August 16, 2016

Lost in the trees

I started playing disc golf, cause Lord knows I need another hobby.

Matt and Jenica took me out for my first round a few weeks ago. It was one of those activities that had been sitting at the back of my brain for some time. Years ago, Buzz and I would go to a park and throw the Frisbee back and forth. It was a good excuse to just get outside and catch up on things - talk about nothing and everything.

Anyway, disc golf was pretty different than expected. I had traditional golf in my head as I showed up, so I imagined clubhouses, tee times and grass fairways. Not so much. The course we played wound through the woods with lots of trees between tee and hole. Unlike traditional golf, you can't just step up to the tee and try and hit it as hard and straight as you can. You have to thread an opening or bank your disc around pines and maples.

There were lots of distinctive "thunks" when I hit trees squarely, and several times when I thought I had nailed a shot, only to see the disc clip a branch and veer sharply, but it was a great time. I played with a disc borrowed from Matt, but we saw guys carrying around ten or more discs in a backpack, specific discs for specific shots. Like any sport or hobby, you can make it as complicated as you want, but I settled for buying a couple of $10 discs the following week. With no charge to play at most courses, it is about the cheapest hobby I could add to the collection.

After work last Friday, I decided to check out a course in Kirkland. It winds through the campus of Northwest University. I didn't even know the college existed, much less the disc golf course. Like the course in Bothell, it wasn't entirely clear where to start, or where the next tee was after each hole. No signs or golf cart path to follow. The course was much more open, though, with only the fourth hole being heavily wooded. The openness should have made it much easier, but I guess the combination of beginner's luck decreasing and expectations rising meant I wouldn't do as well. Still, another good time.

As I opened my car door to head home for dinner, I realized I didn't have my eyeglasses. They had been in my shirt pocket while I was wearing my sunglasses, but they must have flown out on a throw, or fell out when I bent over to pick up one of my shots. Panic started to rise, but I assured myself that I would find them. Not only is the course relatively free of underbrush, but the grass was either dormant or cut short, so the glasses wouldn't be hidden away in any US Open style rough.

I walked the course, remembering pretty well where my throws had gone. I moved briskly, hoping to find them before anyone else had a chance to step on them inadvertently. Eyes scanning left and right, looking for a flash of blue or a reflection of glass. When I saw other "golfers", I let them know I was looking.

I made it through all nine holes without seeing anything other than occasional strips of blue tape lying in the grass. I started over and walked more slowly, sweeping my gaze on a wider swath. When I got to the wooded fourth hole, I pawed through the underbrush in case the glasses flew out on that one throw. Still nothing. I walked the course a third time, walking the width of each fairway this time, even when I knew I did not go anywhere near one side or another. The third time was not the charm.

I wrote up a quick sign on a bit of paper bag and stuck it to the sign at the first tee. I went back to the forth hole one last time with a flashlight to see if I could find a reflection in the bushes, but all I found were beer bottles. I went home with fading hopes and the realization of what I had lost. This is only my second pair of glasses, but I had uncharacteristically splurged. In my head on the drive home, I thought it would be $600 to replace them. When I looked up the receipt later to try and find the model number, I realized it would be closer to $900 or $1,000 without insurance this time around. This $20 hobby just got very expensive on the second time out.

In a past life, I would have verbally berated myself for being so stupid and careless, but as I have written before, I have turned a corner on this behavior. This would be an expensive example, but maybe that guy is (nearly) gone.

I found a picture of my glasses online and made up some fliers. Saturday morning, I posted them on the first and fourth tees as well as on doors of some of the university buildings. After posting the fliers, I went for a run along the Kirkland waterfront and new cross-city trail (I am way behind on marathon training). Of course, I had left my water bottles in the fridge before heading out, so I was continuing the trend of knucklehead moves.

After getting in about ten miles and grabbing some breakfast I headed home. As I pulled into my driveway, my phone rang. It was the security guy from the university, and he had my glasses. After a quick shower I dashed out there. He was out on patrol when I got there, but he had stashed them in a hidden spot for me. I didn't get a chance to find out where they were found, but I left $60 as a thank you.

Very fortunate to have made it through the weekend with a pretty inexpensive lesson. Like leaving myself Post-It Notes on my bike to remember my water bottles, I may need to find some routine or reminder whenever I take my glasses off. Or maybe I will bring back those sweet 1980s cords to hang my glasses around my neck.

July 9, 2016

Looking to meet my match

At forty eight, I realized I had never been on a date. Well, not really. I have certainly dated some lovely women in my life, but it dawned on me that I hadn’t been on any real dates with people I was just getting to know. The women I have dated I have known from work or through a mutual friend. I went on what was essentially my first date back in February with someone I had met at a wedding. She was a perfectly lovely person, but after three dates it seemed that there wasn’t enough of a spark to continue.

So now a few months later at forty nine, I have thrown my hat in the online dating pool. It has been a bit of a weird experience so far. Not only am I a novice at dating in general, but the online aspect adds another layer of oddities. Like anyone who has signed up for Facebook, you are actively giving up some of your privacy with any dating site. As someone who has been posting semi-intimate details of his life on a public blog for several years, the initial act of putting my stuff out there on another site was not that big a deal, but there are new layers that I was surprised by.

You start by putting up one or several pictures of yourself. Naturally, you try to put pictures up that are not only flattering, but give some insight of who you are. All the decent photos of me were either from a run, a bike ride, or out in the woods on backpacking trip, so that worked out nicely. After putting up a dozen pictures though, I realized that I didn’t have glasses on in any of the photos. Trying to be as accurate as possible (apparently people lie on these things), I stepped out into my backyard and took a quick selfie.

