July 1, 2024

Oh, I would walk three hundred miles...

Over the last three years through hip pain and hip recovery, I have fallen out of shape and put on weight. Though I have run and biked for more than the last fifteen years, It feels like I am starting at zero, less than zero really. 

I suppose the last fifteen years are part of why now feels so difficult, so hopeless, remembering where I used to be. Still, you have to start somewhere. So I started walking. 

I set myself a goal of logging 300 miles of walking in 2024. A little under 6 miles a week, less than a mile a day. The number seemed achievable, but would still require me to get outside on a regular basis. Moving outside would do both my body and mind some good. 

I am not counting all the random steps I take, the short dog walks we take at work, or the many steps when I get out for a round of golf. Just the intentional walks, where that is why I am out there, taking steps in the right direction. 

I stayed on track for the first couple of months at the start of the year, but no surprise, fell behind in March and April as work hours increased ahead of the tax deadline. The month of May I was back to more regular walking, but I was still behind and not keeping pace. 

June it was time to get serious again, for the arbitrary challenge, but more importantly for my flailing physical and mental health. I finished out the month with nearly sixty miles on the paths and roads, and I am now at 164 miles halfway through the year. I still feel out of shape, but not quite as wildly so as I was even a month ago. 

I am doing a few things to take my health more seriously this year. The walking bit is the most concrete and easiest to measure. There have been some false starts and hiccups with each piece of the puzzle, but progress is being made. The path ahead is hopefully long, and I want to walk it with more care. 

Some photos from my June walks.

June 9, 2024

Kid stuff

Yesterday, leaving breakfast, there was a back-up to get out of the parking lot and onto Gilman Blvd. To my right we're 7 or 8 kids, standing outside of a Baskin-Robins. They were amped, and not just because of the sugar.

When we were kids, riding in the back seat of our parent's car, passing a semi, we would make the motion of pulling a cord to try and get the driver to honk. It rarely worked, but when it did it was this little spark of joy. The kids on Sunday were doing the same motion. What could I do but honk.

Instant elation, dancing in victory. Two moms were sitting on a bench twenty feet away, smiling. The line of cars still wasn't moving, and the kids kept giving me the thumbs up for participating. Then one shouted that I was the twentieth car to honk.

Pure unadulterated joy, and it kept this adult smiling for the rest of the morning. 

June 1, 2024

Change is good, every decade or so

I bought my first car 39 years ago. In that span of time I've owned four cars. My guess is that one car every decade is below the national average, but I tend to hang onto things, for better or worse. Not that I planned it this way, but as I move into my fifth decade of car ownership, I bought car number five in May. 

I bought my first car, a '67 Mustang the day after I graduated high school. Though the Mustang is a classic car, this one was more of a mutt. Mostly green, but with a red door, out of place mag wheels, and an engine size it didn't start with. But it was my mutt. 

Several years in, I spent a summer with my friend Buzz, taking over his mom's garage and driveway, each of us putting a new engine in our cars (returning the car to the V8 it was born with). Over the years I replaced brakes, clutches, did tune ups and learned all about working on cars. Eventually I got a cheap paint job from Earl Scheib so it was finally one color. I had that car for fifteen years. 

My next car was my favorite (so far), though I only had it for a couple of years. It was a Volkswagen Corrado, which was the sportier successor to the Scirocco (not that this reference helps these days). Man that was a fun car to drive. I started working in construction not long after buying the car, so this kinda-nice car was going to get beat up, and what I really needed was a truck to haul tools and materials. Hated to see it go. 

I bought my one and only new car, a 2000 Dodge Dakota in the fall of 1999. It was more boring and practical, but it was my daily driver for another fifteen year stretch, half of its life after I no longer needed it for construction. It was basically on its last legs when it was replaced. Transmission failing, heater core bypassed because it was leaking, any major repair more expensive than it was worth. I got $200 trade in value for it when I bought my next and most recent car, a 2003 Honda Element.

moving stuff from old to new(er) car

The Element has been another favorite. It is the swiss army knife of vehicles. The suicide doors make it easy to throw people, gear or dogs in the back seat. If you have more to haul, the back seats can be flipped up to the walls, or removed entirely, making it a mini cargo van. Nearly every surface is easy to clean rubber or plastic, a car you can take anywhere and not worry about ruining it. The perfect dog, camping, bike rack kind of vehicle.

On that note, I haven't ever purchased a really "nice" car, a status or luxury car. All but the truck have been years or decades old when I got them, and generally missing the technology of the times. When people would talk about the bells, whistles and screens in their cars, I would often say, "My car has power windows" in my best Ralph Wigum voice. 

While shopping for cars, this picture came up in my feed. Random opinion of a random guy, but all of my cars have been on the "Has no Money" side, and on both the "Fun to be Around" and "Insufferable" quadrants. 

The new car will keep to that pattern.

The Element was getting tired. It has about 248,000 miles on it, and it is more than twenty years old. The engine has always been underpowered, but recently it has become so gutless as to be a roadblock to other cars as it struggled to get up over the mountain passes. I love everything about the Element, except it feeling like the engine is powered by a couple of hamsters running on a treadmill. 

I have been looking at the car to replace it for two to three years now. I hesitated to buy a new car first because the pandemic pushed used car prices through the roof. Then last year, all my money went to medical bills. The Element struggling to get over the hills on the way back from eastern Washington earlier this month finally made me take the plunge. I wanted to choose when to replace it, and not have to scramble if it finally broke down. 

