Saturday, December 17, 2011

What I wore: plateletpheresis

I’m taking my cue from The Dainty Squid and other bloggers who post pictures of the cute outfits they put together. In my case, I’m showcasing a complete lack of style.

I try to donate platelets every couple of weeks, and I really have to dress for the occasion -- in survival gear that still leaves me free to bare my left arm. The platelet apheresis machines are finicky, and if the vein pressure is too low they alarm... and alarm... and alarm, turning a 90-minute donation into an all day affair. If you’re cold, it can alarm. If deyhdrated, alarm.

The first try at platelets, it seemed it would never end. Alarm. Alarm. Alarm. They moved the needle (Ouch!). Alarm. Another needle adjustment (Ouch!). Alarm. Three or four needle adjustments later (Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!) they let me give up on the second unit.

Now, I dress for the Klondike, demand hot packs and blankets, and slam so much water I feel faintly nauseous. The outfit for today: turtleneck thermal top, longjohns under flannel-lined Carhartts, Tour de Prairie (37 miles!) t-shirt, sleeveless zip hoodie from a spaving expedition to Kohl’s, and thrifted black Converse high-tops. Plus, one of those groovy earlflap Columbia wool hats and a polarfleece scarf. They buried me under 3 giant blankets and gave me a baby bottle of hot water to squeeze.

Probably looks silly to the whole blood donors who’ve never tried to appease the angry gods of the apheresis machine, but it works. At the end, I get a black bandage to match the t-shirt and tennies, and instructions not to take it off for 4 hours.

The blood bank keeps a list at their front desk of patients served recently. I look for those that might have used what came out of my arm. This week, there were a baby and a 64-year-old man who both needed platelets, and could have taken A-negative. Maybe they were mine, or maybe they’ll go to the next baby or grandfather in the hospital. It’s an ego trip.

I don’t have other volunteer opportunities where I can take 3 hours out of my weekend and possibly save someone’s life. I don’t have the time, resources or inclination to go dig wells in Haiti. I don’t have any particular skills that involve lifesaving. As an introvert with marginal social skills, I’m glad of something to do that doesn’t require me to actually interact with people, other than the phlebotomists.

I’ve been through thyroid cancer, I’m used to getting needles in the arm. I’ve got a nice, big vein down the center of the left one. I have plenty of platelets. I bleed easily, reseal quickly and have the patience to sit still if I can only have a book in my hands. I guess every girl has to have a talent.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

First cross-country ski of the season

The streets are in that perfect state of snowpack after vehicles have driven on it, but before they’ve worn through it. The sun is shining, but not so much yet to destroy the snow.

I strap on the cross-country gear and ski circles around the neighborhood for an hour. The snow is thin, but sturdy, and the skis glide smoothly even as the pole tips hit pavement each time I plant them.

It’s heaven.

All things being equal, I’d rather exercise outdoors. If it’s warm, I want to be on a bike. When it’s cold, I want to be on skis. All things are not always equal around here, though. The single best word to describe weather here is “violent.” Thirty or forty mile an hour sustained winds. Snowstorms with blizzard winds that leave 4 feet of snow on my front porch and the faintest dusting on parts of the lawn. Golf ball sized hail that strip the trees, leaves falling like rain. The highways close on a semi-regular basis.

Nice mornings like this one, though, are heaven. Even better when I get in a meditative kick and glide, feel sun on my face, get a little downhill speed going on the next block. I’m not a racer, more of a long, slow distance person, and it feels like I could do this all day.

The snow is better and the traffic lighter on the east-west streets, but I like the modest hill on the north-south run. I step aside and wave when I see cars. Some of them wave back and give me an encouraging smile. Others drive by with a look of bewilderment, wondering what on earth I’m doing in the road.

On another day, I’ll take the car and go up to the real ski trails up the hill 30 miles an hour. It’ll be a day when the roads aren’t still “slick in spots” and there’s no blowing snow near the summit. For now, I’m grateful I live where the snowplows don’t run.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

When self-care goes to hell

I feel semi-human again. At lunch, I took time to cook homemade tomato soup, make myself some coffee, fix tuna with avocado mayo.

