“Failure is Always an Option”

I watch “Mythbusters.” Maybe not as avidly as my brother, but there are a few episodes I’ve seen more than a few times. Jamie and Adam often say they learn at least as much from things they do that don’t work, as from things that do work. Adam even wears a shirt sometimes with the quote in the title printed across the front. That same expression applies to live in general, I think, and maybe especially to those hard lessons a lot of us have to repeat frequently throughout our lives. You can probably come up with a list of those for yourself without much trouble.

They generally fall into two main categories, don’t they? Lessons from “the outside,” from other people or the environment; and lessons from inside, when you listen to those nasty voices in your head, or when you have a disordered internal system. For now, I’m going to stick to the lessons from inside – the ones that make you feel like your own worst enemy, or like you’re at war with your own body. The kinds of battles it seems like so many people around you think you should be able to win in one blow and get on with your life (and stop making them feel guilty for whatever reason they feel guilty). After all, it’s all in your head, right? That’s what “everyone” says, right? So you should just be able to make it stop, right?

As if. Why do people even continue to believe that, you wonder, with all the evidence from medical and psychological studies saying that we each have a unique recipe for the biochemical soup that keeps us cooking along.

Since I’m most intimately familiar with chronic pain conditions, I’ll start with that as an example. Whatever the cause of the pain, there must be some set of chemicals – in the cells of the body as well as the brain – that act together to (sometimes) continue producing those pain signals long after the initial “injury” is healed. There’s (finally) an entire medical specialty devoted to studying and treating all types of pain, and I’m sure they understand a lot more about it than I do. I can only talk about my own experience with any degree of knowledge.

To begin with, I’ve been plagued with back pain since I was a teenager. Scoliosis tends to show up during puberty (or not “show up” – mine was so slight as to be superficially imperceptible). Yet I complained of back pain and numbness in parts of my back – and was told simply, “stand up straight.” Which didn’t make anything all better.

Of course, the generation I grew up in was only a hair’s breadth removed from the notion that a child with a “defect,” like scoliosis, was a direct reflection on the quality of the parents, or the parenting, and I think my mother would have been horrified by such a diagnosis if it had come in my youth. She would have blamed herself – for not being able to make me stand up straight enough to prevent it, most likely. As it was, she felt bad that we didn’t find out about it sooner, but by then, she realized it was neither her fault nor mine.

These days, I use a variety of pain-modification and pain-management techniques, all of which have had some pain-relieving effects, none of which has made the pain stay away for good. Whether it’s a brain chemical that causes me to “want” my back to continue to hurt, or some other set of substances that eventually counteracts all the treatments I throw at it, or just that I’m that sensitive to my own body doesn’t really matter. Apparently it’s not something I can get conscious control over, and switch off. One way or another, I have to find a way to live with this pain, just like people who battle addictions have to find a way to live with always having those cravings – even when they don’t give in to them.

I have a friend who is at risk for diabetes because of her family history. When she eats sugary foods, she has a hard time stopping. I think she hopes that if she stays away from the sugar, she’ll eventually just not even want it any more. I don’t think that’s likely to happen. I think her family members who became diabetic did so because they didn’t work as hard as she does to control the cravings. Somewhere in her personal, unique physiology, is a sugar junkie gene, or the equivalent, and it’s always going to make her want that second piece of cake, or that fourth piece of fudge, as soon as she eats the first one. But I don’t think occasionally forgetting and having that first piece, or even two, makes her a bad person. (And you need to stop beating yourself up about it!)

We all have to be able to forgive ourselves when we make these mistakes, or “fall off the wagon,” or when something doesn’t work (or doesn’t keep working). And then we need to get up and try again. Because failure is always an option. Giving up isn’t.

Rite of Succession

It all started when that mouse ran across the floor. But let me start with a little back story.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times before I’m through. A Basenji is not your father’s Labrador. (I don’t know how many of you may remember an advertising campaign some years ago when Oldsmobile introduced their new model, “Alero,” with the catch phrase: “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” I don’t know if they sold more cars with that ad or not, but I co-opted the phrase for my own purposes.) There are a number of good reasons why Labrador Retrievers are the most popular American Kennel Club registered dog breed – and Basenjis are not. I would never presume to imply that one breed of dog is superior to another. I love them all. And “blended” breeds as well. But there’s a reason I have had my little dynasty of Basenjis, instead of any other breed.

