Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Numbers Are In... Sorta (and an Update on Princess)

As the year draws to a close, I thought I'd tally up some some mileage numbers for y'all. Since there's about a foot of snow on the ground and the high today was 1 degree above zero Fahrenheit (-17C) it seems unlikely that I'll be doing any more bike riding before the year ends.

A few years back CatMan bought me a little computer for my bike. It's a nifty little contraption that lets you track your speed & mileage - along with some other crap.

CatMan LOVES this sort of thing. The man even has a spreadsheet where he records every bike ride - it includes information about the mileage, the weather, what he wore, was he too hot or too cold... yadda yadda yadda...

Yuk, yuk! :-)
I try... honestly I do, but I'm just not very good at this kind of record keeping.

Recording my miles should have been fairly simple because the little bike computer has an odometer which can be reset at the beginning of the year... but... well... um... that would have involved reading the instructions...

For you non-geeks out there, "RTFM" means
Read The F-ing Manual!!!
So instead I opted for the chicken scratchings method of writing down my miles on a scrap of paper after each ride.... well after most rides - I'm sure I forgot a few times.

But forgetting to write a few trips down is a bit of a moot point now, because I somehow lost the scrap of paper that had the mileage for the first half of the year. Oy Vay!

To make matters worse, the little computer has this "feature" ("trap" might be a more accurate term) that allows you to program in different wheel sizes, so you can get really compulsive if you want to and use the thing on different bikes... and somehow I accidentally pushed the wrong button somewhere along the line and got it set on the wrong wheel size.

So none of my per-trip mileage totals were completely accurate to begin with. AAARRRRGGGHHH!

Honestly, I just don't understand how people get good at using these sorts of devices. I mean, how can a normal person possibly remember what all of those stupid buttons do?

And it's not like it's just one button to do one thing... you have to remember a crazy sequence of buttons - you push the orange one once, then the yellow one twice, then stand on your left foot, you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around....

Seriously, I just seem to be genetically incapable of operating this sort of contraption.

ANYHOW - that's my long-winded introduction to saying that I think I rode around 2900 miles (ish) this year. That number was pieced together using the scant information that my chicken scratchings provided, along with an extrapolation from CatMan's spreadsheet and a few distances derived from Google Earth.

Any way you slice it... I think it's not too shabby - especially for someone as lazy as me! (BTW- I did force myself to haul out the manual, fix the wheel size thing, and reset the odometer for next year.)

To put that number into perspective, I have only driven a total of 698 miles this year - and assuming I don't go anywhere tomorrow (which I don't plan to) that will be it for 2014. That one is easy to track - just push the little button once at the beginning of the year and voila... no more buttons to push! Why can't everything be so easy?

Anyway, roughly speaking, for every mile I drove, I rode 4 or more on my bike - not a bad average!

Of course those numbers are a tad bit misleading since the vast majority of those bike miles were for recreation not transportation, but still...

It had been looking like I'd finish the year under 600 miles in the car, but then Princess got sick and the multiple trips to the vet and various pet food stores & pharmacies added up...

Which brings me to the Princess update.

Soooo... in case you missed it, I took Princess in to have her teeth done, and the pre-surgery bloodwork revealed that she's suffering from fairly advanced kidney disease. Her creatinine was at 4.9 and her BUN at 77. (Normal would be creatinine under 1.6 and BUN under 30.) After 3 days of IV fluids (8 hours per day) the creatinine dropped to 4.3 and the BUN was down to about 45 - which is an improvement, but still not great.

Anyhow, at this point we're doing daily subcutaneous fluids (oh, the joy) and I've actually switched her off of the raw diet and am trying to see if I can interest her in some prescription cat food. I still have mixed feelings about the diet, but my primary reason for switching her now is that she's lost so much weight. She was down to 6.6 pounds from her normal 8.2.

With the switch of food and the fluids she's gained back nearly a pound of weight, and is eating like a horse. Our next step will be trying something called Azodyl, which is a probiotic compound that's supposed to help bind some of the toxins in her blood & digestive tract and lighten the load on her kidneys a bit. We'll see how it goes.

But at the moment she seems to be happy and doin' well, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Snoozin' on her Heating Pad

So that's about all the news from the funny farm! Hope you all have a happy & safe New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

100 Years Ago on Christmas Eve

Just taking a moment to commemorate the Christmas Truce which happened 100 years ago when German and British troops fighting in WWI called a temporary cease fire during which time many ventured out into the no man's land between the trenches, exchanged food & souvenirs and sang the one Christmas carol that both sides knew - Silent Night.

May the season help us to remember that when it comes right down to it, we really are all one. Wishing you all peace, love and light this Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We're All Gonna DIE!!!!

