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.

October 19, 2015

Trouble light

2015 has been a year of change. New home, new car (well, new to me), I started dating again, and I adopted a dog. Not all of it has worked out, and those stories will come later, but all in all change has been good.

So where exactly have I been? That is a good question and I am not exactly sure of the answer. I have felt very lost recently, and unfortunately that is not an entirely new feeling. I have battled depression on some level for as long as I can remember. It is not always sitting at the table with me, but it is always lurking in a corner asking me to greet the darkness again.

I was recently at my 30th high school reunion (another story on the docket). As I was ducking out a bit early, I ran into an acquaintance, if not a close friend. We chatted enthusiastically for a bit, and then she stopped me with a question seemingly out of nowhere.

"Are you happy?"

The question was so honest and direct, I did not stall or deflect. I took a breath and with a half smile I said:


A couple of recent mornings, I have walked out my door and a weight fell on me, wrapping itself around my chest. A feeling I can't quite describe welled up in me, and I felt like weeping there on the front porch. Though it had been a couple of hard weeks, I can't point to the trigger or thought behind the feeling. It just is. And I can't reason my way out of it. On some level, I feel like I should be able to, because again, life is generally good, can't complain, thanks for asking.

I was listening to a two part interview with a Dr. Kirk Parsley on a running podcast recently. He is a doctor, athlete and former Navy Seal who has focused his research on the importance of sleep. His point of view is that sleep is one of the four pillars of good health and performance, along with nutrition, physical activity and stress management. In an analogy, he describes a man driving into a shop to try and figure out why his car is driving so poorly. His suspicion is that it is a clogged fuel filter. The mechanic points out that he is driving with only three wheels, and maybe he should address that first.

We tend to focus on these small things, tweaking the air/fuel mixture, ignoring the sparks flying from the wheel-less rotor scraping the ground. Dr. Parsley goes so far as saying it is often pointless to try and make a medical diagnosis without first addressing these four pillars. He himself was diagnosed with ADD when in med school, and the symptoms line up almost perfectly with sleep deprivation. Sadly, it took him years to figure out that was the real problem.

Before I delve too deeply into why the darkness has returned, I am going to address these four pillars. Sleep was number one on the list. It has always been a problem for me, so it seemed the obvious starting point. I have been going to bed earlier and reading pages instead of screens. I still feel like crap most every morning, but I am trying to fix each tire in turn.

That said, I think writing again is a critical piece of the puzzle. I am re-reading George Sheehan's Running and Being, the Total Experience. I read it almost six years ago, and did not particularly enjoy it. To be fair, I was not in a good mental state when I read it. I had just moved in with my parents after selling my house as a result of my pending divorce. Some of his statements seemed all too black and white. I have never been a fan of absolutes, and I certainly wasn't when it felt like there was not much I could believe in.

Anyway, there is a quote early in the book:
"Sin is the failure to reach your potential. Guilt is the unlived life."
This is where a lot of my guilt comes from and is a significant part of the darkness. I don't wake up each day disappointed in myself, but there is certainly a baseline shame in what my life has become. Though logically I know outside forces and circumstances played some part, it is my own two hands I look at for my failure to make this life something special. To heed Thoreau's warning, I may just come to the end of this life and find I have not lived.

On a run tonight, and on another running podcast, a Friedrich Nietzsche quote struck a similar chord. Nietzsche believed that the central task of philosophy was to teach us how to ‘become who we are’, in other words, how to discover and be loyal to our highest potential.

I don't know if there is any great purpose in our lives, some certain thing we are destined for, but at the same time it feels like we each have something unique to contribute, and it would be a shame if the world did not get to share in it. I don't know that writing is my highest potential, but for now it feels like an important part of who I am, and a critical part of my way forward.

So before we pop the hood and start yanking on wires, we start with making sure those four tires are not only on the vehicle, but are fully inflated and have some tread on them. If the four pillars are in place, I will be able to think more clearly and make better decisions. Then we can start tweaking the finer points and see if there is something else that can shine a light in the darkness.

