Thursday, February 24, 2011

How to survive an MRI

So, after the doctor's threat of putting me in a boot, I immediately called up the imaging place for an MRI. Talk about motivation! I was supposed to go in yesterday morning at 7:00 am, but then my lovely insurance company refused to authorize the procedure. Awesome. It totally pissed me off, but there is not much that a lowly citizen can do. So, there was much back and forth between the insurance company, the imaging place and the podiatrist (who was really great). Final approval came through in the afternoon, so I ended up having the MRI done early yesterday evening.
I would like to say that it's a fun experience, but it's not. While it doesn't necessarily cause pain, the space-age experience still weirds me out a bit. I consider myself almost a pro since I've now had 3 MRIs in the past 8 years or so, 2 in the past two! That would seem to attest to my accident-prone lifestyle. HA. Fortunately I've never had to go totally into the 'tube' or whatever the contraption is called since they've only scanned my leg/foot area, but it very much reminds me of the wonders of modern medicine AND of my mortality - especially after reading up on MRIs and their various uses. Sorry for the existential commentary. The other thought/image that often crosses my mind is of Sigourney Weaver from the "Alien" series. Being shut off in a room that uses magnetic force/waves to see INTO my body seems so sci-fi to me. It makes me feel as though I'm in a spaceship instead of in comfortable and well-heeled Pasadena! Despite worrying about whether an alien was going to jump out at me at any minute, the hardest part of the experience was keeping my foot absolutely still, following specific instructions. Why is it that as soon as you can't move or scratch something, all you can do is think about it moving?!
One fun detail from this time, since my head wasn't going into the scanner, they offered up headphones so I could listen to music. I opted for jazz, for an unknown reason since I hardly consider myself an aficionada. I discovered that Miles Davis and MRIs go well together and would recommend that selection to anyone else who will be going through with that experience! The other strange and kind of cool realization - I just laid there for 30 minutes, listening to jazz and also the weird machinery sounds as it scanned my foot, thinking about recent Cortázar and Borges stories that I'd taught to my AP Lit students, and then my brain wandered to a variety of topics. Maybe I should get a brain scan next time? Or just take more time during my day to sit still and not do anything at all? I always think that I have a need to be constantly moving, but perhaps a dose of conscientious sitting around would do me some good?
I don't have detailed results from the MRI - the doctor did call me this afternoon but I missed his call. He informed me that the results revealed extensive inflammation of the bone, heavy emphasis on the adjective 'extensive' on his part, but no fracture! So, not GREAT news, but not terrible news either. I am actually feeling a bit like a wuss - like I should just get over the fact that my bone is swollen. I'm crazy, I know. Anyway, I'll find out more details tomorrow when I talk to him. Until then, I will keep my fingers crossed that he doesn't expect/demand that I wear a boot. Anything but the boot!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The good and the bad

Snow in Los Angeles:

Not the best photos out there, but hopefully the snow-covered mountains are more or less obvious. The top photo was the view out of our front door on Sunday morning - super crazy! Most of the snow has melted off by now, but there are still some patches. It's always a surreal experience when it snows in LA - or it is to me. I do wish that I could have explored and played in the snow. No luck. Maybe next time?
The other positive - Awesome bike ride yesterday afternoon. The weather was a little chilly for a southern CA afternoon, but I geared up for the ride (and looked like a total dork!). Because of the holiday, there weren't many cars on the streets, and it felt great to be out.
Finally, the negative, as in "the bad". After the awesome bike ride, I went to the podiatrist who confirmed nothing about my foot except that it is either a stress fracture or a bruised bone. His first comment when he examined my foot actually had nothing to do with the stress fracture but with my bunion. Yes, I have a bunion! I will deal with it eventually. Back to the stress fracture/bruised bone - neither diagnosis is a surprise, but he/the doc has ordered an MRI for me so that we (or he) can be sure that it's a fracture. I hesitated when he told me that he wanted me to get an MRI, but then he threatened me with a boot immediately and I meekly acquiesced. If I *have* to wear a boot, I'll do it, but I'd like to know for certain that it's a necessity.
So, I personally believe that I'm holding up very well, considering the fact that this injury feels like a huge setback to me. In the grand scheme of things, I recognize that this is a small detail, small potatoes, no biggie. I will admit that I'm frustrated and do feel the unfairness of a stress fracture. Along with a stir-crazy, I-want-to-get-outside type-of-a-feeling. And the fact that it is something so minor but not...
I'll keep my fingers crossed that the MRI will confirm that it's a bruised bone, but I'm not holding out too much hope.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The good, the bad, and the ugly

