Night Lights

The light on our Time Capsule reflected in the top of the cable box it sits on

The light on our Time Capsule reflected in the top of the cable box it sits on

Have you ever noticed how many tiny little lights there are glowing away in our homes these days?  I had to banish all electronics (besides my iPhone, which is also my alarm clock) from our bedroom several years ago because of the lights.

The glowing apple is almost enough light to ready by

The glowing apple is almost enough light to ready by

After struggling with sleep issues, I was educated on ways to improve my sleep environment.  The first rule was to remove all light sources from the room, including my clock.  I had no idea how bright our room was until we started removing the lights.

Room darkening blinds, the removal of all electronics, and closing the interior doors revealed we had a bright light on an alarm panel permanently mounted on the bedroom wall.  I ended up using an old pair of biking shorts wrapped around the panel to cover the light (that was always a little awkward to explain on the rare occasions we showed our bedroom to a guest).  When we turned off the last light as we went to bed, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces.  We both slept much better.

The only symbol I recognize is the power symbol.  I have no idea what the other two lights on our cable box mean.

The only symbol I recognize is the power symbol. I have no idea what the other two lights on our cable box mean.

Once I was used to sleeping in a totally dark room, I became hyper-sensitive to lights in hotel rooms.  I have to unplug alarm clocks and carefully position the light-blocking curtain, sometimes moving furniture to hold the curtain against the window to prevent light leakage.

Glow of a power button next to stray light coming through the vent

Glow of a power button next to stray light coming through the vent

Once, at a conference in Vegas, my hotel room, a ridiculously large suite, had a sunken seating area.  Because there were steps down to the seating area, lights were installed in the floor for safety.  Unfortunately, they didn’t turn off.  I’m sure the housekeeper wondered why I kept leaving a towel on the floor, but that was the only way I could get to sleep–cover the lights.  I couldn’t seem to remember to pick it up in the morning.

Laptop lights are deceptively bright--a sleeping laptop in the room is enough light to keep me up

Laptop lights are deceptively bright–a sleeping laptop in the room is enough light to keep me up

Tonight, looking around for a photographic subject after working past sunset, I noticed all the glowing lights in the office.  I found myself wondering what they would look like in photographs.

Perhaps they would be more interesting in a wide angle shot of a totally dark room with all these little lights glowing like a constellation in color?  It was fun to try shooting them, though.  I try to remind myself it’s about the journey and not the destination.  🙂

Our own, tiny traffic light is actually the lights on a surge protector

Our own, tiny traffic light is actually the lights on a surge protector

Tisen was not very interested in my photographic experiment.  He was more interested in playing with his newest toy.  I was surprised he picked this toy when we stopped at PetSmart the other day.  It doesn’t have a squeaker in it.  This is usually a show-stopper when it comes to Tisen’s selection of toys.

This one has a strange vibrating device in it.  When you squeeze its paw, it vibrates in a rather strange, R-rated sort of way.  Tisen doesn’t like when it vibrates while he has it in his mouth.  I finally realized he wasn’t playing with it, he was trying to get it to stop vibrating–permanently.  He succeeded.

Tisen puts an end to the vibration in this toy

Tisen puts an end to the vibration in this toy

Sick and Tired

It’s Monday morning.  I wake up with a throbbing headache.  I assume it’s because I slept funny.  It only gets worse the longer I’m up so I start pounding the coffee thinking it’s a caffeine withdrawal headache because I’ve been drinking too much coffee lately.  It still doesn’t relent.

It’s Monday afternoon. It’s clear to me that I have caught something.  My throat burns and feels like it’s swelling when I talk.  The pain in my jaw tells me this is a sinus headache.  I begin to sound like a kid who really needs to blow her nose.  I am so cold.  I pull on a down jacket, extra socks, my shearling slippers, and wrap a blanket around my legs while I work at my desk.

I hate being sick.  My strategy is to ignore it for as long as possible.  It’s the “if I deny I am getting sick, perhaps it will simply go away” approach.  Amazingly, this approach often works for me if I do two things besides pretend I’m not getting sick:  take some vitamins and get extra rest.

Unfortunately, for me today there is no rest for the weary.  And I’m not feeling like going out in the pouring rain after any immune-system boosting vitamins.  I sink under the fatigue when my work day finally concludes and decide to just lay on the couch playing solitaire.

