Tuesday, August 14, 2018

it was the summer of...

Surgery?  Recovery?  Not being allowed to do anything?  

Who saw that coming?

I'm lucky to have summer breaks.  It's nice to have a break between semesters and it's great to have days to spend with Blue and Violet and to have more time with G.  We start looking forward to our summer breaks around the first day of school each year.  As the spring semester starts to fizzle out, we begin talking about plans for the summer.  We had the Summer of Waterfalls, the Summer of Adventure and probably a few other summers I can't remember off the top of my head.  Coming off of last summer playing tennis and kayaking as much as possible and being on the beach a ton, this summer had it's work cut out for it.  In May I loaded up the Netflix queue with must see movies for the kids and started thinking of what activities we could get into this year.

This was our first pic of summer.  We were leaving the last day of school after field day.  It was hot, we were tired and we were pretty done with school.  


 But waffles make everything better.  Oh, I think we did the Summer of Waffles once too.  That was a good one.  So we started our new summer schedule sleeping a little later and eating a bigger breakfast once a week.  


 We decided to get a pool this year.  Not big enough for swimming laps, but just the right size for cooling off in the early summer heat.  It was a nice addition to the front porch, which we reclaimed for use this summer.  We have a big front porch but we only had some crappy chairs and a bench swing out there.  It was too hot and spidery during the summer so after the first part of May, we abandoned it....until this year.  We tossed the chairs, hung the hammock up and even moved a table and chairs out there.  With a fan and some citronella candles, we were set for summer.


 One of the best features of the front porch is our community of hummingbirds.  They're so fast and active it's hard to get a count but we think we have at least 20 hummingbirds.  They're Ruby Throated Hummingbirds if you're into that sort of thing.  And they're very friendly.  If you're still and quiet, they'll ignore you and go about their business.  From what we observe, their business consists mostly of drinking clear Kool-Aid and fighting.  It's so fun to watch.  We spent a good amount of our summer in the hammock watching the birds.  We had a couple at our old house years ago and they worked themselves into our story.  If you pay attention, you'll find them in lots of drawings and sculptures.  I'll just never tell you why.


 Speaking of art...I was less than 100% at the start of summer but I still needed to get some work done.  I managed to get three new sculptures made between hammock stops.


We took our early summer beach trip and discovered that not being able to do too much is kinda perfect for going on vacation.  We put our feet up pretty much all week and had a blast.  Each night G and I sat outside and watched day turn to night.  More on that later.


Meeting our new friend Yun was a summer highlight for sure.  After watching her hug strangers for a couple of days on the beach, I made a point to meet her after one of my morning runs.  She hugged me and prayed with me in Korean and then she went about doing the same for literally every other person on the beach.  She is a ray of sunshine  We got to see her again last week too.  G got to experience the hug and the prayer and then Violet did too.  I'm still in awe of Yun.  I want to be like her.


A couple of weeks after our first vacation we got to go on a "work" trip.  G was on official business and I was goofing off.  We ditched the kids and had a great week together.  I am not good with my body not wanting to do what I want it to do and at this point in the summer, I was struggling.  We got stuck walking a few blocks in a thunderstorm and I stepped out in front of a couple of cars to try to get to the hotel awning quicker.  I was lucky that they stopped to let me cross.  I told my body to run and it immediately said no.  Thanks to the nice drivers for not flattening me.  


I got to see a ton of Dali paintings at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in art or cool things.  Dali has always fascinated me and the museum gave me a more clear understanding of why.  



 Running was a highlight of the summer too.  Those early mornings of silence and miles were wonderful.  I was more grateful with every run.  Especially because it seemed like each week I was less and less sure I could do it.  I was even more grateful because I knew this day was coming.  This was a sunrise run on the day of my surgery.  My last run for at least 6 weeks.  It was beautiful in so many ways.


