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.

July 15, 2014

(Dis)connected

Everyone needs a little time away...

I headed off to the woods again, second time in a few weeks, but the trips were very different. At the end of June, I hiked into Copper Lake. While I have always loved to be outside, backpacking has reawakened something lost, by getting sort of lost, I suppose. But the trip did not work out so well. We were greeted with nearly endless rain, and decided to cut it short after just a day away. And of course, I came home with a Shingles diagnosis.

Last weekend was thankfully less challenging. That was the whole point. Rather than limiting yourself to whatever you could carry on your back, car camping allows a little more of the amenities. You are still sleeping on the ground, going without showers, but the food and drink choices are much nicer. No dehydrated food or Spam this time around.

We returned to a place we have been going for a couple of decades, the Cle Elum River. When we first started going, the roads were unpaved, rules were few, and nearby Rosalyn had not been converted to an Alaskan town for Northern Exposure. Back then, we just turned off into the woods and found a place near the river. If there wasn't a fire ring, we built one with the river rock at hand. We were young and stupid, but we did our best to leave the woods as we found it.

Civilization slowly crept in. First, the roads were paved. Then a few years later, random Honey Buckets showed up. They started charging in most places, but at least there were no picnic tables or poured concrete pads for cars. Then one year they banned fires outside of the developed sites.. We hesitated that first evening, but decided a nightly fire was something necessary, and have been going to the developed sites ever since.

I hadn't been in a number of years. I was gone for a few, and schedules didn't work out in the years before and after. I wasn't going to make it again this year, but my annual family gathering was canceled after a crack in the dam forced the river to drift a football field away. Lemons into lemonade.

I went up with friends I have known for twenty years. They have continued to camp as often as possible in my absence, and have it down to a bit of a science. The gear and food have steadily improved, though hot dogs and S'mores do still get roasted over an open fire. Still, it is a time to get away from some of the comforts and distractions of home. Watches were banned years ago, and we have done our best to keep technology out of the campsite (though e-readers get a pass since you are reading and not playing games).

I, like so many others, have become tethered to my phone (not that it's really a phone anymore). Where there used to be these empty moments, where my mind might wander and create, I feel myself reaching for it reflexively whenever there is a pause in the action. It is sad, and I am (usually) no better for having the world at my fingertips.

Camping is a time to disconnect, and reconnect. You are forced to slow down. Everything takes more time - preparing, cooking, cleaning, and even just getting water or visiting the restroom. But the beauty of this type of vacation, is you really have nowhere to be, no schedule to conform to. There is little to distract you from what is right in front of you. Unless you let your mind kick off the rust and wander gloriously.

It was in the high nineties all weekend, so we spent much of our time down at the river. One side effect of Shingles is that you are sensitive to sunlight, and it can cause scarring. I wore SPF 50, a brimmed hat and long sleeves. As a consequence, I didn't just hang out by the river, but stood waist deep in it for much of the time just to stay cool.

And talked. And played with kids. And threw rocks. And shared stories and lives with great friends I have known forever, but don't see nearly often enough. No distractions, nowhere to be, nothing much to concern myself with other than the basics.

My life has never been particularly hectic, but all the same, I have always enjoyed stepping away. I appreciate even more in this uber-connected world with a brain less easily paused. I am really looking forward to backpacking out to Delta again in another month, where you are even farther off the grid, but I have to say, it is pretty nice having having a cold beer in your hand, and a real meal in your belly, when you are reconnecting with the friends and things that matter.

The group arrived a day earlier, and left a thoughtful note


Brian built a shade structure for his hot dog. 



Peaceful


Where friend gather
My happy place

June 29, 2014

Shingles, and not the roofing kind

So, I get a shingles diagnosis to add/confirm to the feeling of getting old. Even though I guessed right on my diagnosis, I really didn't know much about it (other than it side-lined David Letterman a few years back). The quick stuff I read before heading to the doctor was not encouraging. I will dig more into it, but here is what I know so far.

