Mid-Year Review

Early on, I learned my nemesis’ secret: stealth. It came in undetected, like a thief in the night, to steal not only my time and health, but also my strength, courage, and determination.

My nemesis thought he could steal 2019 from me. But all he got away with was a bit of tissue from my tongue and my neck, a few (unneeded) pounds from my midsection, and a bit of my ability to concentrate or focus.

Let’s review what he did not steal from me:

  • My avocation, in the form of my job. The year started off with more than 30 days off the job, thanks to politicians and The Big Orange One in DC. But despite their best efforts, I still feel quite strongly about our National Parks. Since radiation ended, I have met every deadline, every report, project, and task thrown at me. I am tired, yes, but at least I kept up. There is still much to be done.
  • My background in the sciences and my desire to read even the most tedious data. I am still happy to discuss with people just how humans impact our climate too, even if people want to live in denial. It all has to do with soil and water, systems we have really screwed up. The facts are staring us square in the face; we just need to grow up as a species and admit what we have done.
  • My health overall. Cancer is a bitch, but I still have excellent blood pressure, no signs of heart disease, kidney problems, diabetes, or just about anything else I was tested for. And believe me, I have been tested. Cancer has left me feeling numb and very UNenergetic. But those two things are attributable to the liquid diet, lack of solid food for weeks on end, and side effects of radiation. I am down from a size 16/18 in pants to a size 12 at the moment. My doctors kept threatening feeding tubes, but I resisted and I am better for it. 45 days out of radiation and I can taste most food again and am looking forward to trying new foods when I get to New York in 20 days.
  • My creativity and my desire to make things for myself. In fact, while going through radiation and staying at Hope Lodge, I designed a new scarf/wrap pattern which I hope to have ready for publication this autumn. I am in the middle of two new sweaters and a new pair of socks for myself, and a new fair isle glove design for my Mountain Woolies line that I sell.
  • My love of the written word. It seems if I sit down for more than 2-3 minutes, I fall asleep. Hoping this will pass, I have started reading the next book on my 2019 reading list, and have my friend BJ as my reading inspiration! She is cranking through her booklist like a champ. I have perhaps 10 more books waiting on my list to be read by December 31.
  • My goals of paying off my debt and buying myself some things I have needed for years. Well, I have a bit of medical bills now that I wasn’t expecting in January, but thanks to my saved up sick and annual leave (most park folks have no problem saving up leave because we are so short-handed that we never take leave), I was able to cover all of my absences for months with leave and I never missed a paycheck. So I was able to keep up with paying my pre-existing bills and that debt is declining as I’d hoped. The medical bills are on a payment plan and should be done in less than 13 months. Additionally, I have a couple new pieces of furniture for my apartment and I still get to take my vacation to New York that I hoped for back in January. Oh, and thanks to the weight loss, I got to buy some new clothes too. 😉

So suck on that, Cancer. You bit me, but I won.

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No One Can See Me

The quiet was uncommon. Everything around me seemed darker than usual. My muscles grew tight from the cold.

I was used to swimming around our home with two hundred of my fellows, but today it seemed I was all alone.

The cold overwhelmed me. I began to lose consciousness. I could feel my body slowing, perhaps even sinking to the muddy lake floor. Maybe if I closed my eyes for just a minute I would feel better. The mud beneath me was warm and I rested my head as if to take a nap.

When I woke, it was pitch black. I was lying prone. The soft mud that had comforted me now felt hard and cold. Some amount of time had passed, but I was neither sleepy nor hungry. I felt intense pressure, as if every part of my body was being pushed from its current location inward towards my spine. I couldn’t catch my breath.

What? I must have fallen asleep again. The harsh vibrating must have roused me this time. The noise around me, not quite like a ringing in my ears but certainly as annoying, would not cease.

