, the opportunity to relieve themselves, and the ability to stretch out and relax."
     Not a good idea in this household. Jasper indeed fulfilled one of his basic needs — he peed in several places, including on some important documents. He used his "freedom to walk around" and surfed the counter, and, worst of all, broke some glasses while doing so. What if he had cut himself on the shards? What if he had eaten something poisonous (not that we have anything like that, unless you count dish detergent and Windex)?
     No, the best thing is to leave him in his crate. He's safe there, and calm. And I am calm while at work, knowing he is OK. Regarding being able to "stretch out and relax" — have a look at the size of his crate. We have two crates this size in our living room — the dogs have more room to stretch out and relax than we do!
    Note: We do not have a yard, and even if we did, we would not leave the dogs outside all day. Jasper is a HUSKY, which means "escape artist" in all languages. He could hop a fence just as easily as he can the kitchen counter.
    The PETA author writes, "Forcing dogs to spend extended periods of time confined and isolated simply to accommodate their guardians' schedules is unacceptable."
    Yes, I agree. But what does the author mean by "extended periods of time"?
    Dogs can be considered confined and isolated in many ways. You my say a leash is confining, yet you would never endanger your dog by walking it off-leash in a busy neighborhood or along the city streets. Isolation could mean a dog that is never taken on a walk or otherwise allowed to interact with others, both human and canine.
    Dogs that are at home alone during the day could be also called "isolated," but that is the nature of the modern human-dog bond. Sometimes dogs have to be left alone. We humans must work in order to pay for kibble, treats, vet bills, and sundries. I would prefer to know my dog is safe. And some dogs very much prefer their crates, which function as sort of a "den" in which they are protected. Finally, most dogs do not require constant attention. That in itself can make a dog unhappy.
   We built a cave-like crate for our last dog, Blue Aroo, who was so afraid of loud noises, thunder, and fireworks that he would run from room to room and even try to break out the windows (we don't know why; we adopted him when he was 11 — some dogs are just very sensitive). His dark, insulated crate was his safe zone. In the summer, he also liked to sleep in the bathtub, which really could be considered more confining than his crate. But that's what he liked.
    Gem, the golden retriever pup we brought home at 8 weeks old, and who has often been the subject of this blog, started out life in a "confining" whelping box (which was big enough for four adults to kneel in to pet the pups). When he came home, I made sure he had a large, comfy crate, as well as a play pen.
    Having Gem run loose in the house, and therefore able to pee and poop and chew wherever and whenever he liked, would not have been good for our bonding process, not to mention his health and well-being. As the PETA writer notes, dogs do not like soiling their home environment; this includes the entire house, not just their crate.
    I had a dog (Acia) that was incontinent — no matter what we did for her — meds, pee pads, long walks, extra excursions outdoors — she still peed frequently and heavily in the house. And she was miserable. No dog wants to wake up in her own pee (I agree with the PETA writer here), and she did often, even though she was on her dog bed next to my bed (and not crated).
    So a puppy's best chance as success, at not soiling his home, is to be given less freedom than you would give an older dog. Gem had a large crate and his play pen, where he played and slept while I cooked dinner or otherwise couldn't keep both eyes on him.
    Another reason Gem's crate worked out so well for both of us — the more tired he got, the more cranky he got, and the more of a hellion he would be. Any parent of a two-year-old knows this. Would a good parent just let his or her child wander about the house, getting into this and that, growing more agitated by the minute? No; a wise parent would gently but firmly put the child down for a nap, preferably in a crib, to keep the child safe.
    Gem would NOT go to sleep on his own. He wasn't the type of puppy that would play, play, play and then just stop and drop. He had to be put to bed — either in his crate or in his playpen (see my posts from last year for pictures of him there). Once in is crate or playpen, Gem would plop down with a big sigh, stretch out, and finally go to sleep.
    This was not a matter of convenience for me; it was a necessity for him.
    Gem does sleep upstairs with us at night now (as does Jasper), but when we are all downstairs watching TV, he'll still go into his crate to nap. And now that we have two dogs who aren't good friends yet (they get along OK, but aren't the best of pals; Jasper is 7 an Gem is 17 months old, so they have a bit of a generation gap, as well as very different personalities), crating them during the day also guarantees they don't fight and that Gem doesn't pester Jasper into exasperation.
    The PETA author writes, "Studies have shown that long-term confinement is detrimental to the physical and psychological well-being of animals. Animals caged for extended periods can develop eating disorders and anti-social and/or aggressive behaviors. They can also become withdrawn, hyperactive, or severely depressed."
    I find several things wrong with this. First: what "studies"? Citing studies without providing the references is the first sign of a weak argument. The second fault I find with this entry is that I am not sure to what animals the author is referring. I know there have been classic (and very, very sad) studies done with rhesus monkeys (i.e., "Harlow's Monkeys") that show the devastating effects of isolation. But I don't know of a dog study like this (and wouldn't want to see one done).
    It's not that I disagree with the author on this point: Isolating dogs is wrong. Caging an animal for long periods can be very harmful, both physically and psychologically. But what kind of "extended periods" are we talking about? Should humane societies and animal rescue kennels be disbanded? Should they let the dogs wander about, have "the freedom to walk around"?
    No, of course not. In this situation, the dogs would be a danger to themselves and others, and might indeed become "hyperactive," "aggressive," "withdrawn," and "depressed" in the process.
    A few more details: In the winter, our dogs have "proper bedding." But in the summer, they prefer the cold plastic floor of their crates (they'll push the bedding aside or even push under it, so we just take it out). Our dogs receive four or five walks per day: twice in the morning before we leave for work (one very short walk, one longer walk), once when I come home from work at lunchtime, once or twice in the evening before we settle down for dinner and TV or blogging, and then once at 9 o'clock — a mile-long loop around the neighborhood before bed.
    They are crated, but they are neither isolated nor neglected. They don't have the freedom to wander about the house all day, but they are safe and secure, and, indeed, content. When I pop in at lunchtime, they wake up and stare at me out of their crates as if wondering why I have disturbed them. Before we leave for work, it's almost the most exciting thing in the world for them to go into their crates ("kennel up"), settle down, and get a treat for doing so. They have unspillable water bowls, and in the summer, a fan gently blows on them.
    Some might find it cruel to leave an animal alone in a house all day, or to confine it to the back yard (this is where a lot of dogs tend to get into trouble; our last dog, Blue Aroo, also a husky [mix], would have been over the fence in a heartbeat), or to feed the dog only kibble, or to force it to wait until the humans have eaten before they get their food.
    No one answer is the right answer. Rigid positions like that provided by PETA make things harder on the majority of caring pet owners who use crates. We don't do it because of ignorance or neglectfulness, or for our convenience, much less out of cruelty. We do it because that's what works best for all of us — humans and dogs.

