Monday 26 December 2016

O Holy Nightmare

Xmas Eve
Just as I get home from feeding the horses at my local barn, Suz rings to tell me that "Silas isn't right" and she has called the vet. It's the call every horse owner dreads, with the c-word hovering, menacing but left unsaid.

But at first it didn't sound like colic.  He was cold to the touch, shivering, temp 98F.  There was freezing rain but he was dry under his spiffy new waterproof sheet and his winter coat is thick and fuzzy.  In fact, he's only had a sheet for about a month and a half.  He survived his first three winters with no blanket and never a sign of minding the cold.  My first thought was that he had sweated under the unaccustomed sheet and gotten chilled from that but they quickly warmed him up, he stopped shivering, his temp returned to normal, but his eye was dull and he wouldn't eat.  He wasn't kicking his belly or showing other signs of colic though, and he was pooping.  [Sorry non-horse people, but the presence or absence of poop is the difference between life and death for horses, so we're obsessed by it in a way that we understand seems bizarre to you.]
But the freezing rain delayed the vet's arrival and by the time Dr. C. arrived Silas was wanting to roll and the barn slaves were walking him around the indoor.  Suz gave him oral banamine for pain relief.  He was liking the attention but still obviously not his normal cheeky self.  Vet gave buscopan and butorponal for pain relief.  He heard gut sounds in all four quadrants [horses fart a lot – sorry again, non-horse people] but he did detect what he thought was a slight impaction in the right colon.  He was severely dehydrated so he started an IV and also tubed him.  Silas was refluxing badly – he got 9 litres of fluid.  The more he examined him, the more serious it appeared, and it was decided that he needed to go to hospital, at the very least for the IV and to administer pain meds since obviously the oral banamine was getting nowhere.

Luckily, Suz was both able and willing to trailer him the hour and a half to the nearest hospital.  Did I mention Xmas Eve is also her birthday?  I was beside myself and helpless being both broke and far away; I can never repay her dedication and kindness.  Her response was simply that she knows I'd do the same for her, which is true.  And she and everyone else at her barn adore Silas and would do anything for him, never mind me.  When I lamented her birthday and Xmas Eve being ruined, she replied that she was just happy she caught it in time to help him, that she could have found him dead or beyond help, as has happened in the past.

But Suz's devotion to me and my baby boy was not shared by the hospital.  They would not admit him without a credit card that would hold $10K, which is the typical amount for colic treatment, and all three of my cards are maxed out.  It's the first time in my life that has happened and I have had no access to credit for an emergency such as this.  To make matters worse, I have always been diligent about insuring Silas since before he was first shipped to me as a weanling.   But I just had to let his insurance lapse because I could not afford the premium.  This makes me sick because insurance would have covered all of this staggering expense that is now going to be piled on top of my existing debt.

So what did I do?  I called one credit card, lied about my income, and got a $2500 increase on my credit limit.  A start, but not enough.  Back when my dog was sick, I had used a special credit card just for vet bills.  But he died in 2011 and it had since been deactivated for lack of use.  I had to reapply for it, again lying about my income, and got a $7K limit.  That gave me at total of $9.5K.  Not quite the $10K minimum they wanted, but they took it, thank fuck.

It was nearly 4pm before he arrived and was examined and I got some news.  I have never been so scared in my entire life.  And this was Xmas Eve, my favourite holiday.  Looking back, I don't know how I got through the day.

Sometimes just the bumpy trailer ride alone can get a colicky horse to poop but no such luck.  Vet at hospital at least sounded cool and competent over the phone.  She said he had a huge impaction, not small like regular vet had opined, and his small intestines were extremely distended and severely displaced.  They tubed unbelievable amounts of foul reflux.  She said she had never smelled such an odor, quipping that "Silas was making silage."  It had clearly been brewing for awhile, but he'd eaten his dinner with his usual gusto the previous evening, kicking his dish and demanding it be filled as per his usual entitled insistent attitude.  Friesians have a reputation for being so stoic that by the time they refuse food and actually show clinical symptoms of illness, they are practically dead.

They loaded him up with oil, salt water, and drugs for pain and to relax the gut and encourage motility and said they'd ring me Xmas morning unless there was a change for the worst:  "No news is good news."

I spent a literally entirely sleepless Xmas Eve night with the phone on my pillow, willing it not to ring, and trying not to imagine worst-case scenarios.  For the non-horse people reading this, the dread is that the intestines will twist, necessitating surgery to remove the necrotic section.  Friesians do not do well with anaesthesia, and the prognosis for colic cases needing surgery is extremely poor.  Most who go into surgery do not wake up.

Xmas Day
Vet reported that he was much brighter in the morning – he'd pooped twice and pulled out his IV, and was making it very clear that he was NOT happy the other horses were getting fed and he wasn't.  But there wasn't much change internally – impaction not cleared, still bloated, and small intestines still horribly displaced.  He wasn't coming home but vet was optimistic that he just needed more time and that surgery could still be avoided.  They'd given him lots of mineral oil which she hoped to see streaming disgustingly down his legs by the next morning.  I breathed, just a little bit, but still got no sleep Xmas night.

