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I ran cross country and track in high school. I was never great at it, but I enjoyed it. Cross country at least. Track, not so much. Running in circles never made much sense to me, which was why I always chose to run short distance even though I’ve never been all that fast.

But cross country was different. Something about those crisp fall afternoons, running with my friends. Our girl’s cross country squad had over 100 members, so there was always someone to run with. Plus we had the most awesome pre-race dinners ever.

Imagine all those 100 girls, plus various coaching staff, plus lots of helpful parents. Mounds of pasta and sauce. Baby carrots galore. And these wonderful chocolatey, peanut-buttery rice crispy treaty things. Scotcharoos. De-licious!

My sophomore year I set a personal best 2 miles in 14:37. I think. Something like that, give or take a couple seconds. It was at a race track that was a bit rolling, but no big hills. We ran there twice in a row, once for the season race and once for districts race. It was an awesome course, and I really pushed myself the second week, knowing I’d set a new PR the previous week and wanting so badly to beat it.

Which I did. By 2 seconds! But I still beat it!

Anyways, after high school, I never really ran much. But for some reason, on my recent health and exercise kick, I’ve started running again. A couple miles on the treadmill at the gym. A nice long run around the neighborhood. I’ve even done one local 5k with some cross country friends from high school who live out here now. And we’re doing another one in 2 weeks.

I’d forgotten the feeling of running mindless. Of being able to just clear my brain and go. There’s something satisfying about it. Granted, some days its tough, and all I can think about are how hot I am, or how much my shin splints hurt, or the massive cramp in my side, or just that I don’t want to be doing it. Thank goodness for my iPod! But then other days, I just fly. And that’s an awesome feeling. And no matter how crappy I feel when I’m doing it, I always feel good afterwards.

And though I’m not sure I’ll ever be as fast as I was 13-14 (wowza!) years ago, I’m feeling pretty good about my pace.

I’m even down to about a 9 minute mile for two miles. Go me!

So, question: does anyone have any advice for good running music? Something with a good pace/beat? I tend to run at the pace of my music, so slow doesn’t work so well. Any and all advice is truly appreciated.

I know I haven’t been posting much, and sort of trivial things, but it’s because I’ve been figuring out how to deal with what I’ve been feeling–I figured working through it in my head was a lot better than rambling on forever here.

Also, I’ve been working on a paper a lot lately, so I’ve kind of not felt like writing anything else.

So, the truth is, I felt for awhile there like I was two people, one very happy and one not so happy.

I was given some advice awhile back–that I could choose to dwell and be unhappy and let things get to me, or I could move on and get over them and be happy with the way things were. Difficult advice to follow, to be sure, but I decided it was worth a shot.

So that is what I’ve been working on for the last month. I’ve really begun to feel like I can just be happy with myself and my life and my family and my friends and everything recently. But I also felt like if I tried to blog about it before I was ready, it’d come out all negative, which would defeat the purpose.

Now, though, I think I’m ready to go back to writing. And definitely ready to go back to being happy and self-confident and self-loving!

So here are some of the happy moments in the last month or so:

I got to help with an Advanced scuba class awhile back that Sydney took, and it was great to work with our staff and her. Plus, we had some cool dives. On our night dive, an otter came and hunted by the light of our lights. Sydney also found an octopus, which I’m hoping the otter did NOT find! I also saw my first eel, a monkey-faced eel, down in Carmel on the boat dive, which was pretty cool.

I threw myself a kick-ass enchilada birthday party, somewhat delayed to make room for the advanced class, and the weekend Sydney had her birthday party, and stuff going on at John’s work. We heated our little apartment up to toasty levels with three burners and the stove going, but it was an awesome evening.

I did a big presentation for my department, and it went well. I made it through the talk, answered all the questions fully (I hope), and was told afterwards by people that it was clear and concise and I did a good job.

I got to spend part of the past weekend with the lovely Julie and her adorable girl Ella, and even got a smile and a hug from her by the end of the day. (Specifically Ella, but Julie did smile and hug me, too!) There’s nothing quite like a baby’s smile to make all right with the world. Plus, it was great to hang out with Julie and her family! Now to just wait for the third member of her family to come visit…

And last, there’s a hummingbird nest in the bushes by our front door. The poor thing keeps dive bombing us whenever we come or go, and if we had another door, we’d use it. But in the meantime, it’s pretty cool to watch her, and I can’t wait for little hummingbird babies!

See, now how can life be dark and dreary when I’ve got all that going on?

Note: I’ve been working on this post for two days, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say, to describe how I was feeling about the situation. Debating whether or not all that I wanted to say was truly relevant.

And then today I found out that my grandmother experienced chest pains in the wee hours of this morning, which doctors are tentatively calling a heart attack. She’s in the hospital, and doing well, and that’s about all I know. Various aunts have promised to call me back when they can. I’m so thankful that my grandparents live down here now, just several miles away from relatives instead of a two-hour drive. Thankful, also, that if I’m needed, I can be there in just a few hours instead of waiting for a plane. So if you could keep my grandmother in your prayers, as well as my mom (see below), I’d be grateful.