A thin shaft of light burst through, hitting me directly in my eye. If I could have moved, I would have flinched. Instead, stared straight ahead at that light. There was less pressure on my head now and the vibrating stopped momentarily. I was unable to tell my location but everything seemed foreign. For the first time in my memory, I was dry. And trapped. Was this what prison felt like? Except without being able to move even a muscle or blink an eye?

I tried not to sigh too loudly when the vibrating started again. No sooner had I talked myself into tolerance of this new normal, than I felt a sharp stab in my gut. Did anyone hear that scream? Whatever had caused light to shine in on my resting place was now breaking away whatever was pushing on my belly.

The stabbing in my belly would not stop. I couldn’t move out of the way and I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. My brain raced; fear petrified me.

More stabbing. More scraping.

The pressure finally subsided as whatever was constraining me was removed. I still couldn’t move or breathe, but at least the pain and pressure had subsided. This hairy giant looming over me, occasionally blocking that blessed shaft of light, was clearly not going to eat me. Apparently, I was being evaluated. Despite my stone-cold state, I tried to look my best. Whatever this being was, he was more intent on poking me with a sharp, pointed spear.

I suppose I passed whatever test this being was administering. The words, “Knightia eocaena” was scratched into the dried mud around me and I was placed in a clear box. Nearly every day, other such hairy giants would visit my box, their faces scrunched in though as they examined me.


Writer’s Digest publishes a writing prompt every week. The exercise given on June 25, 2019 was as follows:

Creative Writing Prompt: No One Can See Me
Re-write a scene or story from the point of view of someone or something that none of the characters knew was watching. It could be a ghost, animal, the furniture come to life, etc.

***

In my work at Fossil Butte National Monument, I see many species of fossils every day in our visitor center. This is one (fictional) perspective on how our mass die-off fossil panel came to be.

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A Few Small Numbers

“It’s very, very hard to speak truth to power when the truth is unpleasant. I think it’s one of the toughest things, especially a young person has to do, when the only way you can do it is if you’re willing to walk out the door if he doesn’t take your advice, or you’re willing to walk out the door if he goes over the line.”

-David Gergen, White House Advisor (Nixon/Ford/Reagan/Clinton Administrations)


I’m trying to put words to paper here and I am just so lost. I don’t know what to say.

By now, many of you have probably read the Washington Post’s article about how President Trump took $2.5 million from the National Park Service, seemingly overnight, to help fund his July 4th event.

I am so conflicted. I was raised watching fireworks displays on the 4th, listing to music like the classic Sousa marches, and putting my right hand over my heart when the National Anthem played.

I am a public servant; I work for the federal government. This is my third administration to serve under.

But this week, I just want to sit and cry in embarrassment and shame.

Fee money in the National Park Service is so complicated. In fact, it actually takes special permission, in the form of actual laws, for the National Park Service (along with other bureaus from Interior and Agriculture) to even collect fees at all.  The current legislation is called the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), and was originally enacted during fiscal year 2005 as part of Public Law 108-447. At the time, it was hoped that fees would help offset the growing backlog of maintenance projects in our parks.

Fourteen years later, constant budget cuts to the parks – along with a host of other problems too numerous to discuss today – have forced that backlog of maintenance projects to be valued at around $12 billion dollars. In 2019, the parks are begging to use FLREA funds just to hire a few extra staff members to meet the ballooning visitation; forget the maintenance projects.

Here’s where it gets personal for me: that $2.5 million? The NPS unit I work at is small, granted, but our net appropriation for fiscal year 2019?

$741,100.00

Mr. Trump stole MORE THAN THREE TIMES what my park is given to operate for AN ENTIRE YEAR.

I have that number memorized because I have to watch our budget every single day to make sure we’re on track and paying salaries and electric bills so we can keep the doors open to our visitor center.

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My ‘park’ (in the NPS, we tend to refer to any unit as a park, even if it’s a monument or battlefield, or one of the 61 units that actually bears the title of ‘National Park’) is a National Monument, and we are one of just a handful of key paleontology sites protected in the U.S.