And we start here, pen to paper and bits to the ether. Decrease the words stuck in my head and maybe elevate them to some purpose.

January 29, 2015

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mom's birthday. Her 80th.


One of those nice round numbers that makes it mean something more. Every time you venture into another decade, somehow everything feels a little different, even if you are just 24 hours older than when you woke up the safe side of calendar marker. Imaginary or not, 40 does seem older than 39, 50 older than 49.

In our family there is this running theme started by one of my cousins, "you're not old until you're 80." It started with my grandmother, a woman who was not only the classic grandma to her family, but seemed to be this matronly anchor to friends as well. Not many people called her by her given name, Gladys, but more often by her family moniker, Nannie. Mom is now the matriarch of the extended family, and is "Aunt Bev" to most.

Time of course smooths out the edges on memory, mine especially, most of which seem to be clouded in movie flashback fog. Anyway, Nannie at 80 seemed much older than Mom at 80. Part of it is difference in scale of course. As a young kid, everyone seems so old. My parents were in their mid to late thirties when I was growing through my pre-teen years, and they seemed much older than I feel even now at 47. We are also living longer these days, and I think my Mom has been more active in trying to stay healthy, making 80 not what it used to be.

Still another part of it is lifestyle, and how you spend your time. In my head, Nannie stayed at home most of the time, though of course that probably isn't true. I am more tuned into what my Mom is up to. There is water aerobics, bridge and book club with friends, plays and the occasional opera with other friends, lectures at the UW, and of course their travel. I am happy to see her and my Dad (just a month shy of his own 80th birthday) doing those big trips to Europe that weren't feasible while raising four kids.

80 though.

Still hard to wrap my head around all that they have seen in that time. Beyond the whole string of historical events and technological advances, there are all the (not so) little day to day things like building a career, creating a home, raising a family, and doing right by friends, family and the world. Though we tend to look back at the "big" events when rewinding a life, it is those million tiny moments that make up who you are and where you have been. And growing up, there were few big lectures about being a good person, just a thousand little demonstrations on how to be one.

I am eternally grateful for my family, and most of all for you Mom. I am blessed to be able to spend the big days and random Tuesdays at the dinner table with you and Dad. Mostly, though, I am just so happy that you both are still off discovering new lands and building a life when you've supposedly reached "old."

I think the notion that 80 is when you become old is being re-written. By you two.

Happy birthday Mom.

Love always,


December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

The Christmas season has extended to more than a month these days. At once I rail against it backing up into Thanksgiving, and in the next breath I wonder where the time went.

There have been parties and gatherings sprinkled throughout the month, and that is a wonderful part of extending the season. Even last night, I was invited to a friend's house for a family gathering to celebrate Christmas Eve. I was essentially the one non-family member in attendance, and it is part of the wonder of the season that I was invited to take part.

Yet as I was driving home last night from the party, still warmed by the generosity of spirit, it felt strange that I wouldn't see these and other friends on the actual day of Christmas. It is of course it is logistically unfeasible to see everyone you love on the day itself, but mere mathematical impossibility does not dissuade the heart from wanting what it wants.

I wish I could be there in person to wish you a Merry Christmas, but you will be with me in (Christmas) spirit.

Merry Christmas everybody!

December 24, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Past

A friend wrote recently, "Every year I debate whether or not to get a Christmas tree. But I never regret putting one up." It is something I have often said about going out on a run. I am rarely, "Woohoo, let's do this thing," but again, I never regret it.

I go through a similar battle to my friend each year with the Christmas tree. I wrote a bit about it a few years ago, and in some ways that feeling remains. When you live by yourself, it strangely seems like a wasted effort to put up a tree. Like any part of the season, or much of anything really, activities seem to grow in meaning by more than a simple factor of two when shared. Is it really worth going through the effort to get a tree, drag it upstairs, get the boxes out of storage and decorate for just you?


Yet I still debated again this year. I wasn't going to be able to make it happen until the 14th, so it seemed almost doubly silly to do it that late in the season. But I did, and once again, I do not regret the effort.

