January 18, 2022

Silly challenges and a resolution

 Sometimes you just have to trick yourself into things.

When I was stuck at home during hibernation week, I went for a lot of walks. Of course it was great to get out of the house, and the pup really loved the snow, but I wouldn't have walked quite so much if I hadn't signed up for a silly challenge on Strava. The challenge was to walk 50k for the month. I had largely forgotten about the challenge/goal until I was bored at home. I certainly would have gone on several walks anyway, but wouldn't have been motivated to go as often or as far. I ended up walking about 34 miles in December, more than half of it in the snow between Christmas and New Year's Eve with traction devices on my hiking boots.

Another challenge I engage in is to try and read a certain number of books each year. I have been using the Goodreads website to track my reading since 2008. I started using it mostly to keep track of books I had read. More than once I would return to a book series that I had stepped away from, picking up where I thought I had left off, only realizing three chapters in that I had already read this book. Now an even greater value of the website is adding to the "To be Read" list whenever I hear about an interesting read.

However the To be Read pile is growing faster than the Read list. I already have piles of physical books stacked around the house, and a massive virtual pile online, but there are so many books that catch my eye I can't resist adding another to the list. When I am looking for my next read, and none of the books in the house are hitting the spot, I pull up the online list. However, many of the books have been on there so long I have no idea where I heard about them, or what grabbed my attention in the first place. I end up reading synopsis after synopsis to jog my memory.

The last few years I have tried to read 30 books a year. I came close in 2018, but haven't ever been quite able to reach the magic (arbitrary) number. 


In 2021 I read 21 books. Nice numeric repetition there, but in a year when I had so much time on my hands, and so much desire to get out of my own head, I wish I had read more. 

So much of it is habit. I won't deny it is harder to read these days. I am, like so many others, easily distracted by my phone, the TV, and other shiny things to scroll through. I used to be able to fall into a book so much more easily. Didn't matter if I was in a crowded coffee shop filed with people and chatter - I could shut it all out. Not so much these days. There is this constant background hum tapping on my attention's shoulder. 

Along with the urge to get the miles in during the last week of December, I was also trying to read a bunch. I wanted to try and re-forge the habit before work would once again get crazy in January, and hibernation week did make it a bit easier. I have been reading books on my Kindle lately and I saw this thing pop up on my phone.



May as well keep the streak going. I am going to try and read every day in 2022. It may not be many pages on some days (hello tax season) but I want to commit to reading this year. I know it will be good for me, moments of quiet in a noisy world. 

I have some other pseudo resolutions in mind for the year, one of which is to keep writing here and hopefully elsewhere, but we'll start with reading. If you have any recommendations for books that you loved, let me know and I will add them to the digital pile. I will try and get a few off the To be Read list to make room. 

January 8, 2022

Moments of light in a rather dark, two-year-long year

 2021 felt like a terrible sequel to an already bad movie. 

Inspired by a post a friend put up at the end of 2020, I tried to come up with a list of good things that happened during the year. It was a nice exercise to find the good in a year when everything was turned upside down for everyone, the whole world really. While I didn't expect that things would be back to "normal" in 2021, I guess I figured it would at least be a little better. 

Yeah, no. Every dumpster fire can burn a little brighter.

I do my best to focus on the positive, but man it is tough sometimes, in some years. Beyond the *gestures broadly* of all we have been going through the past two years, there were more personal struggles and losses this year. Life will never be the same in a lot of ways.

Pain should not be compared, but my year was a blip compared to others. I worry about a friend struggling through long-Covid, while so, many, people bitch about the smallest inconvenience. Essential workers, once praised, are now just stretched thin, mostly forgotten. Homes lost to fires and floods amplified by climate change. Science and reality denied. Democracy seems more fragile than ever before. The ability to find common ground and any light at the end of the tunnel seems so far off. I don't want to bright-side any of it.

But I also don't want to focus on the darkness. None of the things below are about finding silver linings in adapting to the new normal. Just small moments that I would like to remember. 

In February I tuned in to "watch" the rover land on Mars. I was certainly interested in it, but didn't feel all that invested. However, when it touched down safely, I wept at my desk. February was really hard watching Mom go downhill so fast, and somehow all the things going just right, millions of miles away, to make the Perseverance land safely, broke me in the best way.

There were a couple of times that music grabbed my heart when I wasn't expecting it. I was watching a virtual concert put on by Brandi Carlile and the twins. It was a casual thing, the three of them set up in her house. She played through the album "The Story" and the last/hidden track (remember hidden tracks?) is "Hiding My Heart". I had listened to the album and song many times, but listening to it 'live' made me hear it for the first time. It cracked me open for some reason that night.