Below the pictures is a section where you write a few words/paragraphs about yourself and what you are looking for. Sort of the cover letter to your online dating resume. And then you get to the checklists.

Back before I was actually divorced (but the writing was on the wall), I was over at a friend’s house for some gathering. We were all hanging out and chatting when one friend from across the room asked, “so, what are looking for in a woman?” It was one of those record-scratch moments when everyone stops talking and looks at you. Again, still technically married and not having thought about it, I answered off the cuff, “Non-smoker, non-hater.”

The non-smoking thing is obvious. I am allergic to cigarette smoke, but more importantly, I don’t want to kiss an ashtray. The non-hater thing is more about not wanting to be with someone who is always looking for the dark cloud behind that silver lining, going through life thinking the world is out to get them. I don’t need or want a Pollyanna as a partner, but I don’t want to be around someone who is constantly expecting the worst out of everything and everybody. To be clear, this was not a reaction to my soon-to-be ex-wife. She was neither a smoker nor a hater.

Several years down the line, I don’t have much of a better, quick answer to what I am looking for in a partner. There are definitely things I hope for, but the list of non-negotiables still basically sits at non-smoker. But with online dating, you are sort of trying to order up your perfect match.

There are checkboxes for height, body type, hair color, eye color, salary, astrological sign, faith, exercise habits, education, occupation, income level and more. I certainly get it, but the volume of it feels like a tailor made desire in what is more of an off-the-rack world. It is the online shopping mentality with the entire world at your fingertips, and it feels like we should be able to punch up our perfect mate on

It is both amazing and discouraging at the same time. Through the website, you have possible contact with so many more people than you would ever see in your normal path in life, but the sheer volume makes you think there is always going to be someone more “perfect” for you if you just keep looking.

So you keep clicking on pictures, looking for criteria and reading introductions, looking for something to jump out at you. Back to the privacy thing, on odd thing is that when you look at someone’s profile, they know. On your own login, there is a little list of people who have checked you out. On the one hand, it is kind of interesting to see whose eye you caught, but on the other, you sort of hesitate to click because you are being tracked. You also know if someone has read your email. This is mostly nice, since you can’t fool yourself that the person you are interested in hasn’t seen it yet. Nope, they read it, and they just weren’t interested enough to respond. Move along, no interest here, keep clicking on.

It has only been two weeks, so we are a long way from any final judgment. It is an interesting new adventure, and we will see where the electronic path leads. Now please excuse me, I think someone just sent a wink to me. 

July 7, 2016

Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon

The planning for a marathon can run anywhere from four months to over a year, depending on your level of preparation, training and tendency to make stuff up as you go along. My buddy Steve in a fit of excitement at the finish line of last year's Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon, signed up to run his first full marathon at the same event a year later. The cheaper price and promise of a free jacket probably helped sway him.

I was not tempted to pull the trigger then, but a couple of months later, a Groupon came out to run the marathon for $60, just $5 more than if I had signed up still sweating at the finish line, and noticeably cheaper than what they normally charge. It turned out I had a 20% coupon sitting on the Groupon site, so my final bill was $48. With a jacket, it was almost like they were paying me to run this thing.

After running at least two marathons a year from 2008 - 2012, and four in 2012, I had only run one since, the wonderful Chicago Marathon experience in 2013. My main excuse was that the tax season schedule really messes with training for or running spring and fall marathons, but if I was as motivated as I used to be, I would have made it work. Running a couple of half marathons in 2015 sort of re-lit the spark, and a number of other friends signed up to run either the full or half marathon this June, so I was inspired to take on the challenge again.

When you sign up for these things, they often ask you for a predicted finish time. This helps them stage the runners in corrals by their pace, hopefully reducing congestion of runners weaving in and out of jams. Even if you have run a number of these things, it is still hard to know what kind of shape you will be in eight months down the road. If it is your first like it was for Steve, it is basically a wild-ass guess.

And then of course life intervenes in those months leading up to the race. Maybe work or family demands increase, maybe you get injured, maybe what seemed possible so far out, feels impossible as the deadline approaches. Several of the people that signed up either didn't make the start line due to injury, or had to change to a shorter race as a backup plan. My own training schedule was of course interrupted by taxes, and I was also trying to train for a couple of big bike rides around the marathon date. In trying to train for both running and biking, I didn't do a particularly good job at either.

Since this was Steve's first marathon, I tried to think of what I wished I had known going into the race. We of course talked a lot about training for the race in the early months, but I also ended up writing a few pages of thoughts about the week and hours leading up to the race, and then some tips on getting through the 26.2 miles. The exercise was a nice reminder for me of what the adventure entails. But of course, even with the best of plans, things can still go sideways.

Some marathons let you personalize your running bib with a short phrase. In the intervening eight months, I had of course forgotten what I wrote down. It turns out I was in a Douglas Adams sort of mood back then, but the phrase seemed appropriate now.

A gal at the start line asked if I had remembered my towel, clearly getting the reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which set me off with a smile.

Steve and I met up with a few of my other friends Tami, Jenica, Joseph, Wendy and John who were either running the 8k or half marathon. We shared some hugs, photos and nervous energy before setting off to our respective starting corrals.

I decided to go for a bit of stretch goal and set off with the 3:50 pace group. Though Steve and I had finished within a minute of each other at the half marathon the month before, he hadn't had a chance to get in the final long runs, and decided on a more conservative (and probably wiser) goal of 4:25. The route kicked off at Seattle Center, ran along the Viaduct for a bit before heading south though town and down to Lake Washington.

