October all year round

Today was Labor Day, the last holiday of American summer, and the weather was perfect in Seattle. I enjoyed a long walk along the waterfront of West Seattle, looking across Elliott Bay to downtown Seattle. Although there were a few masks in sight, you could almost imagine that there had never been a pandemic and that this was a normal holiday.

Many years ago, I worked at a gift shop in Pioneer Square. And on Labor Day, the crowds would be thick everywhere you went. Long lines for coffee and takeout food. Underground Tour participants taking up all the space at intersections. And lots of people milling about in our store. And then if the Mariners were playing, there was the baseball crowd on top of that. It was always utter mayhem!

Looking across to the Smith Tower, I could imagine that same mayhem today. Perhaps it really is different now. But I was glad to not have to be over there anyway. The place I worked at still exists, and it was hard enough in those days to get customers to cooperate with our request that food and drinks not be brought into the store. It is amazing how many people get quite emotionally unhinged when told they can not do something. I would hate to have to be policing masks. Although Seattle is operating under minimal restrictions, indoor mask mandates were reinstated a couple of weeks ago.

Labor Day ushers in my favorite time of year. I make no secret of the fact that I really do not care for summer. It is not just the heat that bothers me, but the late sunsets. We can still get a heatwave in September, but it is much less likely AND the sun sets well before 8pm, so hot days cool off more quickly. So I go from my least favorite part of the year (June/July/August) to my favorite part of the year (Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec) in the space of a few days.

Then in January begins my second least favorite part of the year (January/February). But this has nothing to do with the weather. It is just that in my job, I get bombarded with really annoying reporting tasks as we close out the old year. AND, I have to gear up for filing incoming taxes, something I dread even though my taxes are fairly simple. My impaired executive function fails me frequently at this time. Anyway, I always try to get my taxes filed by the end of February. And then I have March, April and May to enjoy (sort of) before the dreaded summer returns.

I really wish it could be October all year round.

Just falling asleep

Yesterday I had a dental appointment first thing in the morning. And it was time to take x-rays. When the lead apron was draped over me, I felt this sudden calm wash over me. I sleep with a weighted blanket, but it is quite a bit lighter. I wished I could have had the lead apron on for the entire appointment. Next time, I might actually ask!

My bedtime routine is undergoing some adjustment. For the last six years, I have been watching M*A*S*H. I have all eleven seasons on DVD, although many of the discs are very temperamental from wear and tear. Well, now my portable DVD player is acting up. I only bought it three years ago, but it was a rather cheap model (I was amazed it was still possible to buy a DVD player at all) — and it has seen a LOT of use. I could look into getting a USB-connected DVD player to plug into my Chromebook, but that would hardly be convenient in my bedroom. So I decided to bit the bullet and try bedtime without M*A*S*H.

I always take my iPod Touch to bed with me because it serves as my alarm clock. So now I am collecting podcasts to listen to. I used to be a huge podcast junkie. But now that I work from home, I do not need to load up on podcasts to for my bus commute (that can be ridiculously long for the distance when Seattle traffic is gridlocked.) So, I am not sure what I want to listen to these days (apart from the various Ted Lasso podcasts.)

I found a really interesting podcast called The Rise And Fall Of Mars Hill, about the megachurch that was once a phenomenon in Seattle. But I have kept falling asleep about twenty minutes in, even though I find it really interesting. I am finding myself nodding off very quickly to other podcasts as well.

Perhaps I have rediscovered this crazy idea of just going to bed and falling asleep 😴 How wild is that?

The turn of the earth

Christopher Eccelstone is often overlooked amongst the Doctors of the 21st century — probably because he only appeared in one season — and the first season of the reboot to boot (sorry, could not resist!) But he has some memorable lines.

Rose: If you’re an alien, how come you sound like you’re from the North?

Doctor: Lots of planets have a North.

In that first episode, Rose keeps pressing the Doctor to tell her who he really is. And this is where we first hear about him “feeling the turn of the earth”. It is a very amazing idea to entertain.

One summer evening, I lay down on the grass in a park in Seattle and watched the sun going down over the Olympic Mountains. The light was filtered enough by haze that the sun was easy to look at. And as it sunk slowly down behind the mountains, I was able to imagine I was feeling the turn of the earth.

