March 24, 2014

Long days in a long year

It is hard to believe it has been a year. In truth, it seems even longer. It was a year ago I had to say goodbye to my sweet puppy.

Life is quite different these days. I will admit, that in some ways it is bit easier. There are occasional mornings where I can actually sleep in, now that there are no scheduled shots of insulin. I don't need to come right home after work, and can take care of errands, or even meet up for an impromptu beer with friends.

But of course there is a great emptiness she left behind. She was this smiling soul that lit up the darkness. There have been many moments over the past year where I wasn't just living alone, but loneliness crept in. I may not have to rush home, but in a way it is less of a home that I am returning to.

Particularly at this time of year, where I am gone for twelve hours at a time, It would be wonderful to have a pup waiting by the door. But it is these exact times that make me hesitate to have a dog. It is not only rather unmanageable, but it would not be at all fair. I didn't want to put Sierra through a move and these crazy hours at her age, but it isn't fair at any age.

Dogs need more, just like people. They need the time, the contact, the connection. They exude this near constant joy, but it must be fueled, and that fuel is us. As I have mentioned here and elsewhere, it is that act of giving that is as soul enriching as the joy we receive tenfold in return.

There is so much more to say, but it all would come to simply this -  you remain in my heart, and I still miss you so.




March 16, 2014

Like a real Gomer

Work, already busy, has transitioned into the crazy season. The first tax deadline is tomorrow, and April 15th is now just 30 days, 9 hours and some odd minutes away (not that we're counting). My brain is full, and my body rather weary. It is surprising how physically smoked you can feel sitting at a desk for twelve hours a day. Many days I think I was less wiped out when working construction all day.

Things became more difficult when we had one of our staff resign unexpectedly last week. When you are a team of four, that creates quite an impact, especially at the busiest time of year. It will be for the best in the end, but the next month is looking pretty ugly for those of us remaining.

The long hours don't leave much time to get out for a run these days. I can still count on a run Saturday mornings, and a bike ride on Sunday, but those mid-week three milers are getting tougher to fit in. I am fortunate that my apartment has a treadmill I can use since I am getting home long after dark. Still, it has been getting tougher to talk myself into a run after getting home after 8:00. But I said I would, so I really try.

Who did I commit to? My trainer, my friends, my family? No, I committed to a podcast, a website, a community. The podcast, "Marathon Talk" runs a challenge for January through March called "Jantastic". You commit to a certain number of runs in January, add in a determined long run in February, and shoot for a goal time in March. It is set up as motivation to keep active over the winter months when most of us lose our mojo. Unfortunately, it comes at the busiest time of year for me, but of course it is also when I need to clear my head the most.

I failed to get in either mid-week run this week. Beyond the work drama, I have been fighting some flu-like junk in my chest, so I thought it best to falter in the short term in order to make it to the finish line. I was still far from 100% Saturday morning, but I headed out for five miles before going into the office.

I took with me another great podcast, "Two Gomers Race a Triathlon". I have written about them here before, but the podcast is about a couple of guys who are trying to do something outside their comfort zone, maybe a little bit scary, to improve themselves and maybe add a few years to their lives. The started out by tackling half marathons, then a couple of full marathons, and now their first triathlon.

As the title implies, they don't take themselves too seriously. They share their journey as they try to figure it all out, without editing out their failures or freakouts. There have been stumbles, including getting hit by a Smart Car, but they always make it to the start line eventually.

It is funny how much of a community some of these podcasts create. Not all of them are this way. Though I love "This American Life", "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me" and "Stuff you Should Know", these feel more like shows I tune into. Podcasts like Two Gomers and Pheddipidations feel more like friends I run with, something I am part of. The Gomers call their listeners "The Gomer Nation" and I think I am Gomer #8.

But I digress.

I was out on my run yesterday, listening to the episode where they were finally getting their bikes for the triathlon. They had been riding stationary bikes so far, waiting out the winter and trying to raise money. Steven had mentioned a month earlier that he had contacted a local guy who buys and sells used bikes. Steven told him he had this stupid cruiser bike he wanted to trade in, hoping to get some sort of road bike. Except that he pronounced "stupid" as "stAWpid" in this great, self-depreciating, Wisconsin accent.

I rarely write in. I am more of a listener, reader and lurker. Occasionally though, I feel like I need to thank these podcasters for all they do, creating content and community, all for free. I had written in to Pheddipidations to thank him for motivating me to get back out on the road when I was feeling at my lowest. It was strange to hear him read my letter in a later podcast, reinforcing this feeling of community. When I laughed out loud to "stAWpid" a couple of weeks ago, I dropped a line to The Gomers letting them know how funny I thought it was, and hoped the the bike seller who laughed as well cut him a deal on the bike swap.

Yesterday, Steven had finally made the swap and traded in his cruiser for a "vintage" touring bike. As he started the story, he emphasized how "stAWpid" his cruiser seemed now, and then said, "That was for you, Sean Day." I have to say, it made my day. It was like hearing your name at mile 22, when the marathon has just about beaten you down. It gives you a burst of energy, one I really needed yesterday after a long week. I laughed out loud once again, and actually raised my arms in some sort of victory display.

Like a real Gomer.

February 20, 2014

Happy place

Work is full on into the crazy season now. I still have Sundays carved out to get outside, but other than that, it is head down, trying to get it all done before the deadlines go flying by. Insomnia is making it more difficult, but at some point I think even that will give way to fatigue. Sundays will disappear at some point, but it is the calm eye of the storm for now. 

These videos have popped up lately, and they are moments of simple happiness. Animals can be that calm in chaos, eyes in the storm, bringing forth a smile where you didn't think you had one. I hope they turn your day around like they have mine.







February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day

It is just another Friday, really, but it started off well. I walked out the door, still greeted by my reversed Welcome mat.


My apartment has interior hallways, and one time after they vacuumed, they set my Welcome mat in reverse. I have decided to leave it this way. Now the world welcomes me every morning, and it starts me off on the right foot.

