Fancy baths, meditation & Reiki

When I was a kid I used to love Fall and the inevitable retreat to the indoors as the weather became cold and icy. An occasional snow day never hurt either. Yet, as I’ve gotten older my mood just tends to sink as Summer fades, the leaves drop and the Holidays approach. With all the work I’ve done between my therapist, exercising, meditation and relaxation I’m at least more aware of when my life spins off center.

Self awareness is great but it takes a good deal of work to keep on a more centered path, head up, breath steady, heart open and mind clear. In addition to spending a good deal of time outdoors this year, with the intent of sleeping under the stars and meeting new friends, I also pursued meditation classes where I could. One such session at a Yoga shop in Grandview was all about the “Elephant meditation.” The instructor provided us with a work sheet, a sachet full of things like chamomile flowers and rose petals and a piece of rose quartz. The idea was to draw a bath, throw the herbs and crystal into the bag, strip down and dive in for a quiet moment of reflection on balance.

Dreamer bath herbs

With Thanksgiving travel to NYC approaching, some pretty stiff deadlines at work and taking care of my friend Nick’s personal life as he recovers from a stroke while we fight an uphill battle to get him retired and into some sort of care situation long term… I can say, with certainty, that my stress levels are in the red area right now. The bath was great as were the moments alone with time to think about where my mind/heart is. I’m not an overly spiritual man, deep trust issues after suffering a bout of Baptist upbringing there, but I am leaning toward thinking that there might be something to this energy thing. Even if it’s just the physiological effects like we see with breathing exercises where things like your heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, creativity spikes and so on… I guess keeping an open mind is something I’ve had to embrace as well this year.

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On a similar path I’ve been trying things like Reiki, or energy healing, in addition to massage, both at Uban Village Massage and Open Sky Day Spa, as a logical evolution to the meditation work I started last year. From what I read online Reiki was developed in 1922 by a Japanese Buddhist monk. While I have been exposed to the idea of what “chi” energy is it’s really interesting that all these paths I’ve been following post heart attack have led to our bodies interaction with the world around us. Both internal and external.

The first Reiki session with Daniel Sernicola took some getting used to as it was unclear what was actually going on. I had no idea what to expect. But it was effective enough to book a second appointment. Now the second time I think I could feel a measurable difference. In fact, I had an incredibly difficult task to do that afternoon. I was to meet my friend Nick’s family to discuss some complex, and very personal, financial topics. The talk lasted for four hours and at the end of it, I was exhausted, but everything, and everyone, was on the same page and happy with the outcomes. While I may have just had a good day, I really think that the Reiki session helped to clear my head by even 10%. It was that edge, or perhaps the removal of my own edge, that helped me to carry myself with more compassion and better listening skills while I arranged a complex agreement with another man’s family. As a result, I’m not so skeptical about the practice of energy healing or Buddhism as a larger topic I’d like to explore in 2018 given the chance.

Can I prove any of this? Physically measure it? Analyze the metrics? No. But I am feeling steadier handed now even though I can tell I’m already trying to hold off another round of depression as the cold weather moves us closer to the indoor prison of Winter.

In the spirit of the Holiday, I want to thank my teachers, guides, new friends and family for their companionship, guidance, and the meaning that they help me to find within myself and in others. It’s people like my aunt Lora who, way back when I was a teen, grabbed a virtual crow bar and pried open my very tightly closed brain to new ideas. That and a life time of mistakes, biases and lessons learned that have weathered me and my points of view like so many rivers that have carved out deep canyons across the world. If nothing else, I’ve come to value working toward keeping an open mind. Maybe that’s what these Elephant and Loving Kindness meditations, the running, baths with crystals and herbs and, yes, the Reiki sessions, have reminded me of the most.

Wishing everyone peace and hope this Thanksgiving Holiday.

Rivers & canyons

Posted in personal

Nick

2017 has brought with it so many opportunities for me to grow as a man, a professional, a lover and as a friend. And yet it was August 29th, when Eddie and I got calls from the hospital and police regarding our friend Nick, that I got the biggest challenge of them all. Nick, my friend of over 28 years, first person I ever had sex with and my constant compass along life’s paths and voice of reason fell. Nick suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on the way home from the grocery store. CCTV shows that he was not discovered until upwards of an hour where he was rushed to the James hospital. His survival and recovery have been nothing short of miraculous. This post is an effort to collect my thoughts enough to send out an update because every time I take a moment to write about him I end up crying. Tonight, is no different but it’s time to start accepting the fact that Nick’s life is going to be dramatically reduced while we all wait to see what the next 10 months look like during his one year recovery window.

I met Nick when I was still a 20-year-old forestry student at OSU. We struck up a conversation out on the Oval one afternoon near the Main Library on campus. He was a library science guy and faculty member. It’s funny, he loves the university, his students, bad new age music which I made fun of him for, dinners, time with family and friends, reading copious amounts of periodicals and amassed a collection of books totaling over 1000 volumes. His views on life, politics, history and people were so broad and deep that he quickly became one of my most important, and brightest, guiding lights. The zenith by which I guided myself at times in the dark areas of life.

His knowledge and loving distaste of Columbus, it’s people and the gay scene… well, I’ve never met another individual with the depth of knowledge that comes close to his. And while our romantic relationship was very brief, I had the attention span of a 20-year-old, he became something like a father figure crossed with a best friend to me. He gave me help, strength, alternate perspectives, and always this crazy unconditional love that made him nothing less than the biggest cheerleader I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve made many mistakes over the course of my life, and I know that without him those would have been worse.

He’s always come to our parties at Hunter Ave when Eddie and I were just two young guys with an eclectic collection of friends. Men and women who all seemed to be connected by some vibe, creative energy, free spirits, spark. Together we wove the fabric of a great life as close friends. Crying together when we needed to, laughing, always partying and eating great food while spinning up these deep conversations over coffee and red wine talking into the next day as the stars spun all around us.

