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  • Gracious gestures

    Eighteen months ago, an a Friday afternoon in March while driving to a memorial service for a 19-year-old girl, I noticed how brown everything seemed for a spring day. I took this photo:


    Since that memorial service, some things have changed and some things have not.  Sometimes things remind me of her death and of her parents, and I’ve written a couple blog posts when the mood has struck. Sometimes I’ve had a random urge to text one of her parents for no particular reason, but I’ve worried that it might be a bad time — would I give them a reminder of the sadness at a moment they had managed to smile?

    While on vacation last month, I woke up to a dream about her dad. I don’t remember the dream, but the fact that I remembered any part of a dream was rare and I told Deb, my friend/host, a bit about the family’s loss and how it was strange to have such a random dream for no apparent reason. “It sounds like you have some unfinished business there,” Deb said.

    Today marks the 21st birthday of that young woman. She should be alive to celebrate it. Instead, I am sitting here, thinking of her parents’ faces on that March day. I still don’t know what my unfinished business is, but there is one thing I can do: To pay for unexpected medical bills, I recently got money out of a college fund I never needed to use. It more than covered my bills, so the rest will be used for airfare to see ailing family. But I am also writing a check to the Kara Adams Memorial Fund, and putting it in the mail to Lodi High School. It’s not much, but it’s a little bit that can make a young student’s future brighter.

    On my drive back home from that memorial 18 months ago, I noticed that the light had changed, and the hills no longer looked brown. I took this photo:


    Sometimes light can bring a new perspective to the world around you. Sometimes a smile or a kind word can make things seem beautiful again. That’s what Kara’s family wants today — for people to make a gesture of grace to brighten someone else’s day. You never know when it will make all the difference in the world.

  • One-handed challenges

    So, I have my first-ever cast.

    This cast is as rigid and uncomfortable as you can imagine.
    This cast is as rigid and uncomfortable as you can imagine.

    After surgery, I had a partial cast that was plaster on one side and lots of soft padding on the other side, to account for swelling. And, boy, was there swelling. My fingers were sausages for about five days. But pain was minimal: I stopped the Norco (Vicodin/Tylenol) the next day because it was keeping me awake, making me foggy, and messing up my digestive system. Yes, it kept me awake; I’m also a weirdo who usually experiences the opposite sleep effect of cold medicine (which is one reason I don’t take the stuff).

    Last Thursday, I had my post-operative appointment where they removed all the bandaging and I got to bend my wrist for the first time in a week. I’ll post a photo of the 12 stitches at the end of this post, so prepare your appetite. Now I have this terrible, horrible, painful cast for eight days. My outer wrist bone has become an innocent victim: It sticks out, so the hard cast squishes it 24/7, and I feel it every waking moment. I could have gone in today and had it replaced, but I really didn’t want to deal with hours of post-casting thumb pain, more time off work, and traffic — especially since I’m four days into this cast and will get a new one in another four days.

    I’m currently debating the color of the new cast, though I’m thinking of buying decorative duct tape to put around the next cast so it stops catching on my clothes. It’s 2015, and casts are still this terrible?? Why???

    Anyway, here is a list of things that are impossible to do if your left thumb is completely immobilized and encased in plaster:

    1. Bike outside.
    2. Floss. Those plastic “flosser” things snap instantly on rear molars if your teeth are crowded.
    3. Play the piano.
    4. Use a regular can opener.
    5. Pull open a door while holding a cup of coffee, or any unsealed container.
    6. Paint the fingernails on your other hand.
    7. Turn a mattress that also has a bed skirt under it. Remaking the bed is also a challenge, though it’s not on this list because I can use my foot to prop up the mattress while I valiantly attempt one-handed hospital corners with my “good” hand that is still not 100%.
    8. Alt-tab on a PC. It’s not the same if you have to use two hands to do it (but thankfully, I already use my other thumb on the spacebar so I’m not relearning THAT).
    9. Elliptical.
    10. Lift anything heavy, whether it’s a case of water at work or weights at the gym.
    11. Wear long-sleeved shirts/sweaters, unless they have buttons and wide cuffs.
    12. Scrub a potato. (I’m working on this one, though.)
    13. Fully shave your other armpit.
    14. Swim. (Yes, that’s my latest excuse against swimming. I’ll find more once this hand debacle is behind me.)
    15. And, last but NOT LEAST: Take a normal shower that does not involve plastic and waterproof tape.

    And now for the post-op stitches photo. I’ll type a couple lines in case you want to stop scrolling. (Mom, this means you.)

    I swear, it’s not bad.

    Michaela said it looked like Frankenstein, which I’ll take as a compliment.

    It’s really not bad at all.

    It could be worse: My friend Matt was rear-ended by a car while on his bike the other day, and he has to worry about scaring customers at work with his injuries. (Yes, a car rear-ended him. In broad daylight. After he had signaled to turn, but the car decided to pass him. On a solid center line. So many WTF questions for that driver.)

    Reminder: Always wear a helmet.

    Okay, enough typing. Mom, if you’re still reading, here comes the photo.

    Also, there are a couple Sharpie marks left. Don’t worry; those aren’t permanent.

    The stitches. Coming in a few months: scar photos! I'm sure you're all excited.
    The stitches. Coming in a few months: scar photos! I’m sure you’re all excited.



  • Thumb surgery

    “Hi! I’m here to be operated on!!!” I said to the receptionist, upon walking into the surgery center yesterday morning.