I hope to never, ever have surgery again but I can tell you that G and I laughed a lot during the week after.  I know this is healthy and probably really good for lots of reasons, but it also hurt really bad every time I laughed.  G and the kids thought this was funny and I'm pretty sure they all tried extra hard to make me laugh and double over in pain.  There's probably not a more literal case of being afraid my side was going to split open.  Then, trying not to laugh made me laugh even more.  It was terrible.  And hilarious.

So then I was forbidden from doing everything.  The kids and I did a lot of staying home.  I drew a bit and kept the hummingbirds in Kool-Aid.  As far as activity, that's about all I could do.  I couldn't even get in the hammock until last week.  

So I read books and watched movies.  I made it through several books this summer and enjoyed the challenge of trying to read and stay awake at the same time.  I'm not great at doing both at the same time.  Movies were easier.  Blue is a little filmmaker and he puts these goofy videos together that he and his cousins make for his Youtube channel.  He also makes well thought out videos for the annual film festival and for fun.  He got interested in Hitchcock movies and the old tv series that was in reruns when I was a kid.  He and Violet also have my sense of humor so in addition to showing them intense suspense mysteries and really great films, we're getting into age appropriate (or almost age appropriate) comedies.  They love Mr. Bean, Ace Ventura, anything Adam Sandler and anything Will Ferrell does that isn't obscene.  For most of the summer, we were watching 2 movies each week and talking about the importance of making people laugh and telling a good story.  It was pretty awesome to spend this time with them and share these things in common.  I mean, we have to teach good taste to our kids, right?


While I was forbidden from running after surgery, the doc did say I could walk.  Knowing my love of sweets and eating in general, I knew I needed to find some way of burning calories and keeping the legs working.  A week after surgery, we instituted mandatory morning walks.  The kids liked it when I was walking super slow those first couple of weeks but the pace picked up and the mileage increased to my regular 3 miles.  But they stuck with me and did at least 2 miles every morning.  The silence of my exercise time moved over and made room for 2 miles of talks with Blue and Violet about random things.  I love how crazy conversations with kids can be.  You start out listening to the latest thing they learned about Fortnite (apparently a video game?) and a minute later you're telling them relevant stories about Papa Mac.  Then you're getting a detailed Christmas list (in August) that moves without any sort of transition into a full on discussion of race relations in America.  I love it.  


One of my favorite things about this summer was being forced to relax.  Even before surgery, I had to take lots of breaks and sometimes just lie down for a minute before I could move on to the next task.  I don't like people knowing too much about me so I hid this from everyone except G.  No need to worry the kiddos or have to explain your health 40 times in a week.  When I was around people during the summer, I put on my best face and if it hurt really bad, I'd slip away and lie down in the floor for a second.  Later in the day was worse but this made it perfect for front porching with G.  By the time she got home from work and we had dinner, we were both done.  We'd hit the hammock and rest.  Normally when I'm sitting still my mind is racing with all the things I still need to do before bed, but this summer I just couldn't do those things and I accepted it.  We slowed the pace and put our feet up a lot more.  At the beach G and I would go out on the balcony with our books and read until it was dark with the ocean whispering in our ears.  At home we'd balance on the hammock together and scroll through the internets and talk.  

The kids and I start school this week.  Summer is done.  We didn't hike or kayak a single time.  We didn't play tennis or ride the four wheeler.  But I don't feel like we missed out on anything.  I think we spent our summer vacation well.  I'm a lucky guy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

thoughts from a streaker


 

On July 12 I ended my 6 year, 2 month running streak of running 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) every day.  You can read why in the previous post.  It was not my idea and I wasn’t very happy about it but this doctor is one of the good ones and I trust his judgment enough to follow his orders of not running at all for 6 weeks.  I have to admit, 6 years was a pretty good streak and I know I was all kinds of lucky to get that far.  And you’d think that 6 years of that kind of running would teach a person a few things.  I guess we’ll see.  The things that come to mind are listed below for your edification.

