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Thank you.

Thank you.

“The three guys who saved my life.” It sounds dramatic when you put it that way, but that’s how it feels. For background: in early 2012, I weighed at least 258 pounds, and probably more. I don’t know how much for certain, because I hadn’t been on a scale in over 6 months—after losing 90 lbs. in 2005, I was in denial about the fact that I’d gained it all back. To make matters worse, I’d injured my back the previous summer, and it had never been exactly the same. The immediate pain had subsided enough that I put it out of my mind. I was working very long hours in front of a computer, and when I wasn’t working, I was playing World of Warcraft. In the summer, I got some exercise working on our property, but by the tail end of winter, my life was almost entirely sedentary.

In February of 2012, at the end of a long drive from Seattle to Santa Barbara, I got out of the car and immediately knew something was wrong. My back hurt in an entirely new way—a strong, burning pain that felt like someone had slid a knife between my vertebrae. I wouldn’t know exactly what had happened for some time after that, but in essence, my lack of activity, arthritis, and the weight I was carrying had caused my spine to collapse.

Over the next few months, I kept hoping the pain would get better. It didn’t. Sitting in my work chair for more than an hour became excruciating. I couldn’t lift anything over about fifteen pounds. By early June, it was so bad that I could no longer get into bed without needing fifteen minutes or so to manage the process, and I was close to tears most of the time. I couldn’t stay asleep for more than 15 minutes, and just turning over in bed was difficult and painful. Why didn’t I seek help? Because I was afraid of the medical bills. I had only basic, catastrophic insurance with a $25,000 deductible. I knew that my lack of exercise was the real problem, and couldn’t bring myself to clean out our savings when we had been working so hard for it. The irony was too much to take—I’d spent so many hours helping to save that money toward a house for my in-laws, and the price was my spine.

My husband finally confronted me with the reality of the situation: this was not going to get better unless I did something about it. No one else could fix it for me. He refused to listen to my guilt and self-pity. I was furious! I’d finally admitted to him that I was in a lot of pain all the time, and that getting help would cost too much, but instead of sympathy, what I got was tough love.

My husband was the first guy to save my life. Over the next two days or so, I felt so miserably sorry for myself, it now makes me laugh. I thought he didn’t care. I kept testing to see if maybe he’d become more sympathetic, but he refused to give an inch. “Go see someone,” he insisted. “Get it done. Take care of it.” That was the first step. I had to recognize that this was something I could do something about. Yes, it sucked that it was going to cost money, but I had a choice, and it was up to me to make it.

Having made that shift in my thinking, I was suddenly able to see things more clearly. I visited the spine clinic website and read about treatments. I knew surgery at my relatively young age wasn’t the best idea. More crucial was how out of shape I was, and how much weight I was carrying. I knew it would be very difficult to change that while I was in so much pain, but I also had some experience with back trouble and knew that activity and weight loss would make things better in the long run. When I visited the spine clinic a couple of weeks later, I spoke frankly with the doctor about my lack of medical coverage and my physical condition, and asked her if she thought it made sense to spend what money I had on a gym membership instead of MRIs and surgery. She agreed. After a couple of physical therapy sessions, I had learned a good set of easy pilates moves to help me get to the point where I could exercise.

My husband once again proved why he’s a great life partner; he supported me wholeheartedly when I shared my decision, and said he would join the gym with me and adopt healthier eating habits. We went that very day and signed up at Anytime Fitness, three blocks from our apartment.

Anytime Fitness is where we met the second guy who saved my life: personal trainer Alex Barriga. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful that our membership included a free personal training session, and that ours was with Alex. From the first time he worked with me, he was careful, patient, and fun to work with. As soon as I spent an hour with him, I knew this was the way to find success in regaining my health. I’d never before invested money in my own health that way, but there was no doubt in my mind it would be money well spent, and a much better investment for my overall health and well-being than spine surgery.

Both my husband and I began regular training with Alex immediately, 3-4 days a week. My husband’s progress was swift and impressive; within a few months, he was in the best shape of his adult life. For me, progress was slower. Alex had to adapt most of the exercises we did to my physical limitations. He never rushed, never got impatient with me, and listened to my limits. He also adapted to my level of focus over the months that we worked together—he wasn’t a drill sergeant, but if I felt the need to push, he would push me harder. I expressed to him early on that what I really needed was for exercise to stay fun, and he was fantastic at that, too. Most importantly, he was utterly reliable, a great communicator, very kind, and made sure I never injured myself. On many occasions, I remember him saying, “Careful,” just when I would start to get tired and let my form start to slip.