I am convinced that solitaire may in fact be part of a large conspiracy to take over the world.  Now that solitaire is available in every electronic form and on every electronic device imaginable, I think the plot is picking up steam.  Helpless victims are immobilized for hours at a time, nearly oblivious to events happening around them.  If you want to rule the world, you just have to kick off a massive solitaire event that everyone has to log into at the same time.

But, between my solitaire game and watching TV, I manage to ignore how miserable I feel.  There was a time when just watching TV was enough to occupy my mind and allow me to shutdown.  Now, I seem to require multi-tasking to achieve the same effect.  At what point in life did it become impossible to give my full attention to one thing at a time for more than a few seconds?  I saw an article recently about how people are “multi-tasking free time.”  I find myself wondering if this tendency is contributing to my inability to sleep.

I wonder this, in part, because my husband used to drink massive amounts of caffeine to prevent migraines.  He was constantly guzzling caffeine after a while or a migraine would start.  Realizing that he couldn’t spend the rest of his life drinking that much coffee and Coke, he decided to quit drinking caffeine all together.  He was pretty miserable for about 2 months, but without consuming caffeine, he went for over a year without a single migraine.  As it turned out, the preventative was also the cause.

In my case, multi-tasking solitaire and TV has become my signal to turn off the brain and shutdown for the night.  It gives those nagging parts of my brain something to do other than replay conversations I had earlier in the day, wondering if I said the wrong thing, thinking about up coming conversations and what I should be sure to say, worrying that I’ve forgotten something important, or reliving high-anxiety moments that cause adrenaline rushes even in just remembering them.  These kinds of thoughts lead to a racing brain while I lie in bed trying to go to sleep.  Even when I am so exhausted that I do fall right to sleep, these thoughts infiltrate my dreams, take over my sleep, and rouse me out of bed in the middle of the night, demanding that I take some sort of action.

My brain is not kind.  It has no concerns about dumping massive chemicals into my body that I have no use for–after all, it’s not like I need to jump up and run away from a tiger.  It is unconcerned that I desperately need sleep to restore and recover both physical and mental well being.  It has no compassion, no basic human decency to just lay there quietly and let me sleep.

And once I have a few nights of little or disturbed sleep, like my husband’s caffeine, it becomes a contributor to the problem.  With not enough rest, I am less tolerant of the stressors that arise throughout the day.  I am more likely to allow things to come out of my mouth that I wish I could take back later.  I am more likely to forget to do something important that wakes me up in the middle of the night.  I have more gaps in my memory that lead to worrying about whether something is done or not.  This, then contributes to more bad nights.

So, I have developed a strategy to turn off these brain functions before I go to bed.  Solitaire and TV seem to give my busy mind something to focus on besides the things that produce stress for me.  I suspect that doing both of them together helps keep me from getting so engaged in either one that I get overly involved and more riled up.  I often find myself nodding off in the middle of a solitaire game as long as the TV show isn’t too much of an adrenaline rush.  Although, to tell the truth, I’ve managed to fall asleep during some pretty hairy scenes from time to time.

We used to just watch the Andy Griffith Show.  I love that show.  It’s silly and funny, but based on values like respecting others (including children), working out problems in a mutually agreeable way, and caring about people more than things.  When I find myself on a wave of accumulation, watching the Andy Griffith Show helps put things back in perspective.  How many TV shows were made where the main characters each had the same 3 outfits over 7 seasons?  I started falling to sleep with uncomplicated thoughts and feeling pretty content when I went to sleep to Andy Griffith.

Now, out of Andy Griffith shows to watch, I find I need the distractions to get my mind off of whatever bone its chewing and relax.  Yet, sometimes, something kicks in and I want to play one more game of solitaire, watch one more on-demand episode.  Then, I cannot get to sleep.  I have now developed the bad habit of taking the iPad to bed with me, surreptitiously to read for a little bit so I can go to sleep.  But I find myself often having a hard time not playing solitaire instead.  And, solitaire by itself is less likely to make me fall asleep than solitaire in combination with TV.  It becomes a compulsion to play one more game.  If I lose, I think “I’ll just play one more so I can win one before I quit.”  If I win, I think “I’ll just play one more since I’m on a roll–I might get a new high score.”  My cure has become my cause.