I feel most like myself when I am in the kitchen by myself, cooking good food, listening to public radio, maybe with some snow on the ground outside the window but warm inside. It reminds me of being a ski bum, when I cooked from scratch all the time out of financial necessity. As a child, it was in the kitchen that I felt closest to my mother, working alongside her. In college, when I became stressed, I’d start cooking something... anything. No recipe required.

There are times in life when self-care goes out the window, and the last couple of months have been one of them. I knew it would happen. I knew I had too many classes on my plate and that it would be a slog toward the end.

It’s time now to get back to center. Soup is a good start. With that, here’s the recipe:

Quick no-sugar tomato soup:

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 shallot, or ½ onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 cups water
1 bouillon cube
1 sweet potato
3 large tomatoes, or 1 can no-salt chopped tomatoes
¼ - ½ tsp each basil, thyme, rosemary
salt/pepper to taste

Saute shallot or onion in oil over medium-low heat until translucent. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute, just until fragrant. Add water and bouillon and turn heat to high. In the meantime, cook sweet potato in the microwave until soft, peel and chop. Also, if using fresh tomatoes, peel and chop. (The skin slips right off if you dunk them in boiling water for a minute.) Toss sweet potatoes, tomatoes and herbs in the pot. Cook on medium-high for a little bit -- 10 to 15 minutes ought to do it. Mash it up with a potato masher for a chunkier soup or blend until as smooth as you want.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

6 Days in Charm City

Earlier this month, I took a trip to Baltimore with DH -- work for him, play for me. Baltimore’s nickname is the Charm City. It’s a rough city, kind of down on its luck. Some call it the Harm City. It wasn’t too encouraging when we boarded the light rail from the airport to the hotel and found that the advertisers on public transit were bail bondsmen.

As someone who lives in a small city, the occasional big city trip is a treat. The Inner Harbor was lovely. It’s always good to be on the water, looking at the lines of boats. The American Visionary Art Museum was amazing. When I visit traditional art museums I may admire the workmanship, but the Visionary Art Museum made me want to actually make things out of old doilies and scavenged fabric and furniture.

Then there were the panhandlers. Everywhere. We didn’t even make it to the hotel before a woman on the light rail asked us for a dollar.

What do I do? Do I give to the elderly woman in the wheelchair? The crying woman who says she just needs bus fare to get home, who doesn’t look like she does this on a regular basis. The man who politely tells me he needs bus fare to get to the mental hospital? Am I making myself vulnerable, distracted by digging in my pockets for change or a $1 bill?

It feels dehumanizing to walk past and ignore them, try not to make eye contact. But there are so many, I am afraid to get pulled down into this city’s sucking need.

Oddly, I had been reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin on this trip. The book talks about what we do when the person in need isn’t just an abstraction, but a human standing in front of you. Not some amorphous “the homeless” or “the unemployed,” but a man standing on a street corner saying, “Please, anything. Even a penny would help.” When we do help, do we embrace that person, or keep them at arm’s length, as Miss Ophelia does with Topsy?

Baltimore has a water taxi. One route goes around to the Inner Harbor tourist destinations,. Another is a commuter line, carrying people for free from their homes to their jobs at UnderArmour or Domino Sugar. A man and a woman were waiting at Tide Point with me for the boat that goes out to the farthest stop at Canton Waterfront Park, where I was headed.

I asked him if he lived in Baltimore, and he said he did, adding that they’d just lost their place to live. “Hard times for a lot of people,” he added.

“I know,” I said. “My brother lost his job the same time his wife got sick. He lost his house he'd been paying on for years.”

“You know what I’m talking about then,” he said.

“Something’s got to change,” I said. He asked me if I knew where the nearest mission was, but I didn’t. That was the only thing he asked of me.