Shingles is caused by the virus that gave you chickenpox as a kid. In some people, it reactivates later in life, causing shingles. From WebMD,
"Early symptoms of shingles include headache, sensitivity to light, and flu-like symptoms without a fever. You may then feel itching, tingling, or pain where a band, strip, or small area of rash may appear several days or weeks later. A rash can appear anywhere on the body but will be on only one side of the body, the left or right. The rash will first form blisters, then scab over, and finally clear up over a few weeks. This band of pain and rash is the clearest sign of shingles." 
After reading that, I went down my own list of symptoms. I definitely had the pain, red rashes and it was only affecting my right side. After clicking on a few pictures of sample rashes (I will spare you), it seemed like I was a candidate, even though the rashes more typically shows up on your torso first. Off to the doctor.

After looking me over, and asking a few questions, he confirmed that it was shingles. I don't have a regular doctor, so I wasn't sure how this guy would react to a patient coming in with his own diagnosis. I am sure with the ease of access to information, they get flooded with amateur doctors pretending to know what they are doing after ten minutes on the Internet. Unprompted, he said he appreciated how involved people are in this area in managing and researching their health. We chatted for a bit and he filled me in on what to expect.

Shingles is a viral disease. Once your bout of chickenpox runs its course, the virus remains latent in your nerve cell bodies. Years or decades later, the virus can break out of the nerve cell bodies and travel down the nerve to cause a viral infection in the skin area served by those nerves. The infection can spread within nerve cell clusters, but seems to stay to one side of the body (beyond my understanding of anatomy to know why).

The skin infection becomes painful, I assume because the infection is in the nerve. The rash eventually blisters, and this is when it could be contagious if someone were to come in contact a broken blister. From what the doctor said, though, the chickenpox virus is all around us already, so there is no need to really quarantine yourself.

He confirmed those phrases that no one wants to see connected with what they have - "we're not sure what causes it (the outbreak after dormancy)" and "there is no cure". The regimen is about trying to minimize and shorten the symptoms. I am on an anti-viral medication as well as a corticosteroid for the next week or two. The doctor said that the addition of steroids is somewhat controversial (in that the benefits are not clearly proven), but he said that on a risk/reward basis, the steroids could reduce the incidence of scarring and other long-term effects. He also said if I get snippy with someone, I can blame it on him/the steroids. I am thinking about having cards printed up.

The pain and rash typically subside within three to five weeks (your results may vary). The concern, beyond some possible scarring, is a condition called, Postherpetic neuralgia, a condition of chronic pain following a shingles outbreak. This apparently happens in one out of every five people, though more frequently in those over 60. Per Wikipedia, it affects closer to ten percent of those under 60. Postherpetic neuralgia is the damage to the nerves in the skin where the rashes appeared, causing them to send abnormal signals to the brain. "These signals may convey excruciating pain, and may persist or recur for months, years, or for life." Here's hoping I am not one of the 10%.

So, now you know as much as I do. It definitely hurts, with a lower-grade ache punctuated with some stabbing pain, and a burning sensation at the rash points. I am hoping that the anti-virals and steroids cut the time it takes for shingles to run its course, and really hoping there are not significant lingering effects. For now, since one of the hot points is in the palm of my right hand, I will work on improving those ambidextrous skills.

Cresting the rise

I have been feeling broken down lately. I have plantar fasciitis pain that has kept me from running for two months. I am currently wearing a boot to bed to try to keep the tendon stretched out. My right wrist started hurting the other day, so I had my carpel tunnel brace on as well. Pieces of me encased in hard plastic to keep me from hurting myself while I am sleeping. Danger, fragile!

On the last couple of bike rides, I have felt like I just don't have it anymore. I was climbing the last hill on the Seven Hills of Kirkland ride last month, which was actually the ninth hill because we opted for the longer route. I was really struggling. It is a difficult ride, but one I tackled well last year. As I tried to will myself up the hill, I wondered if my peak days were behind me. Was I now "over the hill" physically now that I can't climb this one. There was another tough ride a couple weeks later that felt harder than it should have been.