    She was expecting me, but I don’t think she was expecting a cheerful me. Granted, it had been 11 hours since my last water or food. But it had been two weeks since I broke my thumb and tore a ligament, so I was anxious to be out of limbo and on the road to recovery.

    That was my attitude through the wait, which became FOUR HOURS due to a complication with an earlier patient (spoiler: I had no complications). My friend Deanne and I arrived at 10:15 a.m., and at 10:30 I was taken to a room to change. “We ran out of some gowns and only have XXXL or pediatric. You probably don’t want a mini skirt…” the nurse said. So I put on a gown with a bear print on it — no, I wasn’t seeing a veterinarian — that could have wrapped around me three times, though it ultimately didn’t matter because I was lying on a bed the whole time. The socks were just absurd, even for my size 10 feet, but the nurse found some slightly smaller ones without bear prints on them. The hair net was as attractive as a nun’s habit. Then her assistant struggled valiantly and successfully found my vein (and did much better than the Red Cross people).


    Then they let Deanne in the room to keep me company. Their plan was for me to arrive at 10:15 a.m. with a 12:15 p.m. surgery start time. Surgery would last an hour, and recovery would be another hour. I had no choice; diabetics, elderly and young kids get priority due to having to fast since midnight. Well, then a nurse came in and said the doctor was running behind due to “a bump” in the surgery two people ahead of me. We asked how far behind… An hour-and-a half behind! Poor Deanne hadn’t eaten much and was getting a headache, had driven more than two hours just to my house, and yet, she didn’t leave to get food. I felt so bad, but it really was nice to have her company — plus, we don’t catch up as often these days since we live further apart. Our chatter combined with a few texts to pass the time.

    When your boss texts you...
    When your boss texts you…

    The surgeon came in, looked at my hand, and then drew an arrow and initialed it with a Sharpie marker. I asked him about my “good” hand, which had been giving me concern. He looked at it, maneuvered the thumb a bit, and said he thinks it is okay but he’ll X-ray it next week at my post-op visit. The combination of a sprain in that wrist and little strength in that thumb have been wreaking havoc on me, and I suspect some of the pain was in my head. He said to use it as much as I can without too much pain, and that was a huge relief. He left the room and we resumed our wait, though now I was sweating (probably from the anxiety related to my worry about the “good” hand.)

    IMG_3347 - Version 2Finally, the OR nurse came in, which I had been told meant that I would be on my way soon. And that’s when honest little ole’ me told the truth when she asked if I was wearing contact lenses. Yes, I was. But they were disposable one-day lenses, I’ve slept in contacts before, and I’ve been wearing them for more than 20 years. Plus, I’m so near-sighted that when woken up from the anesthesia, I wouldn’t be able to see anyone or anything (this is true; I can’t see stoplights without them). She went and talked to the anesthesiologist, who had met me earlier, and I think my good humor, patience and reasoning paid off: I was allowed to keep my contacts! That had been the one thing I really wanted to fight for, so I was happy.

    I finally got into the OR around 2:45 p.m. It was chilly in there, which was such a relief. A couple more people introduced themselves and I asked, “Is there going to be a name quiz? Because I’m going to fail. You’re Guy In Mask, right?” I bet they’ve heard every joke by now… Then they put me next to what I now know was the operating table. A guy said something like, “Okay, you can move,” and I had no idea what he meant. “You haven’t done this before??” he asked. “NOPE, this is alllll new to me!” I replied.

    The big light fixtures above me were cool and I wished I could take a picture. Then they started looking like doubles and I asked if they had started the anesthesia. The anesthesiologist joked, “It depends.” I think I said something about the lights swimming and he said, “Yes, we did.” And that’s all I remember.

    Apparently the doctor came out and talked to Deanne shortly before 4 p.m. Everything had gone as expected, and he had successfully reattached my ligament. Whew! The next thing I knew, I was looking at numbers, which I realized were my vital signs on a machine. The contact lenses were so welcome, because I focused on the heart rate number, watching it go from 50 to 52 to 51 to 50 (yes, I distinctly remember those numbers), probably because I was walking up.

    And now the humorous “what I said while waking up from anesthesia” part, as told to me by Deanne: I asked the same questions four times each, including what medicine they had given me. I was happy that nobody had mis-pronounced my name. Then I was insisting to the nurse that I could exercise the next day. She said no because the open wound would get sweaty and probably infected, and that I could miss one week out of 52. The funny thing is, I had known this and intentionally ran 5 miles the previous night so I’d have one last bit of endorphins.

    I don’t remember putting on my clothes, but I must have done that, because I didn’t leave in the ridiculous bear gown. And I’ve since learned that the nurse was impressed at how well I did at getting dressed. I’ve also learned that the nurse sat there and went over post-op instructions with Deanne and me, but I don’t remember any of that, either. They took me out to Deanne’s car in a wheelchair (and I didn’t freak out and start hyperventilating like the last time I was in a wheelchair, which is another story). The first thing I really remember is putting my feet on the wheelchair foot rests. Now I understand why they don’t allow patients to go home alone in a taxi.

    While I was in surgery, Deanne went to Chipotle. We had some traffic on the drive home, so I was finally in my house and eating around 5:30 p.m., 19 hours since my last meal. That burrito bowl tasted soooo good. I wasn’t in pain, I didn’t feel groggy anymore, it was easy to eat, and I was ravenous. But it took me forever to eat — everything just took so much huge effort.