I stayed with or a bit ahead of the pace group for the first half of the race. After we looped around Seward Park and started heading back north, things started to turn. At the halfway point, new pacers took over the mantle and lead us on with fresh legs. Oh how I wish I had the same option. My hips tightened up at mile thirteen, and my right calf not long after, and it became twelve mile struggle described in the picture at the beginning of this post. I hung with the pacer until we climbed onto the I-90 bridge at mile seventeen, but slowly watched her slip away as the miles ticked by. My brain and determination chanted to push on, but the growing pain in my hips and legs eventually won out. The last three miles was a run/walk/stumble to the finish.

I crossed the finish in 3:58 flat. Absolutely nothing wrong with that time, but I just wish it hadn't hurt so bad to achieve it. I don't know if I had set off at a 4:00 pace if I would have finished in roughly the same time, but feeling strong. I had not had any hip pain leading up to the race, so who knows if starting more conservatively would have made a difference.

My friend (and biking buddy) Joe surprised me at the finish. His daughter had run the 8k and his son the half marathon, but he stuck around to watch me finish, even though he is one of the many who think running a marathon is crazy. He managed to catch a video of my just about to make the last turn to the finish. Thankfully the downhill slope aided my shuffle, but even then I swept over to get high-fives from strangers to push me on. Didn't even see Joe until he shouted my name.


Since there were two out and back loops on the course, I was able to see Steve twice heading the other direction. I saw him first when I was at mile 14 and he at mile 9. He was a bit behind his pacer, but looked great. I later found out the only reason he was behind was he had stopped to use the bathroom three times - clearly well hydrated. When I saw him again, we were on the I-90 bridge, me at mile 22 and him at about 17. He was now ahead of his pacer, and looking like he was feeling great. Given my head start, I was able to finish, grab some food and my drop bag and make it back to the finish line to see Steve cross. He ran a great race and finished strong in 4:20:15.

We met his girlfriend Tania and headed to the beer garden to have our free Michelob Ultra, a low-carb, beer-like substance, and swapped stories of struggle and victory. Steve thanked me for all the tips I had given him, but I was feeling more broken than marathon guru at that point. He swore that this would be his only marathon, checking off the bucket list item, but there was a gleam in his eye that tells me he will be back someday. I promised not to ask until the endorphins and soreness subsided. Or at least until I see him wearing his finisher jacket again.

June 22, 2016


Damn, still trying to wrap my head around that number. Seems like such a long time on paper, but it flashes by when you aren't paying attention.

Age hasn't meant much to me up to this point. I don't recall freaking out at 30 or 40, but the next round number is starting to sink in.

When I am looking through my client's information, and I haven't met them, I will at some point look at their age. From their set of information (income, kids, deductions,etc.) I will have formed a picture in my head of how old they are, and sometimes I am surprised when I see their actual age. Anyway, when I see someone in their 50s I think, "Wow, I didn't realize they were that old." And then...wait a minute.

The other thing that has me thinking about that number on a sheet is that I am about to throw my hat in the ring of online dating. At damn near 50.

Dating in itself seems like a young man's game, and the online version even more so. I will (likely) resist using the app that lets you whip through pictures/people with the swipe of a finger, but even putting up pictures and a profile has me hesitating over the keyboard. But that is another story.

I am not sure what 49 is supposed to feel like. However, with that said, I don't feel 49. Well, most of the time. The hills seem a bit steeper this year and the strains and pains linger longer than they used to. And of course, I have reached an age were some of the aches are chalked up to "sleeping on something wrong." I always wish that I'd at least earned the soreness through strenuous effort, or at the bare minimum have a better story to tell.

I don't deny my age, but I suppose I want to change what the number means. I am still pedaling up mountains and running around lakes. I want to earn that low bib number at Ramrod as the oldest rider someday, and I want to be that "old guy" that shows up at the local 5k every year and runs with a smile. I suppose every milestone age I reach will be translated into "not that old" on my own personal scale.

Here's to the next 49!

June 14, 2016

Capital City Half Marathon

I ran the Capital City Half Marathon recently. It was my eleventh half marathon, but like any race (or day in your life), even if you have been down this road before, there is always something to learn. I suppose the lesson this time was confirmation that is sometimes pays to be the tortoise.

This race was not a goal race necessarily, but you always want to do your best. I am training for a full marathon in June (now in a few days since I am so lazy posting), and this event fit almost perfectly into the training. It was also a race a couple of my friends were running, and one that was out of town with new roads to discover.

Training had been sporadic during tax season (as usual), so I have been playing catch up for the past month (as usual). I am also trying to split my time with preparing for some bike rides this summer, so I was feeling pretty average at two things, rather than totally prepared for the race in front of me. I showed up at the start line more or less ready, but not exactly confident.

After not running a half marathon in four years, I ran two last year, mostly through the positive influence of a couple of friends who were now running. Though it is always hard work, it was great to be back at it. The dedication of getting out on the roads even when you don't feel like it, the camaraderie of the start line and the joy of the finish. The half marathon is almost the perfect event. Plenty long enough to be a challenging undertaking, but the training doesn't take over your life and weekends.

I was running again with my buddy Steve who had run both halfs with me last year. He is more recent to this running thing, but has been making great strides (see what I did there). I had been his carrot to chase, and he has pushed me forward. This year he has proved quicker than me, and has taken me down in both the 5k and 10k distances, all the while claiming he wasn't a "runner".

He, his girlfriend Tania and I hit the road in the wee hours in order to make it to Olympia by the start. The race, while not small, is not one of these colossal productions with tens of thousands of runners. It had a small town feel, running through neighborhoods for much of the route. Olympia is Tania's old hometown, so there were probably memories around every corner.