Now here we go…

****

My mom’s breast reconstruction surgery was moved from April to tomorrow. We found out Friday that someone else had backed out, and my mom felt she was ready. So she’ll be in surgery tomorrow for 10-12 hours, and in the hospital for 3-5 days, and then at home for 2-3 weeks. Good thing I hadn’t booked tickets home for April, right?

You all have been so good about wishing us well and everything for over a year now, and I can’t tell you how much I do and have appreciated that. It’s made a huge difference on the days when I was freaking-the-fuck-out, but it’s also made a huge difference even on the days when I knew she’d be okay.

For all of that, thank you. And if you could think of her tomorrow, and keep her in your prayers, then hopefully this will be the last chapter of this saga. There are no guarantees in this game, I know, but for now I’m hoping this is going to be the end.

My mom has made it through an amazing amount in the last year–finding out she had breast cancer, finding out it was likely metastatic and already in her bones, finding out that it was only (thank God) stage 3C (the last and worst stage before metastasis, but the before part was all that mattered), going through weekly chemo for 6 months, going through genetic testing and having to wait a month to find out the answers, going through physical sickness and lack of strength and energy, going through anemia that resulted in her need for a blood transfusion, going through a double mastectomy, going through 5 weeks of radiation, going through an additional 6 months of the “good” chemo drug herceptin (a miracle drug, if you ask me). Going through pain and worry and fighting against her own body for control, for life.

But through it all, she’s been relatively okay. She’s always faced it instead of hiding from it, and she’s done so with grace and serenity for the most part. She’s made jokes, she’s been pretty cheerful. She’s said that if she dies, she’ll get to see her mother again. My grandmother died fourteen years ago from colon cancer, less than two weeks after my grandfather died from brain cancer, and I know my mom misses them. To her, it was a comfort to think of seeing her parents again. And so, to her, even in the beginning when we thought we had maybe two years together, she was fairly serene about any outcome. Worried, but serene. Granted, she likely had her moments of weakness, of freaking out, of anger and helplessness, but overall, she was stronger than the cancer. She always said she was going to fight, and that anger wouldn’t solve anything. True, it doesn’t. The situation is, was, what it was. And so she fought.

Tomorrow, for her, marks the last step in this horrible journey. She’s chosen to go with the longest and most intense reconstructive option. Implants are painful to enlarge, the radiation probably makes the tissue on one side less stretchy and thus it may not accept an implant, and they tend to leak and require more surgery every 10 years or so. The other option was to have a implants made from her belly fat, either buried up along her rib cage, or completely removed and reattached via microvascular reconstructive surgery. The first option takes muscle, and means she likely wouldn’t be capable of doing a sit-up ever again. The second option is a long and intense surgery, but she thinks it’s what’s right for her. There’s a chance the tissue won’t take, that it will die, or that she’ll need a second surgery to reattach it again. But when you lay out all the pros and cons, to her, having one big surgery weighs out over many smaller ones, and health and physical fitness and being able to exercise weigh out over possible complications with the tissue.

I have to admit that I’d be perfectly okay with her simply using prosthetics and having no more surgery, but that’s not what she wants and so I’m going to stand behind her and her decision. I can’t tell you want I’d do in the same situation, so who am I to judge? It’s selfish of me to wish otherwise, simply to not go through the worry during the surgery.

And believe me, worry I will. This will be the second surgery she’s had that I’ve known about in advance, and I’m just about as nervous as I was last time during her mastectomy. Who wouldn’t worry about their mom?

I mean, she’s had plenty of surgeries and hospital stays in the last however-many years. Pulmonary embolism while on a plane to New Zealand, but we didn’t find out until she was already in the hospital. Emergency gall bladder removal, then an emergency appendix removal, but in both cases my dad couldn’t get ahold of my sister or me until the surgery was over. Those are quick little surgeries, believe me. By the time I got home to the “your mom is in the hospital” note, it was over. In all cases, we were basically informed post-fact. We didn’t have the worry to go through during the actual thing. Just the recovery, and the relief that it had been dealt with and that she was okay.

Here, now, I trust that my mom will be okay. She has to be. And I have to trust that. She’s strong, and she’s never had problems before in surgery. I liked her doctor. I trusted him. Even if it’s a tricky surgery, and long, I have faith that she’s going to be okay. That he’s going to do a good job.

I reserve the right to, as I said before, freak-the-fuck-out tomorrow, but I also know I’m strong enough to be strong for her. For myself. For whoever else might need it now, or in the future. I may not have shown or expressed that over the past year, but I know I am.

I think that’s something that’s occurred to me only recently. I’ve expressed my anger and fear and helplessness when I’ve felt them, and again, I thank all of you who were there for me, but I’ve never really talked about the times when it all felt okay. When I knew we were all going to come out the other side, changed a bit but together nonetheless. At those times, there didn’t seem much to say other than “She’s fine.” She was, and I was fine, too, after all, and not consumed by fear. At that moment. So mostly all people heard about was when it wasn’t fine, when I wasn’t fine.

