Monday, September 28, 2015

Self Care

   I have a friend who introduced me to the term "Self Care." It is a good concept, one I need to heed. Each of us has different needs, needs that only we know. I think many of us, me, for example, are very good at ignoring needs, pressing forward despite fatigue, aches, pains, stress, lack of sleep. Although I am very good at listening to my body and brain, I am not always good at hearing what it is telling me. At least when it is telling me to slow down, rest, take it easy. I don't do well with "take it easy."
    Because of my tendency to often push past the point of fatigue and excess, I do need to be more cognitive of other forms of "Self Care." In the last few weeks I have felt myself moving at a steady pace towards a meltdown, a dance with melancholy, a glimpse into the abyss, the return of my demons. It is a combination of many things, including the pressure to be all things to all people, and taking on a physical workload that would challenge someone half my age. But I take it willingly... take it on the chin, occasionally. This is where I need to take my own Self Care seriously.
    I know for a fact that I will not get enough sleep on almost any given night. I know that I will push myself physically, far beyond the point of being achy and short tempered. Lately I have had moments when I feel as if I could fall asleep standing, even in the middle of a workout. I have also had several episodes of a sudden wave of pressure/pain that flows from the base of my neck, across my shoulders and down my arms all the way to my fingertips. A wave of fatigue that saps all the strength and energy from my muscles, leaving my arms feeling like tingling lumps of clay. The third episode was so weird and uncomfortable that for a brief moment I wondered if I was having a heart attack. I had a quick vision of Cap'n Eddie pulling into my driveway in our Rescue Rig, coming through the door with the AED and oxygen kit, saying, in his gravelly but kind voice, "Hey Kid, what the hell is going on?" I felt my pulse, strong, slow and steady, as usual. Not a heart attack. I googled the symptoms and found a whole forum discussion going back to 2011 of people with the identical symptoms, but never a single diagnosis even after every test on the planet. Most chalked it up to over-use and nerve inflammation. I'm cool with that. Not a heart attack, not MS, not Lupus, "Not A Tumor."
    Okay, back to Self Care. Like I said, I am inclined to not know when to stop. I can't help it, it is genetic. You should meet my Mom. There is a woman who does not know how to slow down. At 75 she can damn near outwork me. She and I have done some jobs together, lately doing a lot of salvage. I have to make her take it a bit easy, I remind her, "Mom, you are the brains, I am the brawn." I have only really been this way the last 5 years or so (I credit reclaiming my life, dumping toxic shit, and taking control of my destiny), she has been this way as long as I can remember. Dear gods I am rambling.
    Self Care. I know that if I am not getting enough rest that I need to make sure my nutrition and fitness are on track. Yes, I know that "not enough rest" and "fitness" seem to be a bit at odds, but honestly, I need my workouts. I need to keep my body fit, relatively flexible, and trained. Workouts are what always save me from the darkness that tries to encroach with seasonal regularity. If I am not working out daily, I am not happy with myself. It is my drug, my primary antidepressant. I keep the temple strong to protect the spirit within.
    When I am under strain it is all to easy to let my eating habits slide. True, I don't keep undesirable food in my house. But I damn sure keep really good chocolate, well-aged cheese, and I bake like a goddess. All of which are great in moderation... In Moderation. My idea of moderation has been slightly askew these last few weeks.
    Do I sound a bit obsessive. Yeah, just a bit. But I know how to keep myself on track, and sometimes it is a very delicate line, a mere tightrope. I have felt the darkness peering over my shoulder, heard my demons' sibilant whispers. Time to take a stand, here now, before they can get even a toehold. Self Care tops the list of weaponry. Regain my focus, continue my training, dial in the nutrition, add appropriate supplements. Get Brain, Body, and Spirit all dancing to the same rhythm instead of haring off in all directions.
    Self Care means not only listening to Brain, Body, and Spirit but actually hearing what they are telling me. We know what we need, what keeps us stable and happy. Self Care.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Rains Will Come

