Climb every mountain. Slowly. And with lots of rest breaks.

Mountains

You can’t visit the national parks right now because the federal (non-)government is shutdown, but you can read this blog entry about my recent visit to the Smoky Mountains National Park. There is no “e” in “Smoky,” by the way. I checked. If you really want to use an “e” you can call the mountains “The Smokies.”

I ended up in the Smokies because my mom and I wanted to get together but didn’t want to fly anywhere. So we looked at the map and it turns out that halfway between Indianapolis and Chapel Hill sits…Dollywood! But there also appeared to be some mountains in the area, so we thought we’d check those out after we’d spent the previous day running around Dolly Parton’s theme park. (I’ll post about that eventually, I promise.)

We started out by stopping at the Sugarlands visitor’s center where we picked up some helpful brochures and watched a 20-minute movie about the Smoky Mountains. Nowhere did it explain why the area was called the Sugarlands, which I was particularly curious about. I don’t think anyone is growing sugar in the area, or even sugar beets. Google was unhelpful, so the mystery remains.

Our next destination was Clingmans Dome (no apostrophe, I checked), which is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains and the third highest point east of the Mississippi River. The drive from the visitor’s center took about 20-30 minutes as we wound up the mountain on narrow paved roads past lots of trees and an occasional creek. There was one corkscrew turn that was rather thrilling but made me glad I wasn’t the one driving. Sometimes there would be a break in the forest and you could see a beautiful view of the mountains between the trees. I had my GPS with me, so I turned on the elevation setting and shouted out numbers as we drove. “Three thousand feet! Four thousand feet!” etc. etc. until we got to the parking lot which according to the GPS was about 6300 feet above sea level.

Clingmans Trail

The dome itself is at 6643 feet and it’s a half mile walk from the parking lot, up a trail the guidebook said was “steep.” Um, yeah. That’s one way to put it. Another way would be to urge people with heart problems, asthma or other medical conditions not to attempt it like they do for roller coaster rides because this motherbleeper was STEEEEEEEEEP.

Steep

The photo doesn’t do it justice. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to photograph steep things. Essentially this trail was like going up a half-mile long staircase. There were benches along the way, but when I sat on them I felt like I was going to slide off, particularly because I was wearing rayon-polyester blend pants that didn’t build up much friction between me and the bench. That’s how steep it was.

The trail bends in several places, so you can never tell how much farther you have to go. After we’d gone a ways we started asking people on the way down how much farther it was to the dome. “You’re halfway there,” they’d say. Then we’d struggle up to the next bench and ask some more people. “You’re halfway there,” they’d say. And it continued on like this, as if we were trapped in some nightmare version of Zeno’s paradox, in which we were always halfway to our destination, doomed to walk upwards forever. We finally figured out that the numbers on the sides of the benches indicated how many tenths of a mile you’d traveled, but we were only at number 3. Eventually we could see the parking lot from the trail and I couldn’t believe we weren’t already at the top.

View of the parking lot

If I’d known the trail would be that steep and that long, I’m not sure my sixty-something mother and I would have attempted it. I love my mom and want to keep her around as long as possible. If you were to have a medical emergency on this trail I think you’d be pretty bleeped. The ambulance response time can’t be that impressive. So I asked her if she wanted to stop and turn around, but she persevered! We probably spent 75% of our time resting from the 25% of the time we spent climbing. We saw people who’d passed us on the way up pass us again on their way down. But finally we made it! Go, Mom!

Clingmans Dome

So what did we see when we got to the top of the mountain? What gorgeous view were we rewarded with? Um, this:

What a view!

Yeah, that’s why they call them the Smoky Mountains. We’d asked a park ranger at the Sugarlands visitor center what the visibility was at the dome and he’d responded, “At this moment it’s clear.” He did not make us any guarantees about how it would be an hour or two later when we finally reached the top. That said, I’m incredibly proud we made it to the top, even if we were stuck inside a cloud when we got there. If anything, it made the place seem sort of spooky and surreal, particularly because the Smokies are littered with the skeletons of dead Fraser fir trees that have been killed by foreign insects.

