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This post goes out to my sisters, my cousins, my daughter, and my female friends, and to the men who care about them.  And as often happens, this post has nothing to do with playing the harp. Or does it? Recently I found a new podcast that I like (The Model Health Show), but it has dumped a big ol’ paradigm shift on me. I have to catch up on episodes because the podcast has been around a while so I’ve been picking an episode here and there.  TMHS #003 (The Truth About Breast Cancer) and #021 (Dressed to Kill) have got my head spinning.

I already knew that the “cancer care” field is a multi-billion dollar industry that may not have very strong motivation to put itself out of a job. I already knew that cancer prevention will never be given the grant dollars that the lucrative cancer drug and treatment ventures receive.  But oh, what I didn’t know! Enter the podcasts.  Here are just a few of the omg moments:

  • Only about 5% of cancers occur because of genetic causes.  95% are caused by environment and lifestyle. Having a genetic marker for cancer is not a death sentence.
  • Statistically speaking, “normal” treatments (surgery, chemo, radiation) decrease cancer survival rates.
  • Everyone has cancer cells in their bodies all the time. It is normal. Our biology has a system for getting rid of them. We either overload or sabotage the system, hence the disease.
  • The lymphatic system (crucial to cancer prevention) does not have a pump, like the circulatory system has the heart. It relies on the free flow of lymph (no constricting clothing) and the movement of the body to do its job.
  • Among bra-free women, breast cancer rates are about the same as they are in men. In other words, minuscule! (The Fred Hutchinson cancer’s study citing no connection between bras and cancer did not include any non-bra wearers in the study. Looks like a smoking/cancer study that doesn’t include non-smokers.)

Which brings me to… bras.  Most women in our culture wear a bra. We don’t want to “sag.” We don’t want to bounce and “have stuff show.”  We don’t want men staring at our torsos and forgetting we have heads.  We are not all charismatic, trend-setting Kate Hudson. We are not all brave.

Questions and choices dance a ring around me right now. Is this truly like the situation of corsets, which were terribly unhealthy for women but nevertheless worn for hundreds of years? Did the women who first said “no” to corsets feel afraid? Would ditching my bra make me feel like one of those human advertisements, a person in a pizza outfit jumping around on the corner, only my outfit would be a giant boob? And most vexing of all… having grown up in that 60s pre-women’s-lib era where men could slap women on the behind with impunity, having seen the most prurient side of men, having the suspicion that any image of a female breast will stop most men in their tracks and turn off their brains… what oh what do I advise my daughter to wear?

I hate reading/hearing anything about cancer because, like most people, it scares me. Both of my parents had cancer, and one died from it. We all know someone who has it, or who died from it, or who has had a “cancer scare.”  But I am fanatically proactive about my health, and I do not want to live in fear. Is this the choice then: fear of cancer or fear of body exposure? (For further exploration.)

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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and nothing in this blog is intended as medical advice. The following information is autobiographical. The pronoun “you” is employed as a narrative tool to express my own experience. I do not claim to know the cause of others’ pain nor the remedy others should pursue. I do not mean this post as a denial of the reader’s personal medical situation. Although I hope that someone will find guidance by reading my story, I do not believe my experience can be applied to everyone. 

Starting in 1996, I was in pain every day for 7 long years. I saw many doctors and tried many treatments.  Back pain, hip pain, and foot pain took turns ruling my life, except when they all popped up at once. Occasionally other body parts chimed in. The shifting cloud of diagnoses that hung over me included IT Band injury, Neuroma, Greater Trocanteric Bursitis, Shin splints, Metatarsalgia, Sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and Degenerative Disc Disease.  Today I just call it Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS).

I give credit for my discovery of TMS to Jeff Galloway, whom I met at his Tahoe running camp in 2003.  I was a bit of a mess. Galloway listened with earnest sympathy. Then he said, “There is a book you might want to read.” (Healing Back Pain by Dr. John E. Sarno.)  He would not tell me more, and now I completely know why. No one talks about TMS. TMS is “weird.” It makes people edge away.

Having been pain-free for so many years, it is hard to dig up this story and retell it. So hard that I’ve been trying to make myself write this for over a year. But a lot of people suffer needlessly, and I am sitting on a story with a truly happy ending. Perhaps what I learned will help someone, so here are some things I know about TMS:

1. Your brain can open or close capillaries in response to psychological events. We all know that an embarrassing thought can lead to blushing.  Likewise, your brain can repress an undesirable emotion by distracting you with pain. The mechanism used is the same one as for blushing: the autonomic nervous system.

2. Certain kinds of people get TMS more often than others. Typical TMS sufferers are conscientious, hard working, and  “good.”  Of course you can be all those things without TMS, but TMS finds good people like bees find flowers. Deep inside our minds, being good means “no anger allowed,” which causes repression.  Anxiety, frustration and fear are also candidates for repression, but anger is the least tolerated emotion  from our earliest age. (More about that in a moment.) Repression of negative emotions is the reason TMS exists.  Some other typical tendencies and experiences of TMS victims include: child abuse or childhood trauma, perfectionism (by which I mean having an attitude of “the right way, or not at all”), driven work ethic, overly generous, and seeking of approval.

3. TMS hops around. One body part hurts, but then a different one hurts. If you are seeking treatment or going through some physical therapy, it can feel like some kind of whack-a-mole game. But this tell-tale shift in location helps you spot TMS and distinguish it from physical injury.

4. TMS does not produce physical evidence other than pain and does not heal with time. True physical injuries produce redness, swelling, bruising, inflammation and other physical evidence. And then they heal with time. A broken femur will heal in 6 weeks and be stronger at the break point than ever before. (A corollary of this point is that cold packs will make a true physical injury feel better but will aggravate TMS. The capillaries don’t need another excuse to stay constricted!)

5. Resting a TMS “injury” does not heal it, but movement and resuming regular activity does.  In the early stages of my “cure” period, one way I knew a pain was TMS was that resting for a day or two made no difference. The part of your brain that is masterminding the disability must be told: No more. I’m not buying it. I’m going to stand, bend, run, whatever. Most importantly, I’m going to think that thought, remember and that dreadful thing that happened, or look that demon in the eye.  The cure for TMS is a mental process. Without its mission of distracting you, TMS loses its reason for being and vanishes.