Steve and I took off together, but soon he was rabbiting ahead. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the start line, but I tried my best to stick to my plan. The route was a bit hilly with a two mile steady climb early in the route, and a more dramatic hill at mile ten. The plan was to keep a steady effort, saving some juice for that last hill, and then turn it loose (if I had it in me) on the downhill from mile ten to the finish.

Steve had a bright orange shirt on, so it was relatively easy to see him in the crowd, but soon he was speck in the distance. As we ran through the neighborhoods, several people were set up on their front lawns, cheering us on, and in places handing out oranges. I stopped at a make-shift water station, mostly because a couple of girls maybe ten years old had set it up like a lemonade stand, and I traded high fives with other enthusiastic kids down the street. I have read that keeping a smile on your face (even when you don't feel like smiling) will help keep pain at bay. No problem smiling at this race so far.

I caught up with Steve at around mile six. We chatted for a bit, but soon he sped up. This had been a pattern at our other half marathons. He is the rabbit to my tortoise. When I caught him again at mile eight, he cheered me on as we headed downhill, shooting off again. At the top of the climb at mile ten, we joined ranks one last time, but this time it was I that was able to push on. The next couple of miles were mostly flat, and then the last mile was noticeably downhill. My shoe came untied a mile out, but there was no stopping at that point. The feed of gravity had me feel like I was flying, and wasn't sure I would be able to recapture it if I stopped.

I crossed the line in 1:46:18 just a few seconds shy of my second best time. It felt great to have run a strong race when my training had seemed so iffy. Steve came in just a minute later, notching a new personal best. Some of Tania's friends and family were at the finish, and some others were out running the half marathon as well, so we cheered them all in. We all earned ridiculously large medals, complete with a bottle opener on the back. All we needed was a bottle of Oly.

Another great day on the roads. New places, new faces, and free race photos. Can't ask for much more.

February 14, 2016

Memories trapped in time

We like to believe that our memories are captured in an amber-like resin, preserved unchanged through the years. Some polished as jewels, others left to fossilize in a dusty drawer. But of course that isn't how it works. We recreate our histories every time we access them either intentionally or by a random connection that prods them forward. We are not reviewing a recording, but rather re-writing a story. They are recreated each time they are recalled, the details changed inadvertently by our subsequent experience.

My older brother sent me an email the other day, "Do you remember someone named X? Someone you dated when you were 16?" The quick answer was no. First, no girl was interested in me, much less dated me when I was sixteen. Second, my dating history is hardly voluminous enough for me to forget someone. He replied that this person was sure she knew me, that we had worked together at McDonald's, and that she had described me pretty well (no one forgets the afro). The plot was thickening, which my brother found hilarious. I scanned my memory, walking through the past, trying to find someone by that name. The sixteen year old thing had to be wrong, but maybe she dated my roommate and the story was confused in the telling.

My brother had sent the email mostly as a heads up, as I would likely be running into this mystery woman in a few hours. Her daughter was in plays with my niece, and we were all going to a a fundraiser for the youth group that evening. The mystery woman had seen my name on the guest list, prompting her question.

My brothers and I met for a drink beforehand and tried to tackle the mystery. My brothers laughing, me starting to get concerned about senility. The mystery woman was married, so the last name didn't help. To the internet! My brother showed me her Facebook photo, but that didn't jog a connection. I scanned her friends list, looking to see if my old roommate's name might be there. Then I saw a last name amoung the faces that finally pried lose the memory.

My 48 year old brain tried to recreate the faces and places. She had gone by a less formal version of her name back then. We did indeed work at McDonald's together. She dated a good friend of mine, and the three of us often hung out together. I remember her as beautiful and confident, and their relationship as somewhat volatile. In the winter of 1984, they broke up. I will leave the details and justifications to the dusty drawer of history, but for two weeks she and I dated, before she broke it off to return to dating my friend.

It was a crazy two weeks. That first real moment when someone finds you desirable, among all your teenage anxiety and awkwardness. A whole new world was opened up to explore, and just like that it was gone. That two week aside showed me both the amazing and ugly sides of relationships. I lost both friends, walking away more of an adult for better or worse. Imagination surpassed, illusions shattered.

And here she was, more than thirty years later. Married, three kids, successful, and by all hopes, happy. She brought a copy of my senior picture to the fundraiser as proof that our memories were real, that those seventeen year old kids existed. My niece enjoyed seeing the photo with my out of control curly hair, encouraging me to grow it out again. I looked at that same kid in the photo and wondered about it all.

We hugged and chatted a bit about what was going on with our lives. I met her daughter, just a couple of years shy of the age when her mom and I knew each other. We didn't talk at all  about when we were seventeen together, and I wonder how she remembers that time. The scenes are shot from a different perspective, a different director calling out what she wants emphasized. The soundtrack is different, and I can't even be sure we would be reading off the same script.

I've often wondered this about my former wife. What would it be like if we caught up over coffee. Would we try to bring our past scripts into alignment, and try to show the other what we had seen through our perspectives. Could comparing our differing memories bring some sort of clarity, or would we just touch base on our sequels, sticking to the stories un-entwined. I used to long for that future coffee date, to find out what she saw and why it all ended, but these days I am less sure of any promise of clarity.

And of course what I really want is to unearth that original memory preserved unchanged, so we could look at it together with the fresh perspective of time. But those perfectly preserved moments don't exist. In addition to our different understanding of the exact same events at the time, our recalling would change the details and feelings enough to make understanding elusive once again. Even still, I am curious, be it for seven years of marriage or just two crazy weeks as a teenager,

Back in the present, as I drove away from the benefit, the first song on the radio was "Night Moves" by Bob Seger, a song about those teenage moments.