Even though having a fancy or status car is not important to me, each time I bought a car, I was looking for a specific car, so cars are definitely important to me on some level. I did not go to a dealership, Autotrader or Craigslist looking for a sedan, hatchback, SUV, etc. I went looking for a specific model, if not a specific year. I wanted a Mustang, and I wanted the 1967 version. I wanted this sort of unknown Volkswagen (I always had to explain what the Corrado was). I wanted the Element, which was this unique car that I found had a bit of a cult following. Even the truck, which was the most generic of all, I wanted a Dakota, and I wanted a stick shift. 

Since I narrow my search before I even start, cars can be hard to find. My last two vehicles I had to go to Oregon, because I could not find anything local. Even though Dakotas were everywhere, I had to go to Oregon to get a stick shift, and Element owners hang onto their cars forever so I had to broaden my search area to find one in decent shape for sale.  

The new car will keep to that car from Oregon pattern. 

So here she is, a 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport.

Crosstreks have had some nice colors over the years, but 90% of the used ones for sale were either white or black, neither of which I was too excited about. The one I ended up with appears to be a love it or hate it color, but I am a fan, and after driving an orange car for the last nine years, I guess I am a fan of distinctive colors. 

Buying the car in Oregon was a bit of a hassle, and it was my own version of planes, trains and automobiles to pick it up a week and a half later, but now that I have it, I am pretty happy with it. Still learning what all these buttons and screens do, but I have lots of time to learn. If the pattern holds, it should be around for another decade.

And the Element is still around, but more on that later. 

May 19, 2024

The roads we travel

Every time I drive to Portland, I can't help but think of the more winding STP bike route. Flying past the exit signs along the freeway, I never knew the small towns of Winlock and Vader before riding through them more slowly. Never knew how perfectly Centralia was named until it was the overnight, halfway point for the two day ride.

I drove to Hillsboro outside of Portland for car shopping on Sunday, and all those great moments and memories were right there with me. On the way home, the GPS routed me along Highway 30 to Longview, likely to avoid a traffic logjam through Portland, so I got to see that part of the course, headed in the opposite direction. I remember the hotter years, the harder years, the moments we didn't think we could go on, and those glorious moments of triumph. Not sure I knew how high the Longview bridge was until I saw it in profile, but the narrow shoulder and long climb are burned into memory.

Sometimes we travel roads together, sometimes alone. Each time is a little different. Just the city of Longview has meant something new nearly every time through since that first ride more than 20 years ago, and it was different yet again yesterday. Each time down the path informs the next, memories providing texture to the present.

It was a long, tiring, but beautiful day on Sunday, and it will add another element to the road next time through.

It will be new, different, and familiar at every turn.

February 4, 2024

A Walk in the Woods

My friend Cherie, who has twisted my arm into biking, then into running, also got me into backpacking. 

The summer after I moved back to Washington, she invited me along on a family backpacking trip. Her dad Jim had been going to this semi-secret lake for much of his life, and in 2013 he was headed to the hills again with his daughter and grandson, a three-generation group. Cherie's husband Brian and I rounded out the pack. The hike was challenging, including a bit of hand over hand climbing, and pushing through overgrown fisherman trails, but I was pretty well hooked from the start. 

My family did a bit of hiking and camping when I was quite young, and I started camping again in my early twenties. I love so many things about it. Being outside in the wilderness is restorative. I feel so present, away from the comforts and routine of home. I actually appreciate how long it takes to make coffee and cook food when I am camping. It just seems to make me appreciate everything a bit more. 

Backpacking adds another level to it. You have to carry everything on your back, thus reducing how many comforts you want to bring along. You also have to carry this weight up and down hills, rather than just from your car to your tent. When you get to that secret or not so secret lake at the end of the trail, it feels that much sweeter that you got there under your own power. 

And once you are there, life is just so gloriously slow. You have nowhere else to be. Time to sit and enjoy your coffee. Time to wade into the mountain lake. Time for a day hike through the woods. Time to sit on a log and read, surrounded by the sounds of nature. Time to fish if you hauled that inflatable raft that nearly crushed you. Time to just be. 

I think our group has been on four backpacking trips, but it has been a few years since we headed to the woods together. Summers can fill up fast, and then the pandemic and the appearance of my hip arthritis made it a non-starter. Prior to 2020, I had applied several times to get a permit to hike the Wonderland Trail solo, but have come up empty each time. With the new hip and the limits on running, I want to get back into backpacking again.

My YouTube watchlist has been filled lately with backpacking videos, and also bikepacking videos where they trade shoes for wheels, trails for roads. Part of it is the anticipation and desire to get moving again, but I think this happens every tax season. As the hours increase, and the weekends away from work disappear, mental plans are made for the summer, something to look forward to after April 15th. 

In the meantime, and as part of the surgery recovery, I have been going on longer walks lately. The place that has become a regular favorite is Bridle Trails Park. It is a wooded oasis in the middle of the city. There are three main trails - 1 mile, 1.8 miles, and 3.5 miles, and you can mix and combine based on what you need any particular day. I choose the 1.8 when Izzy is with me, and the 3.5 when I leave her at home (much less stopping and sniffing). Every weekend it seems I find a new tree that captures my attention, and the trail is always a little different based on the weather, time of day, and level of sunshine breaking through the trees. From the name, you obviously see horses pretty regularly, but I have also seen owls and deer on my walks. 

My body and brain are better for it every time I go for a walk in the woods, even if only for an hour or two.

Scenes from this weekend.