    Elevating my ice-encased arm while eating the best meal ever.
    Elevating my ice-encased arm while eating the best meal ever.

    Deanne was beyond helpful. She’s put up with me for more than a dozen years now, and she drove more than five hours total to help me with surgery. Several other lovely friends offered to help, and any of them would have been amazing. But I doubt they have been through quite as many surgeries as Deanne has, both herself and her family. She brought me food ready to heat up, along with a little container of sour cream because she knows I’m a spice wimp. She stopped at the store for cereal and juice, which I just discovered she pre-opened because my “good” hand can’t really do that stuff. She opened a can for me; she stirred the new jar of peanut butter; she cooked a pizza, cut it and packaged it up; she emptied my dishwasher. She checked my mail and took out my trash. She set medicine alarms on my phone, filled a water bottle, and put it with some of the pills on my nightstand. She arranged pillows so I would elevate my hand overnight.

    I went to bed — and proceeded to lie there wide awake. The medication (Norco, aka Vicodin and Tylenol) is notorious for causing drowsiness. Well, that was most certainly not the case here! On the plus side, at 10 p.m. I could call family in a timezone three hours earlier. I also had no problem waking up to the midnight and 4 a.m. medicine alarms, and by 6 I was awake for the day.

    Good morning!
    Good morning!
    Some have said it looks like my thumb was amputated. It's still there! It's just encased in plaster because I also broke the upper part of the bone.
    Some have said it looks like my thumb was amputated. See, it’s still there! It’s just encased in plaster because I also broke the upper part of the bone.

    I’m going to end this long-winded narrative, since typing is a struggle (now I know to ask about cast thickness when I get a full one next week). But I’ve been amazed at the amount of support and offers for help. From ride offers to Facebook “likes,” I have appreciated every one of them. When I’ve had a couple melt-downs, the support hasn’t faded. I can’t name all of you, but please know that I appreciate it. I can only hope to be as kind as you have been.

    Typing struggles
    Typing struggles



  • My broken thumb

    This is an X-ray of my left thumb, taken last Friday, hours after I returned to the country and about 20 hours after I fell off a bike:

    I have amazing MS Paint skills. Circle = avulsion fracture. Arrow = fracture.
    I have amazing MS Paint skills. Circle = avulsion fracture. Arrow = fracture.

    This is what the radiologist wrote upon reviewing my X-rays, and which prompted the general physician to send me straight to an orthopedic doctor:

    REPORT/IMPRESSION: Transverse, minimally dorsally angulated fracture across the base of the distal phalanx

    Minute ossicle adjacent to the base of the proximal phalanx in the region of the MCP joint, probably an avulsion fracture. The joint is not widened but no stress was applied

    The orthopedic doctor happened to be available that same Friday afternoon, which was very good for this sleep-deprived impatient person who couldn’t move her purple thumb. Here is my thumb, after some of the swelling had gone down, but before the bruising in my palm had spread:

    Two days later
    Two days later

    The orthopedic doctor took one look at my thumb, said the words “might need repair,” and sent me to his colleague, who specializes in hands (and sports medicine, and has a very good background, and is a runner, and has good reviews, and has had no medical board complaints, and yes I have stalked him on the Internet thank you very much). I left with a taped-on finger splint and an arm splint, to make showers even more enjoyable, as well as a long weekend wait to see the hand specialist.

    Two splints = twice as fun
    Two splints = twice as fun

    After a long weekend of waiting and googling, and then a long Monday and most of Tuesday, I finally saw the hand specialist. He looked at the X-rays, read the other doctors’ notes, did a few things to my thumb that had me both crying and muffling shrieks of pain, and promptly said he didn’t even need an MRI to confirm that I needed surgery to repair a ligament. He offered the MRI, but I had already researched “avulsion fracture” and knew there was no way around surgery. Opposable thumbs are kind of a big deal.

    This is a pretty good idea of what happened to my thumb, only with a mountain bike handlebar instead of a ski pole, from this doctor’s site (which also explains the whole thing pretty well, Mom and family):

    Courtesy of http://drrandyviolamd.com (linked above and below)
    Courtesy of drrandyviolamd.com (linked above)

    Surgery doesn’t happen until next Wednesday, which will be two weeks after the bike crash. I’m very impatient, so when the hand doctor said I would need to see my regular physician for a pre-op physical and lab work, I got outside to my car, got on the phone and promptly set that up — for the very next morning. Surgery won’t be delayed through any fault of mine, that’s for sure!

    Meanwhile, this is how things looked before all of this happened:

    Victoria, British Columbia, is lovely and green even though the locals say it's brown from the drought.
    Victoria, British Columbia, is lovely and green even though the locals say it’s brown from the drought.


    This saga is what triggered my angst-filled blog post a few days ago, while I waited in limbo to see the hand specialist. I’m still very bummed, and I have canceled my fall marathon/vacation plans — it was the financially and physically smart thing to do, so that decision was not made in haste to be later regretted.

    In the midst of my angst came a comment on that post from BT, who said, among other encouraging things: “You must be in some serious pain (both physical and emotional).” A lot of people were reaching out in a variety of amazing ways, and I’m grateful to every single one of them. But for some reason, that comment hit me the right way at the right time. I thought, “You know, I AM in pain. I’ve only taken one dose of Aspirin the night this happened, but it does hurt. More than that, it’s hurting my heart and soul. And that’s OK.”