Tonight, I feel so awful.  I want nothing more than a sound night of sleep.  But once again, I cannot stop playing solitaire.  I am wide awake a midnight.  I do a mental equivalent of prying the iPad out of my clenched fingers and setting it aside to recharge.  I think, “If it can recharge for the night, so can I.”  I close my eyes and do my best to get comfortable.  But I ache everywhere in spite of the Ibuprofen I took for my headache.

I try to just pay attention to my breathing, feeling the air coming in and out of my body.  But my mind jumps up and races off somewhere I don’t want to go.  I try to reel it back in, but I’m strangely fascinated.  My curiosity wants to follow it even though I know it’s not leading me anywhere good.  I feel weak, like I can’t resist the urge to follow.  Before I know it, it is 1AM and I am still wide awake.

Because I have been referred to a sleep specialist in the past, I know I am a) not supposed to do anything besides sleep in bed (like read), b) not lay in bed when I’m not asleep, and c) not expose myself to bright light when it’s sleep time.  So what do I do?  I get out the iPad again while still in bed, only this time I turn to a book, turn the brightness down as low as it will go, and start to read.  I get through about 2 pages and am barely awake enough to set the iPad aside before falling asleep.  Go figure.

Sleeping (or not) in a Tent

Having filled our stomachs in Maggie Valley, gotten ready for bed on our way back to camp, and now arrived at our campsite as the remaining twilight fades into darkness, we decide there’s nothing left to do but sleep.  I think this is a key difference between backpackers and “campers.”  People who think “camping” means loading up their car with all kinds of goodies, setting up chairs around the fire ring, and sitting around all day think differently from people who backpack.  Backpacking means being able to haul everything you need on your back all day, rarely, if ever, gathering wood for a campfire (depending on where you are, the rules, and the fire danger level), and retiring with the sun.  Cooking is done on a super-light burner in one titanium pot because anything more than that means you’ll have more to carry.  We camp because we like to sleep outdoors, not because we like parking ourselves at a campsite and hanging out all day drinking beer around a camp fire.  While, in the state parks, beer is not allowed, which makes for a family-friendy experience, there still seems to be a set of people that hang out at their campsite all day.

We are staying next to one such group of people.  As we get our sleeping bags positioned and our food safely tucked into the trunk, they start winding up instead of down.  Somehow, they have cell reception here.  And they seem to really like the push-to-talk feature on their phone that causes them to shout at their phone from several feet away and broadcasts the responses.  I’ve been told that push-to-talk phones come with the option to talk privately, but for some reason, it seems that push-to-talk users want to broadcast both ends of their conversation as far as possible.  I find it disturbing enough to have neighbors on cell phones when I’m trying to get away from mine, but to have to listen to their conversation blaring across the quiet night challenges my ability to be patient.  Fortunately for all of us, the conversation is a short one and our neighbor puts away his phone for the night.  I figure I have to cut him some slack given that it isn’t even 9PM yet.

As we settle into our sleeping bags (or, more accurately, on them as it’s too warm to crawl inside), I nestle into my air mattress and think what an amazing invention.  I used to sleep on one of those super-thin Thermarest, self-inflating jobs, but never felt comfortable.  More recently, I invested in a Big Agnes air mattress that weighs about the same as the Thermarest and packs up almost as small, but makes me feel like I’m in the most comfortable bed when I lay down.  The only down side is if it gets a hole, but I carry a patch kit and enjoy the comfortable resting place.

Once I am situated, my eyes start to close immediately.  Just as my lashes hit my cheeks, a wail starts up in the tent behind us that does not bode well for a peaceful night.  The family behind us has 3 small children.  Two of them are small infants that don’t seem too enamored with camping.  When one starts crying, a second starts crying, then there is the fussing of the toddler.  Mom and Dad seem calm and quiet as they shush them, at least.  But Pat and I glance at each other and wonder at the wisdom of selecting a front-country campsite.