Writing this is really difficult for me but it’s time to start talking about it.

He can still speak and has great long term memory recall. Short term memory is difficult for him. And while formerly very active and a voracious reader/thinker, he’s now a fall risk that has made the huge accomplishment of taking 20 steps which wiped him out physically. Lying in bed under constant supervision for his personal needs. Unable to read or seemingly comprehend news articles. I’m noticing moments where he seems to “check out” when we talk now and I get back canned answers or gestures that remind me of Eddie’s dad when he could not hear something he’d just smile and laugh.

The group of friends surrounding him is however, amazing. There’s his friend Gini, his old boss Marsha, Gini’s son Johnathon, Lorrie and myself as the POA’s he chose. There was some humor that together we make on Hell of a caregiver. It seems the common thread between all of us is strength and extremely powerful personalities… and our love for Nick.

After Nick’s mom died he was hurting. Badly. Eddie and I were living in Clintonville at the time and we created a new tradition that continued all through our Dallas years and return back home where Nick would dine with us for Christmas eve and stay with us for Christmas Day. If that’s not a family I have a grossly underdeveloped concept of that word.

It’s challenging for me to be faced with the task of shutting down his current life and finding a new one for him in senior living with 24-hour care. To see the after effects of this kind of brain event and how much of ourselves it can strip away. Almost like a fire burning through the trees leaving huge black scars where life once thrived. I’m glad it’s the group of us who are working together and I do not feel alone here. It’s more that I am trying to allow myself to let Nick find Nick. To be there for him through all of this and, maybe if I’m lucky, provide a compass for him toward his future. However long that may be as the recurrence rate for this kind of stroke is high and a second event would be devastating.

So we are starting the process of closing up his home and finding him a new, less independent but safer, place to live out 2018 in. One note there too. Nick is a hermit. He loves his apartment and the life he’d built. He’s pretty OCD and very fond of patterns. I can’t imagine what it’s like for him to have lost those or to recreate new ones while he waits for his brain to rewire over this 12-month recovery window.

We used to go to Yellow Springs, The Winds Café, walks outdoors, coffee shops, the Tradewinds was a favorite haunt of his (and ours), Barney’s and Neiman Marcus joking, laughing and talking all the while. It was when his friend Tom died a decade or so ago and then his father where I saw just how graceful of a human being Nick was. He took both losses in stride but always honored the people, love and time as if it they were points on a map to navigate by. For him, loss was painful but he never allowed it to cloud or define him. Always moving forward. Fighting harder. Living better. He’s my fucking role model faults and all.

Of all the fears I’ve faced this year and the challenges I set before myself this unexpected one has been the biggest. The one that hurt the most. But also, the one with the most love and memories. This is that part of love that becomes painful because it makes you realize just how much a person is a part of your emotional life chemistry when they suffer. However, with all challenges there are gifts in the process. He’s still alive. I’ve met all his other friends again and have become closer to them in the process. I started trying to reclaim part of my own life from the wild reaction I had as part of my own acceptance path after having had a heart attack to a core place. my foundational ground zero.

His sister told me that Nick said that he would trust me with his life years ago. Which reminded me of “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” from the famous Dylan Thomas poem. I may get that tattooed on my chest next year now that I think of it.

If I’ve learned anything from Nick, it’s that times like this should remind us of just how short, precious and beautiful our connections to one another truly are. That we are not alone or strong of our own selves… it’s the love, memories, voices and time that make us better human beings. Together always.

Eddie & Nick

Posted in personal

Facing fears & making choices

I decided to adopt a more Mediterranean diet today. While this is a construct in itself, it includes the consumption of chicken, turkey, and fish. This post attempts to address the reasoning behind it by facing up to some fears and challenging my own “black and white” reactions. As you will read, there are various schools of thought that talk about how horrible animal products are for us and how they will most certainly kill us. While this may be true, or not, I have my own reasons.

With my best Ohio friend recovering, as best he can, from a major brain bleed less the ability to move without assistance or to make and hold some short-term memories, I am faced with a lot of the same emotions I had after my heart attack. First, I’m goddamn lucky. Second, I’m not invincible and all of this will someday end, probably not without some major personal challenges.

“Life is a sexually transmitted disease that ends in death,” my doctor.

Looking back over 2017 has me smiling today, however. I’m consciously aware that I am taking a luxury in looking ahead to what 2018 might hold as far as interests go. One of my main goals is to pull off a 7-day wilderness walk. Complete with hiking shoes, backpacks, shit shovels, gravity showers and more dehydrated foodstuffs with my best friend Doug from Portland Oregon. This is going to require a deviation from my running goals taking me back into the weight room which has given me the he-be-gee-bees since 2015… for absolutely no other reason than fear. My cardiologist imposed zero restrictions regarding food or activity. Sure there are definite guidelines the likes of which you can find at the AHA website. It was me, however, who chose to react out of fear and jump into a few pretty radical changes over a slow calculated course of time during the past two-plus years.

Sitting here at lunch today has me thinking about the nature of fear. Well, my fear. The dark places I have visited over the course of two years that have on more than one occasion just knocked all the wind out of me until I couldn’t move for the paralysis it caused. Yet it’s our own built-in fires that provide the strength we need to simply change our minds and our directions. Maybe that and more than a little help from the people who love us really.

It’s fear that first brought me to the conclusion that Dr Esselstyne and Dr Ornish were the right plans for me. Even though I hybridized them by adopting meditation, running and a plant-based lifestyle. I still sought out things that I enjoyed including the occasional lighter cheese and mushroom pizza from Dante’s, which I love, in Clintonville. Or a small serving of onion rings from Bare Burger. Or kettle chips at home with Eddie. While my cholesterol dropped to 93, I still have some work to do concerning various food cravings. But that’s life I think. It’s not going to be perfect and even if it were, there are absolutely no guarantees.