6. TMS is open to suggestions. A while back, everyone had Tennis Elbow. Years later lots of people wore little wrist braces for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. More recently I have heard a lot of people suffer from Plantar Fasciitis. I am not saying those diagnoses are invalid. I am saying that my experience with pain included new pains popping up when I heard about other people’s pains.  I often wonder if TMS is to blame for what appear to be injury “fads.”

7. TMS is stupid. Let’s just anthropomorphize TMS for a second while we imagine him sitting up there in the control room saying, “Uh-oh. We’ve got an Unthinkable coming in. What have we got? Foot pain! You’re up! Get in there!”  And you happening to be running so you figure, “My foot is injured! Oh no!”  But the next day you run with a friend and chat about life and feel great. That night, the pain comes back while you are just sitting around watching a movie. TMS doesn’t know that it should only use that one while running, and always while running. So the pain comes and goes without rhyme or reason.  TMS wants to fool you to make the distraction work, but isn’t clever enough to follow the activity. It follows the thoughts. So why do we believe it? Because we live in a culture of injury.  It is considered normal to get injured. We may be horrified at the sudden pain, but we are not surprised. The statistics on running injuries alone are astounding. The species that lived for millennia by their legs and their wits alone cannot be so fragile.

8. TMS relies on a part of your mind that is sometimes called Child Primitive. It is a bit like your inner child, only way more “inner” and way more destructive. Child Primitive can generate of lot of anger that the adult You must repress. Do you get pain right before an important event? Or perhaps pain upon waking up to face a new day? Child Primitive is rolling on the ground in full tantrum mode: “I don’t want to go! I don’t want to have my worth/skills/strength (insert one) tested! I hate this job! I hate having no power!” TMS may put Child Primitive in a time out, but she is still there, raging.

9. You do not have to solve one single problem in your life to get rid of TMS.  TMS is not about being a happy person. It is not even about stress, though it certainly appears that way sometimes. TMS is about distraction. Curing TMS is about thinking the unthinkable. “Whoa. What was I just thinking about when that spasm of pain came on?”  I asked myself and answered that question many times until “poof.” No more pain. It was that simple. Not easy, but simple. Here is more good news: sometimes you do not even need to get a mental grip on the thing Child Primitive is raging about. It is repressed and often hard to find. Sometimes you only have to allow your mind to “think rage.” Free floating rage. Like joy and love, it spreads to where it needs to go.

10. The single most difficult thing to do with TMS is to take this leap of faith: the pain really is TMS and you really can get up and resume physical activity. The only way I could do this was to start with the psychological work. When I saw myself described to a T in the aforementioned book, and when I felt less pain just by concentrating on emotional issues, I took the next step and went for a run. Things were going well until a seemingly innocent thought flitted across my consciousness and I was instantly in pain again. But that just helped me know that I was on the right track. Psychological, not physical. And believe me, once you see that the wizard is just a man behind a curtain you are ten times harder to fool again. Within two weeks I was living pain free for the first time in years.

11. TMS is not “all in your head.” It is real, physical pain. But nothing is “broken.” Like a headache or menstrual cramps, it can hurt like hell without any physical injury present.

12. TMS loves props. TMS wants your attention focused on physical disability so it can do its job: to repress The Unthinkable. I had heel lifts, back cushions, cortisol shots, special ice packs to put on my hip, special pillows for my car, my chair, my bed… Physical aids, doctor appointments, and therapy exercises keep your mind far away from the real cause, and keep TMS going.

13. TMS is trying to help. This seemingly sadistic mechanism is meant to protect you. The need to protect you begins in early childhood. All small children have an involuntary reaction to their parents’ displeasure, dating back to the dawn of humankind: it is the species-preserving concept that rejection from my parents equals death. What good brain wouldn’t work on an early prevention plan for that?  When you were about 3 years old and felt fear, did your parents praise your smarts for being afraid of potential danger or did they deny your reaction with “nothing’s wrong, go to sleep”?  When you were very angry, did your parents say, “Good job! When I see those Cheerios all over the floor I am so glad that you are fully experiencing your emotions!” Small children express emotions with actions more than words — unacceptable actions.  Thus they learn that certain emotions are dangerous, and their wondrous brains learn to protect them.

14. TMS can catch a ride on the back of a true injury. This particular characteristic is not something I personally experienced, but heard about from others. The sufferers had a “real” injury that seemed to heal, and much later started hurting again.  In these cases, it seems TMS just found a nice, believable story to tell them.

15. TMS will gladly cooperate with your doctor. (And vice versa.) When people are in pain, doctors must come up with a diagnosis and a recommended course of action.  TMS loves this validated focus on the physical. If you don’t respond to PT or cortisol or whatever therapy is recommended, another is tried. There is no null hypothesis in this game, no possible proof of falsehood in the assertion that “where there is pain there is injury or illness.” And so we continue to pour our money and our hopes into physical remedies. Over 70% of back surgeries fail to provide relief. But they continue to be performed.  Blood letting was practiced for 3,000 years before people would admit that doctors were hurting people.

16. When someone discovers that all their suffering has come from TMS, it is extremely embarrassing to tell people that you are suddenly OK.  I made so many drastic life changes because of the pain I was in, and I shared it with so many people. Then I was pain free, seemingly overnight.  Friends who saw me limping just last week would ask me how I was doing. Telling someone you have a running injury is a whole lot easier than telling people, “my pain was caused by repressed negative emotions but now that I’m facing my inner rage over childhood trauma, things are really looking up!” Not exactly the kind of thing you want to put in your annual Christmas letter.

Am I really cured of TMS? Yes, with a “but.” I am completely free of chronic pain. I live an active life. I have trained for and run 22 marathons without injury. Nor do I worry about injury. I lift heavy objects without bending my knees, I run as far as I want to in minimalist shoes that are far beyond their recommended mileage limit, and I practice my harp or knit for hours with nary a thought about tendonitis.  But… every now and then when a particular kind event comes into my life, I can feel my TMS trying to “trigger” a pain in one of my old familiar spots. My happy ending is that I now can easily detect and stop TMS. It takes less than a minute. Far from being the Great and Powerful Oz, or even a simple man behind a curtain, TMS has become more like a naughty cat trying to get the food cupboard open.