    I’m allowed to hurt. I’m allowed to worry about fully recovering, and about how my other hand still is not right. I’m allowed to be sad. But I am also allowed to hope. I’m not to the point of thinking I can break down all the doors, but I’m also no longer in the depths of despair. I have a medical plan, with a surgery date (September 2) and a post-op appointment (September 10), and a tentative plan to get the cast removed as soon as four weeks after surgery. For now, that is enough to keep me hanging on to a few threads of sanity.


  • Grace in South Carolina

    After a white man went into a mostly black church’s Bible study meeting, talked to the dozen people for an hour and then opened fire on them because of their race, grace was not something anyone expected. But family members of the nine victims gracefully said they forgive the shooter. They went to court to face the accused killer, but they did not scream and rage, as they had every right to do as human beings. I don’t know how they found the strength, but their grace rose above all.

    Today, President Barack Obama gave a eulogy for the church’s slain reverend. The entire thing lasted 40 minutes, and Obama ended by singing “Amazing Grace,” with the attendees joining in after the first verse. He then listed each victim’s name as the organ kept playing. While making his way back to his seat, he shook hands and hugged people who were so awed to meet the President of the United States. And then he went to the reverend’s wife and two daughters, giving each one a hug. The grace is worth watching:

  • Six years later

    It’s been six years since that Wednesday afternoon on the second floor of the Stockton courthouse. I’d been reporting on a weird murder case for more than two years, and it was all coming to a head, with the suspect testifying in his own defense. And then, in seconds, he nearly killed the judge before he was shot to death. I wrote about it for the local newspaper, just as I had written about the entire case. But there are so many other little things that I could not write about anywhere — some because I swore sources to anonymity and some because nobody would understand.

    Six years later, I just sat here — also on a Wednesday — and wrote a paragraph trying to vaguely outline some of the things I could not write about. And then I deleted the paragraph, because it would make no sense. I don’t mind talking about the experience, and I’ve kept a couple college classes and a Rotary club riveted when I gave speeches about it. (I miss those kinds of things, actually.) And sometimes I tell people a bit more of the stuff I can’t say publicly, though always protecting the people I swore to secrecy. But what I still can’t put into words is WHY I still think of March 4 every year as the day approaches, and WHY I still spot and hate Chrysler 300 cars, and WHY I still have a lot of indignation toward some people involved in the case. Yesterday I got out the 19-page report issued by the District Attorney’s office many months later, and I can’t explain WHY I still haven’t read it, other than to skim it and see my name in a footnote.

    I do know that the incident made me begin thinking, “Life is short; live it.” Three months after the courtroom attack, I witnessed a horrific car wreck that killed a couple, and I later met their family members. The mantra kept repeating itself. It took another year before I finally made drastic changes to escape from the unhappy rut that had become my life. But it all started at 2:10 p.m. on March 4, 2009. That much I do know.


    Here, in its entirety, is my first-person account of that day. (I also wrote a main news story on the events in the courtroom. This was from my own view.)

    Crime reporter becomes witness to a deadly courthouse shooting

    Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 10:00 pm

    I heard gunshots. Someone in a seat near me said, “Get down!”

    I clutched my white laptop computer to my chest and found myself crouching on the floor.

    This wasn’t supposed to be happening in a Stockton courtroom.

    Normally the squeaking court chairs are the loudest things in the room, but this time I never noticed.

    I’d heard gunshots, close, distinct.

    The defendant I’d watched periodically in court for the past two years was dead.

    The judge he’d attacked was alive.

    I’ve written about countless shootings before. Now I had witnessed one, maybe 30 feet way.

    The whole murder case had been a bit surreal even before the suspect lunged, before the shots were fired.

    David Paradiso was 27 on that day in 2006 when he and a young woman named Eileen Pelt were riding in the back seat of his mother’s car in Lodi. Suddenly he shoved a large knife through her neck.

    He told his mother to keep driving, and she did.

    A couple hours later, he ditched the victim’s body. His mom went to police, and they caught up, which triggered a high-speed chase before he was stopped.

    I learned of the killing the next morning. I would ultimately drive through pouring rain to various places in Roseville and Grass Valley, finding friends and family members of the victim.

    The case wound its way through the court system. Wednesday morning saw me driving in light rain to another day of Paradiso’s murder trial.

    He’d testified in his own defense the previous day but hadn’t finished, and I wanted to hear his reasoning on some things.

    The morning was uneventful. I sat in the second-floor courtroom with my laptop on my knees, listening to a doctor talk about methamphetamine, which Paradiso had consumed at various times during his 29 years.

    Around 2 p.m., after the lunch break, it was time for Paradiso to return to the witness stand to face the prosecutor.

    I’d noticed today that Paradiso, compact with short brown hair, wasn’t wearing a suit jacket and tie, as he did when he testified the previous day.

    Instead, he wore a blue and white striped long-sleeved shirt, with the top button open.

    Because of various court rulings over the years, defendants don’t wear shackles and jail clothing because it could make the jurors think he’s guilty. Instead, prisoners wear a leg brace that keeps them from running.

    When it was his turn to testify, he stood and paused briefly, looking down at a pair of wireless reading glasses he’d worn a couple times during trial. He picked them up, then left them at the defense table.

    It was 2:03 p.m. when Paradiso went to the witness stand, which is about three feet from the judge’s right-hand side.

    His testimony the previous day had been in a monotone. He hadn’t denied killing Pelt, instead saying he was paranoid and that she’d made some sort of threat.