"Working on mysteries without any clues...
trying to lose those awkward teenage blues."

Seeing those memories in the flesh, thirty years on but only a few blocks away from where it all took place, all through some chance connection of the next generation. Every so often, the universe just gives you a wink.

Strange how the night moves.

January 2, 2016

Jar of memories

On New Years, most everyone does their own little mental review of the past year. Hopefully recalling some highlights, but often recalling things that you did or didn't do that you would like to rectify as you move forward to the clean slate of a new year. 

It is pretty easy to recall the big events. New jobs, new houses, new relationships, fun trips and big days on the calendar. The negative events - lost jobs, broken relationships, illness, passings and other losses - seem to leave marks more permanent on our psyche. It easy to let the smaller moments that lie between these major events fade into the background. In more quiet years you are left wondering what you even did with those 365 days you were given. 

I don't remember where I saw it exactly. It was probably a Facebook post, but it definitely had a Pinterest kind of feel. Fill a jar full of slips of paper with notes and memories as you go through the year. Then come the turning of the calendar page, go through the slips of paper and recall the smaller moments that make up a life. The practice not only helps a memory fading with age and electronic distraction, but it also helps bring you into the present to recognize these smaller experiences, to appreciate joy and connection as they happen. Like a similar project of taking a photo a day, it forces you to open your eyes to the world around you, and to see the beauty that often fades into the background. 

I opened up my jar this morning. Like many resolutions, I was pretty active for the first few weeks, but the dedication faded as the months went by, ending in my last entry on March 1st. All but one of the memories was about spending time with friends. Celebrating New Year's Eve at the Keg with friends I had met there twenty years before, and gathering with even more people the following week to mark the closing of the restaurant that brought such wonderful connections. Another slip recalled meeting my brothers for drinks and conversation, a new tradition started and continued through 2015 for which I am very thankful. The last slip was about waking up with Jennifer in my new home The Sanctuary, sitting on the couch, staring out at the lake, cups of coffee and good conversation. 

Strangely absent were those tinier moments. Moments where I saw physical beauty and felt deeper connection with the natural world. Moments where it felt like I saw behind the veil. Tiny moments that brought epiphany or revelation. I know they were there, but they have faded without the anchor of a note or photo to help me bring them forth again. 

I am going to use the memory jar again in 2016. I hope to make the habit stick throughout the year, again for the dual purpose of remembering these experiences at the end of the year, as well as to be more focused in the moment and to recognize these tinier snippets that make up this wonderful life. 

This New Year's Eve was a quiet evening at home, and New Year's Day was not much more memorable in the grand scheme. The past few years I have started off the year with a 5k and dip into Lake Washington. This year I went on a solo run in the afternoon, but spent the morning admiring the lake from the relative warmth of my house over some pancakes and coffee. It was more of an easing into this new year rather than jumping in head first. I did at least take a photo of the beauty recognized in the moment. 

As I was typing this, I saw a reflection in the computer screen of a Blue Jay landing on the railing just outside my window. I turned to see it, but as I moved to get my phone/camera, it took off. No picture of the day. A moment that I would surely forget a year later, if not an hour later if I hadn't been writing here at the time. I don't think it warrants the highlight reel of the memory jar, but a nice moment in time. And I think nature is calling me to get dressed and get outside into the frosty day. 

December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

I hope it has been a wonderful Christmas season for you all. It went by so fast this year, not like when we were kids. I hope in the whirlwind you found some time to enjoy some music and all the small things that add up to so much.

A recent favorite

The pup's owners left some presents for the husky I am dog-sitting

Another non-traditional Christmas favorite

December 11, 2015

Ten years further (farther) down the road

It was one of those things that hit you as you are trying to fall asleep. When you are trying to shut down for the night, your brain has this habit of letting random thoughts pop in. It is usually frustrating, but at times a nice connection bubbles forth as your mind free associates pre-dream. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been at this running thing for more than ten years. It was actually ten years ago in February when I first laced up my shoes.

It all started more or less on a dare. Plans made over glasses of wine to someday take on a marathon, all from the starting point of not having run a step in years, if ever. I ran/walk/shuffled through a half mile run that February morning. It wasn't pretty, a little discouraging to be winded so quickly, but I kept at it. Three weeks later I ran my first event, the St Paddy's Day Dash, alongside a few other friends who had either thrown out the challenge, or stooped to pick up the gauntlet that had been thrown.

Running is generally a pretty solitary pursuit. Some run in groups, but I would guess some 95% of the miles are solo runs. Hitting the road alone after a day of work when the couch and TV tempts, sneaking off for an hour or more on the weekends when your family beakons. It doesn't feel lonely at all though. It is a time to clear your head and re-energize your mind. As the blood flow is diverted to the muscles in motion, it seems to take with it the garbage blocking the synapses in your brain. If you aren't completely focused on just getting your next foot in front of your last, you can get that free associating feeling normally reserved for when your head hits the pillow. You come back both spent and refreshed.

These solitary moments are a big part of running, but they frame some of the best experiences - running events. "What is the difference between a jogger and a runner? A racing bib." the old saying goes. All too simple as most old saws are. You can be a great runner without ever pinning a bib on, but I do think you are missing out on something.

For one, a finish line. There is something particularly satisfying, both emotionally and physically about taking that last step. A sense of relief, a feeling of accomplishment, the simple joy of completing something you set out to do. The reward for all those miles you put in, all those times you headed out when it was so much easier to stay inside.

