Book Review: The Running Dream

I’ve been reading.  I admit that most of my reading these days involves journal articles for work, but I do occasionally get in some actual books designed for regular reading.

This year our floor where I work decided to contribute to the annual Christmas party held for foster children in our county.  Being the do-gooder that I am, I went ahead and ordered all sorts of craft projects, glow in the dark necklaces and sports equipment for the kids.  I also ordered books.  I particularly wanted some books that might inspire or help kids dream.  So in November, I read a lot of teen literature. Enter The Running Dream  by Wendelin Van Draanen.

Apparently it is based on a true story, which is rather amazing.  The basic premise, 16 year old Jessica is a high school runner who loses her leg in a tragic accident. She works through the grief process (rather rapidly) all the while becoming more sensitive to others disabilities and problems around her, and eventually returns to running–and also picks up the “hot boyfriend” in the end.  Part of me found it all a little too good to be true, and a bit like those After school Specials for the 1980’s .  I now realize that it was based on a true story, so likely this is all true, and it still kind of amazes me at how each piece seems to fall together at the end of the story.

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But of course the story ends conveniently there where all the pieces fall together. The reality is that Jessica and folks with disability will continue to face many challenges through their lives that can not be chronicled in one slim volume.

All that said, this book was a tear jerker and a page turner for me. Firstly many of the emotions that the main character describes after her injury remind me of the emotions I felt after my large spine injury. The author has a way of making the reader entirely invested and committed to the outcome.  I could NOT stop reading the book!  My favorite part of the book is how the author describes running through her main character.  Certain phrases have stuck with me as I am out and running again myself.  I sometimes hear them when I am struggling with some particular aspect of a workout- especially if it is on the track.

The Verdict?  Definitely worth the read for adults, and a great read for teens.

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I’m not a radiologist

So, yesterday I went FINALLY to get my 6 weeks follow up X-ray.  It’s the end of the year and people have met deductibles so everyone is trying to fit in scans and other expensive tests. I waited 2 hours for films.  I am amazed and very proud that I was very adult and never asked about the wait and did not complain about it to anyone.  Waits happen.

I was hoping I’d be able to see some fusion on the film, essentially at this stage it would be fluffy white speck or something, but of course I’m not a radiologist.  Not at all.

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So this is what I saw.  Once I looked at the image a little more carefully (these are not the best images, because I snapped them with my phone when the technician wasn’t looking, though she did say they were my images so I’m sure she knew what I was doing…)

CWjC2UtWoAArnwk (1).jpgIt would appear there is a lot of fluffy white stuff between the screws, If you look at the vertebrae above there is a huge black gap and below there is a lot of fluffy white stuff.  So, it could be the start of fusion.  I’m not a radiologist, however, so it could be anything… Christmas Snow?

What did kind of alarm me, and also make the technician raise her eyebrows a bit was this film.

CWjDBj6WoAAwcRc (1).jpgWe both kind of looked at it and simultaneously tilted our head to the right… (If you didn’t tilt your head, let me know, because everyone I show it to does…) I said, well that looks odd.  She said, “Well I don’t know what the surgeon intended.”  I never saw my original post op front view films, the Doc told me they looked great. So I really have nothing to compare to, plus as mentioned before, I’m not a Radiologist.  This could be entirely due to the way I was positioned on the table, or it could be where the screw needed to go, or it could be that I bent the screw which would be amazing, considering I’ve not been doing ANYTHING.

So I drove home.  I’ve been having a large amount of radiculopathy (Right leg pain) and it’s been hard to manage it, so I was thinking, if it is caused by that screw, they can move it and that would be nice.  Then I started to think of the expense and time off work for another procedure….and then I just got very overwhelmed.  I mean, it isn’t the end of the world, but I’m really over my Lumbar spine controlling my life.