Every tree tells a story, and each ornament is a passage. In 2008 when things were beginning to come apart at the seams, I walked around my tree and wrote about what some of the ornaments meant (The Twelve Ornaments of Christmas). Everyone's tree has its own family history on display, but unless you know the story behind them, they are mostly just shiny baubles. If you were to listen to the stories told by your host, you would realize that the tree is more than a decoration, and it is really a telling of their lives, and of Christmases past. I was trying to share some of those stories, but I was also trying to anchor myself in family and tradition when I felt it slipping away.

You unpack these story totems but just once a year, so each time you see them, your brain rewrites the connection. There are a few that are a small surprise as the memory of where they came from fades. Some ornaments are second or third string, and some years don't make the cut, while others you could never forget and always get a special place on the tree. Then there are a few that don't come out of the box because their memory isn't what it used to be.

I obviously have ornaments that were from when I was married. Most of them come out each year, but there are certain ones that have remained tucked away. They are the ones with pictures or our names on them as a couple. Their meaning had changed significantly, and I just couldn't bring myself to put them on the tree. I also have more recent picture ornaments from Kristy, and their meaning has changed as well.

This year for the first time, I unwrapped those ornaments. I looked at them and tried to decide what they meant to me a year further down the road. I set them back in the box again, but less decisively. I met a friend the next night, and somehow the subject came up. As I explained it, I began to feel like it was time to put them back out.

I still think the ending was poorly written, but it is part of my story. I suppose if I were with someone now, it might be harder to explain why they belong on the tree, but maybe in telling the story, I would come to know better how I feel. If I keep these things in my too-large box of regrets, they seem to hold more power than if I just have them out in the open.

So my tree is up again, it is my story, and I am sticking to it.

December 23, 2014

Tis the (off)season

The Christmas season is in full swing with all its richness and scheduling craziness, but it many ways it is the off season right now. November and December are the two months where we get our reprieve from the tax season that somehow stretches into ten months. Even though the social calendar is filling up with festivities, there is a bit of peace to match the ideal of the season.

Wintertime is not only the off season for work, but it is also typically the off season for training. For those that have training cycles throughout the year, the winter months are generally when you take it a bit easy. Not only does your body need a break now and then to repair and renew, but you need to step back to give your mind a rest as well. You risk burnout if you go at it day after day, month after month, and I think time away allows you to pursue your goals with more energy and determination when you return.

Winter is an ideal time on the calendar for this. For most of us (ah to be in San Diego some days), the temperature drops and the daylight hours fade. Add to this the activity and temptations of the holiday season, and it is nice to not watch every calorie, and sleep in on those Sundays when you would be more typically rising early to run or ride. 

This year is a little different, though. For a number of reasons, I wasn't as active this summer. Injury and illness played a part, as did more finish lines on the work calendar than the running calendar, but if I am honest with myself, I lost that spark, that drive to take care of myself. As a result, I am carrying more weight these days, both physical and mental. That needs to change.

So I am getting back at it now. For the past couple of months, I have been getting out three times a week for a run or a ride. Things being slower at work makes it a bit easier, but the winter season makes it more challenging. I am running in the dark most of the time, so I am either chasing a little headlamp circle bobbing in front of me, or swapping out more scenic routes for ones with streetlights. 

And then there is the weather. It has bounced between drenching rain and bitter cold. A day after I sank into the saturated soil, the hole froze solid. 

But then it was 66 degrees on December 10th, the warmest December day recorded in Seattle since records began in 1945. There is nearly as much time spent wondering what I should be wearing as there is actually running. 

But I am finally moving in the right direction again, and the habit is starting to take hold. The other day when I was just about done, a red light delayed me. Even though I was ready to be done, I decided to turn right and add some distance rather than wait. I have also been running some 5ks lately, and it is nice to be toeing the start line again. 

