Friday, May 27, 2016

The Friday Five: Memorial Day Edition

It's Memorial Day weekend, which means a long weekend, and the start of summer, and a ton of Facebook posts with flags and admonishments to 'remember those who fought so you could enjoy our cookouts'.

But with such a big gap between the civilian and military populations, I would say instead just - remember that for many, it is a day of personal grief.

Five For Memorial Day

1LT Tom Martin Foundation

Read about Tom, and the legacy his family has established, to provide scholarships and share his story, and the wonderful project: Keeping TIME.

Travis Manion Foundation

Read about Travis Manion, and the legacy his family has established, to support families and transitioning veterans. (Article at Task and Purpose)


The new book about why transitioning from Military to Civilian life is so difficult, and why our society is so divided and isolating. (Recap from Task and Purpose)

Taking Chance

Powerful movie from HBO, about a fallen marine's final trip home.

Local Events

Events around Winston include LVJM Coliseum, Triad Park, the Lewisville town square, a parade in Thomasville.

More links from the Veteran's Day post.

More Friday Fives

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Strategery: The Breaking Point (Part 3) - How It Works

I've written about why pacing is important and empowering (Pacing - Part 1). And I've written about the end-game results (Pacing - Part 2).

Which just leaves... the How.

So here's the deal. This is the process that I've been using for tracking activity and figuring out what my limits are.

Basically, it's just a budget. It's exactly like making a budget for how much money I'd spend in a week, except money is Time, and there are two accounts to draw from: Mental Energy and Physical Energy.

The catch is (and it's a big one), unlike money and income, it's very hard to know exactly how much time there is to work with. How on earth do I know if my energy account has 10 hours a week or 40?

The short answer is: by guessing. I start by guessing how much energy I will have to spend on different activities, and sometimes I will be completely, utterly wrong. But because I've tracked it all week, I'll have a better guess the next... and so, after a month or so I'm finally able to see a pattern emerge, and now have a pretty solid framework to work with.

When I first started this I had no idea how reliable it would be, but it turns out that barring random, terrible, symptom flares, it's actually incredibly consistent.

But it took time and patience and a willingness to be wrong and experiment a little to get there.

Ground Rules:

First Caveat: the system works for me because I like math. Numbers and spreadsheets are my happy place. So if spreadsheets make you queasy, you are very possibly going to read this and think 'holy moly, who on earth would voluntarily subject themselves to this'. It's okay, I get it. It works for me but I might be the only person it works for.

Second caveat: it's less a 'system' and more a 'process', and this is probably the zenith of its complexity. It didn't start out this involved, and I anticipate that as some parts of it become more stable, they will become less necessary to track (and perhaps, it may become routine enough that I can go back to 'feeling' my way through days)

 I tend to approach the whole thing as a science experiment... Set a Hypothesis. Track data through the week. Review data, crunch numbers, and see where things started to fall apart. Some folks might be tempted to get caught up in the rule-following parts, but I usually run right through my self-imposed limits, and use the system to backtrack the week and say 'yep, I get it -- Tuesday is definitely where things went off course'.

So here it is, for what it's worth --
The Very Long Probably Confusing How-To Explanation in which I explain my system for 'Pacing'
-- which I swear is not as complicated as I am going to make it sound.


index cards



1. Identify Activities

I go through all the normal everyday activities that happened over the last week, or are likely to happen over the next week. And then add to it the goals I'd like to accomplish and/or would like to set aside time and energy for.
Cooking, grocery shopping, reading, blogging, paying bills, answering emails, meeting friends for coffee...

It's really just brainstorming, and doesn't have to be perfect -- just a starting point.

2. Refine Activities 

Step back and see if anything seems like it belongs together. Or could be broken down into smaller goals or tasks. It's really more of an art, and the first (or second) attempt is probably not going to be perfect, but it's okay because 'living it out' will reveal the kinks to adjust for next time.
Originally I had a category:
-Errands/Anything else out of the house

But found that when planning the week it worked better to use:
- Church/Bible study
- Choir/Handbells
- Errands
- Anything else out of the house
And eventually decided that "Doctor Appointment" needed it's own category...