In graduate school, I took a class in physical oceanography which was my first mathematical encounter with the Coriolis force. The strength of this force is dependent on latitude (zero at Equator, maximum at Poles) and velocity. Fast-moving objects, such as baseballs and artillery shells, can see measurable deflection from the Coriolis force in just a matter of seconds. However, slow-moving currents of air or water may require at least one full rotation of the earth in order to register a deflection. But as long as the earth keeps turning, the Coriolis force affects how air and water move, deflecting transfer of fluid to the right, north of the equator, and to the left, south of the equator.

It was also in that class that I first encountered the thermohaline circulation of the global oceans, whereby differences in density of ocean water, driven by differences in temperature and salinity, cause water to sink — especially in the North Atlantic, where this sinking event helps support a poleward flow of relatively warm water towards Europe. The Gulf Stream, as it is known, is credited for keeping the winters of the British Isles remarkably mild given the high latitude (despite Britons insisting that their winters are cold.) Back in 1991, this flow driven by the sinking of cold water was known as the Atlantic Conveyor. Nowadays, it has earned a fancier name — Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation — with an obligatory acronym, AMOC. (An old joke at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration is that NOAA actually stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Acronyms. And is true that earth/ocean/atmospheric science is awash with acronyms.)

This week, we learned that AMOC might be showing signs of weakening due to global warming. Warmer ocean temperatures and lower salinity due to runoff of glacial melt from Greenland threatens to reduce the rate of sinking. And this could disrupt the global thermohaline circulation of the oceans, with concurrent disruption of climate systems in many parts of the world.

The global conveyor of the ocean moves very slowly. A parcel of water sinking in the North Atlantic will eventually start to drift south along the ocean floor, crossing the Equator, and continuing towards Antarctica from where it may continue its journey into the Indian or Pacific Oceans. At some point in its journey, it will find its way back to the surface. But on average, this requires around a thousand years. Quite simply, water sinking off Greenland today would not be expected to surface again until around the year 3000.

In that class, I also learned of the two viewpoints from which we may consider fluid flow. For example, with water flowing in a river, we can view from the perspective of someone standing on a bridge above the river (Eulerian); or we can take the perspective of someone in a boat being carried along by the river (Lagrangian). The latter is more applicable when developing systems of equations from basic principles; but the Eulerian viewpoint is more convenient when it comes to solving the equations,

So why am I writing about this? In a post with the #autism tag? Well, this is the kind of stuff that really tickles the happier parts of my autistic brain. Right now, ocean water is surfacing, somewhere far from the British Isles, that might have sank in the North Atlantic the very same day when Harold took that arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings. From the Lagrangian perspective, that parcel of water has a memory of the last thousand years.

Feeling the turn of the earth is Lagrangian. And that must be very profound for someone like the Doctor who operates mainly in the Eulerian framework (setting coordinates in time and space).

Scientists are not expecting AMOC to suddenly shut down anytime soon — although they can not be sure. But I have rather enjoyed thinking about — after all these years.

Gentle weather

My favorite shirt has detachable sleeves which allows me to wear it as a lightweight waistcoat in summer. But today I got to put the sleeves back on.

Usually by the end of July I have “summer fatigue” and reverse-SADS. It’s not just the heat that wears me down. It’s the bright sun and the long hours of daylight. But the record heatwave we went through in Seattle at the end of June obviously added to the stress. So the cloudy drizzly weather I woke up to was most welcome. And it looks like staying that way this afternoon with temps in the low 20s degC.

I moved to Seattle to find a kind of weather that is becoming elusive. It is a weather that is possibly the least harmful to people – but most frequently complained of.

It is gentle weather. Temperatures somewhere between 8-15 deg C with cloudy skies, light winds, and rain that can be kept off with a light rain jacket and hood.

Twenty years ago, this kind of weather could be found in any month of the year in Seattle. But summers are getting hotter, sunnier and drier — and are lasting longer. Meanwhile, autumn, winter and spring rains are showing up as intense deluges that no rain gear is a match for.

