Thursday, October 31, 2013

Give Me Something Good to Eat

When I get restless I go walk circles around my neighborhood in the evening.  Usually I am on autopilot, walking wherever the sidewalk takes me and not worrying too hard about Mother Nature.  The other night I did that and nearly walked into a HUGE spider web.  It was stretched from tree to sidewalk to mailbox and hosted an appropriately sized spider approximately the size of a basketball.  It wasn't your standard cobweb.  It was a deadly trap.

I have come to peace with a lot of my fears.  I have the courage to talk in front of a crowd, look over the edge of a high building, and am comfortable with the traditional icky things like blood, guts, small rodents, and snakes.  But spiders?  Uh-uh.  I consider it a personal victory I have let the pea sized one live on the outside corner of my garage door for the past week.

So maybe I have uncovered some restraint in my arachnophobic soul and mastered the Art of Not Squishing the small spiders.  They are supposed to be good for the environment and I like the environment so I can work to be okay with them.  But the HUGE ASS spider right in my way on my nightly haunt of the neighborhood waiting for me to walk into his web so he can wrap me up in a cocoon for later?  NOT COOL AT ALL.  I might avoid that particular cul-de-sac for the next year.  I can only be grateful Mr. Spider chose to build his web where I could see it underneath a bright streetlight, presumably to catch all the tasty light loving bugs that hang around there.

Of course I know Mr. Spider's real secret.  He is obviously staking out his spot for Halloween night when he is going to catch all the small and juicy trick-or-treaters in his web.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Motorcycle Class

I am excited to announce have crossed an item off my bucket list: attend and pass the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course.  The Pirate's preferred mode of transportation is a hefty Burgman scooter with a 650cc engine and I want (and need) to be able to drive it, gosh darn it.

The Basic Rider Course is a two day, weekend course designed to take n00bs like me who have never driven a bike before and give a crash course in how to not crash a motorcycle.  There is book learning to make sure you know the theory, and then they take you out to the parking lot and sit you down on a 250cc motorcycle where you spend the rest of your time learning to safely control the bike around cones and corners and Oh-shit-STOP-NOW stops.  At the end of the weekend if you pass both the written and riding tests they give you a waiver to take down to the DMV and ta-da!  You are licensed to drive anything on two wheels with an engine over 50cc.

I was not entirely new to the world of motorcycles.  Before the Burgman the Pirate and I had a little 125cc scooter I would occasionally drive on the weekends when my motorcycle permit was current.  Since we have upgraded and my permit expired, my motorcycle experience has been relegated to the passenger seat of the Burgman, which is a lot more akin to riding an armchair down the highway than it is to driving a vehicle.

Given my background I was not expecting this course to be super hard.  I knew how to lean into turns, I could swerve if needed, I was (pretty) confident I would not drop the bike, and I had a kickass sparkly helmet.  But dudes!  I seriously earned that waiver they gave me at the end.  It was challenging both mentally and physically.   The information, though pretty basic, came fast and heavy.  The weather was hot and sitting on the bike all day made my hands, shoulder, and butt hurt.  (It always surprises me how much more physical riding a motorcycle is than driving a car.  My horse riding skills from childhood summer camps got put to good use on my practice bike.)  The obstacle courses we rode were challenging enough I had to focus on every. single. run.  It was not easy, but it was doable and if I paid attention, put in all my effort, and exorcised my bad attitude every time it reared its ugly head.

My biggest challenge was all motorcycles are manual, so that required I learn to squeeze the clutch and shift gears on cue.  I had only ever driven automatic cars and scooters up until this weekend.  Trying and failing for the umpteenth time to shift from first gear into neutral on an old and cranky bike when I knew the Burgman scooter I would be returning to was an automatic?  Not my best moment.  Fortunately the kind instructors took pity on me and switched me to a newer, easier shifting bike.  By the end of the weekend I was not a pro, but I was enjoying myself and most of the time I could get into second gear without any issue and only stalled the engine out occasionally.  (Dear practice bike, I am sorry if I hurt you by stalling you out so much.  Thanks for always turning back on!  I was always worried you wouldn't....)  Nevertheless, I am tremenously grateful we have an automatic bike so I can spend less time shifting gears and more time enjoying the scenery.

If anybody is interested in learning how to ride a motorcycle or looking for a way to get their license, I would definitely recommend whatever equivalent course you have in your area.  It provides you with a bike to learn on (Hooray for the practice bike that has already been dropped!!  I love you, practice bike.  <3), access to knowledgable, enthusiastic instructors, and structured exercises that will build your skills and muscle memory to keep you safe on the road.  It was an invaluable stepping stone to learning to safely ride the Pirate's prized Burgman.  By the end of the weekend I felt very comfortable on the practice bike both running through the basics and trying new skills.  I was riding!  I had fun hanging out with my fellow students.  I am proud I learned a new skill and persisted when I got really frustrated and was outside my comfort zone.

