4 years, 1 month, 28 days

WP_20190621_09_58_24_Pro.jpg

Normal (noun): The usual, average, or typical state or condition – as defined by google.

I’ve had this un-diagnosed neurological condition since at least 2016, but probably longer. 2016 was the year I was in the hospital and my symptoms not only worsened, but whatever disease I have decided to ramp itself up to the Next Level like a video game on steroids.

First, I was told it was a stroke. Now, they are looking for multiple sclerosis. I’m having problems getting medical care, which does not make life any easier.

Going with the idea that I might have MS, pending neurology confirmation, I ordered some MS cooling vests to see if they would help at all with some of the “imaginary” symptoms I get when it is hot out. Imaginary is according to the primary doctor, who does not seem to take me seriously (even though she was the one who referred me to neurology).

I took great care to measure myself for the MS cooling vests and I am glad I did. When I put one on, I discovered that the phase change packs were situated so that there are two on either side of my spine. I say phase change packs because that is what they actually are – these are not ice packs, but some other technology. The placement of the phase change packs is key to their efficacy, which we will get to in a moment.

I wore the cooling vest for my run tonight. I had this idea that it would just keep my body cool similar to air conditioning. Boy, was I wrong.

But I was wrong in the best possible way.

Those phase change packs are situated on both sides of your spine not to cool your body, but to cool your central nervous system. Apparently, in people with MS, if that is what I have, heat causes your nerves to misfire. By cooling the central nervous system, your nerves are less likely to misfire, and you are less likely to have heat-induced symptoms.

My central nervous system was definitely cooled by the cooling vest. My spine was cool. My brain inside my head was cool. It was the weirdest but also the best feeling. It felt similar to an ice cream headache, only without the ice cream and without the headache. I did not have a headache. Nothing hurt. Yet my brain inside my head physically felt cool while the outside of my body was sweating buckets.

It was 86 degrees out when I went for my run. Not the best running conditions, even if you do not have a neurological problem.

It was the best run I have had in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days.

It’s been a long time since I have been this happy to be that miserable.

I was sweating buckets. I was uncomfortable. But it was a “normal” uncomfortable. It was the type of uncomfortable that you get when you run 4 miles in 86 degree weather like a crazy person. It was the best feeling.

What made it so great was that it was the first run I have done in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days where I did not experience any of these neurological symptoms while running. I was not dizzy, I did not feel like passing out, my vision was not blurry, my vision was not black, I did not trip, I did not fall. I had no brain fog. I was able to think clearly for the first time in a long time.

I felt normal.

I felt like any other idiot running 4 miles in 86 degree weather, because, really, you shouldn’t do that.

I basically wanted to see if this cooling vest would work. It does. It doesn’t work in the way I thought it would work. It works even better than that.

I thought that the cooling vest would cool my whole body down and kind of give me a competitive edge to run in that heat. The vest did no such thing. The vest cooled down my central nervous system so that I could run normally. I had no neurological symptoms. I was just a crazy runner sweating buckets on the outside. Only my spine and my brain inside my head were cool.

The cooling vest makes me normal per the definition at the beginning of this post. The cooling vest puts me back on level playing field again. It was just me and my body pounding the pavement on the road minus all neurological symptoms.

Now granted, running in 86 degree weather is completely stupid.

The point is that if the cooling vest lets me run normally again, what else can I do like a normal person that I have not been able to do for the past four years?

I’m excited to find out.

I want to surf. I want to drive further than 8 miles. I want to be able to go back to the beaches. I want to go to a baseball game without getting all these neuro symptoms where my body feels like it’s drunk when the only thing I have had to drink all day is water with lime slices in it.

I want to feel like a normal person and not have my body betray me every time I try to do something.

Tonight, I had my first normal run in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days. I cannot say how grateful I am to have this cooling vest. I feel like I might be able to actually get my life back.

With the doctors around here being absolutely stupid, I may never find out whether or not I have MS. Whatever it is that I have, this MS cooling vest is looking like it is alleviating all my heat-induced symptoms.

I can’t wait to use the cooling vest more and see what else I can do like a normal person again. Summer is one of my favorite seasons and I have not been able to enjoy it for years.

Bring on summer. With my MS cooling vests, I’m ready.

Update:

So, I’ve had some people ask me about which cooling vests I chose. I went with these really great vests called Under Cool from Therm Apparel in Rochester, NY. Many people have asked me recently if I’m wearing my vest because they don’t see it. Yes, I am wearing it! The fact you can’t see it is the whole point!

The Under Cool vest goes under my shirt. As a runner, I chose this vest because it weighs just under 2 pounds. Other cooling vests I researched were about 6-8 pounds. When I run 26.2 miles, I don’t want to feel like I’m in Marine boot camp lugging around a bunch of extra dead weight.

Sizing was a huge selling point for me. I weigh about 96 pounds. Most cooling vests I researched were bulky and only available in S,M,L sizes. Under Cool was available in XS (which I have), as well as youth sizes. Some of my baseball shirts are actually youth sizes, so having a wide range of sizes was key. Measure carefully, and your vest will fit well. XS is doing it for me.

Please note, I do not usually push specific items, but since you guys have asked, it is definitely Therm Apparel. I have not received any sort of compensation for giving them a plug, but if you need a cooling vest for neuro issues and run marathons like I do, then this is the vest for you! I also got the “adventure bundle” so I have one vest for running and one vest for “every day use.” I have two sets of phase change packs that allow me to be out longer. So far, I have only been out in my cooling vest for a maximum of 3 hours, but that is only because I get so tired.

I will be sure to post another blog on my vests!

Where We Left Off

WP_20190612_12_44_26_Pro.jpg

One of the joys of life are those friendships that you have for a decade or more, maybe several decades, where the depth is so strong that no matter what happens in life or how long its been since you have spoke, you always have the ability to pick right back up with that person where you left off. Maybe its your best friend from college that you rarely see because they live in a different state. Yet every time you get together, whether its once a year or even less frequent, things just naturally pick right back up again.