We rode the boat across gray water, soft gray-white sky past huge ships and lines of yachts. He put a hand on the woman’s leg, squeezed it gently. I fingered the bills in my pocket, the mad money for doing touristy things.

They left the boat at Canton Park. I hesitated, then seeing they’d stopped to sit, pulled a bill out of my pocket, asked the man driving the boat if I had a minute. I ran up to them, “Excuse me sir,” I said. “I don’t want to insult you, but could you use a few quid for a good meal?”

“I sure could.”

I put the folded up bill in his hand, and found myself embracing him. “God bless you, sir,” I told him. I’m not a believer, but it felt like the right thing to say. May God, or the universe or just basic human kindness bless and protect you. As the boat pulled away again, he waved as I left.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back from Baltimore

Even though I'm prone to start projects in a flurry and then abandon them, I've not abandoned this blog. I was in Baltimore for a few days, tagging along with DH who was traveling for work.

Lovely city, a little down on its luck. The first night there, a very funny woman at a party informed me that "Baltimore has the highest syphilis rate in the nation."

All I could think to say was, "Well that screws up my plans to have sex with random strangers while I'm here."

We came home after 6 days on the road to a backed up sewer. I am about as fecal-phobic as they come, so was greatly relieved that the man mopped up the utility room. Marrying a civil sanitary engineer means never having to clean up your own sewage.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My favorite Halloween princess

A beautiful princess in pink came to my door on Halloween. Her mother helped her up one step at a time. With much encouragement, she pushed a button that said “Trick or Treat” for her. I handed her a small, orange and black bag of pumpkin- and bat-shaped pretzels. Her father handed me a slip of paper that told me she had Rett Syndrome, that she was doing her best and she wished me a "boo-tiful" night.

I found my way to the website printed on the paper, read what she and her family are up against, and began to cry. From there, I found my way to the Girl Power 2 Cure Facebook page and found this Halloween-night post:

“Tonight a lot of creatures will visit your door. Be open minded. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy might have poor fine motor skills. The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy might have motor planning issues. The child who does not say trick or treat or thank you might be shy or non-verbal. The child who looks disappointed when he sees your bowl might have an allergy. The child who isn't wearing a costume at all might have SPD or autism. The child who is screaming at the top of her lungs probably can't help it. Be nice. Be patient. Its everyone's Halloween.”

One of the fun things about being a wannabe writer is people-watching and pretending they are characters in a story. I can sit in an airport for hours and create whole backstories on the elegant middle-aged woman in a suit with slender legs neatly crossed at the ankles, the young couple in dreadlocks, the large woman with a beautiful smile

But as they say, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye -- when we start writing the stories that assume the worst about people. Then we start believing those stories and telling them to others. There’s the rotten mother story -- that one’s popular. The man with lung cancer who obviously (obviously!) smoked himself to death. There’s the horror story of the lazy, gluttonous, slovenly fat person -- that one’s a best-seller.

It’s been said that you should “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Maybe we should also never attribute to weakness that which may be adequately explained by happenstance or just plain bad luck.

I don’t know what burdens others are carrying. Sometimes when I find out, I marvel at their strength.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The other cancer: lung cancer

Now that pinktober is over, we’re 9 days into the cancer awareness month that no one seems to be aware of: lung cancer.

This morning, I was digging through my disorganized jewelry drawer looking for my “hope” bracelet. It was designed by a friend who has been battling lung cancer for five stinking years.

The bracelet is all wood and some kind of green stone that’s said to  be healing (don’t know exactly -- I’m not good at the details on the groovy woo front). It has a small charm that says “hope” on it. She’s amazing -- I might have given up hope at this point, and she hasn’t. The least I can do is wear the bracelet and try to hope for her.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It's another one of those diseases that have a stigma, that those who get it somehow “deserve” it. The question on everyone’s mind (or the assumption) is that the person in front of them with lung cancer did it to themselves with cigarettes.

You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer. My friend certainly didn’t. And it kills more women than breast cancer.

And even if you smoked 3 damn packs a day your whole life, no one “deserves” to get sick.