Recommended reading: Healing Back Pain by Dr. John E. Sarno. He has written a number of books but that one remains my favorite. And you can insert any body part name instead of “back” – it’s all the same to TMS.

2/1/2017 Update: There is a new voice in this field, and I couldn’t be happier that TMS is still being studied and addressed. Please visit Dr. David Hanscom’s site: www.backincontrol.com  His book is the same title as his website, Back In Control (which I think is an absolutely brilliant book title for this subject if you think about it).

June 2017 updates: First, the great Dr. Sarno has passed away at the age of 93. His work in the field of mind-body medicine shows what a huge difference one person can make in the world. Thank you, Dr. Sarno, and rest in peace.  Second, a documentary has been made about Dr. Sarno’s work, the trailer is here.

Online help:

 http://www.mindbodymedicine.com/

http://www.tmshelp.com/

http://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/TMS_Recovery_Program

Local health practioners:

http://www.seattlebiofeedbackpsych.com/

 

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I’m sure I will have bad days ahead, where bears scare me, the septic pump fails, or a tree falls on the chicken coop. But the honeymoon in our new house is sweet indeed!

Running this morning on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail I came across…
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I do believe that is a beaver dam. I have never seen them in Washington, though I knew we had them.

Coming back up my hill I saw my neighbors Peter, Paul & Mary (as I have named them). Mary is hanging back. She’s still shy with me…

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And The Supremes…

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As I ascended up my hill out of the fog, I wondered at the beauty of the sun in the forest. Our forest. Do we really get to live here?
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The sign behind Sunny reads “Stewardship Forest.” The previous owners participated in a Federal program that no longer exists, which was to encourage native tree planting on private lands.  They planted over 2,000 trees on this property. Little seedlings that now stand at 4-7 feet among the “second growth” trees.

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Pluviophile

Okay! So there is a word for it! That makes me extremely happy, because it means I have something I can use to replace “freak.”

Source: Urban Dictionary

Source: Urban Dictionary

 

Now, before anyone gets their fur up, I want to be clear that I am not criticizing my sun-loving fellow humans in any way.  Like a lot of people in this world, I just want to be understood.  Dry, warm, light-infused days are extremely useful, I agree.  What I want to convey is a mysterious phenomenon that I cannot even explain.

“…who finds joy and peace of mind…”

Joy and peace of mind. Why?  I really don’t know.  But we band of pluves (known to each other by secret handshake, aka manic happiness when clouds are present) just seem to thrive when the month names start ending with “ber” and “brr” is on our lips.

I take that back; it’s not really about temperature.  I think it’s about light.  For me, anyway, it has nothing to do with getting cold, or wet for that matter.  (Though, speaking as an avid knitter, I can’t wait to wear sweaters again.) I think the light is more beautiful to us, like the way film directors want to shoot outdoor scenes on overcast days to get more vivid colors.

My other theory is that it is linked to eye color. We blue/green eyed folks have Northern climes in our blood, and perhaps an instinctive sense of comfort in low light.  Moreover, there is a practical matter: bright sunlight hurts us.  It hurts.  I must have half a dozen pairs of sunglasses, and keep 2 emergency pairs in my car. And if the brightness doesn’t get you, there is the dreaded Sunlight Squint Headache.  When I encounter someone who has blue or green eyes and doesn’t suffer like this, I cling to my little theory by wondering if they are a medical aberration, or possibly in denial, having been brainwashed by the peer pressure of brown eyed friends.

Then there is the romance of storms: the coziness of a good book by the fire, the lovely sound of rainfall, and the grand finale – rainbows (just enough sun, but not so much to ruin a perfectly good cloud cover).

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The first year we lived here in the Snoqualmie Valley, where we have 80 inches of rain per year instead of the 35 we had in Seattle, we bought a treadmill.  That winter it rained and rained (and snowed) and I clung desperately to that treadmill while the blizzards and torrents leered at the window.  At first, that is.  By the end of that first winter I felt like I never wanted to pound that rubber track again. The Dreadmill.  In all the winters that have followed, two words have saved me: proper gear. It’s only water after all.  If I cannot run in all weathers, I don’t want to run at all.  Only two weather conditions will make me cancel a run: lightening and ice.  Learned those the hard way.  Nowadays I have a harder time running in summer heat than I ever did in storms.

In praise of tempests, I guess I should be noble and include a chat about how beneficial rain is to growing food, not to mention the beautiful green trees here. (Bill Murray, “…up there in the Pacific Northwest…” -first 15 seconds:)

But we are talking about joy and peace of mind rather than practical applications like pretty trees and good crops.

Joy and peace of mind. It is the reverse of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Away goes the sun, and suddenly we pluviophiles are electrified with energy, ideas, confidence, a sense of well being, and goodwill towards most everyone… even the sun lovers, who shake their heads at our joy and long for California.

 

P.S. What I knit when it’s too hot for a half a sweater on your lap. Fingerless mitts. 🙂

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P.P.S  It rained yesterday. 😀

 

 

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“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” -Love Story (that was a movie, for you younger readers). Well, it’s a ridiculous quote if you ask me. A person you love should be the first in line to receive your mea culpa if one is merited.  Nevertheless, what is unworthy of true love may actually make sense to blogging. So here is my non-apology for radio silence. Good lord, has it really been over 7 months?

 

The joy of my life since January has been… my new dog.  Sunny is a nine year old Border Collie whose former owner passed away.  A dear friend, who owns Sunny’s sister, introduced us and worked diligently to arrange the adoption. Running buddy, house protector, cat wrangler, and affectionate companion… these roles scarcely begin to represent how much he does for me and how deeply I adore him.

This adoption was a perfect example of that bumper sticker that reads “Who rescued who?” (Don’t you just want to get out a marker and add that “m”? Arg!) What a smart, sensitive, and helpful dog he is.  It was only after he had settled into my home and heart before my friend gave me his papers, and we discovered that Sunny is the grandson of a champion Border Collie named Stetson! We have no sheep in our HOA-controlled neighborhood, but Sunny’s smarts and intuition are daily proof of his heritage. It is as if he can read my mind sometimes.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny's bed.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny’s bed.