January 28, 2024

If you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter


This photo is from January twelve years ago, and it popped in a nice Facebook memory last week. It is still one of my favorite running photos. The original Facebook caption is:

"Another great day on the road at the Carlsbad Marathon. New PR of 3:44:57. Thanks to my awesome support crew, including the tambourine girl who is nine months pregnant."

Tambourine girl is my friend Marci. Along with her daughter in the pink hat, and Kristy who was taking the photo, she was cheering on both her husband Sean, and me, the other Sean, as we ran the Carlsbad Marathon. Marci has run a number of marathons herself, and back in 2006 she and I crossed hand in hand at my first marathon finish line in Washington D.C., but at nine months pregnant she was obviously out for this one. 

The marathon is of course a difficult endeavor, and though you are out there fighting yourself, the course and the clock, it is rarely a solo effort. The support of your family and friends, and even random strangers cheering you on can make all the difference. I have always felt that the day spent as support crew could be just as long and difficult as those running the race. I have volunteered at a number of races and events, but haven't been on the sidelines cheering on people I knew very often, since we were often running together. I had a chance to do just that in November of 2022.

I was signed up to do the 2020 Arizona Ironman. It was of course postponed to 2021 due to Covid, and then to 2022. In the meantime, I developed arthritis in my right hip and could no longer run, so I would not be toeing the start line. However, I had three friends doing the Ironman, so I flew down to cheer them on. 

Even though I wasn’t participating, I had paid the (non-refundable) entry fee, so I picked up my gear along with my friends. Along with a bit of swag, I had the wristband that would get me some backstage athlete access on race day. 

On race day I got up early to go to the start line with my friends. It was a 3:30am wake up call to what would be a very long day. 

The Ironman distance is:
a 2.4 mile swim,
followed by a 112 mile bike ride,
followed by a 26.2 marathon distance run

As I have mentioned before, I am a sucker for the emotion of a finish line, but the start line is pretty special too. All the pent-up energy, nervousness and excitement is palpable. After months and sometimes years of training, the day is finally here. So many different stories and paths brought the varied people to this single moment. Race morning is often a bit of hurry up and wait, so you have lots of time with your thoughts before the gun goes off. I drank it all in while doing my best to support my friends Sean, Jonathan, and BG as they prepared and waited.

After seeing them off into the swim, I started my walking of the course. I went to one of the bridges to watch the swimmers go by as the sun came up, before heading to the finish line of the swim. 

The Ironman event is a pretty well-oiled machine and depends on hundreds of volunteers. At the swim finish line there was a line of volunteers there to help the wobbly swimmers get out of their wetsuits. Jonathan was first out of the water, followed by BG (who I somehow missed) and then Sean after an hour and fifty minutes of swimming. After getting out of their wetsuits, they jogged back to the transition area to start the next challenge, the 112 mile bike ride. 

The bike course was a three lap out-and-back route, so rather than try and fight the traffic and closed roads, I stationed myself about a half mile up from the turn-around. I would watch them head in at the end of each lap, then cross the street and see them again as they headed back out a few minutes later. The Ironman had a pretty good tracking app, so I had a decent idea of when each person would be coming by. Since my three guys started the course at different times and were biking at different paces, the times they came by were pretty spread out, so I was still able to duck out and get food or a cup of coffee now and then.

The riders were fighting winds for most of the ride, so the times were a bit slower than they expected. Sean was also fighting a raging headache. I had tried to find him some Tylenol or Advil between laps, but came up empty. Something to add to the support checklist for next time. 

Overall, athletes need to finish the Ironman in under seventeen hours. However, each leg of the Ironman has its own cut off time. You need to be out of the water by a certain time to be allowed to start the bike. Then you need to finish the bike ride by a certain point to be able to start the run. Since the bike route was a three loop course, you also had to start the third lap by a certain time or you would be pulled off the course. As I made my way toward the finish line and the bike turnaround, I saw the first few riders be told the heartbreaking news that their day was over. 

We headed to the bike finish to see Jonathan and then Sean come in to finish the ride. BG had started the third lap on time, but he unfortunately did not make a time cut off further down the road. He and other athletes were swept up, having already ridden 100 of the 112 miles. He was understandably pretty dejected when we caught up with him later. 

The run course was a two lap route, so we mostly stayed in one place to see Jonathan and Sean go by. Sean was slowly reeling in Jonathan on the run, but he was still struggling with the headache and of course the other aches and fatigue of all the distance he had already covered. After seeing him go by at mile seventeen, we all headed to the finish line to wait for Jonathan. 

All finish lines are amazing, but the one at the Ironman is really something special. Of course it is rewarding and emotional to be the one crossing the line, but I get choked up watching strangers finish as well. Back before I bottled everything up, one of the few things that would make me cry was watching a finish line. The Ironman did not disappoint. 

This is a moment for some random runner.

We saw both Jonathan and Sean cross the finish line, and hear their names called out by Mike Reilly followed by, “You are an Ironman!” Mike Reilly has been the voice of the Ironman finish line for 33 years, and this was the second to last race that he was announcing before retiring, so it was a little extra special to be there to hear him call out their names.

After Sean and Jonathan had some time to rest and get a bit of food in them, we gathered up their gear and made our way home. Even though we had been up close to 24 hours, we stayed up a while longer to hear stories about each of their journeys. It was such an incredible day. I desperately wished I had been on their side of the event, running alongside them, but it was still a pretty amazing day as a spectator. Wistful but wonderful.

