October 31, 2011

Slow road to normal

Sierra made more tentative steps toward her normal self over the weekend. She has some difficulty getting up, but she is walking a bit better each day. She still wears the harness so she has a sort of handle on top that helps me guide her. She veers to the right as she walks, so I have to guide her through narrow passages until we get outside.

The past few nights have been ones of interrupted sleep. Though I have surrounded her bed with blankets and other dog beds, she still manages to scoot her way off of them onto the hardwood floor where she struggles to get up. A few times during the night, I have to pick her up and get her back onto her bed. But I was only up twice last night, and we have graduated to a nightlight instead of the lamp being on all night, so sleep was a little easier.

She tackled her first set of stairs yesterday. She decided to go out back at Kristy's place for some reason, even though she had just been out. I didn't see it, but it sounded like it wasn't too graceful. After taking care of business, she waited at the bottom to be carried up.

Her vision is still below normal, but also improving. She has that vacant look in her eye until you get up close. For this reason, we are blocking off the two steps into the living room while we are gone so she doesn't tumble down them accidentally.

According to the information on Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, much of the progress is made in the first 72 hours. Improvement slows at that point, and it can take a few weeks to get back to close to normal. She of course can't tell me how she feels or where it hurts, so I can only look to the symptoms to make sure she is getting better.

She is eating normally, and has moments of happy panting when she is comfortable, but her tail is down more often than it is up. But she had a nice visit from an out of town friend yesterday, and being showered with love and scrubs behind the ear is the best medicine at this point.

I think we have made it through the toughest part. On to the slow road to normal. Thank you all for your concern, thoughts and prayers. We both appreciate it.

Everyone needs something to lean on from time to time.
And a sheepskin pillow.

October 27, 2011


She is home.

I received an update yesterday morning indicating that she was making slow progress. She had eaten on her own that morning, and the jerky eye movement was a little less prevalent. She was still unable to stand on her own, but they said that if she didn't get worse that I should be able to pick her up in the evening.

They questioned what the home situation was, because she would need to be looked after. I told her that someone was going to be home during the day, so we could keep an eye on her. From everything I had heard, there is little we can do to help her other than keep her safe and let the thing run its course. As long as she was stable, an amateur was about as good as a professional. I wanted her home where she would feel more comfortable, and quite frankly I couldn't afford the continuing charges at the emergency vet.

The evening call revealed that she was still making slow progress. They had taken her outside after she had messed her cage. The doctor said she was able to walk with help, but was not walking "purposefully". I guess that means she wasn't taking the lead and was confused as to why she was out there.

I arrived at about 6:45pm and was handed a stack of paperwork detailing all that had gone on. I have only been through half of it, but there isn't much new information so far. I was given a CD with her chest X-rays, though. After some more time and questions with the tech, they wheeled Sierra out on a gurney. Though she had been able to walk earlier, she was having trouble with the slick tile floors. It was a little disheartening to see her still on a gurney, but I just wanted to take her home.

Kristy and I sat with her in the back of the van for a while to try to calm and reassure her. She still seemed to be lost and wasn't tracking us very well, but she was definitely better than the day before when she was downright panicked.

When I arrived home, I sat with her again as the vet had mentioned that the movement of the car ride would disorient her further. Matt helped me get her out of the car and get her harness on. The harness will act as a handle on her back so we can guide her along. We walked around the yard, and after about ten minutes she seemed to be ready to head inside. Exhausted, she fell asleep in the living room.

She was restless and panting through the night. I had surrounded her with dog beds and carpets in case she decided to get up, and I slept with the light on so we could both have our bearings. At 4:00am she had some water and we went outside, both of which seemed to help. She has eaten and taken care of business this morning. She still needs to be helped up and have a hand on her back to guide her along, but once outside she is walking with purpose.

We are in the wait and see mode. As long as she continues to improve, the diagnosis was likely correct. If she does not get noticeably better over the next few days, more test will need to be run to see if something worse is happening.

But it is good to have her home.