And now that I have a dog (drum roll please), I feel safe enough to run trails!  So much fun.  The peace and beauty of trails, and their strengthening effect on my legs have been such pleasure.  In spite of TWO bear encounters in the past month, I am as enthusiastic as ever.  It is therapy. It is the anti-treadmill.

 

My greatest accomplishment of my life, the raising and homeschooling of my daughter, is nearly finished.  This past school year (her junior year) has been busy and fulfilling.  If you do not know much about homeschooling, let me just mention that nowadays there are so many people doing it, so much curriculum to choose from, and so many opportunities for educational experiences, that only a part of the business gets done at home.  It really should be called “home-based instruction,” which is in fact what the state of Washington calls it. Yes, we do let our kids out of the house!  (I know that is the number one misconception of homeschooling, the S word.) Anyway, we have one more year to teach, facilitate, guide and support her at home. What a privilege.

 

And in the world of harp… oh my, yes – it is a harp blog. OK. For some reason, I always think this is the least interesting topic that I talk about.  I practice, I perform. I teach a bit.  Not much to say about it all.  I don’t talk about the zen mind required for plucking a perfect harmonic or the best way to make string ties because I can just see my non-harpist audience surfing away.  I don’t blog about my clients or the people I meet, in case it violates their privacy. But perhaps I should make more of an effort to include musical topics. We’ll see.

Nevertheless, since my last foray into Blog Land there has been one important development.  A new harp.

Pilgrim Clarsach

Pilgrim Clarsach

I long to avoid a lot of  blah-blah-blah about the how and the why of getting this new instrument, so I will just say that this is a replacement for my Thormahlen Swan, which is now for sale.  Details upon request. 😉  The new harp, a “Clarsach” made by Pilgrim Harps in England, has a lovely, very Celtic tone, perfect for the Scottish music I play.  This model was originally designed for Derek Bell of the Chieftains, though it has undergone a few minor revisions.

I will be playing this new harp at the Skagit Valley Highland Games on July 12 at 10:25 AM.

I still play at the Black Dog in Snoqualmie every Second Sunday (mostly on my pedal harp, but occasionally on the Celtic harp). That is a brunch performance, 10:30 to noon, and all proceeds still go to Pasado’s Safe Haven Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. I will continue to appear through October, then I plan to take a break from this gig until next spring.

Music I have been working on lately: Medley of tunes from the film Titanic, When You Wish Upon a Star, Glenlivet, Flowers of the Forest, and Beauty and the Beast (for a wedding client).

My great, mysterious challenge and goal for the remainder of 2014: make more YouTube videos of my music! Great, because it would be so helpful for my clients, and mysterious because I cannot figure out why I’m stuck and not doing it!

For now, cheers!

We love those trails!

We love those trails!

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Did you know that it kinda hurts if you walk around grinning for too long?  Oh well. I can take it.

Things move fast in L.A.  Last week I blogged about Vinnie Tortorich’s podcast, and today I am on the show!  http://vinnietortorich.com/2013/10/angriest-trainer-191-cynthia-kuni-bs-fitness-devices/

That’s two separate topics, by the way: 1) cynthia-kuni and 2) bs-fitness-devices. I am the last person you’d want to interview about bs fitness devices, unless you just want to listen to growling.

It was a great experience — so much fun!  Vinnie and Anna are hilarious and they were both so nice.  I am really better at writing than speaking, so I am thrilled that I did not (I think) say anything stupid.  I enjoyed their questions, their banter, Anna’s Bart Simpson Squirrel imitation, and their sincere interest in my little life.  I had a blast!

As promised, part of my follow-up is to recommend Vinnie Tortorich’s book, Fitness Confidential.  A combination of fitness wisdom and autobiography, it is a fun and informative read. Also, I pretty much love any book that makes me laugh out loud.  Fitness Confidential is very different from other fitness books because Vinnie Tortorich is so different. The life he has led and his experiences are unlike anyone else.  Get the book!  🙂

 

For anyone who noticed I was preparing for a marathon all summer, I have a follow-up on that too: “Discretion is the better part of valor.”  I reported in September that my long runs were not going very well, and that I thought it might be the unusual heat we’ve had this summer.   A week later a had a pretty horrible long run in fairly cool conditions.  I am insanely optimistic sometimes, but I am not insane.

Facing reality, I switched to the Half Marathon.  That was the slowest half I have ever run, which made me think, “good call.”  On the other hand, I ran hard, and did very well from an Effort point of view. I passed runners continuously after mile 5 and pushed myself hard enough to still be sore today, three days later.  My two main requirements for an event are 1) have fun and 2) finish strong (on the same day I started).  Check, check.

I now have a special message from the part of my brain that is dedicated to full-time worrying.  Someone is going to read about my running “problem,” or hear me discuss it on Vinnie’s podcast, and they are going to say, “Oh, see? You lose the carbs and your endurance falls apart.”  That is what we call a Belief Based Solely On Wishing.  I have been low-carb for much longer than I have been experiencing a problem.  There is too much personal information for me to try to express what I think is happening, so let me just share my last six marathon finish times with you.   Eating gels and sugar:   4:38,  4:48,   4:21.  Eating nothing:  4:21,   4:25,   4:21.  I believe this is the part where Vinnie would say, “So go f—  ”  I mean, “Have a nice day.”

Next up, Seattle Marathon?  I might be ready, I might not.  But my half-m gave me a lot of motivation and Vinnie & Anna inspire me and keep me smiling.

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We interrupt our regular Harpist’s Output of Sweetness & Light to bring you:

  • explicit language
  • unpleasant truths about what you probably ate for breakfast
  • an unpopular point of view on exercise
  • stuff I like about one guy who is saying what I already knew but with more blushing (me, not him)
  • lots of bullet point lists, exclamation points and italics! Sound fun? Let’s go!

The Background:  I’m not sure I have ever mentioned this, but I have strong opinions about what I eat.  I switched to the Paleo Diet in 2006 and added low-carb to it a couple of years after that.  The benefits I have experienced from this switch could take up an entire post. “Eat this way!” is at the top of the list of things I would tell my 18 year old self if I could go back in time.

I will admit that I have not been completely faithful, because you do not walk away from decades of consuming something more addictive than cocaine overnight.  I struggle. I fall and get up again. But I have no doubts.  Like Gary Taubes says, “Just because it took me 19 years to give up smoking doesn’t mean the body ‘needs’ cigarettes.”