Boxing Day (or St. Stephen's Day, as you prefer)
No oil.  I had hoped for better news this morning but exam (I'll spare non horse people the details of how this is done) showed that the small intestines were still displaced and blockage must not be clear due to the oil's non-appearance.  They were giving him hot mashes and horse tea (water with a handful of sweet feed mixed in), which he was eagerly sucking down.  We decided that turning him out for awhile might shake things back into place.  (Also, feeling better and not being used to confinement, he was climbing the walls in the stall.)  There was a risk he could roll and create the dreaded torsion that would necessitate surgery, but, at this stage, vet and I agreed that the likelihood movement and even rolling would help outweighed the risk it could hurt.  Her hypothesis is that the intestine is resting on a section of colon that is still impacted and once it clears it will fall back into place.  If not, well, the other possible explanations are all ominous.  She said she'd update me later.

Unfortunately, per the evening update, he didn't move around much in turn-out – lazy or just exhausted from the ordeal.  So, the plan is to keep giving him tea and mash overnight and hope to see that oil by morning.  At this point, I am so tired I can hardly see straight.  I desperately wish I could see him but can't afford to drive all that way and have nowhere to stay if I could.

And he won't be coming home tomorrow even if impaction is cleared and intestines are back to normal because the next step is challenging with hay to see if he colics again or digests it with good motility.  So, he won't be released until at least Wednesday at this point.  And Suz is out of town for a week's much-deserved holiday so getting him home is a problem.  Luckily, she has a boarder who is willing to pick him up after work any night this week.  I HATE to be in anyone's debt, but I have no choice here.

I hoped he'd be out of the woods by now, and surgery would be definitively ruled out.  But I have another anxious night ahead.  I wish I could just be with him, even if there is nothing I could do to make him better.  I just want to touch him and talk to him and tell him I love him a hundred times a minute.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Mistakes Were Made: An Election Post-Mortem

November is a bleak month at the best of times.  I'd been buoyed this year by optimism about the future, with every aspect of my life reconstructing in a promising way.  But that has all come crashing down since the election.  My stubborn belief that I would overcome financial, physical, familial, and other assorted problems has been threatening to give way to the panic and depression I have kept at bay by sheer force of will.

The post-marathon cold morphed into bronchitis which had me confined to the sofa and the bleak company of post-election lamentations on the Web and the obscene gloating of Trumpsters on social media for the three weeks since the election.  I'm rarely ill and the interminable disappointment and frustration of waking up every day thinking it would finally turn a corner and it didn't would have made this the month from hell on its own.

City Boy owes me money, which he is now forcing me to go to court to collect.  It's a fucking nightmare but I can't let it go as it's more than a month's rent.  A trivial sum to him, but it could keep me from ending up homeless.  If you had to ask me who was worse, Trump or City Boy, it would be a toss-up.

City Girl is leaving NYC because she can't afford to live there anymore.  I spent one final night with her as a way of breaking up the long drive to see my little pumpkin; I don't know how I'll see him going forward.  City Girl asked me to store her things until she is settled so I stare at the enormous piles of boxes in my dining room in denial that my friend is leaving the area, quite likely permanently.

The only one who is happy is the cat, who doesn't seem to care that a megalomaniac is now the Moron-Elect, and who spends her days sleeping contentedly on the topmost box of the pile.  What's sadly symbolic to me is simply a new high perch to her royal furriness.
But my little problems pale in comparison to the damage November has done to the country and, thanks to our global economic and military hegemony, potentially the entire world.

I've started this post a dozen times, with as many different approaches to analyzing and commenting on the election, but it's been such a depressing horror show, and I've been so sick, that I let each draft fizzle.  But it's now been three weeks.  Dust has settled and as we all emerge from the horror and disappointment, we need to assess the destruction and cut through the bullshit explanations to understand what really happened and what atrocities are in store.

There's been no shortage of articles analyzing the election, and some of them have been excellent.  But four of the main takeaways that keep getting repeated are inaccurate.

1)   Hillary was a flawed candidate
No, she was perceived as flawed.  The Republicans, media outlets addicted to false equivalencies, not to mention rampaging social media, Democrats with an anti-Clinton axe to grind, and a brutal anti-establishment-themed primary created the belief that she was flawed.  In reality, she was one of the least-flawed candidates ever to run, with the skills, experience, temperament, and genuine concern for people to be a great president.  If you had to find any flaw it would be that she is not skilled at selling herself in a campaign environment.  She knows that policy change is incremental and she refuses to make sweeping, melodramatic promises she knows will be impossible to fulfill.  But the latter is what fires up the electorate and gets them to the polls.  And her main obstacle was sexism.  Virtually none of the criticisms leveled at her would have stuck with a male candidate.  America is not ready for a women president, I am sorry to say.  This election unambiguously demonstrated that.  There has always been figurative dick measuring in debates but she lost to a candidate who literally talked about his dick size.