These are the friends that you know you can call in the middle of the night. They are the first number you’re dialing when anything major happens – a new baby, a death, a promotion. You want them to hear your news. You want their input for major decisions. They may not see you everyday, but you still think “omg, what would they think of my hair?” when you get a new do.

These are the people that you would drop everything to help. All those sappy country music songs about hopping into your car and taking off on an hours long road trip to help someone out when they call – those kind of ties are real. They may be a rarity, but they exist.

Sometimes you do all that to help someone with the big stuff. Sometimes you drop everything to rush to their side just to silently hold their hand. Silence in person is more comforting than silence by phone. You know that this person would not have called unless they really need something. You know that since they called, you really do need to drop everything to be there.

These are the people who sometimes know you better than you know yourself.

I have the privilege of having this type of relationship with a select handful of people in my life. Perhaps one of the most treasured is someone who I have known for over 30 years. Yes, I know, I’m showing my age. I recently tried describing this relationship into the 21st century by saying it’s my “ride or die.” While there are boundaries in this relationship, I will say that those boundaries are pretty much – I will – unless I absolutely can’t (physically, financially, emotionally, etc.)

I’m not saying that the word door mat should be on your forehead and it’s not on mine. This type of relationship goes two ways.

Life takes you different places and through different situations. Yet somehow, you keep coming back to this one person. It may have been years since you have spoken, and yet when you reconnect, everything is the same.

Some of these relationships can be unhealthy. Some are healthy relationships, yet simply a casualty of geography and circumstance. There have been moments when this particular relationship has been unhealthy for me, but as we have gotten older and life circumstances have changed, it is once again healthy. Sometimes you have to figure out if its toxic or just a phase of life.

Every time we pick up where we left off, I’m ecstatic. I don’t know how long it will last. That is the unhealthy part. The part when it ends and we have to go our seperate ways breaks my heart every time. But I also know that we will come together again and pick up where we left off. That part brings me hope. I also have hope that at some point geography won’t be an issue, and we won’t have to pick up where we left off anymore because we will just be fixtures in each other’s lives again.

Years go by and people change, but at the core, we’re still the same. It’s this consistency that keeps me going. No matter the circumstance, you know the person is the same. You know that’s the same person you fell in love with or first made friends with.

We never say goodbye because it never is goodbye. You may see someone only once every few years, but you still have other ways to communicate – by phone, by letter. It could be months between correspondence and yet you always just continue the conversation.

The relationship keeps going … from where we left off …

A few months ago, my local newspaper had a poetry page. I submitted two entries to the poetry page, one short and one long. The rules for the poetry page was that it had to be original work and that it had to be poems that had never been published. The work I submitted met the requirements; I had not even posted the poems ever to this blog, so they were truly unpublished pieces.

The longer poem that I submitted and was published was one that I had written about my “ride or die” person with whom I have this “where we left off” relationship. Since it was published in the newspaper’s poetry page a few months ago, this will be the second time it’s been published. I’m just going to leave you with this piece of original poetry here:

Innocence Lost

We were 8 years old

Out on the playground.

You asked me out.

I laughed and ran away.

 

10 years later,

I’m in college

And you’re fighting a war.

It’s like we don’t

Know each other anymore.

I’m still dreaming

While every boot print you’re leaving

Takes you further away

From the boy you once were.

 

10 years after that

And I’m not surprised

At the man you’ve become.

I always knew you would

Be someone great.

Too bad the hand of fate

Took the best of you

And left it in some cave

When you were off in that war.

 

We try again. And again.

I know you’re in there,

But things you’ve lived

And things you’ve seen

Well, the Army took

More from you

Than anyone would believe.

 

If life were simple

I would go back to

8 years old

On that playground

Waiting to be found.

Water

WP_20190621_10_01_49_Pro.jpg

One of my favorite reggae tunes is “Bread” by John Brown’s Body. This group is made up of band members from both Boston, MA and Ithaca, NY which combines two of my favorite places and makes it even better. When I hear this tune, it reminds me to be thankful for everything that we have.

Do we ever think to be thankful for water? We hear about people in other countries who do not have access to clean drinking water. We have heard the stories from Flint, MI and from areas in California that are still trying to recover from the fires and do not have access to clean drinking water.

The concept of water struck home for me, when, for a period of four months, I did not have it. Sometimes, you do not appreciate something until you have to go without.

As you may remember, last summer I was in the throes of my housing crisis. Part of that crisis was the fact that the new owner who bought my apartment building hired this company who was clueless about wells. To make a long story short, our well water got completely screwed up.

This 12-unit apartment building with 1-2 people and 1-2 cats per unit was on a well for 20 years. Everything went fine. We always had water, and it was good water. The water tested well and tasted good.

Then, this water management company came in and the water was completely messed up the last four months I was in the apartment. The water was not drinkable. It sometimes came out a blue-purple color. You could no longer do laundry on-site because clothes would be stained with the blue-purple color. I only used the water for washing dishes and for bathing. Yet even using the water to shower only, all of my bath towels ended up dyed that funky color just from toweling off after a shower.

I had to buy new towels when I moved into the house.

You can imagine, then, when I first moved into the house, all I wanted was a shower. I wanted to shower in clean water. I delighted in turning on the tap in my kitchen sink and drawing a glass of water to drink. I am fortunate in that the area where my house is located has the water that tests the best and tastes the best in the entire county. According to our village newsletter, our water even won some award. I love the water at the house.

Not only am I able to shower at the house, but I can drink water whenever I want. So can the cats. The last four months in the apartment, I was constantly buying gallons of water for us all to drink, which only added to my expenses when I was trying to scrimp to get into the house.

In the house, I am also able to do laundry on-site. I can do laundry whenever I need to do it. It doesn’t matter the day, the weather, or the time. This is truly a luxury and a privilege.

I was thinking lately about how privileged I am to have water.

Being a home owner has been a struggle for me. I call myself a reluctant home owner because I never wanted to buy a house. I bought this house because it was the only way to keep my family together. Everyone around me seems to think I have some problem because I hate being a home owner.