2017 taught me to face specific fears. I spent a good deal of energy working on myself, at length, and doing all sorts of things that used to “scare the Hell out of me” this year. Tattoos, camping, hiking, being alone in the middle of nowhere in the pitch black, running a 20-mile race, showering outdoors, hanging out in our birthday suits with other campers around a campfire talking well into the morning hours telling stories, letting down some of my very high and overly professional walls, taking time to just be myself and enjoy the things that make me who I am. Big freak or not, I’m here and I’ve had a damn fun year. You see, facing fear is the only resolution I signed up for on January 1st this year.

So today I saw my Dr. and got a second opinion which supported my cardiologist’s recommendation back in 2016. That whey protein, lean chicken, turkey, and fish are perfectly fine choices for a person with Cardiac Artery Disease (CAD) to have on his plate. Most importantly, regardless of doom and gloom warnings in my head thanks to the gifts from my heart attack of anxiety and depression, it’s how I want to fucking live my life again. No regrets. No fear. Full of intimacy, risks, challenges, camaraderie, family, and laughter. 2017 marks the year I started to take some of that back for myself.

While yes, life is a “one day at a time” kind of experience, I am taking a little bit of moment today to face an older but recent reaction to fear and challenge one of my own decisions. Now Esselstyne followers will probably say I signed my own death warrant but I am choosing to acknowledge yet let those ideas go. I want to accomplish something more, however. I want to hit my grave knowing that I loved myself enough to shout into the night sky and let the world know I am here.

To the day where I am no longer here. I was here and had a full life because it was the only thing I have discovered that makes anything worthwhile about breathing. It’s the everything part of what is around us and how we let all of that energy into our hearts and minds and then share back out into the world that counts.

RAWR!!!

Posted in personal

Cascadian cuisine?

Having had a past life as a foodie and professional wine schlep, I was stunned by a night out I had last night with my best friend, his husband, and his close friend. It was so amazing that it may have been the best food experience of my entire life and it was all centered around vegan fair that was sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant.

Farm Spirit does everything they can to tell the story behind the vegetables they literally hand select from the farmers they have real relationships with as respected friends. They honor these relationships by taking the time to learn the stories behind the products. Just like the story behind the wine. Where they informed us that the Merrman 2014 Chenin Blanc came from very old vines that had been cast aside and left to die. Only they survived and suffered then flourished producing some of the most minerally, complex, slightly acidic with incredibly balanced fruit in a glass that knocked all our socks off last night.

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The menu looked daunting with a list of dishes that was almost as big as our hands but we soon found out that each service was made to order. It was kind of like being on the set of Top Chef where they were doing one of the big competitions and serving world renowned 5-star chefs. Only it was a motley crew of people from Portland, Washington, Chicago and Ohio coming together last night to celebrate life, love and friendship on one incredibly beautiful Pacific Northwestern evening with a cool breeze, the clean scent of trees in the air and stars gently shining above.

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The first few dishes were finger foods and included Melon Pastrami, Watermelon Horseradish Shisho, an out of this world steamed bun stuffed with purple carrot and a life completing black garlic sauce. I believe the black garlic had been slow roasted for 6+ weeks if I heard correctly. All these dishes had a story behind the vegetables and one about the preparation technique and flavor combination to match.

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Our conversation was one of friends having a chance to come together and share experiences. Ask each other probing questions because our trust level among one another was built on a solid foundation of mutual respect. And, of course, each one of us had an opportunity to be vulnerable and share with the others the inner workings of our persons. All while the food and stories kept coming.

We moved onto things like an heirloom tomato floating on fermented celery with preserved walnut and leek blossoms. Then, one of my favorites, charred celtuce stem and garlicky leaves in a plum sauce.

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Then came the mushrooms. Now my buddy Doug hates mushrooms. Would probably rather eat garden slugs roasted over a summer grill to be quite honest. And yet he sampled the various selections of these various fungi that were presented to us last night. There was a dish with beautiful orca beans in a lobster mushroom cream sauce. One playfully titled “chicken of the woods” which was a type of mushroom I had never had before in a beautiful corn puree that damn near tasted like chicken. It was fibrous, meat like and absolutely delicate complex and amazing.

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One of our group favorites seemed to be the summer squash with quinoa and fermented sunflower, red pepper and tangerine sage dish. Absolutely well balanced yet transformative in it’s subtle complexity.

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Then all of the sudden we all fell down the rabbit hole and were presented with a playful concoction served over ice n a simple apothecary bottle stoppered with a cork titled “drink me.” This was the Kefir Refresher and was a shrub that served to reset al of our palates before the desert course was served. I’ve had a fair number of shrubs before which are vinegar, sugar and usually a fruit of some kind steeped for a few days until the flavors are melded. This one however was like a fine liquour brewed and guided by a master distiller.

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As the night came to a close we enjoyed a white nectarine and rose geranium ice cream with carbonated grapes. Yeah, the grapes had fiz! And yet it was the roast peach on an Emmer shortbread with filbert cream in a prickly ash syrup with snap dragons that stole the show for me. The richness of the peach as it had been roasted complimented all the other flavors while the syrup melded everything together into one cohesive experience with the flavors from the flecks of snapdragon blossoms. Absolutely incredible.

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The chef du cuisine made farewells. We all applauded. The night came to a close and we all rambled outside to talk as former strangers, chance acquaintances, people who experienced one of the greatest joys in life as a group forged through a beautiful shared experience.

If I lived here in Portland I would save up my money twice a year to come back to Farm Spirit. Not just for the food and wine sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant, but for the humanity of the shared stories. Knowing that there are men and women behind the vegetables that stare back at me from my plate. The people shoulder to shoulder with me as we reflect on life together, share successes, failures, laughter and love for a couple hours over some of the most artistic compositions one could ever hope to encounter.

