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It’s kind of like being in the shower for eight hours a day…

May 16, 2022, 8:16 PM

It’s interesting how jobs work sometimes.  As many of you know, I work as a train operator, operating a subway train in passenger service.  This is a job that I had imagined myself doing for a long time, and it still amazes me that I actually get to do it.  But no one ever tells you what the experience is like when you’re in the train cab all by yourself in a tunnel underneath the city.

When I was in class learning how to be a train operator, our instructor told us that it was an easy job, but that it was also a boring job.  However, all throughout training, an experienced operator is always in the cab with you, and as such, you’re never alone with your thoughts.  There is always someone nearby to interact with, plus, since you’re just learning the job, you’re thinking about the mechanics of the job a lot because it’s has not yet become second nature.  So that “boring” aspect never really comes into play.  Even in my case, where one of my instructors said that I was a natural in regards to my ability to operate the train, I still had to think a lot about what I was doing because I had not yet internalized it all.  It wasn’t just a matter of sitting down and going to town like it is for me now, six years later.  The mechanics of the job are pretty simple: fire up the train, move the master controller to control your speed, monitor the radio, scan the tracks for any hazards, make good announcements to the passengers, and open and close the doors at the stations.  It’s really not a hard job by any means.

Once you get comfortable in the job, and the movements come more naturally, that’s when you really get to experience what it’s like to operate a subway train.  And it’s also when you learn what your mind is capable of doing when it is left alone for long periods of time with minimal distractions.  It’s kind of like being in the shower, in that you are alone with a task to accomplish, and that task is all that there is to do while you’re in there.

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Categories: Myself, Schumin Web meta, Work

I never thought that I would actually look forward to spring…

March 20, 2022, 3:24 PM

Let’s be honest: this winter was brutal for me. This was the first winter in a very long time where I truly felt cold. After going from the upper 300s to the lower 200s in weight, with a goal weight of 185 (we’ll get there!), this winter made the weight loss feel very real. I suppose that this is to be expected when you shed most of your insulation, but expecting it didn’t make me feel any warmer for it. This is even more so when you consider that I work in a job where I spend a decent amount of time out in the elements, and therefore have plenty of exposure to the cold.  I suspect that I understand why they don’t tell you about this part of losing weight when you are going through the pre-work for weight loss surgery, because the prospect of being cold all winter long might scare some folks off. All I know is that I certainly miss the days when I could go out and do some very long photography sessions at night in the dead of winter, and be just fine with a coat, a hat, and a pair of gloves. Nowadays, to go out in winter, I feel like I need eight hundred layers of clothing and heated everything. I remember my efforts at doing some night photography in Atlantic City back in January. Sub-freezing temperatures coupled with wind chilled me to the bone. I lasted long enough to get a few photos of Resorts before tapping out. I was just too cold.

I think that this screencap from when my cousin Mike was on the TV news a few years ago talking about a polar vortex event sums it up quite nicely:

Mike Schumin: Hates the cold.
Mike Schumin: Hates the cold. Continue reading...Continue reading…

Categories: Weight loss

Twenty-two years on the ground and counting…

February 24, 2022, 4:21 PM

Recently, I was thinking about things, and I realized exactly how much time has passed since the last time I went flying: 22 years and eight months.  The last time I was in the air was on August 10, 1999, coming home from my 1999 trip to Toronto.  Photos of this final flight exist:

Flying from Philadelphia to Charlottesville  Landing in Charlottesville

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Categories: Airplanes, Myself, Vacations

At last, it came to visit us…

January 29, 2022, 3:18 PM

Over Christmas, Elyse and I were in the bag, so to speak.  We both came down with some pretty nasty colds.  I had congestion that I could feel all the way down into my lungs, a headache, a fever, a general sense of fatigue, and not much else.  Elyse had similar, as well as a loss of taste and smell, which I did not have.  I ended up missing four days of work for it, which, along with my regular days off, had me out of play for the entire six days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