However, on the news recently, a study shows that as much as 60% of home owners in this country have regret or remorse over the fact that we bought a house. We all bought for the same reason – it was cheaper to buy than to rent. We all are depressed and resentful about our home purchases for the same reason too. We hate the responsibility and maintenance.

I am again fortunate in that I have people who have been helping me with the house. I am so appreciative of the help. However, there is a difference between having people who lend you a hand with things and then having a life partner to shoulder the responsibility, joy, and anxiety with you.

Reading the studies and knowing that there are people out there who feel the same way I do helps.

Being thankful for my water helps me appreciate the house even more and also be less resentful.

Out of the 12 apartments in the building in which I lived for 14 years, I have kept in touch with a person who is still there. I had lunch with that person a few weeks ago.

I had seen in the newspaper that the person who bought the building decided to add on more apartments. More apartments means more people means more stress on that well.

I have also heard that instead of 1-2 people in each apartment, there are now 4-6 people in each apartment. Seeing as how the rent more than doubled, I am not surprised. You need 4-6 working adults in each unit now to be able to afford the rent.

So with more units and more people, I asked my friend if the water situation was ever remedied from the mess it was last year.

It has not. Not only is the water still contaminated and coming out that blue-purple color, but apparently there has been no hot water for weeks even though each unit has its own hot water heater. They are essentially all cold water flats. My friends says that she has not said anything because she does not like to deal with the new landlord.

Hearing this situation makes me very thankful for my house. I was so stressed those last four months in the apartment. I had to take all my laundry to the laundry mat, and I was spending exorbitant amounts of money on gallons of water for me and the cats.

I still resent buying a house. I find it overwhelming. But I am thankful that we have a place to live that has working, clean water. We have both hot and cold water. We can drink water right out of the tap.

I have been trying to find ways to be positive about the house to try to decrease my stress levels. Being thankful for water is one way to be thankful for this house.

Even though owning a home is hard – it is damn hard – it is the hardest thing I have ever done – at least we have clean drinking water.

I listen to the song “Bread,” and all I can think is that I have water to make bread. Owning a home is hard, stressful, and not a responsibility that I want. But I am so thankful that this home gives me clean water and that my little family is together.

Thank you for clean water.

 

Points of Privilege

WP_20190617_18_37_53_Pro

Note: This post is in the same series as The Toilet Paper Chronicles and Cowboys & Hankies. They can each be read independently, but if you would like more on the same topic, click the links.

Studies have shown that homelessness can cause anxiety and that people typically end up on one end of the spectrum or the other. The one end of the spectrum is hoarding. The other end of the spectrum is minimalism.

Hoarding makes sense on multiple levels. When you live in poverty, you often do not have the money or resources to be able to dispose of trash or other items. There is also a sense of urgency in procuring things and holding onto them “in case you need them.” Some people go from having absolutely nothing to wanting all the things.

I have a family member who falls into this category. Their house is quite literally filled with wall to wall, floor to ceiling stuff. It is all very clean and well maintained. They are constantly buying even more things. Their basement, attic and garage are all full to the brim. I refuse to go to this person’s house because it is too anxiety provoking for me.

Then, there is a smaller group that falls into minimalism. That is the group into which I fall. When I was homeless, it was very stressful trying to hold onto and keep track of your things, even if all that you had in the world was only enough for a paper grocery bag (yes, I lived like that at one time). I personally experience extreme anxiety when I am surrounded by a lot of things. I do not like being responsible for things. The things I do have, I keep nice. Too many things that I have to keep nice, maintain, and dispose of just drives me nuts.

There are points of privilege and points of loss in everyone’s life. For some, minimalism is a necessity. Like when I was homeless and everything fit into a paper grocery bag – that type of minimalism is a necessity. That is all the stuff you have in the world.

Then there is the form of minimalism in which I now engage that I feel is a privilege. It all comes down to economics, economics, economics.

Going in the same vein as The Toilet Paper Chronicles and Cowboys & Hankies, I did recently decide to order a set of ladies’ handkerchiefs from a maker on etsy. I have been doing quite well with the $4 handkerchiefs I had purchased at Walmart, but was having difficulty making 6 of them last a week until the next load of laundry.

I purchased a set of 10 beautifully handmade ladies’ handkerchiefs in a bunch of fun designs from etsy. These ones are also flannel cotton and much softer on my nose than the Walmart ones. In fact, the ones from etsy feel like heaven on my nose.

I realized this weekend that the fact that I had $20 to spend on cloth handkerchiefs is in itself a privilege. It is a good investment. With the money I am saving on paper facial tissues, the cloth hankies will pay for themselves in about 2-3 months.

However, it is that initial layout of cash that most people don’t have. As with the toilet paper scenario, with facial tissue, it feels cheaper to shell out $1 for a box of tissues when in fact that $1 is more expensive. It is that balancing act of having to live on a small finite amount of money.

I have the added benefit of the fact that I have room in the house to store a stack of (now 16) cloth handkerchiefs. I also have a washer and dryer to launder them on-site without having to trek to the laundromat. Someone living on the streets with all their belongings in a paper grocery sack or a back pack does not have any of these privileges.

I also recently decided that I want to try to use less paper towels. Paper towels are something I have to buy and spend money on. I am trying to decrease expenses. Sometimes, to decrease expenses, you have to have an initial outlay of cash and it can take months or years to see the benefits of your purchase.

In an effort to try to decrease my paper towel usage, I purchased microfiber cloths that I am using when I wash the windows. After I use a microfiber cloth, I can put it through the wash and it comes out clean again for reuse.  Now, the only thing I am using traditional paper towels for are cleaning the cat pan or anything else that is really gross. I just can’t bring myself to use cloth to clean really gross things.

My next task will be switching from paper napkins to cloth napkins, but that one may take a little bit. I am looking to buy cloth napkins from the same maker on etsy who made my cloth hankies.

Sometimes, when I think of minimalism, I ask myself: “What do I really need to survive?”

This is the extreme form of minimalism where people try to have fewer than 100 belongings or whatever can fit into a back pack. This form of minimalism works for some people. That’s great, but that’s not me.