I think that that lack made me appear weak to some people, and the end result was that they didn’t trust me to be strong enough for them and for our friendship when they needed it, in spite of what fear and pain I might be feeling. They may have thought they were protecting me in the beginning, but when they threw it in my face, it became just another way that, to them, I’d failed them. And without ever having been given the chance to prove that I might have been capable, that I had the strength. That lack of faith and trust hurts a lot, much more than I’ve been able to put into words until now, but maybe it’s somewhat justified when the only face I’ve presented was the one when I was been scared. However, friends should, above all else, have faith in each other, right? I’d like to think so.

I was so astounded and hurt at the time by the accusations, all of them, that at the time I couldn’t put it into words, that I could only say what needed to be heard and not what needed to be said. It was fairly clear after a few moments that defending or explaining myself wasn’t going to be listened to–I’m not saying the accusations were completely unfounded, but it would have been nice to have my side listened to instead of spoken over or dismissed. So I just said the only words I could, that I was sorry. And really, I am. As much as I’ve longed to have that conversation back to redo, to express my side, my case, my hurt, it wouldn’t change anything, so I’ve tried to move on. In many ways, I think that the lack of faith and trust said all that needed to be said. I’ll admit to feeling better just to say this much, to get this much off my chest, so I can stop rehearsing what I’d like to have said. What I wish I’d been strong enough to say at the time. Instead I walked away, and my brain at times has mocked me as being cowardly for not having my say. It was a great friendship, and maybe worth fighting for, but this kind of incident also seemed to be a cycle we couldn’t break out of and which only lead to pain for both of us.

Being strong, I’m discovering, is a constant growing process. And being strong in some ways doesn’t translate to all situations. Maybe the strength to fight against cancer with my mom is different from the strength to stand up for myself against someone I thought I could trust. What I was strong enough to do, I suppose, was to philosophical shrug and walk away from a relationship that, although valued, clearly wasn’t healthy for the two people in it. It may have been cowardly, but I think it also took a lot courage to just let it go without making the situation worse by forcing my need to have my say.

And strength and health, both mental and physical, seems to have been a common theme in my life lately. Strength is something I’m working on, and I’m channeling it elsewhere now. Into a healthier outlook on life, into healthier relationship with those that do have faith in me, into relationships with those in whom I have faith. Into the strength to make it through 10-12 hours of waiting for word to come tomorrow.

In any case, I’ve worked through all this with many other people supporting me, worked through the fear and helplessness and anger, and I am and we are about come out the other side. In many ways, stronger together than we were before. I’ve had faith in myself to be strong for myself, for my sister, for my dad, for my mom, and I’ve had faith in my mom to be even stronger. I’ve been supported by many good friends, family and a wonderful, wonderful husband who has gone through a similar process with his mother and also lost his dad to cancer. In turn, I hope I’ve supported my family whenever they’ve needed it, and even when they haven’t.

And my mom? My mom has been incredibly strong, despite the weakness her body has caused her. She’s fought this terrible thing whereby her body is threatening her life, where the most outward sign of her femininity, where she nursed my sister and I, is turning against her. I can’t imagine how hard it’s been, but I’m sure it’s magnitudes harder than what I’ve been going through. There are no words to express how amazed and proud and happy I am to have her in my life, to have received this lesson in how to live from her.

And so, at the end of every freak-out, at the end of each day, I know that if she can be that strong for herself, as well as for me and my sister and everyone else, if she can appear to get through this as gracefully as she has, then aren’t I strong enough to stand by and watch and help how I can? Even if it’s as simple as sitting with her through a chemo session, or making dinner to give my dad a break? And though I sometimes need to cry or scream or eat chocolate or drink or cope how I can, I know I’m strong enough to see this thing through. Strong enough to believe that tomorrow, despite it’s scariness, will bring an end to this chapter and journey of my mom’s bout with cancer. I hope there’s not another one, but if there is, I’ll be strong for that, too.

And so, tomorrow, I’m going to be strong enough to go about my day, to hopefully not freak out, to simply wait for the phone call telling me she’s out of surgery and safely installed in intensive care, that she’s doing okay. Because if she can fight this, I can too. If she can be strong enough to chose surgery, and specifically this surgery, who am I to not be strong enough to simply wait 10-12 hours for her on the other end? After all, my waiting tomorrow is going to be the easy part. The hard work is hers in the recovery, and I’ll be there for her however I can.

But your thoughts and prayers would be greatly, greatly appreciated tomorrow and in the coming days.

I know some of you were or are getting pounded with blizzard conditions and beyond-freezing cold, and I don’t mean to brag, but we had lovely weather this past weekend.

Saturday in Monterey was sunny and beautiful and warmish (60’s, maybe?). It was a perfect day to be outside–not so hot that our students risked heat exhaustion in their wetsuits (and we in our drysuits) on land, and not so cold that they kept freezing when they got out of the water. Our winter classes are often very hit-or-miss: either beautiful or horrible. Luckily, this one was beautiful

Three years ago this class, John and I helped with our first class ever. It’s a class we kindly refer to as “Bowling for Students”. The waves were rolling in and crashing into the breakwater, causing reflection waves that kept rolling in, but from a different angle. Waves were crashing up onto the steps we normally seat our students on. We attempted an entry with our three students, but the waves came rolling in. You can guess what happened from how we refer to this class, I’m sure. Needless to say, we all changed into street clothes and went out to breakfast.