2)   Bernie would have won
No, he would not have beaten Trump.  He never appealed to minority voters, and he was a one-note candidate.   Now, that note was the economy, stupid, and Trump would not have been able to show up his lack of interest in other policy areas like a normal opponent would have, but Bernie was still singing in the wrong key.  Trump notwithstanding, a candidate has to be a policy polymath.  The president oversees every policy area, domestic and foreign, and Bernie came across as increasingly myopic.  He had one song he played at every concert, he couldn't seem to add repertoire or improvise, and the audiences would be larger and more diverse in the general campaign.  Also, it's rare for a two-term president of one party to be followed by a president of the same party.  Obama took the blame for voter woes that were actually the result of an obstructionist Republican Congress and Republican-controlled states, so Democrats were facing an uphill battle.  Republicans always have an easier time getting out the vote, and the Democrats needed an inspiring choice, an Obama on steroids, to win this one.  Bernie simply had too many strikes against him – his age, his unkempt appearance with flyaway hair and ill-fitting suits, his gruff demeanor, his angry harping on about big banks to the exclusion of all else, his history as a "socialist", his long tenure in government in an anti-establishment-themed election, his lack of accomplishments in said tenure, his lack of foreign policy knowledge and experience, his hailing from a tiny New England state, and his Jewishness.

When Bernie first entered the primary, I thought it was a great lark.  I had campaigned for him in college, and I figured he'd shift debate a bit to the left but I never seriously thought he was a contender for the nomination.  I mean never, not for a millisecond, even when many pundits were saying he had a serious chance of winning.  Just for fun, I bought an organic green Bernie 2016 t-shirt from the Vermont Clothing Company and wore it to one of his rallies, my first political rally.  It was exciting to see the enthusiastic support he drew from (mostly young) people.  But that enthusiasm and support did not transfer to Clinton.  Bernie's call for revolution was as impotent as Occupy Wall Street.  He would have pulled in more younger voters than Clinton but fewer minority and older voters.  It would not have been a winning coalition.

3)   Trump is going to be an authoritarian ruler with a compliant Congress
The exact opposite is true.  Berlustrumpi has only four motivations: feeding his ego, power, revenge, and increasing his wealth/brand.  He never expected to win the presidency and has no interest in governing.  Yes, he wants power, but the presidency is too much like work.  He lacks curiosity, intellectual or otherwise, and has no ideological commitment to particular policies.  His appeal was based on populist demagoguery but he has neither affinity with nor concern for people.  Nor does he have any loyalty to his own class.  Pence and the Republican Congress, on the other hand, have a clear policy agenda and free rein to implement it.  They know Trump's four motivations and they can easily manipulate him to get him to sign any piece of legislation they want and nominate any judicial candidates and political appointees they desire.  This piece explains my point in more detail.

4)   This election was an anti-elite blue-collar flyover state revolution
This is admittedly the most compelling and prima facie appealing explanation for Trump's victory.  Based on social media, it certainly appears to be the obvious conclusion.  Of the four takeaways I have debunked here, this is the only one I personally ever gave any credence to.  The problem with it is that the numbers that have come out on voter demographics don't bear it out.  We're not seeing an increase in voter turn-out amongst white men without a college education, Trump's supposed base.  He picked up more minority votes than expected, and many more votes from college-educated women, but he is, at last count, losing the popular vote by over 2.3 million.  Republicans, as noted above, tend to vote more reliably than Democrats, and in the end they fell into line, as they always do, and voted for their party's candidate.  Democrats were not as motivated to get out and vote for Hillary, due to her manufactured flaws and her sex.  The pendulum usually swings after a two-term president.  The election was always going to be tight and turnout was only 56%.  Trump voters who are most vocal on social media make it appear that this election was a backlash against a socially progressive and economically regressive world that had moved increasingly beyond their ken, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

It is tempting to say this election is an indictment of democracy.  Democracy only works when voters make decisions in a fact-based universe.  It doesn't work when people are ignorant, uneducated, gullible. Except that Trump did not win democratically, but that's another post.

Monday 14 November 2016

A Long Hard Slog To A Disappointing Finish

Nope, not the election.  I'll have plenty to say about that later though, once I can articulate some thoughts without lamenting HOW COULD PEOPLE BE SO GULLIBLE every other phrase.

Marathon week did not get off to an auspicious start. 

My car needed some minor but urgent repairs before my trip to NYC and I was already down to the last little bit of credit on my last credit card.

My dad rang to say he has prostate cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, the first day of fall is not the autumnal equinox; it's the day the cat starts sleeping on the radiator again.
My cat had an expensive vet bill because she had fleas.  Yes, my indoor cat who has never gone outside!  My dogs were always on flea and tick preventative but I didn't think there was any chance an indoor cat could get fleas.  Vet said they usually don't but it's been such a bad year for fleas and ticks due to climate change that they are seeing it for the first time.  Luckily, I caught it quickly.  I noticed her scratching and thought at first that she might have dry skin from starting her autumn ritual of sleeping on the radiator.  Winter heating certainly dries out my skin, and a cat can't slather on body oil after a shower to moisturise.  It was time for her vaccinations anyway so I decided she was going to the vet to investigate.  Fleas!  Poor kitty.  How undignified.