    But this time, when the prosecutor asked why he killed the young woman, Paradiso had a different response:

    “‘Cause she deserved it.”

    Pelt’s family members, sitting behind me, gasped. They didn’t get any calmer when Paradiso made an derogatory comment about the victim, either.

    But it was his mother, Debra Paradiso, who was the loudest. When she testified earlier in the trial, adjustments had to be made to the microphone so she could be heard. This time, everyone heard her.

    She shouted that her son hadn’t wanted to testify.

    A bailiff told her to leave, and she began to, while sobbing and still yelling. A bailiff spoke into his shoulder radio calling for back-up. A sergeant was soon standing in the doorway.

    Judge Cinda Fox told the jurors to leave with a bailiff for a recess.

    Then I heard a Paradiso family friend shouted, “No, David, stop!”

    There, at the witness stand, Paradiso was no longer sitting.

    He was standing.

    Even as I write this some nine hours later, it feels as though my mind was a camera with a slow shutter. At one moment, Paradiso was standing with arms at his sides.

    In the next moment, he was standing behind and over the judge, his right arm around her as if to stab her. Though I would be asked many times if I saw something in his hand, I still don’t know.

    Something very wrong was happening in the courtroom, and my brain almost didn’t want to process it.

    I knew people were near him, and I saw Detective Eric Bradley’s bald head.

    Bradley, an Air Force veteran, is more than six feet tall. After working the crime and courts beat for more than six years, I recognize Lodi cops, and Bradley is no exception.

    When I heard three shots ring out, I didn’t see a gun but I knew Bradley was the shooter.

    I think a bailiff was right there, but something about Bradley’s arm position told me he was the one.

    My mind was trying to catch up. When Paradiso had stood, some part of my brain said that he’d be stopped. When he went for the judge, I still thought it wouldn’t really happen.

    I knew the shots were real. I was sure they were from Bradley’s gun. And I didn’t see how Paradiso could get hold of a gun.

    But when someone near me said “Get down!” and I saw people ducking, I thought it might not be over.

    Could more shots be coming? Could Paradiso, with his very lengthy criminal record that included assaulting officers, keep going?

    That’s how I found myself crouching by my seat.

    It was only for a moment, and I was still trying to see what had happened, but at that point in time, the survival instinct had beaten out my innate curiosity.

    Then someone was telling me to get out. I managed to grab my purse and was still holding tightly to my laptop. I still couldn’t see the judge.

    Out in the hallway, officers were pouring out of nearby doorways with guns drawn. A bailiff soon yelled “Code 4,” meaning “all clear.”

    I knew then that Paradiso was dead.

    Paramedics rushed in, along with a host of other officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes.

    Then I heard an officer saying, “She’s asking for her mother.”

    Judge Fox’s mother had been watching the trial, and I somehow knew that was who the officer meant.

    In other words, the judge was alive.

    The crime scene was soon widened, as the courthouse was locked down. The judge was wheeled out on a stretcher, alert and talking. A juror followed, also alert, and I would later learn that he’d had chest pains.

    In the midst of the chaos, I’d called my editor’s cell phone. He answered, and I don’t think he was expecting to hear me begin blurting things like, “The defendant attacked the judge. Shots fired. Paradiso. The judge is Cinda Fox.”

    Then I found myself on the other end of where most reporters operate: Attorneys were asking me what had happened. I’m usually pestering them about cases, but now I was doing the talking.

    My cell phone was buzzing with text messages. An attorney on another floor wanted to know if I was OK. A friend of mine was upstairs and had felt the floor shake from the gunshots.

    They knew what courtroom I was in, and they didn’t know where I was or what had happened. It sometimes took me a while to reply, and now I realize that it was probably a bit agonizing to wait for my response letting them know I was OK.

    I talked to people, I tried to update my poor editor, I answered my phone to hear a TV reporter on the other end.

    Though I was fine, I soon realized my stomach was in knots – a feeling I’ve heard but never really understood until now. I haven’t been physically sick in at least 15 years (my running buddies think it’s unfair that I can eat anything before and during a run). I didn’t get sick this time either, but this was a weird sensation.

    I knew, even before investigators confirmed it, that I’d be a witness they wanted to interview.

    Reporters are the ones who ask questions, and they don’t want to compromise their own stories. But at the same time, I’ve talked to far too many family members who never get full answers because witnesses couldn’t be found.

    I would want the same thing if the roles were reversed.

    I didn’t have a lot of choice, anyway, and before too long I found myself in a conference room on the fifth floor of the courthouse, along with a fellow reporter and a handful of prosecutors who’d witnessed the shooting.

    We waited. Water arrived, for which I was extremely grateful. (My water bottle, as well as my umbrella, are still in the sealed courtroom.) I told my editor that pizza had been mentioned, but I better not be waiting that long.

    I was wrong. Pizza came, was eaten, and then more pizza came. I didn’t want to eat anything, but I did take another bottle of water.

    Finally, at 7:25 p.m., three investigators took me to another room and recorded my statement about what I’d seen. I’ve seen enough trial testimony to know they want details, and they want me to describe things, rather than make motions with my hands.

    They had me draw a diagram of the courtroom, despite my insistence that my mother is an artist while I most certainly am not.

    After an hour and five minutes, they’d finally asked enough questions.

    I was free to go.

    By then, my car was locked in a Stockton parking garage. Someone finally got it open, and I began the 16-mile drive back to Lodi.