Anyway, as I left the parking garage, there were two deer walking across the road to the grassy area near my building. I had just reset my phone, so there was no chance for a photo, so I just paused and stared at them for a moment. They were still, but ready to move if I did. So I didn't. I eventually drove on, my heart rate down just a bit.

Not a block later, I reached the apartment office where they were handing out donuts and coffee. The managers had mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but one small bonus of a bad memory is you get to be surprised more than most. I hadn't even left the complex, and a Valentines Day with no expectations was starting off well.


I reached for the iPod to choose a podcast to listen to on the way in to work. I had seen this great Google Doodle when I turned on the computer to catch up on things over breakfast.


When you click on each candy heart, you are treated (treated, ha!) to a different short story about love produced by Ira Glass and This American Life. The doodle changes each day, but I think this (link) is a more permanent one so you can check it out whenever you wish. I only had time to click on two of them before heading out, but This American Life was on my mind when I reached for the iPod, and I found a Valentine's Day episode waiting for me.

The intro segment was a repeat of the segment I wrote about six years ago in a post Never tell me the odds. In it, the authors present a picture of what a long shot it is to find your special someone, with a spin on the Drake equation. When I originally heard and wrote about the story, I was part-way through marriage counseling that would ultimately fail. Even though I don't subscribe to the theory that there is only one person out there...the odds were long back then, and now, well...

That said, Valentine's Day is not a bummer. Sure, it would be wonderful to have a special someone in my life again, but I still feel like a not-ready-for-prime-time-player. I am caught between feeling like I am and would be a better partner, and being unsure that I have enough to give just yet. So I am not really looking. Of course, so many of these stories seem to say that it that is exactly when you find love.

But what are the odds of that?

February 9, 2014

What a season

This weekend seems so quiet, and not just because of that wonderful stillness of a snow covered morning.


In case you somehow hid from all the media hype leading up to it, or missed the crushing game, the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl (or the Superb Owl to avoid any trademark infringement). This season was really something special. It rewarded the diehard fan who has endured more losing than winning in the past 38 years, and had so many hopping on the bandwagon to enjoy the ride to the finish.

We sensed this season would be something special as we had made it tantalizingly close to the NFC Championship last year. Even the national media was picking us as favorites before the season started. It was strange to see, as this corner of the country is usually ignored, unless we are legalizing marijuana or something. It also made most of us nervous as our teams have been known to not live up to the rare hype thrown our way.

But this year was different. The team was different. Young, aggressive, and hard to predict. They would dominate one game against a contender, and the next week squeak by in overtime to a struggling team. Our quarterback was constantly scrambling just to stay alive, and just when you thought he was toast, he would sneak out of it and zip a pass to a receiver. They were never boring and I tried to catch the game somewhere each Sunday.

The team reminded me of the UW Huskies during their national championship year. A decent offense, but what really set them apart was the lightening fast defense that dominated the game. They put so much pressure on the opposing offense that they crumbled. The quarterback spent much of the game on his back, and the running backs had nowhere to run. I was a student at the UW at the time, and back then season tickets could be had for a song. Game days were incredible, and I can remember the feeling of being part of something big.

Another similarity is the volume of those stadiums. The "wave" is credited with starting at the UW, and I can remember how deafening that stadium got when the other team was on offense. Seahawk fans have set Guinness Book records for volume, and of course there was the "Beast Quake" where the cheering and stomping of feet registered as an earthquake. (full run)

The Hawks brought the city together like somehow only teams can. It was very similar to the Mariner's incredible "Refuse-to-Lose" season of 1995. Another band of mostly small name players, playing above what everyone thought they could, and a different player coming through in the clutch each week. The Seahawks were the second youngest team to ever play in the Super Bowl, and not one of the players had been there before. Many were low draft choices, passed over players led by a too-short quarterback, their coach criticized for being too much of a enthusiastic cheerleader.

Just as with the 1995 Mariners, you could feel the energy of the city rise as we began to believe this team was for real. The town was awash in shades of blue and green, football jerseys were worn by kids and grandmothers, and the 12th man was everywhere.


The game itself wasn't much of a game in the competitive sense, but oh what a performance by Seattle. I was amped even before the game began, amazed by the season, but still wondering if we would once again fall short. From the first snap it was clear this would be our day, and I stood cheering and stomping for the entire contest (with occasional trips to the snack table).

I don't pretend that their victory is my victory. My screaming and yelling in front of the tv does not make me a teammate, and I don't live and die by whether my team wins or not. Still, this was one of those rare seasons where you felt like you were part of a bigger community. I will never forget that incredible feeling when Edgar ripped "The Double" to beat the Yankees in extra innings to take the series. It felt like we were all willing Griffey to beat the tag, and when he did there was an eruption of joy and hugs with friends and strangers alike. But even that Refuse-to-Lose team fell short, losing the next series and failing to make it to the World Series.

The Seahawks didn't fall short, and I don't think I will ever forget this first Super Bowl win. It didn't have that electric shock of a last second victory, but I don't know that I will ever see a team rise to the occasion like this one did. It was 60 minutes of incredulity as "our" team dismantled the best offensive team in history. It is just a game, but in the moment it felt like so much more.

The victory isn't ours, it belongs to the teammates playing better than anyone (outside this city) believed they could. The pride, however, spills out across the region, and for a town with a reputation of Seattle Freeze, this team has us hugging strangers again like long lost friends.




January 25, 2014

Brain freeze

I am losing my mind. Actually, that tense is wrong. Some parts of my mind seem to already be gone.

Like anyone else, I hate making stupid mistakes. For some reason I can except that I will be wrong on many occasions, for I am only human, but I do not accept the equally human quality of simple mistakes. To be fair, I am closer to acceptance these days. Where I would berate myself aloud in the past, I now typically sigh and go back and fetch it, pick it up, put it back together.