Upon arriving at the ocean Saturday (at 6am, I’m listening to John next time about when to leave–better to be a bit late than half an hour early!), we found the exact same conditions. Rolling waves paired with a predicted extra-high tide. We had 11 students, 3 instructors and 3 divemasters. Piece of cake, sort of.

James M, luckily, anticipated the needs of his instructor and DIDN’T show up. Ah, bliss. Especially since last weekend, he showed up at the pool several times but failed to do anything but stand there, despite the fact that Shelly and I were lugging around tanks and trying to help students and whatnot. I snapped at him at one point–“Nice of you to show up just in time to not help”–to which he replied–“I’ve got a cold.” I walked off without pointing out that Ben was so sick he wasn’t in the water, but was there nonetheless helping on the topside, or that I had a cold and couldn’t clear but was still in the water doing what I could. He just made me so angry. I think we’re all getting to the point where we just don’t want to interact with him at all in a scuba situation, and possibly just don’t want to be friends with him at all. Bah.

Anyways…

James F and I took four students–two little girls and two women, one of whom had to be done by noon in order to fly to Cancun the next day. John went with Greg and three other students, one of whom was our obligatory idiot. And that’s putting it nicely. John always seems to get stuck working with the idiots, no matter who he pairs up with. I tried to switch with him, but he was being all gentlemanly about it.

The entries into the water went fairly well–the girl I was holding had to be hauled to her feet at one point, but she muscled through, which was pretty much the theme of the day. (I think most of the students made it in and out okay–maybe a few went to their knees, but no one got bowled over.) Both little girls had problems on the first dive, which was fine with me as my ears were pretty uncomfortable once I got down. Instead of pushing it, I took the two of them into shore. Luckily, John had been “babysitting” students on the surface and was available to help me get the two of them into the beach. I spent my surface interval getting them warm and comfortable and sorting out all the students.

For the second dive, I did the obligatory “babysitting” on the surface, since I wasn’t going down again, and John got to go down and swim around with the girls and James F. Apparently there were lots of crabs out and about, but not much else. Good visibility, 20 feet or so, and beautiful weather made for good diving, and the waves calmed down after the high tide peaked around 8:30, but apparently no sea life was out and about.

After lunch with our staff and a lot of students, John and I headed home to wash gear and take a nap, then spend the evening doing nothing at all, which felt marvelous.

On Sunday, John had to work and I was off to help Cara shoot our friend’s wedding. She’d picked a super-small venue, and thus had a limited guest list, so she’d snuck in a few extra people by having them be “staff”. Now, Cara’s a pro photographer, so she makes sense, but I was there as her assistant purely to attend the wedding. We had another beautiful sunny day, and the view from the winery we were at was gorgeous. It was a bit windy, but Cara got some beautiful pics of our friend’s veil blowing out behind her.

I mostly did a lot of people herding to get them ready for group pics that Cara was taking, as well as a certain amount of small things–carrying extra cameras and film (backup to the digital, smart girl!) and taking a few group candids with Cara’s small camera. All in all, helpful, I hope, and it was so lovely to see our friend get married. She had a beautiful location and ceremony and reception, and we were both so happy for her.

There was a bit of sadness–this is the same friend who’s little brother was killed back in August, and I handed out tissues to various people for both happy tears and sad tears. I know it was hard on my friend to get married without her brother present, but I’m sure he was there with her in spirit. That may not have helped a whole lot, but she got through the though moments.

It was a long day, as we were there from 11:30 to 6 (not including the drive there and back!) to capture her getting ready all the way to getting in the car and driving away at the end. I can see why Cara says it’s such a good workout! Plus, Cara and I got in a nice amount of gossip time both on the drive there and back, and at the points in the day when we took small breaks.

So that was my weekend–long and full, but I got to be outside in the beautiful weather quite a bit. The weather is nice all this week, though I’ll be mostly enjoying it via the windows at work, but I’m hoping for a bike ride or something fun this coming weekend. Best of all, I may finally be kicking this cold’s butt. Cross your fingers for me, eh?

I spent seven hours in the pool yesterday, as our staff was teaching the first scuba course of 2009. We had 12 students. Thirteen hours in the pool over two days, immediately after flying home, was not how I’d envisioned spending my weekend. Especially with a head cold that kept me from descending below about 3-5 feet–I mostly floated at that level, directing the flow of students to instructors and other staff in the deep end, and keeping an eye on all the students in the shallows.

But somewhere along the line, it occurred to me what the day was.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the date we found out my mom had breast cancer.

I was at home–the Bay Area was getting hit with a huge storm, and I was hoping that it would die down a bit so I could get to work without getting soaked. It was a Friday.