The Evan Sebenius 5k Memorial Run

 The Green Lake Gobble

Turkey Trot

Holiday Fun Run

So it is sort of an off-season that isn't. I am hoping (planning damn it!) to carry the training dedication and self-care through the winter and into the April madness. I need to do a better job at prioritizing heath and well-being over deadlines that will be there no matter what I do.

One nice thing about the crossing of the off-season (that is or isn't an off-season) and the Holiday Season is having the time to be able to see friends and family. I look forward to the grand gatherings with the warmth of home and friendship, but there is something special about pinning on a race bib and taking on a challenge together. A bit of fellowship to add to the richness of the season. And burning a few extra calories before the roast beast doesn't hurt either. 

November 27, 2014

Sisters and Brothers From a Different Mother

I recently received a congratulations email from LinkedIn. It was marking the two-year anniversary of when I started working for the CPA firm. I had in the back of my mind that I moved back up here in November, but really hadn’t connected the dots that it has already been two years.

When I decided to leave California, the main factor was to be close to my family again. As the decision came in late summer/early fall, the target became to be back by Thanksgiving. I see Thanksgiving as that perfect family holiday. There are no cursory traditions that seem like requirements. No presents to buy, cards to exchange, services to attend – it is just a day to spend with family and give thanks for all the wonderful (and even not so wonderful) things and people in your life.

It was difficult to say goodbye to everyone in San Diego. People I knew before moving down became deeper friends, and friends became family. What would it be like now that we couldn’t just meet for a drink or share an impromptu dinner? Well, it would be like what happened when I moved away from my set of Washington friends, and I knew how hard that had become.

For all the knocks against Facebook and other social media, it does give you a tether into the lives of those that you care about. Even if they are just a few towns over, lives can get so busy that it is difficult to coordinate a meeting in person. For those that are too far away for a quick visit, it can feel like a lifeline.

But of course, it can be and feel superficial. Lost are the deeper discussions about the sort of things that don’t make the highlight reel. One friend over Facebook suggested making every tenth posting about something you’re less likely to share. A problem that crept up, a struggle that has been nagging, or just a feeling of sadness that you can’t trace to its source. Most find it difficult to reach out in this way in person, so doing it online is that much more of a barrier.

Now that I am back, in some ways it feels like I was never gone. I don’t know how common it is, but I feel very fortunate to have friends that I can sort of pick up where I left off. Many I have known for the better part of twenty years, and most can be traced back to one of two restaurants – McDonald’s or The Keg. I assign this closeness and longevity to working together in that sort of job. My mom recently commented how fortunate it is that I had these kinds of friends. She thought it was because of the type of person I am, but she may be a bit biased.

Of course I was gone, and I feel like I was a bit different when I returned, but my friends welcomed me back with few questions asked. It is a true blessing. It may be presumptuous, but I feel like my California friends would be the same way. They are those sorts of cherished people as well, friends that are family.

I met up with some friends over the weekend. On Friday it was with some in the twenty-year class that I don’t get to see nearly enough. There was so much to catch up on, but much of the feeling was communicated in the long hugs of greeting. On Saturday and Sunday, it was with people I have known for only a couple of years, but we already consider ourselves a biking “family”.

My actual family (you know, those that I am related to) is amazing. Growing up, we saw our extended family almost every month, to gather for a birthday or some other occasion. As time passed and the kids were having their own kids, we reached some sort of critical mass, and the monthly gatherings fell to a few times during the year. We still gather for a week in eastern Washington, though we missed out for the first time in decades this summer when the river ran dry.

A couple weeks ago, we came together to celebrate an 80th birthday, and it was a room filled love and conversation. Sure there is a little familial obligation anchored by holidays, but there was no question that we all were excited to see each other after too long a drought. We not only love each other, but we really like each other as well.

I have tried to see friends this week to extend the Thanksgiving holiday. I miss seeing everyone face-to-face for those deeper moments and connections. I need to find a way to get down to San Diego for a visit. To grab that drink, to walk the beach, or run that race. To connect like family.