In Italian, that would be "Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo" and, yes, I am borrowing this phrase from that movie which is definitely worth seeing in my very humble opinion. "The Ugly" or "Tuco" played Eli Wallach (the middle guy here) definitely made the movie, but the tension between all of the characters makes it highly enjoyable.
I am not, however, here to promote movies of the Spaghetti Western variety but to break down my weekend into such reductionist terms.
Starting with "the good" - I've felt glowingly positive about the weekend. I did not touch papers or homework yesterday, which means that they will drift to the bad and maybe even the ugly before I return to school on Tuesday. Ah well, procrastination is part of teaching!
We had a lovely, social evening on Friday, braving the crappy weather and heading to Lotería Grill in Hollywood. As usual, the food and drinks did not disappoint! We had some very strong margaritas, and I ordered the huachinango (red snapper) which was excellent. We met up with a friend of Michael's from his New York days - they caught up on what had happened in the almost-five years since they had seen each other.
Yesterday was a rainy Saturday, so we decided to lay low. We did get out before the rain hit and did some shopping. As much as I hate Whole Foods, I also love it, and we did stop by to stock up on bulk items which were very economical. We also bought some shrimp for dinner which were not so economical, but they weren't outrageously expensive either. Our March "Food and Wine" offered several quick and healthy recipes, so we decided to try the Gingered Stir-Fry with Shrimp as pictured below - it definitely fit the quick and healthy definition, and we both agreed that the recipe is a keeper. We will make it again!

The final part of the "good": I signed up for a swim clinic today and for lessons the next few weekends. I am supposed to be in training for a triathlon, but I've felt trepidatious about the swim leg. So, I hoped that this clinic would jump-start my confidence and enthusiasm. While it did not transform my swimming, I actually did come out of the water with the sense that I was stronger and more efficient in my strokes and that I was using my legs more. The other bonus of the clinic - it was at the Rose Bowl Aquatics center which is AWESOME! I have been swimming laps at the gym pool which is overly chlorinated and stifling, but the Aquatics center is outside. I realized that looking at the sky makes ALL the difference.
Also, today I could see SNOW while I did some laps! Yes, snow! It was kind of trippy to see some snow while I was swimming in the pool. Because of the rain and the colder temperatures, snow fell at something like 2,000 feet last night. I woke up this morning and was going to let the dogs outside to pee, when I saw the snow-covered mountains out of our front door windows. It surprised me so much that I started to yell, which got Michael out of bed. We've been repeating all day "It's so amazing!". Every time the snow fall is low enough that we can see it from our dining room area, it makes living here seem pretty magical. This happens about once a year, so not too uncommon but it always comes as a surprise and a total treat. (Not so much fun was scraping the ice off the car)

Now, the "bad": I cannot shake the stupid cold that I've had for the past week. It hasn't completely taken me out of commission, but it continues to linger and to make me feel unmotivated and lethargic. Plus, it has impacted my sinuses, so I've struggled with headaches. Ugh. I know, I know... This is minor, but it is an annoyance.

Finally, the "ugly": I am having to recognize/accept that I have a stress fracture* in my foot and that it is NOT going to just heal within a week. I went for a run on Wednesday without pain, but then I pushed myself on Friday afternoon and the pain flared up in a major way. While I find this to be incredibly unfair (haven't I suffered enough issues?!), I am trying very hard to focus on the positive. I can still swim and bike, so this will force me to focus more on those two sports and gain strength, skill and confidence rather than depending so much on the running part of the race. If, of course, this injury doesn't heal within four weeks, I WILL rant about it.
A friend also recommended that I wear sensible shoes for the next week to work. Now, I don't normally wear heels to work and I think that most of my shoes do fall into the 'sensible shoes' category, but I think that she was suggesting a new low: Wearing athletic shoes to work.
Oh, the horror, the horror! And that truly would be "the ugly".

*I haven't been to the doctor yet for an official diagnosis, but based on all the information out there (on the interweb) and also from talking to a friend who has coached cross-country and track for over 20 years, a stress fracture seems most likely. Which isn't a big deal, not really, but this with the combination of other aches and pains and the stupid cold that I can't shake, I am feeling OLD.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February's not-so-low nadir