    I found myself making sure my car doors were locked. I didn’t want to be near other cars on the dark highway. I knew I was just as safe as any other time, but my head was playing games with me.

    Finally, I got back to Lodi, after a two-minute delay for a train.

    I was home. I was fine. But my mind was still going at warp speed.

    It still is.

  • Untrained and unsure

    Last weekend, I set out on a bike ride. The weather at that point was lovely, and I even wore arm warmers in the crisp early fall air. I felt good, I took in the various scenery, and the miles rolled by. I had planned out an 85-mile route, which would beat my previous longest distance of 75 miles. I had planned to ride a couple new-to-me roads, see new things, and complete the final ride before I attempted a century (100 mile) ride.

    I even started writing a blog post in my head. It would have gone something like this: “I haven’t mentioned it a lot, but in two weeks I will attempt to do a century ride. I don’t have a road bike and I’m nervous about riding with a lot of people, but today I rode 86 miles. I crawled up big hills and careened back down them. I passed windmills and cows and uptight drivers. I burnt a bunch of calories, tried not to get sunburnt, and barely conquered my stairs when I got home.”

    That blog post vanished at mile 41, when I reached the top of a hill (which wasn’t even the beginning of a five-mile climb). I managed to unclip, stop, plant both feet on the ground and get my head down before everything went completely dark. I knew what was happening, because I’d had it happen to me in races a couple years ago: my heart rate got so high that the blood just didn’t get to my head anymore. It happens when I push harder than I’m trained, and dehydration is a contributing factor (something I battle a lot).

    According to my text message timestamps, I spent 19 minutes on the side of the road. My mental repetitions of “don’t pass out, don’t pass out” worked, as did hanging upside down while holding onto my bike for dear life. From my upside-down viewpoint, I could see down the hill when other cyclists were approaching, so I was able to lift my head up in time and say, “Yep!” when they asked if I was okay (as cyclists always ask any rider who is stopped).

    But my 86-mile day was done. At that point, I was 26 miles from home and the day was warming up quickly. I consulted my phone for the shortest way home, and then had to keep stopping every few miles because my brain couldn’t remember anything. At one point, a guy asked me for directions to the train station, and I realized later that my wrong directions mean he is probably still lost…

    Anyway, I made it home, crawled up the stairs in what was by then 91-degree weather, and collapsed inside my front door. I peeled off clothes right there on the tile floor, not caring about the sweat like I normally do. I was defeated.

    Today, the last weekend before that century ride, was another “blah” ride. I’ve had a week to sit myself down and clean up my diet, but I have not. I’d had a week to do a bunch of solid cardio workouts, but I did, um, one. While I do suspect a different medical issue is affecting me a little, it’s not enough to be a valid excuse. Simply put, I’ve failed to train properly.

    So now I sit here on my couch on a Sunday evening while the San Francisco Giants give everything they have in the National League Championship Series. I’m struggling with whether I should attempt the century ride, because I do not have the strength to deal with yet another failure right now. Exactly one year ago today, my IT band gave out. Since then, my life has been a string of one failure after another, one bad decision after another. I trusted my leg, I trusted people, and I trusted my gut — and they all rejected me fully and completely.  I still want to do the century ride, but I know that’s probably my gut talking, which also means that I should probably make the opposite decision.

    I went back and read this post full of good advice about facing the fear of failure. One line jumped out at me: “You only regret the things you didn’t do.” That makes me want to do the century ride, and I know I will probably attempt it next weekend. But I can’t stop thinking: “If I hadn’t run those races on my injured leg, maybe I could run now. If I hadn’t followed what I mistakenly thought was happiness, maybe I wouldn’t feel so unhappy now.” So I wonder: Should I NOT do this century ride, so I don’t risk failure? I don’t know, but I guess I’ll have an answer by Saturday morning.

  • How to chase dreams and fight the fear of failure

    I’ve been doing a lot — and, boy, do I mean a lot — of self-analysis lately. Who am I, where am I going, where do I want to be going, and why am I not there yet? Additionally, when did I start becoming more cynical, more narrow-minded, and less determined but at the same time more rigid?

    I don’t have all the answers yet, but I do know that at least I’m making a little progress by asking them and confronting myself. I also know that it’s been almost four years since I upended my life because I was stuck in a rut that I did not like. I was stuck in an increasingly unhappy job with no opportunities to move up, I was stuck in a relationship that was destroying my self-esteem, and then I suffered a stress fracture that dashed all running dreams for the next several months. So I set out to find myself.

    Four years later, I’ve both succeeded and failed. For a while, I was much happier. I traveled more (Alaska, Ireland, Colorado, New York, Chicago, Hawaii). I ran more (an ultra-marathon, faster times). I explored my new town. I began to dream again.

    But somewhere along the way, I got lost again. Some of it started last October, when another injury sidelined all of my running goals, which had gotten bigger and bolder (qualify for Boston). Some of it started this year, when I tried to follow another dream and was repeatedly shot down, sending my self-esteem plummeting. However, I suspect most of it is because I have lifelong dreams that have gone unfulfilled. They eat at me until I’m convinced I’m not good enough, and that if I try to reach them, I’ll fail.

    Some of those dreams I cannot reach on my own, but some of them are all up to me. So, how do I make myself pursue them? Yesterday evening, instead of googling for inspirational quotes, I turned instead to Facebook and asked: “What mantras, quotes, rules or experiences do you use to try to better yourself and chase away the ‘I’m afraid I’ll fail’ demons?” As an example, I gave this quote from George Eliot: “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.” I knew that many of my Facebook friends wouldn’t see the post, due to timing and algorithms that limit which posts people see. But in the 10 hours since, I’ve received a number of great quotes.