A lot of people don’t realize what a contrary individual I can be – most days I’m not that bad, so I might not seem like such an anarchist. But doing what I’m told runs a little counter to my nature, and doing what’s expected of me…oh, forget that. Small wonder I choose dogs that don’t follow orders all that well, don’t engage in typical “doggy” behaviors (like barking), and tend to like to sit back and watch quietly while everyone around them is in uproar.

My second Basenji (and my first male of the breed) was like the uber Basenji. Boomer was the pick of his litter, (the breeder called him her “Clark Gable dog”) destined for great things in the show ring, which would have meant I never would have met him. But he was born insane, and at four months of age he was engaging in extremely risky behavior – leaping onto and off of the dog houses that belonged to his Gordon Setter kennel mates. He ended up with a broken humerus bone, and in a body cast for eight weeks. At the end of which he promptly repeated the behavior…and the injury. By the time the second cast came off, he had gotten so used to running around on three legs that he continued to do so. As a result, his left front leg was always about an inch and a half shorter that his right. He was one crooked little dog.

He was two years old when I met him. It was the first time I ever experienced love at first sight.

After he came to live with me, I discovered some of his other disarming behaviors. Once when I was sitting at my computer and he was sitting next to me (one of the rare times when he wasn’t getting “into something”) I popped a piece of chocolate into my mouth. As I chewed on my chocolate, I looked down and said something to the dog, as he leaned against my shin. He melted. That’s the only way I can describe it. The smell of chocolate on my breath undid him. He just slid to the floor. And then he rolled on my foot. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen a dog do. When I was a kid, my dachshund used to roll on dead lizards. Boomer was more discriminating. If I put styling mousse in my hair, he’d try to roll on my head.

Basenjis, like most normal dogs, do the “play bow,” lowering their front ends to the floor while they keep their butts elevated. Most normal dogs wag their tails when they do this. Not so Basenjis. They are not big on tail-wagging. More on that later. Boomer had his own variation of the play bow. He would put his head down on the floor between his front legs, like he was hiding his eyes. Then he would flop over on one shoulder (with his butt still in the air), and rapidly “dig” with his front feet. Sometimes he would bite at the carpet at the same time. People who didn’t know better would sometimes ask if he was all right. “Of course he’s not all right! He’s a Basenji!” I never actually had to say that. I usually just shrugged.

Both of my female Basenjis did normal play bows, even to the point of wiggling their tails a bit. They were always more emotionally demonstrative than the boys, even though Boomer and Ramses were/are what you’d call “leaners,” leaning against my leg while I pet them. Ramses, however, does the bow exactly like his Great Uncle Boomer. (The Old Guy was too stiff and creaky by the time he came to live with us to do much bowing.)

That brings us back to the mouse.

There was a time when I was living in Kentucky in an old mobile home parked up a “holler” on a farm. Quite rustic. The place had sat vacant for a while before I moved in, with Boomer, and a whole community of mice had taken up residence. Boomer set out to decimate that population. We lived there less than a year, but he racked up six kills over the course of just a few months – when I was watching. He had the run of the house when I was at work, so I don’t know how many he may have dispatched while I was away.

I always knew when he was on the trail of a mouse, not just because he would suddenly try to wedge himself under the stove or between the refrigerator and the wall, but because he would start wagging his tail. It was the only time I ever saw him wag it. Hunting apparently made him twitchy. Or more twitchy than normal. I always found it amusing, although I was a little hurt that seeing me was never motivation enough to cause him to wag his tail.

Of course, he wanted to eat the mouse, once he caught it, and it was an increasing struggle for me to get the mangled body out of his mouth. (Mice carry all kinds of nasty diseases, in spite of being a good source of protein. I didn’t want him coming down with something bubonic.) But, of course, Boomer being Boomer, he came up with a way around me. He’d catch the mouse, one quick crunch, then swallow. A few days later he’d yak up the skeleton and a few other undigestible bits for me to clean up. Charming. I did so love living in the country.

Where I live now is every bit as rural, though not quite as wild as that place. The woods don’t come right up to my back door here, but the mice do still get in. One reason I adopted the “extra dog” was so she’d help keep the rodent population around the house under some sort of control. She’s apparently been slipping.