In a word? Magical.

Posted in food

When to throw in the towel and start something new

While on the plane to Seattle I had more than a few moments to reflect on something that has been on my mind for a couple weeks now. Namely, I don’t think I have a marathon in me after all. I’d like to talk about what goes on in a persons head, well really mine I guess, when he decides to stop and readjust a set of goals.

Seattle bound

I’ve been running for a little more than two years now. I suppose a case could be made that it’s been at once both literal and metaphorical. In that scope I’ve learned a great deal about myself during this time. Maybe I’m a little prone to infatuation. Maybe I’m a bit manic. Who knows? But I o tend to dive into one thing or another with a fierceness that should burn out quickly. But not always as seen with running. Sometimes it just tapers down to a sustainable burn. As I’ve been mixing in weight training slowly and doing more outdoor activities my goals have shifted by a couple degrees. Enough to find myself on a slightly adjusted path that is.

There was an online article which spoke to the moment a runner decides to drop out of a race because it was not for him at that time. I’ve tried to train for a marathon three times now and the goal continues to elude me. Bottom line is that I don’t run to compete for a time, I just run to be there, which makes me a little bit of a unique runner in some ways. Every mile is part of a larger set of memories now that bolster my mood and elevate my mind into a place of stillness that makes me think that it’s my time to bail on a goal.

So here’s the pivot after re learning how to be outdoors this summer in small measured steps. I’d rather dedicate the marathon energy into working with a personal trainer to get fit enough for progressively longer outdoor wilderness hikes in 2018. One of those week long trips where you drive out, throw the pack on and start walking until it’s time to set up camp under the stars. And while I intend to keep running for health I’m not entirely sure I need to enroll in races anymore either. There are some that I’m very fond of yes, and I love the community around race culture, but I am inclined to think my path holds other things for me.

As with meditation. I fought it for a long time and eventually gave in and adopted the practice. It’s been nothing less than a door opener for me as well. And yeah, I still suck at it but I have a better understanding of what it means to simply observe and not react. That alone is a personal eureka moment as I have a history of trying to command life and plot everything out along neat little-bulleted lists. I still do but I am better at catching myself now and then.

The same applies to bouts of depression I’ve had to deal with post heart attack. The thing that happens is that my motivation hits absolute zero and I don’t workout, beyond things like walking to work and getting a maintenance level of around 7000 to 8000 of steps in per day. My new way of thinking has been useful in not creating a self-defeating dialog in my head. I can look at those mini battles and choose to simply move forward. Go work out, put running shoes on, sign up for a yoga class or skip rope. I’ve had about three of these weeks this summer. A few in spring and a handful over winter. Enough to realize that it’s a pattern and something I need to learn more about as exercise is one of the key pillars in holding heart disease at bay. At least as much as anyone can anyway.

When I wrote my “Invincible Summer” post, all about my goal to run a marathon, I was full of fire and, arguably, denial. Two years in I have a better perspective on what health and life balance really means to me. I guess, to run that to the end, I’ve learned what it’s like to live day to day, week to week, month by month with an open heart and self-forgiveness in mind always. We are probably all our own worst critics. This is good. Self-critique functions in some ways like anxiety. But as my therapist taught me anxiety is actually a beneficial emotion. One that can help us to stay vigilant. Not fall off cliffs or eaten by bears. You get the idea. Self-critique is the same thing. We need to look in the mirror sometimes and check ourselves. But with both anxiety and self-criticism, we also need to know when enough is enough so we can live healthy balanced lives. For me, this came recently with my choice to drop the word “marathon” from my rotation. Sad yeah? Maybe not. It allowed me to add in the idea of longer hiking goals for 2018 as I mentioned earlier.

Someplace green

How do you know when it’s time to change course? I think it has something to do with how you feel inside about what you are doing. I know a lot of cross fitters. Those workouts are seriously intense to the point of making people vomit. Yet it’s the enthusiasm that the group provides to help the individual challenge her or himself and accomplish things that make them proud and grateful for the experience. On the other hand, there are times when we are faced with efforts that yield diminishing returns where we may find ourselves looking sideways at other paths. And I think that’s it right there. You will know when your path calls you from a different angle in the thick of things. The trick is to simply listen to yourself during the journey.

So it’s still a long way out but it’s the idea/goal that is the important thing. So I’m looking forward to some shorter runs in Seattle and Portland over the next week. Time with friends. Time spent thinking about a very sick very core friend back home who suffered a hemorrhagic stroke with a deep brain bleed which I’m not emotionally equipped to talk about yet. Missing Eddie and the cats but happy and grateful for the change of scenery and opportunity to see old friends and make new ones.

I guess I found the fork in my road after all and decided to drop off of one path while finding footing on a new one. Life is full of surprises, tragedy, miracles, sex, love, and fun. I think that is probably exactly what my lesson may embody after all.

Posted in personal, running

An open letter to anyone struggling with a life threatening diagnosis

This post is the result of a personal request I got from the AHA to help a person who reached out on behalf of a younger person struggling with a diagnosis of a type of heart failure. It was written as a letter to that person in care of the person requesting help. I felt that the only way to encourage someone to face themselves was to tell them the story of the advice I had gotten from my aunt and then my two-year process of digesting my own diagnosis two years ago. Hopefully, this will find its way into the right people’s hands when they need it.

Hi,

The day after I got home from the hospital after my heart attack in 2015 I called my other mom. She’s my aunt who lives in a very small township who has challenged me since I was a teen to see things in a different light. I was a very stubborn kid who had it all figured out. Her husband, my uncle, has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer now for over ten years with the help of the new immune-therapy protocols. They’ve had many close calls and have become close to sheer panic on a dime over that period. She told me to look into the mirror every morning while I was brushing my teeth and tell myself “I had a heart attack.”

