Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Skwirrel surplus

Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
The incredible quantity and profound fatness of squirrels here in the Fort has been an ongoing source of amazement to me. Everywhere one turns five or six squirrels frolic in trees, gambol along sidwalks and bike paths, and wreck general havoc on bird feeders and planters.

Without apparent predators and with an excess of food, the squirrels are relatively tame, gluttonous and face few daily challenges. Occasionally I find myself wondering whether they are truly happy in this unchanging squirrel eden or whether they, like us, require some challenge and strife to maintain equanimity.

This morning it is possible I got my answer.

Accidental self-endangerment or attempted suicide??

Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
A distinct, rattling thump jolted me out of my semi-meditative morning latte ritual. It was an unexpected and invading noise, and I nervously charged into the living room. Once there, I stopped confused by the lack of an apparent source of the noise.

When I saw the cats huddled so close together and staring fixedly out the window, I knew I had not misheard the sound. New scrabbly sounds slowed my approach to the window. I bent and yes, there it was. A squirrel, hanging from the screen, was working his way toward the cats. Just before reaching the cats (and before my camera could fully open), the squirrel launched from the screen to land on an abandoned bike frame, where he sat and contemplated the cats and their disappointingly cool response.

Now, some might argue the squirrel made a bad initial landing or that he perhaps was just having a bit of fun at the cats' expense. But me, I suspect he had hoped for the screen to break and drop him into the paws of malcontent killing machines. Unfortunately, he underestimated the screen and drastically overestimated the skills of my cats.

Predator paucity

Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Here I share one humble solution to the predator paucity responsible for the current Fort Fun state of squirrel ennui.

His name is Mr. Ouch and he is available for squirrel hunting engagements throughout the greater Fort Collins area. Reservations recommended.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Love or something else?

for me, procrastination is one my favorite ways to revisit 'bonus' questions. these are things that bother me, niggle at my brain, challenge my thinking, or change shape when looked at sideways.

so today, in search of threads where random uberpeople critically evaluate social problems and deconstruct items of interest, I stumbled across this posting on a thread for 'science chix':

"Love. Is it pure fermones, hormones, particular brain activity for pure personal interests of any living organism, or is there something more magical going on?"

my cautious response [to another person's response and] to the initial question was:

"---, Wrote:
in most other animals, isnt the parents roll just to make sure they survive? and dont we expect more from ours?"

well, nooo. the danger of setting an us-them dichotomy, in this case human-animal, is that you lose the gradations.

yes, there are many animal species where the 'parent' role is to ensure initial survival of their progeny. then there are many many species that survive by producing huge quantities of offspring or eggs with little care and having a small fraction survive to adulthood. but there are also a number of species that breeding infrequently, producing small numbers of young, but where the offspring are cared for for much longer periods of time.

some, in fact, do a much better job than a lot of humans do. usually this is something we only notice when the species become threatened and scientists are faced with the challenge of repopulating an animal that is slow-breeding with a long tutorial phase. elephants come to mind.

with regard to love, the trick is to decide whether to follow your evolutionarily-coded behaviors, 'higher' animal choices or create a happy compromise.

for example, men as a sex tend to seek out women with characteristics of fecundity like youth, beauty. women happily, in some ways, have a much broader palate as they are seeking good providers of any sort. so excellent humor, intelligence, strength etc may all contribute to make a guy 'hot' that, in photographic stills, is not so much attractive. examples: Serge Gainsbourg, incredibly hot and fascinated yet generally believed to be one of the ugliest men of his generation in France. Gary Burghoff, eg Radar O'Reilly, known to be a serious womanizer in spite of being not so nice, slight of frame and incredibly short.

sticking with a pattern defined by evolution and social history works for some people. but most of the healthy long-term relationships i know of, life-time marriages, have something else going. something stronger. this is where the magic comes in...

the chemical buzz dissipates, life is dirty and hard, and growth is sticky and gooey. partly these lifelong couples evince tenacity but also they have committed to actively maintaining and nurturing love. there always seems to be a point in their stories where neither person particularly liked the other, but they stuck it out because they knew they loved each other.

that point, the point of holding fast in spite of not being in like but only in love, is the point where two humans rise above their genetic coding, the animal. note, however, that this is different from staying together because '[insert religion, culture or family name] s don't divorce/give up.'


this triggered a memory regarding a study evaluating the association between IQ and marriage. to sum up, men with high IQs were more likely to be married and women with high IQs were less likely to marry, specifically there was a 40% drop in marriage rate for women for each 16-point rise in IQ.