While it is hard to beat the feeling at the finish line, there is definitely something magical about the start. One of my favorite quotes about running and running events is from the book "26.2 Marathon Stories" by Katherine Switzer and Roger Robinson
The prelude to a marathon is one of life’s strangest yet most vivid times.  It is a time of intensity yet relaxation, apprehension yet resolve; a time of deeply introspective solitude in the midst of the biggest jostling throng most of us will ever join.  So many people, intent on a separate inward commitment, but united in one common physical endeavor.  Our motive is private, the context public.  We are strangers who are instant comrades, competitors bonded by the shared knowledge that we are all about to undertake one of the hardest tasks in our lives.  Ahead lie strenuous effort, weariness, and pain, but we will endure it voluntarily, for the sheer enjoyment of trying.
Even before you take your first step, you are rewarded with the energy of all those around you. And though the road ahead will likely be difficult as you tap into all you have, to do your best, you know you are not alone in the pursuit. And as much as the finish line is a reward for your effort, this camaraderie is the reward for all those miles you ran alone.

I ran the Seattle Half Marathon a couple of weekends ago. This event was my first half marathon, and that first time was ten years ago. Both times I came in under-trained, though these days I have a base fitness that never seems to go away entirely (thank goodness). It turns out that even more important than the base fitness is the base belief in yourself that you can do it. All the miles not only trains your body, but it trains your mind as well. You develop a mental toughness by practicing not quitting, pushing through the discomfort and sometimes pain to keep moving forward.

In 2005, I ran the race alone. Well, not alone of course. I had a couple of thousand other runners keeping me company, but I didn't have anyone really to share the experience with. When I crossed that finish line, having run much farther than I had before, farther than I believed I could, I wept with joy and satisfaction. I broke down without reservation, and that may have been the first step toward feeling a part of something. To appear weak in a crowd of people and be proud and not ashamed.

Ten years later I headed to the start line with five others, four of us jammed hip to hip in the back seat on the drive in. Three were basically strangers, but it was race morning and all barriers were down amidst the nervous excitement. It was below freezing at the start, but it didn't dampen anyone's resolve. We would join in the battle together, and we would finish. We lost each other almost immediately after the gun went off, but we were joined by others, their drumbeat of foot strikes providing a rhythm to the morning.

I ran a solid race. The time was almost unimportant, though I found some satisfaction in the clock. I came in just under my goal time, and more satisfyingly, I ran the second, hillier half in just about the same time as the first. I found that hidden reservoir to keep pressing even as the road grew long (and steep). Afterward, when we had all crossed the line, we got to share in the victory, each understanding what the other had been through. Community through shared experience.

I still struggle to get out the doors some days, and there are often more ticks on the clock by the time I finish, but running still has power in my life. Power to detach, power to connect, power to challenge and power to succeed. The power to bring me closer to friend and stranger alike.

Ten years on, the finish line was (almost) as sweet.



Number one and number ten

November 28, 2015

On the road(s) again

While I was down in San Diego, along with reconnecting with friends, I wanted to reconnect with running as well. I needed a kickstart, and I thought sunshine and beachfront scenery would do the trick.

My first run was a nice pairing of the connections. I went for a run with the other Sean on one of his regular loops up in Oceanside. It was great chatting with him, though it was between my slightly labored huffing and puffing. It didn't help that it was the longest run I had been on in five months, or that we had spent the previous evening catching up over (several) beers.

Once I headed south to San Diego, I retraced some of my favorite routes over the next few days. I had picked a place steps away from the Mission Bay Loop, so running would as easy as stepping out the door. The loop around the whole bay is about fifteen miles, so I opted to only do the western half. The shorter seven miles was still pushing it for my current level of fitness, but the sun, surf and other fit bodies out running kept me pressing forward.

Over the next couple of days I ran up to Sunset Cliffs and then along the Mission Beach boardwalk. Getting back to regular exercise was of course part of the motivation, but running along those familiar paths again helped bring back all that was good about my time in San Diego. I found parts of myself I had neglected or forgotten in my time living there, and I found memory triggers of those feelings three years later in random places along the path.

Back at home, there is little sun or surf to tempt me outside, but it looks like I was able to bring a bit of that San Diego magic back with me. I have managed to get out eight times in the two weeks I have been back, so the habit is starting to feel ingrained once again. The half marathon scheduled for tomorrow also helped to add a little urgency to get my butt and feet back out on the road, but there seems to be more to it than that. I am starting to care again for this body I have been given. Though I am still struggling with the food aspect (especially during the holidays), when I am running regularly I start to look at food more as fuel than as a source of comfort, so hopefully that will begin to spill over.

In another moment this week, after returning from a lunchtime run, I walked over to the local coffee shop to grab some caffeine. Before even taking a sip, on the walk back I noticed the world seemed a little sharper, the colors a little brighter. An endorphin afterglow I suppose. Whatever it was, it felt like a veil lifting for just a moment to get a peek at what was on the other side, and confirmation that I have taken some positive steps down the right road.

November 11, 2015

A San Diego state of mind

I landed in San Diego on Thursday, and after finding my luggage that had arrived a day earlier, I hopped on the shuttle bus to the rental lot. I ended up with a basic Nissan coupe, with the most important features being great gas mileage and a place to plug in my iPod, as I would be on the road quite a bit. Though my new-to-me Honda is a noticeable improvement over the old truck, driving a new car highlights the fact that my "new" car is more than a decade old. New is just so tight, clean and appealing.

After getting my new wheels, I headed out of town immediately. I would be spending my first night in Oceanside seeing the "Other Sean" and his wonderful family, and the following night in LA visiting other friends and checking out the brewery they opened a year ago. The feeling started to sink in on the drive north to Oceanside, a feeling of warmth and peace. This was home for almost three years, so memories rushed back as I drove through a landscape so different from Washington. I found myself smiling behind the wheel, at least until traffic slowed to a crawl in huge backup.