Some people are forced into that type of minimalism by life circumstance.

For me minimalism is what do I need to survive plus what gives meaning to my life. Minimalism is not just about taking away, it is about what adds beauty to my existence here on Earth.

Of course, I try not to have frivolous things. But, I do. I’m sure we all do. Even if you live out of a back pack, I am sure you have even just one item that probably is not completely necessary to your survival, but is meaningful to you.

When I visit friends who have fewer things, I envy them. I get so overwhelmed being in this big house. I did not want a house this big, but this was the one that met all the requirements for the low income housing program I was in and I needed a way to keep my family together. So, here we are. One person and two cats rattling around in a huge space. The cats love it, of course.

I constantly look around thinking “do I really need that?” Do I want to clean that?

Then I realize that some of those people I envy live that way not by choice but by necessity. I am fortunate in that I have many privileges. But still, I think, I can get by with just a little bit less.

Even though I am on the minimalist spectrum after my homeless experiences, I do have some hoarding tendencies. As previously discussed, toilet paper is probably the biggest hoarding tendency I have. I always buy the  jumbo packs because they work out to be cheaper, and tend to get another one when there are 4-6 rolls left because I am so paranoid about going without after the childhood I had.

I still think there are things I can declutter on this minimalist journey. Sometimes, you reach a plateau. That’s ok. Right now, I think I’m taking a break from decluttering for a month or two. Mostly because it’s summer. When the weather is nice, I like to be outdoors as much as I can. Who wants to be stuck inside cleaning or decluttering?

For me, minimalism is a choice. I have over 1600 square feet that I could fill with stuff, but I purposefully choose not to do that. For me, minimalism is a point of privilege. I have the resources to take things I don’t want and dispose of them, recycle them, or donate them. I have a vehicle that I can use to take things out of my house as much as some people use their vehicle to buy things to haul to their home.

I have the convenience of an on site washer and dryer to be able to keep things clean and buy cloth items that can be reused so that my consumable expenses decrease.

What are the points of privilege in your life and how does that effect your minimalism journey?

Halfway There

WP_20190408_17_27_04_Pro

The world is going to hell and it better be my day off. This phrase actually came from my mother, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s true that the past few years have been difficult for me.

I’m pretty sure the last time I made New Year’s Resolutions was 2017. I only set three, and I did not accomplish any of them. I thought I had set realistic goals. In general, I think they were. It was just the fact that my life fell apart that year in multiple ways.

We are currently halfway through 2019, and I am happy to say, that I am officially halfway through accomplishing those New Year’s Resolutions I had set in 2017. Better late than never, right?

One of the goals I had set was that I wanted to read the entire Bible in a year. I have read the Bible in it’s entirety multiple times when I was younger, but it’s been awhile since I have done so. I have my favorite books and passages that I keep coming back to over time.

This year, as in 2017, I am once again following the Our Daily Bread schedule of reading the Bible in a year. I am happy to say that so far, I have been reading the Bible every day this year and am exactly on schedule to read the entire thing through from start to finish this calendar year.

On the Old Testament side, I have currently arrived at my favorite book of the Bible, Nehemiah. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I read through Nehemiah a few times last year. It’s always great to read it again.

I’m honestly not sure what my other 2 resolutions were from 2017. I’m sure I can find them somewhere on this blog. But for now, I am on my way to completing this one resolution.

Daily Bible reading helped me to get through my housing crisis last year. At that time, I was just reading what would give me comfort, which was typically Nehemiah or Psalms. I can honestly admit that when I was going through that situation last year and bought this house that it was the very first time I ever “let go and let God.” I did it in a huge way.

I have no idea whether or not I will set a New Year’s resolution in 2020. But for now, I am halfway there to completing one of my 2017 goals. I’m just making up for lost time. There’s another saying “if you’re going through hell, keep on going.”

I’m going. I’m going. Halfway there.

Friday Nights & Saturday Mornings

WP_20190612_12_47_16_Pro

We have all done things that we were not necessarily proud of. Luckily for me, I am of a generation when the vast majority of the stupid things I’ve done were pre-internet and undocumented. We have all had those moments of stupidity. They typically happen in our younger years, but even as we get older, there is a moment now and then.

If anything, I’m always honest and one thing I’m not proud of is how I used to spend Friday nights in my 20s. This was a point in life when I was still struggling through school, working on degrees one and two, and working 2-3 jobs at a time.

Even though I worked nights for well over a decade, I typically had Friday nights off because I worked a day shift on Saturday. Thus, I had Saturday nights off too. Saturday nights are easy to explain and I have no shame. Saturday nights were my writing nights. This was when I would sit down and pull out the twenty page papers required in undergrad or spent writing one of my two thesis.

Friday nights were the only night I got to be at home and wasn’t trying to pull a big project together. Friday nights became my “drink and clean the house night.” It sounds more wild than what it was.

Yes, it did involve some dancing around the living room, but it’s not like I had to drink much to be happy. Plus, I had to work the next morning. I got the house clean, listened to some tunes, and it was my one opportunity each week to try to relax. Even if at that time relaxation meant taking out my frustrations in life on the shower with a scrub brush.

At that time in my life, every single day was highly scheduled. I was juggling so many things that being OCD over my daily schedule was the only way I could balance it all without dropping something.

This Friday night drink and clean the house thing worked for a bit. Then, when I started throwing marathon training into the mix, Friday became one of my run days. I don’t drink when I’m in training (unless there is an extenuating circumstance like a birthday party or wedding, I may have a glass of wine – which is pretty much my MO year round anyway), and my cleaning day had to move. I honestly don’t remember what day became my cleaning day once I started using Fridays as one of my training days.

Due to the pace of my life at that time, some things are a blur.

When I’m running, I take out all my frustrations on the pavement. I do a lot of thinking. All of my best ideas come to me while I am running.

What I have noticed in life in the past few years now that I am working a day job is that it is a lot harder for me to get things done. When I worked nights, I would get a lot done in the mornings before heading into work at 12:30pm. When I got home at 10pm, I would have some time to relax before sleep. It was a great schedule.

