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La Vida Locavore

John Muir Trail Planning: Getting My Permit

It's official! I'm doing it! I've now secured a permit to hike the John Muir Trail starting at Happy Isles in Yosemite and finishing at Whitney Portal.

I've also revised my hiking plan a bit. Here's the dirt on how to get a permit.
There are two ways to get a permit for the JMT. One way is to walk up the day you want to go and ask for one. They reserve 40 percent of permits for walk-ups... but you'll be taking your chances if you do that.

Option 2 is applying in advance. Since you go through several different national parks and forests and it would be a mess to try to get permits for all of them, JMT hikers are only required to get a permit for their trailhead and first night camping.

Roughly 75 percent of JMT hikers go southbound (a.k.a. SOBO) and the remainder are northbound (NOBO). I'm going SOBO. I am doing it because it's easier for me transportation-wise, because I want to meet others and hike and camp with them for short bits and I think it will be fun to go in the same direction as everyone else, and because I want to give myself a gentle start.

There are four easy re-supply spots along the JMT. They are all along the northern half of the trail, and the last one is at about the halfway point of the trail. Hiking SOBO means you can start with a lighter pack, resupply occasionally, and only at the midway point, after you've got your trail legs, will you have to fill up your pack with enough food to last you the last 100 miles. Also, it's easy to hike short distances at a time in the northernmost parts of the trail, whereas the southernmost bit (Mt Whitney) allows fewer options. That is, going NOBO, you start at Whitney Portal and you can camp either 3.8 or 6.5 miles up the trail. Then from there you have to summit Whitney to officially begin the trail, then hike back about 2 miles, and descend to Guitar Lake, which is the first spot where there is water, unless you want to melt snow. Oh, and good luck getting a permit for Whitney Portal.

Therefore, I'm going SOBO. To do that, the official trail start is in Yosemite National Park. There are excellent instructions for getting your permit here. But here's what I did.

Step 1: Make your plan for where you will camp for each night on the trail, so you know how many days you will be hiking for and when you will finish.

Step 2: If you plan to resupply at Tuolumne Meadows, check a calendar and find out when Sunday falls. The post office where you resupply is closed on Sundays. It's open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and 9am to noon Saturdays. If you aren't sure if you can reach Tuolumne Meadows by 5pm the day you will get there, then plan to pick up your resupply box the next day at 9pm. That will likely mean a late start on your day's hiking. In any case, check a calendar to make sure you know which days you can start hiking so that you don't end up in Tuolumne Meadows on a Sunday if you plan to resupply there.

Step 3: With that in mind, pick out a few potential start dates. You might have an ideal start date but also consider a few second or third choices. In a dry year with low snow, June is fine for hiking. Generally speaking, it's harder to navigate, not to mention colder, when there is snow on the ground. Once it melts, the river levels will rise. Then the mosquitoes get going. Then come the wildflowers. You can check the snow levels in the Sierras here.

Usually you'll end up applying for your permit when it's too early to tell how much snow will fall for the year. Last year the river levels were low by July 4 weekend. The mosquitoes were less than usual too. But if you're worried about river crossings and mosquitoes, August is a safer bet than July.

I plan to sign up for a Sierra Club bus trip to Yosemite. It starts and ends in Tuolumne Meadows. On the last day of the trip, everyone else will board the bus to go home. I'll pick up my JMT permit, stash a resupply box in one of the bear boxes in Tuolumne Meadows and then board a YARTS bus to Yosemite Valley to begin my hike.

If I wanted, I could spend one night in the backpackers campground in Yosemite Valley. So I could start my hike the day the Sierra Club trip ends or the day after. I was hoping to start the day after (July 6).

Step 4: Check the Yosemite website to find out when you can apply for your dates. You are eligible to apply beginning 168 days before you want to start hiking. For July 6, that meant January 19. You should fax in your permit application after 5pm PST the day BEFORE the day you're allowed to apply. That meant January 18. Just in case, I decided to apply for July 5 too. And that meant applying on January 17.

Step 5: Pick out your entry trailhead and first night's camping. The trail actually starts at Happy Isles and most people camp the first night at Little Yosemite Valley. The permit application lets you say whether you'd like to climb Half Dome too, because it's a few miles from Little Yosemite Valley, making it a very convenient add-on.

