Geeking out on this winter’s weather

I lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains during the El Nino winter of 1997/98, the year that brought some pretty epic weather to the hills and California in general. That year was all about digging neighbors out from landslides, clearing flooded storm drains, and trying to get my little VW Golf up Highway 17 in the face of rivers of mud flowing down the hill.

Now I work in Los Gatos and between work and home, it sure feels like it’s been the wettest season since then. Two weeks ago we ran out into the pouring rain from the office as a flood alert was issued, to see Los Gatos Creek swiftly rising as Lexington Reservoir spilled over the dam. In the days after, Vasona Park was mostly flooded and the creeks around the west valley have been running full or overflowing ever since.

Below is a good before-and-after shot of one slice of Lexington. I’ve seen it for myself, the water is all the way up and over the tree line high on the reservoir’s banks.

Same spot, more #water

A photo posted by Zen Turtle (@zen_turtle) on

Inspired by Infospigot’s dive into Berkeley weather and how this year compares, I tried to do some of my own digging into how we in the south bay are faring.

I’ve had my own weather station in my backyard for a couple years now. I calibrate it each fall and the rain gauge tends to be very close to amounts collected at nearby Moffett Field. Tonight, however, my gauge is up 7.95 inches for the month of January. Not sure why the big difference (see below), but could be a number of issues. Maybe it needs a tune-up.

Sunnyvale-specific records aren’t easy to find and microclimates vary quite a bit, but anyone can piece some data together to get a picture of where the south bay stands. Weather data is all over the place in the links below, but the National Weather Service tallies the official results at weather stations statewide. Here are some other stats:

  • Weather Underground says nearby Moffett Field has seen 5.23 inches of rain in January. So, it’s up to about 9.8 inches since July 1, or when meteorologists reset yearly rain totals. Moffett averages over 14 inches of rain per year.
  • Weather Underground/SF Gate keep tabs on monthly rainfall totals from around the bay area. SJC gets about 14.9 inches annually and Palo Alto about 15 inches.
  • Los Gatos has almost double its monthly average in January, at over 9 inches (average almost 5). The link above shows Los Gatos at over 23 inches for the season so far — 200% of normal.
  • San Jose monthly data from meteorologist/weather pundit Jan Null shows an average of about 13 inches of annual rainfall. 2004/2005 both had healthy amounts, each nearly 23 inches for those years. National Weather Service data shows SJC at 4.38 inches for the month.

I don’t have monthly data stored (I keep telling myself I need to start logging it) but based on the above stats the trend for 2016/2017 is excellent. I’m headed to the mountains this weekend, so can’t wait to finally see all that snow up close.

Back at home, my three 55 gal. rain barrels have been full since October, and the bucket is long gone from the shower. The drought is finally ending in parts of the state. We’ll see if the rest of the winter can push the whole state over the top. Right now, even SoCal is in a good spot.

Back in the game, again

Usually about midway through a swim workout, I’ll start in on a set of freestyle with a pull buoy and after 100 yards or so I have a moment where I forget what I’m doing. Everything’s blue and my body is just moving, gliding weightless through liquid space. It feels like I’m flying.

There’s no resistance, and I’m seeing the lane lines blur past as I breathe to one side and then three strokes to the other. My hands are sliding through glassy water one after the other, scooping and pulling with ease. As I find the wall and turn, pushing off to head the other direction for another 25 yards, there’s no feeling – no pain in my back or legs.

Last night I swam a fast 2,000 yards – one of the strongest swims I’ve had since jacking my back up (the second time I’ve done this in the past 6 years) on a boat last July. Afterwards, I stretched out and did some yoga and felt like I could do another workout. I’m feeling strong right now, and it’s no accident.

Just another evening Bosu workout.
Just another evening in my home gym.

It’s easy to remember just four months ago, being in agonizing pain 24/7. Pacing the house at 2 or 3am, crying to myself because sciatica down my right leg hurt so badly. Two herniated discs, afraid to go back to bed, thinking I wouldn’t be able to find a position that offered less pain than another. Stack some more pillows around my legs to find some comfort. Dark thoughts enter your mind as you sleeplessly wonder whether or not you’ll ever feel normal again.

Going online to look for therapy techniques doesn’t help as you enter a rabbit hole of forums and stories shared by people that have been suffering from chronic back pain and surgeries over many years. You wonder if you’ll be like them and ever get better. Will I need surgery? The doctor says I might. So you get to work. We were losing a dear friend to cancer during this time, and I drew inspiration from her. My pain was temporary and was nothing. Her fight was real. Mine was just an inconvenience.