Have I mentioned that I tend to be a bit of a hypochondriac?

I know it's just how I deal with anxiety, but it does make it difficult to discern when there's really something to worry about and when there's not.

So a few weeks ago I read yet another article claiming that prolonged use of either cell phones or cordless phones can significantly increase the risk of brain cancer. This is especially true when the transmitting device is right up against your head.

CatMan thinks these studies are bunk and has said so numerous times but, you know, I tend to worry, so since I spend about 3-4 hours per day on the phone, I decided that perhaps it would be better to shelve my beloved cordless headset phone and go back to using a headset that plugs into the receiver keeping the transmission source away from my head.

So I went back to using the old fashioned headset and within a few weeks I started noticing strange black flakes in and around my ears. At first I dismissed it, but it just kept happening. The only thing I could think of was that perhaps I was bleeding inside of my ears and the dried blood was flaking off.

Soon, I became convinced that I had some sort of terrible black ear disease and started combing the interwebs looking for a diagnosis.

Then one day I was waiting for CatMan to call and I happened to glance at the headset whereupon I noticed that the black plastic covering was flaking off of the ear pieces. Saved from the dreaded black ear disease!

Of course, my relief didn't last long. Because soon afterwards I stumbled upon an article quoting some scientist by the name of Guy McPherson. Dr. McPherson believes that the earth's climate has entered a series of rapidly escalating feedback loops and that the human species will be extinct before mid-century.

Holy Moly! This guy makes me and my black ear disease look like a rosy-eyed optimist!

Anyhow, I spent a few days in a funk about the imminent demise of humanity until CatMan found a number of reputable scientists who basically say that McPherson is full of cow pucky. It's not that there aren't climatic feedback loops, but they're not escalating at anywhere near the rate McPherson claims and there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that humans will be gonners in the next 20-30 years. Saved again!

Then I got a call from an old family friend. Her father died back in January after a long battle with cancer, and she was calling to let me know that her step-mother had passed suddenly and unexpectedly - and would I be willing to sing at the funeral. I, of course said I would and it gave me a good excuse to pull out my guitar, which I haven't done in a while.

It did get me to contemplating mortality again though. So at Thanksgiving I was telling my family about her sudden passing and how she had dropped dead in the checkout lane at Whole Foods from a massive coronary. My dad, without missing a beat, responded: "Geez... maybe it was the prices!" Well, we couldn't keep the grim reaper at bay on that one, but at least we could laugh in his face.

But then... after giving the raw food a try for about 6 months, I decided that it was time to bring Princess to the vet and see if it had helped her teeth or not. Turns out they were beyond the point where enzymes could help, so I made an appointment to have a cleaning and potentially remove the worse offenders.

But... the pre-surgery bloodwork came back and it turns out that my sweet little Princess is suffering from late stage kidney disease.

Truth be told I've been concerned about the fact that she drinks a lot ever since I rescued her 4 years ago - but her blood tests had always come up good before, so I had concluded that I was just being a hypochondriac again and that it wasn't something to be concerned about.

Anyhow, there's some hope that it might not be as bad as the numbers imply, and she's scheduled for some IV fluid treatment tomorrow through Friday to see if flushing out her system will help. Of course, the vet also discovered a heart murmur which hadn't been there before, so there's some possibility that she's suffering from heart failure, and that makes giving fluids a not altogether risk free proposition. But the vet feels it's worth the risk and he's promised to monitor her closely throughout the procedure.

It's gonna be a looooong next few days for me though as I try not to worry too much.

I'm trying to remain positive and not get all fatalistic about it. I mean, it's sort of a miracle that Princess is alive at all. It took me 6 months through a VERY cold winter to coax her inside, and the foxes and coyotes were seriously starting to circle the area... and then it was sort of miraculous that she ended up free from Feline Leukemia since she'd had several run-in's with a big feral tomcat who later had to be put down because he had it.

I guess I have to look at it this way - if Princess gets to die warm, and loved and cared for - of an old age disease like kidney or heart failure, that really is a win - because she was slated for a much earlier and less kind ending. But it still doesn't make it any easier.

So we're back in sick kitty land, and I'm just concentrating on filling her up with as much love as I can and hoping that we can stave off the old reaper for as long as possible. But I know it's only a matter of time 'cause after all, we're all gonna die.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Winter Solstice Comes Early!

It's a little known fact (though perhaps more known these days than it used to be) that here in the northern hemisphere the earliest sunsets actually occur a few weeks before the winter solstice.

So, while the shortest day of the year won't happen until the 21st of December, yesterday was actually the earliest sunset of the year here in Denver at 4:35pm. From here on it will set later and later until it reaches its peak in late June.