The other time was with the song "Ablaze" by Alanis Morrisette. It is a song about a mother and her kids, and I had always listened to it as an imagined parent. I mentioned to it my friend when she was pregnant and hoped it resonated with her. Then it happened to come on the day before Mom's memorial while I was walking Izzy on a work break. It was the first time I listened to the song as a child rather than as an imagined parent. A song I already loved hit me in a new way. I was weeping again, needing to take Izzy on a longer walk than planned. 

To my boy, my precious, gentle warrior
To your sweetness and your strength in exploring
May this bond stay with you through all your days
My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze

And of course, a big bright spot of the year was seeing those great friends have their first baby. We shared in their excitement as the day approached, and it has been wonderful to see their new family form and grow. Love and hope. And the cutest kid by the way. 

There were other good moments like my trip to San Diego. Seeing friends after years apart. So much to catch up on, but picking up like no time had passed. The walks by myself in the sunshine and remembered beauty. Seeing different people finding the same favorite spot on consecutive days to let the waves wash them clean.

 Vaccines, boosters, the North Bend Beer Runners, family at Crescent Bar, golf with friends, music on Twitch, walking in the snow, and a friend's engagement on New Year's Eve. So many good things. Lights holding back the darkness.

May there be moments large and small that make 2022 a little bit brighter for all of us.





January 2, 2022

Hibernation week

The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve always feels like some sort of limbo. School is out, many people take the week off of work, and there is sort of a emotional hangover from Christmas, that often leads into the more typical hangover of the New Year. This year was no different, while being quite different. 

Unlike 2020, there were some cautious gatherings in 2021. At the annual Keg Christmas party, I wore a mask the whole evening. At the Christmas Eve gathering with friends, everyone had to show a negative Covid test to get in the door, particularly since there would be young children there unable to get a vaccine shot. At the family Christmas gathering, all were vaccinated and many took Covid tests prior to arriving. 

Covid still found a way. A family member started feeling poorly and tested positive Monday morning (Christmas was on Saturday). He was vaccinated and boosted, and fortunately it appears to be a mild case for him. 

The Seattle area received a bunch of snow on the day after Christmas. This is not all that unusual, but what was unusual was how cold it was going to be all week. The snow would be sticking around for a while, and the roads were very icy. I was already debating going into the office on Monday because of the roads, but the possible Covid exposure sealed the deal. Staying home.

I isolated for the week. I had used the last of my home Covid test kits on Christmas, and the stores were sold out of them. All the local test sites were overrun by people in my situation, and the snow made things worse since several of the sites could not open. I was able to get an appointment on Thursday thanks to a friend constantly refreshing a website and snagging someone else's cancelled appointment for me. I fortunately tested negative. 

I had planned a week off for vacation earlier in the month, but a workmate had emergency surgery so I stayed in town to help out at the office. With the snow/Covid situation keeping me at home, I had a bit of a staycation instead. 

I walked around the neighborhood a bunch. Though Izzy acts like she will melt if rain touches her, she absolutely loves the snow. Though we had walked them a hundred times before, each street looked a little different in the snow. Kids, and kids at heart, took over the streets and parks to sled, and there seemed to be a little surprise around every corner. 

I shut off my alarm clock for a week. I read, finishing one book I liked and another that was just OK. I did a bit of writing, played a video game I hadn't played in a decade, and ate way too much brie and other appetizers left over from Christmas. Probably no coincidence that I gained five pounds in December. New Year's Eve was spent alone at home with wine and pizza, but with friends sending videos back and forth throughout the evening. 

It wasn't the vacation I had planned, but being forced to slow down for a week at home had its bright spots.  










January 1, 2022

Updating Share the Road

I wrote a novel, and (self) published it ten years ago today. 

Three years ago I re-read it while on vacation, and decided to do it with a pen in hand. I circled a few typos, noted some words that were repeated a little too close to each other, and crossed out/added some commas.  And then set that marked up copy aside. 

Since it was ticking over to a nice round number of ten years this New Year's Day, I decided to fix those things.  That is one of the bonuses of self-publishing and print on demand. You can go back and tweak things, upload a new manuscript, and any new purchase will get the updated version.

The most difficult part was that I wasn't sure I still had the original "final" version saved anywhere. I had a ton of copies of the Word files that I had saved after every day of original writing, and a number of versions after the rewrites and revisions. What I didn't have was a Word file that said, "This is the final, final version you published." I had also had an unfortunate incident where I managed to overwrite both my computer and a backup drive in one day. I am still missing a big chunk of 2012 - 2015. Years of photos, and possibly a book, gone into the ether. There was definitely some swearing that day.  

Anyway, through downloading a pdf from Amazon and converting it to Word, and doing an automated comparison, I managed to find a formatted Word doc that was very close to the final version. 