    I dread the coming of winter, and yet I am yearning for a few days of rain. Rainy days when I can spend time with an autumn house cleaning and clearing out of the detritus of living a life of chaos. Lately I have been saying, "From here on, every sunny day is a gift. The rains could start tomorrow and not stop until July." For those who have never lived in this neck of the Pacific Northwest, you may think that this is an exaggeration. It is not. Although the last few winters have been drier and warmer than most (Yes, I believe in climate change, climate shift, and harsher climes acoming) , I can remember many winters when the sun barely made an appearance. In my college days I kept track on a calendar; 44 consecutive days of rain, and few dry breaks that particular winter. And my Grandpa always said, "Don't cut your hay until after the 4th of July," because he knew damned well that the rainy season would often last through June. So I know it could happen. The rains will come, and they may well stay. Yes, we really need a colder, wet winter for snow pack, and to fill our lakes and reservoirs. The farmers need rain, the forests are dry as tinder boxes, we still have wildfires that won't subside until the rains come. We need a long, wet winter, as much as I hate to voice that particular concept, and the potential for melancholy that it will bring.
    For now though, the dry, sunny days really are a gift. Each day gives me another block of time to salvage materials for future projects, or continue weatherizing my little homestead, or finish up The Fort. Other projects on tap can be done once the rains begin. The ground is dry and hard as concrete so I need some rain to finish digging out for the stone patio, sidewalk to and stonework around The Fort. I need the ground to soften up so I can dig the trench to run power and water to The Fort. Building my brick, wood-fired oven can be done in cooler weather, and mortar will cure better in the damp. But, I really want enough dry weather to finished getting the greenhouse up so I have some dry storage for my salvaged building materials.
    Speaking of my greenhouse, today, as much as I would love to stay home, read, nap, and bake, I get to salvage some windows, glass, metal roofing, and hopefully some pressure treated material. I also will get more concrete block and fire brick for the outdoor oven.  And, hopefully, the last bit of material to build the porch onto The Fort. I will also get a fabulous clawfoot bathtub, that will be installed in my bathroom when I finally get to do my bathroom remodel.
    Ohdeargods, The List just keeps growing! But despite the fatigue that borders on burnout I have a ridiculous enthusiasm for the projects that keep popping into my head. As long as the weather holds I will keep charging ahead, working hard until I crawl inside for dinner and sleep. Today I get to gather more materials for my homestead, the home I love, my sanctuary. The rains will come, and when they do I will rest a bit, but only a bit. For now, there are epic things to be done. The fun just keeps coming.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


    This is a bit of a cross-over post. It could easily go into my training blog, but since it is a bit more random it will go here with the other random ramblings. The last few weeks... okay, months really, have been so busy and physically demanding that my body is presenting with the same weirdo symptoms I would have from over-training and physical burnout: chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and soreness, lowered immune system, difficulty sleeping, strange dreams, altered appetite, short temper, and a general overall achy, whiny, cry-baby feeling. It is possible that I am just starting to dip into the first shadowy bits of seasonal affected disorder, or "My Melancholy" as I much prefer to call it (it does sound more romantic, and less plebeian).
    The last few weeks especially have been rough, and the last few days have been on the cusp of miserable. Last week I was stricken low by what had to have been a stomach bug. I slept 28 hours out of 36, and was incapable of doing much more than sit like a blob during the few hours I was awake. Okay, I did make it to drill at the station, but it was a sit and blah-blah-blah meeting instead of an active, training drill night.
    Today I have a scratchy throat, fatigue, and muscle weakness. I sanded some cedar boards for the Fort this evening after work and felt rather feeble. I was hanging with a sick grandson on Thursday, confident in my strong immune system, and now have been proven over-confident. As I said more than a few times last week when wrestling my way through the stomach bug, "I don't have time to be sick." Tomorrow is another day to head out to The Art Farm and glean a truckload of brick and block, and hopefully more building materials. The sudden resurgence of necessary trips out to the family property was not on the agenda, my plate was plenty full already... overflowing, actually. But the property has sold, closing is in about a month, so any salvage to do needs doing now, not later. So everything else screeches to a halt while I tend to the immediate.
     Yes, I have been putting in crazy long days lately as I try so hard to get the homestead buttoned up for winter. I do go a bit overboard when I get a chance to glean building materials. My projects will have to wait a few days, as much as I hate to do that. There is so much to do, and never enough time. I do push myself hard, but if I don't get the work done it isn't going to get done. Too poor to hire someone, too independent to ask for help, too single to even imagine a partner.
    Truth be told though, I prefer working alone. I love the Zen of hard work. But lately my body is paying the price for my overzealous nature. I have been forcing myself to actually skip workouts. You heard me right:  Skip Workouts.  Me, skipping workouts!  You know it is some serious shit when I am only getting in 3 or 4 training sessions a week. I am forcing myself to look at the hard physicality of my current projects as a form of CrossFit type training. Hell, people pay good money to carry rocks in a CrossFit club. Me? I do it for the rocks. But between the scraping and sanding of house painting, the hauling and stacking of brick and concrete block, and the cutting and hauling of a bunch of seedling plum trees, I have gotten some hella bodacious workouts done. Yes, I am griping a bit about feeling used up, worn out, fried, and frazzled, but the work has got to get done. And remember, my work is play... really, really hard play.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Work Is Play. Play Is Work.