I hope to participate in start and finish lines again on the other side of the ropes in the coming years. I am just not ready to close the door on that part of my life, which I will probably write about soon. In the meantime and near future, I will lean into the role of volunteer, head cheerleader, and/or designated domestique. 

And get me a tambourine. 

January 21, 2024

Accidental beginnings, and more intentional habits.

 Three weeks into January seems a little early for a resolution/habit check in, but since it is a 2022 resolution, it is probably a bit late. 

As I wrote in this January 2022 post, the habit started a bit by accident. Partially due to a hibernation week, staying home in the snow after a possible Covid exposure, and partially due to Amazon tracking my reading days on the Kindle (thanks big data), halfway through January I found out that I had read thirty-one days in a row. Since I had the streak going already, I resolved to read every day of 2022.

I made it through 2022 successfully, reading at least a few pages every day of the year. Then I continued the streak through every day of 2023 and into another January. After a bit of math, I have figured that I have now read 765 days in a row. 

As I written about previously, I was not much of a reader growing up. Though both of my parents were consistent readers, I barely cracked a book until I was in my twenties. For the past thirty plus years though, reading has been a semi-consistent part of my life. I've found insight, relief, solace, joy, and other worlds on and between the pages. The amount I read changed year to year, falling in and out of the habit. My mental health seemed to improve when I was a consistent reader, but like any other habit it was hard to re-start when I drifted away from it. Failing at re-starting became its own mental struggle. 

Like most of us, I have probably failed more than succeeded at resolutions, New Year's or otherwise. In 2011 I put a twist on it and had a different resolution each month. It was an interesting exercise in habit development and was a relative success. Part of the lesson, which should be obvious but isn't always, is that developing the habit is much more important to your success than your desire for the resolution's outcome. I can resolve and desire all I want, but until I put the work in through the development of a habit, then there is no path that will get me there. 

To keep the reading streak alive, I obviously put the work in each day, but the simplest of tricks is what made it actually happen. I have a reminder on my phone that goes off at 9:00 each night asking, "Did you read yet?" The reminder sits on my phone until I clear it. Sometimes it gets cleared at 11:45pm, and sometimes only a few pages are read, but for 765 days in a row I have answered "yes" to the reminder. 

So, how did the habit change the amount I read? Below are the recaps from Goodreads for 2021 (pre-habit), and then 2022 and 2023:

I plan to keep the streak alive again through 2024. I have set my arbitrary goal of reading 30 books again this year, and I hope to reach it again, but maybe not hit 40 this time around. There are some other goals, habits and hobbies I'd like to add (back) this year and spend time with. The past couple of years have been difficult, but I am seeing a bit of light again. This challenge and habit formation shows that I can still find some focus, even when my brain seems to be rebelling. Reading has felt like a bit of self-care when things feel noisy inside. I want to find more things that bring me a bit of peace.

Another 2024 resolution - more reminders set on my phone this year. 

January 14, 2024

By any other name

Like many of us, I have had a number of nicknames over the years. Fortunately, most have been kind, or at least I have forgotten any mean ones in those awkward days of growing up. A lot of them came from work friends, one of which I have hung onto for myself, even though no one calls me it anymore, but my first nickname and my latest nickname have the same sort of origin story. 

When I was an infant/toddler, I had a cousin who was just three months older than I was. Charlie (soon to be Chuck) couldn't pronounce the name Sean, so I became "Na". My brother Kevin came a long a year later, and it was another name Charlie couldn't pronounce, so Kevin became "Beebee" for baby. The name Na stuck, Beebee did not (which I think Kevin is grateful for). 

The name Na was most enthusiastically used by my Uncle Jim, Charlie's dad. To be honest, I can't really remember him calling me Sean, but I can still hear his voice saying my nickname, always punctuated with an exclamation point, every time we saw each other well into adulthood. My dad and my brothers still use the name Na regularly, and I have been signing my emails to them with Na for several years now. 

I can remember when neighborhood kids or kids from school would hear the nickname, and try to tease me with it. When my only reaction was that I liked the nickname, the teasing stopped. I would like to think I was clever to steal their thunder, but I was honestly just, "Yeah? And?" There were plenty of teasing opportunities, because kids can be cruel sometimes, but this was not what I was self-conscious about.

My latest nickname, more than fifty years later, is from another young child who hasn't quite figured out how to say Sean. It would be even worse if I showed him how my name is spelled. I don't get the pronunciation out of that spelling either buddy. 

My friends Matt and Jenica's son Connor has started calling me "Uncle Han", and I love it. I mean, I already love this kid, and whatever he wants to call me is fine by me, but to be (accidentally) paired up with this guy is pretty great.

My Honda Element is a rather distinctive looking car, and apparently a red one has been semi-regularly parking across the street from Matt and Jenica's house, and Connor will point out the window and say, "Uncle Han!". So freaking adorable. A few week ago, I was over at their house for Jenica's birthday, and as Connor was going to bed, he asked Uncle Han to read him a bedtime story. 

It could melt a heart frozen in carbonite. 

December 3, 2023

Like driving in snow

 I have been in one car accident as a driver. Well, maybe one and a half.

It sounds like it is less so today, but "back in my day" teenagers were typically champing at the bit to get their driver's licenses. Driver's ed class, learner's permit at 15 1/2, begging your parents to take you out in their car to practice driving in the Sears parking lot on the weekends. Both Mom and Dad's cars had manual transmissions, so I had to learn to drive a stick shift from the very beginning. During the driving portion of the test to get my license, I managed to stall the car before leaving the parking lot, but thankfully things improved from there and I passed. 