Like most NPS sites, we don’t actually collect entrance fees. Surprised? Most sites don’t collect fees. The big parks collect fees, some units collect monies from special use permits or attendance at specific programs, etc.

Small units like mine are required to apply for funding from FLREA for specific projects or programs. Think of it like writing a grant proposal. Congress gives us a small appropriation and anything we need beyond that we must apply for annually. During fiscal year 2019, I wrote one such project, requesting $6,000.00 to replace some of our aging IT infrastructure to meet current security standards. I am happy to report that my project proposal was accepted – but won’t be funded until fiscal year 2020. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy that I can use our appropriations for staff salaries and utility bills, and that rather outdated server and network components can be replaced using project money.

But if Corporate America had to “make do” like the National Park Service does, I believe perspective among the 1% wouldn’t be such a foreign concept. So when Trump slapped us in the face this week, you bet I took it personally. It still stings.

Guns and the New American High

You know, I’ve had to think a lot about medicine and drugs lately.

About the middle of week four of my radiation treatment (my total treatment schedule took about 6.5 weeks), I started feeling the side effects of radiation. I’d lost my ability to taste and was back to a liquid diet, I was feeling worn out, and worst of all, I was starting to spend a bit of time every morning coughing up this bright yellow mucus.

During my weekly check up with my radiation oncologist (who was threatening me with a feeding tube if I lost any more weight), I said NO! I will not take any narcotic pain killers. I tried to remind her and her nurse that most narcotics make me feel even worse – often to the point of vomiting. I reminded her that I was allergic to codeine. Why would I take something that I KNEW would make me feel worse? Wasn’t I suffering enough? Besides, I didn’t want to end up as a statistic of the opioid crisis.

That’s when the oncologist laughed at me.

After a few more minutes of heated discussion, I won. I went to see a pain management doctor elsewhere in the hospital to discuss other non-narcotic options to help me get through the last couple of weeks of my treatment.

But the point was clear in my head: some doctors are really not afraid to dole out the meds. It is up to the patient to take control of their thoughts, pain and fears and do the right thing for themselves.

***

Fast forward to when the neuropathy in my mouth was a bit more controlled. I was able to think a lot more clearly and my daily tasks – including checking in with work – were sort of getting accomplished. I still slept a lot.

One evening, I happened to be part of a conversation around the dinner table. Really, I wasn’t participating. Just listening, since I was having some trouble speaking more than a couple of words without coughing. It didn’t matter, though, if I said anything or not – this was an old conversation that I’d had (or listened to) in many different places with many different people. Every single iteration focused on one of two scenarios, something like this:

Scenario #1:

Person 1: I have guns! I need my guns! I live (insert country metaphor as desired). I need to protect what I have! You understand Jen, you live in the same place as me!

Me: Um.

Person 1: Well, you lived in bear country, right?

Me: Yes, I’ve lived in rural areas of Alaska, Washington, Colorado and Wyoming.

Person 1: You need to protect yourself!

Me: From what? I’ve hiked in all of those places, by myself, for years. I know what to listen and watch for. I’ve come across bears, even when I’m hiking alone. (This is when I tell the story of the juvenile bear – probably out of the den and on his own for the first time that spring – that crossed the park road about 25 feet in front of me when I was hiking down the road from the rest stop to the Teklanika River early one spring before the Denali park road opened for the year. The bear stopped, I stopped, and we watched each other for a bit. I started talking to the bear and he walked off the opposite direction. I kept going the direction I was going and did not turn back to my car.)

Person 1: You weren’t scared? I would have sighted him. He wouldn’t have gotten me.

Me: Um. I’m still here. He didn’t even come near me.

Person 1: I would have shot first and asked questions later. I need to protect myself.

Me: The human voice is really a good weapon against wildlife. They hear us coming and often have moved in the other direction before we every knew they were that close to us. They don’t want to be around us.