    As I was putting the finishing touches on the paint on the south end of my house, I was lamenting the fact that this past summer has been All Work and No Play. Then I realized how much fun I have had working on my various projects, especially The Fort. And how much work I put into my play, as in triathlons. The early season knee injury benched me for the summer as far as racing goes, but it let me focus my vast amounts of energy on my little homestead. Turning my ugly, ill-used storage shed into an epic Fort (aka writing studio/guest house) has been an adventure all on its own. I mean, c'mon, how cool is it to build a fort? I have piles of rock and brick to build a stone patio, a walkway out to the Fort, a small patio at the Fort, and a stone fire pit. It has been a massive amount of work these last six months or so, but I have enjoyed every minute of it.
    With the impending rains of autumn on the horizon, the Fort has been on hiatus these last few weeks as I scraped, sanded, repaired, epoxied, scraped, sanded, weatherized, primered, and painted the weather beaten south end, and south-east corner of my home. It has been in dire need of attention really since before I even knew this place existed. Now it is weather tight, clean, and the cedar siding has been repaired and renovated so it will last for another decade or more. I did it all by myself, as usual. With neurotic attention to detail, as usual. And it looks fabulous.
    To add to the list of Work/Play, yesterday was a day of salvage. I spent a lot of time this last spring salvaging materials which went into the Fort, and the soon to be built patio. Now I am getting an opportunity to add to my dwindling supply of materials. Concrete block, brick, windows, and various boards. Yesterday, with the help of my Mom, and the loan of a truck from my uncle, I got a nice load of concrete block, red brick, hard fire brick, and boards. It was a helluva load. I dropped my Mom off, I figured she had done more than her fair share of the work (I tell her that she is the Brain and I am the Brawn) and came home with the load. I admit, I was already damned tired, but it was a race against approaching darkness, and a promise of heavy rain.
    First I had to unload a multi-paned glass door, heavy for tired aching, muscles. Then came a real treasure: 9' long, rough cut boards a solid 2" thick, and ranging in width from 8" to 14". These boards could be 100 years old, with saw marks, and darkened with age. They will be the ceiling for the sleeping area of the guest house I plan on building next year. Next was 25  1"x6" cedar fence boards, likely the back wall of my soon-to-be-built greenhouse. But carrying these boards, and stacking them carefully on sawhorses made me begin to feel whiny. The arthritis in my hands and elbows, from years of rough sports, was screaming bloody murder. And the real work hadn't even begun.
    I had a truck load of block and brick to be unloaded and stacked. Whiny doesn't even begin to describe the thoughts bouncing around inside my head. But it had to be done. Funny thing though, as usual once my body gets warm, my energy starts to flow unimpeded. Despite the pain in my hands and elbows, every block and brick I moved from the front of the truck bed, to the tail, then hopped off to unload and stack, every block went onto a mental checklist: landscape blocks and pumice fire bricks for Mom, cinder blocks for me, patio blocks for Mom....
    I off-loaded the first half, then backed the truck up near the corner of the house, closer to the backyard where most of these will be used. That is when I really got my second wind (or third, or fourth... this late in the day it was hard to tell). Concrete block, to be unloaded and stacked with OCD neatness. These will be the foundation of my greenhouse. I admit, halfway through unloading this bunch I was beginning the mental litany that is not all that different from when I do an endurance swim and am counting down remaining laps. "Almost there. Just a few more. Almost there..." My shoulders were burning, but in my mind's eye I could see my greenhouse taking shape.
    After the concrete block, there was still a pile of brick. Not as heavy, but I was getting a bit tired. Even so, as the light waned, and rain clouds thickened, as I ignored the sharp pain in my hands, lifting and stacking, I was envisioning the brick oven that I have been wanting to build. red brick, lined with hard fire brick, it will be a thing of beauty. In my mind I also saw brick lined raise herb beds next to the stone patio.
    I was down to the last dozen or so bricks, the light was nearly gone, when the rain hit. Big drops, quickly soaking me, but it had held off all day. I laughed aloud at the elements, and thanked the gods of the elements for giving me the perfect day to add to my wealth.
    Tired, dirty, wet. I wanted herbal tea, a hot shower, and yoga to stretch out tired muscles. For a moment I decried my lack of herbal in the cupboard, then chided myself, I have an herb garden overflowing. Shears in hand, flashlight held in my teeth, I braved the rain to snip lavender, bee-balm, rosemary, mint, catmint, and sage. I checked for bugs hiding among the leaves before tossing the handful into boiling water, I let it steep while I took a much needed shower. Finally, wearing the comfiest clothes I could find (I do love running gear), hot tea at hand, I sprawled on my yoga mat to stretch abused muscles. It was a long, glorious day.
    Every bit of salvaged material brings me that much closer to completed projects. That much closer to realizing dreams and goals. A greenhouse to grow herbs and rose starts to sell at the Farmer's Market for a nice injection of cash. A guest house for my Mom when she visits, or needs to come live with me yet maintain her independence. The Fort has likely increased my property value by $10K, and a well built guest house will add even more value. So, every day that I can haul home these bits and pieces, pieces of the giant puzzle/project that is my homestead, is a fabulous day. And guess what? Sunday, I get to do it again.