Category: Personal

What does coffee taste like?

Lifestyle Personal

What does coffee taste like?

Or why I love good coffee, and how you can learn to love it, too.

TL;DR: Check out this coffee tasting wheel from Counter Culture Coffee – there’s more than bitter/burnt in coffee flavors!


I’m a coffee lover. It’s the second fact I put in my about page, after “I write stuff.” It’s a big part of my core identity.

I didn’t start out liking coffee. My grandma let me take a sip of her black Folgers instant coffee when I was a wee lass, and I hated it. I went through my teens and early twenties convinced I’d hate it forever; I’d try it every now and again, but it just tasted bitter and gross to me. Ugh. No way.

Then came a holiday gift from my employer in 2005: a $25 Starbucks gift card. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked myself. “I hate coffee.”

Well, fortunately for me, 2006 was the year I started shifting my mental paradigm to try to view things I didn’t enjoy as opportunities for growth. So instead of focusing on how I didn’t like coffee, I’d take the opportunity to try a bunch of sugary latte drinks from Starbucks – for free – to see if I might find something I liked.

Surprise! If you put enough sugar and milk in a thing, my mid-20s self was all over it. Cinnamon dolce latte became my go-to, but I tried a variety of hot and iced coffee drinks and found I actually enjoyed several of them. Yay! I became a regular Starbucks visitor. You might say it was my gateway coffee.

In 2007, I attended Camp Unleashed in the Berkshires with my dog, Ben. It happened to fall on an unseasonably cold and rainy autumn weekend, and I was under-dressed and under-prepared to stay in a cabin with no electricity and no heat. I had to buy a pair of sweats from the camp store, and I was cold for most of the weekend. One morning, in a desperate attempt to get warmer, I poured myself a cup of coffee.

At this point, I was still convinced I didn’t actually like coffee. I knew that the sugary Starbucks drinks weren’t representative of “real” coffee, and the time or two I’d tried it at a restaurant, I did not enjoy it. So without even tasting it, I doctored the coffee at camp with a ton of sugar packets and cream. But when I took a sip, it wasn’t the unpleasant, too-bitter drink I expected. It was tasty. Aside from having too much sugar. Huh.

I poured myself another cup a little later in the afternoon, and this time, I put in less sugar. Expecting to cringe, I took a sip… and it was tasty. How was this possible? What had happened?

By the end of that weekend, I was looking forward to every cup of coffee I poured. I’d completely gotten rid of the sugar, and had even enjoyed a cup of coffee black, but found I liked it best with a splash of cream or half-and-half. How was this possible? I remarked upon it to the woman who ran the camp, and she told me the name of the coffee company in New York that supplied the roast.

A little Internet research later, I found a website for a roaster that talked a lot about their roasting methods, their beans, and even recommended some brewing options. This was a whole new world for me. Coffee could taste good? Good coffee was tasty?

Thus began my slippery slope into coffee snobbery.

At this point, I’ve worked my way through basically every home brewing method. I’ve settled on the AeroPress with a metal filter as my preferred brew technique, although I like a good French press, too. I temp the water, brew using an inverted technique favored by baristas for optimal extraction, and have upgraded my coffee grinder repeatedly over the years to get to a good burr grinder.

When paired with good coffee beans, this setup gets me deeply flavorful coffee with all kinds of different tasting notes, depending on the bean. This right here is why I’m writing an app. Not to give too many details, but I want to figure out (and keep a record) of what I like, which will also hopefully help me figure out what to buy when I’m considering something new.

What does coffee taste like?

My entire slide into coffee snobbery started because of the revelation that coffee actually tasted like something, other than burnt or bitter. It wasn’t just a vehicle for caffeine delivery, acceptable only when heavily adulterated by sugar and milk. Coffee, on its own, has all kinds of different tasting notes, depending on the bean, where and how it’s grown, how it’s processed, how it’s roasted, and how you handle it at home.

I’ve been pondering this for years, and have slowly learned more about what I like (largely due to Counter Culture Coffee’s excellent tasting notes, info about the beans, and the occasional limited edition set of beans processed in different ways). I’ve learned that I prefer washed beans over honeyed or sundried beans. I’ve learned that I prefer light roasts, because I enjoy tasting more of the natural flavor of the beans. I prefer citrus or chocolate tasting notes, although I enjoy trying a wide range of coffees.

In other words, it turns out coffee has a diverse range of tasting notes, just like wine tasting, when you start with a high-quality bean that has been roasted and brewed well.

This is why I was super psyched to see Counter Culture Coffee’s Coffee Tasting Wheel when I browsed their site recently for some new beans. I love that it gives coffee enthusiasts language to help identify and discuss what they’re tasting. It’s a great tool to start figuring out what you like.

In thinking about coffee tasting notes as you drink it, you also get a more mindful coffee drinking experience. That was my biggest revelation when coming back to coffee after my caffeine detox a few years ago: mindful coffee drinking was amazing. Actually thinking about the taste, enjoying it, savoring it – that got me into the moment like few things do. I don’t know about you, but I definitely need more things in my life like that; things that inspire me to stop thinking about my to-do list, or what’s going on at work, or that book I’ve been reading, and just be present in the moment.

So yeah, if you’re at all interested in coffee, I encourage you to take a look at the tasting wheel and start thinking about – and enjoying – the coffee you drink. And the next time I talk about how I love coffee, maybe now you’ll understand better how I got there, and what loving coffee means to me.

My social media withdrawal experiment

Lifestyle Personal

My social media withdrawal experiment

In the past few years, I’ve gradually trimmed down my social media exposure. In the past month, I’ve eliminated social media almost entirely. Why take such a drastic step, and how do I feel about it now?

Making the easy cut

It started with Twitter. Every time I opened it, I ran across posts that made me feel depressed or angry or frustrated; usually some combination of the above. Not only was I wasting time there, but it was making me feel some very unpleasant emotions.

Seemed like a no-brainer to quit. At this point, I still have an account there, but very rarely use it. I no longer have the app installed anywhere, and am not logged in from any of my browsers. Aside from occasionally checking there for updates from some of my favorite content creators, whose Twitter handles I have memorized and browse to directly, I don’t really interact with it.

You know something? I don’t miss it.

Waffling over Facebook

The other social media site where I spent time regularly was Facebook. I was super torn about my time there. I’m really unhappy with Facebook as a company. I feel that the org does a lot of harm, in a variety of ways. I’ve wanted to stop using Facebook for years.

On the flip side, I’ve also felt compelled to maintain an account there. It’s where I do a lot of interacting with IRL friends. I’ve used it to stay in touch with a lot of family members who I don’t regularly talk with. I’ve used it to connect with and stay connected with interesting people I’ve met at various events. I’ve reconnected with some of the folks I knew in high school, and it’s been fun to be in touch with them again.

I’ve also used it to stay in touch with local and special-interest events and communities. There are several local groups I’ve been a member of in Facebook, as well as a group of folks who are doing ambulance-to-RV conversions, a motorcycling group where I was once an active member, and groups formed around events and classes I’ve attended.

I use it to discover local events here in Vermont. Many local small businesses don’t even have their own websites; they create Facebook pages, and that’s where you have to go to find out about hours, daily specials, and events. I really enjoy attending local events as a way to connect with my community, and I want to support local small businesses – so I’ve felt like I need that touchstone with them, and the only place I can get it is Facebook.

Finally, I’ve used Facebook for work. My publishing empire has pumped a lot of money into Facebook ads, which drove a majority of my sales and newsletter signups. When I was advertising regularly, Amazon’s ad platform was not as robust and not nearly as effective; I don’t know if that has changed in the past few years. I stopped advertising when I fell behind schedule in publishing new books, but I’ve always intended to get back to that when I have the time, so I rationalized that keeping Facebook was required.

The rise of Slack

While also maintaining my Facebook account, I’ve been gradually joining more and more Slack groups. I’m currently a member of eight Slack workspaces, which have a combined membership of over 20,000 people. That’s a lot of conversations.

  1. It started with a Slack workspace for work in 2016.
  2. Then, one of the folks at work spun off a Slack for an open-source project he started, which I joined to help with that project, and also to stay in touch with friends there.
  3. I got involved with another project with this friend – a volunteer emergency management association group – which has another Slack workspace.
  4. I heard about a leadership Slack from another person at work, who said that’s where stays in touch with his friends, and thought I’d find a lot of interesting conversations there.
  5. From there, I found out about a women-in-tech Slack in one of the hidden backchannels.
  6. One of my friends on Facebook pointed me at a Slack group for technical writing.
  7. In addition to the Slack workspace my current gig has, they also have a Support Slack where I’m a member.
  8. Kay and I started our own Slack for collaborating on projects among ourselves, and with our friends.

All told, that’s a lot of conversations to follow. I’m in a handful of channels in most of those Slack groups; as many as 10 to 12 in one or two. That’s a whole lot of information for one person to consume, while also working a regular 40-hour work week and trying to have a personal and social life. I hate to say this, but it’s almost enough to make me miss Facebook’s helpful algorithms that attempt to surface the content I’ll find most interesting.

A lot of these Slacks are of interest to me, personally and professionally, so I’ve been drowning in trying to keep up with them. I’d remove one or another from some device, but end up adding it back, or just looking at it on another device.

Acknowledging the problem

I was checking in on these social platforms several times per day. I’d attempt to keep the check-ins to a few minutes each time, but sometimes I’d get sucked into longer conversations – that seemed really interesting and important – and then realize I’d lost a half hour or an hour at a time. Gone.

After my rafting incident, I was really struggling to figure out what I was doing with my life, where my place was in the world, and whether I was doing what I really wanted to be doing with my work and my time. All of this deep, heavy thinking, combined with poking around these social platforms as I flailed and indulged in some escapism, meant lost productivity. As I bill hourly, and saw fewer hours logged per day, I began to realize this was becoming an issue.