And speaking of ticks, I got the shock of another huge vet bill the evening before the marathon (that I have no idea when I'll be able to pay) because Silas tested positive for both lyme and anaplasma, another tick-borne illness, when the vet came out for his fall vaccinations.  Luckily this, too, was caught early, before he had any symptoms, and he is on doxycycline (do they distil this from the doxies in the curtains?).

Finally, I had planned this trip over six months ago, when I was employed and I could now no longer afford the food, fuel or lodging expenses the excursion would incur.  I was committed to it,  so there was no question of cancelling, but the worry sapped my energy and enthusiasm and made the whole trip to NYC more of a worrisome ordeal than the fun and symbolic triumph it was supposed to be.

And that isn't even discussing how my training was stymied by a back problem that left me feeling unprepared to run 26.2 miles in a less than totally humiliating amount of time.

Nonetheless,  I drove down on Saturday morning determined to make the best of it.

Of course, there was no parking near where I was staying, but eventually I found a spot, albeit in the next time zone, and got to my leg wax appointment on time.  As she spread hot wax on my legs, Grace quipped that she was lowering my wind resistance.  She asked if I wanted a Brazilian to lower it even more.  I said perhaps in another lifetime.  I have to digress here a bit.  Grace has waxed my legs for over 20 years.  It's an intimate service and I won't go to anyone else.  There have been times when I lived abroad or couldn't get to NYC and I just went au naturel, to the consternation of various boyfriends.  But I now consider it an inviolable bimonthly ritual.  If you want to get laid, it's not optional.  Her business has changed over the years – she is now making rent almost exclusively on Brazilians.  The reason: porn.  Every man under 40 spent his formative years watching Internet porn, where the women are uniformly hairless.  In fact, hairy pubes are considered a special taste, like pregnant women or redheads, catered to on fetish sites.  Much like John Ruskin, these young men were unaware that women had pubic hair and most found it an unwelcome surprise when they saw an actual naked girl in real life for the first time.  Thus began the Brazilian fad.  Luckily, my dating pool came of age pre-Internet, but City Boy never lets me forget that my refusal to go bare was one of the reasons he left.  The Ego Boost was, like most twenty-somethings, clean-shaven.   I hope their stubble itches a lot, in public.

Anyway, my smooth legs and hairy pussy made their way across town to the marathon expo to pick up my race number and t-shirt.  This year, they let you make a bib to pin to your back as well, stating what you run for.  Many people run for diseases, apparently, cancer topping the list, although if you pick any disease, someone was probably running for it or, one hopes, against it.  "I run for MS" is a little ambiguous but no-one seemed to put much thought into phrasing.  A fair few ran for a specific person, e.g., "I run for Uncle Fred".  I suspect this is tied in with the disease crowd--Uncle Fred probably died of cancer.  The rest of us, well, alcohol was well-represented, with "I run for beer" and "I run for wine" battling it out for top boozy runner honours.  Me?  Take a guess:

Another worry was my running shoes.  They were worn through to the point that you could see my socks.  The soles had no tread left and were starting to peel off.  I hadn't replaced them for obvious financial reasons but I was worried about the water stops – the ground would be soaked.  In fact, I should have worried even more:  The ground turned out to be not only wet but the Gatorade made it disgustingly sticky, and they handed out bananas.  Bananas!  Think about it: Discarded banana peels and 50,000 people running on a wet surface.  The jokes write themselves.  Anyway, I buy all my running shoes from the Super Runners shop on the UWS; I have a stubborn loyalty to them that is well-deserved.  As I walked back after the expo, I stopped in and got a new pair.  It's not recommended to run a race in shoes you haven't broken in but it seemed the lesser of evils in this particular case.  I always get the same brand, and I've never gotten a blister from them.  I wore them the rest of the way home (cringing in embarrassment at the hideous neon colours we're stuck with now) and, on race day, I was grateful to have them even though I could not afford them.  I don't know when I'll be able to pay my October rent, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I could not have finished the race in my old shoes.

Restaurant menus around town got into the marathon spirit
As I walked further north, I saw a few other marathoners.  We recognised each other by the clear plastic bags from the expo and wished each other luck.  The place I was intending to go for my carbo-loading dinner was closed because it was Saturday and they are Jewish.  I hadn't noticed that previously – if you know NYC, you'll understand why this is plausible.  That was a setback but, hey, at least Daylight Savings Time ended so I had an extra hour of not being able to sleep.

Overheard at start:
"Shit just got real."
"Why did we decide to do this?"
"Please urinate in the Port-a-Potties, not off the bridge."

T-shirt: Am I slow or is everybody else Kenyan?
Other t-shirts boasted the number of NYC Marathons the wearer had completed.  The record holder is a guy who was running his 42nd.  Now, how had he run 41 when all the signage and swag was celebrating the 40th?  Because it's been 40 years since it became a 5-borough race.  It's actually 46 if you count the years when it was four laps around Central Park.  I wore the same t-shirt as in 2002: "Body by Ben & Jerry's".  I believe in truth in advertising.  But I would have worn the "Marathoners do it longer, just don't ask me tonight" t-shirt if I owned it.