3. Break Into Categories

There's a good case for 3 categories of activities: easy, medium, hard... but I'm not good at judging effort that way, so I only use two:

Activities that are basically physically active
Phys Therapy exercises or yoga
Dr appointment
Errands/**anything out of the house**
*even if the 'activity' is reading a book -- if I am at a coffee shop or a park and not at home, it is "Active"
I don't include the most basic stuff like eating or taking a shower, but do include time spent getting ready if it involves anything more than throwing on jeans, T-shirt, and a baseball cap.... (so hair/makeup/finding an outfit all counts...)

Activities that are basically physically inactive, but require mental energy
Quiet Time/Prayer
Coursera Courses
Talking on the Phone
In other words: anything I can do sitting on the couch but requiring more energy than watching TV.

I recently added new category: "Dealing with random health stuff", which used to be under "Life"... Things like finding medicine that's been on back-order, or scheduling appointments, or organizing records... because I'm curious exactly how much it eats into my activity-allowance. (My guess is "a lot".)

4. Make A Chart

I use Excel, but whatevs.

Left-hand column lists all the activity groups, in two sections for Mentally Active and Physically Active (or whatever your categories are).

With a couple blank lines in case something new comes up mid-week.

Columns for each day of the week.

5. Set Goals and Make Guesses

Two more columns: Goals and Actual

Actual is just a placeholder to add things up at the end of the week.

In Goals, I put the amount of time I would expect to spend on each activity (or the amount of time I'd like to spend). It might be more appropriate to call it "Guess".

6. Add It Up and Average It Out

Add up the GOAL column, and average it out over 7 days.

Now comes the hard part, especially at the beginning... Does the daily average seem pretty reasonable?

I also take the extra step of adding up and averaging out the two sections: Mentally vs Physically active, and evaluate those as well -- Are they lopsided? Do each of these seem reasonable?

This is really just a gut-check at first, but later becomes much easier. If it seems like anything is going to be too much, I'll see if there are things I can cut back on, or if there's (miraculously) extra room for something fun or a goal I've been wanting to work on, I'll decide what to add.

And that's it, that's how I set up the framework for the week. Obviously, as time goes on, there's less setup and more copy-paste-print involved. 


In addition to numbers and spreadsheets, I really love making lists. Also, getting gold stars for getting things done. So this may be many more unnecessary steps for most folks, but for me gives a better sense of control over my time and energy. 'YMMV'.

1. Beginning of the week: I print out the chart, and put it on the clipboard.

Why the clipboard, you ask?

Because that way I'll be able to find it. Seriously.

2. Each morning, using the chart, take a look at everything I need or want to happen that day. Yep, it's just a to-do list, but in context of the big picture for the week, and with everything living under one of Activity categories. And keeping in mind the average activity level that I would want to hit over the next few days....

The Daily List goes on the index card, and that way if I'm out for errands, it's the only thing I need to take with me. (Grocery list, appointments, etc)

So it also becomes the activity tracker. Instead of just crossing off a task, I put the amount of time I spent on it. Which might seem like over-kill but with my swiss-cheese memory, it's a helpful cheat sheet of everything that happened during the day.

And also, if things start to go off-course, I'll be able to start 'cutting' activities that are going to put me over the limit, so I don't wind up out at a store at the point where I'll hit a wall.

3. At the end of the day, I enter all the activity into the spreadsheet.

I use a highlighter to color in a box if I accomplished any amount of activity for that category, and write in the total time. Which might be overkill, but it makes all the little stuff that I did that day feel like an accomplishment. And it makes it easier to read.

4. Add up Mentally Active/Physically Active/All Activity and put the totals at the bottom.

And then... because I do really like numbers, I sometimes do some math. I'll run the average of the week so far sometimes I just write the over/under, to see if I'm on track or already on my way to hitting a wall.

Too many steps? Yes, probably. I won't do all of this forever, but it's been a good exercise to try 'for awhile'.

(aka: Yes, another spreadsheet)

1. Yep, another chart. This one just holds the totals from each week.

2. Along with a very unscientific judgment call like "Pretty good amount", "Recovery", "Almost too much", "WAY TOO MUCH".

3. But after a few weeks, all of this tracking and math started to pay off, and I was able to narrow in on what seems to be my general limit on activity. It's not set in stone, and the specific types of activities and amount and degree of difficulty I am sure plays a part in that, but in a very general sense, it seems like there is a ballpark number of hours of activity that I need to live within, or risk hitting a wall and having to sacrifice a week or two to recovery.