I fixed those typos and minor word issues while resisting the urge to rewrite the whole thing. I would guess that it is pretty typical of anyone who writes, you are never completely satisfied with what you have written, so I could get in a cycle of rewriting it every time I read it. Best to leave it as it was, how I was, when it was written. 

That said, along with making some changes in comma and word choice, I can remember one deleted sentence, another re-written one, and a paragraph I changed during the update that had always bothered me. The changes are small enough that they may not be noticed by someone else, but enough for me to "fix" since I was making an update anyway. 

So, consider this my once a decade promotion to buy my book. You can find the paperback here as well as the Kindle version here.



 

December 30, 2021

Planning for failure, and still falling short

 So to recap from my last post (you may want to read it first), I:

  • Went to the Oceanside Half Iron seriously under-trained.
  • Planned not to do the run, so I was never going to "finish".
  • Still had mild delusions of grandeur.
  • Had a tough go of the swim, including five minutes of cramping and treading water.

The last leg of the swim was in the harbor and was more protected, so the water was less choppy. I swam slowly, trying not to set off another cramp, and made my way toward the boat ramp and finish line. Even with my slow going, there were still plenty of other swimmers around me, so at least I wasn't going to finish dead last.

I reached the boat ramp and was finally able to stand up again. Instead of heading across the finish line and timing mat, I made my way to the small dock to the right of the ramp. I was very nauseous and did not trust myself to stay upright. A volunteer was at my side almost immediately and asked what was wrong. I said I just needed a few minutes, but she stayed by my side. 

When the nausea did not pass, they encouraged me to get up on the dock. As soon as I did, I felt like throwing up, so I stretched out flat on the dock. Then my leg started cramping again. When that cramp settled down, another would fire up. I spent a long time vibrating in pain, flopping around like a fish out of water, all the while trying to roll over on my stomach so I could throw up (never did though). 

Medical staff was there, again almost immediately. They kept asking what was wrong, but I was at the mercy of the pain of misfiring muscles, and couldn't get out much more than a couple of words. Calves and hamstrings seized and cramped while they tried to stretch things out. I felt helpless, though I was surrounded by people trying to help. 

After what seemed like ten minutes, they got me upright and walked me to the medical tent. They set me down on a cot, asked questions, and peeled off my wetsuit so they could take my blood pressure. Various muscles would cramp, but things were starting to settle down. I eventually sat up, and they handed me a Gatorade to get some sugar and electrolytes in my system. 

In the cot next to me was another swimmer. I am not great at guessing ages, but she was probably my age or maybe a bit older. She was shivering violently as the medical staff tried to warm her up. I saw her hand trembling and reached out to hold it. I just wanted to let her know someone was there. I put my head down and started weeping. 

I held her hand for a while. Her body stopped shaking quite so much and was down to a slow shiver.  I left my cot to free up space in case there was someone else who needed it. I gathered up my wetsuit and goggles, thanked everyone I could make eye contact with, and limped back out to where my bike was parked. Someone asked if I was planning on riding and I laughed. No, my day was done. 

It probably wasn't all that cold, but I was shivering in my wet clothes. I had sent off my dry clothes to the finish line, but fortunately I had left a hoodie behind. I dried up the best I could, put on my running (walking) shoes and made my way out of the transition area. I had about three hours to kill before my buddies would be finished with their bike ride. 

I found some breakfast, found a pub with some tables right next to the course, chatted with another person waiting to cheer on a friend, and sent texts to the people who were following me online to let them know why my tracker wasn't moving. And I tried to digest what had just happened. 

After talking to someone later, I think I had a rush of adrenaline when I was cramping and treading water, and my body did not have time to clear it until I hit dry land. As soon as I was safe, it crashed down on me, and my body let me know in no uncertain terms that I needed to listen to it. 

Ironman has a pretty good tracking app so I was able to estimate when my buddies would be passing by. I saw both of them come in on the bike and then head out for the run. I walked along the course toward the finish line to pick up my dry clothes, and spectators kept cheering me on as if I was still a participant. After the first few it was just easier to thank them rather than explain what was going on. 

I was able to see my buddies a couple of times on the run course, and then headed to the finish line to watch people come in. A finish line is really something special. All the stories of how their day went, and what it took to get there, are often written on their face. I cheered every one of them on. Some were coming in strong, some were stumbling. Some wore a face of determination, others you could tell were about to cry. When they cried, I cried. 

When my buddies crossed the line, we swapped stories of our days, the good and the bad. That part is always great. People run the same course, but everyone runs a completely different race. 

After having time to think about my experience, I don't really regret trying. I was never going to do the run, so it was always going to be a DNF (Did Not Finish) for me. It took the pressure off of any sort of goal time or performance. I planned to take it really easy. I wanted to just enjoy participating at an event after more than a year and a half of shutdown, and doing the event with friends. 