Family that are friends, and friends that are like family. For this I am truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

November 11, 2014

Subtraction and addition

Sort of last minute, I had the whole week off. One benefit of working all the crazy hours of tax season (which seems to stretch out to nine months) is getting to bank a little comp time for when it slows down. I have a few weeks saved up, and to work around other people's vacations, I was told to take last week off.

Since I was short on planning time (and disposable vacation money), I didn't go anywhere. It became a week to take care of projects that have fallen by the wayside. Cleaning the apartment, reading the stack of articles set aside, finishing reading a book, etc. I did get to see my brother and niece in a play, ran a 5k with friends, watched a couple of football games with different friends, and hosted some biking/brewing buddies for a brew day. Writing it all out it seems busier and less solitary than it felt. Brain probably isn't focusing on what it should.

The major project though was whittling down the stuff in storage to see if I could downsize. When we sold the house, I threw much of my stuff in storage, temporarily I thought. Then a couple months later, I moved to San Diego for a few years. So everything just sat. After I moved back and into my own place again, the big pieces came back out. It was an interesting and almost fun experience rediscovering parts of what I had left behind. My memory never being terribly good, it was easy to be surprised by things I had forgotten.

Then life/work got busy, and to be honest, I got lazy. The remainder of what was in that rented garage was left to sit. Part of it was that with each pass through, the decision of what is still important becomes more difficult. I am a pack rat by nurture and nature, so there was a lot to go through. Even though I was in and out of there every month or so to grab gear or tools, I really didn't know what was all there hidden away in those boxes. Now with a week with nothing on the schedule, it was time.

Frankly there weren't many painful surprises of love lost hidden away. It was more an exercise of deciding when and what to call quits on. Sports I will likely not participate in like skiing and softball, tools inherited from my former father-in-law that I have not used, the extra chair or sleeping bag, the motorcycle unridden, the files from my failed venture into real estate and lending, school books, bank statements and on and on.

By the end of the week, I had take a truckload each to Goodwill and to the dump, and a couple of large boxes to the shredder. The weather cleared up on Friday, and I moved what remained into a unit half the size, which saves me $100 a month. There are still things in there that need to go (like the motorcycle) but what remains is a more focused, organized set of still current passions - camping, hiking, building.

A couple of other pursuits have slipped from "passion" to "should be doing", but I am having difficulty getting my mojo back. I ran the 5k the first Sunday, and have some more on the calendar, but I need to get running back to an every-other-day habit. The other "should be" of course is writing. It is no secret the posting has been pretty damn sporadic here, and this month I am getting daily email reminders of what I am not doing. It is NaNoWriMo time once again. I have thrown my hat in the ring the last four years to spend the month writing dangerously. That first magical year, I wrote what would become Share the Road. Getting to 50,000 words in a month, all the subsequent work and then getting it in print was an amazing feeling.

Each year since has been a series of misfires. I was excited to take it on that second year, but stalled out at 30,000 words. Subsequent years were less inspired, and I mostly made the effort at the egging on from my friend Sean. He didn't throw down the challenge this year, and I am mostly glad. The magic just isn't there right now. I am still getting those daily email reminders from the NaNoWriMo website and community, however. They are messages filled with enthusiasm about creativity, and just plunging and seeing what happens. I am not ready to join in right now, but I will let them keep poking at me to prod me back up off the couch.

I am not ready to cart this off to the land of recycled passions just yet. It made the cut, and I will open up that box more than just once every few months.

It was a cleansing week and I am feeling a bit leaner. For all the subtraction this week, there was one notable addition. I have my CPA license back. After fitting in 120 hours of classes and taking ethics twice (I am now extra ethical), it became official last week. I stepped away fifteen years ago, and I guess it was one more thing that sat in storage all this time.

I am glad I didn't throw that away.

October 12, 2014



Such a fuzzy thing. So vast we can't begin to wrap our head around how long it has been since it began, or how far out into the future it will run. At the same time, it seems so finite, and there isn't enough to go around for our short life span. We try to break it down into bits and bytes on the vibration of a crystal, but the further division does not seem to add up to a greater whole.