This morning, I just couldn't seem to get out the door. I was meeting a buddy for a short bike ride, and just before leaving I realized I had forgotten my GPS watch (the ride doesn't count unless you track it). Back upstairs, grab it and go. As I sat in the driver's seat and went to put my key in the ignition, I realized that there was no bump in my back pocket where my wallet should be. Shoulders slump, back upstairs, unlock door, find jeans, resist smacking forehead, lock up and finally get on the road.

As we pulled out of the park, I looked down and realized my bike pump was not on the bike. For some reason, I just didn't want to turn around one more time, and kept pedaling. I have one of those CO2 inflators stashed in my bag, but they never seem to work very well, but I decided to risk it.

The ride was great, hilly but uneventful (no flats), and the fog burned off to reveal a beautiful day. It was just Mike and I this time around, and I don't know him as well, so we rode at the same pace and chatted the miles away. Back at the truck as I was loading my bike on the rack, I set my gloves on the bumper. As I did, I thought to myself, "Don't forget them". I had left a bike pump there a couple of months ago at the same park, and drove away, losing it somewhere on the road.

Of course I did the exact same thing with the gloves today. Not ten seconds had gone by from setting them down to load the bike, and the thought and reminder were gone. I didn't realize my mistake until hours later. Since I can't afford to replace them right now, and I have another early bike ride tomorrow, I drove back to the park just before sundown in hopes of finding them. I walked the roads, but didn't spot them. I walked into the park to see if a good Samaritan had set them somewhere as an impromptu lost and found. I found mismatched single gloves, one on a sign and another on a bench, but mine were nowhere to be found.

As I drove home, I reasoned that I could use the running gloves that my parents had bought me for Christmas. They wouldn't protect against the wind as well, but they were still relatively warm. I went to grab them this evening because I knew I would forget them if I left it until morning, but of course they were nowhere to be found either. I looked in every logical spot, and then in places that made less and less sense. Cushions were overturned, kitchen cabinets searched, desk drawers opened, all to no avail.

I knew I had them just a week ago for a chilly morning run. I actually checked my calendar to see what I had been doing last Saturday, and there it was. Some of us had gathered to plan out what biking events we wanted to do this year. The gloves were probably sitting at a friends house, in the grocery bag I had left/forgotten (rather large pattern developing). A quick text confirmed that they were there (along with my water bottle), at least confirming that my brain still works on some level, if only a week too late.

As I walked back to my car earlier this evening, scanning the road and grass one more time, I could feel the self-anger tickling at my brain, but it was overwhelmed with a shoulder-sagging feeling of exhausted defeat. A form of acceptance, I guess, but it didn't feel that much more healthy. To try to turn my mind and the night around, I stepped up onto a platform to look at the fading sun over the lake.

Overall, it had been a good day. Even before the bike ride, I had made it out for a three mile run along the Sammamish Slew. I had time in between to make myself a full, weekend kind of breakfast, and the sun and company in the afternoon had been refreshing. I'm out $50, my fingers will be cold tomorrow, and I still need to get to Seattle to pick up all the stuff I have left behind. I don't know what it will take to stop being so forgetful, or if this is just a taste of what is to come. Still, there are moments like this that make the stupid mistakes seem small and unimportant.


January 4, 2014

The first day of the rest of your year

The morning after.

New Year's Day is usually a day of recovery. After whooping it up ringing in the new year the night before, and after weeks of holiday madness, a date with your couch in your PJs, doing nothing more active than watching the 78 bowls games is usually in order.

Not all of us are so smart.

New Year's Eve was a long night as usual. Well, I suppose "usual" has changed over the years. For so many years, the last night of the year was spent in a bar with friends. It was the bar in the restaurant where we worked, and after our shift (hopefully before midnight) we joined the growing crowd of co-workers, spouses, partners and other friends that had come down to join us. Even though most of us were essentially hanging out at work, those blowout evenings were some of the best.

New Year's Eves aren't quite as wild as they were back then (still missing a few hours from one of those nights). Lately the groups are smaller, fewer drinks are consumed, and the pillow is hit a little earlier. This year I spent the evening over at my friend Mark's house in a crowd of fifteen or twenty. Mark is one of those friends from the restaurant days a decade ago, and has an energy and sincerity that people flock to. It was a fun night, and I didn't make it to bed until sometime after 2:00am.

This year, there was no date with the couch on the morning after. I joined Joe and Tom in starting the year off with a splash at the Resolution Run and Polar Bear Dip 5k. I had run the event a couple of times with my old running crew, but it had been years since I started the year actively. The 5k runs around Magnuson Park, and just before the finish the route splits into "Dry" and "Wet". The "Dry" folks (weenies/smart people) head straight to the finish line, while the "Wet" runners take a left to the boat launch.

I have been reasonably active the past few months, but there has been a bit less running since I wasn't training for anything in particular. Add to that a small hangover and a short night's sleep, and I was just looking to have a fun run and not lose my cookies along the route. Once I started running, though, I felt pretty good, and ran along at a good clip. As I approached the split, I will admit that the "Dry" lane did look kind of tempting, but I had committed and would never hear the end of it if I wimped out. I hit the boat ramp and waded into Lake Washington.

Lake Washington hovers around 45 degrees in the winter. In many years, the lake is actually warmer than the air temperature. This year, they were about equal, so you would think that the shock would be pretty minimal. However, after running three miles, you are definitely warmer than average, and of course water is a much better conductor of heat (or lack thereof). As I waded into the lake, it didn't feel that bad, and was actually refreshing to tired legs. By the time I made it to the turn-around, though, the euphoric warmth was wearing off, and I knew I had to keep moving. I dunked in completely to make it official, and the quick shock took my breath away. I pressed on and ran toward the finish.