My driver's ed was an actual class at the high school. For some reason, I didn't take it in the earliest possible quarter. I seem to remember that some other class had taken priority. By the time I received my license, Mom was as or more excited about it. I was working at McDonald's and pretty regularly worked the closing shift. For the few months pre-license she was kind enough to come pick me up after midnight when I had that shift. The things parents do for us, that we don't fully appreciate at the time how much of a pain in the ass it was. Saints.

Around the same time, my older brother's El Camino became an additional family car, so that was the first vehicle I would get to drive on a semi-regular basis. Initially it was just to and from work, but eventually I got to drive it to other places including school. The car was one of those initial steps to independence that seemed so huge as a teenager. 

One morning I was driving to school and there was snow on the ground. Two cars ahead of me another student driver stopped mid-block unexpectedly, I think to talk to someone on the other side of the road. The car in front of me slid, but was able to stop in time. The El Camino and I, empty truck bed and wider than average rear tires, did not. After a low-speed skid into the car in front of me, the lead car took off. A rear end collision is basically always your fault, but I did internally shake my fist in the air at the driver in the first car as she sped away. 

The first car that was really mine was a 1967 Mustang. I bought it for $1,300 the day after graduating from high school. A Mustang is a classic car, but mine was more of a mutt than a purebred. Mismatched paint and parts, three speed manual, and goofy aftermarket mag wheels. But that kinda ugly classic was mine, and would be my daily driver for more than a decade. 

The Mustang had the same problem as the El Camino in the snow - rear wheel drive, and little weight over the wheels to provide any traction. I could get stuck on the gentlest of slopes, so I learned to leave plenty of room between the car in front of me, and idle slowly to red lights so that I could be still moving when the light turned green. 

One afternoon while I was driving my girlfriend home in the snow, I described to her how easy it was to lose traction in my car. All I had to do was tap the gas pedal a little too quickly, and for some reason I proceeded to provide a demonstration. Soon we were in a spin, uphill somehow, crashing ass-end against the hillside on the other side of the road. Really impressed her that day.

After a brief two year period when I had a front wheel drive Volkswagen, I was back to a rear wheel drive Dodge truck for the next fifteen years. Between the Mustang, Dodge and my previous mishaps, I learned to be a very cautious driver in the snow, even now with an all wheel drive car. Nice and easy, no sudden movements, slow and steady my friend.

One of the things I was worried about for the surgery recovery period was cabin fever. Even on normal days, I get a little twitchy if I am cooped up for long. A dog walk is an easy solution, but if it is raining too much (Izzy thinks she will melt), a drive to run an errand may happen just to get out of the house. For a few weeks post-surgery, there would be no walks or driving as a means of escape. 

Like several other worries, the cabin fever was not as bad as I expected. I leaned into the PT schedule, did lots of reading, binged a show or two, and had a number of visitors stop by to say hello or to take me out for a meal. That said, I was looking forward to being able to drive, to feel that bit of independence again. 

During a follow up visit with a surgical assistant, among other questions I asked about when I would be able to drive. The doctor said basically anytime now, as long as I was not on any narcotics (no problem there, I had given up the Oxycodone three days post-surgery). She suggested first getting in and out of the car, to see how that felt. If that went OK, to try stomping on the brake to see if that caused any pain.

After a successful "test drive" without going anywhere, I waited a few extra days before hitting the road. I first ventured out to the grocery store one evening when traffic would be lighter. A few days later, another drive to the library to restock. Next, to the office for some short, in-person work days. All the while, driving cautious and slow. Lots of space between cars. No sudden moves. 

Like I was driving in snow. 

November 12, 2023

Walking the line

Just like all the days before:

  • Mornings are the worst.
  • First steps are always the hardest.

My recovery from surgery began at my friend's/neighbor's house. I had dropped off my clothing, some food, and recovery tools the day before, and post-surgery I was set up in a bedroom in their basement. They were very kind to take me in, and to take care of me. I wasn't sure what recovery would look like, but I knew I was in good hands. 

After getting settled in, it was on to doing my homework. Every hour I was to be up walking with my walker. I was given PT exercises to complete every two hours, followed by icing and elevation of my leg. There were also varying schedules of pills to be taken, so though I had little to do, it felt like my schedule was full. 

One of the things I was worried about during recovery was sleeping on my back. I don't sleep all that well on the best of days, and whenever I end up sleeping on my back, it makes my back ache. My back was already a bit of a mess prior to surgery, so that added to the nervousness. With a 4:15am wake up the morning of surgery, I was plenty tired and fell asleep relatively quickly.

Unfortunately, I woke up about four hours later and couldn't find any real sleep the rest of the night. I had the same recurring anxiety dream that would have had me tossing and turning, but I felt like I couldn't move without messing with my leg. The next three nights were similar, and it would take that long for me to figure out that it was the Oxycodone that was making my mind spiral. 

That first morning when it was finally a reasonable hour to get up, it took a good ten minutes to get out of bed. Any minor movement of my leg felt like I was tearing it apart. As miraculous as the day before seemed, moving around under my own power, it felt like I was going to need to be airlifted out of bed the following morning. 

Once up, things started to loosen up a bit, and I could shuffle my way around. A physical therapist came by that first afternoon to check on how I was doing the exercises, and how I was doing overall. She instructed me to walk more smoothly and naturally. She also had me go up and down a flight of stairs. Be careful, but press on.