This weekend I had a few perspectives intersect. I have been working toward another work deadline that in the end will be just a blip on the lifetime calendar. In the moment, however, it seems crushing and the hours and minutes seem far too short. I have no time.

Today, I was reminded that four years ago, I was running the Long Beach Marathon. I was reminded by someone I met that day. I have not seen her since, but we have remained connected through the ether of the web. We set out together that day, with the same time goal, to sneak in under 3:50. The ticks of her clock were a bit louder that day, since getting under that barrier would net her the Boston Qualifier (BQ) she was seeking. We knew nothing of each other before that first step, but came to know each other in the moment of joined struggle.

She got her BQ that day by a single second. A stumbled half-step or pause for an extra drink might have kept her from her goal, but she made it by that incredibly small division we make of the vastness. Four years and countless seconds down the road, she has made a better life for herself, and looks back on that day as part of the catalyst.

Just a year ago this weekend, four friends and I were crossing the finish line at the Chicago Marathon. That day was one of the most amazing, connecting with humanity sorts of days I have had. By the ticking of the clock, it was not the best day I have had on the road, but by most any other marker, it was. Tonight I was with three of the four, celebrating another passage of time that seemed more amazing still.

We were there to celebrate an eighteenth birthday. The daughter of my friends. I am still amazed and fortunate to have these friends, to have them be such a big part of my life two decades later, again through some random run in from signing up to take on a challenge together. At times it is hard to wrap my head around all that has transpired since I walked into that restaurant to fill out an application. But here, there is this person who has been growing and blossoming during that entire time. A visual and literal reminder of how much time has passed. It doesn't seem possible, but there she is, ready to choose a college and start her own life.

I hesitated to pour all this out on her lap, this jarring realization of how much time has floated by on daily tasks, deadlines, and seemingly life changing events over the eighteen years she has been alive. She probably would have tolerated the ramblings, but the meaning would likely be lost on her. Time doesn't seem to gain profound meaning until so much of it has seemed to leak by.

I am so blessed to have this time, with these and other friends, and to have a second generation of connection after all these years. It can be painful to tally up the minutes and years gone by, but when you stand back for a moment, and see what has happened and what is still around - well you just hope you have another 20, 40, 60 years, and more importantly, that you mark and enjoy every minute.

Including nights like tonight, when I didn't think I had the time.

September 29, 2014

Falling forward

Continuing the trend of one foot in front of another, baby steps and all that, I have gone out for a walk most nights. With summer in the rear view mirror and days getting shorter, it is usually after dark. I have lived in this town for a year and a half, but every time I head out I find something new. Be it a British Pub that a friend told me about a year ago, or a new shop that the paint doesn't seem dry on yet, every corner seems new at this slower pace. Of course the world looks new in a different light, sometimes more so in low light.

A few of the nightly walks have been in the rain, and that changed the world as well after our summer break. Like the reacquainted Seattleite that I am, I walked in a rain jacket and shorts. Still don't own an umbrella, and can't quite let go of the feeling that it is shorts-weather until probably Halloween. Maybe Thanksgiving. 

It has felt good to get outside and moving again, even at a slower pace. Beyond clearing my head and stretching my tense body, the simple habit feels good after drifting lately. Just following through on something so simple - you have to start somewhere. 

On Saturday I decided to try my first run in two months. I have been surprisingly sore in the mornings over the past few months, even though I have been doing very little physically. The walks were a slow ramp up to get my body moving again, but I felt just as sore each morning. I figured if I was going to hurt anyway, I might as well burn a few extra calories.

I tried to go in without any expectations. Leave pride at the door, not concern myself with what I could do six months or a year ago. Just get out there. 

I did my best to take it easy. It wasn't painful, and not really humbling either, but it was uncomfortable. My body was not only more out of shape than where I left off, but it felt like a different shape altogether. My stomach (beer belly beginnings) felt like it was some foreign object strapped around me like a diving belt. It actually felt like it was in my way, making it harder to stride or breathe. 

