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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Do Go Chasing Waterfalls. REVISITED September 2018

(photo credit Rusty Glessner)
            Having time between semesters to regroup is always essential, but it really is making a difference for me now that this term is over with getting through all of my Parkinson’s / Lyme issues. In fact, my Lyme doctor was happy to see me in my ice hiking picture, when I followed up today to tell him I'm getting better, which is always a good thing.

            NOTE - for those people that aren't aware, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease a few weeks after my Parkinson's disease was confirmed. More information about that is HERE.

            I’ve been able to do something of consequence every day, and many days I’ve been out hiking. Some days, it has been simpler things like French Creek State Park with my friend Neil, or other local hikes like to Chickee’s Rock, the Ephrata Rails to Trails, and the Horseshoe Trail by myself. Obviously, there have been holidays in these last just about 2 weeks, but I’ve also had time to catch up on errands and spend time with my family as well, watching a great video on the history, archaeology, and nature of Conowingo Dam in northern Maryland. Tomorrow, my wife and I will leave for Ohio to go and see her family for the next 10 days before the winter term starts at one school. We’ll see a lot of her family, and I should be able to see a friend of mine in Michigan while also getting to do some hiking and writing.
            That’s the one thing that I haven’t done. Between final grades and blogging, I’ve done no work on my novels in progress or the one I want to write let alone editing of things I've already written. I guess I’ll have to put that on the list of things to do in the new year along with losing weight, eating healthy, and traveling to fun places while getting back in shape and continuing to work hard to be a better person.

            Fortunately, I have been hiking. Shaking the Lyme with mega doses of doxycycline has taken the knee pain away, so I’m trying to put the miles back on, and yesterday was no exception as I hiked with Rusty Glessner and Steve Rubano (2 amazing photographers in the nature game) back to the icy falls of Heberly Run, which is within the same general vicinity as Ricketts Glen State Park. Ricketts is a beautiful park, though in recent years, it’s gotten more and more crowded with people looking to partake in the 22 waterfalls over 10 feet. This used to be my favorite place to go in Pennsylvania, but over the years, it fell into a place I really like, but don’t visit much. 

I think I need to go back...

            For waterfalls, Pennsylvania has some great ones. The first waterfall at Glen Onoko (Chameleon Falls) is sweet with the right amount of water. So is the big waterfall at Hornbeck’s Creek / Indian Ladders in the Poconos. I haven’t been there since the first time since it’s a 3-hour haul to get there, and the trail was closed for ages due to hurricane damage. One of these days, I’ll get back up there and do all of the Poconos waterfalls again.

            There are a lot of good waterfalls in the Poconos of northeastern Pennsylvania. Dingman’s and Silverthread look sweet all year long as do the falls of George Child’s State Park. Bushkill is pay to visit, but it also boasts some nice waterfalls if you like yours at the center of an amusement park. Nevertheless, in Pennsylvania, my all-time favorite is Raymondskill’s final bottom drop. It’s not that the top isn’t good; it’s just that the bottom is great.

            Throughout the years, I’ve been to Heberly and the other waterfalls of State Gamelands 13 many times. The best part of this area is Sullivan Run, which is largely uncivilized. Sure, the established trail at Sullivan Falls allows for swimming, photography, and a minimum of injuries to people who are prone to accidents, but other than a pretty much dead road at the top, there is no trail through the waterfalls. Instead, a hiker goes through the creek. I love that idea, and the good Lord willing, I’m going back in next summer with my knock-off go pro to do as much of Jeff Mitchell’s Waterfall Wonderland as I possibly can.

            AUTHOR'S NOTE - my tremors, currently between management, are most likely going to keep me from that in the long term.

            But the key to that is having people to go in there with, and frankly, I couldn’t have winter hiked the Heberly trek with more knowledgeable and capable people than Rusty and Steve. Both of these guys work independently (i.e. set their own schedule at their own jobs) to pay the bills, so they have time to do what they really love, which is photography and hiking back to places to view. Between waterfalls, nature, and astronomy, one of them has probably taken a fantastic picture of it. As for me, a point and shoot kind of guy who gets some really good shots in really awesome places, I appreciate people who can make the average great photo into something awesome. In a world of competitive photographers looking to share their shots, and many of these are also awesome, I know that both of these guys will take their time to make their art fantastic, both at the site and in the studio.

(photo credit Steve Rubano)

            While I had never met Steve before, I had met Rusty before at the Kecksburg UFO festival, which was a really neat event in the middle of nowhere western Pennsylvania if you’re willing to acknowledge that this is your thing. Rusty and his wife, like my wife Heather and me, are unashamedly pro-alien television shows. Do I qualify as Giorgio Tsoukalis Ancient Aliens’ disciple? Probably not, but it’s likely and probable that I do like his show and many other supernatural shows like A Haunting and Monsters and Mysteries in America.