I have never understood why my preferred gentle weather goes so unappreciated. It is perfect for running, cycling, hiking and other outdoor activities. It is nice weather for gardening. It is even good weather for washing the car. But it is also nice weather to have when you are stuck inside working, studying, or just curled up on the couch feeling bad.

However, since that big heatwave of June, I have noticed more people saying that they will never again complain about cool, cloudy weather in summer. But I fear that gentle weather is becoming a thing of the past — and will not be fully appreciated until it is gone for ever.

Normal Saturday

Washington State lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on June 30. So for the last two weekends, my Seattle neighborhood has largely reopened for business. And I have been most happy to resume my Saturday visit to a taproom. It has actually been open for several months under capacity and social distancing restrictions, but that meant limited seating at tables for four. And as I am usually a party of one, I don’t feel comfortable taking up a table by myself. But now, the stools are back at the bar and along the perimeter shelves — and I have been able to take up my favorite perch from where I can see the whole bar area, the TV, and the street outside.

Social distancing was actually hard on us parties of one because so much casual seating was done away with in order to provide adequately spaced tables for groups.

The last time I was in this pub, before the COVID-19 shutdown of March 2020, I was waiting on the results of my autism diagnosis. So last weekend was my first back in my old routine since the diagnosis.

Nothing has changed. I still feel like I don’t quite fit in — that I will never be one of the regulars. But I am no longer going to let that spoil the experience. Every once in a while, I do manage to have an enjoyable conversation with a stranger. I don’t think that will happen today. But I have my phone — so can pass the time blogging.

Executive function OK – for a change

Executive function has been failing me too often of late. But the last few days have reassured me that there are situations I navigate as well as anyone else, if not better.

Seattle has just been through a record-setting heatwave, with the temperature topping out at around 42C (108F) on Monday, the third day in a row that temperatures broke 100F. Like most Seattlites, I live without air conditioning AND my top floor apartment soaks up the heat all day long and is very slow to cool down overnight. I have been through several big heatwaves in the nineteen years I have lived in this apartment, but nothing like this one.

On Thursday, while temperatures were still unremarkable, I stocked up at the grocery store so that I would not have to go out for several days. (Going to the grocery store involves a long walk up a steep hill with little shade.) I pulled out the two long, baggy shirts that I wear around my apartment during hot weather. And I loaded up my iPod Touch with podcasts.

My living room has a large window which faces south-southeast, so it warms up very early in the day. But my front door is in an alcove that opens on the opposite site of the building which is in shade until late afternoon — so it can be quite pleasant to sit out there until around 3pm. So I set up my folding table and chair and did several hours of writing on my iPad on Saturday and Sunday morning. I made great progress on a novel I started a couple of months ago. But eventually I had to come back inside.

The only thing to do was lie down in the bedroom and listen to podcasts. The window faces east-northeast, and so that room is rather cave-like in the afternoon with the blinds closed. I wish that could make it cooler, but by the afternoon it is the most comfortable part of my apartment. Temperatures were high enough that running a fan just makes you hotter – unless you are soaked with cold water. I always keep plastic bottles of frozen water in my freezer. They are a good emergency supply of water. And in hot weather, I like to have a couple out near the fan to cool the air as it blows over them. Moisture in the air readily condenses on them, so every few minutes I can wipe my hand over them and get a nice amount of ice cold water to splash over me. When the ice in the bottles was almost melted (something that happened alarmingly quickly) I put them back in the freezer and brought out two frozen ones. And each time I went to the kitchen I made another cup of ginger-lemon tea to pour over ice in a twenty-ounce beaker.

Heatwaves at this time of the year are the worst because sunset is at 9:11pm so it is not dark until almost 10pm. But once the sun goes down, my building usually starts to feel a breeze from the water, and I relocated to my chair outside the front door to listen to podcasts there. Unfortunately, if cool air does find its way into my apartment it does not stay cool very long because of all the stored heat being radiated from the wall, but eventually the cool air does win. So I prepared to sleep on the floor of my living room right by the front door — with the door propped slightly ajar and a fan pulling air in. And I soaked a t-shirt in cold water to drape across me. Each night I woke up around 2am feeling sufficiently comfortable to discard the damp t-shirt and cover myself properly with a sheet.