The first six days were filed with PT home work, walking laps of the basement, and lots of reading in bed. The last three days I made it upstairs to have dinner with my generous hosts. There was still plenty of pain, but each day it felt like I was making progress. 

I went home on day seven and have been home for a little more than a week now, and it feels like progress has slowed a bit. I am still doing my PT homework, and walking regularly, but for the first few days I think I was sitting in a chair too much when I should have been lying down on the couch or bed. At my two week follow up appointment with a surgical assistant she took off the bandage and let me know that I was at a good place for recovery. But then she said she wanted me to be a "couch potato" for another four weeks. 

The concern is that with this type of hip replacement you can feel a little too good when the joint is not yet stable, and you can really mess things up. My friends had told me a story of another friend of theirs who did just that, had to get a second surgery, and is still not fully recovered. I keep this in the back of my mind as a reminder.

After running nineteen marathons and tackling other difficult physical challenges, I have learned to push through pain to get to the finish line, to go to a certain place in my mind to press on when my body is begging me not to. When you walk that line just right, it can take you to amazing places, but I have crossed it a couple of times. At one end of my much smaller walking loop at my house, there is another reminder. 

This is a picture of me on a backpacking trip with friends about ten years ago. We were on our way back to the car after a great few days in the woods. This spot is next to a massive tree, and almost exactly a mile from the finish. I was beyond struggling and already suffering. Along with the usual gear, I am carrying an inflatable raft belonging to one of our crew so we could fish at the lake where we camped. The pack was borrowed, and as you can see the weight is not properly distributed. My back was already screaming. 

I just wanted to get through it, to make the pain stop. I went to that place in my mind that I had visited before. I got quiet, not really replying to my friends' conversations. When we reached the trailhead, my friends stopped for a group picture, but I kept walking. They called after me, but I couldn't stop, going straight to the car. Once I got the pack off my back, I broke down, wept and hyperventilated. They had no idea how much pain I was in (because of course I hadn't said anything), and I properly freaked them out, thinking I was having an attack of some sort. I thought I knew what I was doing, what my limits were, and I was wrong. 

I have pushed up against my limits since then, but I like to think I have learned my lesson about taking it too far. Hopefully there will be other finish lines in my future, but this is the most important one right now. Right now, slow and steady wins the race. It is a marathon, and not a sprint. Part of physical therapy is to push through some discomfort, but you have to walk the line more carefully while your body recovers. Keep moving forward, but don't do anything stupid. 

Don't be that guy in the picture. 

November 8, 2023

Not all original parts

As I wrote about in this post and elsewhere, I found out I had arthritis in my right hip at the beginning of 2021. The pain and impact on my life increased over the next couple of years, and surgery was a matter of when, not if. I met with a surgeon in April of this year. His schedule was pretty well filled, but that wasn't a huge issue as I knew I wanted to schedule it around the beginning of November, the only time that it is reasonably quiet at work. The date of surgery was Friday October 27th, just under two weeks ago. 

I was a bit nervous about the surgery. There are of course various ways in which the surgery might not be completely successful, but honestly I was more worried about the extremely small chance of something going completely wrong and never waking up again. As I have mentioned briefly elsewhere, anxiety has become a part of my life in the past year, and as much as I "knew" I was going to be alright, I couldn't entirely quiet that inner voice. 

I arrived at the hospital at 5:45am. The next hour and a half was prep work, and meeting all the people who would be participating in the surgery. Along with all the other questions, everyone confirmed my name, date of birth, and which hip I was replacing. When my surgeon came by, just to make triply sure that there was no last minute error, he initialed my right hip. Everyone was kind, considerate and professional. I particularly remember being put at ease by Tim the anesthesiologist assistant, but everyone did their part in providing a calming presence. 

I was wheeled into surgery at 7:30, and I thought, "the sun isn't even up yet, and it is already showtime." Once in the surgical suite, they had me sit up on the edge of the gurney. I was already on an IV of some sort, but the next step was an epidural. Tim had me bend forward to spread out my spine a bit and give him access for the shot. A nurse was there in front of me to catch me if for some reason I pitched forward.  I know we chatted and joked with each other. The jokes are lost to the ether, but I remember feeling good about the team around me. I was surrounded by caring and helping hands.

Then they transferred me to the operating table. The table had these separate sections for the legs so they could be moved independently. After I was settled, someone pounded a couple of pegs into the table, a little too close to the crotch for comfort. "Be careful with that hammer, please!" Less than thirty seconds after that, I was out like a light. No need to count back from 100. They had warned me it was possible that I might come around a bit, or hear some loud noises during the surgery, but thankfully my sleep was deep. 

I woke up in a hallway with another nurse at my side to take care of me as I came around. Memory is a little fuzzy at this point, but I may have had something to drink, and maybe there was Jello? I do remember her asking me about my pain levels, me saying I was doing OK, but her reading the winces in my face and giving me something more for my pain. I am sure this helped with the pain, but it definitely made me nauseated. 

After maybe an hour or so, I was taken to Physical Therapy. There they took me through the exercises I would be doing for the next six weeks. Then it was (already?) time to stand up. They had me use my walker to shuffle around the room and the hallway. Then they had me go up and down two steps. Pretty incredible that they have you up so quickly after surgery. Still hard to wrap my brain around it. 

Martha, my friend and neighbor met me at the PT stage. She was there to listen in, being my designated "coach" for the first week of recovery. She is a retired nurse, so along with being a clearer set of ears for all the instructions, she was another professional along the way looking out for me. After taking my wheelchair ride to my car, she drove me to her and her sister's house where I would spend the first week or so of my recovery.