For someone like me, who, um... seldom sees the sunrise, this means that effectively the days are already getting longer. Can you see me doing my little happy dance?

Well anyhow, I'm beyond thrilled and looking forward to more hours of sunlight. CatMan and I managed to get in 32 miles yesterday so I'm looking forward to longer rides as the daylight increases - and maybe we'll even work up to conquering the 62 mile "Golden Loop" this summer!

For anyone in the area who's curious, our "Golden Loop" route is: Sanderson Gulch to the Platte, Platte south to Bear Creek, Bear Creek to Morrison, C-470 trail to Rooney Rd., Rooney Rd to Golden, through Golden to Clear Creek, Clear Creek to the Platte, back down the Platte to Sanderson Gulch, and home again.

Gotta say we've been spoiled by the weather. With the exception of a week or so of sub-zero weather it's been a crazy warm fall. It's in the low 60's today with highs expected near 70 tomorrow! Fabulous from a biking standpoint, from a global warming one well... probably not so much.

But hey, there's only so much pessimism that a person can take, so for the moment I'm celebrating!

Here's hoping the returning of the light brings much joy to all of you!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

How Revolting

There's a wonderful Mexican restaurant across the street from the music school where I used to work. It's authentic to the point that most of the people who work there, and a big majority of the clientele don't speak any English. The food is AMAZING, and it very quickly became our "go-to" lunch and dinner spot.

One day one of my co-workers and I decided to get some takeout for lunch. As the woman was handing the bag to my co-worker she uttered something in Spanish that I didn't quite hear. When we got outside, my co-worker (who spoke only the tiniest amount of Spanish) was furious. "Didn't you hear what she said? She looked right at me and said How Revolting!"

"Really?" I responded in disbelief. Now, I'm not fluent in Spanish by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been studying it for many years, and at the time I was deeply into my Eduardo Palomo obsession. I had actually chatted numerous times (in Spanish) with the woman in question about Palomo and his untimely passing. I found it hard to believe that this woman would make such a remark - especially in front of me, since had I been listening I obviously would have understood, and also because she's a very nice person.

"The word for revolting is asqueroso." I said, "Are you sure she didn't say something like que revuelque? I think she was probably trying to warn you that the bag was about to fall over..."

I started to launch into a somewhat arcane discussion about false cognates and subjunctive conjugations of the verb revolcar, but my co-worker cut me off.

"No!" my companion snapped. "She said how revolting! Those Mexicans are just like that, they think they can insult you as much as they want because you can't understand what they're saying."

"But..." I started to protest, "if you can't understand what they're saying, how do you know they're insulting you?" The glare from my co-worker told me it was time to change the subject, and not wanting to cause a rift between the two of us, I reluctantly decided to drop it.


You know, as I sit here trying to wrap my brain around this week's grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death on the streets of NYC, I somehow can't help but recall that incident.

Eric Garner being held in a choke hold.
He repeated "I can't breathe" at least 11 times before he died.

As a white person in this society it's really easy to dismiss the whole concept of racism. It's easy and convenient to let yourself believe the whole American equality myth... that we somehow live in a "post-racial" society and that the very real statistical inequalities are just some sort of accident, or the result of people who are lazy, stupid, undisciplined or who have some other intrinsic flaw.

I'm not an expert on this subject by any means, but I do know that I never really appreciated the depth of the privilege that my white skin confers until I moved into a non-white neighborhood (my area is about 80% Hispanic).

Of course there are the obvious things like the inequities in available services. Here's a little photo comparison for you. This is a picture of our neighborhood library.

Well, actually, see the corner of the building that's black... that's the library, just that one room. It's about 300 square feet has 2 computers and a small collection of mostly children's books.

If you go about 5 miles to the south to a white neighborhood, here's the library there:

Now, extrapolate that to schools, parks, streets, grocery stores, recreation centers, internet service, and pretty much everything else you can think of, and you'll have a fairly accurate picture of what daily life is like here in the barrio. Given those realities, is it really so hard to understand why people of color might feel that society doesn't exactly treat them equally?

But neighborhood inequities aside, I think the most elucidating part of living in the barrio is the fact that by living here I am forced to confront my own inherent racism on a daily basis.

I can hear the white folks protesting... "But I'm not a racist!" or "I'm colorblind!" Now, I'm sure that most white people don't really believe that they are "better" because of their race, but here's the thing - we live in a racist society, and that's something that affects all of us, regardless of our personal beliefs.

Let's just step back for a moment and look at it this way. If one group of people systematically oppresses another group over a long period of time, the oppressed group is gonna get angry, how could they not? And that anger and mistrust is likely to persist even after the most egregiously oppressive practices (like slavery or genocide) have ended. It's also likely to be generalized to all members of the oppressing group whether or not those individual people are "at fault."