The Polar Bear Dip (click to enlarge)

Me, post dip

I ended up running a good time, even with the side trip into the water. I crossed in just over 22 minutes, which isn't that far off my personal best. As I walked around and caught my breath, a guy came up and gave me sort of a high-five hand clasp and said, "Not bad for a couple of old guys." It was a pretty good time, and I smiled and congratulated him as well, but then thought, "Wait, am I an old guy now?" Crap.

I ran back to the dock to see Joe and Tom take the plunge. Tom's wife and son were there cheering the runners on and taking pictures. As silly as it is to run into a lake on New Year's Day, it is even crazier but more awesome to stand in the cold and watch the knuckle-heads do it. I am always thankful for people who come out.

Joe


Tom


Wet and chilli

Afterward, we found some semi-dry clothing and talked about plans for the year over lunch. 2013 was a big biking year for the three of us. There will probably be fewer biking events this year, but maybe a bit more running to balance it out.

I have been doing this biking and running thing for more than a decade now. I am in better shape in my forties than I was in my thirties, and I feel that beyond the grey hairs (and finish line comments) that it has kept me feeling a bit younger than my years. It has also led to great experiences and adventures with friends, both old and new. Tami said semi-seriously years ago that she took up running just so she could see her friends as weekends began to fill with events. It is easy to drift apart, and I think that sharing these common pursuits not only strengthens our connections, but they strengthen our bodies as well, and might just keep us around to enjoy our friendships a bit longer.

Not a bad way to start the year.


December 28, 2013

Holiday hangover

Christmas time is the most wonderful time of the year. With that sort of expectation, it can be a tough time for some. Sort of like going to Disneyland, "The happiest place on Earth." It is a lot to live up to, and if you end up not having a good time, it is your fault, right?

Christmastime can be this contrast. Amazing joy of time with friends and family, and darker moments of reflection as the end of another year draws close. Christmas rarely lives up to the magic it had as a child, but there are definitely years that mean more than others. Especially with the cold and darker days of winter, it can be easy to slip into a funk and fall prey to believing that there is more darkness than light as you compare what is, with what was, or with what "should" be.

I decided at (almost) the last minute to send out Christmas cards. As I mentioned elsewhere, it seemed sort of a silly thing to do as a single guy. No family photos or letters about what the kids are up to this year, but a reader called me out on it and sent one out a few years ago. After looking over so many pictures when I was deciding on what to put on the walls, I started to see that I had some great adventures this past year. I figured I'd send out five or ten, but the list grew as I thought of all the people I want to stay in touch with in the new year. I suppose the Christmas card is a way of saying that you are in my thoughts, and I want to do better at staying in touch in the new year.

Christmas Day was a blessed day of family. My brother and I gathered at my parents house in the morning, and then met up with a crowd of about 30 of extended family in the evening. When I have told people over the years how a large group of us still gather for holidays and a week together in the summer, and actually enjoy the time together, it is clear that it is a rare thing. I feel very lucky indeed. There is a funny transition as you get older. As families grow and life gets more complicated, you see each other less. At the same time, the age differences mean less, and you have more common ground having years in your own tank. It is a double blessing to have family as friends.

On the other side, friends as family, a group of us gathered together once again for the 42nd annual Dunsire Sleepover Party. Actually, each year is labeled the "42nd annual", and though it hasn't been forty-two just yet, it has probably been a good fifteen or twenty years of annual gatherings. We get together to celebrate the season, and to celebrate our continuing friendship, built off a chance choice to work at the same restaurant so many years ago. There are more kids these days, some who are now adults, and the party is a little less crazy, but it still goes into the wee hours of the morning, and many of us pull up some floor and stay the night. With lives again more complicated, this is the anchor that gets us together for an evening of catching up, and reliving old stories.

After all this great activity in the span of a few days, there is a letdown afterward. The hangover is both figurative and literal,.The heavy drink, volumes of food, and little sleep catches up with you and leaves you feeling a bit miserable. The emotional hangover of the quiet after the chaos hits you as well, and it is perfectly apt to walk into the next week ready to make changes in the new year.

These days, the holiday hangover seems to come earlier and more often. I don't think it is a secret anymore that depression is a guest that never quite leaves my life. She'll hide in a corner now and then, but I will come upon her and she will take my hand and walk with me for a spell. The holiday season makes me think of years and people that have passed by, and even with all the wonderful friends and family, Christmas is missing that one close connection that makes it personal and real.

I took a few days extra days off in December, using up some comp time built up from the long hours of tax season. I was able to go out on a random Monday run outside after being relegated to the treadmill in the days of working dark to dark. It was cool but not freezing, and a dense fog clouded my glasses, so it was soon easier to see without them. A few bike commuters zipped by, and an occasional runner passed in the opposite direction, but the trail was largely mine.

I most often run and drive listening to podcasts. I enjoy them a great deal, but I get to the point of letting music slip out of my life. When I break the cycle and shut off the chatter in favor of music, it feels like a beam of light to my soul. I had dialed up my marathon playlist on the drive home the night before, and took it along as company on my run.

A song came on the playlist, "Swim" by Jack's Mannequin. I actually found this song when the artist performed on the Daily Show of all places. The singer/songwriter described how the song came out of his battle with cancer. The song grabbed me then, and I think the live version was even better than the studio version I found later.

Songs and poems are usually left to our own interpretation, and we tend to tailor them to our own lives. Even though I knew the story behind this song, I think it speaks to other things as well. I find that the lyrics and the spirit of the song lends itself to any sort of struggle, and as I ran that morning, it spoke to me about the battle against depression.

Christmastime is still one of the most wonderful times of the year. It is a time to celebrate with the ones you love, family, friends and everything in between. It doesn't always live up to the hype, but there is still a little magic each year. It is warmth in a cold time of year, a realization that there is much more light than dark, and a reminder of how truly blessed I am.

Even though I stumble now and then, I find the horizon, and realize it's not as far as I think.