Intellectually, I know the day is coming where the times on the stopwatch will only increase. There will be no further personal best times, and the challenge of events will become something else. I do want to be that 75 year-old guy that is still out there running, and showing up at 5ks for the enjoyment of it all, race times be damned. Emotionally, though, I am not quite ready to give up. I still want to feel like I am on the up-slope of that metaphorical hill, even if I am climbing it more slowly.

Everyone has their own definition of when they are "old". Maybe it is a number, maybe it is an activity you no longer can do, or it could be the number of pills or splints it takes to keep you moving. My semi-joking line is that when I no longer sleep in a tent with just a Thermarest between me and the ground, then I will feel old.

I tested my "old" theory again this weekend. A few of us went on a "test" hike before our return to Delta Lake in August. A couple of us wanted to test out our new packs, and we all wanted to check our fitness  level before scrambling off the maintained trail. We hiked to Copper Lake, no small undertaking in itself, but ended up getting rained out and coming back early. It turned out to be a good thing.

My right arm had been bugging me for a couple of days. It felt like a nerve pinch starting in my shoulder, maybe from planks I had been doing during June. Thursday and Friday, I started noticing red blotches on my arm and hand. They were more painful than itchy, and I jumped online to check on the symptoms. There was a recent measles outbreak in Washington (thanks anti-vaxers), as well as an increase in Lyme disease from tick bites (though I hadn't made it to the woods yet). Nothing quite lined up, so I headed to the hills Friday morning.

Sunday morning, the pain and blotches were joined by some numbness in one finger, and swelling in another. Another possibility dawned on me, and after some more WebMD surfing, it was off to Urgent Care. My Internet research turned out to be right, unfortunately (I hate it when I'm right). I have shingles.

More on what that means in the next post, but just the diagnosis of "shingles" has me feeling pretty old. I am not giving up on on that hill just yet, but it does feel like I am starting to crest the rise.

June 15, 2014

Father's Day

There are many reasons Father's Day seems to play second fiddle to Mother's Day. First, the stereotype that moms are much more involved with the children holds true in my made up figure of 89.3% of American families. Moms do more, so they deserve more of our thanks. Another is that (again stereotypically) guys are not as easy with expressing or receiving gratitude and emotion. Just doing my job folks, no need to make a big deal out of it, and save the money, it doesn't grow on trees you know.

I have mentioned several times here and elsewhere how fortunate I am in my family, and I was reminded about it over breakfast this morning. I still haven't stocked the fridge after house/dog sitting for three weeks, so I went out to the local breakfast joint. I sat at the counter as I always do. Many families were out to celebrate over pancakes and bacon, but at my end of the counter, it was mostly single guys. 

The guy to my left was a bit younger than me. He appeared to be a regular, and was also named Sean. Many knew his name, so I kept looking up whenever he was greeted. To my right was a man not quite my Dad's age, but definitely a generation up. Where Sean was pleasant and engaging, the older man was brusque and gloomy. He swatted away normal conversation like circling flies, and talked over the waitress as if she were an impediment. 

When the waitress brought Sean his bill, she asked him if he was doing anything with his dad later in the day. Sean sort of chuckled a "no" and went on to explain that he hadn't spoken to his dad in years. He thought for a moment, and said the last time he called his dad was 1999, and the conversation did not encourage another call. I felt bad for Sean, and wondered if the clipped speech of the man to my right was avoiding the mention of Father's Day for a similar reason. 

So much of who I am is tied up in my parents. No need to discuss nature vs. nurture, as they were the major players in both. As is often the case, as I get older it is easier to see myself in my folks, or really them in me. Traits, mannerisms, ways of thought and speech. It is a common trope to freak out when you end up becoming like your parents, but I do not have those kinds of fears. 