My progress in those first months was so good that when it came time to renew, I didn’t hesitate. After six months, I had lost forty pounds and gained quite a bit of muscle and mobility. My pain was about half of what it had been. Considering how limited I was in what I could do in the beginning and still seeing results like that, I was more than ready to see what else we could accomplish.

We traveled for four months over the winter of 2012-2013. During that time, my husband and I continued balancing good eating habits and exercising whenever we could. I lost a few more pounds, though mostly maintained. Around the time we returned to Seattle and resumed training again, a new health problem arose. I was having more and more pelvic pain and discomfort, and my periods were getting worse each month, with days of excruciating cramps. In May, I went to an OB/GYN and found out what I already suspected—I had what we guessed was a large fibroid tumor on my uterus. It had grown so much that it was causing my belly to protrude, and was pressing heavily on my pelvic bone. By that time, its size was such (think bowling ball) that it also caused me to get out of breath when doing abdominal exercises. The doctor referred me to the third guy I credit with saving my life: Dr. Alan Rothblatt.

A surgeon with many years experience, Dr. Rothblatt concurred with my reluctant conclusion that I would not be able to tolerate the tumor for much longer, and would have to get a hysterectomy. Further, he recommended taking Lupron Depot injections for four months prior to the surgery to try and shrink the tumor; this would allow him to attempt a laparoscopic procedure rather than a more invasive surgery. I was very nervous about this because of the side effects. Dr. Rothblatt reassured me, and I accepted his recommendation based on his experience.

Many patients gain weight when on Lupron, and I knew this wasn’t an option, because my spine couldn’t take it. Further, I knew it would make a big difference in my outcome if I got in the best health possible before the surgery. I again turned to Alex to help me.

With Alex’s help and guidance, I lost another 45 lbs. over the next six months, and reached the healthy BMI range. My blood pressure was perfect and I was stronger than I had been since I was 16. My spine pain was, by now, a nuisance more than anything. I felt like a new person already.

But the best reward was yet to come; because of his skill as a surgeon, but also thanks to my physical condition and health, Dr. Rothblatt was able to complete my hysterectomy laparoscopically after four and a half hours in surgery. This is the letter I wrote to him three days later:

Dr. Rothblatt, I just wanted to tell you that I am doing extremely well in recovery, and that I am so grateful for the excellent treatment I received from you and your team. I know this surgery wasn’t easy, and I really appreciate your skill and dedication to making sure it was both as thorough and as non-invasive as possible. I have already written a glowing review at healthgrades.com, and will not hesitate to recommend you and Dr. Wolff to any of my friends who ask. I feel so fortunate that I ended up in your care, and that I followed your recommendations. I feel as though my outcome is already far better than my highest expectations, and I anticipate feeling even better in the coming weeks. I also appreciate the time you spent reassuring me, and convincing me to follow your course of treatment. I know you must have helped many women in the past, and I am glad for those you will help in the future. Thank you so much.

A month later, I’m feeling great, down 90 lbs. or more, and antsy to get back to training. I feel like I have my life and my body back. Thank you, David, Alex, and Dr. Rothblatt—you guys are my heroes, and I’m lucky to have you in my life.

No, this isn’t a travel-related post, but this was our first solid weekend of sun (and work) on the mud weed farm for 2013, and I wanted to document it.

Things are getting exciting now, as we are pushing to get ready for a house to finally arrive on the property (hopefully sometime this summer). We still have more projects planned than will fit on a legal pad, but nevertheless, it’s satisfying to see the place beginning to take shape. This weekend’s projects were:

  • Clear off the home site (previously our main camp site) in preparation for surveys, meeting with contractors, planning and permitting, etc.
  • Mow the grass. It’s that time of year when this has to be done pretty much every time we go out, or the weeds will rule the land.
  • Get the RV hooked up and cleaned up from its end-of-winter hibernation so it’s habitable again
  • Begin clearing the back quarter of the property, which until now has been impenetrably covered in twelve-foot-high blackberries, stinging nettles, thistles, and many, many fallen and cut trees partly sunk into the ground and entirely buried in weeds.
  • Get all our tools in working order for the season.

While I tackled the first three, Dave and his trusty tractor made some incredible progress reclaiming what was pretty much the dumping ground for decades of tree-clearing projects. I didn’t get great “before” pictures (because I was weed-whacking so he could get to the massive fallen trees), but this first one was taken after only the first light layer of weeds and half of the first tree were pulled out.

Hard to tell how massive these trees are. The stump was well over our heads.

Hard to tell how massive these trees are. The roots of the stump were over our heads.