You see she knows me and my natural distance from anything emotional or things that challenge my ideas of the world around me and how I am the master of everything because, and I’ve actually used this phrase at work in Dallas, “there is no problem I can’t solve.” I actually believed that too. So when I was faced with a heavy dose of reality I needed the help of my aunt, my spouse, my friends and colleagues to get me through the mind shift I was faced with in adapting to a new way of thinking. One that was more accepting of my own failures as a man. As a husband. As a friend to so many. It was crushing but I made strides to get through it. This time not by my own force of will as I would view that in the past but with the help of all those around me.

After I went through my recovery, and then cardiac rehab program, I had to redefine things like how I exercised and ate. I was a born again lifter, after returning from a sedentary 6 years in Dallas, and before my heart attack. I could throw my body weight around on the bench press and lift heavy things with my legs. I was also in love with BBQ and fried foods. So I made slow steps toward learning how to love running. In fact, some of my early emotional hints that I was changing were times when I’d be out on the running trail. Training runs between 5 to 15 miles. Outdoors in the woods without a shirt in the Ohio humidity. Solitary, breathing hard with a heart rate over 160. Then I’d find a fresh stream of tears on my face and a frog in my throat. These huge waves of what I thought was sadness but later came to think of as gratitude that I was still here. That I could run in the rain. That I had a career and a family as part of my life. Like I said before I am not an emotional person so this felt like weakness to me or something must be wrong in my head so I hired a shrink.

The shrink walked me through the grief process. The anger, denial, bargaining to acceptance kind of stuff. For me, that’s going to be a lifelong endeavor because my old self is a son-of-a-bitch that does not easily let go. What I’ve learned is that’s OK. We don’t change overnight and life is not simple. It’s funny. With two years between me and my heart attack, and all this damn work in between, I still have moments that make me mad. Like I was rushing to a meeting one day. I have a LOT of meetings like sometimes 13 in a day. I’m walking in an outdoor courtyard by the arena downtown and I heard this Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying” playing on the radio speakers. And it was like on my run. It just unleashed this flood of tears. I had to veer off to a side street to collect myself because I related so hard to the lyrics. Life threatening diagnosis/experience, and for me… I climbed two mountains in Portland Oregon, one of them Mt Hood, three months after my heart attack. I nearly drowned in the Columbia river swimming with a buddy. I’ve run 5 half marathons and a ton of smaller races but including a 20-mile race. I’ve gone to couples counseling and have become a better husband. I switched careers to challenge myself to change my path.  I’ve also gotten my entire back tattooed and I’m headed to the rest of my upper body for total coverage on my arms and torso. I’ve always wanted to do these things and I figured now is the time to do it. Today is all we really have. So as cheesy as the McGraw song was, and I knew it, it was the theme of my past two years. It struck a nerve.

The other change I mentioned of two was to go vegetarian. Which sucked. Nobody told me I had to do it but I wanted to be aggressive, again old me, and do everything I could to stay alive in my eyes. The point is that I made the shift to running and vegetarianism and emotional work real slow. I didn’t dive into stuff because, as an experienced weightlifter, I was wary about people who “yo-yo” and do more harm to themselves than good.

In the end none of this is a guarantee. In my case there is no known cause for my diagnosis of cardiac artery disease. It just is and I had to accept it. And here’s the trick. While I had to accept it… I did not have to be defined by it either. I was alive and I had choices to make and I could. I had guides and support to get me to that point. I’m not sure I would have done as well as I have without that help. In fact, I would probably have tried to one up the disease and double down in the same forceful way I lived my life before the event. I was master of my universe after all.

We all have different conditions and circumstances. Like my uncle and his cancer or my aunt as my uncle’s wife and best friend. Which reminds me of another thing she told me on that phone call. She said that while I now have a chronic disease that could very easily kill me, that I would find that for what it took away from me, it would also leave me with gifts. I’d like to think that the feelings of that McGraw song are my gifts. All of the changes I’ve made. Choices and challenges. Yes, some failures too… but I’ve learned to start to forgive myself rather than beat the Hell out of my soul because of my own perceived weaknesses.

The gifts of my heart attack have included two years of life that have been radically different than all the decades before it. No, it’s not a picnic. Mine came with anxiety and depression. But I’ve also learned to cope with that. And still I’m doing remote hiking and camping now and sleeping under the stars for the first time in 40 years. That’s a pretty damn good gift when you are on your back looking at the night sky shining above you showing you just how small, and connected, we really are during our short experience in life.

No one is going to tell you what to do but I would, very humbly suggest, that you look at yourself in the mirror every morning when you brush your teeth for a month and tell yourself you have whatever condition you have by name. Start your journey slow and be good to yourself while letting others inside and share the strength.

Your ally,

Jeff

Posted in personal

First tent camping trip in 30+ years

This is a recap of my first tent camping trip in 30+ years. I will attempt to explain both my motivation and how I prepared for the trip in this post.

It was 2015 and I had a close call with drowning in the Columbia River while at a clothing optional beach in Portland Oregon. Yeah, that read right. Both the part about being fished out of the river by a former lifeguard, and the nude beach. You see it was a few months after my life flipped upside down and moved a little to the left. A heart attack will do that for you. Two years later and here I am. Having methodically collected some starter camping gear now over the past four months. It was time to put my money where my mouth was. “Jump in,” so to speak.

With the memory of the guy who pulled me out of the Columbia River, I decided to look around for some local gay campgrounds for my first trial run. I have to admit my goal with being outdoors is to face my anxiety. I’m a city dweller. I lived smack in the middle of downtown Dallas Texas and I am now enjoying the same life in vibrant Columbus Ohio. More to the point though, I live just several blocks away from my hospital. I work in the same zip-code of it as well. I usually wear a Med ID bracelet and carry 4 emergency aspirin with me when I run. Always.