Signs held by spectators:

Nasty women have stamina
If Trump can run, so can you
At this pace, you'll be in Canada by Tuesday
Run like Trump is trying to grab your pussy
At the 20 mile proverbial wall, there were too many signs with variations on wall/Trump/Mexico/pay to register any particular one

Don't shit yourself
Don't trust a fart
Run fast, I just farted
Toenails are for wimps

(At 5K mark) If you were running a 5K, you'd be done now
(At 10K mark) The end is far
Baby, you were born to run (and I lost count of the number of bands along the route playing the song.  One was actually good.)
I'm cheating on you. I want a divorce (at least, I assume this was a joke)
I just want to cross the street
Hurry, my arms are getting tired
You think you're exhausted, my arms are killing me
You feel like crap, but you look great
Hurry, the Kenyans are drinking all the beer
(At the last of 5 bridges) Last damn bridge

With water, Gatorade, and snacks at every mile, I don't get why people carry camelbacks, hydration belts, fanny packs & tights with pockets bulging with gels, energy beans, GU, and related crap, which then litter the course with all their wrappers, packets, and tubes.

I decided on a hydration strategy of drinking every other mile starting at mile 6.  I didn't stick to it.  The cups were only a quarter full and, although I'd tried to strike a balance between being sufficiently hydrated before the start but not having to pee during the race -- I did not want to lose precious minutes in the Port-a-Potty line, as I had in my first marathon – I found myself very thirsty, which is odd.  Normally I drink whilst running because I know I should but I don't feel actively thirsty.  This time, I did, so there were a few times when I drank every mile instead of every other.  This is really gross but elite male runners do not stop to pee – they just pee down their leg during races.  I don't know what elite female runners do.  Not that.

The wind was brutal throughout the entire course but it got worse as the day progressed.  My goal was to beat my previous time of 5 hours but that was achieved when I was 14 years younger and 40 pounds thinner.  I also wasn't dogged every step by teeth-gritting back pain.  I tried a variety of techniques for ignoring the pain.  Some worked temporarily, but none worked for long enough.  I never took it for granted I'd finish until I passed the 26 mile marker and the finish line was in sight, but any hope of making my time goal had vanished in the first 10K.  In order to finish under 5 hours, I'd need to maintain a pace of 11 minutes per mile.  But my training pace was 14 mins, and the fastest mile I'd managed was 12:30, and that was just the one.  Most people try to run negative splits, but that was never realistic for me.  I am going to slow down regardless so starting slow doesn't save anything for a finishing kick, it just makes my overall time slower.  This is not true of most runners and every coach will tell you to take it easy in the first half.  I managed my goal pace for the first 5K and then slowed down every mile until 22, at which point I ran faster every mile until the finish, matching my starting pace at the very end.  But I slowed down a lot, to slower than my walking pace.  I was in the last wave to start, so I was surrounded by runners who were the slowest of the slow.  There is a saying that any runner who finishes over 5 hours walks.  That's not true for me, although it appeared everyone around me was walking during the final stretch in Manhattan.  In my first marathon, I had walked some.  I don't remember how much but I distinctly recall wanting to run a bit at the end, past the crowds in Central Park, and not being able to manage it.  I was determined not to walk at all this time; I really don't think you should be in a race if you have to walk.  It's a major matter of principle to me.  I didn't walk, with the exception of a few walking steps through water stops just because I find it more effective if the liquid goes down my throat rather than down my shirt.  Looking at my times afterward, based on perceived effort, I was surprised that I had slowed down as much as I did in the 18-21 mile area, where I was technically running but at a much slower pace than a brisk walk.  I finished in 5:50, almost an hour after my goal time.  That is 100% due to my back.   There is no other reason I couldn't have otherwise trained for and attained such a modest time goal as beating 5 hours.

Every step was a painful, miserable, freezing slog, and I had to remind myself why I was putting myself through it.  I think marathons must be like childbirth.  Women always say, "never again!" but then they forget how painful it was and have another.  I had to fight for every step and I can honestly say that I could not have finished a second faster.  I pushed myself hard through the entire course by sheer force of will – and the new shoes, they helped, too.

After you cross the finish line, the smiling volunteers waiting to congratulate you and put a medal around your neck seem like the nicest people in the world.  I desperately wanted to take a taxi back to where I was staying but finances did not permit.  I saw as I was waiting for the train that City Boy had texted me several times to wonder why I was so slow and hadn't finished yet.  When he saw my photo, he said, "Where did your boobs go?"  I pointed out, yet again, that they are made of fat, and disappear when one loses weight.

My celebratory post-marathon dinner never happened :-(
Although I had no money for a post-marathon dinner, I planned to go to my favourite restaurant in the world anyway but, once I got out of the shower, I could not face getting dressed and walking the mile there.  This is quite literally the best restaurant in the known universe and I don't get there often anymore.  I was desperately looking forward to it.  But, nope, staying naked post-shower and climbing into bed with my laptop was all I could manage at that point.

I expected to be sore the next day but I wasn't, not even in my quads, which I remember being so sore after my first marathon that I didn't want to sit down unless there was something I could hold onto when I had to stand up again.  But not a sore muscle anywhere in my entire body.  I still wish I could have afforded a massage, which I had last time, as well as a soak at the hot tub place.