    A good friend texted her response: “Jump and the net will appear.”

    Another friend messaged his response, which he’d seen on a poster that same day: “To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime.” The quote was from legendary runner and author Bill Rodgers, and my friend pointed out that it doesn’t just apply to running. This is so true: It’s the big picture of life. If I’ve got these life dreams, each day should prepare me for them, because they won’t suddenly happen immediately.

    “Life’s battles don’t always go to the bigger or faster man…but sooner or later, the fellow who wins, is the man who thinks he can.” This was offered by a friend and former colleague, Rick, who is deaf and has faced more than his share of battles. The key there is to think I can do it.

    Another former journalist-turned-runner (turned Ironman, which is a whole other level, if you ask me), Theresa, offered this line from a sports journalism professor of hers: “The only way out is through.” Yes, if I want to reach the goals, I have to push through everything standing between me and them.

    “I like to tell myself that I’ll definitely fail if I don’t try,” said another writer. I really admire her, because she has worked hard to get to a career she wanted. If she hadn’t tried, she never would have gotten there.

    Then there is this Wayne Gretzky quote, offered by an old friend, Dave: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

    Audrey pointed out that, even if you don’t make that shot, you learn along the way. As another saying goes, practice makes perfect. Similarly, Pam offered this advice: “My dad always has told me that if you fail, pick yourself up and try again. Never give up until you succeed.”

    And from another Ironman, Stuart: “You only regret the things you didn’t do.” This resonated, because often I ask myself, when trying to make a decision or do something that’s hard, which option I would regret more. Would I regret trying and not making it, or would I regret never trying at all? That answer is obvious.

    Similarly, Brandon offered a line from a Shinedown song: “Long live the day that I decided to fly.” It’s a decision, and I have to truly make that decision before I can go anywhere.

    My friend Marc turned it around back at me, with the advice I gave him the day before he ran his first marathon: “One that sticks with me is something a really great friend told me on January 11 of this year. She said there will be a point where I will realize “this is the farthest I’ve ever gone.” And that’s true for everything. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” He’s right (which I guess means that I was right). I still remember the point when I passed mile 22 of the Tucscon Marathon in December 2008. There, on an Arizona highway, I realized that was the farthest I had even run — and at the same time I realized I was actually going to run a marathon. I did finish that marathon, and then I kept on going to more goals and milestones. The journey continued, and it was a good journey.

    And then there was this, from Linda: “Shan’t I be good to thee self, I shan’t be good to another.” She didn’t know it, but that one hit home more than all the rest. I love people, I love helping them and making them happy, and some of my biggest dreams require other people. But I can’t be good for them and help them unless I also do that for myself. That’s actually a realization I reached last week, so Linda’s timing was perfect. I have to be strong enough to stand on my own.

    Where does all of this advice go? How do I actually retain it, rather than dumping it all into a blog post and then moving on? Well, one way is through sheer determination, which I’m already working on. I don’t like the way I give up on things I want, just because they’re hard or there are huge obstacles in the way. I fear that I’ll fail, so I stop trying — and that’s no way to live my life.

    So I’m going to keep re-reading the quotes offered from friends who have clearly had the strength to keep fighting, and who also took the time to give me some advice. I’m going to try to stand up tall and keep fighting my doubts and insecurity. I’m going to try to be a better, stronger, supportive person to those I care about. And I’m going to tell myself over and over again that I AM good enough to chase my dreams.

    After all, as Darleen advised, “If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.” I want more, so I have to do more.

  • Hometown pride

    More than three years ago, I went on a soul-seeking road trip to Portland and reconnected with an old friend from home, whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years. “I know where we’re going to eat; you’ll see when we get there,” he said. We pulled up to a restaurant called the Black Bear Diner, and I looked at the sign with a combination of confusion and recollection. And that’s when I learned that a little business from back home had become A Big Deal, now with 61 locations in eight states.

    The Black Bear Diner opened in 1995 in the northern California town of Mt. Shasta. It was about 25 minutes from my home and was a “luxury” of sorts, so it wasn’t a destination. But it was about 15 minutes from the town where I went to school and youth group, so once in a while a group of us teenagers would load into a few cars and go get dessert at the Black Bear. I moved away two years later, and that was the end of that.

    My home county is one of the poorest in the state of California. The timber industry provides some of the income, and it tends to be a “feast or famine” existence. When I see businesses mentioned in my hometown newspaper, I don’t recognize most of them, because they come and go. When something or someone makes it to the big time, it’s a rare thing. (The NFL starter who’s now married to a successful actress? Oh yes, we brag about him!) Well, the Black Bear Diner is a big deal, and according to its Wikipedia page, even got a mention from the New York Times in 2009.

    Three years ago, I had a long commute for a few months. It just so happened to coincide with the opening of a Black Bear Diner whose sign could be seen from the freeway I drove. Every day, I had a hint of pleasant nostalgia.

    And one day about a year ago, I was on a difficult run when I came across a construction fence with a “Coming Soon: Black Bear Diner” sign inside it. I stopped and took a couple pictures, smiled, then found another gear to keep going the last few miles home.