October 26, 2011


Yesterday was scary.

I got a call from my roomie Matt that there was something wrong with my dog. He found her in my room howling and rolling continuously against the wall. She was completely disoriented, and had peed and pooped all over the room. She was panting heavily, couldn't stand, and didn't seem to be able to see him.

By the time I made it home from the jobsite, he had given her some agave syrup, thinking that she was going through a hypoglycemic crash from her diabetes. He had been able to get her up, but she was unstable and was walking in circles. He had put her out on the deck with her bed while he cleaned up the mess in my room.

She was still panting heavily when I arrived, and appeared disoriented and freaked out. Her head lolled to one side, and when she could stand, she leaned heavily to the right, propping herself up against the sliding glass door. She was not very responsive, and could not be calmed by voice or petting.

I carried her out to the truck, but she would not sit in the back seat, essentially throwing herself to the right and onto the floor. Matt let me borrow his minivan, and we got her in the back with her bed. While I drove her to the vet, she lay panting, braced against the back hatch.

Our regular vet sent us on to the emergency hospital without even seeing her. When I arrived at our second stop and described Sierra's condition, they rolled out a gurney. I didn't want to open the hatch for fear that she would just tumble out. I climbed over the back seat and grabbed her harness while the tech opened the hatch. It took considerable effort to hold her back as she pressed hard to roll out to her right.

They took her in and gave me some paperwork to fill out. I was halfway through when Kristy walked in (Matt had called). I was properly freaked out, and as some terrible coincidence had seen a dead dog at the side of the highway as I was driving. I had mostly kept it together to that point, but once I saw Kristy, the tears came.  I don't know why that happens exactly. I guess once there is someone there who cares and can help, the fear you were keeping at bay rushes in and you can feel vulnerable for a moment. I sat in the lobby with Sierra's collar in my hand, waiting for the vet.

The initial diagnosis is Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. According to the vet and this site,
The vestibular system is what gives people, and dogs, their balance, coordination and equilibrium. When dogs develop IVD, their equilibrium becomes disrupted suddenly, dramatically and without warning. The profound symptoms of this disorder can incapacitate the dogs and are frightening for owners, as well.
The vet mentioned that rolling over is common to dogs trying to find their equilibrium, as is rapid irregular eye movements (nystagmus) as they try to track the world that is spinning around them. Unfortunately, “Idiopathic” means of unknown origin, and though the symptoms line up very well, it is generally diagnosed by eliminating other problems. Sierra has already had a chest x-ray (which came back fine) and the blood work is due in this morning.

They don't know what causes IVB, and there is little they can do to speed the recovery. The good news at this point is that if it is IVB, dogs generally recover on their own over a few weeks. There may be lingering symptoms like a head tilt. Sierra stayed overnight and is still there while we wait it out. They have her on antibiotics in case an ear infection set this off, and on anti-nausea meds for the spinning. She is on IV fluids as she was still panting heavily and would not drink. She would not eat initially, but they were able to hand feed her late last night.

She doesn't appear to be in pain, but is understandably confused and freaked out. Matt said the howling was unsettling, and I am sure was a result of Sierra being so scared. It is hard to watch helplessly as anyone suffers. I am worried about my little girl and still a little freaked out. I will let you know when I hear anything more.

First update

Second update

October 25, 2011

...early to rise

5:30 in the morning. A beautiful time to feel so ugly.

I am in the home stretch of the current monthly challenge. I have been getting up at 5:30am weekdays, and 7:00am on the weekends. It hasn't been any easier or more difficult to hear the alarm go off so early, but it is wearing me down physically.

As I suspected, I have had difficulty getting to sleep early enough to get a full night's rest. My body doesn't seem to shut down before 10 or 11, though the backlog of exhaustion has reduced the time between my head hitting the pillow and my eyes closing.

But there have been bright spots in the darkness. The house is so quiet and peaceful this early in the morning, and I am up an hour and a half before the sun. While I think the lack of light could be depressing in the long haul, it feels like that time is mine to use before the day begins.