Admit it or not, every boy has an alien / heavy metal interest side. It may be waiting to get out, but really, it’s there! Now, there are good shows and bad shows, and personally, I prefer my shows with some production value, but all that really means is that the narrator sounds menacing and the footage works and isn’t too repetitive. The same goes for cryptids and ghosts. My main rule there is no gore. While I’m not one of the people calling the first episode of this season’s Walking Dead shows too violent (it is a show about zombies), I do look away when it gets ultraviolent.
Here, I must say I don’t do gore… especially my own, which is why it’s nice to have people there on more dangerous hikes… just in case.

(photo credit Rusty Glessner)

The first entrance in for Big Falls was steep. I had may Black Diamond poles, my Kahtoola microspikes, and my warm clothes on for my descent down the 200 foot bank. Both of those guys were experienced, but all steps on the slippery snow and rocks are well-placed, no matter how experienced you are. They have to be. For me, I was much slower, figuring out my balance with my weirdness and tremors in my left leg as well as my hand tremors. For a good deal of the hike, I considered the butt a better way to slide down with the spikes kicking into the ground to stop me. Here, I'm 45, and I'm too old to care what people think. This process worked well, and the hand didn’t shake too much (though I did feel the cold in my knuckles afterward as well as cold in my jaw, which made me slur noticeably - a first in my Parkinson's journey, though that's better now). 
At points, I found myself asking the obvious question (why are you doing this?) and giving the obvious peanut gallery answer (you should have your head examined!) to my response (because it’s there – SLOWLY!).

Soon, I was within about 40 feet of the bottom when I found myself looking for a way to the bottom, which wasn’t presenting itself down the direct path of the ravine I was in. I also found myself altering my approach to using my hiking poles since my right wrist felt jammed up (please don't let that be messed up!) while slamming the poles in for balance and support. Fortunately, the Blackrock poles can handle this (and after the ascent of Big Falls, I never felt it again). Like they say, you get what you pay for.

In another few minutes, I was down at the bottom of the gorge, joining Steve and Rusty for picture opportunities. This waterfall, of the 4 we went to, was the most dangerous hike, the second biggest waterfalls, and the best of the falls we saw. After that, things felt more pedestrian, at least for a little while.

(photo credit Rusty Glessner)

Twin Falls, a 10 or so foot drop in the middle, meant well, and it offered some great pictures, as did the huge Lewis, but Steve and I chose to do that from the top when the stream crossings to get to it from the bottom offered the risk of wet feet and frostbite as opposed to a spectacular picture that couldn’t be taken any other way. 

(photo credit Steve Rubano)

Unlike at Ludlowville Falls in Ithaca, where the car and replacement clothing were close by if bad things happened (and at one point, I did slide into mushy snow, though not water, balls deep on the edge of the creek while moving back into the cave here slowly), getting out from the bottom to the top and down the road at Heberly could have been an hour-long march into sickness and pain. That's not my favorite, so I'm not afraid to call my day in case of concern for being 98.6°.

As the saying goes, hike your own hike, but balance the risk and reward with the gear you have and your confidence in it. Here, Rusty did feel comfortable shooting both Lewis from the bottom and a lesser un-named falls, flowing beautifully on the side, not too far above Twin Falls.

(photo credit Rusty Glessner by Steve Rubano)

For me, I was just happy to be there, confident once again in my winter feet and skills, thinking about how I want to take on Ricketts in ice, should the opportunity come this year (and for that, I would bring my backup snow boots and helmet along with my ice ax and crampons; at Heberly, the conditions just weren’t that icy and cold yet, though they were beautiful).

(photo credit Dennis Crasper)

All in all, it was a great day, and it was made better to be in great hiking company. Here's to more amazing hikes, photos, and life experiences.
Enjoy the winter, however you choose to spend it!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sing us a Christmas song, Mr. Danzig....

            One of my most special memories growing up was when my uncle Dave would dress up as Santa Claus to hand out the gifts for family Christmas. As we got older, he tried to play it off like it wasn't him, but we all knew better. Looking back on those days with my cousins, Ben, Michele, and David, and my sister Beth as well as our families and my nana (rest in peace) and my aunt Toot, these were some special times.

             Remember, the traditions you pass down are just as important as the meanings of the holiday. My uncle was cool enough to pull it off and his sense of fun made it work. Some people can't wear the red suit, but he definitely could.

             Thanks for the memories!

             If it’s Christmas, then that means it’s time for lots of festive get-togethers and the annual inundation of Christmas music, which has been going on in the form of decorations and store ambiance since before Halloween. As a rule in our house, we tend to start Christmas music on Thanksgiving weekend with the arrival of the Christmas trees (plural – there are 3).

            I love Christmas. It’s a great holiday for so many reasons, but something about being with good people, seeing other people happy with the gifts that they are given, and peace on earth / goodwill to man with a lot of great all-too fattening food sums it up quite nicely. Snow falling adds to the good times as well.

            Because of my love of the season, I thought I would reflect on that now with 20 of my favorite Christmas songs, which I have listed here. There are a lot of songs that symbolize the holiday, and they work, but they just don’t top the list. Then there are other songs like “Silent Night,” which just make me think of the line “holy infant, so tender and mild,” and it always makes me think of how people would cook a steak. Not to be sacrilegious, because I’m not, but that detracts from the Christian meaning and forces me to revert to the junior high school German lyrics instead (Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schläft; einsam wacht, Nur das traute hochheilige Paar. Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar, Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!).

