Bicycling in Olympia

There are probably very few communities one could live in and still feel guilty driving a Prius. Here in West Olympia, people bike, bike, bike, and if they’re not biking, they’re walking, scootering, skateboarding, or taking the bus. Or driving a teeny electric car :D I think it’s starting to rub off on me. Over the years, various friends have tried to get me into biking, mostly to no avail. Trying to learn to ride at 45 feels a little awkward. Last time I tried it, I just felt uncomfortable and not that safe. But I’m thinking now maybe the bike just wasn’t right for me.

Bikes have come a long way since I was a kid. I recently visited a bike shop in Olympia (of which there are many), and found a lot of new styles that looked easier to ride, and easier to figure out. I never did get the hang of those lever gear shifts, for example, and bikes today have way more gears. Now they have clearly labeled hand grips that turn – nice! The other thing that appealed to me are the new “step-through” bikes – these have really low crossbars, and are meant so that you can easily get on your bike and get your feet on the ground anytime you need to.

Here’s the bike I ended up settling on (Trek 7200 WSD, a brand that came highly recommended by my “bikey” friends):

It still looks a little odd to me because of the crossbar shape, but this is a serious bike. It’s kind of a cross-over between comfortable and performance – it has shocks in the seat and handlebars, raised handlebars so I can have a straight back (far more comfortable for me than leaning over), a comfortable seat, and the low crossbar. At the same time, it is built to the dimensions of a woman’s body, has “fast” tires meant for roads and trails, 21 speeds, and high-quality components. As the bike guy put it, you can tool around the neighborhood or go on a cross-country ride on this bike.

Most importantly, I got on it easily and rode comfortably down the block. It was intuitive to use, fast, and stable. As I was riding it, the first thought that came into my head was “I would ride this bike.” And that’s what matters!


Unnecessary organisms

Today I’d like to take a moment to rant about viruses. Yeah, I know – everybody hates them. But this is how I handle things that are just driving me crazy – I blog about them! So I’d like to borrow a line from War (huh! What is it good for? absolutely nothing!) and ask the same question about viruses.

Right at the moment I happen to be suffering from a really unpleasant malady called pleurisy – an inflammation of the outer lining of the lungs, which causes all kinds of muscle pain, breathing problems, and just plain misery – caused by, you guessed it, a virus. One I didn’t even know existed. Then there’s AIDS, flu, herpes, chickenpox, encephalitis, mononucleosis, polio, meningitis, rabies, SARS, yellow fever, west Nile fever, hepatitis, measles, mumps, hemorrhagic fever (!), and I could go on and on. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget cervical cancer.

So what’s my point here? Just this – what are viruses for? Everything else, even those annoying mosquitoes and various other pesky critters, have their place in the food chain or some point for their existence. If you eradicated them, things would change in various ways, not all for the better. According to Wikipedia, some viruses reproduce without any apparent harm to their host organisms, but it says nothing about WHAT they’re doing or whether there is EVER any beneficial effect from any virus to any organism.

Technically speaking, they’re not even alive. Basically, they’re just little bits and pieces of once normal biological systems that have somehow run amok and turned into evil little self-replicating nano-robots that cause no end of misery. It’s hard to imagine how there could be so MANY of them with such terrible consequences to the human body (and animals, and even plants).

So I say, death and destruction to all viruses!! Without guilt, I think. Now can we take all that money we spend on war and get busy on this, please?

Death with dignity

image3 A friend sent me this poem, in honor of the Death with Dignity act passing in Washington State this past election:

meditation on a falling leaf

A single tender leaf
Yawns and stretches wide
Turning to face the warm,
Settling in
Wholly individual and complete
Undeniably part of the whole.

In the fullness of time
And dressed for the occasion
Surrenders to the moment of her choosing.

I alone am there
To honor and admire
That final graceful pirouette.