Recap and Notes:

First of all, I need to admit that I've lied about something. I actually don't track activity in hours, because an hour of activity is usually too much to do at one time. My real-life charts use a completely different system where I use "units of time" in which "one" is 15 minutes. In real-life this works well because I can use a 15 minute timer, and my brain is just wired to think about time this way. But adding that to the steps was going to make things even more confusing.

Secondly, this is the point where I reveal that I am actually very much NOT a Type A personality... Because I am very loose and wishy-washy when it comes to goal-setting. If it turns out mid-week that I decided to start a new coursera class, and don't even crack open a book, I will wind up with two activity goals that are way off the mark. And that's okay.

The system works for me because of what it reveals, not because of what it locks me into. But it does reveal exactly where my time went, so if I didn't meet the Coursera goal because I was doing something that was truly a waste of time, it would be an encouragement to do better the next week.

It has also revealed the cost of unexpected events. Like having trouble finding the medicine that's on backorder, or getting the a/c fixed, or when I broke a glass and used most of the energy for the day on cleaning it up.

I approach it with a philosophy of "make a guess, see how things unfold, look at how things went".

The big key is that it doesn't have to be perfect, because this week, just like the last, and just like the next, will be a work in progress. But over time, the overall summary will (hopefully) reveal some trends and help narrow in on Sustainable Momentum.

It's a process.

What are your strategies for pacing? Have you found a system that works for you? Are there signs or symptoms that you look for to know when to start cutting back, or do you need a more structured plan?

More Strategery

Monday, May 23, 2016

Music Monday: Tom Petty

There's a lot of stuff Tom Petty's done that just isn't my jam.

But then some of his stuff is always my jam.

Learning To Fly

Free Fallin'

The Waiting
[Youtube - With Eddie Vedder]

American Girl

Down South

More Music Mondays

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Strategery: The Breaking Point (Part 2 - The State Of Things)

The followup to Pacing Part 1 has been written and re-written over the past couple weeks, until I finally realized that the problem was ultimately that there were other things I needed to say first.

As life-altering as this illness has been, I feel like I've been coping with it pretty well.

First of all, never underestimate the power of denial, and consider that since there hasn't been a Unifying Diagnosis, I spent a good year thinking (and being surrounded by people who thought) it would just go away eventually.

But then it didn't, so there was a shift to figuring out what, exactly, was going on. But then that failed.

So this year, the focus has been on understanding myself and my limits, defining symptoms, narrowing the boundaries on the few parts we can control, and basically Learning How To Live With It.

Until now, coping with this has meant moving forward, taking hold of the good, remaining confident in God's ability to pull purpose from all circumstances....

Which are all good strategies, but over time the number of dings from illness and life accumulate and Holy Moly do I feel like I am about to run headlong into a wall.

Despite illness, life goes on. Bills and housework and Jury summons (thanks for that, Forsyth County), and the HVAC on the verge of giving out and the car which will need new tires eventually... and all of the illness stuff that I just don't want or have the energy to deal with, like finding medicine on backorder, or figuring out why all three stores closest to me have stopped selling my GF/DF muffins.

It's funny that this unplanned blog hiatus came in the midst of my Pacing posts -- which are basically all about asserting what control I can over This Crazy Illness.

Because while there are things like food and heat and activity that impact my symptoms, sometimes I still get blindsided for no apparent reason. And wake up with familiar symptoms (like leg pain so terrible it makes me sick in my stomach), and random out of the blue bolts of fun (like say, nosebleeds. So Incredibly Gross. And disconcerting...)

In short, I'm tired of being sick. I want to get back to life. And as much as I can seem or can tell myself I'm basically okay, there are real reasons why I'm not.