            I realize that there could be a discussion about the lack of inclusion of “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi Trio from the Peanuts Christmas special (which lacks lyrics to relate it to Christmas otherwise) or Blue Christmas by Elvis (I prefer the Stones and the Beatles, but dread Paul McCartney’s Christmas song – “Wonderful Christmastime) or the Chipmunks’ desire for a hula hoop (blame the new movies) or Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (I think that’s more sentimental to the previous generation – I’m 45, by the way), but these are my choices.

I also don’t include Blink-182’s “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” (though it does work well if you like pop punk) since it’s more angsty at the holiday (and thus it does better at reliving the forced shopping visits to the mall for gifts or working extended hours in retail with the rudeness and greed store employees face), but I will include these 20 songs. If you’d like, you can list some of your own in reply to share with other people.

1.      Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You (I can’t stand her, but this song is great any month of the year).
2.      Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone – Baby It’s Cold Outside (her voice works well on old standards… much better playing the love interest on this version than chasing M. Ward on the She and Him Christmas disc).
3.      Polyphonic Spree - It’s Christmas (they’re amazing… loved their Christmas show in 2012 – one of my favorite bands around).
4.      Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick (my all-time favorite Christmas song – hands down – and one of the best songs ever).
5.      Jimmy Buffet - Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas – memories of Jamaica in late 2012).
6.      Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad (another great song with a lot of rhythm and joy in it).
7.      Andy Williams – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (real Christmas music from my early days – he could sing any Christmas song, and it would work well).
8.      Johnny Mathis – Sleigh Ride (real Christmas music from my early days – he could sing any Christmas song, and it would work well).
9.      Bandaid – Do They Know It’s Christmas (something about Bono screaming “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” actually works on this despite his overflowing self-importance in the midst of all of those Danceteria / New Wave / New Romanticist Brits, as does the line “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas” despite the fact it’s way too warm for snow in places like Ethiopia).
10.  Joey Ramone – Christmas, Baby Please Come Home (gotta love the Ramones)
11.  She and Him – Christmas Waltz (so amazingly minimal and beautiful – a perfect combination of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel).
12.  Big Bad Voodoo Daddy – Mr. Heat Miser (Modernizing the Rankin Bass Christmas specials with a swing beat).
13.  Moe – Together at Christmas (a little guitar ditty to celebrate a New England Christmas in love).
14.  Guster – Tiny Tree Christmas (Target put out a free Christmas collection not too long ago, and this was on it as was many indie bands, who came together nicely).
15.  The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping (Blondie era rap music fit for Suburbia – still catchy after all these years).
16.  Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis (all things considered, Run DMC’s music has aged very well, and it’s a lot more fun than most modern rap stuff – plus, this was in Die Hard, which is the best Christmas movie not named Elf).
17.  Chuck Berry – Run, Run Rudolph (Gotta love that early 1950s / 1960s rock and roll – so much fun any time of the year).
18.  Tom Petty – Christmas All Over Again (Oh, to be a Wilbury like Misters. Petty, Dylan, Harrison, Lynne, and Orbison).
19.  The Kinks – Father Christmas (another rockin’ oldie from the radio of my youth, kind of like Bruce Springsteen’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town).
20.  John Lennon – Merry Christmas, War is Over (so many try to cover it, but only one version is truly all that).
Just missing the cut is the mellow “Get Down for the Holidays” by Jenny O. It was also on that Target mix, which was about 2/3 good in my personal opinion.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, one and all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Slip Sliding Away but not the Paul Simon Song

            It’s been a while since I did a real long distance hike. In fact, the last time I did a real hike was in the summer on the Greenwood Spur at the top of the Standing Stone Trail. Connecting the old end of the Standing Stone Trail at Cowan’s Gap State Park to the Mid-State Trail, there’s a huge mountain, the biggest on the Standing Stone, which just goes up and up to come down in serious rocks on the northern side. Kristen Joivell and I went there to see the sights, and it was a great time save the feeling of descent on the knees. She mapped her campgrounds, and I took my pictures. Life is good.

            However, when it comes to stone field walks... you get triple credit on distance. Pennsylvania rocks suck like that. That's not even mentioning potential rattlesnake sightings, of which I've only seen one in the wild in my life. I can't buy a sighting, it seems.
            Since then, I’ve done several other hikes, but none of length, other than a few longer rails to trails hikes, which don't count since they're flat, until yesterday when I decided it was time to push myself somewhere. This was definitely helped by my wife who told me to get my butt out exercising. My choice was the exercise bike, which I am bored by, or the outdoors. 
             I chose the outdoors.
            When I got up, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to drive an hour to get to the Pinnacle. Something about the distance and the cold and my apathy, which has led to being out of shape and the like. Instead, I had thought about doing the Horseshoe Trail instead. That’s not a bad hike, and it’s 15 minutes away, but it doesn’t have spectacular views. Yes, it would get me between trees, which is always cathartic, but it doesn’t have one of my top 5 favorite views in the state.