What we had remained a mystery.  We suspected that it was probably COVID-19, or as we’ve taken to calling it, “The Ronies,” but we were unable to book an appointment for either a PCR or rapid test, nor were we able to purchase one online, because at the time, the recommendation was for everyone to get tested for any or no reason, and people were eating it right up.  We also respected ourselves more than to wait in a line for hours just to rule in or rule out a diagnosis when we already felt as bad as we did.  In other words, going out and getting tested wasn’t going to help us get better any faster, and would probably have the opposite effect, making us feel worse than we already did and causing a lot of unnecessary stress.  I didn’t need that, especially when you consider that I had spent much of at least two of those days that I was out sick asleep in my bed.  We ultimately decided that with a test for an active infection out of the question because of availability issues, we would get an antibody test via blood draw later on to rule COVID in or out after the fact.

In the meantime, with no test to rule the Ronies in or out, we both decided to just treat it like we would any other cold, and drink lots of water, get lots of rest, and do what we could to get through it.  Let’s just say that generic DayQuil and generic NyQuil were our best friends, along with Advil® brand Advil (because I like that candy coating on the name brand stuff).  I also once again got to experience the joy that is “fever dreams“, which are even weirder than the usual dreams.  The best feeling in the world, meanwhile, was when my fever finally broke.  Post-fever perspiration feels awesome, not because of the sweating itself, but because it means that the worst is over, and I would be feeling better again very soon.

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Categories: COVID-19, Personal health

The master at work…

November 14, 2021, 8:52 PM

Most of the time, when I’m doing photography, I only get to see the end result, which typically ends up on my Flickr page, along with other places.  It’s far less common for me to see candid shots of myself, just because I’m usually the one doing all of the photographing.  But when you go on a trip that is explicitly photography-oriented, and when everyone is shooting, I end up seeing some candid shots of myself.  Recently, from October 15-21, Elyse and I went on a trip to North Carolina and Hampton Roads, where we photographed a lot of stuff, some familiar, and some less familiar.  The parts of North Carolina that we visited were almost entirely new territory for both of us, while Hampton Roads was a more familiar setting.  In North Carolina, we got together with my friend Patrick, whom I’ve known for a very long time, and had a quick meetup with another friend who formerly lived in the DC area.  Then in Hampton Roads, we spent time with Aaron and Evan Stone.  I’m not going to go into too much detail about the trip itself right now, because I’m working on a much larger photo set about the adventure for the Life and Times section, so for all of the details, stay tuned, but it will be a while before it releases, because it’s going to be a big one.  In any case, some of these shots are posed, but a lot of them are candid.  If it tells you anything, when Elyse and I were reviewing them on the big screen in the living room, we put on “Yakety Sax” and laughed a lot.

In any case, here they are.  These shots were all taken by Elyse, unless otherwise noted.

Group selfie at the North Carolina welcome center on I-95 southbound.  From left to right, there's Elyse, Woomy, David (a clownfish), and me.
Group selfie at the North Carolina welcome center on I-95 southbound.  From left to right, there’s Elyse, Woomy, David (a clownfish), and me.

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My story from an unforgettable day…

September 8, 2021, 10:31 AM

I can’t believe that this Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, otherwise known as 9/11.  I still remember that day like it was yesterday, even though so much has gone on in the intervening two decades.  They say that everyone can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they found out about 9/11, much like the people of my parents’ generation and the Kennedy assassination.