On Monday, the hottest day, I started work (at home) around 6:30am and stopped around noon. But I checked email every hour or so, and unfortunately there was something that needed my attention at 3:30pm. Once I was done with that, I signed off and closed up the laptop.

Yesterday morning (Tuesday), I woke up at 2am and was actually cold. A marine push from the Pacific Ocean had finally shoved that heat dome to the east and north. I was able to turn off the fan and close the door. And I knew the worst was over.

I had been worried about my cat, because she is seventeen. But she did fine, sleeping in a spot that obviously worked for her and getting up occasionally to eat, drink and use the litter box. I basically emulated her behavior. I was lucky not to have the power go out on me at all. There were several isolated power outages in Seattle. My modem did get rather hot, so I kept a fan blowing on it. My iPod Touch ran hot also, so I propped it up against the fan that was blowing air on me.

While I was lying down in my sweltering apartment, I did think of less fortunate people: those who were working; those who had someplace they needed to travel; those who live far from the evening breezes by the water; those who lost electric power for hours; those who could not feel safe going to sleep with windows and the front door open. (And hundreds of people ended up dying.) All I really needed to do to take care of myself was lie down and keep still, splash cold water on myself, and keep the iced tea coming. But it was tough, all the same.

I hope I never have to go through this ever again. But I must admit that I rather enjoyed the enforced downtime. Some of the podcasts I listened to really helped me regroup after the anxiety of the last few weeks. And I am very happy with the writing I did. A difficult chapter suddenly found a direction I had not even though of a week ago. I feel motivated to finish this novel so that the inspiration does not go to waste.

I think I did OK.

Not much to ask

A simple job with minimal responsibility that does not demand endless professional development and study. A little room that I can afford in a reasonably safe neighborhood within walking distance of work. Sharing a bathroom is OK as long as my room is my own and can be locked. It makes me sad that such an arrangement is pretty much impossible today.

Once a week my employer gives me a check and I stand in line at the bank to deposit it and get some cash. In between, I just use my card at an ATM. Once a month, the bank sends me a statement and I make sure it looks correct. No logins/passwords to worry about.

In my room there is a radio which picks up interesting stations that air more than just music, sports, news and traffic. That is also pretty hard to find. Every week, I go to the library to exchange books. Thankfully, that is something that is still available!

At the end of the street, there is a pub that I go to quite often. Because I am autistic, I am never able to make much headway into the inner circle of regulars. But everyone knows my face and what I drink and where I like to sit — and a few people even know my name and talk to me every now and then. It is enough. I take a book to read or a notebook to write for when I end up sitting by myself.

I wish this could happen.

Turned up to 11

Executive function has failed me terribly these last two weeks and I am pretty much a nervous wreck from it all. For a few days I even had trouble eating — and that is very unusual for me. I really don’t think I have to contend with any challenges that other people do not face. In fact, I know many people who have way much more on their plate than I do. But I think autism has a way of amplifying the stress — and it just builds day upon day with no relief in sight. Each night when I go to bed, I hope to wake up feeling even just a little improved — but I do not.

The other problem is that I do not really have a support system. I am not close to my family and do not have any close friends. So I go through everything alone. There are times when I could really use someone sitting next to me as I embark on a task that stresses me out. No matter how many times I read and re-read instructions, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will miss a step or do things in the wrong order. I really need someone to read out the directions to me, one step at a time, and make sure I do it all correctly.

I haven’t had much time to indulge in the things that comfort and reassure me: working on my jigsaw puzzle while listening to podcasts; trying to learn Spanish on Duolingo; and writing, either this blog or a funny novel I started last month. I hope to get back into all of those things this weekend.

Meanwhile, I think the can of wine I put on the fridge should be cold enough to enjoy now.

Personal best

A month ago I returned to Twitter after an absence of around a year. My life had rather moved on in the meantime, so I unfollowed a lot of accounts and found some more fun things to follow instead. And it has been fun!

But I still have a hard time inserting myself into a dynamic that is already well established — so I mainly just read and like what other people post. Occasionally, I will comment. On the rare occasional that I do post, I might get one or two Likes. But usually I get ignored.