You are a runner
About 4 years into my 5K everyday streak I finally referred to myself as “a runner” for the first time.  I’m hesitant to give myself titles.  OK, I know I often give myself titles like “The Pope Of Waffles” or “The Pope Of Sand Sculpture” but that’s just my goofy humor.  I’d really like to be the actual Pope but I like Georgie and I’m Baptist and all.  Anyway, I didn’t really consider myself a “real” runner because I didn’t have lots of running stuff and I didn’t read running magazines.  I just ran.  My running clothes are just whatever shorts are on sale at TJ Maxx and maybe an old t-shirt in the winter.  I may get my armband for my phone there too.  I’m a little more picky about my shoes and socks but I’ve got plenty of socks from TJ Maxx or Marshalls.  I don’t go to running stores, I don’t read running books and in real life I don’t talk about running much at all.  I was convinced I wasn’t a real runner.  But I ran more than a lot of real runners and apparently I was faster than many of them too.  The more I learned about other runners, the more I realized I was a runner too.  Once I got over that mental hurdle I realized that everyone who runs is a runner.  Once a week?  Once a month?  Once a year?  Did you go outside and run one time?  You’re a runner.  A real runner. 

It’s all in your head
Do you think you can run a mile?  If you do, you can.  Do you think you can run a half marathon?  If you do, you can.  Whatever excuse you can think of right now, it’s total crap.  You’re not too heavy.  You’re not too old.  You’re not too weak.  You’re not too anything.  If you think you can do it, you can.  I’ve watched people run a 5K with zero training.  I’ve known people who ran half marathons on a whim with no training.  But the flip side is also true, if you think you can’t, you absolutely cannot.  Your mind is the strongest part of you.  It’s stronger than your muscles, stronger than your legs, stronger than that hill in front of you.  If you tell your body you can do it, your body will listen.  I would bet there’s actual scientific verification of this but I can tell you that 6 years of continuous 5Ks do not happen unless you tell yourself every single day that you can do it.  Trust me on this.  Tell yourself you can and you will.

Running will make it feel better
One of the things about a run streak of any kind is the daily temptation to not run.  You wake up and can’t breathe and the logical part of your brain says, “yeah, you shouldn’t run today.”  Or you have that weird tightness in your hip.  The sore back is a good one too.  Everyone around you who is not on a running streak tells you that you should probably take a day off.  But you’re stubborn.  So you get up and blow your nose and stretch your back and you run.  And guess what?  You feel better.  The sinuses clear out after a mile and you can breathe better than ever before.  Your hip loosens up and your back feels great because one of the best things you can do for your body is use it.  And it’s not just endorphins tricking you, you actually feel better the rest of the day.  And this is not just a physical remedy, it also works mentally and emotionally.  That jerk that pissed you off at work all day?  A run will fix it.  All the work you have due at the end of the week?  A run will help.  There is actually science to back this up and it has to do with increased blood flow to the brain and it does really help.  Whatever you got, running may not fix it completely, but it can make it feel better.

Running (and coffee) saves lives
Related to the one above, that increased blood flow to the brain will help you not want to punch that person in the throat quite as much.  It will make you not want to run that ridiculous driver off the road.  This was not as obvious to me when I was running as it is now that I’m not running but let me tell you, today I have wanted to punch at least 3 people in the throat.  I’ve wanted to run no less than 5 people off the road because they haven’t the slightest clue how to drive.  And I’m in a good mood.  Things are great.  But I still need running to even me out.  I don’t even want to think about what could happen if I didn’t have my coffee!