A few months ago I read The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. In it, I read how cancers that used to be death sentences are now treatable. Lung cancer isn’t one of them... yet. But the book gave me hope.

We have enough stiff dick pills and botox for barely wrinkly women, and when I turn on the news, I’m sick of hearing about all the latest cure for overactive bladder. I want the latest cure for lung cancer, and I want it fast. There are too many people out there with expiration dates stamped on their foreheads (my friend’s words), and they need the research done and the drugs tested before the milk goes bad.

We need to race for a cure for lung cancer, too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One small blow for HAES

My employer has a wellness program. For the most part, it's pretty benign -- I don't mind reminders to floss my teeth or eat my veggies or go move. More and more, though, I've found myself getting annoyed with the focus on weight loss. In particular, this last program had a book that was well-meaning, but particularly egregious.

At the end of each program, we get a chance to evaluate it. Here is what I wrote:

The book lost me at “it’s time to throw out the Twinkies!” I haven’t had a Twinkie in probably 10 years. It’s a fallacy to assume that everyone who isn’t thin has horrible food and exercise habits, just as it’s a fallacy to assume that every thin person has healthy habits.

The more I learn about weight and health, the more concerned I am about the strong emphasis the wellness program puts on weight and weight loss. Calorie restriction and intentional weight loss have risks -- 95%+ of people who lose weight gain it back within five years, and about a third of those end up weighing more than they did initially and with negative impacts on their lipids, blood sugar and other measures of cardiovascular health. In fact, Dr. Arya Sharma, a bariatric surgeon and blogger, says that the quickest way to gain 25 pounds is to lose 20.  In contrast, a Health at Every Size approach (Linda Bacon) that puts the focus on healthy habits rather than weight is a saner approach. Those who follow it have improvements to their health and are more likely to maintain those habits and maintain their weight, rather than yo-yo-ing or gaining.

I can send you links to studies supporting this, as well as to the epidemiological study that showed that people in the “overweight” BMI range actually have fewer excess deaths than those in the “healthy” range. We need to stop scaring people who are “overweight” into dieting their way up the scale. We need to focus on health, not weight. The two are not the same.

I doubt it will go anywhere, but I felt better.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Slog days versus rest days

The wind hasn’t started yet. The forecast calls for 25-35MPH West winds today with gusts over 40. Winds that strong can actually pick up small pebbles and pelt you in the face with them.

So I will not be riding today. At least not outside. Today is a good day to go to the YMCA.

I’ve had two slog days and a rest day. Rest is an important part of exercise. The body needs to recover so it can go at it again. Rest days are essential. Slog days, on the other hand, are those days when it’s tough to get motivated but the body still wants and needs to move.

When I rode my 90-miler, I had no expectations of making it that far. Between work and a math class I was taking, I hadn’t kept up with the training schedule. DH kept reassuring me that I would do fine and that rest is important. I told myself that I’d shoot for at least a  metric century (62 miles), go as far as I could and that there was no shame in flagging a ride from the sag wagon.

I surprised myself with how far I rode -- and I made it back to the start under my own steam. DH was right: rest is important.

So often, I see the people who write on health and fitness blithely dismiss “excuses” for not exercising. They tell us to replace “self-defeating” thoughts like “I don’t have time to exercise” with “I’ll make time!” (exclamation points often figure big in the overall perkiness.) Well, when I went to work the other day at 7:30 in the morning, came home from class at 8 p.m. to a dirty kitchen with a growling stomach and was trying to accomplish everything with a mind and body that require 7-8 hours of sleep to function... well, sorry honey, this was no excuse. I truly did NOT have time that day to do a full-out workout.

One of the “excuses” is that we are tired, and the admonition is that exercise will give us more energy. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes if we force ourselves out the door and begin moving, we will remember why we like to do this and why it makes us feel good. Sometimes, our body is just telling us “sit, stay, DOWN!” as if to a disobedient puppy.