What you see on the right are the trunks of two trees that grew together into one giant tree, and the stump of one which fell in 2009. Back then, we dragged the tree into the woods along with the dozens of others that already lay dead in the weeds. (The little holly tree in the background has grown up since then—we didn’t even know it was there until Saturday.) That’s also a giant boulder in the foreground.

Dave loads up the tractor with the first bucket full of chopped logs.

Tractor loaded up with the first bucket full of chopped logs.

While Dave got to work on the first few fallen trees, I started on the other side of this patch of woods with the brush cutter so we could see more of what we were dealing with.

After cutting back the blackberries and nettles. Still couldn't really tell how many fallen trees were in there.

After cutting back the blackberries and nettles. Still couldn’t tell how many fallen trees were in there.

The wood structure in the picture below was a test project Dave did to learn how to build decks. Sunday, Dave took that apart while I cleared off the rest of the camp site.

Septic drainfield after mowing

Septic drainfield before mowing.

Then, while I mowed, Dave began to tackle the massive trees in earnest.

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When I tell you that he has basically 10 feet of safe space to maneuver around the sheds and the drain field with the tractor, you may get some idea of the skill involved in getting logs of this size across the property. (For those who have seen the property, that’s our fire pit in the background for scale.)
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About six hours later, Dave’s steady work began to show real results. You can see the space around the fir trees begin to open up, and see what this area of the property might eventually be like. The area between the trees in the center of the photo is what he cleared out—there were about twelve huge fallen trees and many smaller ones lying in that area.
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One of the big firs freed of its weeds and fallen logs.

One of the big firs freed of its weeds and fallen logs.

Dolores and Victor's backyard-to-be.

Dolores and Victor’s backyard-to-be. It’s shaping up!

Hardworking guy gets a well-deserved yogurt in the sunshine.

Hardworking guy gets a well-deserved yogurt in the sunshine.

Next weekend, we’ll move the Airstream up by the shop, which will be the last thing that needs to move from the home site. Then, we’re ready to meet with contractors. Whew! Lots of progress for one weekend.

Quintessa

A few photos from the Quintessa winery in Napa. Here’s where the magic happens.

quintessa_tanks quintessa_barrels quintessa_stem_sorter quintessa_hillside quintessa_hilltop quintessa_vineyards

We should be at the Port Hadlock property today, and with luck, in Seattle tonight. It’s been an adventure!

Made the long haul from Napa to Canyonville, OR yesterday. We’re taking it easy today, after a week in which Dave missed a lot of sleep trying to balance wine tasting with work. Lost yet another tire last night, about 15 miles south of our campground. (Could it have anything to do with the cases of wine stored on that side of the RV? Perhaps. More likely, though, it was the construction zone south of our Napa campground, which resulted in Adventures in Rough Terrain on our way out of town.)

Tomorrow we’ll be in the Portland area, where we’ll buy another tire, a jack, and other tax-free items, before heading back to the homestead on Tuesday. This has been an amazing trip, full of friends, food, adventures, and family. I feel as though we finally had the road trip we’ve been trying for since 2009. I’m both sorry and glad to be going home. Will we do it again? Highly likely. Next time, though, I am DEFINITELY bringing the coffee grinder.

Homeward Bound

We’re in Napa, CA, where we’ve been since Monday, and debating whether or not to head for home tomorrow. The heart says no, the wallet and the work schedule say yes—an age-old dilemma.

To recap, since it’s been a long time between updates, here’s where we’ve been since leaving New Orleans back in January:

Friends John, Nicole, Michele, and Bill all joined us for our time in Napa, and we were sad to see them all head for home yesterday. It’s starting to feel like it’s time to do the same. Of course, the weather has been glorious for the last few weeks in California, which makes it harder—after a lot of cold, wet weather this trip, it’s been sunny and 70˚ every day. It’s fortunate we’re only here for a few days, though. Between an unforgettable meal at the French Laundry, our tastings at Quintessa and several other Rutherford wineries, and the ancillary trips to Bouchon Bakery, Napa Valley Olive Oil Company and the like, I think we’re definitely verging on too much of a good thing. On the flip side, Dave worked more or less through the night last night and the night before, and I’ve definitely been putting in my hours this week, though I need more sleep than he does. It’s a strange life, indeed, but it works for us.

On our brief side trip to Santa Barbara, Christine and Jenn treated us to a stop at the seal rookery in Carpinteria. One cow gave birth as we were watching, and we got to hear the baby’s first little barks. Pretty awesome. A few photos:

clouds vulture coastlinepelicans somanyseals mountains sunning_seals mommies_babies

Rocks and water

Random roadrunner is random!