Now that I am working days, mornings are hard. Mornings are typically my lowest point of functioning in the day. I’m falling down, dropping things, can’t see well, don’t balance. It takes a bit for my symptoms to dissipate and for me to feel functional.

For the record, the past few years with my new health problem, I have no need to drink anymore even for birthdays and weddings. My body feels like it’s drunk when I’m completely sober. It’s really annoying. It’s not fun and often unexpected.

But now that I work days, by the time I get home from work at night, I am exhausted. Nothing gets done. When I was working nights, I would get things done in the morning. Now that I am working days, I can only get things done on weekends.

Then, sometimes I have weekends I’m exhausted too.

So now my weekends are taken up with cleaning and house maintenance and I feel as though I’ve lost my time to relax, even though I’m doing less now than I was in my 20s.

Last night, it was raining, so I postponed my run to sometime today. I had some energy, for some reason, and decided to jump start the weekend.

I cleaned the upstairs on Friday night.

I plugged the radio in and started scrubbing. It was great. I had not had a Friday night cleaning night in a long time.

The upstairs is easier to clean than the downstairs because I do not spend a lot of time upstairs and that is where the empty rooms are. So I cleaned the upstairs last night. Shortly after that, I went to bed. I was way too exhausted to even think about cleaning the downstairs too.

I will be doing my run today and probably cleaning the downstairs too. Although, I have to admit, I’m still exhausted today. It’s been one of those weeks.

Now instead of having a “drink and clean the house” Friday night routine, I have a new routine and this one involves Saturday mornings.

Even though I am absolutely exhausted, I am still up early on a Saturday morning. I kind of have to be to take my medication. I can’t just take my medication and go back to bed. This particular medication has a strict warning on it that I cannot lay down for at least 30 minutes after taking it.

So I’m up early on a Saturday morning not only for my medication, but also for my new Saturday morning routine.

One of my Top 3 favorite radio programs is NPR’s “Only A Game” from Boston station WBUR. The program airs on my local station on Saturday mornings from 7:00 – 8:00 am.

I actually didn’t even know my local station aired this program until recently. I was ecstatic to find it. I used to listen to this radio program every week while I was in graduate school in Boston. I really missed it.

Every Saturday, I listen to this program, and it brings back so many happy memories of grad school. It brings up thoughts of Boston and commuting and trying for a life better and new. That is a whole other story, but I’m happy to have found one of my favorite radio programs again.

I may not have a Friday night routine anymore, but now I have a Saturday morning routine. My weekend doesn’t start until “Only A Game” is over. I relax here with my coffee, Simon in my lap, Jude by my side watching the birds starting their day outside. The sun is coming through the leaves of the east facing kitchen window.

Saturday mornings are a routine of which I can be proud. Unlike the Friday drink and clean the house nights, my Saturday morning radio time relaxes me in another way. Yes, I did clean the upstairs last night, but it was minus the wine. I’m pretty sure cleaning the upstairs Friday night will not become a thing.

Saturday mornings are a thing, and I love them.

 

The Great Milk Conspiracy

WP_20190602_15_55_57_Pro

People with food allergies, particularly people with multiple food allergies, are food insecure. When you have multiple allergens to avoid, that means you have to buy a lot of specialty items. Specialty items are not only hard to find, but also more expensive. People with multiple food allergies are typically unable to use traditional food pantries unless the food pantry somehow caters to people with food allergies.

I have 5 of the Top 8 most common food allergens. My reactions are severe. My last year of teaching, one of the kids spilled their milk in my lap. It’s a simple spill, right? No big deal.

It was a big deal. The milk soaked through my pants. I absorbed it through my skin. I stopped breathing. I began to have a seizure. By the time I made it to the hospital, my kidneys and liver had started shutting down. I spent several weeks in ICU.

One of my friends recently said that they heard a newscast that food allergies are all in your head. If that was true, I would have wished that away and not spent so much time in the hospital followed by several long months of recovery.

My food allergies are nothing to joke about.

No, I cannot have “just a little bit.” No, I cannot “pick it out.” I cannot have any contact by any means, period. This includes no cross contamination.

I am like this with peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg and wheat. Of the five, my worst reactions are to almonds and dairy. No, I do not have celiac disease. I have an actual allergy to wheat, which is something completely different.

I cannot go into a Dunkin Donuts unless I have a death wish. Seriously. If I ever decide to attempt suicide, I am just going to walk into a Dunkin Donuts. A few years ago, Dunkin Donuts added almond milk. It is quite prolific. I cannot even enter into a Dunkin Donuts to use a bathroom at a thruway rest stop. Who knows how thoroughly the surfaces were cleaned? If I come into any contact with almond milk/almond oil, I react.

I cannot have “normal” cow’s milk (or goat milk or sheep milk or any other animal milk). I cannot have almond milk. I cannot have soy milk, because all soy milks have an almond warning on them.

I typically have  rice milk, coconut milk or hemp milk. Coconut is a misnomer. Coconut is not a nut, it is a drupe fruit and a member of the seed family, and is safe for those with nut allergies. Hemp nut is a misnomer. Hemp is actually a seed, and is safe for those with nut allergies.

These specialty milks are quite expensive. I typically get a half gallon (2 litres) at Aldi for $1.69. This week, Aldi was all out of my milk.

I like milk so that I can have cereal in the morning. I eat allergy-friendly cereal, of course. My medication requires me to take it with food. Mornings are a hard time for me to eat because I don’t feel like eating, and cereal is the easiest thing for me to gag down in the morning to take with my medication.

The past few mornings, I had to get creative with breakfast so that I could take my medication. It was not fun.

Today, I went to 6 different stores looking for milk.

At all 6 stores, there were walls and rows of “regular” cows milk. There were walls and rows of almond milk.

Was there rice milk or hemp milk?

Nope.

It was only at the 7th store that I found what I needed. Now, keep in mind, I typically pay $1.69 for a half gallon (2 litres). Today, at the 7th store, when I found what I needed, I paid $4.69 for 1 litre.