You've gotta swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you're not so sure you'll survive
You gotta swim
And swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven't come this far
To fall off the earth
The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
A crack in the armor
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Through nights that won't end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers and friends
Yeah you've gotta swim
Through wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don't see their greed as a flaw

The currents will pull us
Away from our love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open now
I swim for brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
Well I'm not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There's no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you've gotta swim
Don't let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it's not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Swim
Just keep your head above
Swim, swim
Just keep your head above
Swim

December 16, 2013

Pictures

Unpacking has gone slowly, strung out now over several months. The first week was a rush of getting the necessary things situated, but after the kitchen, clothing, bedding and other furniture found their new places, things slowed dramatically. I went through the odd box now and then, mostly to thin things out, but I didn't do much of anything that would be considered decorating. It was probably a combination of things, but now that I had this new place, I sort of hesitated to make it "mine".

Naturally, part of it was because much of those things stored away were from a house shared with another. Each item had a certain not-so-ephemeral emotion memory attached to it. I sorted out the things that had little or too much attached, and put away the stuff in the middle. Boxes began to disappear, but nothing really came out.

When I hosted a couple of friends for book club a few months ago, I finally threw three or four prints on the wall so it would look like someone actually lived here. Outside of the painting of Sierra that Holly gave me, the few things didn't really reflect anyone in particular. Someone lived here, but it wasn't clear who.

I made plans to print out some of the ten years of digital photos, to get them out of their sad purgatory of being stored away in bits and bytes, never to be seen. It is no way for a photo to live. I spent an evening a while back copying some into a "to print" folder, but the size of the task was somewhat overwhelming. Like many of those boxes, the computer folders held memories of their own, and I set aside the project to be worked on later.

I invited my parents over for dinner this past Saturday. They had offered dinner at their place, but I wanted them to come over for a couple of reasons. I wanted them to see the Christmas tree I had put up, the first in a few years. That was its own adventure in memory mining, but I am really glad I did it. I did it for myself, but I sort of wanted someone else to see it, to make it real and share in the Christmas traditions. The other reason I invited them over was to kick myself in the butt to get the place looking like something beyond a faceless (messy) hotel room.

Friday, I opened that neglected "to print" folder and spent several hours adding to it, digging through pictures over the last few years. Even staying away from most of the stuff before 2009, the folder was soon overflowing and I had to start picking and choosing memories all over again. The looming dinner deadline fortunately cut short the time to second guess. By evening I had most of the prints in frames and had a few on the walls. It eventually grew too late to be hammering nails into shared walls, but even before I quit I know I wanted to get more photos printed.

Saturday I finished round one, then made another trip to Kohl's for 60% off frames, and to Costco for prints in under two hours. I split the afternoon between hanging pictures, prepping dinner and cleaning up after both projects. I finished up a half hour before they arrived. I actually fell three nails short of finishing, but in a little more than a day I went from no photos on the walls to fifty-six (yes I just counted).

For a while I hesitated to put anything on the walls. It is an apartment, a rental after all, so was it worth sinking nails into the walls? It was the same in San Diego. I wasn't sure how long I would be there, so it sort of felt like the walls should match that uncertainty. I was staying with friends, so the living situation seemed even more temporary, but eventually pictures went up and it felt more like home. I don't know why it took months to remember that lesson, or to realize that even though I am renting, I may be here long term. With lots of pictures up, it now it feels more like home, more like me.

Another lesson learned and remembered is that making lighter connections does not make it any easier to move on. It doesn't spare the pain of leaving some place or someone. You might as well risk sinking some anchors in. You can almost always patch the holes if you have to.

We ended up having a lovely evening. The pictures led to stories old and new, as did the ornaments on the tree. Home can be anywhere I suppose, but it has to be something you create and carve out. The welcoming in of someone to share in it seems to complete the picture.

November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving

Standing at my front door, fumbling for keys after a wonderful evening, I look down at the cooler at my feet. It is old, stained, and creeks loudly when it is opened. It is mine, but not really. It is a relic of family, and that is some of what Thanksgiving is about.

I showed up at my brother and sister-in-law's house, cooler in hand, stocked with a variety of microbrews. As a single guy, I am (rightly, generally) relegated to bringing beer and ice to parties. My sister in law asked that I bring the beer, and the last couple of years geeking out on beer knowledge has finally become useful. I spent a good half hour at Total Wine picking out beers of different types, beers that were interesting, but not so obscure that they would be intimidating or confusing.

The cooler belonged to my former father in law. Though the beer that I filled it with today may have been worth more than the cooler, and the cooler itself has certainly seen better days, I have seen no reason to replace it. Part of it may be the tenuous connection to a man I barely knew, but respected, but it is mostly because it still works and there is no reason to throw it away. Knowing what little I know about the man, I think he would respect me for either reason.

The top is stained with two rust marks, but they do not leave a clear picture of what was put away wet and left after one of his trips. He was a man who worked with his hands, and it could have been any number of tools, or simply a scattering of lead weights. The cooler itself probably held very little beer in its former life, and was more likely filled with fish. He may have even made use of the measuring sticks stamped in the lid to verify if the catch was legal, in both Imperial and Metric gradations.

Like so many others in my life, I wish I had grown to know him more, that I had pressed against the relationship resistance. I am so surely blessed with the family that I have, but the ones I have lost make me pause on this day of thanksgiving. My older brother and I spent twenty minutes working on his garbage disposal that had been jammed with some fragment of metal during the meal preparation. There is that part of me that misses working with my hands, fixing things that need to be fixed, and wishes I had shared that one commonality I had with Fred when I had the chance.

Today is a day of giving thanks, not dwelling on regret. I am thankful for my amazing family and my wonderful friends, and I am thankful for those strange moments, looking at coolers, that remind me of how I want to do better in the future.

November 27, 2013

Winter warmth

I still have a couple weeks of comp time built up from the tax season(s), so I made a three day work week into a two day work week. Extra time to be thankful I say. I pushed the alarm clock to 8:00am, and was frustrated to wake up at 7:00. It didn't seem like I was going to be able to fall back asleep, but somehow five minutes later the alarm went off. Success!