The proverbial nail in the coffin was a rather innocuous point of crotchety-old-woman ranting that raised a startling awareness. Someone in one of my Slack groups posted in the Main channel one afternoon: “Just wanted to shout out that it’s my birthday today, whoop whoop!”

This is hugely poor Slack etiquette; pretty much all of the members of a Slack are in the Main (or General) channel. It’s meant to be used for things that might be of interest to the entire Slack, or to ask about where to discuss things if you’re uncertain which channels are appropriate (depending on the Slack – some Slack groups have a separate channel for that). So this person was basically blasting out to 6,200 people some totally self-indulgent and uninteresting fact in what was a blatant attention grab.

I was not amused by this, but was amused by my own observation that it was an attention grab, so I went and posted about it on Facebook. And as I was writing the post, realized that my post about this person’s post was essentially the same thing, but on a much smaller scale. “Hey, I made this pithy observation about human hubris, look at me.”

I did call myself out in the post as I was writing it, but posted it anyway to demonstrate the irony. (And because I try not to self-edit when I realize unflattering things about myself… we all have those things, and sometimes it helps to connect to someone else’s humanity through them, and/or realize similar things about yourself.)

When I realized that, though, I started thinking more about the performative aspect of social media. I regularly post about what I’m up to, or experiences I have, because (I think) the people I’m friends with want to know what’s going on with me and enjoy hearing/reading it. But there’s certainly a performative/attention-seeking aspect to it that made me uncomfortable. And then I realized that if I’m truly friends with those people, I’ll talk with them outside of social media, and can share updates in a more one-on-one way. And if I’m not truly friends with those people, then what am I doing wasting my time performing to them/reading about them?

I know there’s a lot more complexity and value to social media, but this series of realizations, combined with the fact that I was demonstrably losing productivity by billing fewer hours, meant it was time for me to take a serious look at my social platform usage.

Going cold-turkey

Right, then. It was clearly time to curtail my use of these social platforms; at least, temporarily. I decided on an experiment: I would deactivate (but not delete!) my Facebook account, and remove several of the non-work Slacks from my devices.

I’m down to four Slack groups on my main computer – the two work Slack groups, the one with my friend’s open source project (where I interact with those friends for a weekly meetup, and otherwise the traffic is non-existent, because it’s only about 50 people), and the Slack that Kay and I set up for ourselves/our friends on projects. We regularly use that one to share code and work-related tips and tricks, so keeping it alive seemed useful, even when we also have Messenger to communicate (and our offices are literally next to each other).

I have two additional Slacks on my phone; the one for the volunteer emergency management association, and the one for tech writers. Shortly before I started this experiment, I volunteered to help set up and run remote meetups for the tech writing group, so I still need to be available there when the other organizers ping me. I’m set to “Away” there, have notifications other than direct messages turned off, and try to only check it outside of work hours; maybe while drinking my morning coffee, or during the evening while waiting for the dogs to come inside.

My laptop still has all of the Slack groups, but I basically don’t use Slack on it anymore; it’s the machine that sits next to my chair in the living room, so I can use it if I want to poke a project in the evening. I don’t pick it up unless I’m doing something specific, which does not include random Slack browsing.

My initial thought was to try this for a few days, or maybe a week, to see how well it worked out. I wanted to see if I could regain some productivity, and maybe some free time in the evenings. I wanted to see if I could live without Facebook, which would mean being more disconnected from my local community.

It has now been about five weeks since I pruned my social platforms and deactivated my Facebook account. I have not, even once, been tempted to reactivate my Facebook account. I have not felt like I was missing some form of enrichment by not participating in conversations in my pruned Slack groups.

Aside from the initial compulsion to check the things in the first few days after removing them – which made me realize how habitual it had become to poke Facebook and these Slack groups – I haven’t really noticed it being gone, except that I now have more time to myself. I couldn’t even remember how long it had been since I removed them; I had to look up an event that was happening around that time to figure out when it was.

My one – slight – regret has been that I didn’t announce my intent to deactivate Facebook prior to doing it, and leave it active for a few days, so my friends would know what happened and could reach out to me in some other way. I didn’t want to do the whole dramatic “I’m leaving Facebook” thing if it didn’t stick, and I really thought at the time it would be an experiment I’d try for a few days or a week, but I’d then reactivate Facebook. A few friends have noticed my absence and reached out to me, and I felt bad that they were worried or that I hadn’t clued them in.

At this point, I’m leaning toward making this the new normal. I like the extra free time. I like not having to worry about whether I’m missing an important or interesting conversation. I like not having to remind myself that differing political views do not inherently make someone less worthy of respect. And I like not feeling like I’m someone’s product, and knowing I’m not silently condoning Facebook’s moral bankruptcy and commoditization of its users’ personal information by continuing to use it in spite of my reservations.

Still “leaning toward,” though… not quite ready to go all-in and actually delete my Facebook account, versus its current deactivated state. Leaving it sitting there, deactivated, is kind of like a safety blanket. I know I can go back if I change my mind. I don’t want to now, but I don’t know what might happen in the future.

What if I want to reach out to the people there again? What if my husband dies, for example, and I feel isolated living here in a small community in Vermont and want to reach out to my friends across the U.S. as a way of coping? Or what if I decide to change jobs, or career trajectories entirely, and want to reach out to my personal network to find out about opportunities or share new business ventures?

FOMO is what has kept me connected to these social networks, and FOMO is what’s preventing me from making the break entirely and deleting the Facebook account. Maybe some more distance from this break that started as an experiment will make it easier to pull the trigger and make it permanent.

How home automation has made me a more productive remote employee

Business Personal

How home automation has made me a more productive remote employee

I’ve been working remotely since 2007. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about how my workspace impacts my productivity. Home automation has enabled subtle improvements to my life and productivity as a remote employee – and subtle improvements can have big impacts.


When I first started out working remotely, I was in my mid-20s and every day was a hustle. I didn’t have any family obligations, and my social life was slow at the time. I worked from anywhere, anytime. I’d work from my couch at 2am. I’d work from my desk during the day. I’d wake up and check/respond to email from bed. I’d walk to a coffee shop and work.

I was just starting out freelancing, and it seemed important to me to do as much work as possible, and to be as responsive as possible to clients. I worked ridiculous hours to complete projects on fast turnarounds; I distinctly remember times even a few years into my freelance life where I’d literally work all night, walk up the street to Dunkin’ Donuts at 6am for some fresh donuts and coffee, and work some more.

Fast forward a few years; my social life gets busier, I wreck my hands typing thousands of words per day on my very non-ergonomic laptop keyboard, and I realize I’m getting too old to be pulling all-nighters for a few hundred dollars. Things have to change.

I set up an office, which was separate from my living space. The purpose of the office was work. The purpose of the living space was living. When I lived with roommates, my room had to do both, but I clearly defined those separate spaces. When I wasn’t living with roommates, I gave my office a dedicated room; it was my office. That’s where I went to work. And when I wasn’t in the office, I wouldn’t work. Simple, right?

Making my spaces work for me

Dedicated office space is great, but only if you go there and work. Sometimes, in winter in New England especially, my office would be cold and dark, and I just couldn’t pry myself from the warm, cozy, well-lit couch, where I’d huddle under a blanket and think about how I should be getting to work. Those days were a struggle.

When I lived with a partner who left the house for work, I’d have him go to the office and turn on a space heater and some lights for me, so it could warm up a bit; and then I’d force myself off the couch to say farewell to him at the door, and use the momentum of being up to head off to my office. That helped, but even that wasn’t always a foolproof method.


In 2015, after visiting a friend who had installed some Philips Hue lights behind her TV that provided some interesting mood lighting, we did the same. I thought it was a novelty; I could make it change colors depending on what I was watching, and it provided some additional lighting in a part of the room that wasn’t well-lit. And hey, how fun – the Hue app for my iPhone would let me set up Routines, so I could have the lights do different things on an automated schedule.

I set the lights to come on in the morning, while we were puttering around and waking up in the living room. When I noticed that my husband was leaving slightly later and later for work every day, I set the lights to turn off a few minutes before he ought to leave for work.

The first time this happened, he was amused. It was a subtle difference; the Hue bulbs were providing some nice mood lighting, but standing lamps provided the room lighting. We still had plenty of light, but it was enough of a reminder that he ought to leave – that he left. And I went to my office.

This trick worked so well, I did the same thing at night; I set the Hue lights to come on when it got dark, and turn off again when we really should be in bed. Voila, subtle bedtime reminder that works.

In time, we started switching more and more light bulbs to Hue lights. Today, we have Hue workspace lights in both of our offices (over our desks; the main room lights aren’t Hue – yet), Hue lights in the gym, Hue lights in the living room stand lamps, and Hue lights in the bedroom. And of course, we still have the behind-the-TV lights that kicked the whole thing off.

My automation has gotten more sophisticated. In the winter, the living room lights come on about 10 minutes after our alarms go off. The TV lights come on year-round, because the mood lighting is still nice; and when those turn off, it’s still our subtle reminder to go to work. There’s a 15-minute delay between when the TV lights go off and when the room lights go off; time for us to get on our way, but if we linger, the room lights turning off are a last call of sorts.

Our office workspace lights are set to turn off at 6pm. Again, they’re not room lights, so we still have light in the space, but the subtle change in light is enough to remind us “Hey, it’s time to stop working for the day! Wrap up your tasks and leave the office.”

The living room lights come on automatically when it gets dark, so we never have to come into a dark living room and fumble around. And they turn off again when we should have really gone to bed by now, serving as a subtle reminder to get to sleep if we haven’t already done it.

Color temperature and brightness matters, too. The bedroom lights are set to “relax” – a dim, warm mode. The living room lights are also warm, and we can make them dimmer closer to bed to optimize for sleepiness. The Hue light in the gym is set to “energize” – a bright daylight. This winter, I’m going to upgrade my office Hue lighting to give me a bright daylight during the morning, but switch to a warm, dimmer light later in the afternoon as evening approaches.