Meditation
Running is a solo activity for me.  I run every day alone.  It’s a good 25 minutes of quiet time and it’s amazing.  During that time my mind wanders.  I solve most of the world’s problems by the end of mile 1.  I’m not afraid to confess to you that I spend a good bit of my running time talking to myself or to God.  Not out loud, I’m not completely insane, but there are definite conversations.  You may call this prayer or meditation or whatever fits your particular belief system, that’s cool with me.  For me, it’s a time of remembering the things that are important to me and thinking about the people I know who are struggling.  If I know you personally whether we’ve met in person or if we only know each other through the interwebs, there’s a good chance you’ve been mentioned during this time.  Regardless of your thoughts on God, this is good energy and it’s a good thing to be a part of it.  Of course, prayer or meditation is not just about asking for favors.  It is a great time to express gratitude.  Few things help you see your own blessings more effectively than thinking of your friends who are walking in valleys.  My beliefs tell me that prayer is good for me because it puts my heart where it needs to be, refocusing me on others instead of on myself.  Running gives me that time and it helps to point my heart outward. 

Easy is bad
These last two weeks not running, I’ve noticed how easy it is to not exercise.  In addition to running each day, I also partake in an exercise routine called PiYo, a combination of Pilates and Yoga.  Each night before bed I also do a series of strength and stretch exercises.  These last two weeks I’ve slept a little later and not worried about the weather or temperature when I wake up.  I haven’t had to wait an hour to have my morning coffee.  When I’m sleepy, I just go to bed.  It’s so easy.  But I feel so bad.  I feel like I’m skipping something important.  I’m not as flexible as I was two weeks ago.  My feet hurt.  My knees creak when I walk up the stairs.  I’m not burning off my calories and I feel like an inflatable pool float.  I feel like I’m rusting.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lying in bed all day watching Netflix.  I’m moving and getting some walking miles in each day, but it’s not the same as a good workout and my body feels the difference.  People joke with me all the time about being so proud of not running unless something is chasing them or how much happier they are eating chips instead of exercising but I don’t buy it.  The only thing better than the feeling of exercising is realizing you have the willpower and determination to make yourself exercise even when you don’t want to.  That’s a great feeling.  That willpower and determination carries over into every aspect of your life.  A running friend is fond of saying “I can do hard things” and when you realize you can, you see just how bad easy things are.

Running friends are the best
Speaking of running friends, let’s talk about those for a minute.  Some of my running friends I see in person from time to time and even run with them once a week during school.  Other running friends I may email or text with and honestly we mostly don’t talk about running.  Then there are the other running friends, the ones on Instagram that I’ve never met but I feel such a connection with because of our shared passion and insanity.  All of them understand something about the ridiculousness of waking up and thinking that running several miles outside is a good time.  They all understand what it means to put your desire for fitness and good health above your desire to be lazy.  They know that first mile is a liar and that you have to save something for that last hundred yards.  They know bright colored running shoes make you faster.  They understand the joy of tall, nonsensical socks.  We get each other because we are all the same kind of crazy.  But they also sense when you are in a rut or are feeling out of sorts and they are some of the first people to come in with encouragement.  They know what a bad run feels like and they know how to dispel discouragement.  My friend Catherine lives across the world and we’ve ran together on birthdays.  My friend Beth who “can do hard things” demonstrates daily how to get literally everything done and is such an encouragement.  I even have two friends, Dominic and Ursa who felt so bad for me not being allowed to run that they decided to run my 5K every day for me.  Can you even imagine?  I am blown away by these people on a daily basis.  I am grateful for running friends near and far.

You are inspiring
These friends inspire me to keep getting up and getting those miles.  Just knowing that people are getting up and getting over their own obstacles helps me see that I can get over mine as well.  If they can run, I can too.  I’ve had a couple of people tell me that they got out and ran because they saw me doing it.  They’re out making big changes in their lives just because they were inspired.  Just this week a person told me they just started running because they saw one of my running friends running every day.  All of the good things about running described above, now that person gets to have all of that, just because someone else laced up their shoes and decided they could run.  Think about the people you know in your life and all the things they have to deal with each day.  What could running do for them?  Maybe it could give them an extra 10 years of good health.  Maybe it could help them stay mentally balanced.  Maybe it could keep them emotionally stable.  Maybe it could provide a positive addiction to replace a negative one.  Maybe it could help them shed some pounds or just feel better about themselves.  And what if the motivation to do that came from you?  You have that power.  You just need to put on your shoes and lean forward. 