05 July 2012

Fearless Fourth on KeaNeato.net

Here are some of the images I included in my Fearless Fourth Fireworks post on KeaNeato.net. This idea first came to me because of Blue Aroo, who was very sensitive to fireworks and other loud noises and flashes. These look kind of like fireworks but without any negative effects.

25 June 2012

New Dog in the House

This is Jasper (with Gem in the background). We adopted him on Saturday from the Longmont Humane Society. He's a 7-yr-old husky mix, though he looks like a malamute to us. We're going to get a doggie DNA test just to make sure. He an Gem are getting along well so far, except that Gem has some resource guarding issues, so no chew treats outside their crates. We'll keep on working on this. Also, I think Jasper has some separation anxiety, but we hope that will diminish as he gets used to being here. We gave Jasper a bath yesterday (that was fun! he was a good dog!) and were surprised and pleased to see that he indeed was black and white with a beautiful fluffy tail rather than tan and brown with a matted tail. More pictures soon...

23 June 2012

Gem Update

Things with Gem are going smashingly. He has become quite the sweet, mature, but still puppyish, dog. He's about 15 months old now and has probably reached his final size, though he may fill out a bit (hopefully not too much). He's a lot smaller than my last golden retriever, Buddy, who was very tall and barrel-chested. I used to joke that Buddy had a whiskey barrel for a rib-cage; keeping that analogy, Gemmie has a half-keg. :)

Gem has kept up with his training and gets along with every dog (and human) that he meets. He has yet to met a cat... We do have lots of squirrels and birds here; so far, he has shown little interest. However, our neighborhood is facing an infestation of bunnies (first I saw one, then I saw two...), and we'll see how he deals with that.

I've been spending a lot of time working on my other blog — KeaNeato! — but have plans for this blog as well. This is going to be more personal, with some longer posts.

12 June 2012

Who Me?

On my new blog, KeaNeato!, I've asked people to answer a few questions for what I call my "Neato People Profiles." I had just posted the second profile when it came to me — why not me? I don't think it would be appropriate on the KeaNeato! site, but it will work nicely here.