Now, that is quite expensive.

If I have to do this on a regular basis, then that means that half of my monthly food budget is going to be allotted just to milk.

This is partially why people with multiple food allergies are food insecure.

I am one of the privileged ones. I have a vehicle, so I was able to drive to 7 different stores trying to find what I needed. Imagine if you have to ride the bus, take a cab, ride a bike or walk to a store. What would someone in my situation do then?

Food is extremely challenging to find when you have multiple food allergies. This is why I always tell everyone I am not picky about what I eat. I will literally eat anything that won’t kill me. With so many food allergies and reactions so severe, I cannot afford to be picky or to partake in some sort of alternative diet such as vegetarian, vegan, keto, etc.

The rules are simple. Will this kill me if I eat it? No? Then eat it. If it will kill me if I eat it, then don’t touch it. I have actually not had a reaction to something I have eaten in almost 15 years. The 10+ reactions I have had in the past 15 years have all come from touch, or skin absorption.

If I did not have food allergies, then it would be very easy to live on a $30 per week grocery budget. I’d be having macaroni and cheese, sandwiches of all kinds, pizza, ice cream, you name it. I look at grocery store ads and fantasize about all the things I would love to eat if I did not have food allergies.

With multiple food allergies, $30 per week does not go far. I just spent $14.07 on “milk” for the week, which was about ¾ of a gallon. If I want a loaf of bread, it is $10.79. Allergy-friendly bread loaves are smaller than regular loaves of bread. I typically get 3 or 4 sandwiches out of an allergy friendly loaf of bread.

I have to pre-plan my days and be sure to pack enough food for where ever I may be. I cannot go out to eat – hardly anywhere in this area. It’s not like I can just pick up food on the fly or go to a convenience store and get a snickers bar if I’m hungry.

Maybe for my last meal. If I was on death row, I have a milkshake and macaroni and cheese on the list for my last meal, maybe I should add a snickers bar to that.

The great milk conspiracy comes from the fact that I went into 6 stores and found walls of regular milk and almond milk, but no milk for me. Do stores and manufacturers just not think about all the people who are allergic to both dairy and almonds? I did not even see soy milk at some of these places, not that I can have that either.

What is with this trend in almond milk? It is my worst nightmare. This is why I wear a warning label like a Gremlin.

You want to see how fast I can run, whip out a carton of almond milk. I’ll be gone in a flash. I don’t have a death wish today. No thank you.

Maybe I should just give up on specialty items. I mean, I’m sure if I was on food stamps that people would judge me for checking out with a 1 litre carton of hemp milk for $4.69 when I could get a half gallon of regular milk for $1.29.

More importantly, when did milk become a specialty item?

The dairy industry has such a hold on our food system that they are advocating for alternative milks to be called something different. The dairy industry argues that something like rice milk isn’t real milk and should not be called milk.

There are times when I think “I don’t care what you call it as long as I can put it in my cereal and it doesn’t kill me.”

There are other times when I think “Why is my milk less than your milk? I should have access to milk too, whatever form that may take.”

Who would have ever guessed that trying to buy milk would create such drama?

This is the first time I have had this experience with trying to find milk. I do have this experience with allergy friendly pasta and allergy friendly flour on a regular basis. Whenever I do find allergy friendly pasta or allergy friendly flour, I buy them in bulk. I consider them treats because they are so expensive and so hard to find.

Part of me thinks that things like milk, bread, pasta and flour should not have to be considered treats. They should not be hard to find. They should not be expensive. Those items should be staples. I should not have to drive to 7 stores to find what I need. Don’t most people go to 1 or 2 grocery stores? Why do I have to go to multiple stores looking for “specialty” items?

Maybe my thinking is all out of whack. But when you have a large industry like the dairy industry saying you can’t call rice milk “milk” because it doesn’t come from a cow, and it takes me 7 stores to find something to put on my cereal in the morning, we have a problem.

For now, the Great Milk Conspiracy can take a rest. I have enough hemp milk for my cereal for the rest of the week. I can tell you right now, that breakfast tomorrow morning is going to be amazing. I may have completely blown my food budget, but I can have cereal again. At least, until the milk runs out.

Master of Two

WP_20190608_12_54_15_Pro

The kids (indoor only cats) safely enjoying fresh air outside on the porch in a borrowed dog crate.

Jack of all trades; master of none. This was my mantra for a good many years. Spending almost two decades working 2-3 jobs at a time while completing 4 degrees means that I have a breadth of experience.

It was significant and exciting when I completed my master’s degree a few years ago. I was so proud to finally be able to shout: “Jack of all trades and master of ONE!” I am very proud of my forensic psychology degree. It would be even better if I could use it. I digress.

I am now a master of TWO!

Apparently, once you turn age 40, you automatically enter the “Masters” category of running. There are other categories beyond Masters for higher age groups. For now, I am a master of running.

After 12 years and 15 medals, it’s about damn time. Masters runner? I’ll take it!

I am currently in training for a half marathon this year, which will only be my second distance event since getting out of the hospital a few years ago. I’m super pumped. I am also using the Canadian method of training this year to hopefully contribute to the longevity of my running career. Instead of taking 9 weeks to train for a half marathon, I am now taking 17 weeks to train for a half marathon. I’m going with a slower build.

A slower build will allow me more time for rest and hopefully decrease my chances of injury.

Another factor in this choice is that I am now training solely on paved roads, as opposed to a packed trail bed. Paved roads are a pounding for joints, so I’m trying to be gentle. It would be quite a drive for me to get to the packed trail bed now.

Last year it was a huge deal because I finally broke down and bought a Garmin, which I chronicled in 5 Reasons why Garmin Rocks!

This year, I am proud to report, that I have completed my longest run since obtaining the Garmin. When I did my long run last week, the watch cheered as I reached a new goal – longest run with the Garmin. It was only 5 miles. The fact that it’s taken me over a year since I have done a 5 mile long run … well, I’m not happy about that. I am happy that I am now back to doing 5 mile runs. I am completely fine with them.