*You can get to know some of my inspiring running friends on Instagram by checking them out here:  @catherine.is.running, @bethelaine27, @pushthruthewall, @therunstreakgirl, @ursamich, @rock_toss_jess, @zombiee_odis just to name a few.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

layla, the pope of coffee

A few weeks ago I got to tag along with G to a nurse conference in Tampa.  You can read about that if you scroll down a while.  The trip was interesting because we had never been to Tampa and we planned a few adventures there, but it was also interesting because I was feeling the pain of the hernia, especially in the afternoons and walking wasn't something I was doing a lot of at the time.  After hours of driving, my body didn't want to walk miles around the downtown area exploring.  Of course, I did anyway, but not as much as I would have normally.  

So on these types of trips, G has to get up early and go sit in on conference sessions most of the day, which leaves me to go around doing art things alone.  One of the traditions I enjoy on these trips is finding a place to have coffee and breakfast each morning.  I take my sketchbook and camp out for a while.  It's a great time to watch people, especially when a country bumpkin like me goes into a downtown city area.  I usually sit and enjoy my coffee while drawing the people or other random things.  

On the first morning in Tampa, the only coffee shop I could find on the map app was the Starbucks in the hotel lobby.  Now here's where we'll have to agree to disagree.  Starbucks is the Walmart of coffee.  OK, maybe it's the Target of coffee.  But only if it's a good day with the right person making the coffee.  Oh yes, I drink it and happily so if it's the only thing I can find, but in general, their coffee drinks taste burnt and it's really hit or miss with how the coffee is mixed.  I do love plain coffee with sugar but each morning I need as many ounces as possible of a CafĂ© Mocha to get my blood sufficiently sweetened.  And honestly when I order it and they ask me if I want it hot...that just irritates me.  It's coffee.  Of course I want it hot.  I didn't order a milkshake.  (No offense to the 90% of you who drink those iced coffee drinks)  You may get irritated by having to press 1 for English, I get irritated by having to specify that I do, in fact, want my coffee hot.  And I'm the old guy who still refuses to order the size in whatever vocabulary Starbucks is trying to fancy their place up with.  I want a LARGE.  I don't care what it means in Italian.  We're in a chain coffee joint in a strip mall in the South.  It's a small, medium or large.  Or maybe even "a big'un" if you're in the right town.  But all that aside, like Walmart (or Target), you can expect to get the same basic thing if you're in California, South Carolina, the campus shop at school or even Tampa.  So I waited in the very long line of nurses getting their cup before the conference and I sat at a tiny table.  I ate a frozen sandwich thing and drank my large white chocolate mocha.  It was all average as expected.

Exploring town a little more that afternoon, I found a little breakfast place called "Moxie's".  I decided they probably had better coffee than Walbucks and the atmosphere certainly seemed cozier.  The next morning I walked down and found my way in the door.  I was immediately greeted by at least two voices from behind the counter.  I felt like I was in Waffle House.  I was there for coffee and I found that quickly on the menu but I hadn't really thought out my food order.  I was making it up completely on the spot at the register, without even looking at the choices.  I saw a waffle and asked for one.  Then, asked for chocolate chips in it and got a "now you're talkin'" from the cashier.  I liked the place.  I was a stranger and I had been accepted.  

I took my seat by the front window, but opted to turn my back to the window so I could observe the interior and it's occupants.  There was a solo dude at the table beside me working on business.  The table behind him had a trio there on business.  They made small talk and I'm pretty sure one of the ladies was flirting with the dude.  An older couple sat behind them silent.  I lost interest the farther away people sat.  People would walk in the door and they'd be greeted by their first name.  I thought that was kind of cool.  I started to realize I was in a local favorite spot where people would come in before work or during a break every weekday.  I also noted that the person doing most of the greeting and first name remembering was the young lady making the coffee.  There were some kitchen dudes and a cashier who did several things, but only one person was in charge of the coffee.  Every coffee ordered went through her.  There was another young lady who would walk the food and drinks out to the tables.  