I remember from the days when I was looking for my first car, a Ford Mustang, and then later when I was buying a Harley, that many of the ads noted, "All the numbers match!" The vehicles were worth more money if they had all original parts, and all the serial numbers matched. I didn't much care about that back then, since I was buying the vehicle(s) to actually use, not as an investment. Now my body has some after-market parts, and I suppose I don't much care that it is no longer a stock version either. Just hoping the improvements will keep me on the road a little longer. 

September 16, 2023

A less crooked smile

"You don't strike me as someone who is overly concerned about how his teeth look."

This was what someone at my dentist's office said earlier this year. I have told this story to a few people, and everyone has been a bit offended for me. But it was a true statement, and I took it as such. They knew their audience I suppose. 

My teeth have always been a bit janky, with two teeth half hiding behind my two front teeth, but it has never been anything that I cared much about. When I was a kid, braces were suggested, but it wasn't for anything functional, strictly cosmetic. I of course never fully understood what the money situation was growing up, but I felt like there wasn't money to spend on something that wasn't strictly necessary. 

And of course who wants braces as a kid. 

At the dentist earlier this year, they told me that my bite was putting too much pressure on a single tooth, and it was destined to crack. The two options were a crown, which would be a band-aid, or get braces to fix the underlying problem. Since this seems to be the year to fix what is broken, and kicking the can down the road to "future me" to deal with doesn't seem to ever work out, braces was the decision. 

Of course things have changed dramatically since I was a kid. No longer would there be a mouth full of metal, but rather plastic trays that snap into place. You have likely heard of Invisalign, which is a brand name for this sort of system, and I have something similar made by SureSmile. 

My treatment would be a series of 30 trays, each worn for two weeks, with each successive set moving my teeth a bit farther from their original state, each successive set moving my teeth a bit closer to the final alignment. You are supposed to wear the trays for 20 - 22 hours a day, only taking them out to eat. 

30 trays times 2 weeks equals almost fifteen months of dental fun. I just put in tray 16 this week, so I am halfway there. 

I can't wait for it to be over. 

Not because I am excited to see my new smile (see above about not caring what my teeth look like). Not because my mouth looks funny with the braces in, or that my speech is particularly effected (this tech is pretty great in both respects). No, I just find it an annoyance every single day. Not a huge deal each day, it is just always there, being annoying. 

For the first few days of every two week cycle, the trays are very difficult to snap in or remove. At my first appointment when the dentist/professional was trying to get those first trays in, it was a major ordeal, and I just imagined fifteen months of this pain-in-the-assery of me trying to do it my amateur self, and I did not take it well. And of course your teeth hurt as they are being pressured to move where they don't want to.

And honestly I just want to be able to sip my cup of coffee leisurely at my desk without being on a timer to floss, brush, snap my trays back in.

Again, small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, and tiny in the medical complaints department, but to spend $5,600 (adult dental insurance is near worthless) to do something that is annoying, where you don't feel like your life will be any better for it, while people who care about teeth are so excited for you...ugh.

Am I vaguely curious what my teeth will look like in the end - sure. Am I excited about wearing braces at night forever, because apparently your teeth still want to go back to square one - no. Was it the right decision - yes. I trust and like my dentist, and slapping band-aids on problems is not a long-term solution.

Will I continue to be annoyed, and miss those slowly sipped cups of coffee for the next seven months - yes, yes I will.

September 10, 2023

A flesh wound

 2023 has been the year of the medical professional. Thankfully nothing life threatening, but there have been more appointments and procedures than in any other time of my life. And more bills. 

  • One thing has me feeling like an old man.
  • One thing has be feeling like a late-blooming teenager.
  • Others, I am guessing, are more of an average experience these days. 

We'll start in the middle. One of the average ones. What is going on right now. 

I have had a growth on my neck for the last few years. At an appointment after it showed up, it was agreed that we would keep an eye on it. This year, it seemed like it was getting bigger, and was feeling itchy. The lump was sliced off, sent to a lab, and was determined to be a basal cell carcinoma. 

From my limited understanding and Googling, basal cell carcinoma is a cancer, the most common skin cancer, and the most common type of cancer overall. However, it is not one that spreads quickly, and is not generally a concern as long as it doesn't go ignored for a very long time. But it does need to be taken care of. The lump that was taken off showed cancer cells all the way to the edges, so there was more left on my neck to be addressed. Another appointment was made for this past Tuesday. 

More brief Googling. 

I had guessed that I was going to have what is called a Mohs procedure. In this procedure, skin is removed a layer at at a time, each one being analyzed for cancer cells. If that layer has some, you keep going until you get to one that doesn't. Instead, my version was having one removal procedure, large enough to feel that it was safe I suppose. This is likely much more efficient, time and cost effective, etc., but it was still a bit of a surprise. 

The procedure itself was fine, though the torque of the stitches as they closed things up seemed like a lot. They put the chunk of flesh in a jar for testing, and let me take a peek at it. The size of it was even more of a surprise. For a lump that was smaller than the nail on my pinky finger, the amount they took looked a couple of inches long, and about 3/4 of an inch deep. They said the scar may line up with a ridge in my neck, which was a great relief for my future modeling career. 

The test came back on Friday that showed that they got it all. Recovery has been a little painful, but most mostly just annoying. I couldn't turn my head for a number of days, so had to turn my whole body like a robot. It is also difficult to change out the dressing on a part of your body you can't see. I have become very good at using mirrors to cut my own hair, but somehow I could not get the bandages flipped around the right way looking side-eyed in a mirror. 

