“…to sleep, perchance to dream…”

(The title is of course from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Same for the last sentence in the post. One of the all-time great bits of writing, IMHO. (Shakespeare, not me.))

Picture above is from a particularly nice sunset in Cabo.

Sleep is a pretty important part of staying healthy, and my sleep habits are sub-optimal. I’m up a lot at night – I’m what’s called a bimodal, biphasic or bifurcated sleeper, with two fairly deep sleep periods each night interrupted by a period of wakefulness. There’s some evidence that this is normal and even helpful to creativity and stress relief, but most sleep specialists say a monophasic sleep (one long period each night) is the best for health.

But that’s not what got me thinking about sleep. My wife and I are opposites in many ways, including sleep. I need to go to bed early and typically wake early; she’s a night owl and likes to sleep in. My big revelation of late is yet another difference – I drop into a deep sleep quickly and effortlessly, and my sleep is lighter after a few hours. Kathryn is (surprise) the opposite. She struggles to go to sleep, sleeps lightly for hours and then drops into a deep sleep sometime in the early morning.

And now that I’m retired, I dream a lot more. Or at least I remember my dreams much more often. And that’s a lot of fun. I often wake and relive the dream, sorting though its typical weirdness and wondering what it means. Perhaps when I was working I had to rush into my morning schedule so quickly and thoroughly that I brushed the dream memories aside. But I like this better. My dreams are pleasant and quirky, and it’s a part of life I’m happy to rediscover.

I say rediscover because when I was much younger I dreamed a lot, though not pleasantly. I had recurring dreams of something evil chasing me and ultimately cornering me, at which point I would wake up terrified. I called them “the pursuit dreams”, and they persisted from about age nine into adulthood. I don’t know what those were about – I don’t remember any fear or trauma in my early years that would have triggered such a thing. In adulthood the pursuit became more of a maze, where I would work my way though an infinitely long or complex landscape (the steel mill where my dad worked, and I worked for a few summers, was a typical dreamscape), over and over with no end. I would wake up exhausted. Sometime in my adult years the pursuit dream stopped, thankfully. These days I’m happy to fall asleep instantly and enjoy “what dreams may come”.

End of year cleanup

One of the things I always do at this time of year is tackle a few end of year / beginning of year jobs. This includes:

  • Reviewing our electricity billings to see if our solar roof is working as expected (PV roof is indeed working, but something else bumped our end of year costs way up…still investigating)
  • Upcoming year detailed financial planning (with retirement and the new responsibility of making sure Dad is taken care of, this is more complicated than prior years)
  • Upcoming year travel planning
  • Cleaning up and filing papers that need to be kept (ugh – the worst – I despise filing)

These activities always gives me a lot of satisfaction. Not as much satisfaction as, say, this crew at left, but it’s still good. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_cb20.jpgI’m a planner at heart – the planning actually gives me more pleasure than the doing, except for maybe travel. In fact, one of my favorite jobs was “Executive Director of Planning” for Kaiser’s IT group. Doesn’t sound like much, but IT at Kaiser was (is) a multi-billion dollar organization, so the planning functions were huge. That job didn’t last too long (a rapid reorganization), but I enjoyed it.

All this planning also helps me internalize the fact that another year has come and gone. I previously wrote about how our sense of time passing changes with age, and it’s very true. It’s another one of those semi-cruel realities of life – just when you need time the most, it runs away from you.

Rainy days

Rain visited the San Diego region last night, dropping 1.1 inches in our area. That brings our total for the 2019-2020 rain year (measured July 1st to June 30th) to 7.5 inches – not bad. For comparison, here are the annual totals for the last 15 years:

2004-2005   37.44″

2005-2006   10.58″

2006-2007   6.10″

2007-2008   16.87″

2008-2009   10.74″

2009-2010   16.65″

2010-2011   24.39″

2011-2012   10.27″

2012-2013   8.35″

2013-2014   6.99″

2014-2015   9.27″

2015-2016   10.90″

2016-2017   22.39″

2017-2018   6.93″

2018-2019   22.95″

So 7.5 inches is pretty good for this time of year. It’s already more than several full years precipitation. (2011 to 2016 was a very rough stretch, precipitation-wise. We only averaged 8.5 inches per year across those years – a hard drought. The winter of 2016 broke that drought to some extent, but 2017-2018 was very low yet again.)