Likewise, it stands to reason that members of the oppressing group are going to be fearful about retaliation from members of the angry oppressed group, even when the individual in question does not intend them any harm. As far as I can tell, this is simple cause and effect, and the problem is that this circle of fear and mistrust tends to be self-reinforcing.

When I first decided to move into this neighborhood, the universal cry among my family and friends was "But it's NOT SAFE!!!" Actually, if you look at the crime statistics, my neighborhood is pretty middle of the road, but that's certainly not the perception - and I really think that fear is at the heart of the issue where racial relations are concerned.

Here are a few examples of what I mean by "confronting my own racism."

I'm out in the alley up on a ladder painting my garage when I see a Hispanic guy coming my direction. He has tattoos, baggy pants and just generally looks a bit scruffy around the edges. My first instinct is to run inside as quickly as possible.

But I fight the urge and instead smile and say hello as he approaches. He looks up and says with a thick Spanish accent, "What's the matter, baby? You ain't got no man to do that for you?" I laugh and reply that I'm tough and I can do it myself. He laughs, I wish him a good day and he proceeds on his way up the alley.

Or here's another one... I'm riding my bike on a path that goes through the really, really "low rent" section of the barrio - which I have to do to get to the main trail where CatMan and I meet for our regular rides. The trail goes right through this parking lot where lots of guys hang out. On this day there's a collection of very tough looking "vaqueros" (Mexican guys wearing cowboy hats.)

My temptation is to put my head down and pedal past them as fast as I can, but instead I look up, smile and nod. The biggest toughest looking one of the crowd breaks into a huge grin, tips his hat and says "Hola Palomita" as I pass. (Palomita means "little dove" in Spanish, but in Mexican slang the translation would be something more like "sweetie" or "honey.")

And just the other day I was riding up a VERY steep hill through the park in my neighborhood. There was a Hispanic guy parked along the side of the road in an El Camino. As I approached he started to roll down his window. I felt a little knot in my stomach and thought to myself "this could get interesting." A big part of me wanted to just ignore him, but instead I smiled and nodded. He stuck his head out the window as I rode by and started chanting "You can do it! You can do it! You can do it!" until I made it to the top of the hill where I stopped, turned around and waved to him before riding on.

I probably have a hundred stories like that, but the point is that even after 20 years of living in this neighborhood my initial response upon encountering a "male of color" is still one of fear, and it takes real effort to respond to those people as individuals rather than making assumptions based on their appearance. And the vast majority of the time, by approaching the situation with friendliness - even when I'm a little scared inside - the response I get is, well... friendly!

And you know, I don't really think that I'm unique with the fear stuff - I think this is just a natural reaction to the racism that surrounds me.

Now... imagine that you're not just some woman out for a walk or bike ride, but instead are a police officer responding to a situation that could very well put your life in danger. It's pretty easy to see how white officers could respond to black or Hispanic men with unreasonable amounts of force simply because of the fact that on some level (that they may not even be able to consciously acknowledge) they are afraid. I'm not saying that makes excessive force OK.. but it does make it more understandable. And I believe it says less about the people involved in the situation than it does about the inherent racism of the society as a whole.

Take, for instance, the time that a pack of police officers came banging on my door at 2 in the morning with guns drawn and the house pretty much surrounded. Apparently they had received an erroneous tip that a wanted criminal was holed up here.

When I answered the door with my lily white face and long strawberry blonde hair, they immediately stood down because I didn't look like a threat. Seriously, their demeanor changed the instant they saw me, before a single word had escaped my lips. I talked with the officers, let them look around the house and the whole mistake was quickly cleared up. But I have to wonder how that all might have played out differently had I been big, dark, male & mistrustful of police showing up at my home.

I dunno, this is obviously a huge topic and it's one that I clearly don't have the answers for. The problems are deep and wide, and involve our laws, our institutions, our history, and a whole host of other things over which most of us have little personal control. But I have to believe that each of us could make things a tiny bit better by owning up to our feelings of fear and mistrust toward people of other races, and the fact that these feelings can cause us to treat people differently based on the color of their skin.

I also think that we white people need to face the fact that we live in a position of incalculable privilege simply because of the color of our skin. That doesn't mean that white people don't have difficulties or face challenges, or that all white people have equal opportunities. But it's clear to me that when it comes to race in this country, the words of George Orwell ring uncomfortably true. Some of us are just "more equal than others."

How revolting, indeed!

I know this stuff is hard to talk about, but I really believe it's where we need to start. Please tell me how your life has been influenced by our society's tricky relationship with the issue of race - I'd love to hear your take on the topic.