Unrelenting pain

OK, I know this may not be a topic everyone wants to read about. But for those of you who share this particular facet of life with me at times, I could use your help, your thoughts, your ideas and perspectives. Anyone who would find this too depressing, stop here and read the other posts!

I have what’s know as a “recalcitrant” migraine – that means it’s always there, all the time. Much of the time I can manage it away with drugs and careful lifestyle planning, but at times it has its way. I’ve learned to cope with this through a variety of what my doctor calls “rescue drugs.” And careful planning for those situations when I have a migraine for a week, like how to get food, etc.

I know that my work contributes to it. Hours in front of the computer watching spreadsheets flash by doesn’t help. And even the games I like and other things I love to do. But the work is the hardest. I’m working hard to change this, and go into different lines of work that won’t be so hard on my eyes and my head.

All this is to say that, in spite of the migraines, I’ve got that somewhat under control. But then there are the weeks like this one… The last month I’ve been working really long hours trying to get some major projects done so I CAN change direction on my career. My body’s letting me know that the hours have been a little too long, in spite of stretch breaks, etc.

First, I got a deep pain in my calf that took about a week to resolve. No sooner had that gone away, then I ended up with a pinched nerve in my back. Some of you may know how painful that is. It’s almost unbearable, and every movement sends stabbing pain into your neck and back. I got some medicine for it – but here’s the rub. Pain medicine and anti-inflammatories, the two things I most need to solve the nerve problem, both trigger migraines. Migraines are, after all, all about inflammation of blood vessels and the muscles around them.

So, I’ve been waiting nervously to see if trying to treat the back pain would trigger migraines. Not to mention my stomach trying to handle these drugs on top of all the ones I normally have to take. And sure enough, today I am stuck with the pain in my back only a little better, and a migraine coming on. And my stomach hurts.

I swear, there are times. I just don’t know what to do. Obviously I will have to stop taking the pain pills and anti-inflammatories. I may have to deal with a migraine now too. I am wandering around the house helplessly not sure what to do. I’ve been lying down so much that any more of that will just make me stiffer and groggier – and I can’t sleep in any comfortable position. But sitting up and aimlessly walking around isn’t helping either.

Which just brings me to my question. How do you all deal with this, when your body is such a mess that it seems like it just isn’t worth it? There are times when I just get past the point of wanting to give up. If it were as easy as just lying down and going “OK that’s it, I’ve had it”, I probably would have done it half a dozen times in my life.

Obviously one thing that helps me is writing it down and hearing from other people. I don’t know why, but it helps. But I just don’t see how people manage this over the long term. If I had this kind of pain every day, I can’t help feeling like I would just give up – somehow, some way. I watched my grandmother live through months and months of horrible pain, and she was stubborn for a long time. She really wanted to stay with my grandfather. But ultimately, she did choose to go. And my great-grandmother before her. They both chose their time. But they were both well over 80. My body wouldn’t cooperate if I told it to do anything like that :)

And of course, when I’m through it and feeling better, I enjoy life. But the long periods of pain seem harder and harder to cope with. That doesn’t feel like life to me, just unnecessary suffering. I don’t know anymore how to cope with it. Repetition seems to make it harder, the more times you have to go through it, the more pointless it becomes, because you never get to make it go away or get well.

I dunno, I’m rambling. And I’ve probably sat in front of the computer longer than I should have right now. Any thoughts, ideas? How do you deal with this? Just hearing your voices will help, I know.

Every day is an adventure…

Notice I didn’t say what KIND of adventure :D Because every day is different – heck, every hour is different. Life right now is so full of ups and downs, set-backs and challenges, things to look forward to, things to worry about, romance, frustration, technical difficulties, and immense amounts of work and stress, that things never seem to be the same from moment to moment. One minute I am strong, productive and capable, an hour later I am down with a migraine worrying about how I will ever meet all my work responsibilities this summer. Two hours later I am up again, puttering around the house doing chores, which makes me feel better again – to have everything in order and be able to take care of these basic things. The next morning, I may feel better – or worse. Who knows? Sometimes it depends on the weather (literally).