However, in the past, because of the quota on how many people can hike from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, many people applied for alternate starts. Two of the most common ones are Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley, and Happy Isles to Illilouette. You can also apply to start in Tuolumne Meadows, which saves you the steep climb out of the valley but also means you are missing a few days worth of hiking on the official John Muir Trail.

Right now, there is a potential plan to only approve JMT permits leaving from Happly Isles to Little Yosemite and those leaving from Tuolumne Meadows. The other trailheads and campsites would be reserved for people who are hiking within Yosemite but not hiking the JMT. This has not gone through yet (to my knowledge) but it's on the table.

I was pretty determined to do Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley. I want the experience. I want to do the official trail. ALL OF the official trail. I put that as my first choice. And then, instead of following the newly proposed rules and applying for a second choice trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows, I put my 2nd and 3rd choices as Glacier Point and Happy Isles to Illilouette. I also asked for a Half Dome permit.

Step 6: Fill out the permit and fax that puppy in. It's $5 per application plus $5 per person. That's $10 for me since I'm solo. I used HelloFax, an online fax service, and faxed in my first application on January 17. The next afternoon, I received an email confirming that I got my first choice: Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley WITH Half Dome included. Hooray!

I tried again that night, this time for July 6, my first choice start date. The next day, I got an email confirming a permit for Happy Isles to Illilouette, again with Half Dome.

I thought about it a bit, and decided to cancel the July 6 permit. I'll go July 5. That will cut out the night in the backpackers campground, but after I arrive in the valley via the YARTS bus on July 5, I will only have to hike 4.5 miles to get to my camp for the night. It won't kill me to do that. The next day I'll hike up Half Dome and then camp in the same spot, a total of 7.1 mi with a daypack. I'll start hiking longer distances the day after that.

So... that's it! I'm really going! This is happening! I'll post updates as they come.

Seasons, San Diego-Style, at Mt Gower

Sorry for my long absence. I've spent the last several weeks in San Diego (a.k.a. heaven). On Monday, I will return to the meat grinder that is graduate school. Actually, I think being ground up in a meat grinder might be more pleasant.

Some people say they don't want to live in San Diego because they like the changing of the seasons. To them I say: Good. Stay where you are. We're overpopulated here. Enjoy shoveling snow.

However, we DO have seasons here. They just don't involve snow (unless you go up in the mountains). The Kumeyaay people referred to the seasons as cold, rainy (winter); wildflowers (spring); hot, dry (summer); and harvest (fall). That sounds about right to me. We're currently in cold rainy but the first signs of wildflowers are already here. And I AM EXCITED. It's kind of like when you first see Christmas decorations come out before Halloween and you know it's not actually Christmas season yet but it still means that it's coming. If wildflower season is your Christmas.

I wanted to share a hike I did this past Thursday up Mt Gower, an 8 mile hike in Ramona. Because a sadist constructed the trail, I did not get to the top. Well, I am sure I could have but it was late in the day and I wanted to get down by sunset. And the reason why it took me so long was that I kept taking pictures, enjoying all of the signs of San Diego's winter and upcoming wildflower season.
Mt Gower Open Space Preserve is located in Ramona, CA. It's the part of the county that gets beastly hot in the summer, so now is a good time to visit. Actually, March will probably be a better time to visit, because there will be flowers everywhere.

When you begin, all sorts of obvious signs point you to the trail. Shortly thereafter, you reach this sign:

Mt Gower Trail Map

You can go left or right. Go right.

Here's a close-up of that map:

Mt Gower Trail Map

I made it to about the C. If you can't read a topo, let me translate this one: up down up down up down up down. I enjoy going up a mountain and then back down. I am less pleased about this repeated up and down arrangement, particularly when I don't expect it in advance. It's easier to get yourself in trouble on trails like these because when you're going "down" you still have to go UP.

In any case, there were already early blooming flowers all over, mainly sugar bush and manzanita.

Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)
Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)

Mission Manzanita (with bee)
Mission Manzanita, with bee

Mission Manzanita (with bee)
Close-up

Mission Manzanita
Mission Manzanita

Manzanita
Other type of manzanita

You can still see the damage from the Cedar Fire of 2003, which burned most of this area, although there is plenty of regrowth. In this picture, you can see the dead wood from what burned above the manzanita regrowing beneath:

Regrowth After the Cedar Fire

There's quite a lot of a type of perennial sage I'm unfamiliar with. It's not white or black. It might be purple sage (Salvia leucophylla) but that's just a guess I can't confirm without seeing the flowers. It smelled slightly different from the other sages, and very nice.

Sage
Sage

Sage
Sage close-up. It's lighter than black sage but darker than white, with a different fragrance from either.

Speaking of good smells, I saw lots of my favorite-smelling plant, Artemisia californica, a close relative of sagebrush, mugwort, and wormwood.

Artemisia californica

Here's the TRUE sign of the start of wildflower season (for me, anyway): a baby wild cucumber vine beginning to grow. First these flower and then the rest of the landscape explodes in flowers soon thereafter:

Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)
Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)

P.S. They aren't edible.

Here's another plant growing that will soon explode into flowers. I need to check to be sure but I would bet this is some sort of Four O'Clock.

DSC_6033

Most exciting of all to me was the little baby native chia plants I saw (Salvia columbariae). These plants have nutritious seeds like the chia sold in supermarkets and health food stores, but it is a different species than those.

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)
Chia

For perspective, here's how tiny they are right now if you are standing and looking at the ground:

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)

So how did I spot these tiny baby plants? I saw what I correctly guessed were last year's dead chia plants up above them. Or perhaps dead plants from the year before, considering last year's drought:

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)
Dead chia plants

There was also a bit of something I did not recognize in the sunflower family already blooming:

DSC_6066

And the first blue dicks are starting to grow - with no flowers just yet. They are the plants that look like large blades of grass in this pic:

Blue Dicks sprouting
Blue Dicks

Indian potatoes (Jepsonia parryi) are also growing. These plants produce one flower in the fall and one leaf each in the spring. Because they are weird. But each little leaf hides an edible corm just below the soil.

Indian potatoes (Jepsonia parryi)

A navigational note: After maybe a mile, a water tower comes into view (visible in this picture below in the background). Once you can see it, there's a fork in the trail. Go left.

Artemisia californica
Artemisia californica in front, water tower in back

As you're coming along and the water tower is in view, you can look down and see some sycamores, which are the deciduous trees with yellowing leaves that have mostly dropped off in this picture:

Ravine with Sycamores

Ravine with Sycamores
Close-up of sycamores

The trail you want to follow goes down to the sycamores and back up the other side. It gets very steep as it goes back up. After you come up that steep side, you start doing all of the up and down, up and down. It's mostly fairly minor but it's still a pain. And you aren't even really going up Mt Gower, you're still basically walking toward it. This becomes clear when you look around and see this:

Mt Gower
Mt Gower... that tall thing that you aren't actually climbing yet

Oh, you wanted to go to the top of Mt Gower? Well, you've got a ways to go before you even start on that. Sorry. Keep walking. Up and down, up and down.

It wasn't long after that when I got fed up and headed back. I'm staying with a friend and borrowing her car, and it did not seem polite to stay out after dark when she didn't expect me to. But I can tell you that the last bit of the Mt Gower hike involves rock scrambling and bouldering, so expect that if you go.

All in all it was a fun hike that will be spectacular once wildflower season arrives in full and beastly hot and miserable in the summer. Best of all, it's uncrowded, unlike some other nearby hikes. I saw a total of two other hikers the entire time I was there - and no dog poop or mountain bikers at all.

Up to Trouble Again

I haven't even lived in Wisconsin for five months and already I'm jonesing for my California mountains so bad I could practically go crazy. I'm headed back to San Diego over winter break, but I need more. So I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail.

In case anyone else is interested in how one goes about planning a 220 mile hike, I'll share my plans here.

Step one: Figure out the basics - start, end, and resupply points.
Step two: Figure out everything else in between.

Easy, right?
The start, end, and resupply bit is easy. Most people start at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park and end at Whitney Portal. I've visited both places and hiked the last few miles of the John Muir Trail, so that helps with that. You can hike it in the opposite direction, south to north, but I want to go with the flow. I am hiking alone and I'd like to meet and hike with people along the way. Also, going south to north means you have to summit Mt Whitney on your first day. I want to start off easy and work up to longer, harder days.