My favorite thing of all, now that everything is integrated with Apple Home Kit, is telling Siri on my iPhone to turn off the lights, and having all the Hue lights in the house go off (usually the bedroom and living room lights, but sometimes we’ve gone back up to our offices and may have forgotten to turn one of those lights off, too).


Lights were a big part of the equation in getting us to move from one area of our house to another when we should be starting/stopping work – but they weren’t the only answer. In that example I gave above, my office was cold and dark; lights solved the dark issue, but temperature was still a problem. A problem that moving to an ~84-year-old house in Vermont exacerbated.

Our bedroom is an addition to the first floor of the house, and we didn’t know this when we bought the place on a sunny summer day, but the addition is not well-insulated. In the winter, it’s regularly 5 to 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house; in the summer, it’s that much warmer. The offices, being upstairs, are regularly warmer than the first floor.

All this translates to me really not wanting to get out of bed on a winter morning when it’s cold in the bedroom. Or setting the heat to a temperature – say 68 degrees – that’s fine in the living room where the thermostat is located, but makes our offices upstairs so hot I have to open a window, while the bedroom addition is still too cold.

It didn’t take long in our first winter in this house – November, to be exact – for me to start investigating smart thermostats. After some research, I landed on the Ecobee4 smart thermostat, which supported extra (wireless) sensors you could place in various rooms around the house.

The way we have the Ecobee configured, it attempts to provide the set temperature for the rooms that are occupied. This means that if we’re in the bedroom, it tries to heat the bedroom to whatever temperature we set (which typically means the living room and offices, where the other sensors are located, are too warm). If we’re in the offices, which tend to be the warmest rooms in the house, the Ecobee attempts to provide the set temperature there, which means the living room is cool, but the offices aren’t roasting us out.

This smart feature, combined with a very stepped series of temperature changes that are made much easier by home automation web interfaces, gets us to ideal temperatures to make it easier to move through the house on those cold winter days.

Around a half hour before it’s time to get up, the Ecobee starts warming the house from 58 to 64. That’s just enough to get me out of bed, and not make it too toasty in the rest of the house.

When we get up, it warms the house to 68, which is typically going by the living room sensor at that point as we’ve left the bedroom. When we get up to our offices, it’s around 70 degrees, which is a smidge warm for me in the winter, but it cools to the set 68 once the sensors figure out that the offices are the occupied rooms and the living room is no longer occupied.

In the evening, I like to snuggle up in my chair under a blanket and watch TV, read a book, or work on a project, so I have the temperature going back down to 64. An hour or two before bed, it drops to 62. Then, at bedtime, 58. That’s really too cold to linger in the rest of the house, although it’s the perfect temperature for sleeping under a nice thick comforter, so the temperatures – combined with the lighting cues – lead us to bed.

Good sleep, downtime leads to productive work time

Bottom line: home automation has made it easier to set and adhere to boundaries in a life where I work and live at home.

Getting enough sleep, and sleeping well, makes it possible to be more productive at work. My brain works better, and I’ve got more stamina to get through the afternoon slump. (I very rarely drink afternoon coffee these days, but I was doing it religiously in the bad old days when my work/home life was less structured.)

Good downtime is essential to avoiding burnout, or even just a slow-building, lingering resentment that gradually erodes work productivity. Stopping work at a set time and going off to do other things gives me protected downtime, which makes it easier to work during work time and enjoy downtime when it’s time for that.

Having a house that is optimized to give me exactly what I want where I want it – appropriate lighting and comfortable temperatures – makes it easier to move through the day, and be more productive.

My vacation rafting misadventure

Personal Travel

My vacation rafting misadventure

Or that time I accidentally body-surfed a Class V rapid on the Penobscot River in Maine.

Trigger warning: discussion of near-drowning, death.

The day so far…

My husband and I were spending the week with four friends at a rented lake house in Lincoln, Maine. The friends and I had done a rafting trip the prior year on the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire with ELC Outdoors, and had really enjoyed it – in all it’s mild Class I-II glory. It was mostly a float/paddle down the river, with a few mild rapid sections to get us wet and get the heart rate up. I had been bummed that the hubby missed that trip, and looked forward to getting him into rafting on this outing.

For this outing, we arrived at NEOC’s HQ bright and early for our all-day rafting trip, and everyone in our group – indeed, everyone on the entire trip, about two busloads of people – opted to rent wet suits. Except me. I tend to run hot, and if you’ve ever been overweight, you know how fraught outdoor apparel shopping can be – apparently fat people never go outside or do anything – so I didn’t want to deal with potentially not finding something that would fit, or being wrapped up like a sausage in an overly-tight wet suit. Ugh. No thanks.

After everyone was geared up, we had to stand around while a rafting guide gave us a safety briefing that felt like it went on far too long, and included too many attempts at humor that did not jive with my own sense of humor.

The things I remember from that safety briefing are: if you end up in the water, try to get your feet/toes up, because it’s better to encounter underwater rocks with a padded butt vs. fragile limbs; and if you end up in the water, one of the guides will shout out “Rope!” and you need to look for a rope being thrown to you, and try to grab it.

(What I forgot, which one of my friends helpfully pointed out later, was that you are supposed to try to point your feet downstream, so they’re the first thing to encounter rocks vs. your fragile helmeted head. Minor but important detail.)

The morning was a relatively tame float down the “lower Penobscot.” (An area below Abol Bridge Campground and Store, maybe? I’m not sure exactly where it was, but we passed Abol’s on the way to our morning landing, and then again when we were going to the afternoon landing.)

There were a couple of rapids up to a Class IV, but you could more-or-less opt out of the Class IV which was mainly a drop down a “12-foot waterfall” at the beginning of the day, and then a little bit at the end of the trip. It was a good way to get our feet wet, build up some confidence, practice paddling at our guide’s command, and hear a lot of dad jokes. In short, it whetted our appetite for a slightly more adventurous afternoon.

We had a riverside lunch, in which I literally stood around getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and then another short excursion toward our take-out. At the take-out, we had to decide if we wanted to do the afternoon portion of the trip, with more intense rapids, and our group decided we were in! Into the bus, and off we go.

Ripogenus Gorge

Our afternoon landing took us to Ripogenus Gorge, to a hydroelectric dam. Right away, it was obvious that this was a different beast. We passed several warning signs: “Warning: the Upper Gorge is hazardous, proceed at your own risk” – and signs warning about danger when the siren sounds. The group was much smaller; only four rafts; and the terrain we had to portage the raft across was much rockier to get down to the river.

The first big rapid we had to navigate in the afternoon was the colorfully-named Exterminator, a Class-IV “hole.” When we hit the hole, the amount of water that flooded over the front of the raft – because of course I wanted to be in the front of the raft – was enormous, almost sucking me out of the raft right then. I felt myself being pulled from my perch on the side of the raft, and tried to dig my feet harder into the footholds; one pocket in the floor, and the other foot wedged between the edge of the raft and the raft floor, willing my core muscles to engage and keep me on that raft. Fortunately, it was a brief moment, and I managed to stay in.

Afterward, our guide Caleb remarked to me: “I saw you almost come out of the raft!” I laughed and replied: “I know! I felt myself being sucked out and hung on; I told myself: ‘you are not coming out of this raft!'” But it had been an unnerving experience, and I asked how that compared to other rapids we’d encounter in the Upper Gorge. “Is that about as bad as it gets, in terms of potentially being swept out, or are there more treacherous rapids to come?”

He thought for a moment, and then replied: “That’s about as bad as it gets. The Exterminator is the one that keeps me up at night.”

Alright. If that’s as bad as it gets, I can handle this. Onward! Down the river through Staircase (IV), Fist of God, Big Heater, Little Heater, Troublemaker Hole (III+) – plenty of paddling and work to get my heart pounding – and plenty of water to completely drench me over and over – but nothing like almost getting pulled out of the raft at Exterminator.

Then, we approached the Cribworks. Our guide told us this was a longer, more technical section; this is a place where we’d need to use finesse to steer the best line through the rapids, vs. simply pulling hard to get out of a hole or avoid some rocks. I either didn’t know, or had forgotten, that this was a Class V rapid – the only one on the trip? I blithely had it in my head that nothing was worse than Exterminator where I’d almost come out, and the stretch of river ahead of us didn’t look too bad – so I figured we’d just follow the guide’s instructions and do some tricky navigating, but it would be fun.

Spoiler alert: this is where it stopped being fun.

Body-surfing the Cribworks Class V rapid

The sun had finally come out from behind the clouds. The Upper Gorge so far had had a few challenging moments, but mostly it was beautiful and a lot of fun. I had forgotten all about my mosquito bites, and my not wearing a wet suit was kind of awesome, because the water was cool and refreshing in the warm sun. I was ready for this more technical section, so when the instructor said “All ahead 2!” – we paddled!

Because this was one of the biggest rapids of the trip, there was a photographer nearby waiting to capture photos of this section… so I’ll let a few photos describe what happened next.

That’s me in the front-left – the one not wearing a wetsuit!
And the raft goes into a massive wall of water…
Note a missing blue helmet in the front left of the raft?
Aaand there’s my arm and helmet in the water behind the raft…
Bodysurfing the rapid.

What it felt like

One minute, I was paddling – the next minute, this massive wall of whitewater came rushing over the front of the raft, and pullllled me right out. I felt myself going, but there was nothing I could do about it. My hands seemed too far from a rope to grab it as I went by, and couldn’t really see what was around me as the cool water tugged me overboard. I hung onto my paddle as I plunged into the water, and started kicking.

Initially, I was pushing through a mass of aerated water where it felt like I wasn’t making much progress. I kicked harder and felt my head pop above water. I took a breath. I knew I was in the water, but it was in my eyes and everywhere – I couldn’t really see what was around me, and it felt like I got pulled under again right away. I kicked some more, trying to get to air again and get oriented, but I felt like I had no control as the river swept me along.