And these mice are bold. They charge straight across open spaces to get from point A to point B, instead of sticking close to the walls, like they’re “supposed” to. One morning last week as I sat at my computer, I saw motion out of the corner of my eye, and looked up in time to see one of the little bastards go streaking across the floor headed for the living room. Almost at the same time, I realized Ramses was no longer lying in his “spot” in front of the second couch – where I could keep an eye on him from my computer chair. I walked in the living room and saw his back end sticking out from under the end table closest to the end of my brother’s couch – underneath which had probably been the mouse’s destination.

Ramses had dived under the end table in hot pursuit, but the couch had an even lower clearance, and he couldn’t cram himself under that. He would not budge. I had to grab his back legs and drag him out from under the table, then confine him to his crate to keep him from going right back in. Absolutely channeling Uncle Boomer.

You want to know something else, friends and neighbors? That tail was a’waggin’.

That’s my boy!

Changes coming to Crazybasenji

Although I’ve been a little reluctant to cede the place of honor in the header from Boomer — the original Crazy Basenji — to his heir and great nephew, Ramses (The Puppy), I finally did so. For one thing, the photo of Ramses was of a size that allowed me to crop a section that would fill the whole space without chopping off most of the dog…well, except for his legs. He doesn’t need those, though, he’s not going anywhere. I also discovered a way to change the layout of the page that would let me use the photo of Boomer as “featured content” in a larger size than what I could fit into the banner. Yes, I’m a little obsessive about that photo. Is that a problem?

I started this blog under the whole “Pro-blogging” explosion a few years ago, and I actually had a plan for what I was going to write about, and when, and how it would all eventually make some kind of income for me. Then I got sidetracked thinking I was going to find a “real job,” because I found some postings for positions that I was super qualified for and I applied. And then waited to hear. And waited to hear. And waited…and in the meantime my blogging plans sort of went south. I repeated this cycle several more times, and eventually I did get a “real job” — part time. Which didn’t do a lot for my self esteem, my bottom line, or my incentive to write. I didn’t want to write from that place of day to day sheer panic. So my blogging frequency suffered some more. And the topics I chose weren’t always cutting edge or of interest to anyone besides me and a few close friends who might just want to keep up with what I was doing.

The things that kept me going — and still do — are my dog(s), and books. And I discovered I could write decent book reviews, and could even get some of them published on a site dedicated to “reviewing books by, for, and about women.” Not long ago, my review of a book about the woman who mapped the ocean floor was chosen as review of the month.

For a while I’ve been thinking of branching out and writing a more specialized blog about books and other writerly things. I’m sure I’ll keep blogging at this site — for my four or five readers — but I’ll concentrate on only a few topics, such as basenjis, and art, and odds and ends of a personal nature. Crazybasenji is my “brand,” if you will, for good or bad, although I discovered that having the word “crazy” at the beginning of anything pretty much flags the site for a certain type of “interest,” shall we say? I won’t elaborate. Use your imagination and I doubt if you’ll come up with anything more bizarre or inappropriate than what I’ve seen in (deleted) comments.

I know I’ve hinted around before now about changing things up around here, which usually consists of finding a new theme. This time, I’ll be moving some of the content to the new site. All the book reviews — the whole category — will be moved. I’m not quite ready to launch the site yet, but it will be located at JudyKingWrites.com. One of the drawbacks to having a fairly common name is that the domain judyking.com is already taken, as is judyking.org, judy-king.com, etc. Since my name isn’t that difficult to spell, I figured it wouldn’t be that big a deal to tack “writes” at the end, which is also not difficult to spell.

Writing on two blogs is going to be more of a challenge. I’ve already tried it, with my Linux blog, which went nowhere. I also started what would have been a biology blog, when I thought I would be teaching biology at the local junior college. When the teaching gig fell through because my actual graduate hours in actual biology courses came up short, I lost all my forward momentum on the blog, as well.

I’ve made a few decisions since then. I’ve decided not to pursue the teaching, which would mean taking only one more graduate level class. I chose to view the cancellation of the offer as a message from the universe. Teaching is not for me. Or, at least, teaching in a classroom in a “traditional” school setting is not. Never been a big fan of traditional anyway. Never felt the “fire in my belly” about teaching, although I always thought I would enjoy engaging with young people interested in learning. My actual experience was more along the lines of trying to engage with young people interested in getting “A’s” without doing much real work. (They’re not all like that, let me be quick to point out. I just seemed to end up with a significant portion of them in my classes, the few semesters I did teach many years ago.)