I see in him my critical thinking, not satisfied with the trite answer. He gave me my love of books, though it did take a while to sink in. I see in him my belief in the system, as flawed as it may be at times. That it is not this separate entity, but an amalgamation of all of us, and that it fails principally when we don't take part. 

I think my love of the outdoors can be traced back to Dad as well. We went camping before I can remember, and on hikes when I was old enough to climb up a hillside (though probably not without a little whining). I have this flicker of a memory of him trying to cook Huevos Rancheros over a tiny pack stove, though I can't swear whether it was real or of the freeze-dried variety. He won't lay claim to any of the "crazy" running or biking I do, but I think the seeds of just getting outside were planted early. 

And my desire to write came from Dad. I can't exactly trace this one, but I know it is there. I didn't grow up reading anything he wrote (that didn't come until blogging took hold), but somehow I knew he wrote, and that it was important. He may be why I wrote journals in my twenties, and blogged in my forties. The desire to write a book someday may have started with him, and I was glad to have him as one of my first readers. 

There have been other influences that tweaked the path I have taken, and who I have become. Some may have been improvements, while other pieces probably aren't as good as the original version. I don't know what it is like to be a parent, and I can't swear to how it all gets passed down, but I feel pretty proud to be a blend of both Mom and Dad.

I was trying to take some notes on my phone at a stop light, and used the voice recognition to do the typing. When I said "Father's Day", the choices I was given were "Mothers Day", Mother's Day" and "Mother's Day in the UK." We are all a bit better at thanking mom, and apparently the database needs a bit of updating. Maybe Father's Day is more important in that respect. A spot on the calendar to say what we don't always say, and maybe things that dads would normally shrug off so as not to get all deep and fuzzy. 

So, we'll keep it simple. Happy Father's Day Dad. You are one of a kind, and I am glad you are mine. 

May 27, 2014

The mental game

This tax season was harder than the last, and at first glance, it really shouldn't have been. I worked about the same number of hours, had a shorter commute, and I was a bit less clueless about what I was doing. Sure there were a few hiccups this season like one of our staff leaving in the middle of March, and my truck getting sidelined for the last couple of weeks, but overall it should have been a bit more manageable the second time around. In retrospect, there were a few factors that made the difference.

Like any other challenge, a lot of it is mental. I went into the season sort of excited to see how I would have improved after a year behind the desk. I had learned quite a bit from classes I had taken, but much of it was just figuring it out on the fly. Through repeated exposure, things made more sense, and files didn't seem as daunting.

I had made it through the crush of April 15th, then survived the more final deadlines of September and October. This time I would know better of what I was up against, and I figured it would be a bit easier to handle. However, there is a flip side to the benefit of experience. It is less scary because you have been there before, and there are fewer unknowns the second time around, but those same disappearing unknowns can make the challenge more daunting. You know how hard it will be, and fear is sort of replaced with dread.

It is similar to running marathons. That first one is a mass of breaking through barriers into worlds unknown. The strange realization of finding hours to dedicate to training that you didn't seem to have previously. Little by little, sometimes literally step by step, expanding what your body and spirit can do. Discovering strength you didn't know you had, pushing through fatigue, discouragement, or just the temptation to stay in bed this Saturday instead of heading out for three hours of running in the rain. Little victories along the way that culminate in the brilliant joy and relief of crossing the finish line.

The second time is much different.

Having been through it once before, you know how difficult the road is going to be. The long hours, the hard work, and all the things great and small you sacrifice to make it happen. Instead of breaking new ground each time you head out the door, the gains come in small increments, sometimes too minute to notice. You have made it to the finish line once before, but you know that doesn't mean finishing is a given this time. Most of the fear is gone, but so is that nervous energy that heightened every sense. That first time, no one could fault you for reaching beyond your grasp. If you don't finish the second time, it feels more like a failure.