Our average annual rainfall is about 14 inches, which typically all drops in 2-3 months. Then we have another nine months in which there is no rain. By the end of that period, September and October, everything is VERY dry and is the height of fire season. So there’s a connection between our weirdly-compact rainy season and our propensity to burn.

That long dry season really does something to me emotionally, if not intellectually. During most of that period I long for a thunderstorm, and when I travel back east it’s great to experience a little rain. But for now San Diego is as wet as anywhere else in the US, and it feels great.

Christmas 2019

Another Christmas holiday, already. Seems that they come and go pretty often these days. Happy Holidays and best wishes to everyone! Lots to be thankful for.

And thankfully, we’re not traveling during the holidays so all those horror stories of missed flights and weather problems don’t affect us. The picture above is what Christmas morning in our little slice of Socal looks like. Not a bad view.

Casual cruelty

I hate to be The Grinch at this holiday season, but two things happened this week in my home state of Kentucky that just break my heart. They’re atrocious enough to stay with me for a long time.

The first was a situation I ran into on a drive from Louisville to eastern KY. I stopped in Mt. Sterling to fill my tank and pick up some light groceries requested by my dad. Parked right outside the little market was an SUV with an odd-looking container stuck on the rear. Upon closer inspection I found two freezing dogs in a small wire cage attached to the back of the vehicle. It was 37 degrees outside, light cold rain, and I could only imagine how cold it got when the vehicle was in motion. The two hounds barked and yelped when they saw me, as if to say “help”. I noticed they were raising their paws one by one to keep them off the cold wire as much as they could. Their wire cage was locked tight.

I was intensely angry but determined to try and help. I asked around inside the station for the owner of the vehicle, but no one claimed it. I spoke with the cashier to ask him to call the Sheriff and report cruelty to animals. He said he would but he also said it would do no good, that this was normal for “coon hunters” in the area. (This is definitely not a racial term, it’s an Appalachian tradition of using dogs to chase, track and tree raccoons. In my experience it’s just an excuse to sit by a campfire, drink and listen to the hounds bay during the chase. But this barbaric method of transporting the dogs was something I’d never seen.)

I made one more attempt to find the vehicle owner, to no avail. I briefly considered breaking the lock and freeing the dogs, but that had other potentially negative consequences for me and for them. So I stood with them for a minute, couldn’t even pet them through the wire, and left with a heavy heart. I believe the clerk did in fact call the Sheriff, but I have no idea if he responded. I’ve thought of those dogs a lot since then.

The second bit of cruelty was national news on CNN today. Someone shot and killed at least 14 horses near a strip mine on the Floyd/Pike county border, just 20-30 miles from where I was born. No apparent motive, just more casual cruelty and evil.

At times like these it feels like mankind is a plague on the planet. And I know that people exist in the complete spectrum from angelic to evil, but evil feels awfully front and center these days.

Ruminations on life, mortality and the meaning of it all

On my most recent trip to Kentucky, I had a lot of time to think about…pretty much everything. Drove two hours from Indianapolis to Louisville, then three hours to eastern KY, then back to Louisville, then another three hours back to Appalachia, and so on. So lots of time to think, and lots of deep-ish things to think about.

First and foremost, my Dad. He has crossed the line from independent living to being quite dependent on care. It’s hard to see him so weak and so diminished, but I keep telling myself that everyone goes through this. As Jackson Browne says in For a Dancer, “…In the end, there is one dance we’ll do alone.”. That’s so true.

Congestive heart failure, pneumonia, prescription drug overuse and interactions, and very likely mild dementia (my suspicion, not a firm diagnosis) is a tough combination. He has periods now when he acts and feels pretty normal for an 84-year-old, and then other days when it’s not clear he’s going to make it. But his frailty has gotten to the point that he can’t live without daily care/support. So that’s what I’ve been working on, among other things. It’s humbling, but I’m glad I’m here to do it for him.

