Friday, July 24, 2009

Hail Storm

A neighbor's house the morning following the hail storm.

An exciting storm came through last Monday night. I woke up at midnight to flashes of light from the north window of the bedroom. As I heard no thunder I assumed the distant storm would soon pass to the east. Meanwhile I enjoyed the fireworks and soon drifted back to sleep. It seemed like seconds later that a howling wind arose and hail pounded the house. A chill invaded the previously hot summer air. Water streamed through the windows as they banged and shook and James and I raced around to close them. The flashes of lightening now enveloped us and seemed to occur every two seconds as they revealed a wintry looking landscape. I have lived in Colorado over twenty years and I have never experienced a hail storm that was so loud—and long—a good twenty minutes. Fortunately we were privileged to experience the thrill with little damage; a few decimated flowers and shredded shrubs. Later I heard the news that suburbs near Denver suffered smashed windows and the crushing of houses and cars by huge trees.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Post Exertional Malaise

Every time I exercise I pay. Most people feel good after they exercise—they’re invigorated…but not me. I feel worse. This challenges my motivation but I persist because I really want to get back to doing the outdoor things I love.

Since my forced discontinuation of Surmontil last fall (it is no longer manufactured) and the cessation of most of my fibromyalgia symptoms, I am not home free yet. Surmontil did keep my insomnia at bay and without it my sleep problems are back. And the one fibromyalgia symptom that did not go away is the mysterious post-exertional malaise. PEM is a period of intense, debilitating fatigue in reaction to seemingly harmless activity from which it takes an inordinate amount of time to recover. It is also known as exercise intolerance. I don’t have it all the time but I have recently experienced a particularly bad episode.

So between insomnia and occasional post-exertional malaise it is no wonder that I am tired all the time. I fear that in addition to my already reserved disposition my fatigue only makes me seem more aloof. Perhaps I should wear a button, “Please excuse me, I’m not a snob, I’m just very tired.”

However, in my constant quest for answers I have found hope. It comes from a book I’ve discovered, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fighting Fatigue by Nadine Saubers. The book describes exactly what I’m going through. It provides good, practical advice about pacing, graded exercise, and maintaining a healthy energy bank account.

Good health is such a glorious thing. For those who are blessed to have it, it is easy to take it for granted. Some of us have to fight for it but it is worth the battle.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Japan in me

A 95 year old man living in Tokyo recently asked me to contribute to a book he is writing. This is how it came about.
Four years ago I learned about the John Manjiro Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange. It organizes trips for Japanese people to visit America and vice versa for the purpose of friendship and cultural exchange. On a given year a group of Americans travel to Japan and on the alternating year a group of Japanese travel to America. Volunteers on both sides provide activities and experiences for their guests as well as arrange for two to three day home visits. James had a lot of interest in Japanese culture at the time, partly motivated by his interest in Nintendo and Anime. To me it seemed like a wonderful opportunity for travel and a good educational experience for my son. We made the trip and loved it. Although I anticipated that James and I would be together for the homestay, we were not. At age 16, he stayed with Japanese strangers by himself. Although initially very anxious about it, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

On the following year, the host city for Japanese guests was Colorado Springs. Eager to return the hospitality shown to me, I volunteered to host Japanese visitors in our home. At first we were told that a 78 year old man would be staying with us. Then I received a request to also take in a man who would be traveling with our guest as an attendant. The 78 year old's physician (also his friend) insisted that he not travel alone and arranged for her husband to accompany him. When the time came to meet our guests, we discovered that the 78 year old was actually 92. We heard rumors that he feared being excluded from the trip if he admitted his actual age so he fibbed on his application!

We had a fascinating visit with this man. When he was younger he worked as a journalist for one of the large newspapers in Tokyo. During World War II, he covered a battle in Korea where the Japanese were overwhelmingly defeated. He was beaten for reporting the truth about that battle and is deaf in one ear from the injuries. In addition he also described interesting aspects of his childhood in Kyoto.

There was a shadow of sadness over his visit however. He was grieving the recent death of his wife. He wore her photo around his neck and would discuss the circumstances of her death with us.

Mr. Konno holds a photo of his recently deceased wife

The next year I went to Japan again with my friend Diane. We visited the Noto Peninsula on the western side of the country. It is an enchanting area of mountains, sea, and rural landscapes. We experienced the pleasure of staying in a ryokan. My homestay was in the quaint little town of Hakui City with a woman named Masago and her mother. Masago took me to see to the beautiful gardens in Kanazawa. She also took me on a hike up a mountainside of lush bamboo and pine to the site of the burial place of Moses. How did that story ever develop? Fascinating!

Masago gave me a kimono.

At the Moses Park

At the end of the trip we spent two days and one night in Tokyo before flying home. My former Japanese guests invited me to have dinner with them, the younger man's wife and three additional friends. The younger man came by the hotel next to the Tokyo Dome,a huge baseball stadium, in a taxi to pick me up. It was a bright early summer evening as we drove through the vibrant canyons of Ginza. After driving by the grounds of the Imperial Palace we stopped by one of Tokyo's newspaper buildings where we picked up the elderly man. There he presented me with several copies of a book he had written. It was written in Japanese but the title was translated into English, My Sunshine in Colorado. What a surprise to look inside the book and see photos of our family, our house, as well as other photos of his trip to Colorado.

What followed was one of the most amazing dining experiences of my life. They took me to a chic restaurant many floors high that overlooked an expansive vista of city, waterways, bridges,ocean, boats, and distinctive landmarks such as Tokyo Tower. The meal was exquisite, a traditional style of Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki. Every morsel was delicious and served with the most beautiful presentation. My hosts overwhelmed me with their generosity and hospitality.
A few months ago I received word from the elderly gentleman that he is writing another book and he requested that I contribute to it. He asked me to write about my thoughts and plans for the future of the world from a female perspective. I responded to his request and I may be published in Japan! I hope nothing is lost in translation. As far as I can tell, his books are self-published and their circulation is limited to his circle of friends and acquaintences. But it has been fun and all part of this greater adventure of becoming acquainted with Japan and its people.
I strongly recommend to anyone who would like to travel to Japan that the John Manjiro Whitfield Commemorative Cultrual Exchange is a great way to go. I would love to know if there are similar cultural exchange programs with other countires. The small bit of research I have done has failed to yield any but I assume they must be out there.