Okay, if this week is really the low point of my month, I can't complain about life! I am, however, feeling unfocused, unproductive and very stale in my classes. I've hit the point in the year with my AP class when I start to cram material into my students' brains rather than letting them absorb concepts such as verisimilitude and bildungsroman. Also, I start to count the days, and when I feel under-the-weather, like this week, I stress even more about the possibility of missing class.
So far, I am staying more or less healthy, thanks to the occasional anti-decongestant that keeps my head from exploding. I even managed a short and lame run at the gimnasio yesterday - the first time I'd run since my awesome (in my world) 10-k. After that event, my left foot swelled up and I had difficulty even walking without pain for a few days. I feared a stress fracture, took days off, and now the foot seems to be properly functioning. Haven't I suffered enough and done enough PT for the next five or ten years?!
But life *has* been busy. Somehow I ended up with after-hours work events Tuesday, Wednesday and tonight. Some of these took the form of sporting events (go team go!), but they still take time and energy. Last week, Michael and I managed to watch a few movies during the week, but there has been none of that these days!
Finally, I think that Michael and I "celebrated" our lamest V-Day ever. We've never fully embraced or indulged in the so-called holiday, but some years we do acknowledge its existence. This year, I made fried rice for us (with leftover rice, of course) and went to bed on the earlier side. I already used the adjective lame, but I'll say it again: LAME.
On the positive side, I tried to totally "nerd out" this week - saw Mike Brown, the author of "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming". I had heard him interviewed on NPR, and he was/is very funny. He is also a total nerd - amazingly so. I think that he tried to lecture to a lower-level intelligence such as mine, and I could follow, but this was all right before lunch, so I felt a bit distracted. Still, I had to chalk this up to being one of those great learning opportunities thanks to work.
Also, we are gearing up for a three-day weekend! It is supposed to rain tomorrow and Saturday, but if the Weather Channel is correct, the sun should shine on Sunday and Monday. We have dinner plans tomorrow at one of our favorite places in LA, plus I will be learning about swimming on Saturday and Sunday, and I plan to fit in a longish bike ride.
Swim, bike, run?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grateful for a lazy Sunday

So, we were supposed to meet up with some friends for brunch, but they ended up canceling on us. While I was disappointed that we couldn't catch up with them (they live about an hour away, but we all seem to have busy schedules, so I haven't seen them since August!), the entire day suddenly opened up. We opted not to run to the farmer's market but to laze around in bed, getting up at the VERY LATE hour of 8:00 am! I've putzed around the house today - grading, washing the dogs, will do some reading for pleasure later...
It struck me that we have kept a fast-pace life as of late and that this is the first entirely FREE weekend day that we've had for well over a month. That, I think, is pathetic. As a teacher, I am well aware of the dangers of over-scheduling students and of parents who cram their kids' schedules with practices, rehearsals, tutoring sessions, games... It is often a dizzying juggling act that these kids perform. I, on the other hand, assume that since we don't have kids, it is impossible for us to be overscheduled.
How wrong can I be? Between trips out of town, birthday celebrations, social engagements, school events and responsibilities, Michael taking classes and my training and trying to be somewhat in shape, we have been scheduled to the max. So, this weekend has offered us a welcome change of pace. I took Friday off from any sort of PT, running, swimming or biking, nor did I attend a single school sporting event. Yesterday was not so footloose and fancy-free as I attended a 5-hour bike clinic at a local REI from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. One of my goals/hopes/expectations in 2011 is to better understand my bike. I would also like to learn how to change an effing tire. The class did give me greater insight to my bike and how it works, but it did not teach me the mad skills that I need in case I blow out my tire. Sigh. I will have to watch some web tutorials, me thinks! Still, I found the class interesting, and it is SO good for me to be a student. It reminds me of my own students' daily experience and how exhausting learning is. And I was just learning about a bike, not multivariable calculus or the imperfect subjunctive!
So, that was yesterday. Today - nothing that I *have* to do. Total bliss.
Michael and I have taken advantage of the less-structured weekend by cooking a few not-standard dishes. I feel that we can get into a rut with our cooking where we just pull out one of the three Mark Bittman cookbooks that we have OR we just grill fish OR roast some vegetables. This weekend, I fully enjoyed some time in the kitchen. Friday, I made this pea and prosciutto risotto, substituting the prosciutto with pancetta which we had on hand and worked very nicely! Last night, Michael and I combined our mad talents and whipped up enchiladas with this awesome sauce. I give Michael full credit for our foray into Mexican sauces - he's been experimenting with green and red sauces and different chiles for the past few years and has had great success on many occasions. The best thing about both of these dishes - leftovers for the next few days (lunches and dinners this week)! Finally, I decided to get into the kitchen and bake yesterday, attempting red velvet cupcakes for the first time ever. They were based on this recipe from, and while I decided not to photograph the event or the final product, they ARE very tasty!
So, cheers to a lazy Sunday - I think I should plan more of these!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Things that I'm loving these days