Still...

Grit has carried me through difficult events before, but grit and determination can only go so far. I never want to show up that unprepared again. I think I am also done with any event that involves an ocean swim. Difficult events always involve a bit of suffering, but I don't ever want to have that feeling again of hating what I am doing. Now in the future when I utter the phrase, "Well, I've done stupider things...", I think this will be the 'thing' that pops to mind

I hope to never eclipse it. 

December 29, 2021

Well, I've done stupider things...

The phrase in the title is something we say/sort of a meme in our biking group. It is not quite to the level of "Hold by beer", but we say it when we are about to do something, shall we say, not well thought out. 

It started on a ride in Wenatchee. We had all signed up for a 100 mile bike ride, but we weren't in the best of shape, and the temperatures were going to be pushing 100 as well. We agreed that we would ride out about halfway and call it good. The turn around point would be at a small rest area after a gradual climb. The road after that was a very steep downhill that of course we would have to climb up on the way back. 

I don't remember whose bright idea it was to press on once we got there, but I wasn't excited about the decision. But I said, "Well, I've done stupider things..." as I agreed to follow the leader. It ended up being a long, hot day, but we made it through and up that hill, and had more stories to tell. 

My experience at the Oceanside Half Ironman back in October may have set a new bar for stupid decisions for pressing on when unprepared. 

As I have mentioned before, I had signed up for three triathlon events in 2020. All were postponed eventually to 2021. The Oceanside event had actually been postponed three times - March 2020 to October 2020, to March 2021, to October 2021. I hadn't been running this year because of lingering pain, that I eventually found out was arthritis in my hip. I pushed the other triathlons into 2022 in the hopes physical therapy would help, but I decided not to push the Oceanside event. 

I decided to go mostly to see my friends. Plus the re-scheduled date was in March of 2022, so less time for PT and, well, tax season. I still couldn't run, so I thought maybe I could do the swim and bike this time around, and then just step off the course. Problem was that along with not running all year, I had not done any swimming or biking either. It was part of the mental tailspin I was going though, with a side of laziness. After wrapping up tax season on October 15th, I had basically ten days to get in "shape".

I hit the pool a few times and went on two bike rides. The first swim was ugly, but the last couple went pretty well. The bike rides were less encouraging, but if I didn't make the time cut off, so be it. I was already planning on not finishing the event by skipping the run. 

Once I got down there though, talking with my buddies who were doing the race as well, expectations started to rise. Maybe if I didn't implode on the bike, I would have enough time to brisk walk my way through the run course. It was a two lap course, so I should at least be able to make it through one lap before the time cutoff. 

The morning of the race was that regular mix of excitement, anticipation, and standing around. The swim was a rolling start, and we had put ourselves toward the back of the line based on our anticipated pace. It was a really long wait, but eventually the three of us hit the water at about the same time. It went pretty sideways from there. 

It was a beach start into the ocean, and I had a tough time making it through the surf. Two strokes forward, get thrown back two. I saw a guy hanging onto a surfboard hurling into the ocean, so I wasn't the only one getting beat up. By the time I made it through the surf, I was tired, frustrated and had drifted offline for the course. With the continuing chop in the water, it was hard to see where I was going, and I couldn't find a rhythm. I said to myself more than once, "I hate every minute of this." I have never felt that way in any previous event. 

I kept swimming, trying to keep on course, trying to find a rhythm. The course was basically a square around a peninsula. Head out from the beach, hang a right to parallel the beach, another right to go past the point, and another right to swim in the harbor behind to the boat launch. About two thirds of the way through the third leg, I had a massive cramp in my right calf. 


The cramp stopped me in my tracks. I tried to get vertical so I could tread water, but the buoyancy of the wetsuit made it difficult to get my legs underneath me. I was not bashful about screaming because it, hurt, so, bad. Pretty quickly a swimmer offered to let me hang onto them, but I let him go on. There was a volunteer on a surfboard within shouting distance (and I was certainly shouting), but he never came over. It felt like it took five minutes for the cramp to go away as I tried to relax through panic, and for a fleeting second I thought, I could drown in sight of land. 

The cramp eventually settled down, and I slowly made my way around the rest of the course, swimming gingerly toward the boat launch and finish line. But the worst was yet to come. 

To be continued

September 9, 2021

9/9/2021


Twenty years ago today was the day I got married. Still one of the better, in the moment, days of my life, surrounded by family and friends. Of course the nation would change two days later, and then a much smaller part of it some seven years later.

Twenty years further down the road, feelings and lives have changed. Gray hairs, new friends, regrets, adventures, new memories. But that time will always be part of me, in those old memories, in the lessons and discovery as our two roads diverged, in the hope we will always do better each time we try. 