The latest things are a really mixed bag. My eyes have started to see double on the freeway, which sent me to the optometrist (where I haven’t been for more than 10 years, having had perfect eyesight pretty much most of my life). Two small astigmatisms and minor nearsightedness later, she thinks that’s the cause – so I am waiting for driving glasses, and in the meantime not able to see properly – not fun when you’re working on data constantly. That plus migraines is creating a real struggle for getting all my work done.

On the plus side, I’m starting an exciting new business (see below) and all kinds of synchronicities are popping up to support it. I have been asked to moderate a panel of speakers at a public conference in September, where we can publicly launch our business among just about the perfect audience – oddly enough at the same conference I launched my last successful business at 9 years ago. I am getting into the thick of the Hanford natural resource trustee mediation that is coming up in August, and that should be a good challenge.

My love life is looking up – I finally get to have a real relationship instead of a long-distance one. I’m enjoying it so much – and yet the timing couldn’t be worse, since I am busier with work than I have been in 10 years. It’s hard to have a retired friend who wants to take you sailing when you have to stay home and work :( Still, I’m not complaining. And even this is an adventure – having both just come out of long marriages, we’re not ready to define the boundaries of our relationship. But we sure are enjoying it :) And with all the talking and thinking we’ve done about relationships over the last several years (much of which is recorded on these pages), we’re OK with keeping it fluid.

Back on the not-so-great side of the ledger, my elderly grandparents are having a really difficult time health-wise since their move into a retirement home. The place is really nice, we are all happy with it. But their health has really taken a turn for the worse and it’s not clear that they can keep living on the independent side. My mom has been over there every day trying to help with medication, finances, etc., but there may be only so much we can do before they get moved into assisted living, if they can’t take care of themselves on a daily basis. This would be a huge blow for them, but the current situation is hard on my mom, and what limited time I have I am doing my best to give her a break. The good part is they are much closer now so if we can ever get them settled in and healthy, we’ll all get to visit a lot more.

I’ve been upgrading my computer – hardware and software, 10 years of projects moved on to a new machine with a different operating system. The less said about that the better. Except that it cost me a lot of needed time, at a time when I didn’t have it to spare – yet it had to be done to do my current work. And the good side – I solved all the problems myself, even if it did take 5 days to get them all. From what I’ve been reading about Vista online – that’s not bad. And it’s the first time I’ve been able to undertake and complete a project like that without help.

Wow. Is that enough or what? This is all leading to developing some kind of philosophy of life. More on that in Part 2.

Making my body work

After almost six months of very little work due to contract delays beyond my control, I now find myself in the position of having to cram all that work into a much lesser period of time, and also being in dire need of the cash flow that doing that work quickly would provide. I know from past experience that I’ll be working 8-10 hr days, pretty much non-stop (feast or famine). I also know that I can handle this for about 3 months, at which point I start to fall apart, physically and mentally.

Now I’m facing something like 7-9 months of similarly intense work, and I know I need to do something to pace this, every day and on a periodic vacation basis, or I just won’t make it through without some kind of meltdown. I’ve gotten a little trapped in the working-at-home, broadband dilemma in which you’re just constantly plugged in, every few minutes bringing more for you to deal with.

Multi-tasking distractions ultimately leading to getting less done – not to mention that my body just doesn’t last the whole day. I think I’m going to work all day and night, and I just can’t. Afternoons are mostly shot and pretty worthless, and then later I wish I had spent the time outside. All of my housework, chores, and other ancillary tasks get completely ignored, and that’s something that just won’t work out over 9 months.