Starting a new career — as in going back to school and learning a new “trade” is also not in the stars for me. I’ve taken a few classes recently, and finally decided I’m tired of school. I don’t want to take any more classes, do any more homework, take any more tests. I’m done. The only exception might be to get a fine arts degree, and probably then only if someone paid all my expenses and I could go someplace other than the schools available in the immediate area. Which is bloody unlikely to happen.

The upshot of all this nattering on is that I’m going to go with what I know, which is some writing, some art work, and what I can extract from my part-time employment to pay my bills and keep doing those other things. I don’t want to descend into writing about things I regret. It’s largely for that reason that I’ve let updates to my blog lapse a few times. I figure no one wants to read about all the things I wish I had done when I was younger, or would do if I could afford it. There’s no sense dwelling on those things, but in my private mind, I sometimes do, and it may keep me absent from time to time.

I’m hoping that doing more of what I truly enjoy will reduce the amount of time I spend imagining the worst and will increase the amount of time I’ll spend being creative and remarkable. We’ll see.

Walkin’ off the cookies

Mio pedometer

A handy little gadget, if you have pockets…

Because I have this cool little pedometer with a lot of functions for telling me how far I’ve walked, and how many calories I burned during that walk, I’m starting to get a feel for how far I’ll have to walk to “burn” some of the things I’m not supposed to be eating to begin with. Like the package of Famous Amos cookies I got from the vending machine at work. That’ll take about five miles.

I’ll put that on the schedule for next week.

One of the things I find a little inconvenient about the pedometer is the fact that it doesn’t have any kind of clip for attaching it to my waistband or anything. Of course it’s really handy for carrying in a pocket, except that I don’t wear pants with pockets. Not fond of stashing stuff in my undergarments, either. I carry it in a “fanny pack” when I take Junior to the park for our walks, and I don’t know if that causes it to count extra steps, or fewer than I actually take. I think it’s close enough, though, considering I had no idea before how far I was walking if I wasn’t on the trail at Veteran’s Park, which is a one mile loop. If you go off on one of the little side loops there, there’s no way to know how much extra distance you’re covering.

I’ve found that “helpful” little signposts listing distances for trails at the parks I go to aren’t helpful at all. If the “green” trail is half a mile, that’s great, except when you can’t find any green trail markers. I’ve decided that it’s best to be self-sufficient and chart my own distances. I even have a little notebook in my fanny pack so I can write down all the data from my pedometer when I get back to the car — because I can’t upload it from the pedometer to my computer. And because carrying the extra weight of the notebook also burns calories (maybe nano-calories — it’s a tiny little notebook). But, hey, every little bit helps when you’ve got cookies to burn.

The Physics of Dog Walking

We learn in physics class that “systems” tend to become more and more disordered as time goes by. Just glance in a teenager’s bedroom from time to time to get an idea of the truth of that law. Sometimes a system can stay in a more or less constant state for a time (called equilibrium) before disorder (called entropy) sets in again. I have observed these phenomena while walking my dog.

People who own Basenjis especially are aware that dogs are geniuses of disorder. They find ways to introduce entropic cascades into any setting imaginable. They’re wizards.

To illustrate how the laws of physics apply to dog walking, I made a few sketches. They’re pretty crude, but you’ll get the point. In Figures 1 and 2 we see a system more or less in equilibrium, usually maintained by a death grip on the leash (and not a whole lot of slack in it). Figure 2 actually shows the system teetering on the brink of failure, as evidenced in Figure 3, where random entropy has been introduced.

Dog walking "at heel"

Fig. 1: System in equilibrium

Dog walking at end of leash

Fig. 2: System in equilibrium…for now

Dog going off on a tangent

Fig. 3: System in entropic failure. Probably a bunny to blame.

In Figure 4 I illustrate the normal way humans walk, compared to the normal way a dog walks if there’s any slack at all in the leash. The X marks the spot where the dog’s nose will become glued to the ground about 3 nanoseconds before your foot is due to arrive. This is called particle collision, and it results in massive release of energy — usually screaming and swearing — and generation of new and strange particles — birds, bunnies, and squirrels all taking flight from the area.