My mom had had appointments the day after Christmas and the day after New Years Day. We’d been home for the one after Christmas, and knew she’d had a biopsy scheduled. When she called, I asked how she was. She told me the doctor had told her she had breast cancer. I told her I was sorry. She said she was likely having surgery sometime that week. I said I’d fly home. We only talked for a minute or two. She was calling family to let them know, and said we’d talk again soon.

I immediately burst into tears and started looking for plane tickets. Within a week, I was flying home to see her. Everything else–work, teaching scuba, going to the Arizona-Stanford game–suddenly seemed so freaking insignificant next to the fact that my mom was sick. Seriously–I could have happily flown home even if the entire Arizona men’s basketball team was coming to dinner at my house. Who the hell would have cared at that point? (Perhaps somewhat fittingly, Arizona played here at Stanford last night. They lost. That sucks, but I’d take my mom’s health and still having her in my life over a win any day, so I just kind of went with the flow.)

I remember the suppressed panic of the week before I went home, and of the first two days I was home, thinking the cancer was likely metastatic. I remember calling John and telling him that if it was, and if she really did have only a 2-year life expectancy, then we were having a kid. I wanted her to meet her grandchild if at all possible. I think I scared the crap out of him. I was pretty scared myself, though for many different reasons.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, taking notes in my mom’s book where she was recording all the critical facts and information, as the doctor told us it wasn’t metastatic. Stage 3C–the last stage before that horrible diagnosis–never sounded so good. My dad was late to the appointment–he’d been having a meeting with someone in my mom’s place. He got there just as we were leaving. I remember hugging my mom and dad and crying right there in the hallway. I remember thinking that regardless of all else, we’d been given a chance.

Now here we are, a year later, and my mom is the poster child for herceptin, the new breast cancer wonder drug. Six months of a three-mix chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, 5 weeks of radiation, and a year of herceptin (she’ll be done on the 20th), and we’re about as home free as we could possibly be.

All of us have come out the other side of this as stronger people and a stronger family. You never really know how much you can endure until you’re asked. Then you either do, or you don’t. What happens is up to you. And I think the people we love are often far stronger than we give them credit for–as nice as it would be to shoulder all their burdens and protect them, that’s not always possible, but I’m glad to find out we’re all come through this as relatively unscathed as possible.

My mom looks good these days–her hair has grown out and is marginally longer than a buzz cut. She’s got energy again. She’s talking about reconstruction surgery. This scares the crap out of me–she’s considering the option that involves the most intensive and longest surgery, but may be easiest in the long run. I know it’s her decision, and I respect that, but I can tell you I may be a basketcase for the 12 hours she’ll be in surgery. Gotta get a plane ticket booked again.

My dad, too, looks better–less stressed and worried than he was a year ago. I know he took over a lot of my mom’s teaching duties for the past year, as well as shouldering all the stuff at home she couldn’t do, so it’s nice to see him looking like more of his normal self.

It was nice to be with them again this year, without the spectre of the doctor’s appointments overshadowing us as we all celebrated the holidays. Granted, I went to two different doctor’s appointments, but nothing out of the ordinary. We had such a short time with my parents that I was just glad to see them at all. And to know she’ll be with us for hopefully a long time to come, and my dad, too, is easily the best present ever. Here’s to 2009 and better health for all!

A number of years ago, a book was written by two of the men who fought alongside my maternal grandfather in the European theater in WWII. The book details a number of heroic deeds by my grandfather, and opened to me a whole different side to him–he never talked about the war, and this book was the only way to really know anything about his experiences.

I became fairly interested in WWII history, especially the personal accounts written by so many people who fought in it, like the authors of the book my grandfather is in. Since then, I’ve read a number of books, mostly about the European theater.

My other grandfather fought in the Pacific theater, and it left a lasting impression on him that manifests itself in countless small ways, as I’m sure it did for everyone at the time. He doesn’t talk about it much, but will mention things from time to time, so most of what I know about his experience is snippets of conversation.

In any case, I’ve always been thankful for whatever circumstances allowed both these men to survive, and to go on to father my parents. It’s sort of one of those things where you wonder how different the world would have been if a bullet had been an inch to the left or right. Regardless, things happened as they did, and I’m here today.

So is John.

His maternal grandmother’s brother was stationed in Pearl Harbor, and is entombed on the USS Arizona.

When we choose our honeymoon location years ago, that was a top reason to pick Hawaii–he’d never been, and we both wanted to go. Visiting the memorials was one of the first things we did upon arriving in Oahu.

When we went to the Arizona memorial itself, we spent a long time just standing and looking at his name on the wall, and I remember crying for this man that I would never know, who I was only connected to now, so many years later. The experience would have felt personal regardless, but to stand there and look at his name carved into the wall, to know that we stood above his final resting place, and those of over a thousand of his shipmates, was sobering, to say the least.

I respect those who can’t forgive, although I wish they could, but so long as we never forget, I have hope that today will never been doomed to repeat itself.

First off, just go vote. If you don’t, keep your mouth shut for the next four years–you’ve got no right to complain or critique or celebrate. I don’t care who you vote for, just do it!