September 1, 2021

No illusions

Sometimes I like to say out loud, "I am about to make a bad decision," just to hang a lantern of self-awareness on it, even if it is just my dog and myself that hears it, before I press on through. 

August 26, 2021

You belong, among the wallflowers

 This popped up in the old Facebook memory feed today.


Yep, still awkward. 

Natural introvert, I have done my best to feel more comfortable with people and crowds by jumping in feet first (on rare occasions to be honest). I have been blessed for my efforts almost every time. I guess the first major plunge was the charity bike ride down the Pacific Coast back in 2006. Didn't know a soul, but ended the two week ride feeling like I had known many of the riders most of my life. 

The more recent one is the North Bend Beer Runners. Again, didn't know a soul, but showed up alone, ready to run, less ready to mingle. As per usual, I built it up in my head, it is a totally welcoming group, and I have been rewarded over and over with community and friendship for just showing up that first time. I feel comfortable most of the time, but still almost every Thursday in the time before we start running, and the first fifteen minutes of gathering together afterward, I am the picture of the awkward wallflower. I don't know why this feeling persists, but it does.

If you see me in the corner, know I am doing my best to work my way out of it.

August 25, 2021

Stop talking yourself out of it

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

~ Martha Graham


August 7, 2021

The road ahead looks very different

 In 2019 I took up triathlon. It was something I had been meaning to do for years. I suppose it seemed somewhat inevitable after running and biking for the past fifteen years. An Ironman had been a bucket list kind of item for years, but procrastination postponed my getting in the pool and tying the sports together. Inevitable or not, it felt shiny and new. 

And I loved it. 2019 was the most excited I had been about sport and exercise since I suppose my peak efforts between the fall of 2012 and the summer of 2013 (marathons on two consecutive days, then one-day STP and Ramrod a week apart). In the summer of 2019 I went from Googling triathlon information to doing a sprint distance, an Olympic distance and a half Ironman distance within three months.

I was hooked, and excited for the following year. I ultimately signed up for two Half Ironmans and one full Ironman for 2020. Then of course, 2020 happened. "And then 2020 happened" has been said and written thousands of times, and I have a feeling it will stay in the vernacular for a long time. 

Things didn't get cancelled all at once, so there was training and cautious excitement for a few months. Then as it became clear that the show(s) would not go on, I found some other challenges and reasons to stay on the road and in (relative) shape.

And then 2021 happened.

After a run on January 5th, I was sick for several days. These days whenever I feel off, I fear the worst, but thankfully the Covid test came back negative. At the same time, Mom had been growing more sick since Thanksgiving. I had been going over to their house four nights a week to help out, and with each visit it was more difficult to have hope. The visits and tax season hours made getting in a run more difficult, but I think the lack of hope spilled over into feelings of "why even bother." I didn't run another step until late March.

When I started running again, everything seemed to hurt. This is pretty typical after a long layoff, but it wasn't just that sort-of-satisfying muscle soreness from getting in a workout. The pain that lingered started with what I thought was a hip flexor issue. I took time off, I stretched, I massaged with a foam roller, and when none of that worked, I tried running through it. Running through it has worked at times in the past, but not this time.

The pain then spread and increased in frequency. My right thigh muscle would quiver and I would occasionally get shocking pain in my right hip and IT band, buckling my leg out from underneath me. My body was failing me, and the hopeless feeling settled in. 

After trying all I could think of on my own to improve things, I finally decided to go to the doctor. I was due for a check up anyway, so I could ask about my leg pain while taking care of that. My previous primary care doctor had recently moved out of state, so it took some time and hoop-jumping-through to get a new doc and appointment. 

I saw the doctor on Tuesday. He already had my bloodwork results, and other than cholesterol that is a bit high (but not high enough to require medication), nothing was out of order. We chatted a bit about other health items, and I received a general thumbs up for my health as a 54 year old. 

We started talking about the leg pain I had been experiencing. At the outset he suggested physical therapy, and honestly getting a referral was another reason for my visit. He then checked my range of motion, find where I would grimace in pain, poked and prodded while asking additional questions. He thought it was unusual that the pain had been going on for this long, so he recommended getting an X-ray. I walked down the hall and took care of it immediately.

To too late cut a long story short, the doctor called an hour or so later and told me that they found that I have moderate to severe arthritis in my right hip. Googling told me that moderate is level 3 and severe is level four. The scale only goes up to four.

I took the news pretty hard. I don't know what this means long term for my mobility, and more specifically my running. As I have written about for years on this blog, running is a big part of my life, a big part of who I am. It of course has made me physically stronger, and I have relished taking on challenges, seeing how the limits I think I have can be pushed through. Running has also done wonders for my mental well being, and I have already been suffering the consequences of its absence these past six months. 