Pictures of the before, during and after (but not of the sample they took) are below. I don't think anything is too graphic, but the stitched incision is a little gross, so if this not your thing, you can click the back button now. 













After the lump was removed

First round mostly healed, on to the next

A day after removal

Five days after

Get those bumps checked out.

November 25, 2022

Shared moment

At the coffee shop.

Journey playing over the speakers.

The woman taking my order trying to resist singing along. 

The barista, not resisting, leaning in, singing, swaying. 

The woman at the register and I look at each other, smile, then sing behind our masks.


not so secretly,

joining in. 

August 7, 2022

Honoring Mom once more

 After a year delay from Covid, we were finally able to gather in a larger group last weekend to celebrate Mom's life, and all that she meant to us. It was at once a difficult day, but also a day filled with the warmth of love and friendship. The day seemed to fly by as we hugged and shared stories, saw friends old and new, and feel joy in the midst of grief. The day was a blessing, much like she was. 

Some words I shared at the memorial.

Grief and loss are never easy burdens to bear. It is at once so universal, yet so specific a feeling it can be isolating. We gather today to share both our feelings of loss, and also to celebrate the joy we all have had in knowing Beverly, Bev, Aunt Bev, and Mom in our lives. I thank you all for being here today. It means so much to us, and Mom was blessed by your love and friendship.

I want to thank Nick once again for putting together the lovely slideshow. It is such a great way to see the various parts of her life, and we will have it running in the background later in case you want to catch parts of it again. 

I also want to thank all of the family members who sent us pictures for the slideshow, and for us to have for our own memories. Some of the photos I had never seen, and some were wonderful reminders. It was great to be able to walk through various points of mom's life. What a gift.

Mom herself was a diligent photographer and scrapbooker. She had bookshelves filed with albums with careful notes of dates and places. As she was often the one behind the camera, there were more pictures of her family than of herself. Of course most of her time taking pictures pre-dates the selfie, and even if it had been around, I don't know how often she would have pointed the lens at herself to capture a moment. Thankfully she was not camera shy though, and she joined me in the recent tradition of selfies at Crescent Bar. I wish that the selfie tradition had been a thing much earlier, so that I could look back on those forty years of Sun Lakes and then Crescent Bar, a year at time.

One of the great things about these photos is to remind us of moments and the stories behind them. We of course have shared many stories with each other over the past year. Some are big moments like the road trip to the Rose Bowl, or the sketchy flight into the Grand Canyon, but most of them are smaller moments. There is a great story behind the picture of Mom jumping off the boat at Sun Lakes that is in the slideshow and on the photo board. The moment was etched in Corey's mind since he snapped the picture when he was just seven years old, but it was just a random moment for Mom until she got to hear the story many years later. 

Another moment I vividly remember Mom wasn't physically there, but boy was she present. I was up camping outside of Salmon La Sac some thirty years ago. I was crossing a river alone, and got swept away. I was flying down the river trying to swim or find my feet, and the only thing in my head besides panic was, "Mom is going to be so pissed if I die." She must have read something about the snowpack, melting run off, or some other person getting swept away in another river, but she had warned me to be careful before I left for the trip. I had not been careful. 

It took what felt like an eternity to make my way across the river, but I was still moving fast downstream. When I got close to the opposite shore, I saw a branch extended out over the river like something in a movie and lunged for it. The force of the river twisted me around and dislocated a finger, but I was safe. I walked a mile down river to a bridge and then back upstream to camp, soaking wet and ready to start listening to good advice again. When I told Mom the story later, she was of course more thankful that I was OK than mad that I had done something stupid, but she may have given me a good Nanny-like shake of the finger. 

My last story takes us back to Sun Lakes again, and it lives in my memory even though this time it was me who wasn't really there. One morning Mom hiked up the cliff with Dan and a few others. I was invited along, but I couldn't be bothered to get out of bed any earlier than absolutely necessary because I was a teenager. This "old" lady and Dan came back with animated stories of their adventures and all the fun they had. You could see the light in Mom's eyes as she relived the tough but rewarding climb. There was no way my extra hour of sleep had been worth missing out. I have taken that to heart, and have been much more likely to say "count me in!" instead of talking myself out of things. To spend time with people I care for, and to create a new memory.

Our lives end up being these stories. Our lives are about who we create these stories with, and who we get to tell them too. Our lives are even the stories we don't know we are a part of. These seemingly throw away moments that impacted others, and left them better for it. 

At the graveside service I mentioned Mom' s habit of collecting rocks when she hiked. Each one held a memory. When I recently went looking for the rocks, I found that the old Lucerne ice cream bucket she piled them into did not make it through their last move. Dad also mentioned that Mom had used some of the rocks to line the garden at their previous home, which seemed a lovely way to share those memories instead of tucking them away. Even so, she had collected so many rocks that there are still ones left over. We encourage you to take one of her memory rocks home with you if you like, to remember her, and to remind ourselves that memories can be sometimes be found in the strangest places.  

Mom left this world a better place through her love, her actions and her words. She will live on in our memories, in the recipe cards she passed along, in the cross-stitch keepsakes she created, in the kindness we show each other, and in our stories.

May the stories we tell and retell keep her alive in our hearts. May those little reminders and stories bring us joy, even when we still miss her so. 

I love you Mom, and I miss you so. You will always be with me.

Click to enlarge