Dental Anxiety

I always get a little nervous when I go to the dentist. It’s not that I fear pain or procedures. I went through years of braces and humiliating retainers when I was just a pup and came out swinging. I have this subtle fear of disappointing them, and it always seems to revolve around that look they give you when they know you haven’t been flossing enough.

I’ve canceled and rescheduled appointments in the past when I realized there wasn’t enough time to try and cover up the fact that I haven’t flossed in months. Usually, it takes me about two weeks of continuous flossing to make it look like I’ve been doing it steadily all year long. At first they get puffy and bleed a bit, and then it calms down and looks normal after a few more days. That’s the look I’m going for; the one that provokes the “nice set o’ chompers” comment from the dentist.

It’s not that I gain any satisfaction from a dental hygienist’s praise. It’s just that I don’t like to let anyone down. I can’t help but promise to do better when they give me that sad face. They must have a class for disapproving looks at dentist school.

I just realized that I probably have more anxiety about disappointing my dentist than I have about disappointing either of my parents. That’s messed up.

Not Dead Yet

I previously gave the Most Depressing Movie award to The Wrestler, but I just got done watching Black Death, and god damn, was that sad.

I guess having a name like Black Death should have been enough of a warning. It was set in the plague of the 1300s, but it wasn’t as fun as Monty Python would have us believe. Lots of people were dying and rotting everywhere and there wasn’t a single “not dead yet” in the bunch. The main plot involved a bunch of stab-happy Christians hunting down some Pagan witch who was supposed to be bringing dead folks back to life. I thought these guys were into the whole resurrection scene, but apparently they just wanted to kill her. Everyone’s got to escape boredom somehow, and I guess, in the Dark Ages, that usually involved righteous throat-slitting.

At first, I found myself siding with the Pagan village because they seemed so nice and innocent, with a deliberately cautious attitude about the encroaching Christians. But as countless movies have shown, the happy, quiet towns are the ones you should be concerned about. The Christians blamed the Pagans for the plague, and vice versa. It was all about what gods you did or didn’t pray to, and both sides were equally into torture porn. I’m only surprised that Mel Gibson wasn’t a producer. He loves stabbings and flailings and ripping limbs off more than anyone I know.

So of course, I’m cheering on the Pagans until they start using the Christian’s torture methodology against them in an attempt to appease the earth and ward off the plague. Come on. I expected more out of you guys. The pagans I’ve come across have all seemed to been a fun loving bunch; more into veganism and hand-waving woo than into sledge-hammering some dude’s shins. That’s not going to help get rid of the plague, and neither will the blood of any witch with +10 resurrection power. Spoiler alert: It was the fucking rats. They spread the plague.

Hindsight is 20/20, and both sides be crazy. There was no good guy. The closest they came to a good guy was the young monk, and he eventually goes batshit crazy after whacking his (another spoiler alert) girlfriend he thought was dead and resurrected. He spends the rest of his days torturing and killing women. That’s how the movie ends. No happy ending; no “I made it through the plague and all I got was this lousy religion” t-shirt. It’s just a bunch of depressing events strung together. As soon as you think it’s hit rock bottom and couldn’t possibly get any worse, it does. And then the credits roll, right after you see some poor chick’s toe get ripped off with a pair of pliers. Delightful.

That being said, it’s a great movie. It’s just really depressing. It’s kind of like a History Channel documentary (not involving ghosts or UFOs) mixed with all the worst parts of the Saw movie series. Not all good stories are happy ones.

Unwinding in the U.P.

Life has slowed to a crawl. It’s been a few days since I’ve popped open my laptop. In those days, we drove from Santa Clara, California to Hudsonville, Michigan for a brief respite, then packed up our clothes and our puppy for another road trip up to Agate Harbor, Michigan. Our family has a cottage on a small peninsula directly on Lake Superior in the extreme Upper Peninsula, where only bears and snowmobilers dwell.

As I write this, the sun has set over the water and an innumerable amount of dragonflies are flitting about, gobbling up mosquitoes or blackflies, or whatever it is that keeps their tummies full. Last night’s sunset was amazing, perhaps because we haven’t seen a good one since our move to California. It was always blocked by mountains or clouds. Here on Lake Superior, the entire sky is illuminated by the setting sun on a clear night from horizon to horizon. As it lowers, you can see the entire spectrum of light played out from west to east. It’s like a rainbow fat enough to cover the dome of the sky.