I kicked for the surface. I hit a deeper stretch, where it felt like I kicked for a long time and the river wasn’t letting me up for air. The water was pulling me down – I felt my swim shorts being dragged down and grabbed for them, as I realized I was in some serious suction – so I kicked harder, and tried to use my paddle to help push me up toward the surface.

After four or five strong kicks, I broke the river’s surface again, and took a gulp of air into my lungs before being pulled back under.

By this point, I was completely disoriented. I got pulled underwater over and over again. Even when my head popped up, I wasn’t able to see anything through the splashing whitewater, so I kept my eyes closed, hung onto my paddle and kicked.

The water made a tremendous roar as it tumbled me down the rapids. When I went under, it gurgled and bubbled angrily as I progressed through the rapids. When my head popped up, all I could hear was the loud splashing of water thundering over the rocks.

The river shifted me to the right, and my left leg and knee crashed into a rock. I remembered I was supposed to try to get my feet up, and it felt like I succeeded for a moment, but the water kept sucking me under and I instinctively shifted to kick for the surface again. My left wrist whacked against a rock. I might have tried to hold my paddle in front of me to fend off of rocks – but the river kept tumbling me along, and I’m pretty sure I went down most of the rapids backward, leading with my fragile helmeted head.

I have no idea how long I was actually in the rapid, but it felt like about 40 to 60 seconds. In reality, it was probably half that? No idea. But when I started crashing into rocks, and felt myself getting tossed around like a piece of flotsam in the river current, gasping for air when I popped to the surface but feeling that it was happening less and less often… I started to realize that maybe I was not going to be alright. In my mental map of this experience, this was around 15-20 seconds into my swim down the rapids.

An article I’d read once flashed into my head; a woman had come out of a raft and had been battered by the rocks, breaking bones and almost drowning as she was tossed down the river, waiting to be rescued. She’d had to be airlifted out of a gorge and suffered long-lasting injuries, and was bitter about the experience. She reported thinking about how stupid it was that she had voluntarily and blithely put herself in that situation and now she was about to die.

I thought it sucked that I might get broken on the rocks, and I wasn’t a big fan of this not being able to breathe when I wanted to breathe thing… but on the whole, drowning didn’t seem so bad. I stopped struggling so much and let the river take me, hoping I’d pop up for air again but resigning myself to the fact that this might be IT. Like, seriously. I might be done.

I thought about my husband and dogs. I hoped that none of my friends had come out of the raft, and were now going through the same thing I was. I worried for my friend who’d been more timid about the higher-intensity rapids, and how much it must suck for him to see me get pulled out of the raft and now be fighting his way down the rapids in the raft. I worried he’d freeze up instead of paddling, or that he’d get pulled out, too – I felt like it would have been way more traumatic for him than it was for me.

As I felt the world around me get darker – it seemed like a while since my head had cleared the surface – I took mental inventory of my life, quickly scanning through things I might have left unresolved. I had no big personal projects in the works, or that would require my husband to deal with if I was gone – so that was good. I didn’t feel like there was something I’d “missed out” on doing, so that was good.

I felt a brief twinge of regret that I hadn’t yet finished the new documentation site I was working on for a client, and thought about whether my husband would think to let them know what had happened, and that I felt bad I hadn’t gotten it done – they’re good people, and I didn’t want to leave them hanging. Not bad for my only regret.

Mostly, I was glad I wasn’t leaving something big and unresolved for my husband to deal with.

Up. Take a breath. Back underwater, the thunder of passing through the rapids surrounding me, the water tumbling me wherever it will.

As I continued to get tossed about in the rapids, my mental process narrowed to a few key thoughts on endless loop.

“Try to keep feet up. Just keep hanging in. Just keep going. Breathe when you can. Conserve energy when you can’t. Don’t struggle unless you feel like you’re not moving forward. Eventually the rapids will end. Hopefully, you’ll still be conscious and able to help the rescuers get you out of the water.”

The rescue

After what felt like a very long time, but my mental timeline tells me was around 40 seconds, my head popped up again and I heard a voice shout: “Rope!” I opened my eyes for the first time in a while, and saw a strand of rope unfurling above me, flying through the air. I reached up and grabbed for it, letting go of the paddle I’d been hanging onto for so long. Blessedly, my hands caught the rope, and I held it up into the air, trying to show whomever threw it that I had it.

I closed my eyes again as I was pulled back underwater, but this time it was the force of the rope being pulled toward my rescuer that pulled me under, not the river tumbling me to and fro. I hung on.

I heard a voice telling me to let go of the rope. I really didn’t want to let go of that rope; I felt like it was the only thing keeping the river from sweeping me away again. The voice said I needed to open my eyes and let go of the rope, and I obeyed. I grabbed for the rope on the side of the raft, remembering another element from the safety briefing at the beginning of the day, and hung on.

My rescuer told me that he needed my help to get me out of the water, and asked me to jump and kick. I had no idea what I was doing at this point; I was in shock, and everything from this point is a fuzzy patchwork of moments.

He told me to jump and kick. I feel like it didn’t work the first time, and thought to myself that this was why I hadn’t gotten out of the raft in our earlier float for some swimming – getting back on was never going to work, because I’m so heavy. But somehow, he got me over the side of that boat and flopped on top of his legs in the bottom of it, panting for air. My chest hurt.

“I can’t breathe, I need to get up,” I remember saying to him. But he wouldn’t let me move right away, telling me: “Take your time, lovie. You’re safe. Just lie there and catch your breath. Don’t move yet. Just take your time.” So I did.

Eventually, I became aware that I could still hear the rapids around me, and my legs were still dangling off the side of the raft, and I was probably crushing his legs. I still couldn’t breathe right, and my chest hurt. I wanted up. He helped me struggle farther into the boat, and the other members of the raft moved to make way for me to sit in the middle. It wasn’t my boat; it was one of the other rafts that had been with us. The people around me gave me small, encouraging smiles. One woman said: “You were so brave!”

I sat there gasping for air, and looked around for my boat. I saw them downstream, with one of the other rafts, pulled up along the side, and it looked like everyone else was there. I couldn’t tell how well they saw me; I hoped they could see me sit up and could tell that I was ok.

With a start, I realized there was a small section of rapids still below us that we’d have to traverse before I could think about getting out of the raft. I didn’t want to move to the side of the raft and paddle. I just wanted to sit in the middle and hang on to the ropes and not get swept away again. The guide had moored the raft on a rock to try to pull me out of the water, and now we had to get off the rock and finish going down the rapids.

“Well, shit,” I thought to myself.

I wanted nothing more than to get off the river at that point.

The guide asked how I was doing. I said: “I’m alive. I’m breathing.” The people on the raft gave me small smiles, and I could tell the whole thing unnerved them. My voice was thick and hard to understand, even to myself, and I felt my words slurring.

“Well, shit,” I thought to myself again, wondering if I’d hit my head and if I had a concussion.

I don’t remember the exact series of exchanges that followed, but I communicated that I would like to get off the river when possible. The guide said we’d have to go a little farther down before we could make landing, so I sat in the middle of the boat and hung on grimly as we traversed a small rapid.

Our guide signaled, and the rafts ahead of us moved off. Show over, it was back to the business of rafting. “All ahead left” and “right back” as we worked our way off the rock, and then took a line hither and thither. The guide went back to his patois, interposed with the occasional dad joke, and the people in the raft kept giving me encouraging smiles or asking how I was doing.

Meanwhile, as I adjusted to life back above water, I worried about how slurred and thick my speech was… and realized how thirsty I felt, all of a sudden. It seemed ridiculous, given the volume of water that had just been sloshing me around – and how much of it I’d probably swallowed – but I needed a drink.

When we got to a smoother section, I turned my head and asked the guide if he had any water. He pulled out a bottle, and I drank some, swallowing carefully. My chest hurt, and I felt nauseous; I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t just throw it all up, along with a metric ton of river water.

I decided it was better not to chance it, and stopped there, carefully putting the lid back on the bottle and fumbling with the carabiner to re-clip it where he’d had it secured before. He saw me having trouble, and told me to just set it down in the back compartment of the raft and let it float there; he’d probably have some himself in a minute. I knew he was humoring me, but didn’t care; the medically-trained part of me was busy noting that my hands were shaky with shock, or adrenaline wearing off, and worried about the potential concussion.

We approached my former raft, and I tried to smile for my friends. They mostly looked very concerned, but happy to see me sitting up. Our rafting guide pulled alongside my rescue raft, and asked if I’d like to climb on across back to my raft – and I apologetically said: “I’d rather not, if that’s ok. I’d like to just sit right here until I can get off the river, if I could.” Both guides nodded, and I looked back to my friends. “Sorry, guys – I love you, but I really don’t want to fumble my way across and potentially end up back in the river again.” They made understanding noises, and paddled away again, and we continued down the river.

We passed a riverside camp, which I looked at longingly and wondered how difficult it would be to get a ride out of there if I asked them to drop me off there. But I kept my mouth shut, and focused on keeping it together just a little longer. Just until I could get off the river.

It felt like a while, but probably wasn’t that long before we reached a point where they could drop me off. My former raft and my rescue raft both pulled over to the side of the river, and I could see my husband climbing out of the raft containing my friends as I pondered disembarking myself. The river was very calm where we were, and not deep, but I really didn’t want to get back into the water, and was concerned I’d be so shaky I’d fall as I tried to get out of the raft again.

The guide helped me out of the raft, and my husband was there to offer me a hand, so I sternly told myself not to be a baby about having to step back into the water so I could wade in to shore. The guide who’d rescued me waded in to shore with us, and handed us off to one of the other people from NEOC who was standing there waiting as we disembarked.

I turned again to my friends, and apologized for bailing. And apologized to the guide for coming out of the raft just as we headed into the rapid. Everyone was a good sport about it, but I really just wanted to be off the river now to deal with whatever physical ailments I’d suffered in my adventure.