This vacation is a bit different than most. It is both getting away and going home. As I have written before, I am blessed to have many friends that feel like family, and doubly blessed to have two places that have these anchors of friendship. I have been welcomed back and into homes like no time has passed, yet heard so many stories of what has changed over the three years since I have been away.

Outside of reconnecting with friends, I left the rest of the itinerary largely empty. There are no real tourist destinations to hit this time around. It is more about taking advantage of the vacation bubble and catching up and reconnecting with parts of my life that I have let drift away. A week unscripted seems both a lot of time to fill, and not nearly enough time to get it all done.

The last couple of days I have largely wandered. Most of the (intended) destinations were about being close to the water. Like so many, I am drawn to the shore for vast horizon, crashing surf, and the peace that those things bring. A visit to Dog Beach (sorry Disney, this is "The Happiest Place on Earth"), a run around Mission Bay, and a trip to Sunset Cliffs to watch the sun go down were on the list, but most everywhere I went a memory popped up.

Some were obvious like when I headed out to the old house and regular haunts, but others were decidedly random. Just bits of life relived three years later. I was on a run from Dog Beach up to Sunset Cliffs and back Monday morning. I passed by a set of low houses with shallow paved front areas. Hanging from the fence were sets of planter boxes. I recalled running by one of these houses in the middle of summer a few years back and a guy was out watering the plants baking in the sun. Seeing me approach, he lowered the hose so as not to splash me. Eleven miles into training run, I slowed to a walk and asked him to spray me down. He was happy to oblige, and we ended up chatting briefly before I pressed on. A moment lost in thousand others that I had forgotten about, but came back so clear when running past three years later.

I found some peace here three years ago, and I am here seeking it again, though on a much tighter time frame. It feels like leaving my schedule and time largely open will give me a chance to soak some of that San Diego vibe in random moments. The yoga at sunset, surfers heading out in the morning, and dogs romping in the surf throughout the day. Like California this year, I am need of a good soaking.

November 8, 2015

The Vacation Bubble

When I travel, it is not just an opportunity to get out of town, but also a chance to step away from life for a while. The daily chores and routines are left behind that door I locked behind me on the way out of town, and do not return until I do. I am pretty good at leaving the thoughts of work behind as well, and I tend to float along in this self-contained bubble. Even as I let in new places and experiences, the "real" world of home is kept outside the barrier.

The flight out is a great transition. You are pretty much forced to sit still. Thirty thousand feet in the air traveling 600 miles an hour, texts, emails and phone calls can't catch up to you. Well, at least they didn't used to be able to. Now you can have that wifi tether if you want to, but thankfully phone calls are still verboten. For me, the flight is the time to pull out that book that lately has been pushed aside for whatever is on Netflix.

It is as if the vacation bubble has a bit of helium to lighten the load of each step. As the days pass, life at home and all that it entails fades further from my consciousness. Shoulders relax, eyes brighten and the mind clears. I feel more present. I am sure this feeling is hardly unique. Take any animal out of their regular habitat, their senses are heightened to the new surroundings.

Inside the vacation bubble, everything looks brighter, and maybe even easier. As you acclimatize to the new world, maybe you start to let in a few bits and pieces from home. Holding them up to the vacation light, things start to look a bit dingy and worn. You start to fantasize about leaving it all behind and setting up shop to teach scuba to tourists or open up that beachside restaurant with the swim up bar.

It is the rare few that actually pull the trigger, though. And of course your vacation paradise is someone's everyday home. All of their daily chores and responsibilities are there, you just can't see them inside your bubble or behind their locked doors. Still, on two separate trips to San Diego, the bubble popped and triggers were pulled.

Returning from the first one some ten years ago, my wife and I went out to dinner before settling in back home. She wondered aloud what it would be like if we moved south. I thought it was just vacation glow that hadn't dimmed yet, but it turns out it wasn't. A few years later, she confided that she resented that we did not move, and later headed south on her own.

I took my own trip to San Diego not long after, and while there on vacation decided to make it my home for a spell. Of course I knew it would not live up to what it felt like inside the bubble, but even after a new set of chores and responsibilities arrived with the new home, some of that vacation feeling remained. The new surroundings, new friends, and lets be honest, the sunshine allowed me to see things in a new light. I had planned to stay for a year, and ended up staying for almost three.

As I head south this time for another visit, I plan to use this time in the bubble wisely. To reconnect with parts I have left behind, and to the love and friendship that remains in this vacation spot that became home. To see things in a new but familiar way, and to bring some of that light home with me.

November 4, 2015 Making me Wait.

Everyone needs a little time away.

A backlog of comp time expiring soon and a surprise bonus check at work meant I could head out of town for a while. I have been meaning to get down to San Diego for a visit since I moved back, yet somehow three years have slipped away.

I had vacation brain and short-timers disease this past week in anticipation. My body and brain have been cloudy lately, and I was really looking forward to having the warmth of sunshine and rekindled friendship burn away the mist. There always seems to be a thousand little things to take care of before leaving town, so that preoccupied my brain as well.

It didn't used to be this way. Vacation did not start until I locked the front door behind me, and thinking about it didn't start much earlier. It was like if I thought too much about it, it might vanish. I still don't pack until the night before, but I am a bit better at attending to those thousand little steps.

Still, when I got to the airport, it finally felt real. My vacations the last few years have been within an hour or two's drive, and the airport somehow feels like so much more possibility.. After passing through security (without needing to take off my coat or shoes thank you very much), I walked into the crowd of travelers with the wall of glass to the runways as a backdrop - and it got a little tingly.