The Discovery: So there I was, Low-Carb Paleo True Believer, running down the street while listening to podcasts, and I hear this guy, Vinnie Tortorich being interviewed.  To be honest, my first reaction was not positive. His macho-Italian voice made me think unkind thoughts.  But everything he said was brilliant and I soon shed the prejudice.

Another day, another run, another interview on a different podcast I like – there he is again!  This time I’m listening well right from the start… more good advice and sound reasoning.  Now, I spend a lot of hours running (yes, without sugar), and I am always interested in new books or podcasts to occupy my mind.  That afternoon I subscribed to Vinnie’s podcast and downloaded a number of the older episodes as well.

Before I continue, if you are sensitive to bad language, crude and vulgar jokes or you’re just easily offended in general, this is not a show you will enjoy. Or a blog post for that matter.  Don’t apologize; I respect your sensibilities and often feel that way myself.  Stick with Jimmy Moore or Robb Wolf  and you will get a lot of the same information without the hot sauce.

I often want to swear and tell people off myself.  But I was raised to be a lady.  By the way, it is said that one of the foulest mouths belonged to one of the world’s finest harpists ever, Alice Chalifoux.  I sat across from her during lunch at a conference once and heard her refer to a group of people as “those bastards.” Mild, for her I’m told. She was in her 80s at the time.

Getting mad: Vinnie (may I call you Vinnie, Mr. Tortorich?) is  “American’s Angriest Trainer.”  He calls himself that because “your good intentions have been stolen from you.” So true.  Ask me about an entire year spent being hungry every day on Weight Watchers, long ago.  Or the fat I gained trying to eat like Ornish.  Or the “cheat foods” I tried to work off by running.  I had good intentions too.

Vinnie rants a lot.  Honestly, I love the rants…  Biggest Loser starvation nonsense, clueless “trainers” at gyms, the tip jars at Starbucks, and whatever pisses him off — I love it.  The INTJ in me craves truth and justice, and I sometimes wish I could say “go fuck yourself!” like Vinnie does, but for the aforementioned lady-like upbringing.   Vicarious venting, that’s what it is.

Anna: Anna Vocino, Vinnie’s cohost,  gets me laughing so hard with her vocal impressions (she does a great Paula Deen).  She contributes in so many ways, keeps Vinnie on track (or tries to), and looks up information on the fly during their discussions.  And how cool is it that her name is “Vocino?” Doesn’t that mean “shout” in Italian? Go, Anna!

Content: Vinnie knows his stuff — except for the moments when Anna has to look it up.  Just kidding – he is a well-educated man and has decades of experience coaching people.  But unlike 99.9% of the coaches you meet, he questioned the low-fat, low-calorie paradigm, that monster born of the McGovern commission’s decision to put wheat profits above human health in the early 70s.  Vinnie was taught that dogma, but he eventually questioned it, and he embraced an unpopular truth – with bared teeth.  There is a great value in the polite, scientific voices you will see in my bibliography, but Vinnie is the first bulldog, in-your-face, you-wanna-piece-of-me? warrior for the cause.  Bravo.

By the way, if you are scratching your head over that reference to McGovern, take a moment to watch this:

Here are some of the things you will learn about on Vinnie’s show.  If you just want read about these things without the vitriol, see the bibliography at the end of this post.

  • Successful weight loss will come from 95% diet, 5% exercise.
  • Avoid sugar and avoid grains. (Personally I also avoid potatoes, legumes and other high-carb foods, but most people will experience a dramatic change in their health if they only do these 2 things.)
  • “Put life into living.”  Occasion treats will not harm you if they are really occasional.  Total deprivation doesn’t work well for most people.
  • You cannot undo the damage of whack-load of sugar with an hour or two at the gym. Hormones (insulin, leptin, ghrelin) rule.
  • Cutting carbs is important, but what people really have a hard time accepting is increasing the fat in their diets.  Not seed oils.  Olive oil and saturated fat (especially from pastured animals) are good for you.  The cholesterol theory of heart disease is founded on politics and economics, not science.
  • There are no fitness shortcuts.  No gadgets, no 20-min-a-week programs, no pills that will make a lasting difference to your fitness.
  • Sometimes people aren’t right about fitness. They just seem right because they are young, or “naturally thin.” Ask yourself whom they have helped and how long the help lasted.
  • There are right and wrong reasons to exercise.  Which reason you choose is going to determine your success.
  • Juice is worse than soda. Don’t make it, don’t buy it, don’t drink it.
  • Skinny does not equal healthy.
  • Getting older is no excuse for poor fitness.
  • A “cheat day” is a bad idea, if you haven’t already figured that out.
  • Olive oil, yes. Energy gels, no.
  • A very small percentage of the population can sustain an extremely-low-calorie diet for life. Very small.

Connections:  Vinnie, on the off chance you ever read this, I want to explain the real reason I love your show (besides the ranting) and eventually came to feel like you were a close personal friend: connections.  (Yes, more bullet points!)

  • Los Angeles – I love hearing you mention places in LA, around where I grew up. Not that I ever want to live there again!
  • You are an endurance athlete. I’m not sure if you know this, but among the Paleo-diet crowd there is sometimes a bit of an anti-cardio attitude.  They call it “chronic cardio” and blame various health issues on running, while completely ignoring the fact that the running culture is a sugar culture.  Although you are not advocating the Paleo diet, what you say is pretty close, and I am always so happy to see those two worlds “collide.”
  • You are over 50! I am over 50!  [Insert secret handshake here.]   How many role models can I look to for inspiration, when it comes to staying fit and feeling younger than my years? Damn few.
  • Ok, this one is just jaw dropping to me.  You talked about Dr. Sarno’s book on your show.  Nobody talks about Dr. Sarno!  I even stopped mentioning him to people because I got tired of being unjustly pitied as some kind of quack-follower.  Someday I’m going to write a blog post about my experience with TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome), but for now let me just say that this information saved my running and changed my life.  It is real and true.  I am living proof.
  • You are friends with Genie Francis!   No, I am not also friends with Genie Francis.  But long ago, for a short time in my life, I was her double.  I lived in West Hollywood, and I could not go anywhere without someone asking me for an autograph.  In spite of repeated correction, the two elderly Russian women next door ambushed me almost every time I came out of my apartment. They would take my hands and pat them and gaze at me, smiling, muttering to each other in Russian.  “I’m not Genie Francis.”  “Yah, yah…”

Here are some pictures. You be the judge. And tell Genie “Hi” from me.