We have a nifty thing with our hospital system. It’s called the patient portal.  Once lab tests or X-ray reports are uploaded into the system, the patient can access them, with a handy bar that says (low/normal/high).  When I got home, I jumped on the patient portal to find that my X-ray was read as “Normal Post-operative changes”  I saw the Radiologist was using films from the day of my surgery (done after the surgery) as a comparison.    Because of this, I think I can assume that my former X-ray looked about the same.  I also am not 100% sure that the patient portal contains EVERYTHING on a report, just because I can not access my reports from anything done while I was inpatient, and I can’t access my operative reports. That said, from having to read a lot of radiology reports, the Rad guys and gals usually will mention if something appears to have moved/migrated/relocated from the comparison study.  Plus, if s screw moves, usually there is a dark portion around the screw. I don’t see that.

I’ll see the Doctor on Monday, and while he isn’t a Radiologist, he is a Neurosurgeon, and he is more than qualified to interpret things.

In the meantime, I am thinking about what kind of shoes I’m going to need next year for running.  Something with a narrow instep and a wide toe box… going to be tough to find, but I have a few ideas….A company that could send me out a few different styles to try would be welcome.  I know I probably can’t stay in the Saucony because every time I use them for walking they aggravate the damage to my foot… so something with a bigger toe box to minimize my big toe’s contact might do the trick…

I am excited for Monday…. I do think the X-ray shows beginning fusion, but that one screw has me kind of thinking a little bit too much about the whole thing!!!!

Wish me Luck!

Being Crew…and more.

This weekend I chose to be the crew for a distant friend who was running her first ultra marathon.  (a race longer than a marathon) in her case, she was running a trail 50K.

It may or may not have been the best idea so soon after the spine repair, but I’ve been feeling pretty good and most importantly I had agreed to do it.  Having experienced the support of a wonderful kayaker when I raced at Alligator Lighthouse this September, I felt like being crew for this woman was a way to give back. It was also a way to be part of the running community I miss.

It was a fairly fun experience.  My whole role essentially was to hang around the start/finish area, and wait for my runner who made 2 passes through the area during her run.  One the first pass I helped her change shoes and socks, get a drink and some pain control. On ether second I provided cool towels, more food/drink and encouragement. It was a little difficult for me; not to help her but to wait and wait in the hot sun.  For the rest of the time I did a number of thins.  I read a little bit.  I’ve been reading a collection of short stories my Dad sent me, Joy Williams, the Visiting Privilege. She is a good writer, but I’m not so sure I like her style, and her topics… SO DEPRESSING.  I snacked on a variety of things, took some short walks, taking a few pics of the lay of the land.

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I got to cheer all the finishers and talk to all sorts of people, other crew, other runners.  With little wifi and cell reception, people really spoke to each other.  This was a lot of fun. We all need to do this more often.  Post race, I drove 2 hours to return said runner home and take myself home.  It was a HUGE day for me, and when I got home I was so tired, I actually left the keys in the car with the car unlocked. Seriously. In the aftermath, I really want to run again. I want to spend time on those dusty roads, I want to see the things that she saw, rather than just the finish.. I want the hills and ruts and mud to reveal themselves to me…. but this is the big question… can that happen for me. I suspect lately that it will, but who knows.

Today was ok, I woke up tired and napped throughout the day.  I then embarked on some cleaning and cookie making… and maybe just maybe overdid it as I find that several neurological symptoms are returning.  I am moving more towards acceptance of the ongoing come and go of the nerve symptoms, though I have a small bit of hope that next year at this time, the come and go nerve irritation will be a thing of the past, I mean, the nerve is now unrestricted, and one would hope it might eventually calm down with a rare, occasional flare, rather than a frequent aggravation.

As part of attempting to deal with my on going symptoms I listened to  this radio cast.  In general I have found most of the resources on the web to be somewhat helpful, but this one didn’t do it for me.  I suspect that while this last year has been really difficult for me as far as pain and dealing with it, next year, may be a lot more difficult.  last year I spent the year chasing something that would “Fix” my spine… So, it was easy to have hope…. that I’d find the “cure all” or the perfect fix.