Back then, I was a junior at JMU, and I was working as a resident advisor in Potomac Hall.  It was the third week of classes, and everyone was getting settled into a nice routine.  Being a Tuesday, I didn’t have any classes until 2 PM, so I was able to sleep a little later.  I was awakened around 9:30 AM by a knock on my door, as one of my residents had accidentally locked themselves out of their room.  I put on a bathrobe over my pajamas, and we went down to the hall office, where I completed the paperwork for the lockout (everyone got two free lockouts in a year, and any subsequent lockouts were subject to a fee), and then gave them the spare key to their room so that they could let themselves in.  I impressed on them to immediately come back down to the hall office after letting themselves back in their room in order to return the spare key, because I would be sitting in there waiting for them to come back so that I wouldn’t accidentally leave any room key business unfinished.  My hall director, Mecca Marsh, was a tough boss to work for, and she did not take kindly to any mistakes.  She treated any oversight or error as the worst thing that you could ever do, going so far as to bean you in your performance evaluation for even the most minor of errors, so if I suffered a little inconvenience in order to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with Mecca over something, that was fine.  So I waited down there and found a way to entertain myself, probably for about five or so minutes, until they came back with the key.  Then I put everything back as it needed to be and headed back upstairs.  At that time, I was still oblivious to any sort of world events.  As far as I knew, it was just a normal Tuesday.

After this, I had another matter of business to attend to.  The night before, there was a pretty bad backup in one of the toilets on my floor that I had to deal with, as that fell under the scope of my responsibilities.  The toilet got plunged a bit, but ultimately, I had to tape the stall door closed and mark it as out of order, because it was beyond our capabilities as RAs to fix.  I took the plunger, which belonged to housekeeping, with me that night, in order to return it to our housekeeper, a lady named Kathy.  I hadn’t seen Kathy on my floor from the elevator to my room, so I dipped into my room, grabbed the plunger, and continued looking.  She wasn’t anywhere on my floor, and so I went up the stairs to the fifth floor.  I went down the hall to the TV lounge, and found Kathy in there.  I went in, gave her the plunger, and then looked over at the television.

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Categories: Events, JMU, Myself

Does this count as “over 40” problems?

July 18, 2021, 11:27 PM

FYI, this Journal entry discusses gross body functions in personal places.  If you’re squeamish about such things, you might want to skip this one.  Otherwise, here we go…

This past Friday, I went in for some minor surgery to fix a small problem.  Back in April, I had developed what turned out to be an abscess on my backside.  I didn’t quite know what it was for a while, and was doing what they say that you shouldn’t do, and looked up my symptoms on Google.  It seems like every time you google your symptoms, it always comes back as a heart attack, and therefore, you need to get your tail to the emergency room right now.  But I knew better.  Even controlling for definitely-not-a-heart-attack, though, I still got inconclusive results, i.e. Dr. Google had no clue what it was.  All the while, this thing was uncomfortable.  At its peak, it was so painful that it was difficult to sit.  And considering that my job is performed from a seated position, that point really made for a long day.  At one point, I tried squeezing it, and pus came out of it.  That made me feel a little better for a little while, but it quickly filled back up and continued to hurt.  Eventually it started to drain on its own without any prompting from me.  That felt a little better because there was no more pressure, but it was still painful, and now it was draining all the time and making a mess in my underwear, even soaking through my pants on occasion, which is not a good thing by any means.  I don’t like having to choose my outfits based on thickness and color of material in order to prevent embarrassing abscess leaks from showing up.

I eventually went to an urgent care facility, and there, the doctor diagnosed it as a cutaneous abscess, and prescribed a course of antibiotics (Bactrim) for it.  According to the urgent care doctor, the abscess should take care of itself without any further intervention.  As it would turn out, the antibiotic took care of the infection in very short order, but the drain opening remained, and things kept on draining, albeit with less volume than before, which kept the leakage contained to my underwear and not going through my pants anymore.  I figured that some drainage was normal, considering that I had just had a big abscess that was being treated.  But then it kept on going, even after the infection had subsided, and after I finished up all of the antibiotics.  I kept holding out some hope for a while that it would resolve on its own, but it never did.

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Categories: Matthew, Personal health, Woomy

My first time eating at a real restaurant in a very long time…

July 9, 2021, 3:50 PM

Recently, on a trip to Staunton, I had my first meal in a full-service restaurant since my weight loss surgery in December 2019.  We were visiting family, as my sister and her husband were in from Chicago.  So our party consisted of Elyse and me, my sister and her husband Chris, our parents, and Chris’s parents.  Nice group all around.  We ate at Zynodoa, which is a higher tier restaurant than I typically go to, but it was a good experience overall.