Person 1: I don’t care. I will protect myself.

Me: Um, I think you’re missing my point. Let’s move on.

 

Or Scenario #2:

Person 1: I live in XYZ Big City! There are crazies everywhere! I have to have my concealed carry permit. I never leave the house without my gun!

Me: Ok. *shrugs*

Person 1: Don’t you ever worry about what people are going to do to you? You don’t live in a good part of town.

Me: Yeah, I’d love to live in a mansion with servants.

Person 1: I’m serious. My neighbors are awful. I had to call the cops the other night because they were making so much noise at midnight and I needed to sleep.

Me: You needed a gun to call the police?

Person 1: Of course not. You’re being to haughty. I need the gun to protect me and my home. People get robbed all the time.

Me: What does that have to do with noisy neighbors? Are you going to threaten them with your gun? My bike got stolen about 15 years ago.

Person 1: See? I’m not going to let anyone take anything from me!

Me: You think I chose to let that happen? It happened while I was asleep one night. They cut my bike lock off.

Person 1: I need to protect me and my family. You never know what people are going to do.

Me: I was asleep in my bed when the bike was cut from inside its lock. I don’t own a gun.

Person 1: I don’t know how you feel safe in your own apartment, alone, without protection.

Me: Ok. I don’t need a gun.

Person 1: How would you defend yourself?

Me: I’ve taken a couple of self-defense classes. But really, you’re more likely to get attacked by someone you know, in a domestic situation, than a total stranger on the street.

Person 1: *shakes his head* I’d at least keep a gun in my bedroom if I were you. Somebody is going to take advantage of you and your situation.

Me: Ok. I’ll let you know when that happens.

(I hate to stereotype, but I believe more men have said this to me than women. I have been in… um… domestic situations. It’s not fun. Without giving details, we’ll just say the powers around me prevented me from standing up for myself as I would have liked. But guns would not have helped.)

***

I have had these two conversations again and again with so many people in so many different places over the years. It took until my cancer treatment this spring, and my (forced) slower lifestyle, to concretely realize just how much of a high some people get off of fear. Forget the opioid crisis for a moment (yes, just only one moment); the new American High is fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of things beyond their control. Fear of things people TELL them to be afraid of (even if they haven’t actually experienced it and may never). My favorite is the fear that “they” (whoever “they” actually IS) are going to take away your lifestyle, particularly when talking about the gubment. (Read: government, although these types rarely pronounce the word fully.) Trump is making a LOT of money off this last one, shame on him.

Let’s see. I like to knit socks. So, since wooden knitting needles are such a hot commodity, my $8.00 set of bent needles that I’ve had for 17 years are the target of a thief? Or is s/he going to cut out the part of my brain that lets me think through my knitting patterns? Is THAT stealing my lifestyle?

Perhaps the example above is simplified, but I mean it when I ask: Do you want to live in fear? Do you already let fear control you?

Yes, there are bad people everywhere. Yes, a few people get injured every year by wildlife.

No, the government really doesn’t care how many non-reality shows you watch on TV. But you should. And you should probably stop that habit.

It is my theory that, if more people took a more proactive approach to their lives and lifestyles, knowledge and experience would drive out fear. But too many people are way too passive in their acquisition of knowledge and experience.

If you’re afraid of wildlife, get out and do some hiking. I’ll go with you. (Although my present physical state might limit the number of miles we cover.) If you actually see any type of omnivore or carnivore bigger than a marten or a fox, and other than human beings, I’ll buy you a beer.

If you’re afraid of the people around you, get to know them. I’d wager you’ll find they are more like you than you think – even if they don’t look like you or live like you.

If you’re afraid of some group or government entity stealing your lifestyle from you, I’d like to challenge you: start thinking about this… upon what is your lifestyle based? Material possessions? If you are speaking of religious affiliation, what politician is stopping you from going to church? Next time they block the doorway to your house of worship, take their picture and send it to me.