Resupply options are ample and easy for the first half of the trail, and non-existent/complicated/expensive on the last half. Since I'm poor, I'm opting for "non-existent" (I'm not paying someone to come over the mountains via donkey with extra food for me. I'll be my own donkey.) The one possible exception is exiting the trail at Kearsage Pass to go for food then. It would involve hitchhiking. Don't tell my mother.

You can join a Yahoo! group for the John Muir Trail that provides a spreadsheet with every single detail and GPS coordinate for the entire trail, courtesy of Elizabeth Wenk. It would be kind to purchase her book if you are going to use her data. Fortunately, the Hanukkah Fairy will be delivering my copy of the book soon.

So here's my plan as of now:

I might add more rest days in there. I might cut the resupply at VVR since it seems unnecessary, and I might add a resupply at Kearsage Pass. But, in general, this looks like a good plan. If I can get the permits for it.

Up next: Watching the weather, picking the date to do it, applying for permits, and lots of training.

Wow! Vitamin B12!

I'm typically in the "get your vitamins by eating healthy, minimally processed whole foods" school of thought. Another favorite saying is "People who take supplements have the world's most expensive pee."

I caved a bit on my 100% no supplements stance when I found that taking lysine supplements helps prevent/get rid of cold sores. I've taken that for years. Aside from that... nada. I try to eat a diet made up a wide variety of whole foods, mostly plants. That oughta do the trick.

I've also been a champion sleeper for most of my life. At least since high school. Back in the day, I literally slept in every single class in high school, including lunch and gym. I still got good grades, so nobody really bothered me about it too much. After school I'd get in my bed and sleep til dinner. Then I'd go to bed around midnight and wake up the next morning tired.

As an adult, I've always had a really hard time with mornings. Extremely hard time. It's not just that I don't like them. I oversleep alarms all the time. I've missed flights often enough that I won't even book a 6am flight now. Why bother? I won't get to the airport on time.

I tried weaning myself off caffeine recently, and I was able to do so... but then I slept all the time. Something was making me sleep a lot, and it wasn't the caffeine addiction. I went back to drinking too much coffee. Otherwise I'd never get any work done. Even still, I can sleep 10 hours at night AND take a nap during the day.

I've never been an athlete. I don't go fast. Ever. I'm not very strong, either. Even when I work out regularly, I plateau at a very slow pace compared to other people. I've always thought something was wrong with me. This past year I've done so much hiking and I've clearly gotten into very good shape - for me. But I still go very slowly.

So, a few weeks ago I went to the neurologist for my migraines. The PA ordered a bunch of tests. The doctor did an EKG and then sent me to the lab, where they took a bunch of blood. This past week, I had a cardiac stress test (a treadmill test). I was huffing and puffing and having a hard time breathing - but my heart was totally normal.

Wednesday, I went back to the neurologist. This time, the doctor himself saw me. He began looking at my test results. Everything was normal. Excellent in fact. Very healthy liver, kidneys, heart, etc etc etc until... Vitamin B12. I was low. Not even very low. Just a bit low.

The doctor ordered another test (methylmalonic acid) and a B12 injection. He said if I need the B12 then it will help, and if I don't actually need it, it won't hurt. Other than, you know, the pain of the actual needle. That hurt a bit.

The methylmalonic acid test will find out a bit more about my B12 deficiency. Apparently, B12 is supposed to do something in your body, and if it isn't doing it, you'll have high methylmalonic acid levels.

We get B12, as you likely know, from dietary sources. Entirely from animal products, which means vegans need to take B12 supplements. But I am no vegan. The doctor said that some people's bodies do not absorb B12 from their diet very well. And the B12 deficiency could be the cause of my fatigue.

The PA also prescribed a few other supplements: magnesium oxide, vitamin B2, and CoQ10. I've since looked these up, and each one has been shown to improve migraines in studies. So I'm taking them. She also has me taking an herb called Butterbur that has had some effectiveness in treating migraines. If you want to take it, don't get the actual plant itself (which is normally what I do). Instead get some sort of pill or capsule form that has the plant goodies with a toxic compound found in butterbur (called PAs) removed.