And as a bonus to getting my motorcycle license?  My instructor says that since I passed the tests I am totally allowed to get a biker tattoo now.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stress: The Action Plan

A co-worker recently asked me how I deal with work stress.  Because all this overtime?  More stress, less time to deal with it.  So here's my action plan, because life is more manageable with action plans.
Summary: Prioritize self-care!  Self care = functionality = less stress.  I am a big believer in the mind-body connection, so a lot of dealing with stress for me is making sure my body (and therefore mind) is up to the task.

1.  Go to bed early.  Hoard sleep like it is going out is style.

2.  Eat good foods.  Eat non-processed, low sugar, whole foods like avocado, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, lentils, oatmeal, salmon, and cottage cheese.  Walk away from the donuts, especially on an empty stomach.  Sugar + stress = crazed weasel tendencies.  The temporary burst of taste is so not worth it.  PS - srsly.  I mean it.  Even the Smarties.  They do not make you smarter.

3.  Meditate.  Let go.  When in doubt, take deep breaths.

4.  Pamper with food, hot baths, and well-loved books.

5.  Spend time alone to re-charge.  Hi, I'm Ondrea and I'm an introvert!  Go away (please).

6.   Take the easy way when possible and be forgiving.  Say no to obligations I will not have the energy for, let non-essential chores slide, and sometimes spend extra money for more convenience.

7.  Stick to routine. Boring, yet beneficial.  Also, autopilot clears headspace for other things.

8.  If the stress is work related, I keep my nose to the grindstone.  Eyes on the prize.

9.  Keep the negativity you exude and consume to a minimum.  Ruminating only extends the pain.   Glom onto the positive instead.  Laugh instead of cry.

10.  Move your body.  Walk.  Stretch.  Bellydance.  Yoga.  Play Fruit Ninja on the X-Box Kinect. Unfold your hunched shoulders.

11.  When your boss tells you to go home, go home.

12.  Write an action plan that gives me stepping stones.  Boil life down to to-do lists.  Post on blog since blog posts can't be misplaced like post-it notes can.  Refer to when needed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Autoimmune Diseases in Rats: A Case Study

Several months ago we had to say goodbye to one of our pet rats, Percy.  Rats are a relatively uncommon pet and do not have the same knowledge infrastructure as the more popular pets.  I publish his symptoms and story here for anybody else frantically googling in the middle of the night like I was:

I picked Percy up from a Petsmart. I honestly intended to go with a rat rescue to honor my animal shelter roots, but I played with him on a whim and it was akin to being hit by a spiritual truck. I was a gonner and had to have him.  He bloomed into an intelligent, feisty, and adventurous companion. His favorite thing to do was follow you around the house in his over-sized hamster ball.  He never sat still unless it was to gobble a dried cherry.

In the space of a weekend road trip when he was about a year and a half old, I came home to discover he had scratched all the fur off behind both his front legs.  There were quarter sized patches of scabs while the rest of his fur remained glossy and healthy.  His upper lips were also swollen.  A skin scraping at the vet turned up mites, so we started treatment for both rats in our house (each were already housed individually).   The vet also prescribed antibiotics in an effort to treat the lip.  Then more concentrated antibiotics because Percy was sneaky about spitting the doses out. Then a different combination of concentrated antibiotics because there were hints of improvement. A ring worm test turned up negative. 

Meanwhile, the other rat in the house (who kind of became the default "control" rat to rule out infectious disease even though I kept them very separate) continued happy and healthy and Percy's scabby patches grew and his lip became even more swollen and started scabbing over.  He started loosing weight so I switched his diet to soft baby food in an effort to keep weight on him, which he devoured.

Finally, the vet gave me the steroid prednisone.  And it worked!  Rapidly, Percy's fur started to grow back, the scabs fell off his lip and swelling reduced, his energy that had drained away came back, and he gained weight. Around the time I tried to taper his dose of steroids down, he took a turn for the worse. Within a week I had lost all progress gained plus more, and no matter what I did I could not reverse it.  My poor Percy looked like a miserable plague rat carrying a whole host of infectious diseases, and you could finally tell he felt awful because he stayed in one place for extended periods of time, wouldn't eat his favorite treats, and got super snuggly (adventure rats don't sit still long enough to snuggle). We made the gut wrenching choice to have him put down instead of having him decline into nothingness.  It was the first time I have ever had to make the euthanasia decision and though I believe it was necessary, I do not wish to make it again in a hurry.

Side note that did not sit anywhere else, but might be useful to somebody: I had a cat in high school who was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease where prednisone was the treatment.  Albert presented with the same swollen upper lip as Percy, but instead of raw patches on his shoulders Albert's paws would bleed.  After several years Albert's end was also euthanasia.  I noticed and worried about similarities early on in Percy's illness, but the vet seemed quite convinced antibiotics were the best initial treatment in the hopes the illness wouldn't require steroids.


Ugh.  I have been trying for weeks to think of an adequate closing to this post, to give some sort of closure beyond e-hugs and love and sympathy to anybody else going through this.  I even thought about not posting it because why dwell on the end when there was so much good before that?  Somehow I do not think Percy would understand my brooding.  Rats are the greatest teacher of zen I know.  Falling in love with a creature who has a big personality and naturally short lifespan only serves as a reminder to stay anchored in the present moment and enjoy the good while it exists alongside you.