Where I’ve Been : Part 2

(Continued from Part 1 here.)

About ten days after the neurologist’s appointment, I had one more appointment to do in regards to my Post Concussive Syndrome.  I was to meet with a local TBI Clinic to do a assessment of my memory and executive functions.  Right after the incident in May  I gave them a call and we coordinated an appointment to follow the visit to the neurologist.

My appointment was the entire morning and it was, in essence, a stress test for my brain.  During it I had dizzy spells, some confusion and I fogged out at least once but I kept going.  I knew that the only way to know my limitations was to push them.  After the testing, we had a sit down chat regarding the levels of my different types of memory they had found from the test.  Key issues were pinpointed as well as strengths.  One of the positives that came out of the appointment was learning my executive functions were really not that bad.  This was a huge relief to me because I had been feeling for years that they were degrading.

However, the results were showing my executive functions were good but they were being drained by two other issues that had been spotted.  There was proof positive that yes, the PCS was real and it was definitely effecting my day to day life.  All in all, it was an exhausting and informative appointment.  The plus side being I start with them in September on therapy regarding those issues.  The plan will be to take the strengths to help shore up the minuses.  The down side?  I was so wiped out I couldn’t make it back into work, went home and fell over for several hours.  The rest of the day was out of the question.  A small price to pay, really, for knowing more about my issues.

The next day I found I was carrying around the results of that test in my head.  The weight of the findings, plus the neurologist appointment, were all adding up and I went through the next few days with that extra weight.  (Let’s not forget, I was still trying to quit caffeine as well!)  And this is where, I know, I should have been writing!  It’s how I process things.  However, somewhere I just wasn’t ready to start writing.

Last weekend, as I was finally coming out of the fog of caffeine withdrawal, I started having ideas again.  I started thinking about the blog, some new ideas with exercise, nature and  about how I could help present TBI and PCS issues, other ideas.  Unfortunately, nothing seemed to solidify and I went on about my weekend dealing with weekend-like things.

Then, on Monday, Fate intervened.  My phone pinged and I thought, “Oh, an email.”  It was not an email.  It was good news.  It was WordPress letting me know that this blog had received it’s 200th Like.  A funny thing happened when I looked at the notification.  The ideas which had been swimming around in my brain solidified and I knew what I wanted to do.

And, here we are.  We’re all caught up.

Hopefully, more to come as the year goes along.

 

rainbow2016

 

Where I’ve Been : Part 1

I made a mistake.

I should have been writing about my last few months.  It’s only now, coming out on the other side that I realize this mistake.  I guess that’s how mistakes work, right?  Maybe that’s just called wisdom?

Shortly after putting out my RPG ruleset in the last post, I had a flare up concerning my Post Concussive Syndrome.  The key point being it did not involve any kind of physical impact.  Instead, it involved a nasty combination of lack of sleep, stress and a cognition exercise.  One minute I was taking a cognition test to help out a graduate student in my department and the next I’m headed home with a massive migraine and concussion symptoms.  Once home, I slept for ten hours and felt marginally better afterwards.  It took days to really come all the way out of it.

post-concussion-300x300Needless to say, there was concern and so after consulting my doctor I was referred to a neurologist for the first time in over 12 years.  The referral took a long time and in that time there was a lot of other stressors, a battle with depression and, it so happened, a lot of other medical visits.  (I’d not had a primary care physician in a LONG time.)  With those weeks and months behind me, I can say I know exactly where my personal health stands (and then some!)  On top of that there was the constant barrage of work and family and this constant concern and stress that cognitively, I was getting worse.

Why I didn’t set myself down to write about this as I was going through it, I have no idea.  Maybe I was worried I would sound too whiny?   It could have also been the depression.  The sense that no one really cares anyway so why right about it?  (More on this in future posts, I hope.)  I’m not really sure why.  I just didn’t “feel” it and I didn’t feel like forcing myself.  Looking back, I realize I should have forced myself.  Remember, it’s only called wisdom if you learn from your mistakes!

The neurologist visit came along in early July.  It was actually a pretty simple visit.  No imaging needed.  After hearing my story and my history my doctor looked at me for a quiet second and said, “Alright, we’re going to have a long talk about this.”

“First of all, you have Post Concussive Syndrome.  It’s chronic.  It’s not going away and it’s not going to get better.  The problem is you know all of this but you’re not taking steps to take care of it.”  He assured me that my event in May was normal for an individual with PCS, mainly due to the lack of sleep prior to the event.  He asked if I thought I had migraines.  I played it off, he called me on it and I had to admit, “Yeah, I guess I’m having migraines.”