First of all, tomorrow is Friday, so what about life isn't okay? I also have a list of gratitudes to share:
- One that is long over due - Michael was, as usual, pretty awesome about my birthday. He always scores great presents, taking note throughout the year of certain items that have caught my eye or fancy. This year was no exception, and one of my favorite presents are these über-cool earrings:

I think that they are so cool and fun - if you can't really see them, they are silver "diamond" stud earrings. These aren't exactly the ones that he gave me, but the idea is the same. Diamonds engraved on a silver stud. It's a fun twist on the classic diamond earrings. The whole riff on diamonds goes back to when we were dating and he gave me a plastic diamond ring - but a very cool, designy ring. Since then, I've actualy collected 3 more 'diamond' rings (that he has given them to me!), and I love wearing them. People think that I'm crazy, but they are so fun. I realize that some women might be pissed off if their boyfriend/husband/partner/lover gave them a plastic diamond ring, but you'll have to take my word on their total coolness.
Onto other news:
- We/I recently discovered Pandora, and I am kind of addicted. I particularly love the random music that comes up on the "Manu Chau" station.
- Obviously I celebrated with the rest of the country that Ben (the rapist) Roethlisberger did not carry his team to "glory". I can't say that I am a Green Bay fan, but I did root for them on Sunday.
- Also along the TV/Entertainment line, Michael and I saw "The Ghost Writer". Yes, I realize that I'm a hypocrite for rooting against Roethlisberger and condemning him for being a rapist, and then there is Roman Polanski... I also realize that this movie is over a year old. I'm behind the times. But, it was a THRILL of a movie! It made me realize that I've seen lots of shitty movies/shows recently. If you like thrillers/suspense, I highly recommend it.
- A friend from work and I are going to spinning classes together; today was the first time trying a real "studio", and I will say that I thoroughly appreciated the experience. The instructor was great, and I liked her choice of music (no Lady Gaga or other super "pop-y" songs at all!).
- Finally, this picture totally made me crack up - I always think that I look super intense when I run, but apparently I'm relaxed and barely beating the older guy behind me who is taking off his shirt!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Random musings on running

After taking so many years off from running due to a bad knee, I don't consider myself to be a 'runner', but I would also NEVER classify myself as a 'jogger'. Oooh, the horror, the horror! However, I wonder if it might be healthier for me to take a less dogmatic approach to the runner vs. jogger dichotomy. Maybe my body would thank me if I were a jogger and NOT a runner? Returning to somewhat high-intensity activity and running and "racing" has been constant theme on this blog (and in my life), but I question whether I should walk away when I'm ahead?
What has prompted this thought is that today I was supposed to run a half-marathon. After running several 10ks back in the fall, I exuberantly signed up for a trail half-marathon. The training went well, until the end of December, when I tweaked my knee (my bad one) playing the Xbox Kinect at my in-laws over Christmas. Seriously.
So, I took a full week of running off and then eased back into runs, knowing that a half-marathon was out of the question. That was especially true when the dance to which I had committed myself to chaperone changed dates and was the night before said half-marathon.
I chaperoned the dance last night, and all went swimmingly. I warned off a few students who seemed to be enjoying each other's bodies a bit too much on the dance floor, stayed until things were more or less cleaned up, and then crashed into bed around 12:15. This is NOT my ideal pre-race evening schedule. But I managed to wake up, roll out of bed, make a decent breakfast and cup of coffee and then head to the starting line. The one bonus of this particular race was that it was 5 minutes away from our house. The second bonus was that I knew the 'course' well - two loops around the Rose Bowl. And, the final kicker - it is/was super flat. Okay, there are a few VERY slight inclines, but nothing crazy. Based on that last fact, I had hoped to run a fast 10k, but then, as I warmed up and pretended to look really cool and like a "runner", I realized that I did not have my stopwatch and that they did not have timers around the course. Rather than feeling like a runner, I then felt like a rookie who would be walking the course.
Once we got started, I hit a nice stride - one loop done (yeah!), but I had no idea what my time was and everyone in the pack in which I was running cut off to the finish line for the 5K. So, I chugged along the second loop. It seemed like everyone else had finished, but I finally passed this one guy during mile 5 (I love passing people closer to the end!). The finish line was IN the Rose Bowl Stadium, which I experienced for the first time. It was anti-climactic, except that I saw that my unofficial time was one minute faster than my 'fastest' 10k!
Feeling triumphant, I got some water and a snack and then hobbled off to meet Michael, noticing that there were plenty of people still finishing the 10 AND 5K. Later, I checked my 'official' time which was sub 50 minutes! Just barely, but I was/am psyched! Despite all of the shitty factors that could have contributed to a less-than-stellar performance and my expectation to be disappointed, I managed to squeak below what has seemed like an impossible threshold for my running performance. Yeah, happy dance for a PR!
But there is a rub - or maybe many rubs.
First of all, as much as I would like for my next 10K to be sub 8-minute miles, I fear that I will begin to chase these shadows - these impossible goals that I cannot attain. That sounds too much like a quixotic exercise in futility. But maybe I just ran my personal best for a 10K forever? So, should I or could I be happy with this time and then accept that I really should be a jogger and NOT a runner?
The bigger issue that looms larger than the idea of futilely chasing times is the threat of injury. Seriously, I feel fine, no, great, while I run, but then afterwards, my foot, knee, muscles, leg all hurt. Today, I wondered how it was possible that I ran a decently fast 10k for me, but then I limp around the house all day and can't even walk properly? At what point does something that I truly enjoy become more of a bane than a boon?
I don't want to be a crazy running person who has trashed her body over the years, and yet I also wonder if I only have one or two more good years in me, should I just go all out?
Again, these are definitely random thoughts, but I wonder how other people deal with getting older, the body breaking down, and quitting (for a second or third time) an activity they love.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Yosemite trip report!