I would say that the timing of things tended to work against restaurants in general.  I had my surgery on December 6, 2019, and so things were still healing for most of December.  I was figuring out through trial and error about what foods would be tolerated by my body, and also determining portion sizes.  When Elyse and I would go out, we typically would stop in at a grocery store with a food bar if we needed to eat, like Harris Teeter, Wegmans, or Whole Foods.  I was typically able to get out of there for about five bucks (I would jokingly refer to myself as a cheap date).  Doing that allowed me to try out a variety of different foods, and only get the amounts that I needed (remember, my tummy is tiny now).

Then the pandemic restrictions came along, which took eating in restaurants out of the picture entirely.  I’ve never been one to do take-out from restaurants.  If I’m eating food from a sit-down restaurant, I’m more than likely going to be eating it at the restaurant.  If I’m getting it to go, I’m going somewhere else, like a grocery store or something else cheaper than a full restaurant.  Thus if I couldn’t eat on the premises because of various rules in place, a full restaurant was of no use to me.  And if I’m getting food to take home, I might as well just eat the food that I already have at home.  All of that said, the pandemic rules came about while I was still forming new habits after having my surgery, and that meant that full-service restaurants were more or less out of the picture, i.e. they didn’t exist as far as I was concerned.

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I am now in my forties…

June 4, 2021, 3:42 PM

This past Sunday, I turned 40.  I remember the first time that I heard about someone turning 40.  In that case, it was Uncle Johnny, i.e. Mom’s brother, back when I was still in my single digits.  That age sounded so old for someone who was in elementary school.  It was more than four times the age that I was at the time, and seemed so far off.  And now I’m there.  Uncle Johnny, meanwhile, is now in his seventies, and he and Aunt Beth are retired and living their best life.

My actual birthday, meanwhile, was pretty quiet, by my choice.  At work, it’s in our union contract that we are guaranteed to have our birthday off as a “floating holiday”, but I opted to work on my birthday and take the holiday the next day in order to have a three-day weekend.  This was also a bit of a weird birthday, because I definitely had a mental hang-up about turning 40.  I watched all of my classmates from high school post about turning 40 on Facebook, and I couldn’t help but think that it felt wrong for all of these young people that I went to school with to be turning 40.  I didn’t really want to turn 40, because 40 felt old.  You weren’t “young” anymore, but instead were “middle aged”.  Funny thing, though, is that I have one friend who acted like his life was practically over when he turned 40 a few years ago, and I had to reassure him that it wasn’t the case, and here I was having a hang-up myself over “40 is old”.  The morning of my birthday, I woke up, thought to myself, I’m 40!, mentally groaned for a moment, and then rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour.

But then after I got to work, I got to thinking (operating the train gives you lots of time to think), and I realized that I was 40, but I didn’t feel any different than I did the day before, when I was still 39.  I soon came to realize that it was going to be okay. I didn’t feel old.  I felt just as good as ever.  Sure, I have a few lines where there were no lines before, and a lot of things sag now (mainly from the weight loss), and I have to hold things a little bit further away from my face in order to read them than I used to, but all in all, I’m doing pretty well.  But don’t get me wrong – I still hate birthday greetings.

So now that I’m in my forties, here’s to another decade of adventures, I suppose.

Categories: Birthdays, Myself

The things that we rationalize as children…

November 22, 2020, 10:39 PM

Sometimes it’s fun to think back about what mental connections you made in younger years that you probably should not have, i.e. rationalizing things based on incomplete or wrong information.  I want to say that I’ve always filled in gaps and such myself, and when I eventually learn the truth, it always makes me laugh to think about what I had once believed.