Next up, my own lurking mortality. I’m pretty healthy, but things are starting to break down. Overweight (fixable, though with difficulty), really bad knee (fixable, a little less difficult), and a sudden onset of hearing loss (not fixable and quite disconcerting). Compared to my dad’s problems these are nothing, but…I can see the trend, and it’s not good. And once again, everyone goes through this.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. Just spent the weekend with Em, Greg and Hudson and it was great. Hudson is an id-driven typical two-year-old. He switches from a holy terror to a sweet little boy in seconds. E&G are doing a great job with him. And he’s living, growing proof of how fast life goes by. (Picture below from this past spring.)

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We had a fairly foody weekend in Louisville, as usual. I had a super Friday evening nosh at Louvino. Their mussels and duck fat fries are heavenly, and I found some good wine there as well. On Saturday we all enjoyed pizza from The Post, a new favorite in Germantown. Finally, on Sunday we went to the Logan Street Market and enjoyed the high-end street fare there.

More to be thankful for. Kathryn is back in Socal when I get home. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, and it’ll be great to get back to stability and comfort, rather than the living-from-a-suitcase transience I’m experiencing while helping Dad through his medical crisis.

Circling back to the fairly pompous title of this post, I am reminded on my long-ish drives through the wilds of KY that the meaning of it all is to be the best one can be and treasure the people you’re lucky enough to be around. I fail often, but I’m trying.

Gettin’ old ain’t for sissies

Haven’t posted much lately due to a lot of factors. Illness for a week+, the Thanksgiving holidays, company at the house, some lightweight consulting work…no lack of distractions. I hope to remedy that for the rest of the month.

The big news for the month is “we’re not getting any younger”. We all know that but sometimes life conspires to bring that fact to your attention, hard. For me it’s a combination of a few of my own health/aging issues (minor, as these things go) and my Dad’s health/aging issues (not minor at all).

Dad has gone through yet another cycle of getting quite sick and mentally zonked at home, then a stay in the hospital to treat a few things, and then a stay in a rehab hospital to deal with the aftermath of being ill in his mid-80s. So I and a couple of my brothers have made the trip to eastern KY to do what we can.

Assuming responsibility for my Dad’s well-being is scary, and I’m really glad I’ve got my family for support. There’s soooo much to do. Assuming Dad gets enough of his health back, we hope to move them to Louisville where they’ll have a better family and medical support system. But that involves moving stuff, changing their MDs, financial changes and commitments, huge change for them…it’s daunting.

But this aging thing is something we’ll all go through and I’m glad we’re here for Dad on this part of his journey. For the next few weeks and months we’ll be sorting through the details of their lives, trying to make whatever time they’re got left a bit better. Wish us luck.

Thanks(giving) it’s over

We had a great Thanksgiving Day meal with friends and family. Great people joining us, enough food for a small village and a great selection of wines and desserts. My traditional over-the-top meal, if I say so myself. My most ambitious dish, a turkey breast in mole sauce, was good but not great. I was going for great. The mole was missing something – not sure what – and the turkey breast shredded when I tried to cut it. So it goes.

And now for 2+ days after that I’ve indulged in a favorite time of year. Leftovers, holiday movies and general sloth. It’s truly an indulgence. But unlike past years when I was younger and healthier, after a couple of days of couch sitting and leftovers every couple of hours, I don’t feel too well. Pretty bad, in fact. The body just can’t take the abuse it used to.

So…today starts an effort to regain health. It isn’t that complicated. Just eat less than 2000 calories per day, get 30+ minutes of exercise each day and keep alcohol to a minimum (if at all). Eat less, drink less, get some exercise and write every day. Uncomplicated but hard to stick with. We’ll see.

In other holiday news my dad isn’t doing well. While my health issues are relatively minor and fixable, his aren’t. He’s very weak, not eating, falling down a lot. Several of us think he has congestive heart failure, but we haven’t gotten that specific diagnosis from an MD yet. That may not matter – it’s just putting a name to the thing that’s killing him with little/no hope of doing much about it. I’m on my way to see him in the next couple of weeks.

All in all, I have to say the holidays feel different now that I’m retired. They’re not the gigantic break in routine from going-to-work that they used to be. Whatever happened on the holidays…that break from work was something. Now, the holidays are actually more work than a regular day. Not complaining, just observing the difference.