During the three years down in San Diego, I transitioned to running primarily in the mornings to avoid the heat. Back in Washington, and with a job that started at an earlier hour, I shifted back to running in the evenings. With the shorter daylight hours lately though, it has been difficult to get out. I am not training for anything specific these days, but I want to keep moving to avoid digging too deep a hole to climb out of in the spring, and also to counteract the holiday stuffing. Without a race on the horizon, it is much easier to skip a run, but I laced up my shoes this morning and headed out.

I ran my normal path along the Sammamish trail. The proximity to the trail was definitely a factor when I was apartment shopping, and it is really a blessing to have miles and miles of traffic-free roads to run. Though it was a weekday morning, I expected more people on the path, extending the holiday week as I had. The path has never been this empty, so it was mostly just me and the wildlife. Before I even reached the trail, a crow flew across my path, a full piece of wheat bread in its beak. It alighted on a concrete pillar, probably just out of my reach, but it eyed me suspiciously as I passed. I told him, "nice score" as he waited to tuck into breakfast. Seagulls circled, birds chirped, squirrels darted, and I ran.

There is something different in winter sunlight. It illuminates things in a more focused way, exposing different colors and shadowy textures. I suppose it is mostly the lower angle of the sun, but I think it is also the contrast of bright sunlight against a cold day. The fall colors on the hillsides come alive as if they were aflame, and spaces under concrete overpasses seem luminescent rather than shaded in darkness. If light could play across the steam of your breath hitting the cold air, it would put to shame the twinkling lights of Christmas.

It has been cold lately. Of course it is only "Seattle cold" and not "Minnesota cold", but it was still in the 20s for several nights. Another bonus for my apartment choice was an underground parking space. Not that my truck needs the protection, but it was a designated spot I knew would always be empty. I briefly thought about the winter benefits, but they didn't stick in the brain when I moved in July. Driving down the hill past all the iced over cars this past week made me extra thankful to not have to scrape windows every morning. The disadvantage of the apartment is that is on a hillside, however, and I am not sure if I will be able to make it out when it gets truly icy and snowy.

I came home late last night, looking forward to the extended Thanksgiving weekend. As I rounded the corner halfway up the hill, I saw the manager's office decorated and lit up in Christmas lights. The Christmas creep into Thanksgiving and even Halloween bugs me, but rather rail against it coming too early, I just enjoyed the light in the cold darkness.

Tomorrow officially begins the holiday season. My wish is that we all feel warmth in the cold, light in the darkness, and that we see magic hidden in the shadows.

November 25, 2013

Quiet time

It is a strange, wonderful, lonely experience to come home to an empty house.

After the wife and house went on to live their new stories with a different set of characters, I have lived with others, metaphorically sleeping on someone else's couch for the last three or four years. Great strides were made, and setbacks were had in the meantime, but it never really felt like I had truly found my feet and started life anew.

I moved into my own place at the start of the summer. Beyond the last few years of living under someone else's roof, I had not lived alone for fifteen or twenty years. On the one hand, I longed to set up my own camp, cook in my own kitchen, have the mess or cleanliness be mine, but I also wondered what it would be like to be left entirely to my own devices. Though people may not actually put expectations on you, their presence nonetheless acts as a monitoring or filtering device. What would it be like with no one to consider or watch over.

I have found that now living alone, the battle against slipping into bad habits is more difficult. I'll have that larger helping of food, a second beer, or call chips and humus a meal with no one else around. Maybe I veg out to a marathon of Pysch episodes instead of shutting it off after an hour and reading a book. Since alone time is mine to be had, there is less of a push to go out and say go for a walk or hide out in a coffee shop where writing seems more likely.

I have actually been doing some writing, though nothing has appeared here in quite some time. I started the NaNoWriMo challenge on November 1st, and it felt like if I were to be writing, I needed to focus on that. Well, I am not going to make it to 50,000 words, so I feel safe to "waste" a few words here. I am only about half way at this point, but I will press on even as the deadline goes whishing by me this Saturday. The point of the exercise was to get me back in the habit and mindset, and I will call it at least half successful. The habit is still spotty, but the light in my eyes is flickering more regularly.

I have always been pretty comfortable on my own, but I have become less so in the past few years, and I think that is a good thing. I am glad to finally get started again with a place I can call my own, but I do miss the random conversations that come from living with others. It is funny how someone you haven't seen in a few weeks will ask you how you've been, and what's been going on, and you can come up blank. All the details fade into the background that is your daily life. But a daily conversation with someone at home, and you share the little tidbits that may not seem important a day later, but made for a good story that night.

And of course I still miss Sierra. She wasn't much of a conversationalist, but she was a wonderful presence and beacon of love. I went for a bike ride last Sunday, and I swear every whitish yellow lab was out for a walk. Each one made me smile, and reminded me of what a special thing it is to have a dog in your life. There will never be another Sierra, but there will be another dog someday. I don't know that I am ready just yet, but since my apartment doesn't allow them, the decision is at least delayed until next summer. Cats are allowed here, and I will admit that thought has crossed my mind.

Summer was pretty busy with big biking events, the annual family trip to eastern Washington, a hiking adventure and the run around Chicago. For the first few months it felt like I was hardly home (that is my excuse for still having unpacked boxes stashed in the den). Work filled up some weekends through September and October as well, so for several months it felt like I was just home to sleep, shower and change.

Now things have slowed dramatically, and life has been pretty quiet this past month. The days are shorter and the freezing temperatures have kept me indoors, looking at the growing list of projects that were left for another day. The silence of the house is more noticeable without all the activity of summer, and the cold seems to creep in and it can be hard to shake the chill.

I am happy to say the quiet house and calendar has encouraged me out in a different way now, and I have kept up on the group bike rides the past few weekends - new places, and new faces. And the holidays are on the horizon, and the weekends will fill up with all that is wonderful in family and friends. Then it is on to another tax season in the new year, and the weekends will be filled with a different sort of craziness.