Slog days can be tough to tell from rest days,  but when I listen to my body, it lets me know. On a slog day, I might go out slow and pick up steam. I might go for a shorter time, or at a slower pace. If I try to slog it and it’s not working, I pack it in and make it a rest day. Our bodies know. We might mistake a slog day for a rest day or vice versa, but both are important. We can trust ourselves to learn when to push ourselves and when to take it easy.

On my two slog days, I got on the bike trainer and pedaled slower and more easily than normal. The second night, I hula hooped a few minutes under the stars on a non-icy patch of sidewalk. I moved for what time I had in a way that I enjoyed, and I was glad I made time for it. Last night, no training schedule, no “fitness goals,” nothing on earth could have moved me off the couch.

There is no shame, no failure in rest. Rest is healing. Today I don’t feel is if I have to exercise -- I want to. I would not feel that way without some rest.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Two days, two books, five miles to nowhere

It's been a busy week, but I did manage to put in about 35 minutes on the bike trainer in our back room over the past couple of days. I usually figure 10-12 miles per hour when on the trainer, so I'm counting it as five miles.

I love to read books while pedaling. Something I  can clearly do only while on something stationary. Wednesday, it was catching up on my accounting homework, reading up on stocks and bonds with the seemingly 18-pound-textbook in hand. (No, it's not that heavy, really, just feels like it sometimes.)

And last night, I was reading a library copy of Kim Brittingham's Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large. The book has a "someone recommended this!" sticker inside the front cover, since I recommended that our library purchase it. Not everyone knows this, but public libraries usually take suggestions from patrons on books for purchase. I figured Read My Hips was a nice counterweight to all the diet books.

If you've read it -- you know that photo of her as a young girl? The one where, at the time, she thought she had freakishly large hips? I was about the same build at about the same age and had about the same attitude toward my hips. I never tried to photoshop them with a marker in a picture as she did. I just avoided cameras.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I am officially a Defiant Athlete!

I am officially a Defiant Athlete! Shaunta was kind enough to add me to her list over on Live Once, Juicy. If you haven’t checked out her site yet, go take a read or follow her on Facebook.

My goal is to complete my first century (100 mile) bicycle ride at the end of June. It’s an organized ride, so there will be support all along the way. It’s also a 2600-foot gain in elevation for the first 50 miles, and more likely than not I’ll be fighting a headwind in that direction. I need to get to where I’m riding 40-50 miles a week consistently before I start my 10-week full-out training schedule in April.

At this moment, I am a defiant, fighting-a-cold athlete who wants to go home and get some rest but can’t afford to miss class tonight. My mom always asked when we got sniffly if we were “coming down with something.” I’ve found that when I refer to it as “fighting a cold” instead of “catching a cold,” I seem to get fewer full-blown colds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Come on, Snow Day!

Snow is coming down fast, sticking now to the walks where an hour ago it melted. It coats the leaves; some will fall later, branches or even limbs still attached. The wind picks it up in swirls, the air has that storm-blue light you only see on snowy evenings. outside the basement window, the scrap roll of chain-link fence turns to lace.

They predict 5-10 inches tonight, the second real snowstorm of the season and the first big one. I find myself hoping that WYDOT will swing the gates to the summit shut on I-80, the offices will close and I will dig out my skinny skis and cross-country down the streets in the morning. Come on, Snow Day!

Snow has always made me feel hopeful. Snow is doing my schoolwork at the kitchen table in the breakfast nook so I can listen to the school closures on the AM radio. Come on, Snow Day!

Snow is the year I finally moved West and saw two feet of it on the ground in Alaska in May. It’s moving to a ski town with my now DH and hearing the avalanche cannons go off at dawn. Coffee tastes better when snow is falling. It’s the watercolor  my sister painted for me of my 2nd day on skis, in the Utah mountains. It’s seeing the darkened winter becoming bright, moonlight reflecting so its almost like day.