I have been working on what I hope will be the final edit of the novel each morning, and after a final run-through looking for typos, I think it is ready to be put to bed. On several mornings, I have written for an hour, run for an hour, and still been able to get out the door by 8:00am if necessary. It is a great feeling to get things accomplished before the day really gets going.

I have found the appeal of being a morning person this month. but it is not what my body is built for. I am missing the all important "Early to bed" part that might make me "healthy, wealthy and wise." Through repetition, I could browbeat it into partial submission, but it is ultimately a losing battle and I think my health would eventually suffer.

5:30am is a time all to yourself, and there is beauty there, but staying snuggled up in bed on the weekends is sounding pretty good right now.

October 20, 2011

Picture of the day

So, I am seeing more unusual creatures these days, hanging around with Kristy and Project Wildlife. But look who showed up at work to say hello.

A praying mantis! His head would swivel and track me as I worked on the patio cover, always keeping a compound eye on me.

I had never seen one outside of a zoo or Pixar film. It was pretty cool. And a little creepy.

October 16, 2011

I made a difference to that one

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
To this, the young man replied, "I'm throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it's low tide and they've all been washed up onto the shore. If I don't throw them back into the sea they'll die from lack of oxygen."
Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, "But there must be thousands of starfish on this beach, you can't possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And what about all the other starfish on the other beaches? You can't possibly make a difference!"
The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

The first time I heard the Starfish Story (author unknown), it was on the podcast, Common Sense with Dan Carlin. Dan (a political independent) was using the Starfish Story to describe how people of different backgrounds and political leanings view "Lost Causes". Some look at a problem and feel that it is too big to solve, and that their time and effort is better spent on things that can be completely fixed. Others idealistically plunge ahead believing that if they can just change one life, than it was worth the cost and effort. The Starfish Story was a tidy metaphor.

The second time I heard it, it was more literal and less metaphor. I heard it in connection with Project Wildlife, a non-profit devoted to animal rescue and rehabilitation. Each year, Project Wildlife takes in nearly 10,000 birds and mammals representing 320 species. Wild animals that have been injured, orphaned, or come out of their habitat and into contact with humans. The animals are most often brought in by the public to one of two centers in San Diego County.

Through the spring and summer, a large influx of babies must be nurtured, raised and hand fed by volunteers. The adult animals are brought back to health and released whenever possible. Over 500 people volunteer their time, and over a hundred of those (Kristy included) are rehabilitators who provide pre-release care at their own homes.

Some animals are too injured to fend for themselves, while others have had too much human contact to have the wariness necessary for survival. These are non-releasable and are kept as education animals. They visit schools and other community events to raise public awareness.

Project Wildlife is funded by individual donations, grants and community foundations. Kristy and I attended their big fundraiser two weekends ago. People bought tickets to enjoy an afternoon of wine tastings and food donated by a chef who is also a friend of Project Wildlife. There were silent and live auctions of donated goods with all the proceeds going to support the fight. Some people skipped the auction and gave money for much needed equipment for nothing in return. And the education animals were out to say hello and thank you.

Project Wildlife is one of the largest non-profit wildlife rehabilitation organizations in the United States. They also boast a release rate that is eight percentage points higher than the national average. Hundreds of volunteers spend thousands of hours, and wonderfully supportive patrons spend thousands of dollars to enable this successful effort.

But even though they lead the country, they only succeed 60% of the time. They will never save all the animals that reach their doorstep. They kick ass to save more than half. But every time they go into the woods to release a opossum, or stand on the beach to let a bird fly free, they know, "I made a difference to that one."

For more information, check out their website.

October 11, 2011

The other Sean

I'm not sure which one of us is the Bizarro Sean, but Sean H and I seem to be carbon copies some times, mirror images at other. I just can't lose the guy, not that I am trying.

I ran my tenth marathon on Sunday, and I have finished five of them with Sean. He was the experienced one I could turn to with stupid questions as I prepared for my first in D.C. back in 2006. We had only seen each other a couple of times before then, but we became fast friends. We all set out together, and I finished hand in hand with his wife Marci, who I have run three full marathon with as well.