It's been two days since I got the B12 shot. I don't know if it's due to the B12, but I've never had this much energy. Ever. Or if I have, I don't remember. I feel great. I don't even know what to do with myself. There are so many extra hours in the day when you aren't sleeping all the time. It's utterly wild. This could really change my life. I always wondered what it would be like to be a normal person who was not tired all the time. I might get to find out.

Now, if only it wasn't so cold outside, and if there were some mountains to climb...

Book Review: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds

I'm a big fan of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair - with a few caveats. This is a subject that I feel passionately about, because Americans devote an absurd amount of resources to removing helpful, edible, and medicinal plants (a.k.a. weeds) from our useless monocultures (a.k.a. lawns) every year. And then we use more resources to grow, harvest, process, transport, and buy other foods - in some cases the very same weeds we want to kill in our lawns (i.e. dandelion greens). Therefore, this book is a breath of fresh air because it lends some much needed perspective to the usefulness of the weeds we overlook and waste.

Blair establishes herself as an expert on the subject early in the text, telling how she spent an entire summer living off of wild plants. The book is organized around 13 extremely common weeds that you can find no matter where you live in the world, give or take Antarctica: dandelion, mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, amaranth, dock, mustard, grass, chickweed, clover, lambsquarter, and knotweed. I've personally found all 13 here in Wisconsin, and all but two in San Diego (although it's possible I just wasn't looking hard enough).

For each weed, Blair tells how to recognize it, why it's useful, and what to do with it. She provides recipes too.

This is where the caveats come in. It appears Blair is a raw vegan, or at least her recipes are. This type of cuisine can be delicious, but if you are not a raw vegan yourself it can be limiting. You might personally find it more useful to have a recipe for dandelion pesto with dairy cheese in it and instructions to cook it, rather than recipes for raw foods, which often call for dehydrating foods and never bringing temperatures above 114F or so. On the other hand, if you ARE a raw vegan or you enjoy that type of cuisine, then this book is for you.

My other caveat is that Blair is a spiritual person, and her spirituality comes through in her writing. If that's for you - and a lot of people will find it very appealing - then that's great. If it isn't for you, I fear it might turn some people off. That would be a shame too, because there are not too many books out there covering such a crucial topic, and this one is full of valuable info.

My recommendation is to get the book, and if you aren't into Blair's flavor of spirituality and raw veganism, just let that stuff go. Read the book, and learn what you can from it. You'll almost certainly find a wealth of healthy food growing in your own lawn. Then look online for non-raw, non-vegan recipes using these delicious plants.

An Update from Cheeseville

Hi folks,
Sorry I've been remissing in posting on here lately. I need to write up two book reviews, one on Katrina Blair's excellent new book about edible weeds and another on Gianaclis Caldwell's fantastic artisan cheesemaking book.

In the meantime, I've been kept 100% busy between teaching, doing homework, having migraines, taking care of basic needs like eating, and the occasional walk out in nature. But now that the trees here are putting on a show, I felt compelled to share some pics of fall in Wisconsin.

My Street
My street
I must say, I'm in love with fall. First the trees dress up in gorgeous colors, and then they dump a bunch of free mulch on you. My neighbors are all wasting their Saturdays raking up the leaves to get rid of them. I'm savoring every single leaf that falls in my yard. I've got a bunch in my compost pile and most of the rest just hanging out all over the place as mulch. It's pretty awesome.

Here's my garden, with leaf mulch and a new variety of heirloom kitten I'm growing.

Sierra
New kitten in the garden

The kitten's name is Sierra. I adopted her a few weeks after the devastating loss of my girl Meg.

My Street
My street

Butterfly
A question mark butterfly (yes, that's really the name of the species)

Sierra
Sierra, again

Me, My New Glasses, and Carrie's Dog's Butt
Me at the dog park

This past weekend, my friends and I went to Devil's Lake. It's pretty much the tallest thing to climb around here. See? This is Wisconsin's version of a hike with "lots of elevation gain:"

A Big Hill (for Wisconsin)

OK, so the lack of altitude aside, here are some pretty pics from that day:

Autumn Leaves

DSC_0612_01
Wildflowers: Not all dead yet (just mostly)

Me at Devil's Lake
Me, on top of the bluff at Devil's Lake

Carrie
My friend Carrie, who hopefully does not mind being posted on my blog

Devil's Lake
View from the bluff

Devil's Lake
I think this is called the Devil's Door. It would have been a better pic with a person posed in it, but I couldn't figure out a way to get up there without killing myself.