This week’s “long run” is another 5-miler. I’m looking forward to it. I’m enjoying the slow build with this new Canadian style training plan. If I truly plan on being a master of running, then I need to be sure to preserve my body for the long run.

I may be considered a masters runner at age 40, but I want to be sure that I am still doing this at age 70. I may be running a little bit slower now than I was 10 years ago, but I’m running smarter. I’m riding this masters thing for as long as I can.

I am always stoked when I enter a new decade and get to change age groups in running. Entering the masters category is one of the best privileges I’ve had in years. I am really looking forward to being able to race in the masters runners category this year.

Respect, people! Respect!

Jack of all trades, master of TWO!

Commercializing Solitude

IMG_9717

The little outside bar in the middle of no where.

A recent newscast spoke of a significant increase in visits to national parks due to social media usage. Once a haven of the adventurous seeking solitude, millions are now flocking to previously secluded spots made internet famous by stunning photography that has been shared all across the globe. Gone are the days when we would simply see a photograph of a beautiful place and long to go there. People are actually going.

This results in some national parks having to fight harder to preserve our natural surroundings. When human traffic to these remote areas increases, the majesty of the experience is often lost in the crowd.

Another recent news story spoke of an increased number of deaths on Mt. Everest. The deaths are attributed to overcrowding of people trying to reach the summit. Apparently, anyone with $11,000 can try to reach the summit of Mt. Everest regardless of preparation or qualifications to attempt the ascent. There is no regulation of people who are allowed to undertake this feat other than having the ability to pay for the experience.

We are commercializing solitude.

There are how many – 8 billion? – people on this planet. Our cities are overcrowded. We are now crowding those areas that were previously areas of refuge for some to escape the cities. Not every city person is cut out for the wilderness. Thus, we now have “glamping” for those who are unable to navigate the wilderness but want the illusion of solitude.

Let’s throw some glitter on a tree, and all of a sudden forests are popular.

I had been going camping to a location in the Adirondacks for about 16 years. This annual trip started back in the 90s. The location was the halfway point where I would meet college friends coming from western Massachusetts.

Cranberry Lake was my favorite place to be because it was remote and safe. I stayed in the same site every year for this trip, and every year things were the same. The natural beauty provided a sort of consistency in my life in the midst of much turmoil. I knew that no matter what was going on in my life, where I was or where I was living, each summer, I would always have my trip to Cranberry. Kind of like the whole “we’ll always have Paris” thing.

The annual Cranberry trip was like New Year’s for me. This is the big trip where I could relax and recharge and return to life refreshed. Especially the years when I was working 70-80 hours per week at multiple jobs while attending school full time, these trips helped me to keep my sanity.

The only reason why I specifically mention the location now after all this time, is because it has been commercialized. Unfortunately, Cranberry Lake is no longer my oasis in the middle of the Adirondacks.

The last few years that I made my annual pilgrimage to the location, I noticed a marked increase in the number of people camping. I’m sure on some level this is great for the state department of environmental conservation – more people camping means more revenue. However, with increased use, I noticed changes.

The first thing I noticed was changes in clientele. As the years have gone by, there are less families and more rowdy young people. Or, families who are raising Cain. I know this makes me sound like a curmudgeon-y old person, but there is more noise and less respect. People walk through other people’s wooded, secluded campsite without saying anything because they like the view from someone else’s site.

Um, excuse me, but you are standing near my tent, and I paid for this space.

Second, I noticed that even though some of the increased traffic was coming from students associated with environmental conservation programs who were, allegedly, in school for environmental conservation degrees, were trashing the natural surroundings.

An area that was naturally mud and downed trees now has now been cleared for people to put in kayaks from a private site. Too lazy to take the kayak to the public launch site, these students have instead chosen to destroy the natural surroundings to make an unapproved (I asked) kayak launch.

It’s kind of hard to sit in the middle of nowhere and be peaceful when surrounded by loud, boisterous people who have no respect for the outdoors around them.

These inconsiderate people are apparently incapable of living without cell service for 24 hours. There is now a cell tower in this part of the Adirondacks. Now, New York State told the cell company that the tower would have to “blend in” with the natural surroundings.

The cell tower “blends in” alright. It looks like a giant green toilet brush. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. You can tell that the cell tower is there even if it is “disguised” as a tree that in no way blends in with the trees surrounding it.

Part of the attraction of going to places like this, for me at least, is the lack of cell phone service. I literally love to unplug and unwind. I don’t have to worry about people calling me, texting me, or emailing me. Especially in a society that is completely on 100% of the time, we need moments to disconnect and reflect.

During a recent internet search trying to find a new, more remote area of the Adirondacks to be my new oasis, I noticed that Cranberry Lake is listed on a boatload of “best of” lists that have promulgated the internet over the past 10 years or so.

No wonder that spot has become so popular. Cranberry Lake has suffered the same fate as some of the national parks and Mt. Everest where social media has made them so popular they are now being destroyed by the increased foot traffic and are no longer the places of refuge they once were.

When I was in the Adirondacks recently, I went by Cranberry Lake. I noticed that now instead of having the small, simple brown sign out front indicating the turn to the campground, there are in fact, 5 different points of entry into this location and all of them are very well marked. There is no hiding out at that location any longer.

After hearing of the recent murders on the Appalachian Trail, I would not consider such a popular spot a safe place to be anymore. You just don’t know who is traipsing through the woods now.

This is why, when I found my new oasis location, that will not be named, I chose a location that does not really come up on “Top 10” lists or the average internet search. I want to be in an area that not many people know about, that is remote yet still safe, and retains it’s natural beauty. Forests should be respected by people visiting, not destroyed.

I do believe that everyone has the right to enjoy parks and the natural beauty that surrounds us. However, when large numbers of people flock to the same location at the same time, it is not sustainable on the environment. At that point, we are just turning the woods into new cities.

I will let everyone else go to Mt. Everest, the internet famous national parks, and the ones in the Top 10 lists. For me, I’m going to look for the locations that are off the beaten path so that I can truly be in solitude. The challenge is that as we are commercializing solitude, those truly empty places are getting harder to find.  