ABC news interpreted these results in the following way: "A high IQ is a hindrance for women wanting to get married while it is an asset for men, according to a study by four British universities." the Times Online stated that "Relationship experts say professional men prefer to marry women “like their mum” who will provide the domestic support while they go out to work. Women achievers, however, find it difficult to find men willing to sacrifice their careers to become house husbands."

this is interesting as one of the researchers posited that findings reflected the independence of smarter women with decreased need to 'settle' or be 'taken care of'. does this perhaps reflect an increased intolerance of mediocrity in their partners?

which takes us full circle back to evolutionarily-coded behaviors. are men, as a sex, really unwilling to allow their mates to shine? is this genetically coded, dooming women to cloak their intelligence or else live their lives alone? for that matter, can women really maintain successful relationships with non-dominant male partners without losing respect for them? are the study's findings the result of a couple hundred years of patriarchal society and defined gender roles? in which case, can men and women as a whole choose to not be define by societal gender roles? are the examples we see of non-traditional successes a glimpse into a potential 'brave new world' or are they aberrant outliers?

it is an interesting question. perhaps in another 50-100 years we will have an answer. what do you think?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Doesn't everybody need a yahma buddy?

yeah yahma
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Random picture of small llama trying to decide whether to eat small girl's hair. The llamette lost interest after concluding that stretching its neck through the fence constituted 'too much work'.

The llamas were part of a Pride in the Park event I wandered into over the weekend. Woke up after a much needed nap to the plaintive sounds of outdoor jazz. Followed the sounds to a small festival with organic soap, civil liberties materials, llamas, Italian ices and Hewlett Packard. All of which have blatant links to gay pride except the llamas, I mean soap, no wait... Okay, you got me. But hey, who can argue with ice cream, jazz and supporting people who are just trying to be themselves?

Another bonus: two new bumper stickers. Replaced my Kerry sticker with a quote by Abbie Hoffman: 'You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists."

Put other new bumper sticker above my cupboard in the rounds room to spark students: "When you invite people to think you are inviting revolution." (Ivone Gebara)

One the hardest parts of what I do is teach people to think. To think rigorously, question authority, color outside the lines. It is this that separates a great internist from a computer database. Or, for that matter, what separates any exceptional human being from the herd.

Thinking can be exhausting. What am I saying? Thinking is often exhausting! But is also invigorating and empowering-something we forget too often. So, go team and GO THINK!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Busy busy

Today was a busy day. Early to rise and early to work to receive a transfer and attend our monthly section meeting. It was a hectic day, filled with appointments, conundrums and emotionally laden situations. An old client, old friend, dropped in on her way between states to say hi. We had a nice chat and a welcome hug before I had to dart back to my cases. On my next trip to the waiting area to meet with clients, I discovered a lovely arrangement of flowers from Mom in celebration of the afternoon festivities...

After a frantic morning of appointments and procedures, there was a brief respite watching research presentations by the outgoing intern class. Then back to the quagmire for several hurried hours before it was time to dart off to the Resident and Intern Award Ceremony, eg graduation. For a while I looked as though I might miss it, as one of my clients was hung up in traffic, but it all came out alright in the end. Graduation here is an informal affair, jocular and affectionate, squeezed in in the late afternoon.

Watching my fellow residentmates receive their certificates was a mixed experience. It has been a privilege to work with such caring, intelligent and conscientious individuals. I am delighted to see them all succeed and move on to other life adventures. But it will be sad to see them go.

Also, it was bittersweet to achieve such a momentous milestone with my mother so far away. This is unlike our family, and we had talked even a year ago about making sure that they could come. Unfortunately, it was just too soon. Too soon for such a big trip, too soon to fly. But how thankful I am to have her here in spirit, online, on the phone and in the flowers! What a miracle it continues to be.

And so, overall, though challenging, it will be remembered as a wonderful day.


Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
This picture was taken while my boss said 'a few words.' It is the sort of thing that makes me shy and self-conscious. Had there been a conveniently located table, I would certainly have considered crawling under it!

Still, it was nice to hear what he had to say, even though I would have remembered more had there not been other people around.


Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Nah. It has been far too formative a journey for a mere handshake! In addition to being my mentor and my advisor, Lappin has become a trusted friend and, yes, a member of my family.

The certificate

With the boss
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Here is my boss, the inimitable Lappin, handing over my certificate of completion of my residency. It was an exciting moment, in its own way, I suppose. Not that anything really changes, as I will still be here and still be working my tail off. But, in another 3 1/2 weeks, the clinic phase of my residency/PhD program will come to a close and I will focus my time more tightly on research.