We talked about depression, anxiety, feeling exhausted at the end of the day, concern over waning executive  functions.  In the end, he made me feel better.  He also helped me get focused on the fact that I need to, immediately, begin taking care of it.  I have to simply face the fact and the truth that I have this issue.  It was likened to someone having a chronically sprained ankle and saying, “Oh, I can keep running.  It’s fine…” We talked strategies and I walked out of the office in a turbulent mix of “Whew, not as bad as I thought,” and “Crap, I really DO have a disability.”

This took me weeks to process.  One of the first things he recommended was quitting caffeine.  More on this later but I did it.  Make no mistake, it was hell.  However, last Friday was the first time in over 25 years I had awoken, felt good and didn’t have a craving for coffee.  I’ve also been following the holy triad of PCS; sleep, hydration and moderate exercise.  It’s taken weeks but I’m actually starting to notice a significant difference.

With all of this has been a slow and steady building of the desire to write again.  But it wasn’t quite time yet.  I kept thinking it was time but my digital trashcan was being continually filled up with rough drafts and half-baked ideas.  It was close but not yet.

There were a few more things I had to do first.

(To be continued)

Finishing a Goal. Or… “I Made A Thing!”

0408161600aI just wanted to boost the signal from my game blog.  I was able to finally accomplish the goal of getting my roleplaying game rules finished.   The rules are called the Chronicles RPG Core Set. They’re focused on a more narrative style of play with only a moderate crunch in terms of modifiers and numbers.  I’ll be putting up all sorts of examples over the weeks to come as well as adventures, etc.
So, if you are into that sort of thing and would like to know more, head on over to Yoteden’s Gametime and grab yourself a copy of the rules.  They’re free and remain that way for as long as I have anything to say about it!

The Chronicles RPG Core Rules

Thanks and more to come soon!

 

Chocolate Soda Quest – Standards of Review

Before we get into the quest I wanted to take a moment to discuss the review process I’ll be using.  At first I had thought I would write a post for each experience and leave it at that.  However, I quickly realized that I should use the different elements I’ve already been using to help me classify a soda from good to “Meh.”

For these reviews and posts I’m looking for something that goes a little further than “going to get some ice cream.”  I want to take it into something more along the lines of wine or cigar tasting, more experiential.   I also plan on being pretty tough.

ChocohabitAs I don’t intend to be drinking chocolate sodas regularly (my health is too important for that) it should be something special, a treat for all the senses.  A good chocolate soda is a rarity these days and if you find one, it needs to be enjoyed.  Not just for what it is but for WHERE it is and WHAT is happening as you do.

I am also a realist and know that I live in a bit of a chocolate soda wasteland. My only hope is to find a diamond in the rough and hopefully the discomforts inflicted on me will be humorous and educational for you!

So, let’s look at what I have to start.

Read the rest of this entry

On Chocolate Sodas and Springtime

This post is an introduction to a project  I have wanted to do for over five years.  I’ve talked about it quite a bit and finally, this year, it’s happening.  I hope you enjoy the ride.

Here in the Midwest we are just a few days away from Springtime.  I have a ritual I perform every year about this time in which I summon the warm breeze and sunlight of Spring. I do not sacrifice a calf or make odd, occult markings and chant.  No, no, no, my ritual is simple yet powerful.

I get a chocolate soda.

“A what?  What is this? You put chocolate syrup in a Sprite or something?  That’s gross.”

No, I’m talking about a treat that throws back to old-time soda fountains and ice cream shoppes.  A place where soda jerks mixed up delicious springtime and summertime drinks. It goes by many names and from my research (yes, I’ve done actual research) in soda jerk lingo, this favorite ice cream treat could be called an egg cream float or a black and white soda.  And in Springtime they are particularly delicious as it reminds me that the cold winds are receding and warmer, sun-filled days lie ahead!

However, this ritual has become more and more difficult to do over the years as knowledge of what a chocolate soda is and how to make it has slipped away due to time and the convenience of bottled and canned soda.  I find this all very odd considering the simple ingredients involved and how delicious the final outcome to be.  And no, in case you are still making a weird face, it does not involve an egg.

Read the rest of this entry

Gratitude and Anxiety

Over the past year, I’ve worked with several ideas and tools to manage my issues of anxiety, depression and distraction brought on by my mTBIs.  I’ve written about my bullet journal, my daily practice and the book that worked like a “key in a lock” for all of it.  One of the most recent tools, and perhaps one of the more practical, was a simple sentence I heard from my wife.

We were discussing the ideas of mindfulness, staying in the present and battling anxiety.  She brought up information she had been given in a leadership workshop and said, “Did you know there have been studies done which show the brain cannot contain thoughts of anxiety and gratitude at the same time?”