It takes a day’s worth of driving to get to the cottage, but once we’re here, it’s always worth it. Today was spent sleeping and reading on the deck overlooking the waves on the lake, exploring the ancient volcanic rocks spilling into the cold waters, and taking our dog for her first swim in Lake Superior.

Actually, it was her first real swim anywhere. Jen has always had it in her mind that Piper wouldn’t be a good swimmer because she’s not a Lab, which is a breed apparently made for swimming. Piper proved her wrong, and we couldn’t stop laughing the entire time. There’s a calm bay on the other side of the peninsula where we went to go swimming. Coincidentally, the water here in Lake Superior was vastly warmer and more tolerable than the ocean near Santa Cruz we tried swimming in over the summer. Go figure. Anyways, Piper got in the water and bounced around for a little as we started wading out, adjusting ourselves to the temperature. It surprised her when she realized she was no longer walking, but instead floating, and her limbs flailed out spastically for a short bit before she abruptly realized how awesome it was to float in the water. She then proceeded to swim in gradually widening circles as she realized the extent of her discovery. Before we knew it, she was chugging away, some twenty yards out, with only her head visible along with her cropped tail she was using as a wild little rudder.

It took some time before mastering her vessel. We swam with her and she chased us in the water with a fierce look of determination in her little puppy eyes, every once in a while biting a mouthful of water. She ended up being pretty fast in the water and, once she started after you, she’d be resolved to catch up, at which point she’d usually keep paddling with her paws and inadvertently scratching your arms and chest as she kept afloat. She had no problem steering and taking turns chasing either Jen or me, and we got tired before she did. It’s great to have her back again.

We’re up here in the wilderness for a week of unwinding. California was amazing and exhausting. When we started out, we didn’t really know what to expect. We had a list of places we wanted to visit up front, and those we tackled with great vigor. We anticipated that we would have more free time than we actually did. It turned out that we were both working full time jobs the entire three months we were out west. She, being a travel nurse, was not allotted any vacation time during those three months. Jen’s schedule was to work three twelve hour nights, on various days, per week. While we were used to this schedule back home in her old job, it made things a little more difficult to fit in everything we wanted, but we made due.

All our exploring was tucked into evenings and weekends. Some weekends, she had to work, and on a few of those, I was able to shift a few days in order to get my two weekend days in the middle of the week, so that we’d both work over the weekend but have a couple days off in the middle. But it never worked out to more than two days off, which meant that all our exploring had to be squeezed into that timeframe. For the first month and a half we were out here, we crammed in as much as we could, taking weekend trips to Napa Valley, Yosemite, Big Sur, San Francisco, and so on. We fit an amazing amount into those tiny weekends, but it soon wore us out, especially when we had to drive several hours to and from a destination. I’d always be up early in the morning the next day, overloading on caffeine to try and bring my neurons up to normal speed so I could at least try to be productive at work, and she’d be jolted back into the NICU, saving lives and being a much more noble human than I could ever hope to be.

We had three sets of visitors to our tiny apartment in California during the last half of our adventure. It was a good way for us to highlight and show off some of our favorite places in the area. It was sometimes a bit tricky for me to work in our two room apartment when friends and family were sleeping in my office, but after a cheap chair was purchased from IKEA, I managed to carve out a working area in the bedroom which suited well enough for the time it was needed. Only when I needed to Skype or call back home to the office was this ever a challenge, in that I needed to deftly and quietly sneak out of the bedroom and hurdle over our slumbering friends and their luggage so I could take the call out in the crisp morning air in the hallway outside our apartment. It wasn’t so bad.

There were times during the trip where we felt we had had enough, and talked more about our home and the dog we left than about all the fun things to do in the Bay Area. This, we usually battled with bottles of wine and amazing food from one of the nearby Indian, Greek, Thai, German, Sushi, Chinese, or Mexican restaurants which were all within walking distance. I guess it’s only normal to get a little homesick after being away for a few months, even though we were in such an amazing location.