Regardless, the last three years have taught me a lot about myself, about veterinary medicine and about life. Lessons I hope to continue to learn from as time goes by.

Today, with the issuance of this certificate, provides an excellent marker against which to measure my growth and evolution as a clinician, a scientist, and an internist.

With love, your Jackie Chris

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Last night after my post, I sat with the door tentatively cracked and felt the cool night air eddy on my stoop. The temperature was perfect for walkies-"Not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket." Unfortunately, cowardice and a newfound affinity for oxygenation won out over the desire for a stroll about town.

Happily, the antihistamines today made further gains in the war on congestion. So tonight after returning from a lovely fete, I was able to heed the twitching of my toes and indulge in a small nighttime stroll. The air tonight is heavy with lingering warmth from the day, and bloated lazy clouds loll against the stars. Fat squirrels rest in their hollows and the floating eyes of a lone cat glisten from beneath a bush.

The town, at least downtown proper. is small. Dark and still residential neighborhoods abut restaurants and bars. Gaiety spills into the neighborhoods like light in a dark hallway. Walking is peaceful yet safe, conductive to contemplation but also to humor. Couples stroll hand in hand, some heading to entertainment and some home. Groups of relaxed college students swirl from the streets onto sidewalks and into bars.

The curious design of the main downtown streets creates a whirling swirl of people. Parking forms the median of most of the downtown streets. Jaywalking is a necessary consequence and the milling eddies of people in the streets lend a relaxed carnival atmosphere to an otherwise unremarkable university downtown. I weave between the groups, the patchwork of music drifting out from bars, and take stock of the new coffeehouses, restaurants and bars. Here and there a brief hello as I spot familiar faces, but mainly just a quiet night of catching up with the town itself.

The tide has turning, bringing peace rushing in and once again, it is good to be back.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Breathing is highly underrated

After that first day of fear and abstraction, I had hoped for a bumpy but mostly downhill slide back into my Colorado life.


By now, one would think that I, of all people, would know better. But no. Always with the learning things the hard way.

Clouds began gathering mere moments after my last post. Being the foolish 'first victim in a horror movie' type, I did not cotton on...

There I sat, contemplating my new old world, happy but still skittery. My eyes started aching, burning really. But I was bone tired after surviving a long long day. Found myself thinking one thing over and again. The same thing, the same phrase. Over and over and over...

the aloneness is deafening in its silence

Truly it was. An oppressive roaring that made my shoulders hunch and my skin twitch. Loud like the quiet after an airplane ride. Loud like the stillness at the center of a storm. So the burning was like so many unshed, misplaced tears.

But the next morning, it was worse. The muscles beneath my ears were tender, bruised; my eyes enraged by the light. My right shoulderblade curling beneath my left as my left crept up to guard my neck. Within hours the sneezing started. By noon I could barely breathe.

Apparently celebrating my return and released from an epic drought, all the trees, plants, mites and molds have burst forth with a ticker tape parade of pollen to rival any heretofore known.

Since midday Tuesday, talking, sleeping and eating have all taken place only at the expense of breathing. The good news is that, when compared with breathing, the aloneness became suddenly much less interesting. Wednesday my boxes arrived. Thursday I made a stab at unpacking, mainly motivated by a dirth of work clothes. Moving back 'in' has been pushed to the back burner. Set aside for the weekend. After some sleep. And, more importantly, after some serious antihistamine loading. And so, here it is, Friday, and I find myself still standing. Listing a bit but standing.

Last night, I must admit, I wasn't sure that this would be the case. Tired and frustrated, beat down by my body and my cases, I felt my grip weaken and optimism slipped the lead. For a while, quite a while actually, I just sat and cried. Every time the tears lessened, my gaze would be caught by a letter I received, full of love and pluck and understanding, and I would start crying again. Crying because it is so terribly hard and there is so very much yet to be done just to be less behind. So many things that simply cannot be delayed. Big things, like grant extensions and reports, time-sensitive paper revisions. Even little things, like grocery shopping, have taken on Herculean magnitude.

But today it is a little better. The antihistamines have finally started to chip away at my misery. My energy is creeping back up. And I have officially survived the first week of my return. From here, it should all be smooth sailing...

okay, even I am not that dense. But hey, why borrow trouble? It knows how to find me.

Monday, June 13, 2005

hello flowas, hello CSU

hello flowas
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Whew. I did it! I survived my first day back.