Smoky indeed

We then made our way back down the trail, which was easier than going up it, but still an exercise that used different muscles and required more of an effort to maintain balance. By chance, the trail to Clingmans Dome overlaps with the Appalachian Trail for a very short spurt, making it the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. It also makes it possible for me to say I’ve walked the Appalachian Trail, though I can never say that without thinking that it is a euphemism for stealing away to Argentina to visit my mistress. Thanks, Mark Sanford!

Appalachian Trail

We got back to the parking lot and were grateful no bears had attacked our car like they did in this YouTube video which is the fourth Google result for a search of “Clingmans Dome.” Do you think that affects visitor turnout? Thanks to the video we’d watched at the visitor’s center I knew there were only two bears per square mile in the Smokies, so I wasn’t too worried about that.

On the drive back to the hotel I kept thinking about that song, “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music and wondering if that nun knew what she was talking about when she sung it. Because, DAMN, climbing a mountain is really effing difficult. That nun was hardcore.

And that was our Smoky Mountain adventure! I’m glad I went, but until they build Clingmans Escalator I’m not sure if I’ll be back again.

JenFul Playlist – August 2013

Colorful tapes

It’s that time of the month again when I inflict my amazing taste in music upon you. You can listen to my August 2013 playlist in the Spotify player below if you have Spotify installed. If not, the playlist is listed in text below that. You can follow me on Spotify here and view my other playlists here.

Highlights

Vicci Martinez
I don’t watch The Voice on NBC, but I do know that it’s been more successful at making its judges famous than its contestants. Which is why I had no idea Vicci Martinez had been a contestant until after I’d listened to her album and Googled her. I had her album on repeat for at least a week.

CHVRCHES
That should be pronounced “churches.” I think the band switched out the “u” with a “v” to make it easier to find them on Google. I’m really, really looking forward to this band’s first album to be released later this month. I’ve been listing to their electro-pop EPs a lot lately.

Wolf Gang
I’ve been extra lucky this month because this is the third band that I’ve really been digging. Their album Suego Faults came out several years ago, but I only recently discovered it.

The Naked and Famous – Hearts Like Ours
Here’s another band with an album coming out later this month that I’m excited about. I liked their first album, “Passive Me, Agressive You.” Between this and CHVRCHES I was having a rather elecro-poppy month in August.

Panic! At The Disco (feat. Lolo) – Miss Jackson
This song reminds me a lot of “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” by Fallout Boy which I had on an earlier playlist. I never quite know what to think when songs are that similar, but I like it nonetheless!

Playlist

CHVRCHES – The Mother We Share
The Naked And Famous – Hearts Like Ours
Vicci Martinez – Run Run Run
Vicci Martinez – Stop Pretending
Haim – The Wire
Delta Rae – Morning Comes
Wolf Gang – Lions In Cages
Panic! At The Disco (feat. Lolo) – Miss Jackson
Neko Case – Night Still Comes
Empires – Homewrecked
Jason Reeves – Save My Heart
Young Summer – Why Try
The Head And The Heart – Shake
The Joy Formidable – Silent Treatment
ZZ Ward – Til the Casket Drops
Mona – Lean Into The Fall
PK – Chase the Sky
Smith Westerns – Varsity
Anna Nalick – Scars
Freelance Whales – Spitting Image
Smallpools – Dreaming
CHVRCHES – Recover
Katy Perry – Roar
Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
Newton Faulkner – Dream Catch Me
The Features – This Disorder
Django Django – Default
Beach House – Lazuli

Who needs sleep? I do. And on a regular schedule a.k.a. Operation: GeMSToNE, Phase 1

Sleepy kitten

I have a new neighbor in the apartment above me. I know this because it was 5:30 in the morning and I wanted to kill him.