Right offhand, I remember how I used to think that “gross” was spelled when I was a child.  Now mind you, I had never seen the word written down before, but I had heard my mother use the term plenty of times.  I like to think that I had a fairly decent grasp on the English language even as a child, so I took a good guess.  In my mind, I thought it was spelled “groce”, which to me makes a lot of sense.  After all, “grocery” has that spelling, and is pronounced the same way.  And words that end in -oss are typically have an “aw” sound for that vowel than a long “o” sound, like boss, cross, gauss, and moss.  “Gross” doesn’t fit.  I remember when I saw the word in print for the first time, and was informed that it was “gross”, I remember thinking, oh, that’s how it’s spelled?  Weird.  “Groce” still seems more logical for me, but clearly, I’m not going to win this one.  I do tend to say, “G-R-O-C-E gross,” as in spelling it out the way I think it should be spelled and then saying the word, when the situation merits it.  You may recall in a Journal entry about soda from 2017 that I used this phrase.  That’s where it comes from.

Then there’s the opposite situation, where there were words that I had seen in writing but had never heard pronounced.  I remember reading about bones in Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia, Volume 1, which a children’s book all about the body.  It was a good book, and I learned a lot from it.  About bones, they said that while the outside of our bones are hard, the insides are “soft and spongy”.  I had never made the connection between this word and a sponge before, and so I assumed that it was pronounced in a similar way to bong or thong.  I also assumed based on context that “spongy” was something related to softness, and so I was able to work around the unknown word well enough and keep it moving.  When Mom eventually set me straight on the word, it suddenly made the passage in the book make a lot more sense, but I admit that I missed my original pronunciation.

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Categories: Childhood

A weight loss update…

October 14, 2020, 11:18 PM

A friend of mine recently mentioned that I had not given any significant update on my weight loss progress since January, a month after I had my gastric sleeve surgery.  So I suppose that it’s high time that I gave an update.  After all, it’s been ten months since the surgery, and things have progressed since then.  Compare the April splash photo (which was taken on February 3) against the October splash photo, and you’ll see a difference:

Splash photo from April 2020 (taken on February 3)

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Vegetable smoothies?

July 1, 2020, 5:20 PM

For a while now, Elyse and I had been coming up with ways to use up certain food items in the house that we were not going through.  It stems from the way that my eating has changed ever since I had the sleeve surgery back in December.  Ever since then, I can’t eat a regular-sized meal anymore, and haven’t eaten off of a regular-sized plate in a very long time.  If I’m eating off of a plate, it’s one of the small plates, but more commonly, I eat out of a six-ounce ramekin, or out of a mug.  That works for me for the most part, but with such limited capacity, I end up getting my protein in, but I haven’t been as good about vegetables.  Typically, for vegetables, I try to throw some in when I make eggs, and then I also get it in when I make that vegan chili that I like.  But I want to say that just that is probably insufficient, and so the thought came up about how to (A) get more vegetables in, and (B) use up several large bags of broccoli and California mix that have been sitting in my basement freezer ever since before the surgery.

So Elyse and I thought about making smoothies with what we have around the house.  The idea seemed reasonable enough.  I have a Ninja blender, and there was food that needed a purpose.  The idea was to put it in and grind it up.  The bag of vegetables that was on the top in the freezer was the broccoli:

A big bag of Bird's Eye broccoli

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It’s been a month since the sleeve…

January 19, 2020, 2:05 PM

It has been a little more than a month since I had the gastric sleeve surgery.  As of my one-month follow-up appointment with the doctor on January 7, I had lost 23 pounds since the surgery.  That is on top of the 16 pounds that I lost while I was on the pre-op liquid diet, for a total of 39 pounds lost in about six weeks.  Not bad.  I will get weighed next in the middle of February when I have my DOT physical, and so I’ll see how my weight loss is continuing at that time.