He is more outgoing and enthusiastic, and loves running more than I do. His passion has carried me to sign up for a number of great events. He and Marci actually went so far as to pay for my registration for the Las Vegas Marathon a couple of years ago. Creating that goal helped me get back out onto the roads and moving forward.

I am slowly catching up in experience, but still count on him for council. We have become each other's sounding board for running and writing over the past year. I can geek out with him about the minutiae, and debate for hours the benefits of one strategy over another. We both benefit from a different point of view, and it spares other friends from listening to us blather on. Mostly.

I suppose our running styles mirror our personalities. He is the rabbit to my tortoise. He plunges ahead, prepared, but pushing the envelope. I am his slow and steady counterpart, but unlike the fable, this rabbit wins 99% of the time. He is encouraging me to push past boundaries I have set up in my mind. I can't know they are there unless I test them.

We both ran the marathon on Sunday. We didn't run side by side because we were running very different races. He went out and set the first half of the race on fire before slowing in the later miles. He finished a solid 8 minutes ahead of me, giving me something else to chase. Not that we are competing, but it somehow helps to see someone you know achieve what you are aiming for. And he quite literally propped me up when I stumbled my way to the finish.

When I am back in Washington, I quickly fall in step with my old running crew. We share encouragements and victories in a flurry of texts in between the face to face meetings. For many of the miles, running is a solitary endeavor, and I enjoy the moments to myself. But there is nothing quite like toeing the line together and sharing the victory.

We both think the matching shirts are a little dorky. We don't always dress alike. Just when we run. Or when we work together. Aw crap.

October 10, 2011

Long Beach Marathon 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Kristy and I stayed overnight with Sean and Marci. We had a lovely dinner with all of the night-before jitters and excitement. Like Christmas Eve, it is all part of the celebration. Unfortunately, Kristy and I had a pretty terrible night's sleep. Not that unusual for the night before, but Kristy felt like she didn't sleep at all.

Up at 4:15am and out the door by 5:00am to get to the start line in Long Beach. Arrived at 6:30am without any traffic hassles, and the ladies dropped us off near the start line before heading off to find a spot on the course. Sean and I stood in the Porta Pottie line for about 20 minutes, only to find no toilet paper. Half our business taken care of, we dashed to the start line in time for the Star Spangled Banner. We split into our separate corrals and wished each other luck.

It was a beautiful morning. I had run the course last year, but was still surprised at how scenic the course was. I wanted to stop to take photos of the water, the Queen Mary, the fire boat shooting a fountain of water, but we were here to run. As I said at the Carlsbad Marathon, there is nothing quite like palm trees at sunrise.

I loosely followed the 3:45 pacer through the winding streets. He was going a little faster than target pace, but it was not uncomfortable. They aim to get you to the finish line with two minutes to spare, and he had a one minute cushion in the first four miles.

At around mile 4, someone ran up next to me and said, "Hey Vegas" (I was wearing my Las Vegas Marathon shirt). It was the guy who was standing behind me in the Porta Pottie line that I had chatted with earlier. One of those crazy coincidental sightings in a crowd of 14,000 runners. Frank and I would chat off and on over the next 10 miles, and I saw him again in the crowd at the finish.

Kristy, Marci and the kids were a great support team. I saw them for the first time just before mile 7. Marci had a tambourine, the kids a cowbell, Kristy was on camera duty, and all were cheering loudly. I had just reached for my Shot Bloks, only to realize they had slipped out of my pocket somewhere. I asked Marci to grab the spare one I had in the car, and she passed it off like a baton at mile 11. They successfully navigated the closed streets to see us at three different points and still made it to the finish line before we did. I know it is hard supporting on race day, even without the 4:30am wake up call, and it makes all the difference. My running buddy Frank was a little jealous.