Let me explain. Lately I have been working hard to maintain a regular sleeping schedule. This is one of the many things I’ve developed a new appreciation for as I’ve gotten older, along with shoes with good arch support and the benefits of having a washer and dryer directly in my apartment.

One of the great things about freelancing is that I get to set my own schedule, and one of the horrible things about freelancing is that I get to set my own schedule. I’m not sure I was ready for the responsibility at first, like a child who was told she could pick her own breakfast and opted for pixie sticks and pepperoni pizza. I started sleeping in later and later, which led to me getting up later and later, until one night I was still awake when the sun had fully risen and Good Morning America was coming on and I realized this had become completely ridiculous.

I was essentially on Hawaii time and needed to reset myself to east coast time. Or move to Hawaii. Or start moving one time zone to the west every week until I’d circled the globe. But those weren’t really options. I mean, where was I going to find a place to stay in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?

As anyone who’s had jetlag knows, resetting your Circadian rhythm is a painful process. However my situation is even worse because waking up early is by far my most reliable headache trigger. I always, always, always get a bad headache after I’ve woken up even one hour earlier than normal. The pain and grogginess lasts for most of the day, turning me into a headache zombie. “Brain! Brain! Oh, my brain!” When I wake up early, I don’t get shit done that day. There is some research that suggests that sleep deprivation messes with certain protein levels in your body that control chronic pain. See, it’s science! I’m not lazy. Or if I am, I’m not just lazy.

So you might ask, if it’s painful to switch, why don’t you stay on your crazy schedule? You don’t actually have to be anywhere, right? Sleeping through half the day and working into the night has a strange psychological impact on me. Once the sun sets I feel like I should stop working. It’s that feeling you get when Daylight Saving Time happens and you’re suddenly driving home from work in the dark. It’s weird. I don’t get as much done as I’d like to, plus all the good TV shows come on when you should be in the latter part of your work day. Working these kind of hours also makes it hard on your social life because you’re working when other people are going out. It also makes it incredibly painful to try to get up and meet someone for brunch on the weekends, when it really shouldn’t require great strength of will to get to a pancake place by 11am.

I’ve known I needed to get into a regular schedule for years. Yes, literally years. And I when I say “literally” I use it in the way it’s meant to be used, not as a substitution for “figuratively” even though the dictionary says that’s ok now (which I consider to be a linguistic atrocity). Every night I would think, “I’m going to get out of bed at a reasonable hour tomorrow. Really, I am. I have to! It’s very, very, very important.” And that reasonable hour would come the next day and I’d say, “You are not a reasonable hour at all! You are a very unreasonable hour indeed! Goodbye, I’m going to sleep for three more hours.” It was an awful cycle that I couldn’t break. The only time I could drag myself out of bed early was when I had a doctor’s appointment or some other meeting that I knew I absolutely had to be at. And even when I managed that, I’d usually take a nap in the afternoon because my headache was in full THROB mode and I felt like shit, throwing off any progress I might have made.

Finally, last February I caught a lucky break, or an unlucky break if you were asking my sleep-wake cycle. My apartment complex replaced all the HVAC units this year with more energy efficient models. On Monday morning at 8am I awoke to the sounds of saws hacking through the drywall in the apartment below me. There was no way I could sleep through it, even with earplugs, so I had no choice but to get up and stumble through the rest of the day. Then on Tuesday at 8am they knocked on my door to replace my unit. While they hacked up my wall I sat at my computer and did work. I was amazed by how much I was able to finish before the time I usually woke up at. On Wednesday I had an early doctor’s appointment, and by Thursday I’d succeeded in resetting my body clock! It was fantastic and great and I continued waking up at a fairly reasonable hour for several weeks.

Then I got sick.

I got a cold and it was the downfall of my hard-won sleep schedule. I had a hard time falling asleep at night because I couldn’t breathe well through the congestion. I took naps during the day. I even slept through the election of the new pope!