After the rescue

The guys from NEOC were very solicitous as I carefully walked away from the river. The gent who was waiting for us explained that I’d have to wait for about 10 minutes while he took his truck to get the bus driver, who would bring the bus here to pick me up. I nodded assent and sank down onto a nearby flat stone; I was feeling weak and just wanted to sit down before I fell down. Now that I was off the river, it was time to take stock of my physical condition.

He drove off in the truck, and my husband held my hand very tightly as we talked about what had happened.

I explained that I was worried about a possible concussion, and that my speech was thick and slurry when I got pulled out of the river; we’re both trained emergency medical responders, so I wanted to make sure I brain dumped my physical condition to him in case I deteriorated and he needed important details to pass on to medical providers. Even then, probably 10 or more minutes after I’d been pulled out of the river, my speech was still a bit thick and slurry; I made a concentrated effort to enunciate clearly so he could understand me. I also felt a headache forming, and while I didn’t remember hitting my head on any rocks, I worried that I might have.

I looked down at my left knee; there were abrasions on the side of my left calf, and my left knee hurt and was starting to swell, but nothing was broken. I had some bruises and abrasions on the inside of my right calf, too, and on my inner thigh above my right knee, but I didn’t remember hitting that leg on anything. I noticed that my Apple Watch screen was cracked, and as I lifted it up to check the time, it started glitching and then died. Apparently I’d hit the back of my left wrist on something, too, but didn’t remember that, either.

Most concerning to me was chest pain; pressure and the occasional stabbing pain if I moved a certain way. I was concerned that I might have aspirated some water, but I wasn’t coughing. I also felt nauseous, but I couldn’t tell whether that might be from shock, or adrenaline wearing off, or potentially hitting my head, or swallowing half the river, or aspirating water. I mostly sat still, and waited to see whether I was going to throw up or not, and felt grateful that I was sitting on a rock beside the river with my husband instead of… not.

When the bus driver arrived, he was also very solicitous; they offered me warm sweaters and blankets, which I rejected because I wasn’t cold, and a granola bar, which I accepted because I had in my head that helped with the post-adrenaline crash.

We explained to him that we were trained medical responders, and were concerned about a potential head injury, and asked if he had a flashlight so my husband could check for pupillary response. He offered his cell phone flashlight, so my husband took a look – not an easy task because I’ve got very dark irises, and in the semi-dim light of a forested campground, both my husband and the bus driver had a difficult time making out my pupils. My husband eventually concluded that the pupils seemed smaller than he liked, and seemed sluggish in responding to the light – a worrying sign. I told him that he should check me every few minutes to see how things were progressing, and then climbed into the bus.

It’s a weird feeling to be a trained medical responder and recognize that things are likely affecting your body, but knowing you have to rely on other people to deal with them. I was grateful that I was “with it” enough to help my husband remember what to look out for, but was worried about how he’d deal if I deteriorated, and how long it might take to get me to medical care.

I still felt nauseous and didn’t really want to eat, but I forced myself to consume a quarter of the granola bar. I asked the bus driver if he had any water, and he was surprised to find there wasn’t any on the bus. I was still thirsty, and wanted to drink, but also didn’t want to throw up, so I drank enough of the morning coffee still left in my travel mug to wash down the dry granola, but stopped there to see if it would stay down.

Time passed. I made sure to chitchat casually so my husband could monitor my neurological condition. I was beginning to feel exhausted, and the headache was getting worse, and I was also starting to feel the other aches and pains from getting banged against rocks. My chest felt tight and painful, and there was a lingering feeling of “can’t breathe” that got worse after we crammed everyone else into the bus, and I had to huddle into a side of the seat to fit everyone while we traversed the rutted roads back to NEOC’s base.

When we got back and everyone was putting equipment away, one of the women from my raft came to check on me. She and her friend had wound up on the raft with my group of six, and she’d watched things unfold firsthand. She told me that she’d been rafting with this group every year for the past four years, and that her guides knew she was a bit more adventurous so they’d let her and some of the other folks in her raft swim down some rapids before. (It wasn’t clear to me at the time if it was the same rapid I’d accidentally bodysurfed, or if it was another rapid on the river – and I didn’t think to ask.) She said that she had felt concerned for me, but also a little envious.

Envious! Imagine my surprise, readers. I was feeling lucky to be alive, and also concerned about a potential head injury, and bummed about skipping out on the remainder of the rafting trip while my friends went on down the river without me, but completely unable to conceive of joining them. And she had been envious of my unexpected plunge!

She also asked me if anyone had talked with me about secondary drowning. Say what now? I told her no, so she told me about how people who aspirate water can develop infections, pneumonia, and potentially die – relatively quickly – after near-drowning experiences. She seemed a little surprised that no-one from NEOC had talked with me about it, but I thanked her for the info, let her know that my husband and I were trained EMRs (turns out she’s a trained EMS who hasn’t done her ride alongs yet), and assured her we’d keep a lookout for symptoms.

And then, as I walked down the hill and my chest pain became much more pronounced with my effort, I wondered if this was what secondary drowning felt like. Also, my head hurt.

Somehow, I managed to fumble my way through a shower, which in retrospect probably wasn’t super wise. I probably should have just sat down and stayed near people who could keep an eye on me… but it did feel good to wash the river off and put on some dry clothes. And as I took a shower, I was able to get a closer look at the contusions and bruises that were starting to form… and discover a few more.

Clean and dry, I looked around for my husband but saw no sign of him. I wondered if he’d gone back up to the car, so I braved my way up the hill, in spite of my misgivings – the chest pain got much worse with the effort. In retrospect, I really wasn’t thinking clearly. He wasn’t at the car, either, so I had to go back down the hill again to try to find him.

My sinuses felt painfully full of river water. Sound around me was muffled, and I could still hear water in my ears. When I spoke, my voice had lost the slurry thickness from when I’d been pulled from the water, but it sounded like I was stuffy with a heavy cold or allergy reaction.

My chest hurt, my head hurt, I was exhausted, and I just wanted to lie down – but worried that I shouldn’t, because I might have a head injury. Lending more credence to the idea that I’d hit my head, I’d discovered when I showered that my forehead above my left eye was tender to the touch; roughly where the helmet strap had been sitting.

Back down at NEOC’s base, I flopped on a couch and waited for my husband to find me. He did, shortly later, and I asked him to get me a bottle of water. I drank it carefully while watching the slide show of photos from the day; and first saw what it looked like to other people while I was in the water in those pictures I posted above.

One of my friends asked me if I’d seen that I was rushing toward big rocks, and had avoided them on purpose; I hadn’t. The river kept pulling me under and I was very disoriented, and couldn’t really see much when I did pop up. He told me that it seemed like I was mouthing something and seemed in distress at one point when my head was above water; I told him as far as I knew, I hadn’t been trying to communicate anything, but had just been trying to breathe.

Someone told me that the guide said I’d gone down the “safer” route that the rafts take, instead of the route that the river naturally wanted to use – the one that would dash me against more rocks – and asked if I’d gone that way on purpose. Nope! I had basically no control over where I was going or what I was doing; I went where the river wanted to take me, and breathed when the river let me breathe. I felt fortunate the river took me down the “safer” path.

Someone else told me that they’d thrown the rope for me three or four times before I finally grabbed it, but when I popped up and heard “Rope!” and saw it flying over me, it was the first time I was aware that someone was throwing a rope. I hadn’t heard anything over the noise of the rapids, and hadn’t been able to see anything because I’d been down in the whitewater or constantly being pulled under.

Lingering medical concerns

When we left NEOC, I was still worried about a head injury; my pupillary response was still sluggish, and my pupils were constricted more than they should have been based on the level of light. My headache was getting worse, and I just wanted to sleep it off, but was afraid I shouldn’t.

To add to that, my chest still felt tight and I still worried that I’d aspirated some water, so I was worried about secondary drowning. I told my husband what the lady from our raft had told me, and he agreed that it sounded like a concern.

We had planned to have dinner with our friends post-rafting, but when we arrived at the restaurant, it was just too noisy for my now-throbbing head. I wanted to be somewhere quiet and semi-dark and keep an eye on my symptoms. Fortunately, we didn’t all fit in one car, and hubby and I had driven separately, so we were able to drive back toward the rented lakehouse in Lincoln – conveniently just four miles from a hospital we passed as we drove to the house.

We hit a Rite Aid that was still open, and grabbed a pulse oximeter to measure my blood oxygen saturation level. A little Googling while we drove told me that keeping my eye on my oxygen levels was a good way to measure whether we should be concerned about secondary drowning. It also reminded me of something I’d forgotten – that I should not take Ibuprofen for a headache if I have a potential head injury – because it could cause a brain bleed, so I had him grab some acetaminophin for me.

Fortified with medical supplies, we got a bite to eat at the only place in town that was still open at 8:30pm on a Sunday that wasn’t McDonalds; a blessedly quiet and not-too-bright place with decent poutine and very disappointing nachos. Fortunately, my nausea had abated – I hadn’t thrown up after all – and I was able to keep some food down.

The pulse ox showed my oxygen levels a little low, but not so low we should worry. My speech was more-or-less back to normal, and the ~6-7 hours since I potentially whacked my head meant I was probably past needing emergency medical care and just needed rest, so it was safe enough to sleep.

After returning to the lake house and debriefing with friends, I was off to bed and slept the sleep of the dead. Except when I rolled onto my left side; my left calf and knee were very tender to the touch, and I cried out involuntarily when I rolled onto that side.

In the week that followed, I took it very easy; I had headaches off-and-on in the days that followed (and even now, 10 days later, am still having periodic headaches). I’m tired and want to nap almost daily, when normally I’m not a nap person. Signs point to a definite head injury. Sadly, this isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve been concussed before, so I know what to look for – and I also know head injuries are worse if you’ve previously had one. Bah.