Getting ready this morning, I felt uneasy in my skin, awkward and unfamiliar. Almost like I was returning to high school to visit after many years away. Fearful of being called out as the interloper I have become, terrified that I would arrive to find my brain dry and empty as the delta of the Rio Grande.

Walking in, looking about the halls, bustling with energy and purpose. A new crop of students darting about, unfamiliar faces everywhere. But here and there, suddenly, some of my 'juniors' from the fall, ace nurses and old hat interns! (Darn, the interns mature so quickly- missing four months is like missing half a lifetime of them! But how well they have aged, mellowed and sharpened.)

Hugs. So many hugs. Some moving in their familiarity. Some particularly dear in their rarity- like glimpsing a hidden glen or secretive woodland creature. I am humbled by the surfeit of caring, the generosity of spirit.

Back in the thick of things within the blink of an eye. I sit and focus in rounds, at first with difficulty then relax into the stories. For that is what rounds are–-exposition of the stories of animals and their people.

Suddenly I jerk, twitch intellectually. Before I can think to check myself, I am probing the students' thought processes. It is as if no time has passed. In a way like waking the citizens of Shenandoah. The students are confused at first and my clues are rusty, but it is consoling to know it is there, at least some of it, in my brain and knocking about.

Just a few minutes later, a page from the front. Welcome home! You are needed at the desk. Look! Homecoming flowers from Dave and Nancy (and Zane). So lovely but even more special in their thoughtfulness.

And I suddenly find myself believing my mantra of the past few days- Its going to all be alright. It really is.

Then back into the madness that is my daily world. A world I missed so very much as it is my vocation, my calling if you will.

The world of aggravating 'maybes' and 'could be or not' and 'that has been investigated but not proved either way'. The world of twelve inter-antagonizing problems per case, of hard calls and gut intuition.

The world of special critters and their loving humans, devoted students, caring and involved nurses and inspired clinicians. All in a slightly fraying, slightly underfinanced package.

Ah, home. So there you are. Right where I left you...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Homecourt cat

no head
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
This guy was as happy as ever to see me back home. No, he didn't lose his head from being left behind–he came that way. A dog ate it. Really.

And no, Lappin, I will never give him up. You were foolish to bring him that night to the gift exchange...

some of the fallen

the fallen
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
In a fit of healthiness, I went out and picked up a couple plants to try and fill the void left by the fallen. Not that I could replace them all or even make a dent, but it seemed best to try and do something about all the empty spaces.

Here you can see a smattering of the dead things that greeted me on my homecoming. sigh.

The shopping did me good though. [Thanks for the nag, Kel.] Dirt under my nails and new friends in empty spaces helps make it more like home.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Dorothy was right. There's no place like home. But then again Dorothy also had her aunt and uncle to keep the place tidy while she was off galavanting around...

The trip home was much as you would expect. Elise vomited on Head, both of them tried to take off while their carrier was being scanned by TSA personnel, and then the carrier broke but was manhandled into submission. Happily, my continuous tears limited questions regarding the excess of cats.

Exhaling my tension, I boarded the plane to find my rowmate weighed at least 350-400 pounds and took all of his seat and half of mine. Asphyxiation from his crushing presence and moderate continuous turbulence put dampers on my enjoyment of the flight.

In exciting and unexpected news, the luggage arrived unscathed. A friend trucked us all home from the airport and graciously expected very little from me conversationally. The house looked like a cross between 'Nightmare before Christmas' and the local bus station. Random packages littered the floor, tumbleweeds of dust engaged the cats in a battle for home turf advantage, and the withered remains of plants stretched out and away from their pots like skeletons toward salvation.

There were a few high points though. Presents from my birthday still waited on the table for attention, the obscene fluorescent kitchen light had been replaced with a lovely fixture casting twice the glow (probably will enjoy more now that things have been put aright), and a card I had stockpiled from Mickey significantly buoyed my spirits.

Six hours of serious scrubbage later, the place began to look respectable. Crashed for a short sleep and another four hours today left the place mostly ship shape. A little time at work clearing my mailboxes, checking voicemails and reviewing the coming week's schedule. Already double-booked! And here, I thought no one cared. Good to know my clients have missed me just a fraction of how much I have missed them.

Soon I will knuckle down on time-limited revisions for a paper. But first I wanted to shout out a big hello from back in CO! With love as always-


New growth

Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Just as a fern sends out copious runners when it has achieved adequate health, so too has Better Days.

For those of you who have become addicted to reading the trials and travails of just being, this blog will allow you to get your fix without cluttering Better Days with non-Mom postings.