It's hard, if not impossible, to describe Yosemite better than John Muir or to capture it better than Ansel Adams, and certainly my experience and knowledge of the park and the area pale in comparison to theirs - and to some of those inspiring rock climbing pioneers like Yvon Chouinard or Royal Robbins! So, I will probably use some cliched expressions about how majestic and awe-inspiring it is, as I am dwarfed by their words, images and deeds. Still, I will try my best to narrate and share our weekend getaway to Yosemite, as paltry as it is.
I will give myself full credit for the planning. Back in November, I looked at our calendar, realized that I would have a few glorious days between semesters, and so I booked a few nights at Yosemite. I had been to Yosemite eight years before - back in January and April of 2003, but nothing since then. Michael had never been, so it seemed like a great idea. As we approached Yosemite valley from the south, I began to wonder - what if it isn't as beautiful as I remember? If those ubiquitous Yosemite photos tainted my memory, that the reality would lessen in beauty. As we drove through the Yosemite valley tunnel (or whatever it's called), and then pulled over to take in the scope of Yosemite valley with El Cap and Half-Dome filling our vision, I was reassured. Yes, we WERE in one of the most magical and beautiful places in the world.
The plan for the weekend - to enjoy one night of luxury and then follow it up with two days of outdoorsy adventure! Our first night, we stayed at Yosemite Lodge and ate at the Ahwahnee, feasting on red wine and red meat (fancy-schmancy!). On Friday, the outdoor adventures started - we went to Badger Pass, the ski "resort" in Yosemite. There must be all of 6 different runs, so we aren't talking Vail, Aspen, Mammoth or anything of that ilk. Despite the temptation to downhill, we opted for nordic skiing - there is a trail that is a great out-and-back. Well, "great" when the ski conditions are. While we enjoyed the milder conditions, they were not conducive to a perfect ski day since it was icy in some patches and almost slushy in others. Still, we skied about 5-6 miles and then ended the afternoon's adventures with french fries and beer. Fun times!

The next day, we decided to hang out in the Valley (of Yosemite), do an easy hike to see some of the falls, take a nap in our lovely "heated tent", rest and relax. The original plan for the day was to hike a mile or so up part of the Yosemite Falls trail. The trail, by the way, is one of Yosemite's oldest trails, built back in the 19th Century (1873-1877). Somehow, that first, low-key plan changed, not by conscious choice, rather we just continued past the lookout and hiked all the way up to the falls. This feat would normally be impossible in January, but the warmer temperatures that plagued our skiing played to our favor for the hike. Michael, apparently, expected me to demand that we turn around at some point, but by the time we hit snow fields, we were so seemingly so close to the top. Finally, about 3.5 miles and 2,700 feet UP later, we sat on a rock, rested, munched on bread, cheese and apples, and looked out on the scenery below and beyond us and felt much accomplished as we had hiked the trail leading up to the top of North America's tallest waterfall!
Mike on the way up:

Tired but happy:

The hike to the top of the falls was a challenge, but nothing in comparison to the even LOOONGGGER walk down. We walked straight off the trailhead and into the bar where we quaffed down a beer and scarfed down some chips and salsa. Later, we ate pizza and tucked into bed around 7:30 pm! We woke up Sunday to aching legs and a crazy winter storm, yet managed to leave the park on the early side. If I hadn't HAD to work on Monday, I would have happily played. Yosemite was beautiful with the fresh snow:

To close: "I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." (John Muir, of course!)