My left knee was visibly swollen for a few days, and even now it’s achy and doesn’t want to support my full weight. I still can barely get up and down from the floor, and sleeping on my left side is still uncomfortable on my left calf where it’s still tender. I want to get back to a regular exercise regimen, but am worried about potentially prolonging a knee injury. I probably should get that checked out at this point…

The mental effects

Did I almost die? Probably not. The rapids had to end eventually. But if I’d hit my head hard enough to knock me unconscious, I could have drowned. I definitely worried that I might drown once I realized I was at the river’s mercy. And I certainly could have gotten a lot more banged up on the rocks.

However, I could have died… and that kind of experience leaves a mark. I know it worried and upset my husband and friends, and I definitely have some sorting out to do about my feelings around the whole thing. Part of that is writing this down, and beginning to untangle the knots.

Do I want to go rafting again? Yes. We had another trip planned for Labor Day Weekend in which we were planning to go rafting with the same friends, and I was onboard for another rafting adventure… but maybe not a Class IV – V level of adventure. Alas, we’re not able to go now, but I’ll look for the next chance to do it.

I did not go into the lake during the remainder of our week in the lake house. I think I’m not quite ready to be in water where I can’t see the bottom just yet, even though I can swim, I have a good PFD for kayaking, and the lakes where I tend to spend time don’t have strong currents.

I took a bath in our deep bathtub when we got home, and had a moment of anxiety submerging myself in that before I was able to relax. So yes, my rational mind is willing, but my animal instinct knows some stuff went down and my body is still triggering a flight reaction. I’m going to have to work on that.

In terms of the potential head injury, I am finding it a bit more difficult to focus than before, and am tired a lot. Writing this post took more time than I expected it would, and I struggled for words more often than I typically would, so I’m definitely noting some cognitive effects. Concussions suck for everyone, but it feels worse as a knowledge worker who has to use her brain intensely in the course of her job. I know from my last concussion that these things should fade, in time… but I need to work now and have to figure out an effective way to do that.

Emotionally… an experience like that raises the same old questions about what you’re doing with life, and whether you’re doing the work you should be doing, whether you’re surrounded by the people and experiences you want in your life – all that stuff. I grapple with this stuff semi-regularly anyway, but a reminder of mortality makes answering these questions seem more urgent. So back to the gristmill for me.

I guess I’ll leave you with the parting words I had for my rescuer when he asked how I was doing: “I’m alive. I’m breathing.” And that’s a pretty good place to be, all told.

Investing in good equipment

Business Coding Lifestyle Personal Writing

Investing in good equipment

A younger, more innocent me bought a 13″ mid-2014 MacBook Pro on closeout in early 2015. My main tasks for my computer at that time were writing documents in word processors (Pages) and using CMSs to create and publish content. I thought I might do some light video editing of travel videos for Corporate Runaways, but didn’t have much need or desire for a powerhouse machine. I had an external monitor for additional screen real estate, and mostly used the laptop screen for reference material.

Fast forward to 2019. In the past few years, I’ve started doing docs-as-code in conjunction with a few open source projects. From the open source project side, this has involved setting up local development environments on my machine, and running apps locally so I can document them. From the documentation side, this has involved using static site generators to create doc sites from files (markdown, mostly). My work needs have definitely gotten more intensive.

Then, this spring, I dove into Swift. When I decided to learn to code so I could write an app I want to use, I took a gradual approach. I worked through some Swift Playgrounds stuff on my iPad, and then read a book or two about coding and Swift. I brainstormed the data structure for my app, and made UML diagrams. Eventually, I took a couple of online classes on Xcode and Swift.

Between my technical writing work and my app development, my 13″ laptop + external monitor had begun to feel cramped. What had once felt sufficient for doing marketing writing in a single window, with maybe a reference window alongside, had now become a nightmare of overlapping windows and constant swapping. I wanted more screen real estate so I could have multiple windows open for reference and working simultaneously, and I wanted those windows to be bigger.

But mostly, I wanted Xcode to not just laugh at me when I attempted to compile things, or – even worse – not have Xcode sputter when I attempt to Auto Run a Playground so I can see how things are working as I code.

One of the classes I took involved working in Playground files on my machine as I followed the instructor’s videos. I had to keep pausing the instruction video to wait for my local Playground to respond to my inputs, while the instructor did the exact same thing in the video and then happily chugged along with his much more powerful machine.

It was clear. Xcode was a memory/processor hog, and I had too little of both. I’d been bumping up against those limits for a while now with my other work, but the app development pushed me over the edge. So it was time… time to upgrade my equipment.

(Don’t get me wrong – that little 13″ mid-2014 MBP did well to get me into mid-2019 without a hitch, and is still chugging along happily with less intensive tasks; it’s my “couch computer” now.)

I looked around at the options. I could get a newer, more powerful MacBook Pro. But I’d still have limited screen real estate, and that was chafing more and more. Also, I essentially never use my laptop as a laptop these days; I work exclusively at my desk, with my Kinesis Advantage2 keyboard and my external monitor setup. Could it be time to go back to a desktop, when I still remembered fondly the liberating joy of going from a PC tower to my first laptop back in the mid-2000s? It seemed like such a step back, it was hard to fathom.

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense to get a desktop again. I never use the laptop as a laptop. I could get better CPU/more RAM significantly cheaper with a desktop. And then I could have another big monitor, giving me the screen real estate I’ve been craving.

I decided to go back to a desktop. I clearly didn’t need a powerhouse like the newly-announced Mac Pro, so I wasn’t going that route. I looked at the Mac mini; a capable little machine. I looked at the iMac, with its beautiful monitor. I looked at the iMac Pro – nope, that’s more than I need.

Waffle. Research external monitors. Waffle. Spec out both machines to a level that would support my current needs, plus some future-proofing. Cringe at the price tag. Waffle some more. Deal with some stupid imposter BS because my husband is the experienced web dev, and how could I justify spending that much on a setup for my less-intensive work + dabbling in Swift development; an entirely self-driven project that may never make me a penny?

Eventually, I drove the hour to the nearest Apple store to see an iMac in person. And then I sat myself down and gave myself a pep talk about giving myself permission to invest in my skill development. Maybe I’ll get more heavily into coding as a tech writer. Maybe I’ll love developing in Swift so much that I’ll pivot to Mac app development. Or maybe I’ll write this app, but then decide that coding isn’t something I want to pursue beyond that. I won’t know unless I give myself the room to develop those skills and see what happens, but it is 100% OK to invest in my career potential.

So I pulled the trigger, and got a beautiful 27″ iMac. And it isn’t the entry-level iMac, either; it’s closer to the top tier, to give myself room for growth.

And you know what? It is frigging delightful. It’s so fast. And the screen is so beautiful. It’s a little painful to use it right next to my old external monitor, which isn’t even 4k; the resolution drop and seeing visible pixels is a little jarring looking back and forth. I expect I’ll upgrade that, too, soon. But my tech writing work has been much more hassle-free with the extra screen real estate, and staring at text on a retina-resolution screen is delightfully enjoyable.

So here’s a reminder, if you need one, too: investing in good equipment is an important part of taking your professional life seriously. This is mission critical for remote workers who don’t have office-supplied equipment. I see a lot of remote workers sitting on their couch and typing on a laptop keyboard; that’s a good way to ruin your hands, your back, your posture, and reduce your efficiency and output. (Trust me, that’s how I started out with my remote work back in 2007.)

Yes, I am extremely privileged to be able to spend the money on an Apple device; I know you pay a big premium for their products. And I know that not everyone has the financial freedom to invest in big, splashy monitors and professional-quality office equipment; especially for folks who are the sole breadwinners, or supporting family members. But it is worthwhile to put money aside and invest in the equipment you need for your career, in whatever form you’re able and whatever that equipment looks like for you.

I am very much enjoying my new setup.

Learning to code

Coding Personal

Learning to code

There are a couple of apps I’ve been wanting to write, so the time has come to learn to code! Unsurprisingly, this makes hubby happy, as now I can more readily empathize with the geeky coding plights of a senior web dev.

It’s actually been pretty interesting, so far.

I first taught myself to code in Basic when I was 12 or 13 on a Commodore 128 computer; programs were on floppy disks then, the 5 1/4″ kind. I had a handful of programs that came with the computer, which my family bought used for $400; a lot of money in the early ’90s. (They’d spend $999 on my next computer in the mid-’90s, a Packard Bell Pentium 75mHz machine, running Windows 3.11. I was a lucky little kid.)

Of the programs that came with the Commodore, I adored the text-based adventure games the most. They were a cross between interactive fiction, and what I imagined D&D must be like (having not yet played it, at that point) – and the one I played the most was based on The Hobbit. I loved it so much that I decided I should write my own, so I’d have different adventures to play.

So I dug into the code, figured out how the game was written, copied-and-pasted bits of it, and started writing my own games. Of course, then came debugging, because a 12-year-old copying-and-pasting code is far from bulletproof. So I had to figure out how the code actually worked, so I could fix the bits that broke.

But that was a long time ago, and my first love remained writing, so I never really pursued coding as computers and languages evolved. (Although I did have a side gig in computers when I founded a computer repair business, for a while, which mostly involved replacing dead hardware, doing upgrades for people, or wiping someone’s drive that had gotten all crudded-up with malware and reinstalling Windows.)

Fast forward to today, when there are a couple of apps that have been percolating in the back of my mind for a while. I’ve been waiting for someone to write one of them for a couple of years, but everything that comes along isn’t quite what I want… so now I’m annoyed and fed-up enough that I’m ready to write it myself.

App number one is fairly trivial, and something that I really just want to use myself; I don’t care if another person ever buys it. But that app should serve as training wheels for the more important app I want to write; one that will hopefully be useful to an entire industry.

Right now, I’m working my way through Swift Playgrounds to get some of the basic fundamentals under my belt. I’m also reading a couple of books. Maybe this time I’ll make it through Chris Pine’s Learn to Program, a great beginner book hubby gifted to me ages ago. From there, I’ve got a couple of other courses lined up.