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Now it’s pretty much as repaired as it is going to get. So now, it’s sort of a wait and see how much it can improve, and learn to cope with what won’t.  If things really really improve and I only have to deal with nerve pain once in a while then I will probably go back to my old life with minor adjustments and feel much better.  If they don’t and I’m not able to return to some things, I’m going to really have to pretty much reinvent myself.  I have not really been able to come up wth anything I’d like to explore more.  I have to admit, I really really LOVED my life.  If I had really had a desire to do other things, I would have done them, so there is this moment.. of severe questioning of what will make me experience Joy again…and I suspect, but , I don’t know, that it is not crochet.  Even with all the swimming I did, it just did’t really “do it” for me.. The one thing I don’t want to do is to seek physician after physician in hopes of attaining something that may not occur, become the chronic patient.  so… I suspect that 2016 may be a year of watchful waiting… and listening to a lot ore TED talks…I have a feeling that it will be a deeply revealing year, and I’m not so sure I’m ready for all that reveal of emotions, thoughts, physical sensations etc…

Recovery Mode

So I’ve kind of entered the blah phase of recovery mode.  I feel “pretty good” most of the time. I’m not laying about in any kind of agonizing pain.  I am also very limited in what I can and can not do which is draining to be thinking about how I’m getting up, rolling over in bed, getting in or out of a car…. I feel as if one wrong move will undo everything the surgeon did.

One really big wrong move could of course… or a repetitive series of small wrong moves, but… 90% of people fuse, and so I imagine since I am being careful… I should be part of the 90%.  604_Bone_cells.jpg

I will find out if I am starting to show any signs of bone growth in late December, so for now I am just eating this astounding amount of protein, and not doing a lot of bending lifting or twisting.

So yesterday after really doing only basic things, I decided to go out and do quite a lot.  It’s post operative day like 17 so I really have recovered.

I went to a Friendsgiving.

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It was delicious and fun, and since I am not going anywhere for the holiday it was MY thanksgiving- so turkey, yams, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, cranberry.  I fear I’d been cloistered in my home so long that maybe I talked too much, but  that is the way of things.  I had a lot of fun.

I stayed about 3 hours and then wanted to go on down to a fund raiser/swim party at the lake. So I drove about 40 minutes down there…

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And obviously did not swim, but took some photos and hung out with my friends.  This what what they were doing swimming 5K in a lake at dusk….

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Since I could not swim, I did bring along a tiny donation and enjoyed seeing everyone else, and the afterparty.

It’s kind of funny.  I have to wear a brace now pretty much 100%  of the time Im out in public.  It’s not super comfortable, and when I see myself in it, I look a bit thick through the middle.  Most people seem to not even have noted.  So either they aren’t looking carefully, or they are being super polite in not mentioning that I seem to have grown.  Pretty sure when I get permission to ditch the brace, a lot of people will comment on how much weight I’ve lost.

So I went to the party saw some folks I knew, ate all sorts of good food again and then… abruptly, it started to POUR rain.  This is pretty rare in Florida in late November.  It rained and rained.  I hung around probably 45 minutes to an hour longer than I really wanted to… hoping it would stop, and finally braved it to drive home.  I hate driving in rain at night because well… Dark, wet, turnpike at 70 MPH what could go wrong?

So I did make it home.  I walked the dog and then apparently slept like a rock for the next 8 hours.  Definitely too too much for one day 17 days after surgery.  Still, I was amazing to be out, to see people and chat with them.

Today I just want to primarily rest, hang out on the couch, maybe do some Pre black friday Christmas shopping… and  keep my back “quiet”

I know that once back at work, the 90 days of “quiet back”  will fly by… but right now…

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It’s taking some time.  In fact, I was just wishing i could go for a short swim…and then laughing at recalling how many times last year toward the end of the training I’d stare at the pool and just groan at having to get in again….. Always want what you don’t have…

 

Just think positive…. a pitfall for coaches and others as well.

I had a really interesting experience this week while working with my coach and his intern. It concerns the oft used phrase “Be Positive” or “Just think Positve”

There is a tendency these days to emphasize the positive.  Nobody likes a negative Nancy.  It’s also true that someone always has it worse than you. Coaches indeed often repeat a worn out “Think positive” phrase multiple times.   In appropriate context it can really really work.  In the wrong context it can ultimately sink what might otherwise be a winning combination of coach and coached. I’m going to write a bit here about use of this phrase and others and also reflect a bit on why it is so overused currently by coaches.