Dog will inevitably walk in front of walker

Fig. 4: Large Nonhadron Collider

And that’s all there is to know about particle physics.

Everything has a Price

– Or – Nothing is Ever as Easy as it Looks

I recently discovered – re-discovered, really – that a glass of wine has a pleasantly relaxing effect on painful muscles and joints. But…more than one glass relaxes those muscles a little too much, making it more likely that I’ll fall down and undo all the good of the first glass. A fine line, indeed. And then there are the calories. Why is it, I wonder, that you have to burn 3500 calories to lose one pound, but only have to eat 20 or so calories to gain ten pounds? Seems largely unfair. Hugely unfair. Bloated with unfairness. Oh, well.

I’ve been walking regularly – 2.25 to 2.5 miles 4 or 5 times a week – to get back in shape, help manage my back pain, and just co-incidentally, take some of the edge off Junior’s boundless energy. Somehow, this is also making me not lose weight. Oh, I know, I’m gaining muscle, but that doesn’t actually show on the scale. It just looks like my weight has not budged in three months. Ugh. Why give up Klondike Bars when there’s no return on it?

I had thought it would be relatively easy and painless to take of some extra pounds once I started walking regularly. After all, it happened once before. I had a part-time job in a lab at the local Vet School. The lab was located on the second floor off a building about three quarters of a mile from the parking lot I was allowed to park in. I walked to the building and up a flight of stairs to get to work, and then back down the stairs to the parking lot when I got off. Ten pounds just flew away. Of course, I was carrying a small back pack at the time with about 3 or 4 extra pounds in it, and was on the ragged edge of menopause at the time. I have no idea if the menopause part had an effect, but I’m about to decide I need to start carrying that back pack again. That’ll be fun when it’s 90 degrees at 7 a.m.

But then, of course, the job ended and my dad died and I ate all those Oreos. And the ten pounds came back. That part was certainly easy enough.

Then there’s this whole computer thing. I seem to be naturally attracted to the hard way to do things. I could just save up and get a new laptop, but I decided instead to get a new memory card to try and speed up this old one. In theory this is supposed to work. In theory, it’s even supposed to be a simple operation.

In theory, this old laptop has enough memory, processing power, and everything else to run a lot more stuff than what I’ve got on here. Only it had been slowing down so much that I found myself duplicating what I had been doing when I first got it – when it had the hated Windows OS installed. I would open my Thunderbird mail program, check my emails, and then close Thunderbird. Then I would open Firefox – or I would launch Firefox and go pour my coffee while I waited for it to open. If I had my music program running when I wanted to look up something on the Internet, I had to remember to pause the song or just quit the program, because surfing the ‘net was not compatible with listening to tunes. Therefore the decision to upgrade the memory.

My laptop had 526 MB of RAM installed, but could be expanded to 2 GB. I figured one new memory card with 1 GB extra RAM would probably be plenty. When it arrived in the mail, my brother offered to install it for me while I was at work, if I could find a set of instructions for him. That part was not a problem. There’s a whole community of Thinkpad users on-line, with links to PDFs of the user’s manuals. So I came home from work to a laptop with over a gig and a half of RAM – that wouldn’t boot up. It would hang up in black screen, or it would hang up at the IBM screen, or it would get all the way to the Ubuntu opening screen before it would hang up. Aahhhrrrrggggg!

I went on-line and signed up for the Thinkpad users forums and posted my question. A moderator came back with a suggestion that I take out the new card, take out the original memory card, and install that one in the “auxiliary” slot. If it still didn’t boot, that would mean the memory slot was bad, and if it did, then the new card was probably defective. I (of course) got the instructions mixed up, because (of course) I had to turn off the computer to work on it. I put the new memory card in the “standard” slot, left out the old card, and started the computer. It worked like a charm. Then I decided to experiment and put the other card in the auxiliary slot. That worked, too. I reported all this on the forum, and the moderator suggested that I should run a memory test on that new card, all the same. Wha?? I guess it seemed kind of fishy to him that it worked that way. So more fumbling around on my part trying to figure out exactly what these people are even talking about, so I could make this test thingy work. Changing parts is not a problem for me. After all, I was a jet aircraft mechanic for four years. But there was a reason I was taking off panels and changing tires and fuel tanks, and not working on the avionics equipment.