I doze off as soon as the babies go quiet.  But I’m startled from my sleep a few minutes later by another wail.  I awake with the vague feeling that I was hearing a rumble.  Pat tells me I was snoring like never before.  I laugh sheepishly and sleepily.  Apparently the neck pillow I’m sleeping on is not good for snoring.  Perhaps my snoring is what set off the crying babies again?  I rearrange the pillow and roll onto my side, hoping that will keep me quiet.  Once the babies stop crying again, I fall into the sleep of the dead.

I wake up in the middle of the night, as invariably happens when we’re camping.  I need to use the facilities and realize that it’s a long walk to get there (another disadvantage to front-country camping).  I start looking for the zipper to the tent, but there is no light, not even from the moon.  I dig around until I find a flashlight and shine the beam on the door.  I find the zipper and unzip it with a sound as loud as a gunshot in the stillness of the night.  I stick my feet out and slide them into my sandals, sitting under the vestibule formed by the rain fly.  I lean out the door and open the rain fly so I can step out of the tent, turning back as quickly as possible to re-zip the door to prevent insects from making themselves at home in my bed while I’m out.  I get myself oriented and shine the flashlight on the ground, making a small circle of light just in front of my feet so I can safely navigate the steps out of the campsite and down to the road.  I expect to be able to navigate the road without the flashlight, but it’s such a dark night and my eyes are now used to the light, I can’t see my hands in front of my face.  I turn the flashlight back on, but keep it pointed at my feet so as not to disturb sleeping campers by inadvertently shining light into their faces.

I’m concerned that I will walk on by when I get to the restrooms since it’s so dark out, but there is a concrete sidewalk outside the building that manages to reflect back what little light escapes from my flashlight beam.  It is just bright enough to allow me to see it so that I safely find my way.  On the way back, it seems even darker–probably because I managed to shine the flashlight directly into my eyes when I set it on a ledge above the sink so I could wash my hands.  I trip going up the stairs to the road, but make it up the road the 10th of a mile or so without any more tripping incidents.  When I get to the tent, Pat is wide awake, sitting up at the door.

“Do you need to go out?” I ask, thinking he’s waiting for the flashlight.

“No!  Did you call me?” he replies, sounding slightly flustered.

“No,” I say, confused.  Just then a small child let’s loose a wail that sounds just like, “Paaaaaaaaaaat!”  Pat laughs and realizes that he was awakened from a sound sleep by the cry of the child, but in his sleepy state, thought I was hurt and calling his name.  We chuckle and lay back down, listening to the child cry for a few more minutes and then hearing the call of a Barred Owl when the child settles back down.  Pat tells me that he has been awake most of the night and that the owl (and the kids) have been calling off and on.  He also tells me that I snored my way through the children screaming.  He said that it sounded like the babies were being eaten by raccoons and the older one was completely freaking out.  He couldn’t remember ever hearing children scream like that and was fairly certain they were all dead except that he heard the parents talking to the kids and calming them down and no adults screaming.

I am impressed that as a poor sleeper I managed to sleep through such havoc.  I appreciate my air mattress even more.  I settle back down and try to get back to sleep.  But, it must be close to 4AM–my body seems to think it’s time to be up.  I lay there anyway and before I know it, I am opening my eyes and darkness has been replaced with a dull gray.

Defining Home

I’ve made up my mind–home really is the place where you have your own bed.  Set aside the view from our apartment, the endless things to do, the relaxing walks by the river–those are all things we would enjoy on vacation.  It’s our bed that I look forward to returning to.  I find it odd that after 40+ years of living in Columbus, moving my bed makes me feel like I’ve moved my home.  Leaving behind good friends and the opportunity to see those friends makes me sad, but in a world where I can text, Facetime, Skype, Facebook, email, and call from various devices and at no extra charge, it’s hard to feel like I’m really leaving anyone behind.  It’s the bed that calls me home.

Once on the road and thinking about sleeping in my own bed, I find myself anxious to get there.  Unfortunately, the road isn’t so cooperative.  North of Cincinatti, we are snarled in a traffic jam that brings us to a dead stop.  I make good use of the time (since Pat is driving) and pull out my new Verizon MiFi.  I manage to get online and get a bunch of work done as efficiently as if I’m in the office.  Even Sametime (Lotus instant messaging) works flawlessly.  Pat decided to get off the highway and we drive through small towns trying to find a way around the traffic jam.  My wireless broadband hotspot keeps me connected through the whole thing.  After spending about and hour and half in the traffic and another half an hour half lost and working our way back to the freeway, we once again cruise along at highway speeds.  I continue working for a couple more hours with childlike amazement that I can instant message and email and surf uninterrupted as we speed along the highway.  Having worked in telecom for many years prior to my current job, I know too much about what can go wrong to not be impressed by the technological advancements that allow for this moment in time when virtual presence can be maintained from virtually anywhere.