Anxiety is ever present but I have learned to dance with it a bit. Running was my first refuge from its constant dialog. Then came meditation which really helped me to learn how to observe objectively and stop short of reacting. Of course seeing a therapist helped. He gave me the frameworks I use constantly to personify anxiety and deal with it like I would any person in a meeting. Acknowledge, be polite, listen and then moving on to my next task… leaving anxiety behind until our next meeting.

As I’ve posted about before, I’ve been facing my fears this year. And yet it was this weekend when I met a younger man who was “doing things he’d never done before” when it struck me that we are all on our own journeys. Culturally my choice of locations was perfect. Freedom Valley. Has a nice ring to it. Oddly enough it was voted #2 gay campground in the Nation. It was safe, friendly, well thought out and the weather was crazy perfect for the end of July. Almost chilly at night but sunny and breezy during the day.

With my goal of hike/camping in State Parks, gear is very important as my brother Aaron has mentioned. This being my starter kit, I wanted to spend as little money as possible in case the whole thing ended up being a disaster and left me hightailing it back home. The most expensive thing I bought was the cooking kit which is called a Jet Boil. This thing is super compact, lightweight and efficient. Cooking with it entails boiling water then either making instant coffee, that took me a little courage to warm up to, or pouring it into packs of dehydrated food. It was pretty astronaut.

 Gear list with things I cut out of the repack for the next trip based on this experience in red.

  • 2 Led Lamps (1 next time)
  • Tablet viewer with movies preloaded (leave this at home)
  • 2 Books (1 next time)
  • Journal & pens
  • Headphones & Fitbit
  • Toothbrush & paste
  • Instant decaf coffee
  • Red wine
  • 3 shirts, 1 pants, 1 shorts, 2 underwear, 2 socks, swim trunks, running shorts (this will be paired way down next trip)
  • Good REI Sandals & running shoes
  • Warm flannel shirt
  • 5 dehydrated meals by Mountain House (3 would be fine for a non-hiking 3-day trip)
  • Fruit and nut bars (I bought a lot of these but only had 2 in the end)
  • Rain jacket
  • Tent lining tarp
  • 2 person Coleman tent
  • Jet boil & fuel
  • Enamel bowl & cup
  • Headlamp (didn’t use it but this is a handy item to have)
  • Compact tripod chair
  • Sleeping bag, thin air mattress, pillow
  • Compact water bladder
  • Water
  • Lighter
  • Off Mosquito Repellent Area Candle (optional)
  • Two types of Mosquito body & clothing repellent (go with one next time)
  • Plastic bags
  • First aid kit (pack this down into a smaller package)
  • Paper towels (I will not take a whole roll next time)
  • Shower towel
  • Body wash (use a smaller container)
  • Sun block
  • Flowers for Eddie to let him know I’d miss him
  • Backpack for testing (mine is on the heavier side but still lighter weight – I am going to repack and walk around the block with it packed sometime between now and mid-August when I go again)
  • Weekend bag (this ended up being for overflow which is a bad idea for hiking camping)
  • Medications (packed by type but next time I’m going to pack by time of day to save space and complexity)
  • Phone charger (I need to add a solar charger here as power was always something I needed to find)
  • Hammock & hooks/straps

So while I packed comparatively minimal to other folks I met, I suppose our goals are somewhat different. Once again I chose this spot to help me with the anxiety of being outside of the City overnight outdoors under the stars in the open air with heart disease. To hear the wind in the trees and see a star filled night sky. It was perfect. I made a few new friends, had some really great conversations with down to earth professionals. All of us just decompressing and having a tree bath. People with strong opinions and open minds. Kindred spirits.

And back to my gear, I packed too much for my goal of hike camping but for this trip, it was totally OK. I came back with enough information to help me to edit with and, of course, lessons learned about sun block. Yeah, there was a pool. And while I could only wade waist deep as a result of my back tattoos, I had a great afternoon sunning and talking with a group of very cool strangers. Some of whom became friends through the process. While I applied SPF 50 to most of my upper body, I used “man logic” to tell myself that my legs would be fine because of all the hair. Yeah… I won’t do that again.

So I’ve repacked my backpack, everything now fits inside, it’s lighter and ready to go. I’d say this trip was pretty fantastic. A success on many levels and a great way to reconnect with a part of myself that has been long absent during my adult years. While the heart attack introduced me to anxiety and depression, it also brought me back to play and mindfulness. Just like Aunt Lora said the week after I got home from the hospital, “it may seem like the world is ending right now but you will find that this experience gives you strength and unique gifts.” This weekend, half marathons, a reinvention of my relationship to food, meditation and intimacy are all part of my journey.

Lora was right. As evidenced by the feelings I experienced while laying on my back and looking at the tree tops blow in the wind as the starlight filtered down through the tree canopy. It felt like home. Like peace.

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Posted in personal

Meal & workout plans

It’s Saturday so that means meal planning and grocery shopping. This week I pulled out my trusty copy of “The America’s Test Kitchen Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” and flipped through that while having coffee this morning with a friend visiting from Chicago. We caught up on the doings at our mid year checkpoints. His recent push back to making artwork, some of which spoke to his experience with prostate cancer, various things he’d been doing to his house and then house plants as I am interested in getting one for my bedroom for the air quality and green aspect of them.

Another topic I researched today was the mixing of weight training and cardio. I think it’s time for me to get more comfortable lifting weights on a regular basis because it was something that I used to really enjoy. That said I’m also toying with the idea of trying, for a third time, to train for the Columbus marathon so the right amount of cross training will be something to consider. Anyway, I read this long post on timing those two activities which was pretty helpful. These days my weight training will either be at home on my bench with dumbbells, maxing out at 40 lbs right now, or at the Audobon Park on one of my runs to do pull-ups, push-ups, possibly handstand practice, outdoors. I guess the main thing for me is that I’m looking forward to seeing my workouts evolve a little bit. Just like my meditation practice, I guess. I’m finding that good things happen when you loosen your grip a little more.