On Tuesday evening I started to feel crappy and I felt worse on Wednesday.  The election results could certainly account for that, but they were compounded by developing the infamous post-marathon cold.  I hadn’t had a cold since the one in May 2015 that destroyed my sense of smell and I had been dreading getting another one.  Fortunately, a few hot toddies and a chicken soup recipe I have adapted to be spicy enough to strip paint got rid of the cold.  I wish we could say the same for Trump.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Un-Happy Valley Half-Marathon

Some people run to win, some run to live, some do it out of masochism, some genuinely love it, others just want to build cardiovascular fitness to play their sport of choice.  Most are trying to outrun Father Time.

Me, I run to eat.

I love to bake.  I prefer to bake for other people but I have been known to, um, taste things I've baked.  I love wine, and cider.  I love Mexican food, as well as Indian, Thai, Greek, Italian, and pretty much the entire UN of food options.  I love chocolate and pizza a little too much to have ever found out if skinny feels better than they taste.  And I love ice cream just slightly more than life itself.

In the horse world, we call horses that seem to get fat on air "easy keepers".  You have to feed them a fraction of what a typical horse of their size and workload would need to prevent them from resembling a real-life Thelwell pony.  Alas, I'm an easy keeper, too.  I can maintain my weight on far fewer calories than is typical for someone of my age, size, and activity level.  I have to exercise tremendous restraint in order to be able to fit through doorways.  No exercise burns as many calories as running.  It also suits my solitary nature.

So, if I don't run, I can't eat, and that's no fun.  I took a long break from running when I was depressed and unhappy with my life, career, and relationship.  Alas, I did not take a commensurate break from eating, and I am paying for that still.  I have lost over half of the weight I gained but I still have many miles to go to run off the remainder (which I wish could be done without losing the boobs, but that's a rant for another post).

Goal-oriented by nature, I entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon when I began running again, and I commenced a more ambitious training program than I had undertaken when I ran it in 2002.  But my back decided to thwart my plans, and I have completed less than a quarter of it.

I'd signed up for a few halfs as part of marathon training.  I wrote about the Kingdom Run in August, which remains my favourite race despite the fact that I always finish last.  Today was the inaugural Happy Valley Half-Marathon, created by the owner of my local gym, where I have been attending at least six classes per week, along with yoga, cycling, and working at the barn, to augment my running.

I knew that, being 14 years older and 40 lbs. heavier than the last time I ran a marathon, getting back up to my usual snail's pace would be a challenge.   Nonetheless, my stubborn goal for the marathon remains to beat my previous time of 5 hours.  Unfortunately, nothing in my training indicates it is realistic to expect to finish in less than 6 ½.  I am not built for speed, but such an abysmally slow time would not even count as a finish for me, no celebration and no reward deserved.

Was not wearing this t-shirt.
Pace has been much more of a problem for me than endurance, so I have focused my training on improving my average pace per mile, but with my training having ground to a halt over the summer due to my back, I haven't made much progress.  My Kingdom Run time was 3:01; my goal today was to beat 2:30.  I failed.  My time was 2:44.  I wasn't quite dead last but I was finisher 349 out of 358.  The winner, 21, male, finished in 1:23, and the first female finisher, also 21, finished 9th in 1:32.  Now that's a time I wouldn't be embarrassed to post.  The August race was run entirely in the rain, which was unpleasant but is unlikely to have slowed me down any.  The rain of the last two days abated before today's race, thank goodness, but it was replaced by a bitter cold wind.  The course was covered in wet leaves.  I ran gingerly and was fine – my running shoes are worn through and have no tread, so I have to be careful no matter the conditions (no, I am not an idiot – I had planned to replace them before the marathon but finances did not permit) -- but I saw a number of people slip and fall.  I wore a scarf over my face but I have cold-activated asthma and breathing was absolute misery from start to finish.  I do enjoy running immensely, and I never once felt tempted to walk during the Kingdom Run.  I hadn't a single sore muscle during or after the race, and I finished feeling like I could have turned around and ran it again.  Today I had to fight for every step.  I didn't walk – that is an unbreakable rule of racing; I don't think you belong on the course if you have to walk – but I wanted to.  My quads hurt the entire time, which has never happened before, and there was never, until the last mile, a moment when I thought, "I've got this".  There certainly wasn't a millisecond when I thought, "I can easily run twice as far in two weeks".  I pushed myself through the entire race, freezing and completely miserable, without enjoying a single stride.

It also seemed weirdly long.  The first mile marker sign I saw was mile 5, and I was feeling like it should have been at least 10 at that point.  Each mile after that felt like four on a normal run.  I was expecting RunKeeper to show me that the course had been marked inaccurately and I'd really run two-three times as far, but it only said 13.4 when I crossed the finish line, a negligible difference.