            And so I was screwing around on Facebook when I looked at my messages, and a hiking friend named Daimon asked if I was going to hike this weekend, and I realized that I needed to hike today. I looked at the weather, and it said 23° now with a high of 36° later in the day. Thus, I grabbed my water sleeve, fluorescent orange hoodie, gloves, hat, and polar fleece lined underwear (damn warm, I must say), and headed out to Hamburg, Pennsylvania for my adventure.
            The trail to the Pinnacle begins at Hamburg’s reservoir. After passing through a locked yellow gate, the road leads up and over a small bridge to the actual reservoir, which is clearly marked to stay out of. I’m not sure why people would want to swim or let their dogs play in a drinking water reservoir, but yeah. After that, it goes up an ATV / 4-wheel drive road that leads to another trail. All things considered, it’s pretty civilized in nice weather without much steepness at all. However, yesterday it was definitely snowy and icy. The key for that is to have snow chains for the boots and to step on the crunchy white, not the slick gray.

            I hadn’t realized how much slick gray was out there until I got out of the car and slid onto my butt immediately. Fortunately, I was OK, but the theme for a lot of the hike was that I should have had chains for this (in Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction voice) and that I was slip sliding away (not the Paul Simon version) as I looked like a sumo wrestler trying to do the Baby Bird on those Geico commercials. Fortunately, I’m good on the Black Diamond walking sticks, and I can slam one into the ground relatively quickly to hold myself up, at least most of the time.

After stopping at the top for water and turkey sticks, I took off my hat, and to my surprised eyes, there was steam coming off of my hat! My heart still felt good, and I wasn't winded. In fact, the cold didn't bother me at all until I stopped too long and my sweat started cooling off.
Time to walk!

The top trail into the Pinnacle was a series of flat walks and low degree ascents that went through frozen lakes on the trail. There were many places that were deep enough for Kahtoola Microspikes with their half inch dig (pictured). Nevertheless, I just had my naked Keens to push through the crunchy white snow and to bushwhack the trail sides.

Throughout the hike, my balance was pretty good, but I didn’t tempt things near the Pinnacle’s edge. I’ve been there before, and to be there solo save 4 people I saw on the entire 8 miles wasn’t worth risking it. While I did hear voices as I was leaving the Pinnacle, that was a 4-mile walk back, so it wasn’t like I wanted to wait for a rescue if I fell off the edge; well, that and the fact I never liked heights even before I got a name for all of my symptoms.

The view at the Pinnacle was and is sweet. It was definitely sweetened by the fact that I felt much better than I have in ages. My knees didn’t ache like they have been, so yeah, here’s to doxycycline! My left arm, tremors, and knuckles still feel the cold pretty significantly and they shake like Taylor Swift removing the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world from her life, but at least I can hike with that. I couldn't hike with a long-term IV. 
As I type this, my left hand feels very slow, but that’s OK. I’ll push through it because I have no worries on needing an IV for 4 weeks (and all the dependence / inability that comes with it). The celebration of Sunday night can move through the next few weeks to get hiking again while I can. This finite time needs to improve me from the 45 extra pound me to some version of the guy who was pushing 204 miles in 33 days in July / August 2014.
I feel like 25% of him, but I feel good, too, because better days are in my head.

Everything begins with a single step. Yesterday’s journey begins with 8 miles of them.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Medical Procedures and Celebration for Overcoming Medical Uncertainties (revisited)

            There’s a lot of discussion as to what a spinal tap feels like. From all of this pre-procedural worry, I came to believe that they were the root canals of the medical world.
Now, I’ve had root canals. In fact, I’ve had 3 of them. The first 1 was brutal. They didn’t put in enough lidocaine, and I howled and screamed. Now, until my current dentist, I’ve never really had many good experiences with dentists (as much my fault as anyone else’s). My first dentist had a heavy Germanic name and accent, and I always thought of this in terms of WWII.
“We shall extract the information from you, jah?”
Hell, even "I love you" is “Ich liebe dich” in German. It sounds harsh with its heavy pronunciation and consonants. It’s like Beowulf is going off to fight Grendel or something, and this is the announcement of a fierce warrior going into battle with the intent to be Negan holding down his position of authority by announcing, "I will shut this... down!"
The second root canal wasn’t as bad, but it was after 25 years of contemplating how bad the first one was. Those are a lot of bad memories from that pain. Fortunately, I asked for extra lidocaine the second time, and while I could smell burning and feel vibrating and drilling it wasn’t bad like the first one. Instead, it felt rather routine. By the third one, I went to teach after it was over feeling more affected by the hit to my wallet than my teeth as well as some growling feelings for the dentist who didn't see the need for it until I knew I had to get a second one on a different tooth.
“If you see me slurring, I just had a root canal,” the note on the board said with the unwritten words "because if I can come in after a root canal, you need to be here, too," being implied to freshmen students still getting into the requirements of college.
So it goes when you have a 13 odd year or so streak of never called off from teaching on the line (I have since then, but it was because of extenuating circumstances, which were rectified by online assignments and work – gotta love teaching in 2016).