Basic CMYK

After a bit, I came up with the following list of dishes for the next week’s meal plan. And while my pattern has been breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and then dinner. I think I will try to mix in more protein, including MRP shakes and nuts/seeds/bean/lentils/quinoa/brown rice this week. Keep an eye on the fat intake a little tighter… because I have to maintain heart health. And of course, berries with psyllium husk fiber, spirulina, and Maca.

  • Cucumber, red onion and tomato salad (summer classic)
  • Braised beets with lemon and almonds (page 282)
  • Sesame glazed bok choy with noodles (page 284)
  • Broiled eggplant with basil (page 297)
  • Sautéed mushrooms (page 304)
  • Baked sweet potato “fries” (page 317)
  • Sautéed summer squash (page 319)
  • Pizza dough for any kind of mix we have (page 331)
  • Korean BBQ tempeh wraps (page 360)
  • Various forms of tacos and quesadillas to reuse leftovers and various produce
  • Salads – mostly spinach but with some fruits, nuts and cucumbers or peppers
  • Oats or huevos rancheros tacos, using egg whites and 1 egg yolk, for breakfast

So here’s to tasty meals and sweaty balls next week.

Posted in food, running, workout

Arturo, one complicated cat

Cat psychology is an interesting thing. I have a 1 year old cat that is on some kind of personal journey right now. He’s our little black rescue named Arturo.

Adoption Shot

We lived with a family of three cats before in our 20’s and mid 30’s. One of Eddie’s art school friends found a female stray behind a rock’n’roll club one night called Stache’s. I mean, literally in the alley. Just a kitten. Eddie put up a struggle but lost to how cute the kitten was and how persistent Carrie was being. Thus it was that the Mighty Samson came to live with Eddie. I entered the picture a few months later as Eddie and I started dating. Well, not really at that time. This was “sex date” phase. As the years rolled along we ended up living together.

One night Samson got out of the house and we just assumed that she was gone. But no, our neighbor Ted Rau found her with a Tom cat flagrantly doing the nasty on our doormat. So she was returned, deflowered to our home. Shortly thereafter she ended up having two male kittens who we kept and named Utah and Giesela. For whatever reason the names suited them. And with the exception of the time when we moved to Clintonville where there were raccoons, opossums and probably lesbian bears on the loose because of our proximity to the ravine… they never had an issue with marking territory.

Life is short for everyone and after about 15 to 17 years these cats died in quick succession, teaching us lessons about letting go at the right time along the way. We waited for a year before adopting a male cat named Monkey when we lived in downtown Dallas from the SPCA. A year later we got him a sister named Princess Helen Sophia from a co worker who had been displaced from New Orleans post-Katrina.

We moved back home to Ohio and after about two years. Helen and Monkey had turned six, you see they are the same age offset by a couple months, I started looking at shelter cats again. Three. The number just had such a good ring to it. Pretty quickly, this little fluff of a cat with beady eyes and fur as dark as the night came to my attention. And so it was that tiny little Arturo came to join the fold.

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Over the first year, we noticed some odd behaviors and skittishness, a seemingly unanchored territory in the house and so on. But they all got along famously, playing, cuddling, evolving and enjoying the life we could provide them. Some of the odd, albeit gross, acting out came in the form of marking my bathroom sink. Which was “fine” because I could bleach it. Or the time when Eddie threw a black jacket on the floor in a strange place only to be marked later by Arturo. Or this mid century modern love seat which he became bizarrely drawn toward. Thank goodness for enzymatic cleaners, but I will get to that in a moment.

Things got worse in a short period of time. I had been meditating on an increasingly frequent schedule and finally took the dive into meditation pillows. They were awesome. One big flat square base and a round one to fit on top for my butt. Within hours Arturo had marked them. WTF?!?!

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At this point, I was still not using the water bottle to spray or otherwise punish him. Not because I had any instruction regarding that but because I just didn’t have the heart to do it. That all changed however when I was working at my desk one night and heard a scratching. He was on my bed seemingly trying to find a spot for a nap. Then he squatted. OMG… he’s pissing on my bed I thought. I leaped up, scooped him up and sure as fuck, there was a wet puddle. Ripping off the sheets and pad I got to it before it stained the mattress. Needless to say Arturo was scolded, shouted at and sprayed down with our water bottle. He hid for the rest of the day.

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We got anti odor stuff and kept a close watch on him from there on out. He marked a few more things but it was not until I woke up one morning with a wet spot between my feet on my mattress that I cracked. I pitched the mattress out to the dumpster and started sleeping on my camping gear or on the sofa. I did some Googling. It told me to not punish him as that would only aggravate the situation. It could be nerves. Shouting and water bottles would only serve to reinforce those feelings. I also discovered that there might be a physiological problem with him so a vet visit was in order. Additionally, it told about having more than one litter box per cat in the house. We had two for three cats. So I made my vet appointment and went out and bought the third box.

While my sleep suffered the marking was dramatically reduced. When I got to the vet I learned that he checked out as very healthy. She was encouraged that his marking had abated with the third litter box and then gave me some key advice. There’s a thing called FeliAway that mimics a mother cat’s pheromones which in turn relax and encourage cats, not to scratch or mark. So we got an emergency diffuser and some refills at carpet baggers price locally and then, after noticing that it 100% stopped the behavior for over two weeks now, two more at a helluva a better price on Amazon. The last thing was the introduction of enzymatic cleaners which completely break down cat urine at the chemical level to where no trace is left behind. We are using one by Nature’s Miracle.