A younger me, looking like Genie Francis

A younger me, looking like Genie Francis

Young Genie Francis, looking like me

Young Genie Francis, looking like me

You can find Vinnie’s podcast on iTunes under “Vinnie Tortorich”, or at his website: www.vinnietortorich.com

Almost forgot the promised bibliography!  I have decided to borrow one, which you will find here, because 1) it has a lot of the books I would have listed, and 2) he has a really cool site you ought to see.     Update, December 2016… I see my link no longer works. I have written a new bibliography in this 2016 blog post which you will find at the very bottom of the post.

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“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
-Alice in Wonderland.

I have little use for the impossible, being a very practical sort of person. And six is a difficult number when what you are counting might flutter by only every 15 minutes or so, over the course of hours.

So I count Five Beautiful Things sometimes. Mostly, I count them when I am running.  It is a marvelous distraction from ugly things (trash), annoying things (bad drivers, off-leash dogs), and discouraging things (“When will this summer heat ever end?”).

Wow. This really makes me sound like a new-age, lavender scented, dance-in-the-meadows kind of dreamer. Which I am not.  I like to rant and I hold grudges. I get very cranky about all kinds of things. Sometimes I laugh out loud at perverse or dark humor.  (To wit, have you listened to Welcome To Nightvale? It’s Twilight Zone meets Monty Python. So funny. )

But I have a very restless mind, and sometimes it likes the challenge of a counting game.  Moreover, there is a sort possessive urge in me to put things on lists.  For instance, if I list:  mist in a forest, orange tabby cat sitting on a white fence, Mt. Si with new snow, trellis with vines, pink cloud… I feel like I own them in a way.   And dammit, it feels nice. Who couldn’t use a little more Nice in their lives?

Pink Cloud

Number 5, a pink cloud.

UPDATES

Harp at the Black Dog went really well.  Knowing I was playing for a cause energized me and changed the way I was playing.  If you live in the area, I’ll be there every 2nd Sunday, 10:30-noon to raise money for animal rescue and shelter.

Fundraiser at The Black Dog

 

Knitting – Feels like I’m stuck in the mud.  I make progress, but there are too many projects on the needles! (Three cardigans, two pair socks, and a lace shawl.)  Unable (or unwilling) to set some aside and just finish a project, I rotate through them, changing every week.  Never again, Cynthia!  Bad, bad, bad!  Limits and boundaries are your friend! Here it is in writing in case I need to refer back: ONE stockinette project, ONE lace, texture or color-work project, and ONE pair of socks. That’s what I can handle.  Sheesh, what was I thinking?

Running – In spite of the hottest, most humid summer I can remember as a runner, I have stuck to my marathon plan fairly closely. I am not 100% sure that has been a healthy thing to do.  There have been long runs when I really felt ill from the heat but forced myself to finish. I hate that, because I cannot get a good idea of my real fitness when I feel that bad.  My last really long run before Marathon Day is this weekend, then we’ll see in two weeks. I might really be in miserable shape, or I might find it was all an illusion if the weather cools off on race day.

 

 

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I cannot believe it is only the beginning of August.  I think I might wonder at this every year, but it might be like childbirth — you just forget.

With all the lovely grey (no sarcasm – I really like it) that is our Normal Weather, it just seems impossible that a whole month of sunshine was just the beginning of summer, and that we have more to come.  Such weather was also a metaphor for busy times in July…  we have a lot more summer to go!

Here are some photo highlights from the past month….

 

Mt. Rainier from Snoqualmie neighborhood. One clear day after another…. is this my world?

One of many abandoned train tunnels on the Iron Goat Trail. By going both directions on the trail and doubling back, we got 14 miles out of it.

IMG_2776

Mr. K was awesome – though not a runner these days, he jogged-with-walk-breaks the whole 14 miles with me, even after falling and scraping up his elbow and leg. You can see the abrasion in this picture.

 

I enjoyed participating in the “Harper’s Circle” at the Enumclaw Highland Games, the one time/place all month where I actually got cold. (You can see me shivering on the far left in the picture.) It was so much fun that I think I will do more of these next summer (we have several Scottish Highland Games in this area), but I will bring along some good Scottish wool! I had such a cute outfit on too – and had to cover it all with one of my husband’s “emergency sweatshirts” from the back of his car. Sigh.

 

 

In the midst of having family visitors from out of town, we scrambled to get a couple of beds ready for our close friends who live a stone’s throw from the Mt. Si fire that broke out in late July. It was a close call, but they were able to stay in their home after all.

 

 

I brought my smaller harp on a 2 day getaway to The Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort in Leavenworth WA. One of the most peaceful spots on earth.

 

There are two videos up this week on YouTube, and I hope to post more in the next couple of weeks.  Please subscribe to my channel, HarpMyDay, if you would like to see updates.

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You have probably heard it before… Which weighs more, a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers?  This trick question (a ton is a ton, so they weigh equally) takes on a grim angle when it is a metaphor for life.  All those light, fluffy, snow-white obligations can pile up fast, and before you know it you are wishing you had just picked one plain old brick to carry on your shoulders.

It is wedding season, and we are feeling it!  Brides, I know some of you are contemplating elopement (and possibly subsequent life as a hermit) about now, but hang in there!  Take some time to relax every day and try to laugh as much as possible.  Maybe this will help:

 

My ton of feathers this month includes 1) a completely new set of strings (new brand, for me) on my Celtic harp that are not working out as expected – and of course my contact at the company who is helping me figure it out has gone to Scotland for a two weeks. And  2) we are replacing the carpet in my harp studio with a wood-laminate floor. All the furniture and harps have to be moved out and physical chaos reigns. Thank goodness it’s temporary.

 

In running news

I continue to build mileage for my fall marathon.  Most programs take a runner up to 20 miles, but I learned long ago that I need more than that.  In fact, I prefer to keep my 20 milers going year-round, and increase to 22, 23, and 24 in the last 6 weeks of training.  Last week, as the weather was heating up I headed out for my 20 miler.  I knew it would be tough; I don’t “do heat.”  I’m lucky if I can avoid getting nauseous while running when the mercury goes over 70F.