We’ve talked a lot about whether we’d want to go out on another travel nursing assignment, and where our next ideal location would be. This one turned out to be pure gold. There was so much to do and to be explored in the San Francisco Bay Area, that we were never bored. We can’t seem to think of another area that would offer so much, and we haven’t seen any really compelling travel jobs posted. The most interesting ones to date, besides all the California ones, are either in Alaska, Missoula, Montana, or Honolulu.

Alaska just seems too far, and would probably only be good in or around summertime. Montana and Honolulu sound good any time of year, but not so compelling that we’d want to spend three months working full time there. After this California assignment, we’ve got a better idea of what life is like during a travel assignment. So far, I just can’t see us doing another assignment any time soon. A short vacation to Alaska, Montana, or Hawaii sounds great, but to be stuffed into a tiny apartment for that duration, with no real vacation time besides the normal weekends, doesn’t sound so appealing.

We’re happy to have made it home from California. Our house now seems like a mansion compared to our tiny apartment out west, and everything seems so green. It’s funny how, even though the area we were in was supposed to have some great farmland, it seemed like everything was dead. The mountains to the west had lots of green trees, but in the valley and to the east, all the grass on all the hills was dead and brown, nearly yellow, having been cooked beyond well done. They say the grass gets fried in the springtime, and stays cooked all summer long. On the drive home, we went through a few deserts and wastelands, and miles upon miles of treeless farmland as we ventured through Nebraska and into Iowa. It wasn’t until we got back into Michigan that I realized how lush and green everything was as we were driving through the tunnels of trees surrounding the freeways. It’s good to be home.

So now, we’re enjoying some much needed relaxation in the wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We’re back with our dog, who hasn’t forgotten us and whose excitement upon seeing and smelling us again for the first time can only be rivaled by her excitement at a thrown stick.

Today, as we sat on the deck, we saw three deer walking near the water as they stopped and stared at us. We made eye contact and our dog barked. Later, my wife jolted me awake to point out a bald eagle flying lazily overhead. Tomorrow will be another lazy day out on the deck by the lake with some wine and a good book, and perhaps another swim with the dog in the bay. This time we’ll bring a camera.

13.1 Miles of Fun

Yea, I brought my camera phone on the race

This past Sunday I ran my first half-marathon in San Francisco. The last time I ran a race was probably when I was a wee lad, running in the neighborhood park to appease my parents. This time, I did it to appease my wife. Well, at first, I did it for her, but the more I looked into it, the cooler it became.

I ran the first half of the marathon, which starts on the eastern side of the peninsula, north of the Bay Bridge, on Embarcadero. It winds northwest around the peninsula towards the Golden Gate Bridge, which is always in view from early on in the race. The path crosses the bridge and loops around a scenic outpost, overlooking the city, before heading back south on the bridge and crossing through some city streets into Golden Gate Park, where the first half ends.

We’re leaving in a couple days, and this was a perfect recap to our time in the city. The first half of the marathon takes you by many of the more well known tourist attractions, some of which I visited the prior day while playing tour guide to my brother and his wife.

As far as the race portion of it went, I didn’t have high expectations for my own performance and mostly looked forward to running around the bridge and the city, void of traffic. When people asked about it, I told them that, if nothing else, it would make for a nice walk. I trained for it over the last few months we’ve been here, usually on nights Jen was off. One of the peers who pressured me into the race gave me a few suggestions on where to run in the area, all of which were twenty minutes to a half hour drive from my place. Booo.

At first, I expected the course to be extremely hilly and I planned accordingly by running up some of the local hills/mountains, namely Mission Peak in Fremont and St. Joseph’s Hill near the reservoir in Los Gatos. At some point, I looked up the elevation map of the race, and was delighted to see that the first half never rose above 300 feet in elevation. I then turned my training to running the Los Gatos Creek trail and instead, trained more for distance. Prior to this trip, the farthest I’ve run has been around six miles, more like a 10k. I now averaged eight to ten miles per run, and the week before the race, I ran the full 13.1 miles in about two and a half hours, with plenty of walking in between.