By the time I got well my sleep schedule was totally off again, but last month I finally got so fed up with myself that I tried a new plan. I’d often thought about trying to push through and just skip one night’s sleep, but I’d never been able to manage that. Instead, I purposely stayed up as late as I could before I started to feel like I was on the verge of seeing purple elephants dancing across the entertainment center. This ended up being 9am. I then took a four-hour nap, and after that forced myself to stay awake for the rest of the evening, finally crashing for a night’s sleep at 11pm. Needless to say, I didn’t get much actual work done that day. I got up at 10am the next day, and it was still rather difficult. My body was still in its old rhythm even though I’d slept for a good chunk of time. But I got up! It was a monumental feat! The automatic coffee maker helped lure me out of bed. Then I felt like shit all day and didn’t get much done again. I woke up at 10am the next day and slowly it started to get easier and easier. I was making real progress!

This is where we get to the part where I want to kill my neighbor.

I live in a college town, so it’s common for a lot of people in the one-bedroom units like mine to move in and out around summer. I could tell I’d recently gotten a new upstairs neighbor because I could hear him. I heard him bounding back and forth, because why walk when you can stomp? I heard him squeaking the floorboards in way that made me think he might be competing in the sex Olympics, but wasn’t in quite the right rhythm for that (I hope). I heard him clomping up and down the stairs outside, talking noisily to his friends. And worst of all I could hear his phone vibrating.

At first I thought it was my own phone vibrating, and had to check to be sure I hadn’t gotten a text message. I heard the vibrating noise pulse repetitively for about a minute one evening around 7pm, like he’d set an alarm. Then I heard it again another afternoon. At this point I wasn’t sure if it was a phone, or if it was even the upstairs neighbor’s phone, but I didn’t have any other guesses.

Then I heard the phone vibrating at 5:30 in the freakin’ morning. I heard it first in my dream and felt a sense of confusion when I slowly faded into wakefulness and realized, oh, this is really happening? It was faint, but evidently loud enough to wake me up. And it kept going off. Over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And OMG I was so over it going off over and over! All in all it went off for at least 40 minutes. I tried using my earplugs to drown it out, but the sound was able to permeate the foam. Eventually I put on a pair of headphones and listened to the new Travis album which was the only thing that could drown out the sound, even though sleeping with headphones on is somewhat uncomfortable.

Oh, and did I mention that he’d also run his washing machine at 1:30 in the morning that very same night?

Oh, and that his alarm had gone off at 6:30am the week before this too, though for only about 5 minutes instead of 40?

If I had been 100% sure at that time that the alarm was coming from upstairs, I would have walked up there in my pajamas, banged on his door, and screamed “TURN OFF YOUR ALARM OR I WILL KILLLLLLLLL YOU!!! AND THE JURY WILL BE ON MY SIDE!!!!” The doubt was the only thing that stopped me, because as bad as it was to be the asshole who left his alarm going off at 5:30 in the morning, it would be far worse to be the asshole banging on someone’s door complaining about it when it wasn’t actually his alarm.

Anyway, later that day I wrote him a letter that essentially said, “Welcome to the neigborhood! Would you please shut the fuck up?” Though I phrased it more nicely than that. I taped it to his door and later that evening a young med student knocked on my door and apologized for it all. I was willing to forgive him for the alarm incident because there’s no reasonable way I could expect someone to know that I could hear their phone vibrate through the floor. I’m surprised it’s possible at all, but I suspect the vibrations must travel through the furniture and then through the floor too, amplifying the sound. I don’t normally hear anything else through the walls except for people moving around. Or squeaking the floorboards in ways I don’t want to think about.

So, despite the efforts of my neighbor, who as a future doctor should appreciate the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, I have continued to maintain my “normal” sleep schedule. I’m falling asleep before 1am most of the time. I’m naturally waking up around 9 or 9:30 without the alarm. I still don’t necessarily want to get out of the bed even though I’m awake, for which I doubt there is any cure. But I am managing it! It’s going well! The headache hangover went away after the fourth or fifth day. I’m falling asleep more quickly for the most part. And I generally think I am healthier mentally and physically for it.