I started drawing in my sketchbook while I waited for my waffle and coffee.  This is what I drew...

The lady with the glasses was the one flirting with the dude.

Soon, I looked up to find the barista walking toward my table with my coffee.  She sat it on my table and said, "I'm sorry it took a little longer.  It looked so good I had to take a picture of it before I brought it."  She smiled and I admitted that it was a very good looking coffee before thanking her.  

 That's the coffee as it was delivered.  It was perfect.  I mean, it looked great, but it tasted perfect.  It was a vanilla mocha latte and if I'm honest, it may have been better than the ones I make at home.  I guess maybe I should have mentioned that in the Starbucks paragraph, but I make a really great coffee at home.  When I go to a coffee shop, they really have to be great to live up to my expectations.  I know plenty of people who work at Starbucks and I know you think you're the exception but I promise you're not.  This is not an insult.  I know you're following your recipe like you should, it's just that your recipe isn't as great as mine.  No big deal.  We can still be friends.  

But that coffee.  It was so good.  So good I can barely remember the really high quality waffle I ate.  So good I ordered another before I left.  It was really, really good.  

As I savored the coffee, I started to pay more attention to the coffee maker.  After people would order their coffee to go, they would come around to the end of the counter where the coffee syrups were and they'd talk to the barista.  Not like small talk, but really talking like they knew each other.  She talked to them like she was really interested in their lives.  I started to think about how this affected the customers.  It was affecting me, first of all.  They made me feel at home when I came in.  But it was also making the customers feel like family, making them want to come in again the next day.  People would walk in the door with morning face and when the barista would call them by name, they'd perk up and smile.  It was fun to watch.  


When I go on trips like this with G, I try to take some kind of thick paper scraps to draw little messages on to leave for strangers.  Sometimes it's "you are beautiful" taken from the You Are Beautiful international sticker campaign or sometimes I improvise with something nice on the spot.  It takes only a couple of minutes but it can make a big impact on someone's day.  It gives me something to do while I wait for G to get out of the conference.

I flipped through my sketchbook and realized I failed to put the strips of Bristol paper in there.  But I was inspired so I grabbed a napkin and quickly sketched out some words and wrote "thanks for the coffee" and handed it to the barista as I headed out the door.  This is the way these scenes end and it's probably why I enjoy doing it.  I get to make someone smile, but it's pretty hands off and I don't have to feel any emotions.  I hand them a paper and walk away to never see them again.  It's very me.  


But dang that was great coffee.  And I had one more morning in Tampa.  And she probably wouldn't be there two mornings in a row, right?  And even if she was, there's no way she would remember a stranger.  And I could wear a hat.  I'd be invisible.  

So I walked to Moxie's again the next morning.  I got the common greeting when I walked in the door but no one seemed to recognize me.  It was all going according to plan.  I ordered my coffee and a new breakfast and took my seat unnoticed.  I was invisible.  There was an older couple at the table beside me and I gathered that she was a nurse and he was tagging along just like me.  Behind him there was an annoying table of people having a business meeting.  They used every cliche statement you have ever heard in your life.  It was like bad TV.  Behind them a younger couple came in and took seats trying to decide if they were "here or to go" people.  

I started sketching and writing a recap of the day before and I looked up when I felt someone close.  

The barista was standing at my table with another magnificent coffee.  She placed the coffee on the table and she handed me her phone.  This is not normal, right?  Then I realized I was busted.  She recognized me.  She said, "Hi, I'm Layla.  And you're...Doug?"

Then she explained to me that the day before she was having a particularly crappy morning and that when she got my little drawing it turned her day around.  She said that she was so moved by it that she posted something about it on Facebook and that she never does things like that.  She had placed her phone right in front of me and had the Facebook post pulled up so I could read it.  There was the photo of the coffee that she took (that's her photo above) and a photo of the drawing and a nice little paragraph thanking the "random stranger". 