I figured I’d be tired enough to walk a few times on race day, but surprised myself by running the whole thing without stopping. It still took around two and a half hours but at least I was consistent. There were a few uphill portions with lots of people walking on them, but I just took baby steps, barely going faster than the walkers. Most of these people passed me on the way down, but I was too busy enjoying the scenery.

There were a ton of people running the race. I passed a girl with one leg, and felt slightly guilty about it, but I never caught up to a guy who ran the whole thing on crutches. There were people scattered throughout the race shouting encouragement, but my favorite was a little kid hold a sign that said something like, “Take it easy, you’re not going to win.” Words to live by.

I’ve had people tell me that after their first race, they were hooked. Me, not so much. It was fun and I can say I’ve done one, but I did this more for the course. Running across the Golden Gate Bridge was pretty damn cool. It’d have to be an impressive course to hook me into another one of these things. For now, I look forward to taking it a few miles at a time back home, running around the neighborhood and through the woods with my trusty dog at my side.

Tour Guide One Last Time

My brother, Scott, and his wife, Betsy, came out to visit us for a few days. Jen got screwed over by her shift and had to work the weekend, so I spent a few days playing tour guide, dragging the two all over the area until they were exhausted. They didn’t even tip me.

Friday, we went down Highway 1 to Big Sur. The clouds hung low to the sky but visibility was still pretty good. We made it down to the waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer State Park, snapping photos along the way, then we turned around and had dinner at one of the little diners by the road, next to the stream and a bunch of redwoods.

Saturday, I hauled them up to San Francisco for a whirlwind tour. Everybody seems to want to see the Painted Ladies, sorry, I mean the Full House Houses, so that was one of the first places we stopped.

Again with the running up the hill

We walked on the Golden Gate Bridge for a while, then went up and down the steep and twisty Lombard Street and into Chinatown for some food. The whole time we were out, Scott was worried we’d be late for our night tour on Alcatraz. We hung around Fisherman’s wharf for a while as his agitation grew. Eventually, we hopped on the boat to Alcatraz.

Nonreciprocal Brotherly Love

The night tour of Alcatraz was awesome. A few weeks ago, we did Alcatraz in the day. In the evening, it’s less crowded, a few areas are closed off, but there are a few additional areas open and they give a few talks and demonstrations at night.

Near the end of the audio tour, which rocked by the way, I noticed a sign that said the hospital wing was open. The hospital wing was on a floor above the cafeteria, and full of creepy rooms which contained really old and rusty operating equipment. Each room had a single lantern, strategically placed to cast the most eery glow possible. We toured this wing just as the sun was setting. I felt like I was touring the psychiatric wards HP Lovecraft was so fond of writing about.

X-Ray Machine OF DEATH
Hospital Beds OF DEATH

At the end of the tour, we caught the tail end of a story about a prisoner who spent all night screaming in solitary confinement in order to cover up the tearing sound of his clothes. He was making a noose which he would use to hang himself the next morning. The only way to get enough weight to suffocate himself was to lean on an angle, away from the bars, to which the other end of the noose was tied. Somehow, he managed to tie his feet up in such a way that he was able to kill himself completely. Nice! When you put your mind to it, nothing is impossible.

The last thing they did on the night tour was to have everyone gather around one of the cell blocks where they tell you a creepy story, then start pulling levers that open and shut the whole row of cell doors. The sound is intense. Apparently it’s been recorded and used in movies, one of which she mentioned was Jurassic Park. Another reason to love that movie.

After sailing back to the city, Scott and Betsy dropped me off at a hostel near Union Square, where I stayed the night by myself so I could run the first half of the San Francisco marathon. After the race, I met them and celebrated with a bunch of ice cream and chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, then we went up to Muir Woods to see some huge trees. After that, we swung on over to Napa, where we spent the night at a bed and breakfast and spent the next day tasting wine and touring the valley.

After a short visit with our uncle’s family up in Pleasanton, we came back to Santa Clara, and then they flew out of our lives the next morning, as quickly as they came. This last whirlwind tour was a nice way to wrap up our time out here, and we got to revisit a lot of our favorite places. Now, we just have to finish out the workweek, then pack everything Tetris-like into the Jeep, and we’ll be on our way back home.