So I was darn proud to be chugging along just fine — albeit slowly — in 75F and bright sunshine, 10 miles from home.  Only it wasn’t 10 miles.  Thank you, Hot Weather, for turning the part of my brain that does math into mush.  I mis-calculated my route and ended up with 21.3 miles total, and an excuse to spend the rest of the day on my…

www.someecards.com

 

 

Good luck with all your summer plans, bridal or other, and watch out for those feathers!

White peacock

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I feel like the Grinch in Ron Howard’s movie, wondering if he should go to the Cheermeister festivities: “yes! no! yes! no! yes!no!yes!no!yes!no! –aaarrrgh!”  — as the dog pulls the cord to the chute under Grinch’s feet.   So, at least for now, I’m back in the slippery chute of blogging.  Whether I will survive the Chair of Cheer is yet to be seen.

cheermeister

When last we left our harpist-blogger, she was fed up with the time-sucking vortex of all things Social Media and needed a break.  The thing is, I keep thinking of blog topics, and I miss writing.

Besides the time-sucking thing, there is also a nagging issue in my mind about topics: this is “supposed to be a harp blog.”  I’m afraid it really is destined to be more like a variety show.  So the blog will have to continue to include news about my running, my knitting, the weather, and my endless, strong opinions about food, the economy, children’s rights, and other stuff that very well may piss you off.  Sorry.

Let’s talk about what I’ve been up to.

  • Parenting/homeschooling: It’s awesome, rewarding, worth every minute. I would talk more about this but must respect my daughter’s privacy. (How many of us would have liked our mother to blog every detail of our teenage life? Right.)
  • Running: I am building up my long runs and it is going well. I’m up to 20 miles now, with a goal of 24 before my fall marathon (yes! I’m finally doing another marathon after a 3 year hiatus).
  • Knitting: The sweater drafting experience has been very successful. I’m flying solo now, having completed my lessons and my learning projects.  On the drafting table: yet another plain, British-looking cardigan (can’t have too many). On the needles: 2 pairs of socks, a scarf, a fair isle sweater, and a pullover.  More on these in a future post. 🙂
  • Music: the 2013 Memorization Project is proceeding slowly; I have committed only 3 pieces of my repertoire to memory since January, but they are pretty solid! (Sheep May Safely Graze; Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered; and Ashokan Farewell) There is a Bach Andante that is giving me grief (to memorize), but Dawn (from Pride & Prejudice) is sounding good.  I really hope to make some more YouTube videos this summer. For me filming is a bit like cleaning the garage – so hard, but so rewarding.
  • Also in harp news…

As resurrections go, The Bramble Band does pretty well. This is the now-defunct Scottish Country Dance band in which I met my husband, back in the 80s. Somehow, we manage to pull together enough band members once or twice a year to play for a function.  Last weekend the corpse was revived once again for the Northwest Folklife Festival, in which we played for a dance session.  Someone took this picture of us:

bramble band folklife 2013

To prove that this is an actual resurrection, I would like to point out that you cannot see any clear faces except the ghostly reflection of our pianist on the piano… The stuff of Poe, don’t you think?

With all the music and excitement of the festival, I managed to come home with only one poor photo of… baskets.  I get a bit overwhelmed in big crowds.

baskets

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This is my absolute favorite time of year.  Now that the interminable curse of dry weather has lifted, the fall colors really shine. I read once that filmmakers prefer a grey sky for vibrant colors.  I heartily agree.

I normally do not go into the woods alone; I run with friends if I want trails. But today there were so many people out and about, and so many of them disappearing into the trailheads, that I decided to venture in myself.  The main trouble is bears (see my previous post on this).  Remembering a friend who always wore a “bear bell” on trails to warn bears of her approach, I clipped my house keys to my zipper pull and bravely jingled forth!

“I thought you were a dog,” said an elderly woman whom I passed along the trail.  I will try to take that in a good way.

Anyway, it was gorgeous.

Here is the view from one of the little paved trails I explored.

Gentle, light showers, beautiful colors… trail running is just fabulous in October.  I tried a few trails on Snoqualmie Ridge  I’ve never run before and had a marvelous time.

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Watching the Summer Olympics — every four years, whether I need it or not!  By the way, does Bob Costas ever age?  Nine Olympics and he still looks pretty much the same as he used to.  It’s another possible alien sighting.

Anyway, I was getting all worked up about the Women’s Olympic Marathon being broadcast at 3 AM, mentally composing my hate mail to NBC and such.  A friend informed me, however, that all events are broadcast live on the weekends. So never mind, NBC. We’re good.  Or at least ok.*

Three favorite things about watching the Olympics:

1. Having a good cry with the victors. Gabby Douglas of course, with her leaving home to train at such a young age, gets me every time. And  Farah embracing Rupp after the Men’s 10K — from competing countries, yet training partners — I just came apart.

Winthrop Marathon 2010… slow but inspired

2. Inspiration.  As a relatively slow runner, I can sometimes be pretty hard on myself.   For some reason, watching Greatness makes me feel better — I would have guessed it worked the other way around. But I am totally inspired during the Olympics, both as a runner and as a musician. Preparing for a performance has a lot in common with preparing for a race. Furthermore, the personal, day to day enjoyment of a beloved sport is similar to that of making music.

3. Background stories.  I love hearing about how elite athletes were raised, how they trained, and what their families are like.  And what they look like without a swim cap on.

*Three make-me-crazy annoying things about watching the Olympics: 

Talented cat, Edward, has a good ear

1. Who is mixing the sound?  Helen Keller?  My cat could do better.  Whenever the crowd cheers, the announcers are almost completely drowned out.

2. Announcers saying stupid things just to keep the banter going, and not doing more homework to add substance to the commentary.  “She is going to have to really focus now in order to concentrate on what she needs to get done.”  Gosh.  You really got inside her head.  Thanks for that.

3. Nationalism. By that I don’t mean Patriotism, but Nationalism in the sense of “we’re better than you, not by merit but by geography.”  I do like seeing an American athlete win a medal. But I do not like hearing “U-S-A!” chanted while the game is still in progress. Maybe it is because we are such a powerful country, but to me the chanting just smacks of pitchforks and torches.  And I don’t like the “medal count” at the end of each day.  It seems unsportsmanlike.