((Okay, I care a bit, I want you to vote for my people/causes. But in the grand scheme of things, just go do it. Make your voice heard.))

Second, even one vote counts. Oh yeah, you say? 500-some votes decided the 2000 election. Go do your part.

Here’s a “one vote counts” story for you:

Many years ago, when John’s parents lived in the lower midwest, they used to build houses for a living (or as a side job? I never got a clear distinction). They’d spent all day working, and were dirty and dusty and exhausted.

About the time they were done, John’s dad realized it was election day for, among other things, a local bond issue to support the schools. They debated going to the polls or not. They both wanted nothing more than a shower, some food, and some sleep, but they both also wanted the bond measure to pass.

So, in the end, they went to the polls just before the closed and voted for the bond measure.

The two of them. Two votes for yes. Last minute decision to actually go and vote.

The bond measure? Passed by one vote.

Your vote is your voice in this country. Go use it!

EDIT: If that’s not enough, how about this cuteness?

I turned on the TV this morning while I was eating breakfast, and when I saw that MSNBC or whoever was doing political commentary, promptly started channel surfing. Don’t get me wrong, I care, I voted absentee already (and for the right people and things!), but I’m so sick and tired of this election that I just want Tuesday to come and be over already. Especially if my candidates win.

I ended up finding a show called “Yellowstone: America’s First National Park” or some such thing. It seemed light and airy and mindless and good for breakfast time watching.

Four and a half years ago, John and I drove through Yellowstone. We went on a 6000 mile road trip, starting in Iowa, heading through Wyoming and Montana to Washington (to do wedding stuff and visit my family), then down Highway 1 along the Oregon coast to the California Redwoods, on to the Bay Area (to visit Stanford and look for an apartment), and finally home through Yosemite, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches and back home. It was an awesome month, and the fact that we got along in a car and while camping for that long definitely made me believe that, regardless of what came our way, we could get through it.

The Tetons and Yellowstone were supposed to be our first stop after staying with family in Cheyenne. However, we threw in the towel to get to the Tetons after we’d been backpacking in the Wind River Mountains just south of there a year earlier. Instead, we went to Thermopolis to see the Hot Springs State Park and the local buffalo herd. Many years ago, my family went through there and we all gathered and stayed for a day or so before going on to Casper to bury my grandparents , so while my previous visit was for a sad purpose, the Thermopolis part of it was pretty cool.

John in Thermopolis Hot Springs State Park

John in Thermopolis Hot Springs State Park

So we stayed in a hotel there, and swam in it’s hot spring pool, then headed for Yellowstone. I don’t remember where all we went, but we drove around the lake, did all sorts of hikes along the boardwalks, and had an amazing time. John especially loved it. I’d been all over the Western US when my family lived in Arizona and did road trips, but John’s family is from Iowa and the East Coast, and most of our trip was a first for him.

My favorite part of the day was when we went to see Old Faithful. It was snowing and gray and freezing out (it was only late May), and when Old Faithful finally erupted, we had to work hard to distinguish water and steam from the cloud backdrop. It was, in some ways, more spectacular than seeing it on a clear day, and all our pictures have giant snowflakes in them.

Old Faithful erupting in the snow

Old Faithful erupting in the snow

We’d meant to camp, and had reserved a spot in one of the camp grounds, but by late afternoon, it was still snowing and cold and blustery. The weather radio in my parent’s car (NO idea how we talked them into letting us take it for a month, but we did and they did and it was awesome) told us that nighttime blizzard conditions were expected for all elevations in the area above 7000 feet. Well, most of Yellowstone is above 10,000. I may have the numbers wrong, but you get the idea. And our tent was not meant for blizzards. Nor were our sleeping bags. So we toured the park until the last amount of daylight could be found, then headed north and out into Montana, where we drove until midnight or so and stopped in a cheap hotel for the night.

It was the first of such instances where Mother Nature laughed in the face of our camping plans, but it was still a neat day.

It’s not as if I’ve fallen off the planet (although if the Republicans win the election or Prop 8 or 4 passes, I may try), but more just been sucked into the vortex that is work, and every time I manage to climb out for a reasonable amount of time, I use that time to lay down.

Le Sigh.

I will return you to Fiji stories soon, I promise, and I will be back more often soon (I signed up for NaBloPoMo AGAIN, WTF was I thinking?!?!?).

In the meantime, here’s a smattering of my random thoughts lately.

*****

My childhood best friend got married two weeks ago. Financially, I couldn’t go to her wedding. She understood. It was the same reason she couldn’t come to mine. But when she posted pictures on Facebook for all to see, I felt a sense of nostalgia for the two little girls who planned to be each other’s maids of honor, live next door to one another, raise their children together, and live happily ever after with our guys-of-the-moment. I wish I’d been there. Damn plane ticket prices. Damn economy.

Speaking of Facebook, Sydney has gone AWOL. When I got back from Fiji, we exchanged emails along the lines of planning to get together, then suddenly Facebook announced to the world that she was no longer in a relationship, and as far as I can tell, she’s now gone underground. Or is avoiding me. Or is on her nursing mission in Mexico. I’m hoping it’s the last one, since I can’t remember the dates, but I’m a bit worried. Break ups suck. Poor girl.