As for spinal taps, I came to believe that I would be getting a huge needle in me for an extended period of time. I heard 20 minutes, and well, I guess it took that long, but most of it was for instructions, preparation, and trying to get my uncoordinated self into the fetal position. As for the needle, it seemed small. Dr. Perez-Vargas’ handiwork felt like a pin prick. He definitely had his 10,000 hours of experience, so I didn’t feel anything until the knee-jerk reaction of the glub, glub, glub over my nerve. I pushed away instinctively twice, but then the hot liquid feeling stopped.
“So where are we at in the process, Doc?” I asked assuming we would wait for the lidocaine to kick in.
“In the middle of it.”

Within no time, it was done, and I was following Nurse Joy’s instructions (her real name, and she was really that pleasant) to do nothing but lay around. That was the worst part of all of it. Waiting around and doing nothing sucks, especially when I could have been grading or typing my supernatural story that I've been trying to finish. At the end of the term, there’s so much to do and so little time.
And I had to blow off 6 hours of sick time for that! Sure, it was for my own good, but I could have used that somewhere else… like with my potential issues if the Lyme showed up in my cerebra-spinal fluid. However, I know better than to disobey doctors and my wife.
Fortunately, nothing bad came of the potential side effects or the overall results. I found that good news out today. It’s not like I didn’t want to be given the right treatment, but if the IV treatment was the right treatment, I would be carrying an IV for 4 weeks. This meant that I couldn’t drive around with myself at the wheel. I would be getting chauffeured, showering with a plastic bag, and sleeping weirdly uncomfortable.
Today, I got the good news on that, which worked out well because we kind of had a pre-news celebration at Outback with other good medical news for my family as well as hope and the spirit of Christmas. All in all, we needed some celebration time. One family friend has cancer that she’s fighting. My mom just had a surgical procedure. My nephew was diagnosed with a learning disability, and I had my Parkinson’s and Lyme diagnoses this year, so what else is to come? My dad had benign skin cancer treatments, but cancer is cancer, and another relative is waiting on his own news about whether something is the C word or not as he is bounced back and forth. And there are other passing things that come and go and inconvenience and cause pain to all of us, but we persevere through. What else can we do except move forward?
That said, this getting old sucks.
However, there’s something about putting it all aside and going out to eat with the family. I’m starting to like the idea of things like this more than buying things for holidays and birthdays. Generally, we take the niece and nephew to a Christmas play or the like for their gifts, so why not do it with everyone?
So yeah, here’s to the great times. News like this is really great.
Thank you, Jesus. Really. You do answer prayers.  


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter Waterfalls, Winter Tremors, Winter Blues, and Winter Dreams: Hope for a Cold January and February Day when Christmas is Done!

          I’m not a fan of the coming of cold weather. November is all Melville to me. It’s cold, dark, drizzly feel sucks. Once the leaves fall off the trees, the latter part of the year sucks. The earlier quarter of the year also sucks until the daffodils, magnolias, and assorted greens reappear. While snowdrops (a flower – not a snowflake) can be beautiful, they start pushing up way too early to represent optimism. Instead, they’re a clever ruse in late December to make people believe in spring when it’s still 80 days away.
This is not my favorite.
However, there is one excellent thing about the year’s finale, and that is not New Year’s Eve. While I appreciated things like seeing Phish countdown 1998 into 1999, kicking off with Prince’s song of the same name, I’m well past going out bar hopping like I did in the early and mid-1990s while stationed in England. Frankly, I’ve threatened to fall asleep on Ryan Seacrest every year, but I never do. Maybe this can be the first year. Then again…
No, December is for cookies, trees, presents, lights, and all things Christmas, and for this, I look forward to the final happy family bash of the year for its style and memories.
To put it simply, I love decorating for Christmas, and I really like seeing how my wife functions with her Perfect Ornament Placement Disorder to make our 3 (yes, 3) artificial trees beautiful (allergies, costs, and waste led us this route). I also love going places that are decorated, whether the old Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, I grew up in, or Longwood Gardens or just walking down the main street of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, which is all done up in lights and wreaths. Additionally, I love celebrating Christmas, and I really love looking forward to Christmas even if I won’t be getting a Death Star (maybe just Star Wars Battleship). And finally, I love being with family for Christmas, and I love it even more knowing that my 3-year old godson Big D will be thrilled opening his presents, especially since we got him a Giga Ball, which will hands-down be the best present he gets that isn’t a John Deere riding tractor.
            Seeing the Giga Ball makes me wish I was less than 150 pounds so I could jump inside of it, too!
            However, for all I love of Christmas, I don’t like the cold – at all. I’ve gotten more used to it over time, but I don’t like the wind. I don’t like the rosy-red cheeks and ears, and I really don’t like digging out from blizzards though I do like the sight of falling snow and peaceful winter scenes. Nevertheless, we’re talking about getting a snow blower to make things a little easier on us this year. This is a serious concern with my left arm and leg Parkinson’s issues and my Lyme lethargy.