Anyway, long story short. I’ve got both those memory cards installed. My laptop works a treat. It’s way faster than it was, and it can multi-task. I can listen to music while I surf the web and I can keep my e-mail open all at the same time. Woo-hoo! I’m such a geek. Sometimes the end result is worth the pain-in-the-ass price.

Freecell and Stress

I can always tell how I’m doing by how I play Freecell. As far as computer games go, I never got much beyond some really basic RPGs that I played on my old Amiga computer way back in the early 90′s. Yeah. So last century.

Since then, I’ve actually devolved to mah jongg and cards. I used to like Klondike, but since I discovered Freecell, I hardly ever play anything else. I like that all the cards are face up. All you have to do is figure out how to move things around to get all the suits on the Aces. I don’t know if there are configurations that can’t be solved. I know that I can’t always solve every hand, and it’s usually because I’m stressed out and not concentrating.

Once I get into some forward momentum, though, the cards seem to move themselves. Everything flows. And I relax. I figure this has to be good for my brain chemistry, yes? Maybe it is one of those kinds of mental exercises that can help head off dementia and other nasty effects of getting old. Maybe it’s a good distraction that can help with pain management. Maybe it’s a great big time suck and I’m just kidding myself about any possible benefits…

Nah. I prefer to think of it as valuable pattern-recognition skill practice. And fun.

I did at one time have a version of Galaga on my computer, and Centipedes. (Yes, my current computer) But I found myself actually getting more stressed out playing those. Definitely not as relaxing as I was looking for. I wonder why that is. How can anyone unwind playing Doom? (I realize I’m dating myself even further, here. I don’t keep up with games.)

I wonder if it has anything to do with how stress makes different people feel. I want to disconnect – shut myself down, like C-3P0 in the first Star Wars. I guess other people would feel better if they could shoot somebody or blow something up. Not exactly my cup of tea, although I do like explosions on Myth Busters. Maybe I need a game where I can just experiment with explosives. Does anyone know if one of those exists? I’d be interested to know. I can do without the shooting people part.

Getting back to weird, with occasional forays into normal

Ever since January – when I learned the results of my most recent back x-rays and was waiting to see what the MRIs would reveal, and after that was waiting on the appointment with the neurosurgeon – I’ve been a little preoccupied, to say the least.

I came home from Dallas on Friday feeling a sense of relief, like my life could start to get back to normal now. Only. What the heck is normal, anyway? For me, normal includes pain and stiffness, frequent reminders that all is not right with my back. The ability to move freely and carelessly is something I had to give up so long ago that I don’t even have a good working memory of it. Other people in my age group may be experiencing the same thing, but many of them won’t have to deal with that loss for years, yet.

Then there’s my household. I live with my brother. Who would have seen that coming – ever? It’s not so unusual in this economy for grown kids to still be living at home with their parents, or to move back home when they finish college. But this just seems a little odd. Of course, the circumstances aren’t that bizarre. My (divorced) brother was living with my dad after our mom died, taking care of him, and I (after my husband dumped me) moved back home to help him out. Daddy died right before the economy tanked – well, he actually died the week Hurricane Ike moved in, but right after that, everyone was broke. In light of all that, continuing to live in the same house as my brother makes sense.

And last, but oh, SO not least, I have a Basenji. In fact, I’ve had five Basenjis. Basenjis are not normal dogs. In fact, to think “normal” and “Basenji” at more or less the same time, puts considerable strain on one’s brain. I’ve had to stop several times while typing these sentences, to decompress. I’ve broken out in a sweat.

So I guess I can’t really expect “normal” to stop by here that often. But that’s okay, I think weird can be the new normal.

A Walk in the Park

The verdict on my back is that surgery can wait for now. Basically, because I can walk around without excruciating pain searing down my legs (and I’ve been there) more surgery might do more harm than good. And the procedure would be a lot more complicated, with longer recovery time and more opportunity for infection, etc. Waiting is okay with me. At least now I know.

The doctor told me to stay active, but not to overdo anything. “Arthritis is a disease of motion,” after all, although stopping all motion is not the way to treat it, either. So I guess I’ll keep walking. My new pedometer measured my favorite route this morning at a little over two miles, and said I burned around 230 calories (that’s a Klondike bar!), so I see no reason to try and go farther. I may find a pool where I can swim a few laps a few times a week. I’m not a very efficient swimmer, and can probably burn up plenty of calories flailing from one end of the pool to the other.