I guess it has been while.

Unfortunately the reality of travel set in. There was a guy in San Diego barricaded in an apartment with a rifle taking shots at the police. The apartment was relatively close to the airport, and also in the flight path of arriving planes. The airport was shut down.

Initially our flight was delayed two hours. Then it was cancelled. Then I was re-booked on a flight seven hours later. Then that flight was cancelled. A long line later and I was re-re-booked on a flight the following morning. Rather than trying to find a way home and then back again early in the morning, I found a relatively cheap hotel near the airport. My luggage of course was still on the original plane, and being the out of practice traveler than I am, I hadn't stashed a change of clothes or toothbrush in my backpack. I did have two books, a magazine and a newspaper though, so, priorities.

The plan of the day was to get to town, stick my feet in the ocean, head north and meet some great friends for dinner. Instead, I walked along the highway to Denny's for dinner in forty degree weather, thankful that I wasn't wearing shorts like I usually do in anticipation of warmer destination weather (I got diverted to Denver on the way home from a cruise one year. Shorts, Hawaiian shirt, hat made of palm leaves - you get the picture).

Tomorrow we try again. Maybe the additional anticipation will make the airport even more tingly, the ocean more refreshing, and the meeting with friends that much more awesome..

November 1, 2015

The Sanctuary

It was a dark and stormy night...Sorry, couldn't resist.

A storm front has rolled into town this weekend, bringing high winds and warnings of flooding. Friday night I listened to what sounded like a downpour hitting the gravel drive, but it was really just the wind whipping through the tall pines surrounding The Sanctuary.

I moved into my new place in March. It is never a great idea to do anything time-consuming in the middle of tax season, but I could not let this opportunity slip by. Outside of one annoying thing, I was pretty happy at my old apartment. My lease was not up until the end of May, but this new place was something special. So special that it hasn't been advertised in years. You have to know a guy.

A buddy of mine was moving out of the place and asked if I wanted to take over. He in turn had moved in after a friend gave him the heads up that it was available. The house has been passed along almost like an inheritance. Not only is the place special enough to earn the moniker The Sanctuary, but the landladies are special in their own right. I think before the place gets passed down, the new person is evaluated on how they will treat the landladies as much as the house.

Well, house might be a bit misleading. It is more of a cottage. At something like 550 square feet, it is some 300 square feet smaller than my apartment was. It is not often that you need to downsize when moving from an apartment to a house, but there it is.

The cottage is downhill from the house where the landladies live. The mother (92 and still going strong) has been there since sometime in the 50s, and used to own the land all the way to the lake. At some point, they sold the waterfront section, but the old cottage remained. I think they rent it out mostly to cover the taxes these days. What used to be a sleepy suburb is now a booming town, and property values (and taxes) continue to rise as those 50s ramblers are knocked down for McMansions.

An opposite movement has been gaining traction with some - Tiny Houses. A pack rat by nature and nurture, I am surrounded by stuff like most people these days. For me, it is not new and shiny stuff, but more sentimental and broken stuff. The idea of a Tiny House, living cleaner and more simply, is one I would like to pursue.

I suppose this desire has been in the background for a while now. Henry David Thoreau's Walden and the PBS special "Alone in the Wilderness" have always had a place in my heart. To go off into the woods and live the slower and more attuned life. But one thing that has changed over the years is the need for contact. I have discovered that although I am pretty comfortable being on my own, it isn't the best thing for me. If I spend too much time by myself, walls come up and thoughts and navel-gazing get out of control. I need to be pulled outside of myself on a regular basis.

And the sanctuary seems to be the perfect next step. It is not exactly a Tiny House (generally under 320 square feet), but it is certainly small enough to make you reevaluate what you really need, and what is just excess baggage you have been carrying around. It is also a spin on that cabin in the woods. Surrounded by trees down a gravel road, it feels away from the world, yet downtown is a short two miles away. Secluded, yet connected.

In my apartment, I had to run a fan at night to provide some white noise to try and cover the creaking of my upstairs neighbor pacing the balsa wood floors at 3am. In The Sanctuary, there is less need for white noise, though nature was providing its fair share Friday night. One more benefit to having my own four walls is the ability to get something else that has been missing from my life.

A dog.

October 21, 2015

Keep looking UP

I watched UP this evening for the first time in years. For some reason, the Pixar movies are not on Netflix, so I hadn't been able to revisit them in my ever expanding queue. But then I thought, "To the Library!" Wall-E was first, and I need to get in line for the other wonderful cartoon adventures.

Being the social media butterfly that I am, I posted "First fifteen minutes of UP. Gets me every time." A friend commented not long after, "I don't watch that crap."

And it made me sad.

If you are one of the few that haven't seen the movie, the first fifteen minutes are the meeting, courtship, marriage, life and ultimately loss of a loving partner. The life between ages 10 and 70 is portrayed with no dialogue, and yet you completely understand the joy and then loss of love and companionship. The rest of the movie is still a fun romp, including a lovable dog that you can listen in on his thoughts. The dog portion alone would be enough to grab me, but nothing tugs at the heartstrings like the first fifteen minutes.

The reason the comment made me sad (and it is completely possible that I am reading too much into it) is that the person writing it has had a tough go at love. Many of us have. I have. I don't imagine the storybook running through the fields of flowers ideal, but somehow, I still hold out hope for that growing old together and looking back on a life well lived picture in the scrapbook.

Anyway, the odds can seem long at times, and it is entirely possible I will be that cranky old man in a run down house shouting at "progress", but I still hold out hope for the happy ending.

You know, the stuff of movies.