I still sometimes hear my neighbor’s phone vibrate, but it is usually followed by the sounds of someone clomping around quickly to turn it off. It hasn’t gone off before 9am again, at least that I know of.

And thus completes phase one of “Operation: Get My Shit Together. No Excuses.” Which can be shortened to the handy abbreviation Operation: GeMSToNE. Phase One was to establish a regular sleeping schedule. There are other phases, some of which are already in progress which I will update you on in the coming weeks. Assuming I actually do get my shit together.

Audiobook of “Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir” is now available!

Audiobook of 'Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir'

First off, I apologize for only posting playlists and self-promotional entries lately. I promise to get back into a more regular blogging schedule soon. I’ve already been making some changes in my life to make that easier to do, which I’ll post about soon.

That said, my publisher would probably appreciate if I mentioned that the audiobook for “Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir” is now available to purchase on Audible.com. It’s read by Teri Clark Linden and it’s a great way to spend 8 hours and 22 minutes. Listen to it on the treadmill for inspiration!

Ok, end of promo. More blogging to resume soon.

JenFul Playlist – July 2013

Mix it up

I’d meant to write a few more posts before publishing another playlist, but I didn’t and August has already arrived, so here we go again! These are the songs I was enjoying in July 2013. You can listen to them in the Spotify player below if you have Spotify installed. If not, the playlist is listed in text below that. You can follow me on Spotify here and catch the June 2013 playlist here in case you missed it.

Highlights

The 1975 – Chocolate
Of course I’m going to like a song called “Chocolate,” right? This is a UK band who’ve released several EPs but their first album doesn’t come out until September.

Elizaveta – Orion
Spotify recommended this artist to me, doing their algorithms proud. I’d never heard of this Russian/American musician before, but I loved her whole album.

Bastille – Pompeii
Bastille’s album debuted at #1 on the UK charts, but I don’t think it’s been released in the US yet, which is why only a few EPs are available on the American version of Spotify for now. Love this single!

Travis – Where You Stand
Travis is a band that is (was?) evidently big in Britain, but I doubt most people in the US have heard of them. That’s too bad because I love a lot of their songs. This is a single from their first new album in five years which comes out later in August.

Franz Ferdinand – Right Action
Franz Ferdinand is back! They’re releasing an album later this month too. I feel sort of stupid admitting this, it was a long time before I discovered they were named after the archduke who’s assassination launched World War I. Oh, American education system, how you’ve let me down once again.

Lorde – Royals
Lorde is literally half my age. Dear Lord! A lot of the musicians I’ve been discovering lately are younger than me, which still seems strange. I’m used to popular musicians being older than me.

Regina Spektor – You’ve Got Time
This is the theme song to the Netflix series Orange is the New Black which is just as good as everyone says it is. The show, I mean. The song is good too.

(I just noticed all the tracks I highlighted are either by British or Russian-American artists. Strange, but I didn’t do it on purpose.)

Playlist

The 1975 – Chocolate – US Version
Elizaveta – Orion
Bastille – Pompeii
Travis – Where You Stand
Franz Ferdinand – Right Action
Avicii – Wake Me Up
Miranda Lee Richards – The Reach
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Despair
The Trophy Fire – Spinning
Lorde – Royals
Griffin House – Better Than Love
Josh Garrels – Farther Along
Matt Nathanson – Mission Bells
Charlotte Sometimes – Better Than This
The Heavy – What Makes A Good Man?
Empire Of The Sun – Alive
Youngblood Hawke – We Come Running
Little Green Cars – The John Wayne
Michael Franti & Spearhead – I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like)
Best Coast – The Only Place
Milo Greene – 1957
Regina Spektor – You’ve Got Time
Ellie Goulding – Burn
Ellie Goulding – Your Song (Blackmill Remix)
The Civil Wars – The One That Got Away
Matchbox Twenty – Our Song
Cary Brothers – Lessons Learned (feat. Rachael Yamagata)

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Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

 
 
Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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