Sunset

I immediately began chewing on this and coupling it with my current practice.  I decided to put that statement to the test as soon as possible.

One of my biggest issues had been that shortly after settling into my breathing, my environment and the simple truth of the present moment, my heart would take off and wave upon wave of anxiety would hit me.  Little panic attacks would shock through my system and I’d get hit with a flood of adrenaline.  I’ve written about this previously and how it refused to stop.  Though recently I had been able to work with the anxiety, it still arose occasionally.

I also had found that I could be in a quiet, relaxed state of mind and anxious thoughts would still skitter across my awareness, like mice scurrying in the corner of your eye.  Occasionally, I would unwittingly latch on to one of those thoughts and found myself taken for a ride.

However, now I had been given a new tool!  If anxiety and gratefulness basically had some sort of oil and water combination in the brain, I could use that to my advantage.  Basically, the same as offering a chew toy to a dog that is chewing on your shoe.  “No, no, bad brain.  If you’re going to chew on something chew on this.”

Tsynapsehe moment I began to become aware of my anxiety or a thought based more on depression, I would immediately find one or two things I was grateful for in that moment.  If I could not find something immediate, I could easily find something from my life or my family.  I would then focus on the grateful thought instead of the anxious one.
I coupled this with the information I read a few days later.  You can retrain your brain based on how you respond to a situation.  You have two choices, Love or Fear.  Your brain will wire itself accordingly.  If you have been wiring your brain with Fear based responses (which a good chunk of the population has been doing for decades) then it will continue along those neural pathways you have built.

Douves_jardins_AngersHowever, thanks to recent research, the brain retains a plasticity and, if like me, you realize your mistakes you can begin to rewire things.   Like your own personal brain garden you can begin retraining neural tendrils and vines that have grown closer together due to anxiety.  You can redirect them to move apart and reconnect through gratitude, Love and optimism.  Just like a garden, it won’t happen quickly.  You will have rainy days, tangled roots and pests but it will happen.

And so I began applying all of this, joining it with my mindfulness practice, my meditations.  Whenever I found myself thinking an anxious thought or letting myself rush to quickly towards the future, I’d drop back.  I’d think about one thing I was grateful.  If that didn’t replace the anxiety, I’d find something else.  It didn’t have to be complicated.  It could be as simple as feeling the wind on my face, being able to climb stairs, being able to read, having a comfortable work chair.  Anything.  I focused on my blessings.

gratitudeIn my bullet journal I created a gratitude journal where I listed the top two things every day that I was thankful for having.  Some days I’ve written, “A warm bed,””Amazing sunset,” or “Time with family over a board game.”  Other times it was, “Grateful for a safely built dishwasher that didn’t catch fire.”

Currently, my strategies are working.  It’s been like the anxiety has had the rug pulled out from underneath it.  It has no traction and slides away.  It’s not perfect, of course.  It still comes back.  When it does I simply meet it with more gratitude.  It slides away again.  At work, I noticed my days moving faster.  I’ve noticed things going smoothly, or, at least my reaction to them has changed.

I was retraining my brain.

I still have reactions that are the old way of thinking.  Just yesterday, at work, I fell down the yucky rabbit hole of frustration, anxiety and anger.  However, instead of sitting in it I did something else.  I left my desk.  I took a brief walk outside.  I got back to the present.  I didn’t scold myself for getting angry but instead started focusing on what I was the most grateful for in my life.  I realized I was allowing myself to get too invested in my work.  I sat and watched nature around me, watched the wind in the trees and repeated how grateful I was.  Things calmed down quickly.

The difference between that and what might have been a year ago?  Before, I would have allowed it to tank my day.  I would have gone home exhausted and distraught.  Now?  The whole thing took 20 minutes and I was able to get back into my day, get things done and go home in a good mindset.

And the first thing when I got back to my desk?  I sat down and took a moment to be grateful for having a job that allowed me to go for a brief walk.  I have had more than a few where that could not have been an option.

And today?  Today I simply start all over again.

Just me and my brain garden.

 

Here are some other links that have helpful information:

How Gratitude Can Calm Your Nerves and Make You Feel More Effective

From Harvard Medical School – In Praise of Gratitude

Bullet Journals, Life and Me

What follows is a lengthy response to the question, “Why do I bullet journal?”  When I started this post I was assuming it would be about 200 words; nice and neat. As it sometimes happens when you journal it turned into something a bit more.  It became about my journey and about where I am now.

If you really don’t want to hear about the details, I’ll give you the quick version and you can keep moving.  Ready?