Nevertheless, for all that is my dread of winter, I do like frozen waterfalls, and I really like taking pictures of them. Prior to my diagnosis, but after my symptoms, I did Ricketts Glen in winter twice. The first time was from the top. The second time was from the bottom. It was that good. I also did Glen Onoko in winter, which was an amazing site.
Right now, I’m dreaming and hoping to be able to do that this year, but it really depends on a few things. Number one is that the Polar Vortex (registered trademark) hits and grinds the gears of the beautiful waterfalls of Pennsylvania and New York to a stop. For frozen waterfalls, I’d take this, but I really don’t like the oil bill that comes with it. Thus, on second thought…
So if it’s coming, then bring it on. To do this, we will also need some snow to get things really winter hiking festive. I don’t want so much that I sink balls deep into slush like I did at Ludlowville Falls a few years ago pushing out to the waterfall cave and the hoarfrost on the ceiling, but enough that the pictures look good. A solid 4 inches will be nice.
I’ve got the gear to do it safely with my symptoms. Oh yes, I’ve got the crampons, Micro Spikes, ice axe, rope, under layers of clothing, over layers of clothing, and the heart, but what I don’t know is where I stand with my Lyme disease lethargy and future treatment plan. See, in the treatment of that, the question is will I have an IV in me for a month because if I do, that would suck for the only good part of winter.

            Sure, there are paths like at Taughannock in Ithaca where it’s possible to just walk in and enjoy, but Lucifer’s Falls would be a don’t risk it with the potential for balance falls. Now, I wouldn’t care about a fall on the ice or snow if I didn’t have a needle in my arm for a month, but with one. Oh, hell now. Rickett’s Glen would also be a really don’t risk it proposition, so I should just stop thinking about that altogether and instead watch videos of descents into Horseshoe Canyon to live out my World Petroglyph Tour visit in August.

Simply put, if the worst case scenario happens (IV), I might just want to confine myself to flat paths looking at frozen lakes, which will make for a much longer winter. Then again, maybe I should just watch Youtube videos of other people’s journeys since I won’t be having any of my own.
            Even if it means getting better, I’m not looking forward to that at all since the change of seasons plays havoc with my mind. Unless I have dreams to look forward to, it can be a long winter. Perhaps I can do the reading and writing, but the claustrophobia and confinement of being indoors is also not my favorite.
            Hence, I need some good luck to either get some quick mega IV doses via needle out with some big ol' horse pills for a month. Heck, I’ll take the 2 together even, but I’d prefer not to have a 4-week IV adventure. Personally, seeing as I’m willing to do a spinal tap, no questions asked, I think that’s a fair trade. While I’ll do whatever I have to do because a stoic must believe that the universe is always right and I must accept my role and play it the best I can, let’s just say this won’t make me a happy camper.
            As is, for those of you who don’t know, my Parkinson’s makes my tremors shake extra fast. It also seems to bring out a lot of extra muscle twitching on my left side. Lately, my left arm has been bouncing to the beat of an imaginary drum at a techno club. While Eminem says that “nobody listens to techno,” it seems like my arm and leg still do. That, too, is not my favorite.
            So here I sit, dreaming about winter hiking, contemplating my movement and balance through the winter world to come, and I’m not sure if I should even be tempting myself with this. Like Jim Lovell, I could easily lose the moon on this one, but something tells me that there’s good things to come. I’ve been working on my karma and saying positive. I’m believing in the good things to come.
            For this, I’m Ricketts Glen in winter dreaming, pushing through the obstacles while I still can because it’s what I need to do. For visions of glory, wouldn’t you (no matter what’s holding you back)?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Confident - But Not the Demi Lovato Song (Philosophy) REVISITED for September 2018

            In life, things push us around. It’s an unfortunate part of the plan. We don’t have a choice in the matter. Life is filled with conflicts. As writers, we are taught that these conflicts are things like person vs. self vs. others vs. organizations / institutions vs. nature vs. God, etc. As Parkies, we are faced with a beast of a condition, whose one aim is to progress to a point where life is filled with shaking, slowness, physical + mental disabilities, falls, freezing, forgetting, and depression. What's more, its effects mess with the emotional, mental, physical, and financial worlds of all those we love, since they get to come along for the ride.

In much of my life, I’ve found these conflicts. Many people and I experienced bullying when it meant something more than being told something we didn’t agree with (like getting a B on a paper instead of an A). This is not to say that bullying like that doesn't exist or that people who get upset are snowflakes. This is far from true. However, in a world of 140 characters or less, people feel bullied about everything. 

How dare I have to listen to the political views of the punk band Social Distortion. Just play your songs that have NOTHING to do with politics and let me get my mosh on after I instigate a made for social media fight with you.

How dare you not treat me like the king or queen, McDonald's? I will now bad mouth you.

You want real bullying... read Rescuing Riley. Zachary Anderegg's story is a fascinating account of overcoming bullying to become a US Marine and compassionate man.