    Sure, it’s now a chain of restaurants in eight western United States (and hopes to be expanding nationwide soon!), but the Black Bear has history, which was recounted in an article last week in the local newspaper. The diner was started by lifelong Mt. Shasta natives who are still active in the community. They give back, through donations to a number of local groups, as well as giving $750,000 to the Make A Wish foundation over the last five years. And, also according to that article, the owners personally make sure to train people at every new restaurant so they know about Mt. Shasta and the Black Bear’s history.

    The next time you see a Black Bear Diner, don’t think it’s just another “evil” chain business. Know that it started out nearly 20 years ago as a humble little diner in a humble little community. Two decades later, that hasn’t changed. And hey, the food is pretty good, the bear theme is fun, and you’ll definitely be full. For that matter, the next time you judge an apparent “chain” business, look into the history first. Maybe it’s doing some good for a little community that didn’t have high-speed Internet until long after most of you.

  • Finding happiness

    I’ve recently come face-to-face with a strange conundrum: I, optimistic little happy-go-lucky Layla, am afraid of being truly happy. How can this be possible, when I see the metaphorical glass as half full? When I always want to give someone the benefit of the doubt? When I am thrilled to make someone laugh? I’m generally a happy person who isn’t bothered by a lot, and I can honestly say that I have never once contemplated suicide.

    And yet, I am apparently afraid of real happiness. Maybe this is because I believe in the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” I heard that phrase growing up, and I later repeated it to myself many times in my journalism career. If everyone understood that concept, we wouldn’t have fraud victims (“Give you $50,000 against my mortgage and I’ll double my money? OK!”) or embezzlers (“If I write this company check out to my husband’s business, nobody will notice!”) — believe it or not, I covered criminal cases involving those exact scenarios. It extends to property crimes (“Hey, if I steal this car, nobody will ever know!”) and violent crimes (“If I kill my husband and bury his body, nobody will suspect me!”) — yep, those are real-life examples, too.

    But when does that concept end and true happiness begin? When does reality trump self-esteem issues? I have this not-so-subconscious belief that people will always let me down, because we’re all humans who make mistakes. However, I’m a human who constantly makes mistakes, yet I genuinely love making people happy and feel terrible when those close to me are unhappy. I guess it’s only fair that I let others make me happy. Sure, they make mistakes but, like me, most of them mean well.

    “Happiness is scary because it means that we might fall—and it’s true we might—but if we live life waiting to fall down, we’re always falling.”

    That line comes from this site that, while it has too much yogi-type stuff for me, still resonated. Author Jennifer S. White also had this to say:

    “Are we afraid of happiness? Why do we think happiness is something fleeting, temporary and delusional? Is it because we don’t want to be happy or because we don’t know what to do once we are?

    It seems that much of our life is spent trying to “fix.” We try to fix others; we try to fix ourselves; we try to fix everything and anything in order to feel safe and secure in the real delusion that we can control our situations in ways that are actually very much out of our realm of control.

    Does happiness actually bother us because it can’t be controlled?”

    I think that’s one key: allowing myself to just BE, rather than trying to control. I really wrestle with the knowledge that I don’t know where my life is going to end up, but you know what? I’ve made it this far. For 30-something years, I’ve managed to do OK. Sure, I have much unfinished business, but it would be weird if I didn’t have far-off dreams and un-met goals. I can’t always control them, just like I can’t always control my own happiness.

    So, for those who have realized that we fear happiness, what next? I think recognizing and acknowledging happiness is the first step. The next step is to accept that it’s there, and that you deserve it. That’s been my stumbling block: I’m “Little Miss Tuffy McTufferson” who doesn’t need to rely on anybody — so there! (Yes, you may picture me stamping my foot, wrinkling my forehead and crossing my arms.) And, once you realize you deserve it, the next step is to embrace it.

    “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” –Aristotle

    In researching this post, I typed “happiness” into the search box on my own blog. Three years ago I came across a study in which researchers concluded that when people fake a smile, their mood worsens. I was quite surprised (still am, in fact), and I blogged about how maybe that had been proven in my own life: “I was faking the smiles and thinking everything would be fine. The truth is, I was dying inside.”

    Six months ago, I wrote: “If everything around you is chaotic and miserable and out of your control, sometimes all you can do is find a sliver of happiness and hold onto it for as long as you can.” That may initially sound sad or pessimistic — sad, perhaps, but I don’t think it’s pessimistic. If you recognize happiness and realize that you should hang onto it, you’re going in the right direction.

    Between the post three years ago, the post six months ago, and today’s post, maybe I’ve actually been making progress all along without realizing it? Four years ago, if someone had given me a dose of seemingly absurd happiness, I know I would have run away from it: I would have said it was too good to be true. At least six months ago, I clearly realized that happiness should be held onto.

    And then there’s the fine line between learning from the past so you don’t repeat the same mistakes, and living in the past. This article/post about “10 risks happy people take every day” lists that as the last one: “Don’t waste your time trying to live in another time and place. … You must accept the end of something in order to begin to build something new.”

    So, where am I going with all of this rambling? It comes down to this mantra that worked its way into my head nearly five years ago: “Life is short; live it.” I’ve spent the past five years trying to do that, but it’s been slow going. Heck, once I adopted that mantra, it took me months to even realize it, and many more months to act on it. But I DID eventually act, and that’s a good sign. So, here’s to embracing both life and happiness. Here’s to realizing that I should settle for nothing less than happiness. Here’s to accepting that life is too short to not be happy.

    “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; But often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” –Helen Keller

    (Found on a blog that linked to this Pinterest.)