Lets look at the example of my current experience with our training center’s intern.

Thursday, we walked over to the infinity pool, and she said, “I can see that I’m going to have to get you to be more positive” after I said I wasn’t really “ready” for this pool workout and that I knew it was going to be difficult and new. (It was all of those things, and I still loved it.) I wasn’t sure exactly why I was expected to be jolly about something entirely unfamiliar and uncertain, especially considering I am in recovery currently, not just trying something new for fun. We weren’t going for an ice cream after all.

I decided she probably just failed to understand that I’m in a very early recovery phase from surgery. All activities that I am doing are pretty difficult, when they used to be quite easy.  It is frustrating and doesn’t really engender thoughts of ponies and rainbows.   So I tried to explain it to her. She reflected back a statement about herself. Stating, “Well I will never not be active for 6 months if this is what happens” She also commented that she wished she had seen me prior to the injury, kind of like she did not believe me. Not a whole lot of positivity there.  She mentioned that I should just smile and be happy that I was “working to adopt a healthy lifestyle”.

I got over it again, and then the final straw occurred.  I came in on Friday with a lot on my mind and was trying to focus in to start some small sets, and she looked at me and did this:

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I really lost it.  Firstly, I’m working out.  Why on earth does anyone need to smile while doing wall balls.  I LOVE wall balls… but I don’t tend to smile a lot while doing them.  I admit, I was tired and frustrated and being told by someone that I needed to “smile” put me over the top.  I was never really able to refocus on the workout.  I did some stuff, kicked around, was very angry and also kind of mystified as to why was I so mad.

Lucky me, I had breakfast on the agenda this weekend with my friend who is a kid’s psychiatrist. He busted out laughing at how irritated I was, and explained to me why exactly I was so annoyed, then he pointed me to google “Why Just be positive is so annoying!”  And here I present to you reasons for coaches and others to avoid the “Just think positive” pit fall phrase

1. It invalidates the person’s experience. Look here if you are curious about exactly what that means.  The less positive person is told that their feelings aren’t accurate/acceptable and that what you are experiencing is actually something else.  This can be a bit overwhelming, and if that person, like most people, identifies pretty closely their feelings, they can feel a little bit like “if my feelings aren’t legitimate, then neither am I” When someone is going through something…best to let them suffer on through it, rather than to tell them that their suffering doesn’t really exist.  Because telling someone to be positive does not seem to make their experience of emotional distress disappear.  If one is trying to reframe experience it is best to validate their experience and then also mention some positives.

Sample Interaction:

Intern: are you ready for this?

MG: No! I don’t know what we are going got do and I think it’s going to be really difficult to do.

Good Response: It might be hard but I think you are up to it. (inspires confidence), it might even be fun.

Good Response: It’s great that you are able to do somethings now that will move you forward to more things that you used to do. (refocuses athlete on WHY they are doing this)

Good Response: Hopefully you’ll get something positive out of the session that will move you forward. (emphasizes positivity without invalidating concern that this might be difficult etc.)

If you are feeling super duper annoyed by Negative Nancy athlete try this for a response:

“I know it’s hard to feel as if you’re back at square one. You seem to be feeling negatively about it.  I’d like to help you have a more positive feeling about what we are doing now, so we’ll work on that today during your session.”

2. Telling someone to be positive, when they aren’t being that way can shut down communication. If you are a coach or a teacher or counselor…you want your athletes/students/clients to come to you with problems.  If that person believes the only appropriate response is some sort of “happy positive response” they are more likely to simply shut down communication and attempt to solve the problem on their own because it’s only ok to talk if you can say something positive.  If you do not know the person is having a problem it’s very hard to help them with it.  Over time in a coaching relationship…the coach gets frustrated because the athlete appears to be doing their own thing, and the athlete gets frustrated because they are often unable to fix certain performance problems without help but also are unable to ask for the help they need for fear of being told to “just be positive”…. The athlete is considered “uncoachable”  and is at the same time completely unsure of how to become coachable.