A Minimalist in Bear Country

IMG_0046

Bear country means extra gear to handle the risks. As a minimalist, I managed to keep the gear down to a dull roar while still planning for the probability of bears. The Adirondacks are well known for bears, and there are certain times and certain years when a bear sighting is more probable than others.

There have been years, like this year, when the bear warnings are so high, that you are required to sign legal waivers to be in the Adirondacks knowing the risks of encountering bears. There are also pretty strict rules to follow for bear safety and to decrease the chance of a run-in with a bear.

One of the options for minimizing the chance of bear contact is to keep all food, including coolers, in a car trunk. Bears are smart. Even if the food is in the car in the passenger area, the bears will see and smell the food and break into a vehicle to get it. Trunks are a safer choice for food storage while in bear country.

A few years ago I had bought a new cooler for camping. The new cooler I purchased is one that is designed to withstand high heat, up to 90 degrees for up to 3 days and still stay cold. The other attractive feature of this cooler is that it has a drain spout at the bottom for me to be able to drain the water from the cooler as the ice melts. This alleviates the impossible balancing act of trying to dump out water while retaining ice and food.

When I had bought the cooler, I threw it in the backseat of the car and brought it home. This year was very exciting because it would be my first trip and opportunity to use the new cooler. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that this super awesome cooler is too tall to fit into my trunk. It fits into my backseat just fine, but this thing is too large for the trunk. So I was unable to take my fancy new cooler on this trip. It will have to wait for when I go on a camping trip that is not in bear country. The cooler will be fine in the back seat while camping if I go to a place and a time when there are no bear warnings.

Given the requirement that all food and coolers should be in the trunk when under a bear warning, I ended up taking a different cooler entirely. This is one instance in which I am happy I had not yet decluttered the “old” cooler when I bought the awesome new one. It is obvious that I am going to need to keep both coolers and then make a judgement call on which one to use based on where I am going and when.

Other options available when camping in bear country to minimize attracting bears to your camp site include: stringing the cooler on rope in the air between two trees. For me, this is way too challenging. If I’m going to string anything between two trees, it would be a hammock, and I would be in the hammock, so forget the cooler between the trees deal.

Some campgrounds have “bear lockers,” which are designated areas where food is locked so that bears cannot get to it. Bear lockers are usually in an area well away from where campsites are located, so that if bears are attracted to the lockers, they are less likely to hang around people’s tents. The camp site where I was at did have bear lockers available, but the bear warning was not high enough at the time to require their use. You could use them if you chose to use them, but they were not required.

Being under a bear warning effected the way I packed for my vacation.

Another safety tip when camping in bear country is that any clothing that is worn while cooking or eating should be taken off before you go into your tent for the night and the clothing should also be put in the trunk of the car. This includes clothing that you wore at your campfire, even if you did not use your campfire for cooking purposes. In my situation, I use my campfire for cooking purposes, pretty close to 100% of the time.

Given the clothing parameters for bear safety, this means that I actually have two pairs of “camp pants.” Camp pants are what I wear when I decide I am “in my site” for the evening – tending the fire, cooking, roasting marshmallows, etc. They go in the trunk of the car once I have put my pajamas on and am “in the tent” for the night. Since my camping trips are typically 2 night/3 day events, two pairs of camp pants works well for me.

Having “camp pants” for bear safety means that I end up packing more luggage for camping than I would when I go on vacation in a city. For example, when I was in Chicago a few years ago, I made it through my entire trip with only a backpack for luggage. This included even having a dressier outfit for an event I attended. For camping, I have to take the small duffel bag due to the “extras” needed for bear safety.

In addition to camp pants, I also pack two hoodies when camping, as I usually wear a hoodie when tending the fire. It typically gets down around 40 degrees at night when I go camping.

This way the hoodie can also go in the trunk when I am in the tent for the night. By using a new pair of camp pants and a new hoodie for the second night of camping, it prevents saturation of smells compared to using the same outfit for meals. Any way to dissipate smells so as not to attract a bear works for me. If I was not in bear country, then I would only take one pair of camp pants and one hoodie and I would wear them more than once.

Of course, you can take all of the proper precautions and still encounter a bear. I did have that experience a few years ago. In 20 years of camping, I have only ever physically encountered a bear once. I’m not sure who was more scared – me or the bear. Luckily, he ran away, so I did not have a negative bear experience.

Even with all the “extras” required for bear country, I happily noticed that I have effectively decreased the amount of gear I need for camping over the years. It used to be that the car was so stuffed full of gear that I could barely see out the back window.

Since I have started my minimizing journey, I have not only downsized my camping gear, but gotten more efficient at packing and at choosing what needs to be packed for a successful trip. Not only was I more than able to see out the back window of the car last week, but when I arrived, this is what the set up looked like:

The tent held my sleeping bag, pillow, and small duffel. The truck was full of food, cooler, and wood that I picked up at a stand about 5 miles away on the way into camp. The backseat of the car was completely empty, while the front seats held items such as camp chair, stereo, toiletry bucket, etc.

Just the fact that my car was not jam packed full of gear was amazing. I was not lacking or in need of anything. I am still in the process of playing with my camping checklist to see if there is anything more I can minimize, but for the moment I am in a pretty good place.

The one thing I always seem to over pack on while camping is food, and I consider this to be a good thing. When you go off in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, and the nearest town is a good 40 miles away, you need to have food. I always splurge and pack the good stuff for food when I am camping.

As I was packing to go on my trip, I was amazed at how full my freezer and refrigerator both were. It’s been a few years since I have had that much food in the house. It was all because I was preparing to go camping. Thus, the need for the fancy new cooler that is too big for the trunk. I’m trying to minimize the need to leave camp for ice. That way I can spend more time hiking and less time driving into town to refill the cooler.

Just because you are heading into bear country as a minimalist, does not mean you have to scrimp on safety. I plan for safety first. If that means extra gear, then so be it. I’’ll save the backpacking for the cities. A small duffel works for bear country.