Pat gets tired of driving and we change seats once we make it into Kentucky.  It’s the first time I’ve gotten behind the wheel in nearly 3 weeks.  I set the cruise control and enjoy the feeling of driving for several hours.   I am surprised that it feels no different.  I don’t know why this surprises me–I have gone for weeks without driving many times in my life.  Years ago, when I used to have a job that involved traveling internationally for weeks at a time, I would go without driving for as long as 6 weeks.  I am reminded of a trip to Italy when, after having been there for 3 weeks, I rented a car since it was over Easter and the colleague who normally drove me was on holiday for a week.  Driving in Italy definitely felt strange.  The last day my colleague was still with me, we decided I should drive to the office so I would learn the route (since I never seem to pay enough attention as the passenger).  When I went to enter the freeway for the first time, I started accelerating on the entrance ramp, preparing to merge.  My colleague started screaming, “No, Dianne!  No!  Stop!” as I looked over my left shoulder for a gap in traffic (which I couldn’t find).  When I turned to see why he was screaming, there was a concrete wall dead ahead of me.  I screeched to a halt just in time to avoid slamming us into unforgiving concrete.  My colleague was sweating.  This was my second trip to Rome and even after having ridden with him daily for a combined 6 weeks, I had failed to realize that Italian entrance ramps aren’t designed for merging.  I’d always wondered why he stopped before trying to jump into traffic moving at a high rate of speed!  I quickly learn how to go from a standstill to moving into traffic going 80 KPH in an under-powered sub-compact Italians call a “medium” sized car.

But this is not like driving for the first time in a foreign country.  In fact, even the things that annoy me remain the same.  I am particularly annoyed by people who change speeds dramatically.  This phenomena is heightened by the fact that I am on cruise control in a vehicle with a powerful enough engine to make it up the hills going through the Kentucky mountains without much change in speed.  Others seem to slow down 10 MPH or more going up the steeper hills and speed back up coming down.  I understand when trucks carrying heavy loads crawl slowly up hills, but when a car whose average speed is only slightly slower than mine keeps passing me on the downhill only for me to have to pass them again on the uphill, I get annoyed.  Perhaps this annoys me because I want to feel like I’m making rapid progress towards home and the repeated passing of the same vehicle gives me the sensation of going backwards.  I do not do backwards well.  Ask Pat.  He frequently teases me about my unwillingness to take a route that includes backtracking, to go back for something I’ve left behind, or to change my mind once having set a plan into motion.  It’s one of life’s lessons I retake on a daily basis, yet I seem to always end up in the remedial class.

We make it to Knoxville before I find myself growing too sleepy to drive safely.  After a pit stop at Burger King (see previous post), Pat takes the wheel for the final stretch home.  I try talking to him to keep him awake, but quickly find myself slumping over, my head drooping towards the window.  Each time I reawaken, I imagine what my slack face must look like to drivers that we pass–head bobbing, loose jaw, closed eyes.  I wonder if I look like I’m dead.  I try my best to stay awake, knowing that Pat is fighting sleep too, but I suspect my parents used to take me for car rides on nights I couldn’t sleep and the feel of being on the road well past my bedtime still hypnotizes me.  I tell Pat to stop and sleep for a bit if he can’t stay awake.  He says we’re almost home; it would be weird to stop now.  I say, “better weird than dead.”  He laughs, which energizes him for a few minutes at least.

We do make it home safely.  Tired and groggy, we pull our bags out of the car and make our way into the lobby of our building.  I enter the access code four times before it works, giving me a moment of panic that we’ve forgotten the code and we’ll be stuck outside sleeping in our van after all.  We make it to the apartment, drop our things, brush our teeth and fall into bed otherwise un-groomed.  Ahh!  The bed!  It is good to be home.