My doctor first said to get in the pool daily and walk, in chest-deep water. That felt stupid, but damn it was working. I started doing some slow swims again, and if my leg or foot was too painful, I could pull carefully and slowly with the buoy. Just get in the pool every day. Spend time floating on a lane line or kickboard and let your legs dangle, he said. The feeling will come back eventually and you’ll be doing laps again soon.  The weightlessness will relieve pressure on the spine, and the endorphins from the effort have a curative effect that will revive and re-invigorate the spine and body.

It worked better than any pill. So here we are, almost exactly five months after injuring myself on a stupid ski boat in an Oregon lake. Fun day, but won’t be doing that again!

Tonight I said goodbye to the physical therapy doctors and staff that have helped me battle back. I’ve been cleared to surf and to do most stuff in the gym and almost anything else I did before… just more carefully and thoughtfully.

The outside and bottom of my right foot is still a bit numb, thanks to nerve damage from the original injury. It often feels like I’m walking on pebbles. It’ll go away with more time, they say. When I started PT I could barely do anything without pain. We started slowly and progressed exercises carefully, yet aggressively, over time. Last week at PT I was doing advanced planks, then box jumps, and even burpees on a Bosu.

My docs have been trying to get me strong and in shape to move and surf again. They gave me high fives for getting strong and attacking the program. There’s nothing else they can show me, and I’ve got a plenty of tools to keep me fit.

In addition to the miles of pool laps, I’ve spent countless hours before dawn and after dark on the floor of my house and gym. Mountain climbers and spider men and planks with adduction/abduction and bear crawls all while stable as a board. I’ve been working out with rubber resistance straps and TRX straps and swiss balls and the Bosu. A few weeks ago I started doing pushups again. Even simple exercises like these have me conscious of how I’m positioning my spine, balancing my hips and core. I was fairly strong and fit when I hurt myself last summer, but two months ago I couldn’t have done a pushup.

I’ve mastered enough core strength exercises to make a YouTube exercise series. I’ve lost a few pounds thanks to the daily/nightly strength workouts – it’s amazing what burning off dinner can do. Fighting weight: 182.5 lbs.

Last month I drove to SLO and sitting three hours in a car was no problem. That’s when I knew I was well on my way. Just three months ago driving 20 minutes to work was complete agony. I haven’t taken a pill in at least 6 weeks. You should see the medicine bottles in my cabinet, and all that junk was to supplement three steroid injections in my lower spine. It’s necessary, I guess, but it’s gross.

2017 goals.
2017 goals: single-fin fades.

Now I just want to feel my foot again. I’m thinking of acupuncture to see if it might speed the nerve recovery further. I want to paddle out again, snowboard with my son, and take some trips in a car without pain. I’m planning all three, and I promise to be smart about it all.

An injury like this is similar to a wicked hangover after a night with a bottle of tequila. You vow never to be so stupid again, and swear you’ll be more careful. I’m very active but I’ll do my best not to end up in this spot again.

The recovery has been a good challenge, but it hasn’t been much fun. My family has been incredibly patient, helpful and caring during this ordeal. This was only one of the many ways this year has been difficult. I’m hopeful for good health in 2017 for my friends, family and self.

Last time I tweaked my back, I climbed Mt. Whitney as my final recovery challenge. I need a new one now. Tropical surf trip? I’m not getting any younger…

Parenting through election hell, Pt. II

Pretty humbled that my Medium post resonated with a few people last month. It feels good to be writing a bit again. My posts are one-part flexing creative muscles, and two parts kicking the tires on various publishing platforms like WordPress and Medium. Very few people read my stuff here, and I don’t promote it. I also don’t post with any regularity so I don’t expect many clicks.

In this case I did want to try distributing the post, and I was right that I’m not alone in feeling all this. I put the link on Facebook, and was happy to get compliments and see it shared by friends and acquaintances and some of their friends. It didn’t go viral by any stretch, but it’s definitely the most-read thing I’ve written in a few years.

Then, through a former colleague, I was connected with journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams who was working on a similar piece for Salon with, you know, the actual reporting that my commentary lacked. Williams thought highly of my piece, and asked me for an interview. We never could connect by her deadline so she instead included a snippet of my post in her excellent article. Thanks @embeedub!