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves
"All the leaves are brown... and the sky is grey..." Yeah, somebody here is California Dreamin'. These leaves are pretty, but I'd like to see a blue sky more than once every two weeks.

Autumn

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

Derek, Loki, and Carrie
My friends and their awesome dog Loki, a Husky/Malamute mix

Autumn Leaves

So that was my nice day at Devil's Lake. I'm going back next weekend, or going somewhere. Maybe to a spot called Blue Mounds State Park. Gotta pack in as much enjoyment of the leaves and the crisp weather while I can, because it will be gone in a few weeks. Then it'll be time to hunker down for the long, long winter.  

I Hurt

If you want a summary of how I'm doing, I can give it to you in two words: I hurt.

This week, I tried to switch to healthier practices. And, in fact, I did do that. More sleep, healthier food, less time under fluorescent lights, some social time having fun, a massage. It wasn't enough.

I cannot even communicate what it's like to live with chronic pain every single day. Unfortunately, far too many people know exactly what it's like because they live with it too. But if you don't know, I can't tell you. There's just no way to describe it that would possibly be adequate. But I can try.

Monday through Friday of this week, I spent every single day with a migraine. They ranged in severity, but Friday's was pretty bad. So was Wednesday's.

It's anxiety-producing. Every time I think about my day, my week, and my life, I dread the future because I know it will be filled with more migraines. I feel fine right now, as I write this, but I know when Monday morning comes I need to go back to school, with its fluorescent lights, and I will get another migraine. And I will do that every day, all week, except Tuesday. On Tuesday, I have one class, which I'll attend via Skype. I cannot imagine a life like this, with a migraine every single day. It's just so hard to get up every day, often feeling fine, and go to a place that I know will leave me with a migraine for the entire rest of the day. There's a lot of dread and anxiety that goes with that.

When I'm invited to a place I want to go - a party, a restaurant, or an event on campus - first I get excited about going, and then I remember that the place might give me a migraine, since I get them from fluorescent lights and projectors. Barbara Ehrenreich and Naomi Klein are speaking on campus. I've already RSVP'd. I love them both. Then I remembered they might show powerpoints as they speak, and I'll get a migraine. Do I go? Do I skip it? Can I find out about the powerpoint in advance? (In the case of Barbara Ehrenreich, it sounds like I'll be in luck - I know someone who knows her, who says there's no way she'll use a powerpoint... but what if they set up a camera and project her face onto a screen while she speaks?) This causes a lot of anxiety.

I have to do this with every single place I go. I had to do it for a party this week. Thankfully, it was OK. The week before, another party wasn't OK. There was a TV, and I made them turn it off. Then they turned on a fluorescent light, and I made them turn that off. I hate asking people to turn lights and TVs off. I'd rather just go home and let them have their TV and their light on. Then my friends moved rooms, and I couldn't ask them to turn off the light because it was dark out, so I sat outside alone for a while, until they joined me out there and had a bonfire.

Migraines are a time suck. Think about your day, and how many things you have to do. Now imagine getting all that done while either having a migraine, or not doing it because you need hours of extra sleep to get rid of a migraine. When I'm at school, I have to stick it out with a migraine til I can go home. When I'm at home, if my head hurts, then I try to sleep. I have to get my school work done, and I have to eat and shower and things like that. Other things fall through the cracks. Fun stuff, exercise, dishes, the litterbox, some of the work I'm supposed to do.

It's a vicious cycle. Stress, poor diet, goofy sleep schedules, lack of exercise, and anxiety lead to more migraines. But the migraines lead to stress and anxiety and goofy sleep schedules and all the rest, since when do I have time to exercise and cook healthy meals if my head always hurts?

It's alienating. Everyone else goes to class and works in their offices. Not me. I skype in to many of my classes. I work from home. I can't go to movies. I don't watch TV. I don't get the pop culture references. For my Friday seminar, I sit in a hallway outside the room and listen in, while everyone else sits around a table inside the room and participates. I wish I could attend classes with everyone else, and socialize with my fellow students before and after class. I wish I could see the chalkboard or the computer for my statistics class, so I know exactly what my professor's talking about as he lectures (I can only hear it) and I could take notes on what he writes on the board.