As an example

Intern tells MG to Smile and Be positive! MG starts to do some of the more difficult specific exercises on her plan and becomes frustrated saying, “I can’t do this”  Intern tells MG: remove that T! you can! You need to be more positive!

MG at this point walks away or slugs the intern.

BETTER: I think you can do that exercise, you are strong enough. Let’s try again.  This does not open communication, but it does express confidence and reinforces that the athlete can do “it”.

BEST: Is there a specific problem that is going on with the exercise?  Is it the breathing, the placement of your hands, or the initial movement? How can I help you succeed?

Also OK in certain circumstances:  “Suck it up, you can do it, do not be lazy” TOTALLY APPROPRIATE, for MG on occasion.

So… we all agree that thinking positively can affect an outcome for the good.  When is it appropriate to use this phrase?  Is it ever?

I think it is.

When discussing long term goals or prognosis, it is very acceptable to say something like this:

“I’m not sure Jimmy will make the national team this year, but if he continues to work with the team and attend all the practices, and have a positive outlook he will have a shot at it.”

When you are about to introduce something new and difficult – totally acceptable to say.

“Jimmy we are starting something new today and it might seem awkward or difficult.  I need you to maintain an open and positive outlook about this new thing as you learn it.

When things are very uncertain.  It is appropriate to acknowledge the uncertainty and mention the power of positivity.

“It looks as if you might be out for the season, but nothing is certain yet, please do your rehab exercises and think positively and perhaps you will return sooner.”

One last thought…Why has it become such a thing to tell others to be positive, think positive, have a positive mindset?  I submit it is for the tellers own comfort.    The emotions of an injured athlete are pretty raw and usually messy and sticky.  There is a whole soup of regret, fear, doubt, worry, mixed in with everything else.  It can be very difficult to be confronted by these emotions. They may even stir up similar emotions in the coach. We have been taught as a society to avoid pain at all costs  so when a person appears to be going through something painful, we often just want to ignore the person or somehow minimize or mitigate the situation.  It would be easier to go to work and encounter only people who smile and say things are great, but really how great can that person really be feeling after say a season ending bike wreck that left them with a fractured pelvis?  So what is a coach to do?  My actual coach, not the intern has been doing a pretty good job of maintaining a positive feeling for me.  He points out what I’m doing well at fairly regular intervals.  He asks for feedback, and he actually listens.  When I express my frustration or fears, he provides some good reassurance, and we move on.  I suspect he has experienced similar emotions, and I suspect he isn’t afraid of my emotions bringing him down.

What to do about the intern I do not know.  I don’t want to be the difficult client. I want her to learn a bit about interacting with people with different life experiences.  Mostly though I want her to finish her internship and go somewhere far away with her positivity.  What would you do?

Transitions.

I’ve now survived the weekend after the first week at work.

I feel a little bit off.

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I remember this time after my last surgery. I couldn’t be that active, I was not sure the surgery had been successful, and things were quite uncertain.  This passes. Just like last time I find myself exploring all sorts of craziness.

I started playing “Candy Crush Saga”  On Facebook.  Unknown-2

Seriously, it is such a waste of time, and I don’t quite get the obsession with it, but I keep playing it.  I don’t know.

I have been assured that very little can derail my mortgage at this time, so I have sat back and kind of relaxed a bit and indulged in a TINY bit of planning.  Mostly, reigning myself and my Pinterest board for my house back in. I had hoped to have enough left over to furnish the home in one fell swoop, but it looks like I will probably have a home like most people…cobbled together with pieces of furniture from friends, parents, yard sales and such.  Of course, I live in Florida, (the place old people go to die) so Estate Sales happen frequently and there is usually some very good items there.  I am thinking of looking for an upgrade on my coffee maker at them.  I have also decided to convert my fish tank into a terrarium.  I don’t know that I have the patience to balance out the pH and such for a gorgeous tank.  images-2

I’ve always liked terrariums and I think it would be interesting to watch a small micro-universe created in a 55 gallon tank.  So that’s my distractions from the obvious main issue in life.