After the August race, I drove back to the lovely guesthouse where I was staying, showered, and went back into town for lunch.  I never at any point felt even slightly sore or tired that day.  Today I showered and went for my usual Sunday brunch at a local cafĂ©, which revived me slightly, but I still needed a nap, and I am not a napper.  I was ambivalent about going to a concert tonight but decided that I might as well go because nothing productive was going to get done today.  Tomorrow, I'll do an easy 6 miles and see how it feels.  I should not be the tiniest bit fatigued or sore from a half at this point.  The brutal weather is one obvious culprit.  I stood breathing the steam from the shower for a half-hour before my lungs stopped feeling as if they were on fire.  What I really need is to go to the hot tub place.  That would sort me right out.  That was a local haven I lost access to when City Boy left, as they have a two-person minimum.  It pisses me off – they could just use cameras to make sure solo bathers don't drown.  Ok, I am kidding about the cameras, but I do think the policy is unnecessary – I would happily give them my first born to be able to go there.

Besides the weather, another difference between the races may be mental energy.  At the August race, I had just seen Silas and was a blissful week free from a job I hated.  I had hot summer days of freedom to look forward to and a little money to live on until I found a new job.  Now, money's run out, haven't seen Silas in nearly 3 months, and I have to continually tamp down the fear of not getting a job when it's almost November and I haven't yet paid my October bills.  I know I will get one eventually, it's just getting hard to stave off both creditors and panic.  That may be draining some of my running energy.

Thanks to the two solid days of rain, my back had a break from running and felt better than usual before this race.  I have started clenching my hands and jaw tightly when I run, bad habits that waste energy.  I try to stop when I notice but it's an unconscious reaction to coping with the back thing.  Luckily today I got until about mile 4 before it started to seriously impede me, and it wasn't until I had stopped and milled around after the finish and started to walk to my car that it completely seized up. I am still not sure how I got to my car.  I am hoping that it will at worst do the same thing on marathon day: hold off on being completely debilitating until after I cross the finish line -- in, I hope, less than 5 hours.

Monday 17 October 2016

So Much Yarn, So Little Time: A Rhinebeck Report

I'm baaaaahk from Rhinebeck.  There are many sheep & wool festivals around the country but the biggest one, which takes place each October at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY, at the height of foliage season in the Hudson River Valley, is so well-known amongst knitters that it is simply referred to as "Rhinebeck".
I'm absurdly spoiled living within walking distance of WEBS, the largest yarn store in the world.  (They even snagged the URL  WEBS is yarn mecca – genuflecting when you go in the door isn't required, but it is encouraged – and knitters, crocheters, spinners, and weavers from around the globe make pilgrimages there.  They have, as you would expect, a vast selection of fibre and knitting tools, from the cheapest, tackiest acrylic to the most expensive luxury yarns, and they carry some hand-made and local products in addition to the major manufacturers.  But, due to volume, they cannot offer products from most of the small, independent fibre and tool makers (although they do support and promote them generously).  These are the sort of artisans you see at fibre festivals.

You don't go to Rhinebeck to buy 10 skeins of mass-produced yarn to make a sweater; you go there to buy one special skein of hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn from the vendor's own sheep.  Rhinebeck is its own kind of pilgrimage, and I think it is honestly the single event I most look forward to each year.  I just got home and I am already feeling down that it's over for a whole year (no, I can't afford to go both Sat. & Sun.; I know that's a sacrilege but it's too far to drive twice and I can't afford a hotel, let alone two days of yarn shopping and eating overpriced fair fare).

Rhinebeck is a two hour drive from my house, through the Berkshires and down the Taconic State Parkway.  Scenic is an understatement.  And the Taconic even has parking spots for making out at scenic overlooks, although I have yet to bring a date to Rhinebeck.  The only downside is the astonishing number of deer grazing along the Parkway.  Each trip I worry that this will be the year one of them leaps in front of my car.
You gonna have the lamb or the lamb?
The interminable lamb line.
Before we get too intoxicated with fibre, let's eat.  Lamb, appropriately enough, is the featured dish.  It appears in many forms at the food stalls.  There is also traditional fair food, of the fried dough and cotton candy variety, but most people ignore that in favour of the local vendors selling seasonal treats.  You will find plenty of cider donuts, hot cider, apple crisp, and pumpkin pie.  Since I'm surrounded by these at home, I ignore them and focus on the lamb, despite being a militant vegetarian the rest of the year.  Alas, so do thousands of other people.  The queue for the roasted lamb sandwiches each year has to be seen to be believed.  I waited exactly 50 minutes for mine today and made myself even angrier and more frustrated reading about the election on my phone whilst I was queuing.  It's an incentive to bring a friend because you can take turns holding a place in line and not miss so much yarn fondling time.

There's usually a substantial queue for every food stall at lunchtime but today I noticed one, new this year, without any line.  Curious, I read the menu:  Lamb sausage sandwich with side of chickpea salad or lamb stew.  No prices.  I went up to the window and the vendor was grinning at me a little too enthusiastically.  Then I saw the fine print: They were each $20.  That explains the shit-eating grin on the vendor.  He was looking greedily at the crowd and thinking he was going to make a killing.  But knitters aren't that stupid, hence the lack of a queue.