Even criminals who steal peoples’ identities generally do it digitally. How would a gun help with that? Are you being safe online?

Guns are not the answer.

“But I’m a hunter!” say some people. I know subsistence hunters. And I know Bubba Rednecks who claim the Second Amendment. They are generally two divergent groups, in my experience.

Like I said earlier today, you cannot prepare for every eventuality. But I am going to do my best to not let fear control me. My choices may take more work than some people’s, but no one can steal my knowledge of sock making.

July 1

It’s been almost 6 months since the last time I published a blog entry. Right now, it’s 6:51 a.m. MDT. I was up most of the night coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose. I’ve got a wicked sinus infection and I sound like I should stay home in bed.

But I won’t.

I have a big report due for work today. Last night, I was looking at the numbers on my report, and for the most part, I’m happy with what I am turning in to the regional comptroller. Our budget software didn’t reflect the funds transfers I’d programmed, but hopefully when I log in today, everything will be just as my math directed and all I’ll need to do is get one signature and be done.

This is how I like to work: in advance, so if something goes wrong at the last minute, I still have all day today to fix any problems.

***

In the last six months, however, something happened that caught me a little off guard. I was diagnosed with partially-differentiated Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my mouth and neck (because it spread to a lymph node). If that sounds like cancer to you, you are correct. It is a cancer that forms in the middle layer of the skin.

So what caused my cancer?

It is a skin cancer, so people immediately jump to solar radiation, especially considering my lifestyle: spending lots of time outdoors in the sun.

Problem is, my cancer formed in an area where one doesn’t generally get a lot of sun exposure: on the bottom side of my tongue.

My cancer surgeon and nurses have pointed me to lots of reading and information. Most people with this type of cancer have one of two factors: either they are (or were) smokers or used tobacco products, or they have HPV. I have never smoked anything in my life. And I tested negative for HPV. (Statistically, males are more likely to have HPV-related cancer, and it’s more likely to occur at the base of the tongue, the tonsils, or the throat, and NOT the side of the tongue as mine did.)

I just won the genetic lottery.

I cried for about 3 hours after the oral surgeon gave me the initial diagnosis on January 30. By the time I met for consultation with the cancer surgeon (mid-February), I was mostly just mad. How dare this waste my time?

I had an 11-hour surgery and reconstruction on March 7, and 30 radiation treatments between April 10 and May 23. During the week of surgery and ICU/recovery, I did the typical things you would in the hospital: I talked to my Mom and played cards with her (she stayed with me in the hospital), enjoyed a visit from a nearby friend who came to visit me, watched endless hours of TV and slept a lot. I was connected to machines 24/7, and had both a feeding tube and a breathing tube (from a tracheostomy). But were removed before I left the hospital, thankfully. The feeding tube was the most painful part of the entire hospital stay. I’ll spare you the details for now.

But after I left the hospital on March 14, I pretty much was forced to make a decision: act like a sick, helpless whiner or do the right thing for myself and the people around and just get on with my life. I didn’t have time to be sick.

My mom was sick right after my surgery, so she needed care. I drove her back to St. Louis from my home in Wyoming, stopping for an overnight at a friend’s house in Denver.

There is no one to replace me at work, so if I didn’t do my job, things just piled up. And some things did. But other parts of my job did not pile up. Throughout radiation, I was able to keep up via telework with my email, and parts of my job that (thankfully) I could do long-distance. I spent several hours a day on my work computer, even while staying in housing close to the hospital, provided to me and other cancer patients by the American Cancer Society.

Yes, the last two weeks of radiation were miserable, I was really sick, and it kicked my rear end. I left the hospital after my last treatment on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, drove up to Yellowstone and spent the weekend relaxing at a friend’s house and walking, albeit slowly, through the geyser basins. THAT was good medicine.