Running was also a big part of my future plans. I would complete that Ironman. I would notch that 20th marathon, and then keep going. I would see what all the talk about ultras was about. I would do that relay run, splitting some 200 miles between twelve (or maybe even six) companions. I still want to be that 70 year old guy that shows up at the local 5k every year. I want to see more start lines. Beyond running, I want to continue to backpack and take on the Wonderland Trail someday (if they ever grant me a permit).

After the doctor's call, I left work early and went for a walk. I walked the Kirkland waterfront and rail-to-trail loop that I have used so often on my training runs. As my mind spun, I tried to begin processing what it meant, what I was feeling. To find my feet, as it were. In those first few hours, all I could see was loss, and hope fading once again.

I left the trail to return to the waterfront, randomly turning down a street I had not walked on before. A couple of blocks later, I saw this book in the planting strip by the curb.


Well played universe. Well played.

I was fortunate to get an appointment with a physical therapist the next day (there was a last minute cancellation). The PT was not ray of sunshine, "we can conquer anything" enthusiastic about things, but he was encouraging. The PT did his own evaluation of my mobility, walked me through some recommended exercises, and put our next two appointments on the calendar. I tried not to press him for outcomes so soon in the process. He did hint that marathons may be in the past, but he did not write off running entirely.

This is all new. To be frank, I am still working through the freaking out/distraught stage of things, but I am moving toward finding the path forward. It will take a different kind of hard work. My training calendar will be filled with more PT exercises than events, but I will also be squeezing in more non-impact biking and swimming than planned. 

Yes, I am happy and fortunate to have generally good health, and there have certainly been larger losses for me this year, but this still hurts, and I am going to sit with it for a bit. 

June 13, 2021

Dry spells

A friend of mine announced in December that she was pregnant. A few of us were at their house to have a sort of a pod-safe gathering ahead of Christmas when they told us the news. After some cheering and rule-breaking hugging, we talked about what life would be like for them in the year ahead.

This being our biking group, we quickly recognized that the due date was right around the time we were signed up to ride Ramrod in July. The soon-to-be father was obviously out, and the rest of us more or less decided that we would train, but if the baby decided to show up on race day, we would skip the ride to be at the hospital. 

As we continued to chat, the mom-to-be mentioned that she had been filling the fridge with new non-alcoholic beverages to replace the wine and beer she was giving up, and she asked for other drink suggestions. I suggested we all give up drinking for January as a small show of support. 

I have participated in "Dry January", no alcohol for the month, a number of times. It is a reset after the holiday indulgence, and a check-in to make sure that setting drinking aside is as easy as it should be. This time around, even though it followed nine months of sheltering in place where drinking was more of a temptation, it was remarkably easy. 

I did have one slip up mid-month. My brothers and I had found a restaurant with an open outdoor patio, and we got together to discuss Mom's current condition, and I suppose to check in on each other as well. We were about an hour in when I shared that I had given up drinking for January. I said this while taking a sip of my second beer. 

I had just completely spaced, falling into a routine, I suppose highlighting that habits run along in the background unless we consciously make the effort to change them. I wasn't giving into a craving, just drinking without thinking. I added on four or five "dry" days at the beginning of February to offset the slip up. 

Unfortunately, three better habits have also gone dry this year. A slight modification of the grade school three Rs they are Reading, Writing and Running. These three habits are a big part of what keeps me healthy in both body and mind. My writing has obviously been neglected for quite some time, but through the 2020 part of the pandemic, I managed to keep up the other two when the world was turned upside down and making less and less sense. I was able to read 26 books last year, and though I had grander plans, I ran semi-regularly and covered a little over 500 miles. 

2021 has been an absolute struggle on all three fronts, and to be honest I am just plain struggling. I'll pick up on the running dry spell in the next post. 


March 16, 2021

A eulogy for Mom, a first of many

 In the Leaving by Jan Richardson

In the leaving,
in the letting go,
let there be this
to hold onto
at the last:

the enduring of love,
the persisting of hope,
the remembering of joy.

the offering of gratitude,
the receiving of grace,
the blessing of peace.


When I first started to think about what I would say here today, it was just overwhelming. How do you sum up a person in a few paragraphs or pages? It is a difficult thing to look for the light in dark times, but there have been some small blessings in the past week or two. As part of this process, we were encouraged to tell stories. One story led to another, and it was just nice to talk about Mom, and what she meant to me, and to our family.

There are a few memories that have stuck with me always, but in getting to talk about Mom over the past week, random stories would pop up that I hadn't thought about in years. And while I was thinking of stories to tell, little coincidences would pop up to provide a little wonder and mystery.