I relish the peace, but look forward to a little noise now and then.

November 10, 2013

Crash

I had this past week off from work. It wasn't planned in advance, so it ended up being a "Staycation". Basically, the boss said that I had too much comp time built up, and that I needed to start taking time off before the end of the year.

I certainly had plenty to do, and I ended up getting several things checked off the list, but ultimately it felt a bit like a wasted week. Chores were done, beer was brewed and bottled, health care was researched, and boxes were torn through, but at the end of the week, I didn't feel like I had a good "what I did this summer" report to give.

The timing was actually fortuitous as it was the first week of NaNoWriMo. My friend Sean encouraged me to get back out there and take on the challenge once again. It is obvious to everyone that there hasn't been a whole lot o' writing going on here (or anywhere), so though it had been tugging at my brain, I really wasn't planning on committing to the 50,000 word challenge again this year. But in the week leading up to November 1st, the writing brain was reawakened, and I liked how it felt. I don't know that what I am working on currently will go anywhere, but it is great to be putting metaphorical pen to paper once again.

Then my laptop died.

I was writing in the local Starbucks (my other office) when the screen froze. Then I froze. When was the last time I hit save? I took a picture of the screen to at least capture a paragraph or two, and then rebooted. Then it happened several more times, and I basically gave up for the day. Soon, instead of just a frozen screen, I was getting this:


Now, I know that I am looking for excuses at this point. It is so easy to find them when the task is difficult. I could start writing things out on paper, but of course the word count is much easier to keep track of in trusty old Word. I do have a desktop computer, though it is sitting on top of the tv, being used only for watching programs on Hulu. There is always the library, or using the computer at work on off hours. Options abound, but it doesn't take much to derail the creative process of a procrastinator.

This weekend it started to feel like I was making use of my time off. On Saturday, I got in a 6 mile run, then went to a SIFF film festival featuring award winning short films. The draw was a film called "Sleeping with Siri", produced by Marty Riemer and Michael Stusser, who I listen to on a weekly podcast. The film is about how our constant use and dependence on technology is warping how we think and perceive our world. As a reaffirmation, Google Maps led me to the wrong place and I was nearly late to the show. And then of course, my laptop died.

Today, I signed up on a Cascade bike ride, and rode new roads with new people. I have felt kind of shut off this week, so it was nice to get out and conquer a not so solo task. Afterward, I stopped off at a local brewery to catch the end of the Seahawks game, and randomly ran into great friends I hadn't seen in too long a time. It was great to feel this reconnection and presence throughout the day.

There was a moment on today's bike ride where I found myself veering toward the edge of the road where the pavement had broken away. The dangerous spot was highlighted with white paint, and my wheel naturally turned into the gap. This is a lesson in biking, that we tend to naturally steer toward what we are looking at. If we see an obstacle in our path, our eyes lock on it, and we head right for it even though that is exactly what we are trying to avoid. It takes conscious effort to look to the safe path, but once we do, we tend to steer toward it.

I have plenty of obstacles, real and imagined, getting in the way of writing, but there is always a path around them. It just takes focusing on the right thing. I am currently about 6,500 words behind on my goal, when I should have been far ahead with all this time off. A busted laptop and other hurdles will make it tough to catch up, but if I don't make it, it will be because I listened to those dark voices telling me I couldn't, that what I was writing was not worth putting down. I will have steered into the obstacles instead of the open road before me.

So I cleared off the sofa table, drug it in front of the tv/computer and banged out this bit of writing. Eight or nine hundred words that should have been put toward a new novel, but there is always tomorrow. I am best when cramming for finals, and sliding in just beating the tag makes for a better story.

October 24, 2013

2013 Chicago Marathon

It was another great adventure with friends, and a tribute to those that selflessly give their time to support others.

A group of us ran the San Diego Marathon on my 40th birthday, and now seven years later, we were back to celebrate Tami chasing 50. Five of us ran the Chicago Marathon - Tami and Cherie running their third marathon overall, and Brian and Debbie running their very first. Cherie promises that when she turns 50, the celebration will be more along the lines of drinks on beach of a tropical island.

This would be my 15th marathon, but I was probably more nervous about how the day would go as anytime since my first. Work deadlines and twelve hour days at the office took their toll in the final month leading up to the marathon. I missed some weekday runs, and then my last long run was the worst run in several years. We ran in a deluge of rain and high winds, my IT bands knotted up, and knee pain forced me to walk the last three miles home. The pain did not go away after I stopped running, and I was hobbling around for several days, every muscle in my legs tight and sore. A few weeks earlier I thought I might set a new personal best, but now walking much of the marathon was a distinct possibility.

We arrived at the starting area at around 5:45am, nice and early in anticipation of the crowds. Security was heightened after the Boston bombings, so I was nervous about the lines to get in. We breezed through, either a testament to their organization, or payoff for getting out of bed so early. Pictures, excited chatter, quick trips to the porta-johns, hugs and encouragement, last bits of advice and prayer, and it was off to our respective starting areas to await the starting gun.

Boston was on our minds, and many of us wore blue bracelets and shoe laces as a symbol of solidarity, and I had printed up a special race shirt for the marathon as well. I wanted to focus on the positive community of marathons, and how these events bring so many people together to triumph over adversity. I wanted to focus on what is right with the world, rather than what is wrong, but I wanted to honor the victims as well. It is such a strange experience for most of us to be cheered along on our journey, and it is amazing how powerful this support is when you are feeling like you can't go on. I am ever thankful for those that come out in the wee hours only to support their fellow man, and none more so the three that senselessly lost their lives while doing this positive thing for complete strangers.