Another resource our vet left us with was a site dedicated to indoor pets, both dogs and cats, in Spanish and English, that OSU runs. The Indoor Pet Initiative. And let me confess when I had a moment of weak resolve that If I could not “control” Arturo that I would have to let him go… resources like this are massive because Arturo is part of our home now. He’s part of our family. I don’t give up a fight like that easily. Resources that help us all live together in harmony are everything during those times.

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In the end, I bought a Casper mattress, a bed frame, an area rug and a weight bench mat… all of which I didn’t have before. I think I wanted to mark my own space with as much of a minimal but functional flair as I could afford for myself and to create a space of comfort for everyone around me in the process.

I’m grateful for the advice I got from the vet. So far, complicated 1-year-old cat not withstanding, things are going well. Is he a handful? Yes. But he is making Helen playful. Monkey is 200% more interactive and it just feels right in the house. That does not mean I will not have a pheromone diffuser in each room long term, a bottle of enzymatic cleaner and piss proof mattress pads, handy at all times to totally erase the effects of bad behavior.

While cats are not comparable to the deep psychology of human children, they are little mental furry mysteries of nature. Giving an armful of them a better life experience while Eddie & I are alive has been pretty rewarding. Both on the give and take. Sometimes it’s easy, other times, well, it takes outside help and a little resolve to not give up on the cat.

Posted in personal

Garlic meditation

I met a woman yesterday who wanted to learn how to meditate. It was clear that she was interested and yet questioned whether or not she was capable of the practice. And then she said it, how do you clear your mind? It’s funny, this is the same notion I had about a year ago when I first sat down to “empty my thoughts.” It failed of course.

It was not until I started running on a regular basis that I began to appreciate what it meant to practice. When you are running it sometimes feels like flying, other times it feels like trudging up a mountain side in a harness while pulling a wooden cart behind you. I remember a run where I was going along the Olentangy Trail and made it to the junction where it splits off North, to OSU, and West, to Grandview. I was feeling good so I kept on going all the way out to Grandview for a 12-mile trek. But the thing I remember most was the feeling of presence. Breathing steadily. Feet hitting the trail in a rhythm. The sun falling through the tree tops and across my shoulders. Thoughts aligning to the effort and then giving way to peace.

That’s the moment I knew I could actually meditate. All I had to do was to stop fighting it and just let whatever happens on the meditation pillow actually happen. So I got a couple books by Stephen Levine and his son Noah, subscribed to a meditation app which acted as a coach, and restarted my Yoga practice. It’s funny what happens when you just listen to your breathing. Focus on a single part of it. Maybe count the in and out breaths. Anything that will keep your mental metronome ticking as your head erupts in continual thought. Yet it’s those moments where you anchor back on your breath between the minutes of beautifully chaotic thoughts that you actually practice meditation. It’s just a few handful of moments of empty space, but it’s the stuff that trains, no… reprograms, our minds to observe and not react.

That’s the point of the Cloud Meditation, which I read about first in an illustrated children’s book while doing research for a talk I put together for the Columbus Web Group on mindfulness in the workplace titled “Being There.” Anyway, the cloud meditation teaches us that our thoughts are like clouds. All sorts, shapes, colors, and sizes. And the point of the meditation is to help us to realize that we are the empty space in between all the clouds. That we are the sky.

And while I’ve been coming closer to a regular practice I’ve also been forcing some of it. It still does not come naturally, but that’s probably because I’m also struggling with an anxiety condition which is, to say the least, the exact opposite of mindfulness. But I will say this. Yesterday while I was on my stomach on the table with my shirt off and the tattooist’s tools painting my back black with big dark patches along the design that I meditated at points. I had made huevos rancheros from my new cookbook “A Modern Way to Eat” earlier that morning. It called for garlic so I had chopped two cloves of elephant. I love garlic. Breakfast was just for me and it was fantastic with lots of black beans, the eggs, guacamole and toasted tortillas with strong decaf coffee. So as the sound of the various devices Andy used yesterday got progressively louder, indicating more needles per head so that it could do painting versus smaller I started to struggle a bit with the pain. And that’s when I smelled the garlic on my hands still. That one memory brought me back to a clearer place, like with listening to the breath, just long enough that I was actually able to relax into the experience and just let it happen.

The point is that everyone can meditate. And that the practice is different for everyone. That we don’t have to be seated on a meditation pillow with incense and a candle all the time. We can be in a meeting. Debating with a colleague. Coaching ourselves through a panic attack. Or on the tattoo table.

There is a sense of humor within change. Even as I feel like I have gone on the warpath with lifestyle change towards a heart health, I have to laugh at myself for approaching everything like medication. It may not be what I wanted, but I realize these give me a better chance of survival. Funny thing for me is that I slipped into meditation so naturally yesterday. The simple influence of the smell of garlic which pulled me outside of the moment and into a feeling of enjoyment. So even though it still feels awkward at times, it’s now part of my life. You see, if I can do that so can anyone. Smell is one of the most powerful conduits to memory. I think my next challenge, after talking with the psychic, includes work that will help me to open the solar plexus chakra so that I can visualize beaming that positive feelings out to everyone around me. Well, that and relaxing around this two-year-old lifestyle change that shook everything about myself up… one clove of minced garlic at a time.

solarplexus

Posted in personal

Activity

  • Weight training
    On November 13, 2017 4:00 am rode 0.00 mi. during 00:30:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Weight lifting
    On November 7, 2017 1:10 pm rode 0.00 mi. during 00:30:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On November 3, 2017 5:00 pm rode 1.10 mi. during 00:20:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Lunch run
    On November 3, 2017 12:05 pm rode 2.00 mi. during 00:20:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Noon walk
    On November 2, 2017 11:33 am rode 1.90 mi. during 00:31:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Weight training
    On November 2, 2017 7:51 am rode 0.00 mi. during 00:30:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.