However, two days ago I posted something. And it has already racked up twenty-six Likes. Believe it or not, that is actually a personal best for me! I have had several Twitter accounts since 2011 and have been blogging since 2005. And I do not recall EVER racking up a double-digit Likes count.

I know it is sad. But I am considering it a victory 💫

Bifocal procrastination

My vision has seriously deteriorated in the last year without my really noticing.

In my youth, I had excellent vision, unlike my poor sister who when asked to read the letters on the chart said, “What chart?” But around the time I turned thirty, my husband noticed me making faces when I attempted to read certain things and suggested I needed reading glasses. I bought some mild reading glasses from the drugstore to wear while using my laptop. It definitely made my eyes work less hard — but when I looked away from the screen to consult paperwork on my desk, everything else was a blur. And I never got the hang of tilting my head and looking over the top of the glasses (the frames were very large), so I abandoned them.

Fast forward to age forty-two, and I am working a retail job. And I am seriously challenged by the Alaska drivers license, which back then, was printed in a very small and faint typeface that contrasted badly with the color of the background. I needed to read the license, because Alaska residents are exempt from paying sales tax in Washington, and this requires entering information from the license when ringing up the sale. One day, the customer kindly offered me the use of his glasses! Over the next few days, I noticed some other limitations of my vision. Retail work is challenging on the eyes, because you have close work with the POS system — but then you need to quickly switch to looking across the store, perhaps to direct a customer to something while you are chained to the counter. And my eyes were taking a long time to make that focal adjustment. So I realized it was time to wear glasses.

I had insurance at the time so I decided to get progressive lenses. My distance vision was still excellent, but the optometrist applied a very mild prescription to the top of the lens. Given the nature of my job, he suggested it would be helpful. I got lucky with these lenses and adjusted to them easily. For the first day, I felt like I was ten feet tall. And for about a week, printed lines were curved instead of straight and vertical surfaces appeared to lean over me. But my brain made the adjustments without causing nausea or headaches. The glasses flattered me very well and life was suddenly much easier.

Those progressive lenses served me very well for four years, but then they were not strong enough at the bottom for close work. I no longer had insurance, so replacing them with prescription lenses was something I could not afford. But I was inspired by the current Doctor Who (David Tennant) who carried a pair of readers in his pocket and put them on when needed. And I have followed that model for the last twelve years, keeping multiple pairs (2.50 strength) in different places. I have not noticed any deterioration of my close vision. However, I have been aware that distance of the “far-sightedness” has been increasing. There was a time that I could read anything if I held it arm’s length. My arms became too short many years ago! And while I could once easily read materials posted on walls, they now appear blurred. And on a recent bus ride into downtown Seattle, I was disturbed to find that the overhead signs on the highway now appear blurred. I have been happy to rely on the drugstore reading glasses on the assumption that my distance vision is fine. But I am beginning to realize that assumption may not longer be valid.

I still do not have insurance that covers vision, but my employer contributes to a Health Saving Account which I can tap to pay for an exam and progressive lenses. But I have known so many people who have had trouble with progressive lenses, having to go back for multiple tweaks and adjustments before getting an acceptable result — and experiencing headaches and/or nausea along the way. I am genuinely worried that I just got incredibly lucky with mine! Making and keeping appointments is something I dread in the best of times. And the thought of going through that under Covid-19 restrictions is really off-putting.

Bifocals are an alternative, of course. I actually have a pair of bifocal sunglasses that I bought at a gift shop. (I wish regular bifocal reading glasses were available in shops where you can test them first.) I never feel self-conscious wearing bifocal sunglasses. Because they are sunglasses and rather stylish, they look really cool. But I suspect I would feel different wearing prescription bifocals. Nothing screams OLD like bifocal glasses. There are line-free bifocals, but the transition area can present the same problems as progressive lenses. My inner rebel (there is one buried deep down) wants to just go with bifocals and wear them with pride. Now that I know I am autistic, perhaps I can give myself permission to do that.

As long as I am working from home and not going out much, my trusty reading glasses are continuing to serve me well. So it is hard getting motivated to take that first step of making an appointment for an eye exam.

But I cannot keep doing the David-Tennant-Doctor-reading-glasses thing for much longer!