We talked for a minute and she left me to my breakfast.  I thought about how she had taken the nice thing and used it as fuel to be nice to other people.  She had multiplied it.  This was something she offered to people every single day by saying "good morning" and calling them by name.  She probably has no idea what a difference that small thing makes in those people's lives.  

Layla is one of those people you instantly know you could hang out with.  She has a positive energy and a personality that is giving instead of taking.  When I was ready to leave I walked up to the coffee counter and thanked her for sharing her post with me and for another excellent coffee.  We talked for a couple of minutes and it turns out her parents just moved to South Carolina so she was familiar with the area I was from.  We shook hands and parted ways with a smile.


Sometimes when I'm walking on campus I'll pass a stranger and smile or say "good morning" and I'll wonder what that person is dealing with at that moment.  Did they get dumped the day before?  Do they have a sick parent?  Did they come to school so anxiety ridden that they were sick?  And did that smile make any of it any better?  You just can't tell by looking at them.  It seems to me that the best approach is to be nice to everyone as often as you are able.  If they're having a great day, you might make it even better.  If they're having a tragic day, your smile might be the only good thing that happens to them.  Within us each day, we have the power to make people happy or to make people sad.  I wonder if Layla knows how many lives she has touched in a positive way just by going to work every day.  

If you're ever in Tampa, check out Moxie's at 514 N Tampa St and look for Layla.  You'll leave a better person.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

freakin' hernia

Depending on what bio you've been subjected to or how long you've known me, you may know that I started working with metal pretty early in life.  My dad taught me how to weld with a stick welder when I was 7.  I was helping him in his metal shop before this, but because I was so small at age 7, dad realized I would be much more helpful as a welder rather than a holder.  Steel is typically heavy and with my new skill, my bigger, stronger dad could hold up the end of a 20' piece of 3" channel and I could weld the other end.  There were hoists and things you could buy to help lift heavy stuff and hold it still, but it was cheaper to just pick it up and hold it.  This is the way I learned.  And this way has served me well into midlife as a metal sculptor.  I work alone in the studio and it bugs me to have to get someone to help me do something.  As a result, I've been lifting things much heavier than me for several decades.  You'd be surprised what you can lift when you're the only one there and there's no other way.  You get smart, clever or just strong.  And it gets done.

I suppose you could get a hernia lifting something too heavy.  I heard about them.  But for most of my life a hernia was just something they had to check for when you got a physical to play football each year.  It was not something anyone took very seriously.  

Early in this last spring semester, I looked down and there was a small bulge of skin that wasn't there before.  Almost instinctively I knew what it was.  But why?  What did I do?  In a full on panic I tried to think back through the last few days.  What did I lift?  Nothing.  At least nothing out of the ordinary.  When G got home I showed her and asked "Is this a hernia?".  Yeah.  Google agreed.  WebMD agreed.  The Mayo Clinic website agreed.  The other thing they all agreed on was that the only way to fix a hernia was through surgical repair.


You know those people who have a primary care doctor and a couple of specialists they see routinely each year?  The ones who have prescriptions for things and have common ailments that require hospital stays and doctors' care?  I'm not those people.  The last doctor I had was a pediatrician and he's been retired for many years now.  I may have broken a finger or toe in my years of mischief and I definitely dislocated my shoulder playing backyard football in high school but I never saw anyone about any of it.  My aunt LJ was an ER nurse when I was a kid and as an adult, my wife is a nurse.  They could look at me and tell me if I was dying.  If not, it was back to play or work as soon as possible.  I think maybe I had blood drawn once when I was about 8 but other than that, I've never had anything more than a shot.  "Surgical repair" was not in my personal vocabulary.