So here's the deal. Here's the bottom line. This is the Energy Budget I'm working with:

2 Types of Activities:
- Physically Active
Anything more taxing than sitting on the couch -- cooking, housework, yoga, errands, church, *anything that I need to get in the car and drive to, even if it's sitting in a park*
- Mentally Active
Anything I can do sitting on the couch but more taxing than watching a movie -- like reading a blogging


- Physically Active: 18 Hours Per Week
Allocated to (in hours):
1  --  PT/Walk/Yoga
2  --  Cooking
2.5  --  Housework
4.5  --  Errands
1.5  --  Dr Appointments
1.5  --  Getting ready (only counting things like hair/makeup/picking out outfits, etc)
5  --  "Free" Bucket, usually used for church, handbells, meeting friends for coffee
- Mentally Active: 18 Hours Per Week
Allocated to (in hours):
2  --  Life/Bills/Email
1.5  --  QT/Prayer
1  --  Read
4  --  Blog
1.5  --  Talking on the phone
1  --  Prep/Followup for Dr Appointments
2  --  "Heart" (things like sitting outside, which just make me feel better)
5  --  "Free" Bucket usually used for research, Coursera classes, writing code, twitter chats

I can and do often exceed these limits, but at great cost. Going over these limits take a big toll mentally and physically, and can lead to late nights with a lot of physical pain, and frustrating mornings, finding that I've put clothes away in the wrong places...

I've also been discovering other ways of calculating limits. Steps taken are remarkably accurate for anticipating crashes. If I hit 2000-3000 steps in a day, I am guaranteed to have terrible leg pain that night. And if I hit 3000, my brain goes on vacation and I start to get very confused about things.

I have a feeling time spent on my feet, and heart rate/heart rate zones hit during the day would be illuminating as well, but I haven't ventured into that territory yet.


What really brought on this post was that I've started to realize that what I really need most right now is not just something that is good, but something that is easy.

A trip to the mountains would be wonderful, but it would not be worth the cost. Not even close to it. I need something heart-ful and joy-ful, that at the same time doesn't steal the very few hours I have to save to keep life going.

So while I intend to continue this tracking/pacing practice for awhile, I think the next step is to really take a close look at the ROI for activities. What are the things that are Good. What are the things that are Good For Me, and how do I find and lean into the things that bring the most good out of the smallest amount of effort.

"Sitting outside" is the easy win. I've known for a long time that it is the single best thing I can do on any given day to immediately feel better (physically, mentally, all of it), and luckily it takes very little effort. Unfortunately, life cannot be lived in a hammock in the back yard. But there are other things, like music, that I should be putting in this category and using more.

Another group is the stuff that is good for me but almost more of a chore than it's worth. Cooking is right up there. It's very important that I eat good regular meals of meat and veggies to maintain energy and to even out some of the side effects from different medicines. But it's sometimes hard because along with the numbness I've realized that I have a really hard time knowing if I'm hungry or not. Cooking is important, but it takes so much energy, I'd say 90% of the time it is worth fixing something super easy I can put on autopilot. I have to get really tired of my standard 2-step meals before it becomes worth venturing into new territory. (See: Activity budget).

And then there's the stuff that is just plain draining. And makes me so incredibly angry for having had to spend my very small energy allotment. Like getting the a/c fixed, or contacting the insurance company, or dealing with any sort of medical-related stuff at all, really. Things I just hate to do, and might be a minor annoyance in my old life, but now it is not just the having to do it, but knowing everything that I had to give up in order to do it.

The problem as I see it is that I've had far too many things fall into this third category lately, and not enough from the first.

I need something good. And I need it to be easy.

More Stategery

Monday, May 16, 2016

Music Monday: Good To Be Alive

Another one to file under Relentlessly Optimistic and suitable for both running and house-cleaning playlists:

Andy Grammer - Good To Be Alive

Re: Blog housekeeping, I can only say: A/C, Illness, Travel, and Illness.... hoping for a quiet week to get the blog and the rest of life on track. Stay tuned, folks. Same Cat-Time, Same Cat-Channel.

More Music Mondays

Monday, May 2, 2016

Music Monday: The Far Side Of The World

Last week was a double-birthday week, and the birthday girl surely deserves to have a song of her own and should not have to share with the sometimes-birthday-hog "SuperPat". #ImJustSaying #NotLikeItsASecret #ThatsWhyWeLoveHim

A Very Happs Bday to Mrs SuperPat, whom(?) I now realize really needs her own sobriquet*. "Sulley's Mom"? Hmmm......

Jimmy Buffett - Far Side Of The World

[Amazon] [Youtube]

*Sobriquet: filed under "super pretentious words from The Book That Will Not End."

More Music Mondays