Fall is officially here in the bay area. It has been for awhile, maybe, but between the few trees turning colors, the brisk mornings, and the RAIN today, it’s definitely here. In all it’s BRRRRness. I do not appreciate this.

Last Thursday, we spent the day in Las Vegas at a scuba trade show, DEMA. It was a lot more interesting for John, but we both schmoozed away and came home laden with a ridiculous amount of brochures. Plus we saw the guys from Fiji, which was awesome.

On the way home from DEMA (we flew there at 6:30am and flew home at 9pm), disaster struck. The flight didn’t go so well for me, but I made it off the plane with my cookies intact. Then came the bus ride to the car park. Again, I made it off the bus with my cookies intact. I made it into the car, John backed up about a foot, and then I made it right back out of the car. And lost said cookies. First motion sickness I’ve had in many a year. Famous following words were, “I believe, for the second time in my life, I’m no longer eating shrimp.”

Or is it motion sickness? Ever since then, I’ve had vague rumblings of nausea creep up on me almost daily. It sucks. I’ve basically stopped eating, since smells make it worse. I pointed out to John that an unintended side effect of this was to lose about three pounds in only a couple of days. He pointed out that they have a name for that–bulemia. I pointed right back out that it would probably be considered anorexia, since it was “not eating” and not “inducing nausea”. We joke, but never fear, I love bacon too much to ever be one, and hate throwing up enough to never be the other. That said, this feeling can go away right damn now.

John’s birthday was Monday, and we had a party for him Saturday night, with all sorts of assorted scuba people over: James and Cara, James M, Rae and Aaron, Nate and Shelly, Greg, etc, etc. Killer Bunnies was enjoyed by all. It was a blast, aside from the food smells and nausea. And this was his Golden Birthday–27 on the 27th. Happy Birthday, love!

For his birthday evening, I met him at the door when he got home with a candle in a Fig Newton. This goes back 10-15 years when my mom didn’t have time to make me a cake (I think, due to a track meet or choir concert of mine), and thus my birthday was celebrated with a table candle (not a birthday candle, a table candle) in a Fig Newton. I’m trying to start a tradition here, people. I also made him Chicken Parmesan, served him his dinner, and promptly went to bed. Stupid sick. Alas, there was no celebrating in the vein that Brat mentioned…

We had a potluck on Tuesday with all the people who’d gone to Fiji with us. It. Was. Awesome. I’ll tell that story at the end of the Fiji stories.

We also had dinner last night with Elizabeth and Mark last night. We took them to a restaurant near our house to repay them for taking care of the cats while we were gone. We had a blast catching up with them, and hearing all about their wedding plans. Can’t wait to celebrate that one!

I met with Dr. M on Monday, and we’ve set tentative deadlines for Paper 1 submission, Paper 2 submission, Last Committee Meeting, and Thesis Defense. AHHHHHH!!! WHEEEE!!!! Graduation is theoretically… Nope, not jinxing myself here. Sometime. Within reason. WHEEEE!!!! In the meantime, I’m working my buns off to meet those deadlines. And this does not allow for nausea. Sorry, it’s a common theme the last couple of days.

Last, if I’m feeling up to it, what should I dress up for for Halloween tomorrow? Got two parties to go to, one with Nate and Shelly, and one with the nursing folk that Sydney has introduced me to (I’m hoping she’ll be there and I can see for myself she’s doing okay). Both require costumes. I don’t particularly believe in Halloween costumes that require work.

*****

And now my timer has gone off at work, so I’m off to play Mad Scientist again for an hour or so, then drive home just in time to eat a piece of toast (maybe) and go to bed, then get up and do it all over again.

So here’s the deal: I’m a wee bit afraid of snakes.

Okay, okay, I’m completely and utterly and psychotically afraid of them. All of them. Even the small ones. Even garter snakes.

ALL OF THEM.

VERY, VERY AFRAID.

I’ve had this problem as long as I can remember, and no, I’ve never been attacked or bitten or even really threatened. And it’s not that I’m afraid of that–no, I’m afraid of the damn things themselves. My brain rarely makes it past “snake!” and on towards “poison! constriction! what fun!”.

I’d figured, for the longest time, that I was afraid of them due to the following memory: When I was about 5, I went to a birthday party at the zoo, and we got taken behind the scenes to see some of the baby animals or animals that weren’t on display. At the time, there was a large boa of some sort there. I remember some adult taking my hand and forcing me to touch it, probably to make me realize it wasn’t slimy or going to hurt me in any way. I remember being absolutely terrified of it.

I mentioned this to my parents, and my mom said that that person? Was her. And I was already terrified even before she made me touch it.

The only possible explanation she or my dad had was that when I was a couple months old, they’d been out hiking in the deserts around Tucson and had seen some fairly rare rattlesnake. Now, my dad’s a reptile person–he works with lizards and has always liked them and snakes. So, naturally, they wanted to get a bit closer to see it. I was in a little backpack thing on my dad’s back, and apparently just started screaming my head off. (Clearly I was smart back then–who’d willingly want to get closer to a rattlesnake??) My parents think that the backpack or a diaper pin or something poked me, and now I associate that pain with seeing the snake. Possibility.