It took a little convincing from both of the aforementioned nurses to get me to go have it checked.  I made an appointment with a surgeon who had operated on my mom and my wife and he checked me out.  Seconds after he walked in the room he said, "Yep, you have a hernia."  Well crap.  But the good news...if it's not hurting you or causing you any trouble, you don't have to do anything about it.  Some people, he said, live for many years with one and it doesn't bother them.  That's what I needed to hear.  I thanked him and shook his hand and headed for the door.  I'll be one of those people.  


Dread started creeping up on me pretty fast.  There would be general aching on some days.  Some days were just painful.  As the semester moved on, the pain grew and worse yet, I had to stop lifting things.  A sculpture professor has a lot of heavy lifting to do in the course of a normal week.  

And then there was running.  I have a bit of a running habit and while running in the mornings was fine, when I ran later in the day with other people and had to talk while running, it was a bit more uncomfortable.  The dread increased.  I knew where this was going.  But of course I was still full on denying it.

The week of the sand sculpture trip, I had a lot more pain.  Even as I eased up a little, which is not easy for me to do, the pain didn't do the same.  By the time I returned home I was hurting bad enough to stop denying.  I knew I was going to have to have surgery.


I can't properly describe the sheer terror this created in me.  Everything I hate was involved:  losing control, not being able to do everything I wanted, not being able to run.  And what about all the podcasts I listened to last year?  The one about people being paralyzed but fully conscious during surgeries.  The one about people dying from general anesthesia.  The one about the history of surgery that detailed how they basically just hack you open and poke around.  The risks, the side effects........ugh.  


I made another appointment.  The surgeon guy was very cool.  He walked in with that knowing look on his face.  He said he knew he'd see me again eventually but he didn't expect it so soon.  I explained why I was back and he didn't even need to check anything.  He explained the surgery like it was just what you do on a Wednesday morning between coffees.  He told me I wouldn't be able to exert myself for 6 weeks.  I asked him if I could run.  He laughed.  Then he saw I was serious and he said, "No".  I explained that I hadn't missed a day of running in over 6 years.  He calmly told me that I was about to miss a day.  6 weeks of days.  He said that for a person like me, the hardest part of the surgery would be that after a few days I would want to start running again but he wouldn't let me.  

With my cutting day scheduled, I still had to manage a couple of vacations and a studio sale.  I ran every morning, sometimes with a bit of pain.  I know how stupid that sounds to you but I knew that the streak was coming to an end.  I had a definite date and I really wanted to make it to that date.  I started to find a new appreciation for every run.  Every day I was grateful to get my miles.  In Tampa I had a few really slow runs.  One was particularly bad.  I thought the streak was going to end that day.  I took breaks but I got it done.  

The afternoons were the worst.  The longer I was out of bed and upright, the more it hurt.  Knowing that this was also going to affect my sculpture production for the summer, I busted my butt getting 3 new sculptures finished before vacation.  Each one took more effort than the last.  I would have to take breaks through the day just to lay down flat on the floor to rest.  

And that studio sale.  Oh my goodness that was tough.  There's so much to do to get ready for the sale and particularly the week of the sale is rough.  We turn the house upside down to display everything.  Blue and G had to do some heavy lifting for me.  Everyone had to chip in.  The day of the sale, it was all I could do to stay upright.  I snuck upstairs twice during the sale to lay on my back in the hallway.  But the family helped get everything put away afterwards mostly while I laid in the floor.

Did I get up at 6:00am to run the morning of my surgery?  Of course I did.  The surgeon found this really funny.  But it was really beautiful out.  The sun was coming up splashing a red color on the high clouds.  There was a summer fog floating over the front yard making the tractor and hay bales look like an impressionist put them there.  


Today is the first day in 2,247 days that I do not plan to run.  Even without the threats on my life, I know I couldn't run today if I wanted to.  Last week a runner friend was talking about what defines us.  We are not just a runner or a mom or a nurse or a teacher.  We are a complex and interesting mix of all the things we do and love.  I will not run today or tomorrow.  I will not run for 6 weeks.  But that doesn't change who I am.  I'm still ridiculous, I'll just have to find other outlets for my ridiculousness for the next few weeks.