The course winds on or near the beach until mile 10 before heading inland. The half marathoners split off at mile 11, and the crowd thins significantly. We crossed the halfway mark a minute ahead of schedule for a 3:45 finish. The rolling hills start at around mile 14. They aren't on the map, but they are there. Much of the next ten miles is an out and back course, so you see runners headed toward the finish on the other side of the road.

At mile 17, the course heads onto the campus of California State University at Long Beach. The toughest hill of the course is on the campus, but so is the loudest crowd support. After climbing the first part of the hill, the road turns left and levels out for a stretch before turning back uphill. Even before you round the corner, you can hear the cheers. The students line the street on both sides, funneling the runners through a chute no more than ten feet wide. It is a wall of sound and energy that you can feel, and in a spot where you need it the most.

After leaving the campus, you head back on the road you came in on. The same unmentioned rolling hills are there, but somehow feel bigger on the way back out. This really broke me mentally last year, but knowing they were coming helped tremendously. For a period.

My stomach had started cramping back at mile 14, and my legs shortly thereafter. It became difficult to continue drinking, and I couldn't force myself to eat anything after mile 19. The cramping led to nausea, and the lack of food led to an energy crash. I began to lose the 3:45 pacer, but kept him in sight for a few miles. He was my rabbit to chase, but I would lose ground at each water station when I slowed to drink in what little fluids I could. I lost him completely around mile 24, and then it got ugly.

My legs were as tight as piano strings ready to snap, and it felt like the front of my stomach desperately wanted to push its way out the back. Last year I started slowing earlier, but this year I pressed harder. At mile 24 I was right on pace to finish at 3:45, but I could hold it no longer. I slowed and then walked for the first time at mile 25. A spectator focused in on me and told me to hang on, that I was almost there. I knew he meant well, but I was delirious, smoked, over the line.

When I walked by him he said, "Sean, I am giving you ten seconds to walk, and then you are going to run." I thought, "Ya buddy, not likely." Six or seven seconds later he yelled, "Sean, Run!" And somehow I did.

Well, shuffled probably. It was a death march, but I pressed as hard as I could. According to the web gizmo, 17 people passed me over the last two miles, but I passed 19. I walked once or twice over the next couple of miles, and mustered what I could for the finish. I saw the clock at the finish and tried to give it that extra .5%. It wasn't much, but it was all I had.

Last year was the worst I felt physically after a marathon finish. This year was even worse. I had felt like throwing up for miles, and wanted nothing more than to relieve the pressure. But my body would not unclench and I stumbled around weak and light headed. I later heard there was a medical tent nearby, but I walked by without seeing it. I grabbed a bottle of water and wandered into the finish area.

Sean found me just as I entered the public area, and I nearly fell against him. We made our way to the food area, and I bought a Coke. It had saved my bacon last year, a shot of sugar to a depleted system. I took a few sips but still felt on the edge of losing it. I wandered behind the food service van so I didn't throw up in the public area. I knelt on the ground, hand on the bumper, head down waiting for the wave to pass.

The gal who sold me the Coke saw me and brought over a glass of ice. The ice helped, but I stayed by the bumper for a while longer until I thought it was safe. I made it back to Sean after a few minutes, and the Coke lady took further pity on me and brought an ice cold cloth to put on my neck.

Marci and Kristy found us a few minutes later, and apparently I was still white as a sheet. I haven't seen pictures yet, but maybe I don't want to. They brought a cooler of drinks and food, and I tried to eat something with my second Coke. When I put a pretzel in my mouth, it felt like it sucked all the moisture out of my mouth. I just had to wait it out.

Which we did for a while, swapping stories of our days. The kids had some ice cream while the world stopped spinning in the wrong direction. I started to feel better, and walked around to get the blood flowing to my face again. Sean and I eventually made it to the beer garden for our free beer. The cold, carby liquid seemed to help.

I crossed the finish line in 3:47:44, a new personal best by about four and a half minutes. It was the hardest finish so far, but I feel proud of the way I pressed on through miles 14 to 24 when my body was rebelling. I had run focused, but still took the time to look around at the beautiful scenery and chat with other runners.