One of the silly memories that Jim mentioned was about the bucket of rocks. Mom and Dad would take us on hikes as kids. We of course grumbled about it most of the time, because we were kids. But more than the aluminum frame backpacks, and the false promise that the lake was just over the next hill, the thing that I remember most is Mom coming back with a pocket full of rocks. It was like she was bringing back a little talisman that carried the memory of the time and the place. Soon there were a couple of gallon-sized, plastic ice cream tubs full of them sitting in the garage. She could no longer match a rock to a memory, but I don't suppose that really mattered. The collection of rocks was just a way of marking days well spent.

Mom was not big on speeches or hitting you over the head with spelled-out lessons. She was more subtle, making you sort of work them out for yourself. I remember her somehow weaving in a lesson on empathy when she was teaching me how to drive. Consider others always, see things that they are seeing. But she mostly taught me things by example, by living in a caring way. She had this calm presence, a grounded way that I have tried to emulate.

I was walking through a park an hour or two before she passed, looking at bare trees, gathering my thoughts, and listening to a podcast. Toward the end of the episode, Sister Helen said, "The only way I know what I really believe, is by keeping watch over what I do."

Don’t get me wrong, Mom was no Buddha always floating on a sea of Zen. I remember her chewing out a theater manager when a scene was cut out of the movie The Fiddler on the Roof, and she could write a letter of complaint with the best of them. But she didn’t seem to seek out irritation, and even when she found it, she didn’t hang onto it for very long.

There is one memory that has always stuck with me. It was Christmastime several years ago, when Mom and Dad were living in their house above Eastgate. I was over at the house, Mom was working on something in the kitchen, and "It's A Wonderful Life" was on in the family room. This movie always hits me right in the feels, and I try and watch it every season. I don't remember what scene it was, or exactly what Mom said, but the gist of it was "I don't think when I look back on my life, that I will have had that much of an impact."

I know I said something to the effect that impacts can seem small and hardly noticed at the time, but that all those little moments add up. You can never know what chain of events can be set off with the simplest of actions or moments of kindness. And of course that is the lesson of the movie. George Bailey has no idea what a hole there would be if he had never existed.

While this memory was running through my head, I walked into Mom’s room at hospice. The TV was typically tuned to a station of relaxing music with occasional quotes popping up on the screen, but the TV was off when I walked in. When I turned it on the first quote read, "To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world."

I know Mom had an impact on far more people than she could have imagined, but of course I will always remember what she did for me specifically in all those small moments. Everything she did to make me who I am. All the strength that she gave me. I knew no matter how I faltered in this life, Mom would be there in my corner, believing in me when I simply couldn't.

She will live on in the way that I walk through this life. She will be there in every decision I make, every time I offer a small kindness, every time I try to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

One of the things she taught me in that pile of rocks was that if a rock had a band of different colored minerals encircling it, that it was considered a wish rock. Though I have Mom's tendency to be a sentimental packrat, I have resisted collecting a bucket full myself, but when I am hiking these days I will occasionally pick up a rock, and I have a few wish rocks on a shelf at home.

My wish is that we keep our hearts and minds open, and not shut off in pain. May we continue to see those little reminders and strange coincidences that bring her to mind. May the stories we tell and retell keep her alive in the hearts of those she loved, and those that loved her. May those little reminders and stories bring us joy, even when we don't feel like we are ready for it.

May she have felt love in all her days, and may that love sustain us in all of ours.

There is a saying that goes "Every dog owner thinks that their dog is the best. And they are all correct."

I suppose the same goes for Moms. My Mom was the best.




February 7, 2021

That time I could've died young

There are times in our lives where you dodge the worst, and wonder if there isn't someone out there looking out for you. If you had left your house a moment earlier or later, you would have been in that car crash you narrowly missed. If you hadn't caught your balance at the last minute, you could have pitched off the roof. If someone hadn't grabbed your collar, you would have walked mindlessly into traffic.

One of those moments was when I was a kid, flying a kite. I don't remember why I was flying a kite on that day. I don't have any solid memories of flying one before this day, or any day after it. Anyway, some random afternoon I was in my neighborhood having some stereotypical Leave it to Beaver childhood fun. 

It surprises me to remember that I ever got that kite off the ground. My limited memory of kite flying is that it is a massive pain in the butt to get the thing airborne, and I can't imagine how I did it alone. Somehow I did, and it took me down the street and up into a nearby cul-de-sac. And then into the power lines. 

Rather than walk away from a ten dollar toy, or more likely not wanting to leave trash behind, I tried to figure out how to get it down. Then I remembered that we had a tree pruner in the garage. If you don't know what a tree pruner is, it is a sevenish foot pole with a long cord attached to a set of pruners to cut branches that are far out of reach. If the branches are are too thick for the pruner, there is a large saw blade on the end. 

When I went to the Home Depot website to swipe this picture, I found out the poles are made of fiberglass now. Back then, the pole was metal. People are smarter now (sometimes). 