So – a plan is needed. Given that one of the main reasons I work at home is managing a chronic illness (migraines), it makes sense to try to organize things around physical cycles. Mine are stranger than most – I am productive mid-morning until about 2pm, then everything seems to shut down for a while. Often I take a nap in the late afternoon to early evening. I get up, and have the most energy I have all day – I can easily work until midnight or beyond, and it’s hard to force myself into bed before 1am. Waking up around 9 or 10am is perfect, though it doesn’t always fit with my clients’ ideas of how to organize a workday :D

Given this, my plan is to use the morning until about 2pm to deal with all the computer-related stuff – dealing with e-mails and phone calls, doing paperwork, teaching online classes, doing tarot readings, managing discussion lists, making purchases, and any short-term relatively simple tasks.

Then, at 2 pm and for at least 3 hrs (until just after an early dinner, basically) will be non-computer time. This will consist of relaxation, naps, exercise, housework, yardwork, walking, errands, anything not involving computers or other technology. The little sound that goes off when you get new e-mail will be TURNED OFF during this period.

I get so bad during these critical work periods that I don’t even have healthy food to eat, because I can’t seem to make time to go to the store. And my body hurts because I don’t get up from the computer and exercise. Much time is wasted by thinking I’m going to work in the afternoon and not actually being able to. So, this daily time out for myself should help with all of this.

Then – 6pm to midnight is serious work hours, reserved for the work that takes the most concentration and thought. During this time I won’t fritter away time on e-mails or other mindless tasks, but will focus on the job at hand. This has the added bonus of being Evening Jazz and All Blues hours on NPR – my favorite work music. Then, I will try to get to bed by 1am and sleep until 9am.

While it’s a little scary putting off the main portion of my work until so late in the day, I just have to face the fact that this is by far when I am most productive, and frankly it’s when most of the work gets done anyway. If I don’t have to pretend I’m going to do it in the afternoon I can do lots of other useful things then and preserve my health and sanity. I’ll have to add into this week-long vacations every few months or so, to make a change in scenery (most likely working vacations, but still).

I’m going to start the test of my new approach today – so being that it’s 2pm, it’s time for me to make a grocery list and go sweep my deck! :)

Reaching the end of life with grace

More photos from Hawaii… this is my friend Rick and his aunt Dorothy, 99 years old and much of the reason we were in Hawaii. Rick is managing her affairs as she approaches the end of her life, and there is a lot to do just now.


Aside from all that paperwork and occasional trips to the beach, maybe one of the most interesting parts of the trip was our talks with Dorothy. She’s in assisted living now, a really nice place on the windward side of Oahu, basically a little house with only eight residents, looks brand-new with live-in care. She’s lost much of her short-term memory and really isn’t sure how she got there, though she can reason it out – she hasn’t lost any of her smarts or personality.

She was really glad to see us, Rick especially, as she always seems to remember who he is. Mostly she was just happy to have someone to ask questions of and get straight answers, even if she couldn’t always remember the answers from one conversation to the next – although it may not be through conventional memory, I had the strong feeling that on some level, she was gaining a sense of calm from the discussion. We spent most of the first visit explaining how she got there and why she was there, what was happening to her condo in Honolulu, what her physical and mental health were like, and where she would be living from then on.

On the second visit, she seemed to have progressed from those issues to end-of-life issues. She told us many times that she didn’t expect to be here long, and she was ready to go. When Rick asked her how she felt about that, she said it felt natural, that she didn’t feel any anxiety or fear about it. Her main concern was being buried on the family farm in Oregon, together with the rest of the family and with her family name displayed. She enjoyed being out in nature and in the sun, as one of the few things now that were really worth spending time doing. Both of us were struck by how important this was, as she lives in the moment now, to make sure that as many of her moments that are left are spent outside enjoying nature and beautiful surroundings.

She knows her life is not what it used to be and doesn’t see much purpose in remaining, but it seems she’s taking that in stride – since it is what it is, she’s ready to accept it. There was a grace and naturalness to her thoughts that I appreciated. I hope very much that I can be of that calm and natural state of mind when I approach the end of my life, with grace and acceptance. I hope it comes easily to her, quietly in her sleep, when she chooses to move on. There’s a lot to admire about this woman’s life, not least exemplified by its ending.