There was thirty seconds of silence for the Boston victims a few minutes before the start. I have experienced moments of silence at events before, but there always seems to be a few people who keep talking or banging around. Marathon morning, the excited chatter stopped immediately, and the silence was absolute. Just after this, the National Anthem began. When PA cut out a couple words in, our corral spontaneously started singing. The professional continued, but so did we. When the PA cut out every five words, it was smoothly filled in by the amateurs. These two moments back to back were an extra moving start to an outstanding day, and just seemed to bond us together that much more.

The Chicago crowds were amazing. I have never experienced such a large, enthusiastic string of supporters. It was estimated that there were 2 million people lining the streets, and nearly every step of the way there was someone on the sidelines cheering us on, sometimes three rows deep. It was unbelievable. I was choked up in the first few miles from the power of it. The energy carried me along to a fast start, probably too fast in the end.

I covered the first 13.1 miles in just over an hour and fifty minutes. My hope weeks earlier was that I could sneak in under my previous best of 3:45 and for the first half I was at a 3:40 pace. My expectation, however, was that the knee pain would rear its ugly head, and that I would need to walk the last several miles. Halfway through my knees were fine, but my hamstrings and calves were feeling tight. My mind bounced back between realistic expectation, and dreams of a new personal best.

Each turn brought us to a new neighborhood (twenty-nine in all), and a new set of cheering supporters. It was deafening at times, and it felt like we could be carried along on the blasting sound wave. Everything about this marathon seemed to be on a grander scale - the 40,000 runners, two-block-long water stations, twenty thousand volunteers, and of course the millions of spectators. I found myself running with an endless smile, shaking my head at the spectacle, and even mouthing "I love you all" to a particularly enthusiastic choir of voices.

Though all of us shared the same road, each runner ran their own journey. No matter how difficult the marathon seems at times, all you need to do is look to your left or right to find someone running a more difficult road than you. It is not unusual at a marathon these days to see runners missing their lower leg, titanium and carbon fiber replacing what was once flesh. On this day of course, it reminded us of those that lost their limbs in Boston, but were determined to take to the roads once again. I passed by a woman who had lost her left leg to the hip, and was making her way to the finish line with a rhythmic swing.

She was accompanied by a volunteer, as were several blind runners I ran beside. One runner had three volunteers, one behind and two flanking her, to guide her to the finish. I was again reminded of the determination of runners, and the loving support of volunteers, and I placed my hand on the nearest shoulder and simply said, "You're awesome".

Though my heart was carried along on a wave of emotion, reality began to set into my legs. My hamstrings and calves grew tighter with each step, and my pace slowed with the inability to push off. I still had some time in the bank, but doubt, once a quiet voice, began to shout. I longed for the next water stop for the chance to replenish and an excuse to walk for a bit. Soon, I couldn't wait for the next stop, and pulled to the side of the road to walk and to try to let my legs unwind. I tried to keep the breaks short, but the pain grew stronger than the brain. I took in more fuel and just kept moving forward. Dreams of 3:45 were gone, but 3:50 was still in sight if I could just hang on.

I shuffled through another wave of screaming supporters as I reached the 25.2 mile mark. Only one mile to go. Buoyed by the screaming voices of random strangers, I told myself I would not walk another step in the final mile. I cranked up the volume on the music that largely went unheard all day over the crowd, and I pressed on the best I could, trying to push my legs to the limit without allowing them to snap.

There were two final turns to the finish I could picture in my head from The Spirit of the Marathon movie, the right turn leading us up a small hill before making the left toward home. Waves of cheers did their best to drown out "My Thanksgiving" playing over the headphones as I set my sights on the clock over the finish line. I crossed in 3:48:50 physically fragile and emotionally overwhelmed. A truly amazing day.

I met Scott in the finish area and enjoyed a complimentary beer and the energy of the finishers as we waited for our friends to arrive. Tami crossed first, and then Cherie with a new personal best. Debbie, then Brian crossed next having thoroughly enjoyed the experience of their first marathon (other than Brian's two stops to get his knee taped). After making our way back to the hotel and getting cleaned up, we shared our common but unique stories over some Chicago deep dish pizza and cold beer.

I had heard stories about how incredible the support was in Chicago, but it is something else to experience first hand. To have such a concrete example of the power of community with Boston heavy on our minds was amazing. To share this wonder with friends and strangers alike, and to see two more people experience the power of a finish line was fantastic. It never gets old, and it only seems to get better.

And then there was this story that we didn't hear about until days later.
With an entourage of support, a man with muscular dystrophy crossed the finish line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon early Monday morning -- nearly 17 hours after he started.

The 38-year-old passed the 26.2 milestone at around 1:30 a.m., surrounded by about 100 people.

"My message is: If you dream it, make it happen. Your life is the most beautiful thing that could happen to you. Make the best with that, and share the best of that," he said shortly after finishing the race.
Another in thousands of stories about human determination, and the support we can find in our fellow man. Though Boston reminded us how dangerous and fragile life can be, the marathon has reaffirmed that most people continue to strive to make this world a better place. Another amazing day.
For every moment of joy
for every hour of fear
for every winding road
that brought me here.

For every breath, for every day of living
this is my thanksgiving

For everyone who helped me start
and for everything that broke my heart.

For every breath, for every day of living
this is my thanksgiving.


October 22, 2013

One foot in front of the other

Lord it has been a long bout of silence. There are stories to tell, some incredible, some mundane, some wonderful, some not so, but I have lost that little glimmer that any of it matters. But like my jammed up phone that tries to do so many things that it can't do any of them quickly, my brain and soul are gunked up for the lack of speaking the thoughts out loud, and I know I need to clean a little mental house. I can feel the spiral as I skate around the edges.

I haven't even bothered to visit this blog in what seems like months, but one of those slow moving apps on my phone let me know that another writer I follow had posted after a long silence, and I there are bits and pieces that make me want to follow her lead. Plus I just like the title of the post.

Atrophy is forgetting how to log into your own website.

I may have run by her at some point, this person I have followed but never seen. I'd like to think that we picked up a small baton from each other, in that moment and weeks later.

Don't worry about the finish line. Just make a start, and keep moving.