Kristy asked me on the drive home, "If you knew you would feel that bad at the finish, would you run the marathon again." A very good question.

I have lots of things to figure out over the next few days and months - what went wrong, what I can do to make sure it doesn't happen again. But the best answer I could give was that I had proven this time that I can push past those nagging voices that tell you to slow down or quit. I have proven that I can take it as far as my body will allow, and maybe a little farther. I don't need to prove anything, and next time I won't push it past that line again. Unless I was seconds away from a Boston Qualifier time, but that is still pretty far down the road at this point.

It was a beautiful day on a scenic course. I felt focused and in the moment. I ran strong but not with tunnel vision. I was blessed with angelic support by people I know and complete strangers. I had some of my strongest and weakest moments in the space of a few hours, and walked away with a new personal best.

Would I do it again? Yes. I plan to rewrite the ending, though.

October 9, 2011

Quote of the day - marathon morning edition

Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do.
The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired...You've always got to make the mind take over and keep going.
~ General George Patton

October 8, 2011

Marathon eve

I will be running my tenth marathon tomorrow, and this is my second time running in Long Beach. Last year, I incorporated speed work and more focused training paces following the FIRST program. I found the structure to be helpful, and the speed work did improve my pace.

But I showed up at the start line worn out and possibly sick. I had intended to double down this time around to see what I was capable of, but ended up taking it easier instead. It was frustrating to prepare so hard last year, only to show up ill(prepared). After a couple of weeks of training, I decided to run more by feel like I used to. I still paid attention to my time, but did not rigidly follow the pacing set out in the program.

The weekend long runs were the same, but I reduced some of the mid-week mileage. I just checked my training calendar from last year, and it looks like I ran about 15% fewer miles this time around. Same number of runs, just fewer miles.

One of the additional things that seemed to fail me last year was my fueling. I crashed hard at the finish line, desperately low on energy. The past few weeks, I have switched what I eat during runs. I am swapping in Shot Bloks for gels, and the more solid food seems to sit a little better on my stomach. Against the oft quoted "never try anything new on marathon morning" advice, I am going to try something I picked up at the expo yesterday for breakfast. The PR* Bar is supposed to level your blood sugar and let you tap in more easily to body fat as a fuel source. Marci tried it earlier this year, and thought it helped. And PR stands for "Personal Record", though I don't like the unexplained asterisk that follows.

This marathon will be a test of a few theories. Of course there are so many factors that affect your performance on a particular day, so there won't be any clear answers. But I am running pretty well, and a little faster over all. I am also five pounds lighter than I was at the start line last year, so there is less to drag for 26.2 miles. I am hoping that by running by feel and listening more closely to my body, I will get to the start line feeling more rested.

If you are up early tomorrow and want to follow along, you should be able to track me here. It should plot my progress on a map, and show my average pace. My best pace at a marathon was 8:52 per mile back in January. I am hoping to beat it, and ideally come in at around an 8:35 pace.

The gun goes off at 7:05am. We will see what the day brings. I plan to enjoy it no matter what.

October 5, 2011

Life is a Marathon

The magic of marathon day, support when you need it the most.

Everyone should experience a cheering crowd.

October 3, 2011

Good morning Merry Sunshine

Morning people. Who can understand them. Bouncing around before the sunrises, chipper to a point of needing to be punched. I certainly can't.

Friends and longtime readers know that I am not a morning person. I have great difficulty falling asleep before 11:00 or midnight, and my deepest sleep is the hour or two before the alarm goes off. As a teen, my alarm clock was something of an air raid siren, but most mornings I did not hear it going off inches from my head. My mother would hear it from the other end of the house, and after it was ignored for too long, come to my room to wake me.

I am not as bad these days. My alarm is really just a radio at low volume. Most mornings, the pooch wakes me with the click, click, click of her nails before it goes off anyway. But I am still coming out of my deepest sleep, and it is painful to rise.