Roast lamb, onions, mustard. Worth the wait.
In addition to the food stalls lining the walkways, there is one building devoted to local food purveyors.  There are gourmet chocolates and cheeses, baked goods, dips and spice mixes, jam and sauces, and, above all, wines.  You could spend the entire day sampling local varieties, although I don't recommend it if you have to drive home.  There is a vendor who sells a spice mix called "Gobs of Garlic".  Each year I buy three tubs of it and throw it into myriad recipes.  It's the secret ingredient in about half the dishes I prepare.  One can order it online but it's become a ritual for me to get it there.

By making a Herculean effort to completely neglect all of my responsibilities, I finally managed to input my entire yarn stash into Ravelry over the summer.  A total of 127 different stashed yarns doesn't win me any largest stash awards, but it certainly gave me pause.  Rhinebeck was, obviously, going to test my yarn diet willpower, and the first temptation came when I reached out to pet a skein whose deep wine colour was like a siren's song.  It was soft.  Really soft.  I read the label:  50% cashmere/50% silk (400 yards, fingering).  Ah.  That would explain it.  Yes, it came home with me.

Green!  (Yes, some of that came home with me, too.)
My other temptation was any skein of forest green yarn.  It's my favourite colour, and surprisingly hard to find in yarn.  Blue, my least favourite colour, is one of the most universally popular colours across all cultures on earth, leading to a glut of shades of blue yarn and seemingly very little green.  If there is green, it is a warm green, not my green.  The first forest green skein I spotted was, alas, mohair, which makes me itch, so I passed on it.  I had better luck later, as I perused each booth in my methodical OCD way (another reason I go by myself: I trek building by building, row by row, to be sure I don't miss anything.  For some reason, this drives other people nuts, but skipping around and missing things would drive me nuts).

A wheel & some roving.
Knitting is the gateway drug.  After awhile, you crave a deeper connection to the yarn in your hands.  So you try dyeing.  And then you get a little roving and a drop spindle.  Then you want to spin more yarn faster, so you invest in a wheel.  Then, oh, what the hell, you pick up a fleece, just to try carding it yourself.  And from there it is a surprisingly small step to owning sheep.  I'm sort of at that point.  I haven't yet convinced my landlady that letting me keep sheep will enable her to sell the John Deere riding mower in the garage (bonus: I could actually park my car in there then, instead of outside in the snow), but I do own a sheep share at a local farm.  Twice a year, the farm owner invites the sheepholders to come meet the lambs and watch the shearing.

Some knitters take a detour into related crafts like crochet or weaving.  Rhinebeck is dominated by knitters but it is truly a festival that celebrates all fibre arts – for better and for worse.  There are booths with everything from tapestries and rugs to needle-felted dragons.  There is wool clothing and hats (even horse blankets this year!), woven tea towels and bedspreads, and a variety of fibre artwork, most of which has one thing in common: it's absolutely hideous.
I told you there was a felted dragon.
Fancy wool coolers. Would love to get one for Silas.
I liked the yarn art featuring horses.
I'm not the folk art type but the horses are charming.
Be sure to dye, responsibly.
Handmade drop spindles
This tool is called a niddy-noddy.  I shit you not-y.
Spinner in her booth sneaking in a little spinning between customers.
And sheep may be the stars of the show but they aren't the only fibre animals there.  If knitting is the gateway drug, wool is the gateway fibre.  Knitters are notorious for making yarn from any animal with hair.  I have in my stash a skein of dog hair yarn.  (It was given to me by someone who hates me (seriously) and I am keen to get rid of it, if anyone wants it.)  For awhile, I saved my dogs' undercoat when I brushed them, with the idea of sending it to the Malamute Spin folks, but I eventually came to my senses and gave it to the birds for their nests.  Basically, if you can hold it down and sheer it or comb out its hair, someone, somewhere, will spin that fibre into yarn.  Rhinebeck vendors sell yarn made from llama, alpaca, angora rabbit and goat, yak, vicuna, and, uh, possum (this is apparently big in Australia, where nothing surprises me).  I didn't see any yaks or muskoxen (qiviut – the most expensive yarn) but the other animals were represented, along with cashmere goats and myriad breeds of sheep.  There are also yarns made from every kind of plant fibre you can imagine (cotton, linen, flax, hemp, soy, sugar cane), and a few substances you can't (milk).
Get yer quality yak fibres here.
Please don't blame the Romney sheep for the abysmal
presidential candidate named after them.
Baah, baah, black sheep.  I have plenty of wool, thank you.
Freshly shorn.
No, I have never seen kangaroo yarn, but nothing would surprise me at this point.
I have no idea what they are doing at Rhinebeck.
Llama taking a load off.
You don't have to go to Kashmir to get cashmere.
Little half-ounce bags of cashmere roving!
& it's even legal! Soooooo tempting! (I resisted.)
I tried to get a photo of a man spinning at a wheel in his booth, but he jumped up to greet someone.  I wanted to prove that there are male knitters, and some of them are even straight.

As the clock struck 5 and I made my last purchase of the day, the vendor told me that she is also running the NYC Marathon.  We wished each other luck. 

I attempted to start a knitting blog many moons ago but, like so many UFOs, it has been hibernating for years.  Once I revive it, I will link to it from here.
Lamb roasting.
My tiny Rhinebeck haul. I'm broke so I was very restrained.