People ask how are you and the right answer is "fine." But I'm not fine. I'm on the verge of tears much of the time. Can I make myself just say fine and pretend? It's gauche to say otherwise, to tell the truth. "I'm not fine, I'm a mess. I'm desperately looking for someone or something that can help. Is it you?" Then the person who was just being polite is stuck hearing my sob story and that's not what they were committing to with the simple question "how are you?"

It's expensive. For years, I spent a fortune on full price prescription drugs and I could not get insurance (pre-existing condition). Then I got insurance. Still, I need weekly or biweekly massages, and those aren't covered. I need healthy food. I'm having a hard time taking the bus to school and might have to pay for parking. Cars are key to making a quick escape when your head is killing you. There's nothing worse than waiting an hour for a fucking bus when you've got a migraine. Add to that all the jobs I cannot do because of my migraines. Anything with a projector, TV, video, or fluorescent lights, basically. As much as I'm struggling with school, at least they are putting up with me because I'm a student. A corporation would want to fire me. I'd be earning a lot of money if I was still in software consulting, with a migraine every day. But why should I get a migraine every day to earn a living?

It's maddening. I'm too disabled for many jobs, but not disabled enough to be officially disabled. I am capable of doing work - from home - but so far have not found a way to make enough money to live on that way, despite five years of trying.

There's one thing I haven't tried yet: botox. I'm going to try it. As soon as possible. I've gone to my primary care doctor and I've gotten a referral to neurology for botox and everything else related to my damn head and all this pain. Apparently it takes six months to get an appointment. I've called the neurology department several times to ask to speak to a nurse to see if she can get me in quicker. Apparently, she's just now working on scheduling patients who were referred in early September, and my referral came in much later. Because why would there be any urgency to help patients with daily head pain? They can wait six months. Right?

Sometimes people think my problem is made up. I've had bosses ask me "If you could make your headaches better, would you want to?" as if I'm doing this on purpose. To inconvenience them.

Lots of people want to help. They tell me to drink more water, try Imitrex, chant a Buddhist mantra, give up gluten, try acupuncture, and on and on. I've tried 20 different medications by my last count. They don't work. None work. Except for Percocets, which is addictive, so you can't take them frequently. I save them for emergencies and never use them more than once every two weeks no matter what.

Many times I feel lazy. I am embarrassed. I sleep a lot. I never have enough money. I must be doing something wrong. It makes me ashamed of myself. But the truth is that I am not lazy, I am disabled. Despite this, I hold myself to the same standards as everyone else, as all of the able bodied people. And I don't measure up.

I couldn't make my life work as a freelance journalist. I was happy for the most part, but did not earn enough money to live on. I thought grad school would be a solution. I knew it'd be tough. I knew I'd have to move away from California and to a place with cold weather and no mountains. I knew there would be a lot of reading, and a lot of work. Fine. I can do that. But I can't do it with a migraine every single bloody day. Nobody could.

So where am I now? I hurt. Physically, emotionally. I hurt.

Grad School Kicking My Butt

Hello from freezing Wisconsin. I'm told the weather here is actually pleasant and that it will soon get worse. I think I will have a nicer fall if I just remain in denial about that until it happens.

Grad school has been kicking my butt, but not in the normal ways that it generally kicks butts. For most people, it's just the work that gets them. I can handle the work. For me, it's the lifestyle and migraines. Thus, I have not been blogging - but I also have not been doing anything blog-worthy. Mostly, I've been getting to class, getting home from class, doing homework, eating, sleeping, and having migraines. And petting my new kitten.

Sierra
New kitten. Her name is Sierra. Sitting still enough to pose for pictures is not one of her skills at present.
I did visit a friend's farm a week ago. I didn't get much in the way of photos, since the season is winding down, the weeds have overtaken the garden, and I was limping on a gimpy foot (I twisted it going down some steps). But I did get this photo on the way home:

Bald Eagle

That's the first time I've ever seen a bald eagle. If it wasn't for the fact that there's a picture of a bald eagle on all of the post offices, I might have not known what it was. The eagle was enjoying some roadkill in the middle of the road and I almost hit it as I was driving. Fortunately, I slowed down - and then as I realized what it was, I pulled over and grabbed my camera. But I was so flustered and excited that I left the camera on the wrong settings and missed getting a much better shot. Then the eagle flew away.