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I am STILL having some issues with my toes/back.  I have gotten so “pro-active” that I have started drinking apple cider vinegar. The stuff is VILE! It is touted for a lot of health benefits- weight loss, diabetes control, you name it.  It is not promoted for nerve health, but I know a relatively logical woman who started to drink it after her hand went numb after surgery and her numbness has disappeared.  She was like…could be a coincidence, or not… So…I looked into it.  Vinegar itself is not harmful, so I decided why not try it out. I’ve had 2 doses so far and enjoyed neither one, nor have I felt any particular miracle improvement.  I have not gotten worse though.  It takes time and is frustrating.

I also signed up like a crazy person for the Swim for the Alligator Lighthouse.

It’s a huge long swim.  about 9 miles.  I know that training will be fine for this, and while sometimes I’m a little slow…I usually can keep going. The two challenges are the nasty Jelly Fish and making sure I swim fast enough for the cut off.  If the weather is better this year it should be easier.

Signing up cheered me up a lot.  Now if I could actually get into any body of water.

Follow up is the 3rd week in March, so I have a long way to wait for that clearance.

So it’s a lot of wait and see.  I’m definitely “over” the surgery…now I am just waiting to see if I can either get used to the deficit or if it will go away.  I sure wish it would go.  The longer I go without seeing a slight improvement, the less positive I feel, but…who knows, maybe apple cider vinegar is the secret?

Yes, I am an athlete….

So, living in this community of professional and semi-pro triathletes, Olympians, and what not…

(Yes, the video is kind of cheesy but…it kind of shows my life. We are growing but I’m fairly sure it’s not as robust as the video emphasizes.) I occasionally feel like I just sort of pretend to be into fitness.  Now that I’ve been injured for a bit, I feel very out of condition….my follow up appointment reminded me that I’ll probably be an athlete for life.

I went for my 2 week follow up today.  Thankfully it went very well. I saw the PA and he was pleasant. I do have some sensory issues with my first two toes.  They are very frustrating.  The PA said he really is not worried about them at this point. It apparently is pretty common for symptoms to come and go for several months after this procedure.  He did reassure me that there are some things that can be done if that symptom hangs around “forever”.  He explained that the disc fragment they had removed was pretty big, so big they sent the thing to pathology for measurement.  At the appointment he didn’t have the measurement, but I’ll be curious as to how much bigger than normal it was.  I also wonder if that isn’t standard procedure, and he told that to me to make me feel somehow special…we all want to think we are somehow “special”  and exceptional.  I kind of home my surgery follows the most normal and expected course possible.

I explained to him that the insurance company had called asking if I needed home health services.  I told them I thought I was doing ok because at that time I could walk about a half mile twice a day.  He kind of looked at me and said, uh OK, yeah…like most people are having trouble walking down the driveway by now- and you think that you might be ok walking over half a mile a day… yeah… you might be ok…..you are fine.

He then told me I could lift a maximum of ten pounds.

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And So I immediately said, Ah so I can start to work with Coach K.  He was like, uh…no, uh who is coach K? YEAH.  I can lift 10 pounds… at the grocery store.

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Not like at the gym.  The PA looked baffled. Then he laughed. He said I could do 5 reps at a time if I really really wanted to….I decided right away that this was a really good way to get hurt, and said, yeah…for the next 4 weeks I’m sticking to walking.

He finally said, you know, working with you is really different from others. I realized then how important communication is when your activities are so very different from the norm.  We had so many opportunities for me to really mess myself up during that appointment just by the way the PA communicated…when he said lift…i assumed he meant weights, not gallons of milk. It’s also important to own who you are.  I’m certainly not what makes my little town the “choice of champions”  but…

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I have the conditioning that allowed me to go from having a back surgery to walking 3 miles a day 7 days later, and the dedication to realize that this is going to place me where I need to be for the future.

I admit after just a visit to the doctor, lunch out, a short grocery visit, and a short walk with the wonder dog, a nap sounds delightful.  Here’s hoping some more energy returns as I need to return to work on Monday.