Random roadrunner is random!

Paso Robles (they pronounce it like “marbles”) turned out to be a lovely town—one of the nicest places we’ve stayed in California. Thanks to their lack of an airport, the town is laid back and not too big; thanks to the great grape-growing climate, they make really good wine and make great food to go with it. A quick rundown of our favorite wineries in Paso Robles, so that we don’t forget:

Others we visited: Turley, Cypher, Pianetta, Clayhouse, Parrish, and Opolo—and I won’t soon forget my new favorite beer, Firestone 805.

As for the restaurants, Paso excels at food, as well as wine. Everything we ate there was pretty awesome. Our favorite place was Artisan, where we had our Valentine’s Day dinner, but props also to Thomas Hill Organics, Robert’s (with the generous wine tasting policy!), Bistro Laurent, McPhee’s in Templeton, and especially Buona Tavola, an extremely authentic Italian place that we loved.

Speaking of being spoiled (well, it was implied), if anyone is curious, yes, the French Laundry really is all that. The artistry and the flavors were pretty much exactly what we expected, I think, but what impressed me the most was the level of planning that went into the menu and the whole experience. The pace of the meal was perfection. We never wanted for anything that didn’t appear exactly as we wanted it, and yet we never felt rushed. The dishes were not heavy, and they were exactly the right number and size so that at the end of the meal, you did not feel overly full. Given a menu of that complexity, I think that along with the elegant plating design, precision is where they shine. All I can really say about it is that we’ve been talking about going there for almost ten years, and it did not disappoint.

As beautiful as it is here, and as many indulgences as Napa can provide, I find myself daydreaming about going to the gym and eating Dave’s cooking every day. I think it’s about time to head for home—and I know someone(s) who might agree with me.

buddies

No updates lately, because work has eaten us! Lots of new clients and potential clients, which is good, but there have also been several crises to manage. Dave’s been a superhero, missing a lot of sleep in the process. But it looks like we can escape to Disneyland today, yay! I went there on Saturday with Lynn and ‘tifah, and visited with Holly on Sunday, so my weekend was pretty awesome. We changed our plans to stay a couple of extra days so that Dave can go, too.

Meanwhile, the last time we did anything fun of note was back in Tucson, where we spent a day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Great place. We’re about to run out the door, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Headed out to Disney now, and on the road tomorrow headed for Paso Robles.

bigvista wren2 wren wolf vista2 vista raven porcupine owl3 owl_close mountainlion melhat lionface incadove hummer2 hummer hawk3 hawk2 hawk falcon3 falcon2 falcon falcoln4 cactuswren cacti bird

It’s been a quiet week here in Tucson, with our days spent largely working, going to the gym, and running errands to deal with life stuff. We’ve had some good Mexican food, though nothing spectacular, and have enjoyed some of the area scenery without doing much in the way of actual hiking. This is a great time of year to be here, and I’d definitely come back! I’m more than a little obsessed with the skies and the saguaros here, as my camera attests.

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These were all taken right here in the state park, within a mile or two of our campsite. Tomorrow, we’ll head out early to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which I’m very excited about. We did finally try out our new collapsible bikes, and we’re contemplating trying out some of the park’s shorter trails in a little bit.

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The only cuisine of note that we’ve experienced are the margaritas. Yesterday, we spent an hour or so at the Old Town Artisans shops downtown, then had lunch at El Charro, a family restaurant that’s been in continuous operation since 1922. Definite character, and the best margaritas we’ve had in a while. Afterwards, we stopped by the Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón a couple blocks away. This is the site of the original Fort Tucson (1775). Did you know that Confederate troops captured Tucson for a brief time in 1862, before California Union troops took it back? Neither did I.

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elcharro

We also checked out the Lodge on the Desert a few days ago, because the chef there won World’s Best Margarita in October—naturally, we had to try it. Made with pomegranate juice and pomegranate jam, it was indeed very tasty, though a bit sweet for my tastes. Here’s the recipe if you want to try it!

It took some doing to plan the last few weeks of our trip, as we have a bit of a logistics juggling act to perform, and southern California is The Place to RV in February, so finding campsites is challenging. But as of this morning, we’ve finally got things firmed up: we’ll leave Saturday for San Diego, then Anaheim from the 7th to the 11th to see Latifah, Holly, and Lynn, then San Luis Obispo for 3 days, then Paso Robles for ten days before finally heading to Napa with the gang (i.e. Nicole, John, Michelle, and Bill) for our much-anticipated French Laundry visit and tour of the Quintessa winery.

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