I bullet journal to keep my damaged brain working the way I want it to work.

There ya go.  Nothing more to read here!  Move along..

If you’d like to hear more then the path lies directly ahead.  😀

Read the rest of this entry

Oak Gall Ink Update

A Quick Oak Gall Ink update

We are coming up on the end of the two week period of the oak galls soaking in their mixture.  Unfortunately, on day 14, I will be gone all day performing on the Firefhouse Follies Radio Show which I’m going to link here because you KNOW you want to give it a listen!  (Sunday, 3/5, 4 PM EST, Live on the air and the internet!)  The plan is to take an evening after work to finally get the ink together and to see how it all goes.

My newest addition to the experiment has been deciding to extract my own iron mixture.  The plan is to use a little of it for part of the mixture and then ferrous sulfate for the other half.  This way, I can see if the homemade iron mixture works at all while still (hopefully) getting some working ink from the basic recipe.

Again, this is all experimentation on my part, my idea of having fun.  I really don’t know what I’m doing.  As long as I don’t explode something in my kitchen I should be ok and can continue to live with the ever-patient Otter Wife!  If nothing else, the folks out there reading this that do know what you are doing can get a chuckle.  I’m not proud.  For some light chemistry reading, check out this link.

I created the iron mixture this way.  On my latest walk to my nearby creek, I kept my eyes open for rusty bits of metal.  I found a nail and some other unidentifiable bits and deemed my quest a success! (The glob of “stuff” on the left is a chunk of pine tar I foraged to add to my fire pouch.)

rusty

initialrust

 

After some pounding and bending, I placed these in a baby food jar with a solution of white vinegar and water.  I used one tblspn vinegar to about 4 tblspn of water.  Then, I let it sit.  the vinegar goes to work on the metal and wah-lah you have, uh, something that should work!  A similar thing works with vinegar and steel wool to create a wood stain.

 

 

rusty2The jars have been sitting now for several days in a window that gets sunlight every day for about 6 – 8 hours.  Things are starting to look… funky.

My current prediction is that the ink that is created with the ferrous sulfate will probably turn out much better.  The ink created by my goofy homebrew will be a bit more gray and possibly just crap.  Both inky potions will still not be able to hold a candle to something I could go to the store to buy.  See?  Science!!!

inkypotions

Also, as a late addition, I stumbled upon this incredible link entitled Making Ink.  It makes for some great information.

Bullet Journal – Monthly Setup

Remember that post a few weeks ago where I said my subjects were going to be a bit random? You do? Oh, good!

I’ve been working with organizational systems for almost ten years now.   I’ve been through a ton of them!  It’s been a quest of mine to find one flexible enough to work for all the different things I need, both with varied projects I work with and some of the struggles I have with my TBIs (traumatic brain injuries.)  I’ve found something which is working quite well and it’s called a Bullet Journal.

I’m writing up a longer post that goes into more detail as to the TBIs, other issues and why I Bullet Journal. However, that post has managed to be quite revealing, personal as well as cathartic and, of course, taking a bit more time than I thought it would. As part of it, I wanted to include my monthly bullet journal organization for March and talk a bit more about my current process. Time has once again slid by, it’s the first of March, and, instead of waiting, I’ve decided to just make two posts.

For now, here is my March monthly spread and some of the other pages that make up what I do each month.  I’ve picked all of these up from looking over Instagram, Facebook, blogs and websites.  I’ll put a few at the bottom of the post and a larger list on the other post coming out soon.

monthly
For each month, a regular bullet journal will have simply the page on the left for the calendar items, dates indexed down the left hand side. What I found, however, is that I needed to widen things out and create a separate spread for my work dates. After some playing around I opted to go this route to see how it works out. This way, when planning, I have my personal dates as well as my work dates all in one glance.

You could easily switch out something else for “Work” to adapt the system if you needed a secondary calendar of any sort. In addition, on the far right, I put a section for “future stuff” that might come up for April or May as well as general goals I might have for the month itself. The Future Items may be too small but we’ll see how it goes.

gratitudeNext up is something I began last month as a test and it has become a major player for daily improvement.  To be honest, I wasn’t quite ready for the subtle impact it would have on me.  The Gratitude Journal has two lines for each day which are filled out, hopefully, at the end of the day.  Gratitude journals sometimes have three, others have five.  Two seemed to be a perfect number for me and so I adopted it here.