I’ve seen people call me any name they could to provoke a fight so that I’d retaliate in a way that would allow them to stomp me if I dared try to fight back.

In addition, I’ve wrestled demons in myself for not being good enough or those that plagued me in my younger days when I didn't feel good at all. For much of my life, I’ve lacked confidence in a lot of things. Whether that was getting awards or friends or a better job or approval or a girlfriend or even just through the day, I’ve had lack of confidence filling my head.

Somewhere in this, I found Laurence Gonzales’ book Deep Survival and a lot of positive role models and heroes and started to change. I’ve chosen to find ways to survive and control my own equation. There's also Surviving Survival, which talks about how to come down after our ordeal.

This equation control is something I talk about when helping students with resume writing.

“What makes you better than 99 other people who want the job? Right now when you aren't looking for work actively, you control the equation. You get to think about what goes on your resume and make it pop. If you don’t have it, you volunteer to get it, or you learn it. Now is the time to be ready for the interview.”

When I say it, it makes sense to (at least some of) them, and many of these people already had the confidence and the skills, so it’s not hard for them to get all Nietzsche triumph of the self over obstacles. These people just needed the storytelling expressed out from a strong verb with numbers to tell the Anecdote of the Future Great Employee. I’m sure I helped them succeed because I showed them what they were, but really, that strength was in these people all along. 

Nevertheless, a part of me knows that I aided in this endeavor with my teaching and empathetic expression of life experience.

Here lies the major conflict in my life. I can tell other people about what they have, and when I do, it’s all person-building. This isn’t because I’m working on my karma. It’s true that I am, but deep down inside this person who is now me, I want to see people win the games they’re playing. It’s not that they couldn’t do it without me. It’s just sometimes they need to be told, such as these resume writers or my student who was looking to transfer her memories of Central American missions work to the page OR the teacher whose story was on the page, but he didn’t realize the awesome story he had going. 

Stuff like that is fun to connect to. I love those things. They make me feel better than “rescue me; I’ve got 2 hours until go time, and I haven’t spellchecked this paper, but that’s your job, right?” I know that’s the nature of some education and life (and things the younger me expected of others), but it’s just not the same inner feeling of joy for those people showing the way.

Now 4 months removed from my last class and 9 months since my last day tutoring, that's something I don't miss. Nevertheless, I do miss the students who taught me and learned with and from me. If only there was an option for that, which didn't involve grading papers.

For me, I still like those moments where I succeed with others. Nevertheless, I never did like redirecting through when I have to ask questions like, “How can I help you if you haven’t done the work?” Hopefully, this learning and redirection inspires them to do the work, but in many cases, I’m not sure if it does. Additionally, it takes away from learning time.

The same is true with me. Sometimes, I’m making me better, but other times, I’m still struggling to make me connect on many levels. Sure, I have an awesome wife who loves and supports me, now, and I work for a living, and I have friends as well as a positive outlook, but it’s not like I’m not afraid of heights and rappelling down rock walls like my wife. It’s not like I am a motivated body builder / man of mountain climber coolness and a rock-hard body with persona to match like Mark Twight (maybe after I get some time and it stops raining and I'm done with my book, I’ll start with that). Hell, I’ve got 90 extra pounds around the middle. Does anyone want it? You can have it.

So is it wrong when people look at me crazy when I tell them I'm positive about this crap fest I’ve been dealt, the one that they tell me they’re sorry I have (I appreciate the sentiment; I know it means love, but to me, it’s an opportunity to redirect me and advocate for others, and that’s not a bad thing at all) or joke around despite our conversation dealing with Parkinson’s disease? Trust me; I’m not going to really charge you with a hate crime if you pick on me for being clumsy even though Parkinson’s balance issues keep me from standing on 1 foot without support to slide on my ball hugger underwear in the morning.

This is the conundrum I face because it’s the one conflict in my life I can face. Spinal tap on December 23rd… sounds like fun. I’ll take 2. Jam that stuff in there. Besides, it sure beats the lethargy, knee pains, and knuckle pain that’s slowing down my 82 words a minute typing game.

This me sitting here typing right now wants to be back in the woods. I don’t want to get worn out every mile on a town rails to trails. I want to do 23 miles around Blue Marsh again like I did before. Sure, Parkinson’s will slow me down, and the tremors will continue, but I want to know what’s permanent me and temporary me. I want more opportunities at that before the next stages come and slow down my game again.

Let’s get real; I want to kick this crap's butt, and I want to be happy and thrive and enjoy things for as long as I can. If you’ve got some of your own nastiness getting you down, I want to send you a hug or positive vibes or show you that you can beat this, too, with a little inspiration. I can’t hug all of you individually or “buy the world a Coke today” like Oasis said when they borrowed a line for the original version of their song "Shakermaker," but know that I feel it.

Know that, but know that even though I don’t want you to feel down, I can’t make you do the Navy SEAL toughness thing of not ringing the bell to quit. When people get it in their mind to quit, the game is over. Navy SEAL instructors always ask if the trainee is sure this is the decision that they want. Even if they choose to go back, it’s said that they don’t last (see Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor). They’re already done. They already quit. Such is life and death and all things in between.