So in general, I’ve avoid snakes like one might avoid the black plaque. Let’s just say that The Crocodile Hunter wasn’t my favorite program on TV, eh?

This fear generally manifested itself irrationally–I actually went to see Anaconda when it came out (brilliant, I know–my earlier brains had deserted me in the face of peer pressure and a lack of any other summer movies worth seeing), and had to get up and walk out of the theater, but not until I’d left fingernail scars on the arms of the two people on either side of me.

When I’d be flipping through TV channels, if I came across a snake, I tended to scream, cry, hyperventilate a bit, throw the remote away and press myself as far back into the sofa as possible. This usually resulted in John coming and turning off the TV with equal parts exasperation (WHY would you throw the remote away? WHY not just change the channel?) and sympathy (It’s okay, it’s gone, stop crying).

It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t really impair my life in anyway.

Then, if you remember, there were snakes galore up in Chico in May when we (Amelia and I) rode the Wildflower Ride. There were two snakes encountered on that trip–one crossing the road while I was driving, and one (dead) on the side of the road. Neither experience went very well, let’s just say.

And my reaction to the dead one that I biked past? Was to swerve out into the road, far away from it. Aside from the general crying/screaming/hyperventilating, swerving out into the road on a bike is not a good idea. I’m just sayin’. If there had been cars, I know that wouldn’t have stopped me. This was too instinctive, too “get far away right damn now”, to control. I just went.

And that was a bit terrifying to realize. A dead snake, or even a live snake that I bike past, hopefully isn’t going to do me too much damage. A car, on the other hand? Will do a lot of damage to a biker.

General safety point number 2: We’re going on vacation next week with Nate and Shelly, James F and Cara, James M and Rae and Aaron. We’re going on a dive vacation, to be specific. And we’re going to a place that has… sea snakes.

So, if my instinctive panic-reaction (prior to any sensible rational reaction about 10-20 seconds later) is to get as far away as possible, there are two options. One: I’ll turn and swim away at torpedo speed. Two: I’ll use my low pressure inflator button to shoot for the surface at rocket launch speed, possible bursting my lungs or giving myself an air embolism or giving myself decompression sickness in doing so.

Like arguing with a car while you’re on a bike, these are all things best avoided. Death is not really preferable to a snake encounter, no matter what the irrational part of my brain says.

So it was decided, in company with John and Amelia, that phobia therapy was in my immediate future. Luckily, Student Health is (not) equipped to deal with this. Bah.

But go I did, for 6 sessions. We mostly talked about snakes, although at my first session the guy wanted to know all about my family and my relationships, my medical history, if I’d had any thoughts of suicide, etc, etc, etc. I appreciate his thoroughness, but really? Snakes, buddy.

Step one was to buy a large toy snake, which John did for me. He was 5 feet long, blue, fluffy, and had purple eyelashes. I named him Jake, as in Jake the Fake Snake. Since then, I’ve decided that Jake may be female (see above, Re: eyelashes) but oh well. Jake wasn’t too bad, although he gave me the willies at first. Then the therapist decided if Jake was sort of okay, we’d move on to step two: watch a video.

Unfortunately, the first one he pulled up on Y*uT*be was of an anaconda (see above, Re: Anaconda the movie) that had crawled into someone’s livestock pen, eaten a member of the livestock (goat? sheep?) and now was too big to crawl back out of the pen BECAUSE IT HAD A FREAKIN’ GOAT OR SHEEP INSIDE IT!!!! Needless to say, this did not go well. I’m not sure what the people in the rooms on either side of us thought, but I think I did prove my point to the therapist that this was irrational and debilitating at times.

So we took a step back to pictures, and eventually to videos, and eventually, on my 6th visit, I made it through 6:30 of a 7 minute video of a guy playing with a 14-foot King Cobra. I kid you not. Google it. The thing is damn scary. The guy says that it’s highly venomous, though not at the top, but given it’s size, it probably packs enough venom to be the single most deadly snake out there. And he’s playing with it. And his dream in life has been to touch one on the head. Which he does.

Umm, I’m so not there. But hey, I watched most of it, right?

Since then, I haven’t had too much exposure, other than attempting to visit the snake that I recently found out lives next door to James and Cara. It wasn’t home (or at least, it’s owner wasn’t), so that may be the plan for this Saturday. There had also been a plan to visit the SF Reptile House, but that was nixed when we did the math of gas prices+time+(theoretically) easily accessible snake next door.

And last night, when the snake came on in the show? (The show about mold–WTF?? I think it was a metaphor for how fast mold can strike, maybe? Still, WTF??) I tensed, I shook a bit, but that was about it. There was no screaming, no crying, no hard breathing, no real panic.

All of this bodes well, but the real test will be when I see one in the ocean. Let’s just say that my fingers are crossed, and I’m feeling sort of maybe okay with this.

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