Snow is also a pain in the neck these days. I’ll wake up at 6 and shovel the walks. Remind me never to buy another house on a corner lot. I’ll spend 10 minutes finagling with the automatic garage door that always malfunctions in cold weather. I’ll go to the office and look out the windows at all the white once, wishing I could go out and play, before I retreat to my windowless office.

Snow both makes me feel old and reminds me of being young.

Sunday, I rode out to the experimental farm. It’s one of the few places outside of town where there are trees, along with beautiful old homes built for employee housing.

DH has impressed upon me that I must, must, must keep the tires property inflated, so I grabbed the pump before I pulled out the road bike. Opened the back tire presta valve and popped on the connector. Nothing. No hiss, no swing of the needle on the air gauge. I try it again. Nope. The last time I was too forceful with it, it stuck and I had to get the man to do the big, strong man trick to get it off. So I go to the front tire. The tire has lost way too much air and the valve is sticking out all catawampus. The last thing I need to do is lose air in the middle of a 20-miler, so I decide to take my commuting bike.

(Interestingly enough, spellcheck’s recommendation for “catawampus” is “cutworms”)

I grab the other bike pump and inflate the tires on the other bike. It’s about 40 degrees outside and I wonder briefly about that whole gas expansion thing I learned in high school chemistry. And continue to fully inflate them.

I head West out of town. It’s uphill, but still calm, and even uphill I build up a pretty good cadence. There’s no feeling like getting a good spin going -- anything 80-90 on the flats, legs loose almost no resistance -- it feels like flying.

My commuting bike has no cyclometer, so I don’t know how fast I’m going back on the longest downhill but it’s fast. Fast enough there’s a fleeting thought that if anything falls off the bike at that moment, this is gonna hurt.

Fortunately, it’s slower when I hear a POP and a hissssss and there’s something odd on the side of my front tire. Not good. I’m still 5 or 6 miles out and it’s either a long hike or a sheepish call to the DH. 

I stop. About 2 inches of the tire has popped out of the rim. All I can think is that I inflated the tire too much and I’ve lost the  inner tube. I take a little air out and push the tire back in. It still holds air. I take a little out of the back tire to be safe and ride home slowly, but under my own steam.

Twenty miles and three bad wheels on one sunny Sunday morning.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Who is the Fat Chick in Lycra

Well, first off, I'm not really all that fat. I thought I was until I started lurking among the body size acceptance blogs.  I've got a lot more thin privilege going on than I thought.

But in this world, I'm fat enough. 

I'm fat enough that every year, when I take a wellness assessment for an insurance discount at work, it tells me to lose at least 25 pounds, despite otherwise good numbers.

I'm fat enough that all the news stories tell me I'm taking my life in my own hands because of my body size.

I'm not so fat that the only images I see of women with my body size are headless torsos. I'm fat enough that I simply rarely see women my size in the media anywhere.

I'm fat enough that I spent much of my life first hating my thighs, then my belly, and as I got into my 40s, my upper arms.

I'm fat enough that I'm grateful for the alternate voices of HAES and body acceptance. I've been lurking in the fatosphere for a while, commenting on blogs, gathering strength and wanting to add my own voice to the mix. I'm going to try it now.

I love to bicycle. I came damn close to completing a century ride in August, and I'm planning on doing my first century in June. There is nothing, NOTHING better on long rides than stretchy lycra shorts with the chamois padding.

I'm fat enough that I was at first scared to wear lycra, then very self-conscious about it. I was embarrassed to wear the most practical clothing for the endeavor because, well, I was fat.

After I'd been riding for real for a while, a co-worker made some snotty comment about fat people and lycra. I wanted to dance on his desk in nothing but my bike shorts and a jog bra with both middle fingers upraised. I thought that might be a little rough on my career path, though.

I often thought about starting a group called Fat Chicks in Lycra. I wanted to be with women who rode, who skied, who walked, without self-consciousness. I wanted to be among women who loved good nourishing food. I wanted to be among women who enjoyed life, who moved with joy and who ate without apology. I've found them online, and I am grateful.

I'm happy to be a Fat Chick in Lycra.