But the trail at Park Hudson will be my primary workout. There are more trees, hence more shade, than the “Mile of History” walk at Veteran’s Park, which borders a bunch of soccer fields. And I can go earlier in the morning, since Veteran’s Park (which has gates) doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. when it’s already getting pretty hot around here. Plus, more squirrels for Junior to try and chase.

Ramses at the park

“Did somebody say ‘squirrel’?”

An edge of wilderness

Plenty of places for those pesky squirrels to hide and play.

A little touch of civilization

Lights make it possible to stroll at night…and look for squirrels.

Ramses at the park 2

“Are we there, yet?”

This Adventure with my Back

I’ll soon know whether there will probably be more back surgery in my future. My appointment with the VA neurosurgeon is this week. Chances are, being a surgeon, he’ll be all for doing surgery. On the other hand, neurosurgeons tend to be on the conservative side when it comes to treating back problems. I think they know they’ll always have work, whether they operate on one more person today or not. That and they probably figure that sooner or later, they’ll get you under the knife – that is if your back looks like mine.

I’ve read some personal experience stories by people who have similar back conditions, some of whom believe having surgery was the worst decision they ever made, and others calling surgery a life-saver. It comes down to individual differences, sometimes the abilities of the surgeon, too, but, from what I read, you kind of get out of it what you put into it. If you do the work prescribed by the surgeon and the physical therapists, and give the process enough time, you’ll have a better outcome than if you sit around in shock because all your pain didn’t miraculously vanish the moment you came out from anesthesia.

All business about surgery aside, living with a painful, but “invisible” condition is a drag. There’s no percentage in trying to put on a good show or keep up with the activity levels of everyone around you. You end up three times as exhausted as a normal person doing the same thing. And everyone expects you to maintain the pace indefinitely. Or they get annoyed that you’re dropping your end of the load, without realizing or caring just how long ago you may have needed to put that load down for good. I’ve concluded that it’s just better to let everyone down right from the start and grow a thick enough skin (or shell) to deal with the invective about not pulling your weight.

So much for not indulging in a whine festival.

Pain management becomes your most important daily activity or you just get overwhelmed. I walk. I had been doing some exercises to strengthen my leg and core muscles, and for a while, those helped. But I’d still get stiff after only short periods of sitting or standing. I started taking the Puppy to a local park with a one mile walking path so I could know for sure that I was walking at least that one mile. After a few trips, we’d walk almost all the way around, then turn around and go back, to make it nearly two miles. I did it that way to avoid walking past the car. I knew Ramses would want to get in the car – he wants to get in every car we pass – and that not getting in the car, but walking away from it again when I was getting tired would make me even more tired. So I fooled us both.

But now that it’s started to get warm (read scalding hot) here, and that park doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m., I’ve found another park with a nice walking path and plenty of shade where I can go much earlier in the mornings. I kind of have to guess about distance, but I think I’m still doing close to two miles. And I’ve started going every morning. I’ve had to shuffle my schedule a little bit, but have decided that this is a priority. For one thing, the Puppy is somewhat better behaved after he’s had some exercise and fresh air. I say “somewhat” because nothing can change the fact that he’s a Basenji, and consistently well behaved is just not what they do.

The difference in how I feel after I get back from that walk is noticeable. When I get out of the shower I take when I get home, I don’t feel any pain anywhere. I want to jump up and down – which would not be wise, but still. The pain-free window doesn’t last, of course, but I don’t stiffen up as quickly, even if I sit at the computer for a while. Sometimes I keep writing longer than I should, but considering how often I can’t finish a piece because I start feeling so broken that I can’t think of what I’m trying to say, I have to try to find some balance.

I’m not losing sleep, yet, over the outcome of this appointment with the neurosurgeon. I may not wait long to make a decision about whether to have surgery or not, but I do intend to wait until I know the outcome of my VA disability claim before I schedule anything. Once I have that in place, if I have surgery, I’ll have some income to carry me through my recovery if I end up missing several weeks of work. It’s the waiting that’s so annoying. I’ve been waiting since January for this neurosurgeon appointment, and I’ve been waiting since last June for my disability claim to be processed. I’m ready for everything to be resolved, questions answered, and some kind of path forward in front of me.