***

Unlike my report due today, which I worked on in advance and am relatively prepared to turn in on time, you can’t prepare for all eventualities.

But you can keep a logical mind about things, take one step at a time, make tough decisions and grind through the tasks ahead. I did and so can you.

Today is Day #17

My friends and I are still locked out of our jobs.

I am very lucky to be single and have no one reliant upon me. If I starve, I starve alone. But really, I’m not alone because I know there are around 800,000 of us pawns.

I really hate Trump.

But you know who I hate more? The followers of Almighty Trump who won’t do their homework. It’s all such a joke. A sick twisted joke. I can’t even keep up with the lies he keeps spewing.

  • He can sympathize with those of us who aren’t getting a paycheck?
    • He’s a billionaire who preys on people. He didn’t even start out with nothing. He inherited from his father. He’s never NOT had a silver spoon up his a$$.
  • Federal employees support his shut down?
    • I know an awful lot of people affected by this shutdown. No, no such federal employee I know supports it.
  • Federal employees support his wall idea?
    • How many different examples can I give to disprove this? First we can talk Appropriations Law. Next, let’s discuss the homeless situation in America, or the number of children going without food, or our crumbling roads and bridges. How about health care? Then we can talk about water resources and our domestic water supply. Then we can talk about migration patterns of wildlife and their habitat along the border. No, we don’t support the wall – it is a waste of money and makes this country seem like we don’t care about our citizenry. (Well, the White House may not care, but some of us do.)
  • Terrorists are coming in from Mexico?
    • Um, most of the recent mass shootings and horrific acts in this country weren’t from any type of immigrant at all, but rather white men with guns who let fear, hatred and misinformation guide them. (Sound familiar, Mr. Trump?) If you look back as far as the terrorist attacks on 9-11, those men all came into this country on planes, from other continents, if I’m not mistaken. What would a border wall have done to prevent that? Nothing.

When are we, as informed citizens going to expect more from the Trumpettes? When are they going to pull up their Big Girl and Big Boy panties and admit they are believing a myth because it’s easier than learning and admitting actual facts?

Yes, there are ignorant people who want me to feel sorry for Mr. Trump. I’m just not that gullible.

Shutdown 2018-2019, Day #11: A New Year

It is January 1st, 2019. Last night (this morning), a friend and I rang in the New Year in sweats with a funny movie, an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and plates full of yummy snacks. And a flute or two of bubbly pink moscato. 😉

I was in bed by about 1:30 a.m. and read for a bit. I am working through Sophie Hannah’s (relatively) new Poirot mysteries, which I am enjoying immensly:

At 2 a.m., as I was shutting off the lamp on my bedside table, I heard one of my friend’s daughters come home safely and head to bed. Always a reassuring sound.

Then I woke up at 7 a.m. with pain in my right jaw. (This is on-going, so I won’t go into details here.) I got up and cleaned my friend’s kitchen. Dishes are done, counters wiped, coffee pot ready to go for the morning.

A nice calm way to start off the year. And hopefully, coming down to an empty sink and dishes drying in the drainer will help my friend start the year right too.

Now, on to the business at hand.

2018 brought some changes to my life, with a job promotion and a move to a different state. Given the rather political nature of my job and the agency I work for, what happens every day in Washington, D.C., often affects me and/or my job directly. I cannot get away from it. People tell me to not worry about things I can’t control. That is just a load of bear poop, in my opinion. Of course I should worry. I am forced on furlough and will be without steady income for the near future. Through no fault of my own. This is my life!

But as I was reviewing some of the steps I have laid out for myself in my new bullet journal, I found that I do have one bit of peace: I have the start of a plan. My plan is NOT new year’s resolutions, but more like specific steps and a roadmap, with clearly defined end goals. I just need to have the courage to wake up every day and take one step.

Towards everything I am visualizing for 2019, regardless of the quagmire surrounding me.

One step to start rising above.

One step forward every day.