I followed through with my promise to watch the Michelle Obama video with my son. We watched the whole thing. He took it all in and was very thoughtful when it ended. I asked him what he thought. He said it was good, and that it was important for leaders to be respectful to others. I didn’t press him with more questions or a lecture, but rather just let him absorb her powerful speech. He gets it.

The struggle with this topic hasn’t ended. I volunteer with Project Cornerstone at my kids’ school, and we talk a lot about bullying, being respectful, being an “upstander,” and the like. Today in a volunteer meeting we parents discussed how we can teach kids to avoid both real and virtual bullying traps. We talked about judging people, and possibly using an example like the video of golden-voice Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent as a great example of how first impressions and judging people can be so wrong. The judges and crowd ridicule her onstage before she sings, and then of course she blows everyone away and becomes famous overnight because of her angelic pipes.

I argued that produced shows are made to dramatize failure and/or surprise results like Boyle, even though it’s true that we as people judge others all the time. We see this in media consistently, never mind the judges in produced reality/competition shows tearing people down. We’ve got reality show star and presidential candidate Donald Trump on the campaign trail shaming women and others.

So what’s a parent to do? Some in the meeting said: vote with your eyeballs. Don’t watch the stuff, and resist the urge to click on crap online. Kids need to be told they have the power to avoid these traps. Another said they should also be exposed to positive messages, including the Obama video. She’s right, and I think a segment of it might be worth showing the class I’m reading to this month for Cornerstone.

As Obama says, “When they go low, we go high.” It’s an incredible tagline and message. And here it is yet again. Watch it with your kids.

Parenting through this crazy election

I wrote some words on Medium about the election and trying to raise civically minded and responsible kids. TL;DR – it’s not easy.

When I was young, political news and 60 Minutes sparked an interest in journalism that carried me through college and into a career in media. In addition to a newspaper internship, I worked on two political campaigns, one of which sent our congressional candidate, Walter Capps, to Washington, D.C.

Now we watch the debates after the kids go to bed. Election news on TV is almost worse than watching late-90s Jerry Springer. After this last week I can’t even fathom watching the next debate on Oct. 19 with kids in the room. This does our kids a disservice. Hoping this election will just go away isn’t doing anything to make our kids more civically minded. Shielding them from the process isn’t doing anything to help them formulate their own opinions about issues and candidates.

Celebrate Every Day Left

This weekend we’re walking again in the annual National Brain Tumor Society’s Silicon Valley Walk. Held at Vasona Park in Los Gatos, the event draws hundreds (thousands?), celebrating the people in their lives who are fighting what are often deadly brain tumors.

karyn1This year’s walk will be especially emotional. We lost one of our most dear friends, Karyn
Wilder, at the end of June. Known to our kids as “Auntie Karyn,” she had been fighting a glioblastoma for about four years — much longer than most predicted she could have fought. We’ve been participating in the walk for a few years now, and each year the event (both sadly and thankfully) has been growing.

Because of Karyn’s fight, we and others rallied around her and her family in hopes of lending a hand and some comfort during their incredibly tough time. Sadness and hardship have upsides and positives, though. We’ve become closer to the Wilders and to their immediate family and friends. Through these walkathons in recent years, we’ve raised some impressive money and this year the team has raised an incredible $27,000+ for the National Brain Tumor Society.

According to the NTBS, over 700,000 people in the US are living with brain tumors, and through these walks we raise some money for researchers to find a cure and to help general needs of those fighting the disease. All cancer f’ing sucks, and brain tumors are some of the worst types.

img_3324Two years ago, about halfway through her battle, Karyn won the event’s “Champion” award for her efforts to educate via her blog, and because of her dogged persistence to fight what she called the “beast” lodged in her brain. Karyn was a great writer, and she gave a beautiful and heart-wrenching speech that year. In that moment, surrounded by her loved ones, you’d have thought there was no way she could lose her fight. She did, ultimately, and this year the folks running the walkathon renamed the award in Karyn’s honor. It’s now the Karyn Wilder Champion Award. We’ll be devastated that Karyn isn’t walking with us but we’ll celebrate the times we’ve had together.
So this year we’ll walk a few miles, we’ll rally again and shed a few tears, and watch her husband and our friend Todd give the Karyn Wilder Champion Award to another deserving warrior. We’ll remember her fondly and we miss her dearly.

If you’re interested in helping in this fight, donate to the NTBS through our team page.

Go EveryDayLeft Right Left!