Happily, I’m already familiar with the logic behind programming; some of my work as a technical writer has been to explain that logic to non-programmers, so they can use a very technical app whose interface was developed by engineers, not UI/UX folks. And I remember some of the basics from my old days mucking about in Basic; conditionals and loops are conditionals and loops, 25 years ago or today.

Wish me luck as I dive into this side project! I’m still looking for a paying technical writing gig to cover the bills, but this is a fun way to expand my skills while I hunt for the right fit. And maybe I can bring in a little side income from the apps I’ll write.

If nothing else, I always enjoy stretching my brain and learning new skills, and it’s fun to come full-circle from my early days in computing and dip my toes into coding again.

Looking for a new (meaningful) writing gig

Business Personal

Looking for a new (meaningful) writing gig

At the beginning of August, I said farewell to the company where I’ve been contracting for the past two years. I worked with a great team, but I’d gotten burned out and it was time to take a break and then look at what I want to do next.

My plan had been to focus on publishing and doing my own writing full-time whenever I left that contract gig, but… I haven’t built up the publishing to the point where it can pay all the bills yet, and frankly, it feels a little frivolous to me at this moment in time.

Given everything going on in the world… I want to do something a bit more meaningful. I want to use my writing skill-set to do something with more impact.

I stumbled across the high-impact job board at 80,000 hours; they say:

They’re all high-impact opportunities at top organisations that are working on some of the world’s most pressing problems.

The types of problems that these organizations work on are definitely interesting, and direly need to be addressed. Things like; positively shaping the development of artificial intelligence; biorisk reduction; promoting effective altruism; improving institutional decision-making; all these things are big-picture, high-impact problems where I’d find the work a lot more meaningful than making another rich company richer. Or maybe something with some social impact, like working on gender equality, or LGBT rights, or something along those lines.

I’m currently looking around to see what’s out there. But if you’re reading this, and you happen to know an organization working on a meaningful problem that could use a writer, I’d love for you to reach out. Drop me a message via my contact form.

Wish me luck!

A sincere plea


A sincere plea

Tl;dr: latest school shooting hits too close to home; this sh*t has got to stop.

I owned a house 10 minutes from there. If the ex-husband and I had kids, they would have gone to that school. I have family who have lived in that area a long time, and family that still live there. I know it’s a cliche that no-one expects bad things will happen to them, but this hits way too close to home.

I have been very conspicuously silent on all these types of things, except to say my hearts go out to all those affected.

Time to break my silence. You strike near my heart, I can’t not say something.

All the people who politicize these shootings? You’re horrible people. Period.

School shootings, and mass shootings in general, are NOT a “good excuse” to resurrect those same old gun control arguments you’ve been fighting for years. People are entrenched in their beliefs around the issue, and there is no dialogue happening – just trying to shout down the other side.

Here’s the thing: THIS. CANNOT. CONTINUE.

I have nieces and nephews in school, and who are going into school soon. I have friends with kids. This issue affects people that I care about, and we as a society need to STEP UP.

This needs to stop being a shouting match about gun control. We need to take real steps toward ending the violence that has become a daily issue for our kids to face. It is ridiculous and sickening that our young children have to think about whether they might die today. That they have to drill and learn skills on how to be silent and hide in school when someone goes on a shooting spree. We need to stop accepting this. It is not acceptable.

We need to stop looking for a scapegoat or an easy solution that blames everyone else.

“It’s guns in every household.”
“It’s violent video games.”
“It’s bad parenting.”
“It’s bullying.”

Let me just get this out of the way…

I was bullied every day in elementary and middle school, and I HATED the boy who bullied me.

I’ve played violent video games as long as “modern” video games were a thing, starting with Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein in the 90s (all first-person shooters).

There was at least one gun in my household growing up, if not more.

My mom, bless her heart, was a drug addict; I saw things that no child should ever have to see, and was raised (most of the time) by my grandparents.

Never once in my life, never in my deepest, darkest psyche, did I have even a hint of a suggestion that I should take the handgun in my household and shoot the boy who bullied me, or any of the other people in my life who made it unhappy.

Gun violence and school shootings are WAY more complicated than finding one or even a few rallying points to shout about ineffectively while we watch our children die.

We need to get to whatever underlying sickness has infected our society, and we need to treat it. We need to stop shouting and FIGURE THIS OUT.

We need to get our best psychologists and sociologists on the case and have them figure out how it ever got to this point.

We need to pay teachers more, and make sure they have the time and emotional capacity to really *listen* to our kids, and help them learn the empathy and social skills that let us live together in a functional society.

We need to make sure parents have the time and emotional capacity to spend time with their kids, and provide good examples, and help them learn the empathy and social skills that let us live together in a functional society.

(This probably means parents working fewer hours, because the parents I know tend to be overworked and exhausted; we need to figure out a way to collectively help our fellow humans, because individually, we only have so much capacity.)

We need to make it easier for parents to access special needs resources and mental health services for their children, to give them the help they need when challenges come up. We can’t all be experts in everything, and parents should have access to these experts when they need them.

We need to find a way to reduce the roles that television and technology play in our lives, because this stuff is damaging and diminishing the personal connections that teach us how to interact with and value other human beings.

We need to level the playing field, so kids and their families are starting from a more even footing, with the same access to educational resources, healthy food, and a world in which anyone really can do anything. Right now, racial, economical, gender-based and other differences and tensions make things very unequal.

There are SO MANY FACTORS that are contributing to this gun violence crisis, and I don’t pretend to be an expert or to have all the answers. I DO want us to start having a real dialogue, and start making real changes, instead of just repeating the same old “take away all the guns” “over my cold, dead body” arguments we’ve been having for years.

We HAVE to address this. Now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not five years from now; it is time to sit down and FIGURE THIS OUT.

We are already diminished as a species, because we’re making our small children worry about whether they’re going to die today at school; this is already doing lasting damage to an entire generation of children. But we’ll be doomed as a species if we can’t figure out how to keep our young people safe.

And personally, I’m literally worried sick about the children I care about in my life; and I can’t imagine how parents find the fortitude to send their children off to school every day with this hanging over us.

We need to make it stop.

Unnecessarily gendered language

Language Personal

Unnecessarily gendered language

I was chatting with someone the other day, and caught myself using “guys” – as in, “you guys” – when talking with a woman about her relationship with her wife. I’ve been sensitive to using that word for years now, and I stopped myself, explained that it was one of those unfortunate verbal habits I’ve been trying to break, and re-framed the inquiry with “you ladies.”

This is one of MANY examples of a time I’ve gotten frustrated lately with how unnecessarily gendered our language is.

Why does gender matter when you’re using a common phrase?

I know plenty of people who don’t understand why it bothers me so much that I use “guys” by default to refer to more than one person; particularly in a mixed-gender group. Those people argue that “guys” is understood to mean “people” and isn’t intended to be offensive to women.

I have two fundamental problems with that.

First, and most personal to me, as I age, I’m becoming more and more of a feminist. I’m noticing more and more ways in which our society is unequal toward women, and it’s bothering me more every day, with every new observation of how unfair things are. I know this isn’t new to other people, but it’s new to me, and it’s fueling an increasing sense of injustice in me, so even these “inoffensive” assumptions in our language are becoming offensive to me.

I am not a guy. I am a woman. If you want to use a gender-specific term to refer to a mixed-gender group, why shouldn’t everyone be “ladies” instead? Of course I know that would never be accepted (although I loved the nod to this in Tandy’s attempt to be “woke” in Last Man On Earth), and I’m not seriously asserting it’s a better solution, but it’s an equally viable option. It’s equivalent. So ask yourself why that would never be accepted, and you’ll understand a bit of why I find it unjust.

Second, out of sensitivity to others, just don’t apply unnecessary gender labels when you don’t have to. Period.

Why does this matter?

When you’re addressing an individual or a group, you may have no idea how those people identify themselves. Applying an unnecessarily gendered label may be very uncomfortable for them, even if you don’t mean it in a literal sense.

Take my “guys” example above.

I know a trans person who has sometimes had a hard time “passing” as a woman. People would sometimes identify her as male when we were out in public – using words like “sir” etc. when speaking to her. That made her feel miserable. Trans people are already far more aware of gender identity than cisgendered folks; calling unnecessary attention to gender identity in every day scenarios where it simply doesn’t matter is almost cruel.

If someone had addressed a group she was in as “guys” – that could set up a whole chain of negative thoughts. “Did I not pass again? Ugh, this sucks…” etc. Even if the person addressing the group didn’t mean it literally, it’s like probing an open wound. (I happen to know that this individual isn’t bothered by “guys” in a literal sense, but there are enough other unnecessarily gendered interactions that I’m always sensitive to it when I hear myself use the term.)

So, in this example, wouldn’t ladies be just as bad – but in the other direction? Doesn’t “ladies” unnecessarily gender a group of people, who may be equally sensitive to gender identity in an inverse way? Or even just somewhere on a spectrum; neither trans nor cis but something in between.

Sir, ma’am, ladies, gentlemen, guys, dudes, boys, girls; we are all people. Sometimes it’s useful to refer to gender identity, like when you’re discussing health concerns with a doctor – but I don’t see why it should matter in any other context. Certainly not in the millions of every day interactions in which we unnecessarily gender a person, or even an inanimate object. (Why are cars, boats, and the sea “her?” None of the reasons I’ve heard are flattering…)

This is something I’ll continue to work on in my own language and interactions with people. And I hope it’s something other people will begin to think about more as they go through the world and have these little interactions.

My strange caffeine detox journey

Lifestyle Personal

My strange caffeine detox journey

If you know me at all, you know I’m a devoted coffee snob. I have an AeroPress at home and a second one at the office where I’ve been contracting for almost a year. I have not one, but two expensive burr grinders so I can always brew from fresh beans (one at home, one at the office). I temp the water before I brew. (Different beans extract ideally at different temps – I generally prefer anywhere from 85C to 95C depending on the bean, but 92C seems to be about my sweet spot.) And I buy rather expensive single-source beans from a local roaster.