I ask a set of six questions, so I'll follow that format below. What I have learned so far from this exercise is that it's not as easy as one might think. Just the first question alone... my god, some of us spend our lives trying to figure out the answer to that one.

1. Who are you?
I was born Kristen Elaine Asmus (named after astronaut Scott Carpenter's daughter) in Denver, Colorado, in 1962. We moved a lot when I was a kid, mostly around Northern California, and I especially liked Eureka and Sebastopol. My favorite place to be was outdoors, playing in the creek with my two brothers, riding my bike, and picnicking at the beach. My parents were married, remarried, and then married to different people in such a fashion that I spent a lot of time bouncing around from sub-family to sub-family. I twice lived with my grandmother and aunt in Boulder, Colorado, who, along with my excellent teachers (count 11 schools in all) became the most positive influences in my life. I finished high school in Boulder and earned a two-year scholarship to the University of Colorado. In 1984, I graduated with a B.A. in English and psychology (magna cum laude), having worked odd jobs to support the remainder of my four-year commitment at the University. In 1992, I earned a master's degree in journalism and mass communication, also from CU-Boulder. Today, I am the managing editor of communications for a large scientific society.

2. What/whom do you think is neato? You can name more than one thing/person.
Golden retrievers, huskies, otters, kea, cats, dragonflies, Bear Giles, Alaska, Colorado, Vancouver, the caterpillar roll at Hapa, Matt Damon, music, exercise, creeks, oceans, cottonwood trees, mountains, rocks, my Aunties, Lillie Henrietta Ibser Asmus, and everything I list on my other blog, KeaNeato!.

3. Name three quick facts or fantasies about yourself/your company that you didn’t include in your answer to my first question.
My favorite band is Linkin Park. I can fly using only my body and imagination. Being an editor is an exact right fit for me.

4. Please ask a question you would like to see answered by the global community. This can be existential or pragmatic, realistic or silly.
Which is our most precious resource: water, soil, or biodiversity?

5. Please tell me something about your profession that you think someone younger than you, or who is just starting out, would like to know.
Forget you know stuff. Listen. Take good notes. Try for excellence in everything you do, and always, always, act with integrity.

6. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
When people say that no experience is so horrible that you cannot draw something good from it, they don't know what they're talking about.

17 March 2012

Raising a Puppy - We Made It! One Year

We made it to one year! Sometimes it was doubtful that we'd actually do it. And now, it's a happy fact.

Gem was born 7 March last year; on 1 May, I will have had him a year. So much has happened, so many trials and problems, but with who he is now, it has (almost) been worth it. Gem is gentle, sweet, goofy, a great water dog & retriever, quiet in the mornings (he is sleeping out of his crate at night, though sometimes he still creeps downstairs and curls up on the cold floor of his crate).

Things have really turned around... Gem is older, more mature, yes, but I think a good bit of the turn around is due to two factors: (1) Gem's month out at Dog Days Training Center while I was recuperating from surgery, and (2) my back surgery. I am no longer in agonizing pain, and I can exercise again. I'm probably a lot easier to be around, and Gem senses a calmer energy, which he reflects. Good for him & good for us.