Sitting down to focus on two things in gratitude from the day has helped me to shift a mindset that’s been stuck for several decades.  Some days I forget but when I go to do my daily review in the morning, I always go back and fill in the gap.  This takes no more than five minutes and the mental/emotional rewards are worth every second.

memoriesFinally, another investment I started near the end of February; a memories page.  Again, this was something I did as a test and within a week realized I loved it.  At the end of February I was quite pleased with my little page that summed up all the fun, memorable things which occurred during the month.  It also gives me a chance to make doodles, sketches and to flex my creative muscles a bit.

So, I’ve added it as well for March.

The rest of the journal is either old or new collections (pages marked specifically for different subjects or projects) or my daily pages which list what was needed to be done, what got done and other things about the day I might want to remember.

More to come and the larger bullet journal post is right around the corner!

Resources:

There are a TON of resources, articles, images, Pins on Pinterest, etc if you want to spend numerous hours digesting all the ways you can modify the bullet journal.  Below is a handful, in my opinion, of the best!

 

The Oak Gall Ink Project

oakgallsDuring the hike over the weekend we found a large collection of oak galls.  I decided to baggie up what we could find so I could attempt to make some oak gall ink. With my re-found love of quill pens, fountain pens and lettering (see my Instagram account for that wackiness),  I figured combining some outdoors foraging with making ink might be a fun thing to do.

One of the most intriguing things I found in researching the ink was that not only are the galls made by wasps but that the ink created from them has recorded most of European history.  Stop and think about that for a moment and let that perspective sink in.  Tiny little wasp.  Most of written history before 1800’s.  All because of how a tree forms around some wasp eggs?  Yeah…

After researching on the net, I found a few recipes I liked and decided two things about the entire process.  1.) There were numerous and varied ways to make oak gall ink, from simple to complex.  2.) I was going to take all I read and just make up my own.  I wanted the fun of experimentation and not a rote process.  I’m not entirely sure I’ll be successful but that’s part of the suspense, right?  The recipe I came up with is a bit slapdash and we’ll see how it all goes.  At the bottom of this page I’ll link a few sites that were good resources for me.  I encourage everyone to do your own searching, however.  Do a couple of searches and lose a few hours in research.  It’s fun!

My first step was to take the galls and with my “highly specialized equipment” break them down.  I used an old towel to keep the remains all in one place on the concrete.  I placed these in a spare glass jar for storage while I could get the rest of the recipe sorted out.

hammergalls

Most of the recipes I could find were based in large quantities and I failed at the math involved.  (I warned you: slapdash.)  At first I had assumed clean water and heat would be used and I was right on my first skim of websites.  However, I started digging a bit deeper and I found information for fermenting the galls and it seems the older recipes also called for using white wine or even beer.   Being a past brewer I liked the idea of my ink fermenting in some white wine.   In proper slapdash fashion I found an unused bottle of cooking wine in our cabinet and figured out the proportions of what I would use.  This is what I came up with.

1  cup of crushed Oak Gall
1  cup of clean water (I used bottled drinking water.)
1 1/2 cups of white cooking wine

I poured this all in an empty jar, covered it with seran wrap and then placed on the lid.

firstrun

The plan moving forward is this.  I’ll let the container sit for approximately 12 – 14 days.  I’ll shake the container once a day.  (Some recipes called for the mixture to sit for 2 months and although I do want to try that angle, I want things a little faster for the first time.)

At the end of the 2 weeks I’ll reassess and if things look dark enough, I will draw off the liquid and give it a solid boil, condensing things a bit.  I’ll add in the iron sulfate and the gum arabic that all the recipes I could find called for using and, well, play with things from there.

One of my initial concerns is that the galls we found were very hollow with very thin walls.  They smashed quite easily.  I’m guessing they were quite old and perhaps do not have the full amount of tannins I would get from a more solid, fresh gall?  All part of the experiment and as I find fresh galls this year we may just try this all over again!

Here is how things look after 5 days.  Not much change!

5days

After looking at the two pics, I’m thinking I’ll add what’s left of the crushed galls (about 1/2 cup) to see if I can’t get the solution to darken further. I may also add about 1/4 more water as it appears the galls have soaked up some of the liquid.  On the other hand, things might change once the iron is added and the solution is cooked down a bit.

I’ll post an update as things go along!

If anyone has any thoughts or experience with this don’t hesitate to chime in on the comments.

 

Resources:

Iron Gall Ink Website – http://irongallink.org/igi_indexd7ce.html

California Live Oak Iron Gall Ink Recipe –– http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/234759-california-live-oak-iron-gall-ink-recipe/

Travelling Scriptorium – Iron Gall Ink – http://travelingscriptorium.library.yale.edu/2013/03/21/iron-gall-ink/

A very nice SCA related site for Iron Gall Ink by Ian – https://sites.google.com/site/ianthegreen01/ian’sinkmakingpage