That’s why I look at what I’ve got and say, “I’ve got 2 choices. I can be up, or I can be down. I’ve been really down. I prefer up. The other choice sucks butt.”

I’ve crossed my own personal scum lines. I’ve cried myself silly in the middle days of 2011 with the early days of my symptoms and middle age and lack of success and inability to see a future, and I’ve wondered, “Why the hell am I on this earth? What comes after this pile of crap situation?”

Somehow, it was like then and other times along the way I found that there were more ways to die psychologically and socially inside than just the 3 deaths that both the Mexican and Christian cultures believe we experience.

Those were dark times, but somehow I got through. I’d like to think it was because I was meant to do something after it. All of this suffering has to be for something. You may not like the suffering, but the mission is more important than the person. I believe that, too. 

Many of us get in this dark place, and we don’t see a way out, but there’s always a way out. God and the universe throw fail safes at us all the time. Sometimes we don’t like our rescue from without because we don’t get to save the universe and score the significant other; thus, we are left to regroup our wounds while eating humble pie, but that’s OK; that’s life. Being on the disabled list isn’t bad if we use it to retrain.

And when we think like that, we see the thing is that something will and did get better when we opened ourselves up to that place (like the time I had to abandon my post Air Force life in England). It wasn’t always right away, but there were paths. Did we or I notice them at the time? Like the story of the flood survivor waiting for God to rescue him, but who chose to pass on the boats that were going to take him to safety. Here, we often choose to not look our rescuers in the eye and say, “Yep. I see a winding path to a new me. I’ll take it. No more backward or down. I may go sideways and repeat stuff I didn’t do right, but I’ll be like Rocky in frozen Russia, and I’ll retrain old school to kick ass again.”  

Instead, we wait for the magic Hollywood ending, and the whole place just slowly freezes over leading us to our demise.

 With Parkinson’s, I actually feel like I get something toward a better me with confronting my demons. Somewhere between Michael J. Fox’s “lucky” feeling about getting to live and to advocate and slogans like the cancer campaign “Fight like a Girl,” I’ve found spirit and drive to not take Parkinson’s shit. I’m on 23/6, which says I still have doubts and worries, but I’m working hard to see a good future with what I have.

With that attitude, it confuses a lot of people. This is both for the person I was or the person that some people feel should just roll over and cry to get his pity party because life says we can have 1 (the whole "Harrison Bergeron" make yourself suffer to make someone else feel better about his or her lot in life). 

Sorry, at this moment right now (and every other one), I can’t do that, even though I’d like to milk it for 3-hour back massages or bundt cakes with love. Yes, my humor may be a little odd and inappropriate sometimes, but I prefer that coping mechanism to those of the bad old days when I sat around waiting to be trounced by life’s obstacles…

I know humor isn't always possible, but when it is, it's good. That said, there will be those bad days will hit me like a ton of bricks, too. That’s the nature of our game. However, right now, I need to be strong so I can carry this positive vibe over to make sure those next troubles aren’t as bad as they could be.

Right now, I’m not that 18-year old guy in Air Force Basic Training waiting to fall on the rope swing before even taking the rope. I’m riding this fire inside me through the shaking foot and hand and all the other inner symptoms to some kind of a happy life for as long as the universe and medical science allows me to keep it.

But thinking like this seems so odd to people. I’m not sure why. Like I said, maybe it’s the old me versus the new me, but now, it’s like I have to put out a disclaimer, "It's not like I have my head in the sand that I don’t have a progressive, incurable degenerative neurological disorder, but I just need to do and be happy with the time I have left. I know what might be and is coming. I’d just prefer to live happy right now."

Actually, it’s not like I have to think about what statement I’d make; I do put out the disclaimer to tell this to people while explaining Azilect versus the enzymes to create safe passage for dopamine like it was an episode of The Walking Dead.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called David and Goliath. which I used to teach. In it, he talked about how people's lives made them more resilient to adversity. Thinking like this, could some crappy breaks and out of control random incidents not make us stronger to life's poop sandwich?


Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the stages of grief. Each of us face things differently. I’m not all people. I’m just me. Many people have it better than me, and they still kick Tim McGraw “Live like You Were Dying” ass that I aspire to do and be.

However, for those people who are in the first 4 stages of their grief and the pain of their suffering (or the suffering you feel watching someone else), know that I believe in you moving to that 5th stage of grief that is acceptance. That doesn't mean lay down and die. It means live as long as possible. Besides, you were going to die before Parkinson's. That hasn't changed.

Just remember, there’s a lot of strength over here. I only hope the words of my essay can encourage you to find your own path over here.

Besides, who knows? For all I’m helping you now, you might need to be the one to encourage me when I get hit with the next tidal wave that is going to try to drown me with something I can’t do. When that time comes, I hope you can be my inspirational friend.

Right now, for all of us, the key is to spread confidence, to believe in ourselves, and to be there for others, however long and in whatever way we can. Even if it's just telling people what not to do, we're still helping others learn from our mistakes.

All of these things mixed together are some really good things.