So it came as a big surprise to my friends and family when, leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, I announced my intent to do a caffeine detox.

It started as my attempt to give up diet soda – I’d usually drink Coke Zero at lunch and dinner, and sometimes extra Coke Zero throughout the day. I know the chemicals in that stuff are going to kill me someday, so I decided I wanted to stop drinking it. Soda entirely, really – the diet stuff is full of chemical crap, and the non-diet stuff is jam-packed with unnecessary sugar, and I really don’t need any of that in my life. Plus, I lost a bunch of weight when I stopped drinking soda in 2005, so I thought it might be a good way to jump-start a healthier lifestyle again.

When I was thinking about it giving up soda, though, I realized I’d gotten entirely too accustomed to drinking a lot of caffeine, period. I’d start my workday with a latte. I’d have Coke Zero at lunch. I’d have a latte or a mocha mid-afternoon when I started feeling sleepy at the office. I’d have Coke Zero at dinner. Sometimes, when we’d eat out, I’d have a coffee with dessert. Basically, caffeine every few hours from morning ’til bedtime. I thought: “You know, while I’m trying to clean up my soda-drinking habits, maybe I should just stop drinking caffeine entirely. Just for a little while. Get through the withdrawal, and then drink less of it when I start drinking it again.”

So I did.

I planned to start over Memorial Day Weekend, because I’d have an extra day off and I knew I’d have massive headaches due to the caffeine withdrawal.

I was right.

The extra day off wasn’t really enough. I ended up working at home for a couple of days once the weekend was over. It wasn’t until an entire week had passed since I last drank caffeine that the headaches let up. And we’re talking migraine-level headaches for days 2-4, and then pretty bad headaches from 5-7. It was no walk in the park.

Week two was about feeling exhausted, all the time. I never really thought about what that must be doing to my body – how every time I started to get tired during the day, I’d just add some more caffeine. As a result, I had unconsciously programmed my body that whenever it sent me a sleepy signal, I’d just give it a chemical upper. I had completely messed with my body’s natural energy cycle, and it didn’t really know what to do once the caffeine wasn’t coming in again.

I’d wake up feeling relatively ok. But by the time an hour had passed – when I’d normally be drinking my morning latte or coffee – my eyelids didn’t want to stay up on their own. I had NO energy. I just wanted to go back to bed. Mid-morning, I’d be dragging. But mid-afternoon, when I always tend to get sleepy, was the worst. I’d literally be staring at my computer, and no matter how much effort I put into keeping my eyelids open, they would not stay open. I never fell asleep at my desk, but there were times when I’d sit there with my eyelids closed because I just literally couldn’t keep them open. I’d give them thirty seconds and force them open again, or go for a walk to try to get some blood flowing and give me some energy. But I think week two was even harder than the headaches – I could barely focus, and there’s something really debilitating about just being exhausted all the time.

By week three, I’d gotten a little apprehensive about what was going to come next. Was it going to be headaches again? Was the perpetual exhaustion about to descend on me again? When neither manifested, I thought: hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe the withdrawal is done. I started thinking about when I might start drinking caffeine again, and what form that might take.

One day, in the afternoon, I was feeling sleepy and also craving chocolate, so I thought about getting myself a hot chocolate. I know hot chocolate has caffeine in it. I did some spelunking to determine how much. Turns out, it depends. Generally, anywhere from 5mg to 20mg of caffeine in a hot cocoa, versus 80mg to 200mg in coffee, depending on the bean and the brewing method. I decided that was benign enough, so I treated myself to a hot cocoa around mid-week during week three.

MAN, I felt that caffeine!

That hot chocolate tasted effing amazing. And I felt SO GREAT after I drank it. I felt like I could do ALL THE THINGS. My mood lifted, I had so much more energy and focus, and I was super productive for the rest of the afternoon.

That’s when I realized two things:

  1. Wow, the body really adjusts quickly to not having caffeine. I thought I’d barely feel it, because I’d been drinking so much caffeine before, but let me tell you I felt the results and was very aware that the caffeine was affecting me.
  2. Oh shit. This might be worse than I realize. If even a little hot cocoa makes me feel this way, I’m going to have to be damn careful about how I re-introduce caffeine to my life. Maybe I shouldn’t drink caffeine again at all?

I wrestled with that for a few days. On Sunday, about five days after the hot cocoa and a little ways into week four, I decided to try a latte from one of my favorite local coffee shops. I was going to be deliberate about it – we sat there and had breakfast, and I savored the crap out of it. It was one of the most amazing coffee-drinking experiences I’ve ever had. And I realized: mindful coffee drinking is even more mind-blowing than habitual caffeine consumption. (This was the latte in the picture at the top of the post. Yes, I took a picture of it. It tasted even better than it looks.)

The rest of that day was amazing. I was SO PRODUCTIVE. I did a million chores, and got a bunch of writing stuff done, and didn’t feel like napping at 3 o clock or any of the normal stuff.

Then, when night rolled around, I was still feeling pretty energetic when it was time to go to bed. I forced myself to lie down, but my brain wouldn’t shut off – I laid there tossing and turning for a couple of hours, just thinking about everything and nothing, because my brain was too busy for sleep.

The next day was rough. And I knew it was because of the caffeine. I could still feel it in my system 24 hours after I drank it. But by the time mid-afternoon had rolled around – around 30-32 hours post caffeine – I was crashing. I think most of it had left my system, and combined with the lack of sleep the night before, I was exhausted. I barely made it through the rest of the day, and I canceled my evening plans because I just didn’t have brain.

Then I started to wonder if I should really be drinking caffeine anymore. If one latte, drank first thing in the morning, could have that effect – should I even be ingesting this stuff, period?

But I enjoyed it so much. And I had felt so productive and focused.

When Thursday of that week rolled around, I was absolutely dragging. I woke up feeling really cranky and grumpy. I could barely keep my eyes open. I made a decision: I’m going to get a mocha this morning. I want the chocolate and caffeine, for the mood elevation and to help me wake up. Otherwise, work is going to be very unpleasant, not just for me, but for anyone who encounters me.

It was a good call. That mocha was amazing. By the time I got to work, I was happy and chatty. (Mildly obnoxious, too – I announced to at least a half dozen people that I’d had a mocha that morning, and I even made it my Slack status. I had previously shared with people at work that I was caffeine detoxing, so I wanted to let them all know the good news when I started drinking it again. In retrospect, I may have been mildly caffeine-high.)

In the end, I didn’t regret drinking that mocha at all. I’d made a very intentional decision to have it, because I wanted it (and perhaps because I felt I needed it), and it had the desired effect.

Now here we are into week five. It’s Sunday, and I’ve just bought a mocha again. This is my third caffeine-based beverage in about four and a half weeks. (Well, really, my third in the last week, because that’s when I started drinking them again – last Sunday.)

I thought, when I walked up the street to pick it up, that I finally had it figured out.

I could have coffee-based drinks when I wanted them, and ONLY then. Not when I felt I needed them. Not when I was feeling sleepy, or tired, or cranky. Not out of any sort of craving or habitual need – I’d gotten used to lattes every morning, and again every afternoon/evening, and I don’t want to get back to that state. Only when I deliberately, mindfully, WANTED a coffee-based drink should I have one. I was pretty happy with that decision while I was sipping my mocha on the way home.

But now that I’m sitting here, typing this out and thinking about my reactions, I’m wondering if that’s really a good call. I made the decision to have a mocha on Thursday because I was cranky and tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open. Was it really that I WANTED it, or did I feel I needed it?

How much can I trust myself to judge the difference between want and need?

I don’t want to get back to a dependency state, because withdrawal was no good and it can’t be healthy for my body to be going through all that. The migraine-level headaches completely eliminated my ability to do anything substantive in days two through four. The exhaustion I felt during all of week two of my detox made me realize how I’d been putting my body through all kinds of crazy, unnatural swings with the sleepy/caffeine cycle. I feel like the caffeine was just masking the fact that my body was actually tired, and shouldn’t I be listening to my body? Isn’t that the whole point of mindfulness?

There’s also the fact that it feels wonderful to be so focused and productive when I drink caffeine. I feel like I get so much done. (I really do get so much done.) But it also just feels like a better mental state. And how is that different than any of the more serious, less socially-acceptable drugs? It feels like a slippery slope to me. Not that I ever have, or ever would, use “real” drugs – with my family history, that’s just not a thing that would happen. But in terms of how it affects the body, and wondering whether I can trust my mind when I’m making a decision about whether or not to have caffeine – all of the same psychology of addiction applies, I’m beginning to realize.

There’s the added complication that this coffee-consumption is tied into my identity as a writer. I love sitting at my desk, typing away and drinking coffee. It’s a really satisfying ritual. But how much of that is habitual?

And coffee helps me through those lagging cycles, where I want to stop and rest, instead letting me sit in front of my keyboard and just keep on working. But is that the healthiest thing? Shouldn’t I instead get up and talk a walk, or exercise, or nap?

Let’s not forget the fact that coffee and writers go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. It’s a huge part of the cultural identity of writers. If I stop drinking coffee entirely, does that mean I’m less a writer than other writers? It does feel alienating.

In short, this is a way more complicated question than I thought it would be when I stopped drinking caffeine on Memorial Day Weekend. The coffee detox was only supposed to be temporary – no more soda, but I’d go back to drinking coffee because I love coffee and I don’t have a medical reason not to.

But now, I have to wonder… is it really that simple? I’ve seen very clear signs of the physical effects, and I don’t think it’s such a straightforward question anymore. So I guess today, I’ll finish drinking this mocha, and savor it, and acknowledge that I have some thinking to do about whether caffeine has a place in my life long-term, and if so, how it will fit in.