(Caution, awkward segues ahead.)

Speaking of the Olympics Men’s 10K… I was sorry that Dathan Ritzenhein had a little trouble with his strategy.  Dathan and I are very old friends, and by that I mean I lined up to have my picture taken with him and my friend, Bonnie, at the Eugene Marathon expo in 2009.

Me and Bonnie and Ritz, Eugene 2009

You can get your picture taken with just about anybody if you want to.  (Watch me connect this now. It’s going to be brilliant. Awkward, but brilliant.)   You know…  the aforementioned Galen Rupp and Mo Farah trained together in Oregon under Alberto Salazar.  Salazar got famous by nearly killing himself winning marathons in the 70s and early 80s, and by his “Duel in the Sun” with Dick Beardsley.  And here I am with Dick Beardsley at the Napa Marathon expo in 2010!

With Dick Beardsley at Napa Marathon 2010

Who needs six degrees of separation?  Cameras are everywhere, people can email pretty nice photos to you in seconds, and famous runners are very nice about putting an arm around your shoulder and posing like y’all go way back.

It is not just famous runners you can cozy up to on the ol’ Kodachrome.  Last night at my Tower Club gig with the Blue Angels (“Make Air Shows, Not War” –Ok, that’s my slogan for them; they haven’t adopted it yet.) …as I was saying, at my gig a friend said to one of the pilots, “Get a picture with the harpist!” Oh yeah. A nice addition to my collection.

Capt. John Hecker, Blue Angels pilot, poses with me and my harp

A closing word about an unsung hero… In the first photo of this post, I am running by a gentleman with a pirate bandana on his head, and finally catching up to him.  He went out a lot faster than I did and it took me a several miles to catch him.  His name is Keith Wood, and he began running marathons at age 72. He was the oldest runner at the Boston Marathon this year.  At the Winthrop Marathon, he and I were seat mates on the bus going up to the start area. I told him on the bus that I recognized him from a lot of my races.  He encouraged me very much during our talk, and I am as proud to be seen with him in that photo as I am of all the others.

Beardsley and Salazar – Duel In The Sun:

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Once again, my hopes of living in a perfect, risk-free world are dashed.  Recent events have confirmed that I am not, precisely speaking, safe when I go out running.

We were watching a documentary about lions, one scene of which showed this poor African guy’s scars from a lion attack.  I thought, “Wow, good thing we don’t live there!”  That’s when the Great Cosmic Whap of Truth hit me in the head.  “Cougars” =  “Mountain Lions.”  Mountain Lions.   

Now, you can tell me over and over how few people in the US have been attacked (“and even fewer killed!” – big smile) by cougars in the past 50 years, or 100 years, or whatever little statistic you want to trot out.  But I’m not buying it.

Do not feed on runners, lion!

Here is my logic. Cougars like to chase down stuff that runs.  I run.  I run where cougars have been sighted.

At a wildlife lecture a few years back, a cougar specialist explained that if you have spent a fair amount of time hiking, biking or running in the woods around here, even if you’ve never seen a cougar, you “can be sure a cougar has seen you.”  I still get chills up my spine at the memory of his slide show, where we were repeatedly challenged to “find the cougar” in the photo of seemingly deserted woods. No one could, until he pointed it out, hiding, watching, staring into the camera.

At Northwest Trek, a marker high up on a tree shows the point from which a cougar can jump down on prey. It was damn high, certainly out of my peripheral vision range.

And then there is The Snoqualmie Bear Problem.  At a community meeting I attended last week, the main message was about garbage being left out, and about the new law where you can get a ticket for “unintentional feeding” of bears.  If I am found lying half-eaten on the trail, I hope they will let me off with just a warning.

Actually I’m not as frightened of the bears as I am of the lions, but I have had some close encounters.  Early one morning while running, I was about to enter a narrow, public pathway that cuts between two houses and leads into a little greenbelt. A very nice lady with a towel on her head came out of her house and yelled, “Don’t go in there! There is a bear!”  Ah. That would explain the garbage strewn all over the street.

The poo of Pooh.

Since bears cannot hide as well as cougars, and cannot jump down on me from the highest branch of a Douglas Fir, I tend to be a little less nervous about them. But I do think about them a lot, especially in winter when I’m running in the dark, early mornings.  I always look for trash cans overturned and listen for rustling in the bushes.  If I’m on a trail, I notice droppings and I keep my ears open.

Speaking of early mornings, I have a request.  Please don’t get behind the wheel of a car while you are still asleep.  I’m “only human” too, and I am sure I’ve been a crappy driver on more than one occasion, so I’ll try to make this civil…  Just because it’s dark-o-clock-early and you feel like you are alone on the road, there are actually other people using this asphalt.  See those miniature people lined up on the corner? Those are called “school children waiting for the bus” and here come some more, trying to cross in front of your speeding car in a 20 mph zone.

Now, listen carefully, because this part seems to be really hard for most drivers to understand…  When you turn right, it’s not enough to stop at that stop sign and look to your left.  I know, I know – what could possibly be coming from the right?  Well, me, actually.  Over the years, I could have been hit by cars at least a dozen times because of the nothing-could-possibly-come-from-the-right syndrome.  But fortunately, when I go out, I am awake.

It turns out that after all my fears and precautions, one of the most immediate dangers I face is: my own feet. This past weekend, after getting through fifteen miles without being attacked, eaten, or hit by a car,  I caught my toe on a bump in the sidewalk, just two blocks from home, and went down.  So, no risk-free world after all.

Snoqualmie Valley Trail

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Can someone please explain this to me?

Here we have a normal pedestrian crossing button that I often pass on my morning runs. A normal button at a normal level.  And a second button, for… trolls? People who ride those really tall unicycles? Bears? I actually did see a bear crossing this road once, but she wasn’t in the crosswalk.

I just know this is going to turn out to be something so obvious. Common knowledge. And I’m going to feel like a total ding-dong for even asking.  That’s ok. Tell me anyway. I will just be so glad to not feel that creepy being-watched-by-something-large-and-sinister-in-the-woods feeling every time I’m waiting for that walk sign.

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