Attempting to go to school with a migraine problem is no simple matter. I get migraines from projectors, videos, and fluorescent lights. The entire building is outfitted with fluorescent lights, of course. There's no avoiding that. For one class, I sit in the room when the projector is off and leave a digital recorder on while I wait in the hallway otherwise. For another class, I skype in for an hour and then attend the second hour. For a third, I sit in a chair in the hallway outside the room and listen in. That one sucks. A lot. And for a fourth, I'm listening to video of the lectures online, from home. That's the best option in my book. I can do it when I feel up to it and I can do it at home with comfortable lighting.

The other issues are just lifestyle related. Three days a week, I have a class at 9am and another at 4pm. It takes an hour to get to school by bus or 45 minutes by bike (or about 20 minutes by car, with parking and walking), so it's a hassle to go home and come back during the day if I'm not driving. And parking is costly. The bus and bike are free.

It's a matter of figuring out how to get up at 7am, get my butt to the bus by 8am, bring enough healthy food to eat during the day, be productive during my hours of free time on campus, and then make a healthy dinner and do homework and get to bed on time once I go home. Plus maybe some exercise.

That isn't happening.

Part of the problem relates to hurting my foot about a week ago. I was biking more before then. But it's also getting cold and the bike option will go away at some point. (I'm not one of the people who will put snow tires on my bike and stick it out all winter.) With my foot needing rest to heal, I'm getting no exercise (and exercise is helpful for my migraines).

Aside from that, last week I had a migraine every single day including Saturday. That's not acceptable. It turns my life into a cycle of waking up, getting migraines, getting through the bare minimum of work and classes, and then putting whatever food I can obtain quickly in my mouth (not always healthy) and going to bed. It leads to crazy sleep habits, and leaves room for very little else in my life. Far too many times, I've had to just stop off at a coffee shop and get junky food to eat, just to fill myself up.

Friday, I went to my new primary care doctor here, since my health insurance just kicked in. She put in a referral to the neurologist for me and warned me that it might take six months to get an appointment. Today, I called neurology to beg a nurse to let me in sooner because I can't live like this. I plan to try botox to see if that will help. I hope it does.

This weekend, I emailed one professor and proposed skipping her lectures and just listening to them by video instead. She agreed. So now on Tuesday I have class only from 9:30 to 10:45 and on Thursday it goes from 9::30 to 1:30... instead of until 5:15pm plus meetings afterward. I can go home after my morning classes those days and eat healthy food and generally have my life back. On Wednesdays, I'm going to drive instead of taking the bus from now on too. That will allow me to go home in the middle of the day and cut out hours of time that would otherwise be wasted on the bus.

Hopefully this will result in a healthier lifestyle. Also, apples are coming into season at long last. This may sound silly but it was a big deal. I'd been eating pears as my main fruit simply because they were the cheapest. However, a ripe pear does not travel well. I found that out when I tried putting one in my bag and ended up with pear all over my laptop and phone. Apples, on the other hand, travel just fine. So I can start bringing fruit with me as a snack at school in addition to the peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix, and dark chocolate I've been toting.

This is all very frustrating, because I am disabled enough to be completely miserable while trying to do a normal thing (go to school) but not disabled enough to be on disability. When working from home as a freelance journalist, something I can do perfectly well despite my migraine problem, I cannot earn enough to support myself. But I cannot do jobs that earn enough to make a living without suffering daily migraines.

My professors have been fantastic in trying to accommodate my needs, but it really just SUCKS having to sit in a hallway outside a classroom while everyone else gets to sit inside and participate.

Sorry for all the venting, but that's what's been going on. It's not interesting or informative or helpful, but I wanted to let you know where I've been and what's going on. Hopefully I'll have something interesting about food. I'm going apple picking at an organic orchard on Oct 4 and I am going to an event on a farm this weekend, and volunteering at a Slow Food event in exchange for a free meal this week, so I should have something to share soon.

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