I ran along the river path with all the other Saturday people. Fall is beginning to show itself, and the temperature was on the cool side of warm before I got moving, but I was glad I was in short sleeves a mile in. The trees are not alight with color everywhere, but leaves have already fallen, so my crunching steps announced my presence. Those without headphones heard me coming and turned as I passed by. I didn't have a turnaround point in mind, and just let the whims and traffic lights dictate where I turned. I ended up running a bit under three miles. Like every run before, I was glad to have gone out. 

Every Saturday this summer, a calendar reminder would pop up telling me how far I was supposed to run that weekend. Every Saturday, the mileage would be a bit farther, and every Saturday I would dismiss that reminder. Every week a marker of how far behind I was. The day after my first run in months, I was supposed to have been running the Bellingham marathon. I was four months and twenty-something miles from where I was hoping to be, but the three miles still felt good. A line drawn. 

Not a finish line, but maybe a starting line.

September 23, 2014

Walking path

"In the city, Harold's thoughts had stopped. Now that he was back in the open land, he was once again between places, and pictures ran freely through his mind. In walking, he freed the past that he had spent twenty years seeking to avoid, and now it chattered and played through his head with a wild energy that was its own. He no longer saw distance in terms of miles. He measured it with his remembering."
 ~ from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Work has been crazy lately. This was not unforeseen, as we have very defined deadlines we can mark out on the calendar at the start of the year. No matter how much we try to prepare, there is always a mad rush at the end. We can be seen skidding through then narrow opening as the heavy door comes crashing down a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, and we can only hope to have made it with hat and head intact.

Monday September 15th was the latest deadline, and we finished the last project around 9:00 at night, three hours before the midnight deadline. After a couple of weeks of long hours and working weekends, I was offered a random Tuesday off to recover and recharge. The clock has already started ticking on the next deadline, but sometimes you need to take a break to avoid breaking.

I slept in a bit, but my fried brain still had enough energy to chatter me awake too soon. I decided to go out for breakfast, and made it that much better by walking there. I have found that I need to get outside to balance out the desk time, but let that knowledge slip away as deadlines loom overhead like a guillotine. A walk in the sun would do more for me than the coffee waiting at the diner counter.

I slipped on some headphones and fired up the latest U2 album. The album had been given away free to all iTunes users as a promotional stunt at the latest Apple launch. I won't be buying an iPhone any time soon, but was happy to walk away with a little bystander swag.

Though I have been doing a bit of hiking and biking lately, I have really lost touch with my active self. A bout of Plantar Fasciitis in May kept me from running, and then the round of shingles forced me to pull back further to allow my body to heal. The shingles are gone, but the heal pain lingers. That has been discouraging, but more troubling is the loss of drive to recover my former self.

I have had a couple of anchors the last few years that have kept me (relatively) sane, and I have let them both slip away. Both writing and running help to keep my mind and soul clean. I have turned away from both, and I am dealing with the consequences. Netflix binges have pushed out time to write, and I have been filling in empty spaces with too much food and drink. I am fifteen pounds heavier than I was at the beginning of the year, but it is more than just a physical weight that I feel. I have known the solution, but at times those first few steps or words are the most difficult.

So instead of trying to run, I walked.

Forward motion. Music. Lyrics. A gift of a day unexpected. Sunshine. Fresh air. All had their part in shaking loose some of the jangled thoughts and emotions that had built up over the summer. Breakfast was served with a friendly face, and coffee and bacon did their own trick of service. Afterward, I wandered down to the river path and stood and watched the ducks preen and swim in lazy circles.

In the afternoon I would meet a friend for an impromptu hike, conversation and climbing peeling back another layer. In the evening, I would meet my two brothers for a drink, and find further connection and renewal there. We did not find the meaning of life as the subject line of the coordinating email implied we might, but we did find life at our booth on a random Tuesday.

I can get lost so easily on such a familiar path, especially in the busiest times when my head is down, just working to make it through the next real or imagined gateway. Running and writing have been my compass in the past. They don't always point me in a specific direction, but they definitely mark the path away from a place I shouldn't be.

Baby steps.