The time in the hospital was certainly an interesting experience, and my discussion of it in a previous Journal entry was a bit inadequate, since I was not quite feeling like myself again when I wrote it.  I’ve also learned a few things since then about what I experienced that I didn’t know at the time.  For one thing, I realized that the reason that I hurt all over was from the gas that they use with the laparoscopy.  As part of that process, they pump your abdomen full of carbon dioxide, and that stuff has to go somewhere once the surgery is over.  When everyone said “gas pains” about the surgery, I was expecting something more akin to bloating like when you eat something that doesn’t agree with you.  You know the kind where you go into the bathroom, you produce a little tiny Brazil nut-sized poop and then just fart a lot but feel better afterward?  That’s what I was expecting.  This was not that.  It turns out that the body has to absorb that gas, and it makes everything hurt, including things that had nothing to do with the surgery.  My upper back was sore.  My shoulders were sore.  My calves were sore, too.  It went away after a couple of days, but it definitely made for an unpleasant night at the hospital, since I was sore from that, and all of the stuff that they had attached to me made it difficult to move around in the bed.  Let’s just say that I was thankful to sleep in my own bed again the following night.  That pain from the gas was a lot more manageable when I was in familiar surroundings and not hooked up to a bunch of stuff.

You’ve also got to love the things that you say while you’re under the influence of the various things that they have you on in the hospital.  They gave me all kinds of anti-nausea meds, for one, but then when it was time to go into the operating room, they gave me some stuff through my IV that made me a bit loopy just before wheeling me in.  I got into the operating room, and I was thinking, oooooooooooh, look at the pretty lights as I studied all of the reflectors on them.  Then when they gave me the gas to put me out, all I could think of was that I wasn’t feeling sleepy.  Then the next thing that I remembered, it was done.  Later, as two nurses were wheeling me to my room on a stretcher, my hospital gown was apparently disheveled, because they asked me if my testicles were swollen.  I said, “No, I just have long nuts.”  I imagine that the nurses kind of died a little inside when I said that, but I suppose that such is what happens when the anesthesia is wearing off, because I certainly wouldn’t say that in real life.  But it made for a good laugh later on.

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Categories: Weight loss

My second experiment with facial hair…

January 5, 2020, 8:53 AM

Friday, January 3 concluded my second experiment in growing facial hair.  You may recall my first in October 2009, when I let my whiskers grow during a two-week vacation (16 days’ total growth), and then shaved it off at the end.  This time around, Elyse and I made a deal that I wouldn’t shave while I was at home recovering from my recent surgery, with the day of surgery’s being my last shave.  The agreement was that I wouldn’t shave again until either I couldn’t stand it anymore, or I went back to work, whichever came first.  As it turned out, I was able to go with it for the full period that I was out, which meant that I had 29 days’ worth of facial hair by the time that I shaved.  This is what a month’s worth of facial hair growth looks like on me:

The final beard, after 29 days of growth

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Categories: Myself

Christmas in Baltimore…

December 29, 2019, 8:35 AM

So Christmas was pretty fun this year.  On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with some of Elyse’s father’s relatives, and then on Christmas Day, we got together with some of Elyse’s mother’s relatives.  This was my first holiday with my new, smaller stomach, and so I was still getting used to its new capacity, figuring out how much I should take, what will be tolerated, and so on.  I believe that I overdid it by a tad on Christmas Eve, likely by eating foods that I wasn’t ready for yet, but I more or less nailed it on Christmas.  When you have a gastric sleeve like I did, you have to chew everything really well, and also not drink and eat at the same time.  Generally speaking, you have to give your stomach time to process the food that it just took in before resuming liquid intake.  Also, if you put too much in at once, it will get rejected, either by getting sent through to the intestines, or it’s coming back up.  But anyway…

After dinner on Christmas, Elyse and I went planespotting near BWI.  We had discusssed doing this for some time, even before our planespotting adventure at National, and on this particular occasion, it just worked out.  We were already in the Glen Burnie area, I had my real camera with me, and we had about an hour or so of daylight to play with.  The location where you typically planespot for BWI is actually specially designated for that purpose: the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.  It’s a very nice area that’s operated by Anne Arundel County, with a walking trail, playground equipment for the kids, and plenty of space to watch planes take off and land.  On this particular day, planes were landing over the park, and so I got some landing photos.  When it comes to planespotting at BWI, it can, for the most part, be summed up in one word: Southwest.  BWI is a focus city for Southwest, and as such, sees more Southwest traffic than anything else, and that also means a lot of Boeing 737s.

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