I first grabbed a ladder and then went back for the tree pruner. I remember trying to manage this heavy and unwieldy tool, ready to cut the kite string away from the power lines. I assumed the power lines were wrapped in some form of insulation. It seemed ridiculous that they wouldn't be, and of course I had seen birds on the lines all my life. I did not understand electricity, or what grounding meant. Truth be told, I still don't totally understand it.

Anyway, there I was, ready to extend this metal pole to touch the live wire. Then someone stopped me. A neighbor not quite ran out of his house, but did a solid power walk to stop me. He didn't yell, didn't make me feel stupid, didn't grab me by the shoulders and shake into me how dangerous and possibly deadly this was. In what seemed a perfect dad-like delivery he said something like, "looks like you got your kite stuck up there."

He also didn't tell me to just go home and call the kite a loss. He had me put down the tree pruner and we walked to his garage. He grabbed a fishing pole, some duct tape, and a steak knife. He duct taped the steak knife to the end of the fishing pole, and then taped the bamboo fishing pole to the tree pruner. Back to the ladder, he rather deftly cut away the kite string from the power line with this now fifteen foot contraption, and sent me away. If it was Leave it to Beaver, he would have tousled my hair. 

I didn't understand the bullet I had dodged until many years later when I found out that power lines are unprotected, and birds can die if they ground themselves by touching something other than the power line. I didn't recall ever meeting this neighbor before this day, and I don't know that I ever saw him again, but he may have saved my life that afternoon. Since I didn't understand the significance of what had just happened, I doubt I even told my parents about it.

I don't know what the odds were that this mystery neighbor would have been looking out the window at just the right time. I don't believe in guardian angels, destiny or fate, but I also don't want to look too hard behind the veil. Happy to have a little mystery, and be thankful when story ends happily.

January 24, 2021

Mom

 This is a post I have been avoiding writing. In a similar way, when my marriage was crumbling I didn't write about it publicly, maybe hoping to put off the inevitable outcome, and keeping it to myself in the meantime. But like so many things I have written about here, avoidance and trying to go it alone only leads to deeper troubles. Unable to see most of you in person these days, I will start the process here, beginning to work through it by getting it out of my head and down on paper.

Mom has cancer.

My brothers and I have been meeting once a month off and on over the last couple of years to grab a beer and catch up on life. This has obviously been paused during the pandemic, but in late October a gathering was called, and we were told about the diagnosis. 

She has been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that forms in white blood/plasma cells. It accumulates in, and attacks your bone marrow. It was discovered when my mom was having back pain. After a couple of appointments, they discovered she had some broken ribs. This made them look a little closer, and they found the cancer, which had been basically dissolving the bones. As a strange coincidence, though multiple myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer, this is the same type of cancer that my former father in law had. 

The cancer is in the later stages, and the outlook did not look good on initial diagnosis. Mom was put on a chemo regimen, taking a pill once a day in three week cycles. In the beginning, Mom was in a lot of pain due to the broken ribs. Every movement seemed to hurt, and she was very frustrated. Unfortunately, a few days before Thanksgiving Mom went downhill rapidly. She was lethargic, somewhat unresponsive and been sleeping most of the day. 

She was taken to the hospital the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and was there for a week. We brought her back home, hired in-home healthcare to help during the daytime, and I moved in to help out in the evenings. She briefly improved, but a couple of weeks later she was back in the hospital for another two weeks, coming home the evening of Christmas Day. 

Of course, since this is all happening in a pandemic, she couldn't have any visitors while she was in the hospital. We weren't even allowed in the building, so she was going through this all alone. I can't fully understand what that was like for her. They released her on Christmas, not because she had improved much, but because they weren't getting anywhere in improving her physical health. She was too weak to be moved to skilled nursing care, so home was the only real option.

She has been home again for almost a month now. On one hand, being at home is better for her mental state, and her ribs seem to be mostly healed. However, she is still weak, unable to do much more than lie on the couch during the day, and often has difficulty following trains of thought. Strangely, her decline does not seem to be directly related to the cancer, as those numbers seem to be responding to the chemo. It has basically been diagnosed as "failure to thrive", a phrase that seems to put it all on her (and us). She definitely isn't eating or drinking enough, and that is contributing to the inability to get better. I don't know if it is a confluence of the multiple drugs she is on that is making her not want to eat, or if it is something else.

We are trying our best. There is still a healthcare worker there during the day, and one of the brothers is over there every evening to see Mom, and help Dad out with her evening care. But we are at a loss right now. We aren't seeing any real progress, have fewer answers, and we just generally feel helpless. 

There is much more to process and work through, more detailed stories to tell, but this is a starting point of where we are right now. Thanks for reading, for being a part of my circle, and for being part of the conversation.

As always, hug your humans (when it is safe to do so).