The jobs I have had for much of my life have not required me to be up very early. There were exceptions, like  the year I had the morning shift at McDonald's. When I worked as a deck builder, I was up pretty early to get to the jobsite by 8:00am. But I would stay in bed as late as possible, leaving the house ten or fifteen minutes after waking up. Even after six or seven years, the morning routine did not stick. I would stay up late most nights and sleep in on weekends to try and catch up.

I could probably sleep in until 8:30 or 9:00 these days and still make it in to work on time, but the pooch generally wakes me up at 7:00. It still feel like crap every morning, but after a year and a half she has forced the routine. I have time to have breakfast and read the paper, and I have come to appreciate the chance to wake slowly instead of greeting the world at a dead run. On the rare occasion that I am up before dawn, usually race morning, I love the quiet hush of twilight, voices at a whisper so as to not chase it away.

When I was a child, my Mom used to wake me with a whisper of "Good Morning Merry Sunshine". These days it would be said ironically to my half-asleep, grumpy face. I am not morning person, but I am going to act like one for the month of October. The alarm will go off at 5:30am during the week, and I will still be up by 7:00am on the weekends. I plan to use the quiet hours primarily to write, but I have a few other projects that need focused attention. NaNoWriMo looms in just 28 days, and I hope to have ingrained the habit of early morning writing by then.

It will be difficult to hear the alarm go off so early, but the real challenge will be in getting to bed at a reasonable hour. The mind and body do not shut down easily, even when exhausted.

The first people I told about the challenge were Kristy, Holly and Matt. The women are night owls like me, and can't understand why I will be getting up this early. It just seems crazy, stupid almost. Matt however clapped his hands in solidarity as he is up at 5:30am most mornings. He is one of those freaky morning people I am trying to understand.

He did however make the rule of no talking before 6:00am. Even early risers need a moment before facing the world. And we need to whisper to avoid chasing away stillness.

October 2, 2011

Focus in chunks of 30

The theme of the year might become, "It isn't as hard as you think."

Resolution nine is done! The plan was to spend less than 30 minutes online for the month of September. Every morning I would fire up Outlook and Chrome, and set a 15 minute timer. I couldn't literally hear the ticking of the clock, but seconds were clicking off in the back of my brain.

Much of the email I get these days are newsletters filled with links. With the timer rolling, I would have to evaluate whether the article or story sounded interesting enough to click. On the few I clicked, a browser window would open, but I wouldn't read the story until I was done with all the email.

When I moved on from Outlook, I would check the blogs to see if there were any new posts. I read those first before moving onto the article I had opened before. I would usually have enough time to get through it all, but if not, I left the article open in case I had some extra time later in the evening. Facebook was last in line.

As the month wore on, I found it easier to come in under 15 minutes. I have a few email accounts, and one is where all the memberships, newsletters and spam end up. After a few days, I would look through the inbox and delete several emails before opening anything. With the time limit, it forced me to focus on what was important these days, and I didn't even want to waste the few seconds it took to open and skim over.

As always, I want these 30 day goals to create longer lasting changes. I plan to keep that timer clicking in the back of my mind, and keep the bar high on what is worth my time. In order to reduce the clutter and noise, this morning I am unsubscribing from the newsletters that regularly did not make the cut during September. I have also cleaned up my Facebook feed to get rid of the clutter that is getting in the way of updates from actual friends.

The internet isn't evil. It opens all of us to the world like no other tool has before. But it can easily become a distraction. Many of us flip on the tv without knowing if anything is on, simply out of habit. For me, the same goes for opening up the laptop. I know I will find something to hold my interest, but if I stopped and thought about it, isn't there something I would rather be doing?

Over the last 30 days, I only fired up the laptop if I had something specific to do. I had more time to spend reading, writing and running. There are fewer books in the stack by my bedside, I ran 106 miles, and I am nearly done with the corrections, editing and rewrite of my novel.

By cutting back tv and internet time, I have found time I already had. But I am always looking for more, and that is what October's challenge is all about.