In music, there is that added pressure on your second album. Since you managed to beat all the odds to break through the first time, it shouldn't be that difficult to do it again now that you have made a name for yourself. But once again, what was fresh and new in the first go 'round can be a tougher sell on second pass. The breakthroughs give way to a series of tweaks and adjustments, crucial but less dramatic. So many fail that the phrase "Sophomore Slump" was coined

Now that I have gone done the rabbit hole of metaphor, I suppose I stalled in a similar way after my first book came out (well, only book so far). There was that unknown excitement and fear that propelled me along the first time around. Failure was almost certain, so what was there to lose? Now that I have actually finished something, there is that demand (from me) to do better on the second one. Doubt and second-guessing are somehow ironically stronger after success. Heightened expectations, even if they are just your own, can do you in.

Oh the games we play.

May 13, 2014

The edge of comfort

It is bike to work month, and if you can believe it, the weather is wonderful.

I am trying to bike in as much as I can over the next couple of months, both to give my aching truck a rest (back in the shop on Thursday), as well as to shake off that lingering freshman 15 I packed on in the last three weeks of tax season. Add in bonuses like fresh air and escaping traffic and it is hard to pass up.

Well, of course like every morning, I am much more lazy than when I was making plans the night before. Evening Sean is always more ambitious than morning Sean. Biking to work takes a bit of extra planning as well. I haven't mastered the art of getting a neatly pressed shirt to the office without stashing it there the night before, and I have to resort to a baby wipes shower to freshen up after the ride in. Still, once I get my foot out the door, there are rarely any regrets.

Today the weather was near perfect. There was not enough chill in the air to warrant taking an extra layer of clothing I would regret within a mile, and the forecast was for mid-70s by the afternoon. I am pretty blessed by the route I can take to the office. The Sammamish Trail winds along the Slew for a couple of miles before connecting with the 520 trail that parallels the freeway. At just over 7 miles each way, I spend less than a mile needing to share the road with any cars.

The route is a bit hilly, with a long climb out of the Redmond valley just two miles in. I should take it easy, both to savor the time, and to reduce the need for the pseudo-shower when I get to work. When I am riding with someone else, I can spin easier and chat, but on my own I seem to always push harder. I am certainly not going all out, but definitely pressing.

As I spun past the Scotch Broom blooming at the side of the road, the annual scent tickling my memory and allergies like nothing else can, a phrase I read somewhere recently popped into my head. It was discussing running specifically, but training in general. In order to improve, you have to push past what you could do before, and walk that line between strength and strain. The phrase they used was something like, "getting comfortable with being uncomfortable."

I am not particularly gifted athletically. While I train pretty regularly, a good percentage of folks I ride and run near work much harder at it. They probably eat a little (lot) better and don't choose brewing beer as a hobby. What lets me keep pace, and maybe even crest the hill just in front of them on occasion, is being willing to go into the red more often.

Now, I have definitely gone over the line a few times. After the stair climb in November, it felt like I was breathing glass and my stomach was flipping for a good hour. At the end of the hike back from Delta Lake, my body shook and brain swam as I held on to the truck bumper for stability. These are more the exceptions than the norm, though, and I can generally walk along that edge without falling off a cliff.

As I pedaled up the next hill, my legs continuing to burn, I wondered why I can't seem to do this in other areas of my life. I am not good at venturing outside my comfort zone very often. I do not engage strangers in meaningful conversation. I avoid situations where confrontation lurks. I am not good at selling myself or much of anything else, and you can forget me ever standing up in front of a crowd.

As I crested the last hill, having survived one more time, bending without breaking, I thought I needed to take this lesson to heart. My older brother, having not acted a day in his life, has been in two plays recently - and he's pretty good. My office mate, a confessed shy person, constantly impresses me with the way she can convince, lead and teach.

She sent me an article the other day about marketing strategies for introverts. There were several lessons, but the one that stuck in my mind is that you can see it as playing a part. Your role, should you chose to accept it, is to take on the persona of someone who is confident. Sort of a fake it until you make it, but eventually it becomes a skill and a strength. To get there, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, but eventually that hill in front of you seems like it might be fun to climb.

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.