03 February 2012


Tongass National Rainforest, Alaska, bridge
Bridge to Ziplining Course, Tongass National Rainforest, Alaska.
     OK, I can't really fly, but compared to where I was a few weeks ago, walking without a limp, without pain, and without distress feels like flying. I'm free, not weighted down by a foot made heavy by numbness or a leg cramped into a permanent charlie-horse.
     It all started with a sprained ankle in May 2011, keeping me from running the Bolder Boulder as planned. Next came lots of nights out with the puppy, lots of bending to play and pick things up, and no time to work out or swim. Just the daily grind.
     I don't know how my body could have gone from there to where I was the first week of December: Barely able to walk, using a walker (albeit a very nice cherry-red one) borrowed from a coworker, desperate for surgery. I may never know, but at least, through the magic of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), I was able to see that the pain wasn't all in my head.
     Those of you who regularly read this blog will have seen the MRI picture I posted back in August clearly showing the cyst pressing against the nerves exiting my spinal cord at L4-L5 (lower lower back; actually the most common place for people to have trouble). I also had a bulging disk right below it (L5-S1) that was also compromising the spinal canal.
     I wish I knew how the cyst developed -- that is, could I have done something to prevent it? Even today I worry that it might come back, which I have been told is a possibility. Apparently, synovial fluid can leak out of the facet joints in the back and become calcified (here's a link to more back-related terminology: http://www.my-spine.com/terminology-for-ct-scans-and-mri-scans-lumbar-region.html).
     I'm going to physical therapy now and working to strengthen my hips and core so that there is less strain on my lower back. But I was in quite good condition before the puppy came and before the sprained ankle, and that didn't stop things from going downhill fast.
     Anyway... I tried various other treatments before deciding on surgery: physical therapy, two corticosteroid injections into the spinal canal (lumbar epidurals), rest, pain-killers, massage, meditation, and even standing at my desk instead of sitting. The first lumbar epidural seemed to work for a good couple of weeks, but then I was back to square one. The second shot had no effect. Pain killers -- well, they're not what they're cracked up to be. They hardly even took the edge off, and I was taking the max. dose per day. From July through the first week of December, I was on painkillers and still in so much pain I could barely function.
     So, in late October or early November, I asked my neurosurgeon (Dr. Alexander Mason) for help. He had walked me through the other alternatives, and it was clear to him that I'd done everything I could, that I was  absolutely "miserable" (his word), and that surgery was truly in order. Unfortunately, I had to wait until 14 December. But that gave me time to set things up for Gem at Dog Days Training Center, where he stayed from 10 December through 10 January, and finish up tasks at work before I passed things off to a very helpful, hardworking, and gracious coworker.
     On 14 December, my husband, Bear, and I went with much anticipation to the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute in Lafayette, Colorado, ready to have this ordeal over with. I was less scared of surgery than I was of having to live with the pain.
     Here's a pretty good animation of what happened during my surgery (not exactly, of course): http://www.spine-health.com/video/laminectomy-back-surgery-spinal-stenosis-video. The surgical staff removed the spinous process (the protective bone that protrudes from the spine), parts of the bone and joint, the cyst, and some synovial fluid that was leaking from the joint (the PA told me this fluid has a similar look and consistency as ear wax), and shaved off the bulging disk. All through an incision no longer than my ring finger.
     The funniest thing that happened that day was just after surgery, when I was in the recovery room: At one point, I thought I heard myself snoring, and I heard the nurses around me, but I knew I couldn't talk, so I started signing to them (!) -- spelling out in sign language: "Sorry for the snoring." One nurse was quite surprised, asking another person "Is she hearing impaired?" I have been talking to myself by spelling in sign language for years (I learned a bit of sign language when I worked at a school for mentally disabled children when I was 14), but it's funny that that would be the way I would try to communicate after surgery. I guess you just can't keep me from talking, even if you have a tube down my throat. (My mother would find this very funny because she says that as a toddler, once I began talking, it was almost impossible to get me to stop [or, as she put it, "she never ceases"].)
     Recovering from surgery was difficult. I was lucky enough to have good benefits and could stay home for six weeks in order to recover and gain strength. Here's one thing I learned: We truly take for granted being able to lie down. Once you take your back out of the equation, being able to lie down is a Herculean task. I had to get Bear to help me, and now every time I lie down I am grateful that I can do it easily and by myself.
     After a couple of weeks, I was feeling well enough to start weaning myself off of pain meds. I wanted to stop cold-turkey but knew that wasn't wise. Yet even slowing things down led to horrible withdrawal symptoms. I'd been on pain meds since July; that's over 5 months. The worst withdrawal symptom was restless leg syndrome. Not the kind that happens in your sleep and might bother your partner. We're talking full body restlessness with an incessant need to walk or kick your legs, pounding your feet into the floor. And that was accompanied by hot-flashes, anxiety, and insomnia.
     I can understand why some people with a physical dependence on opioid painkillers might become psychologically dependent as well, even addicted. I'll never look down my nose at anyone struggling with this problem. After the pain and inability to walk without a severe limp, this was the most difficult physical challenge I have ever been through. It took a good two to three weeks before the withdrawal symptoms subsided. Now my goal is to never take another pain pill again; I hope my back holds out. I also want to say thanks to Maia Szalavitz for setting my mind at ease about the difference between addiction and physical dependence. [And thanks also to Luis Carlos Montalván and his book Until Tuesday for inspiring me to feel grateful and write this post.]
     These days, I have almost no pain, just some twinges when I turn wrong or step down too hard. These days, walking is like flying -- a swift, smooth motion, head held high, shoulders broad. I am myself again, for the most part. Soon, I'll be able to start swimming, and then running. I'm hoping I'll be able to do a 5K sometime this summer. And maybe the doctor will clear me for zip-lining (again) and sky-diving so that I can do what I've always dreamed of doing -- really FLY.