December 31, 2009

2010

We are just about at the end of the aughts. I look forward to being able to say some time in the future, "back in aught-one...", but I am also a little anxious to have this decade in my rear view mirror. It was a tough one for a lot of folks. This article suggests we call the decade the "Big Zero".

A couple of New Year's ago, friends chanted "everything will be great in 2008!", but most of us fell well short of that. The next year it was a more tepid "everything will be fine in 2009", but we couldn't even muster that. This year's phrase may be appropriately "starting over again in 2010." I think we can manage to clear that bar.

This has been a really tough year for so many people, and one of my worst personally. At the start of the year, I had a wife, a house and a job. Now, not so much. But I had it easy compared to so many. In working my way through my own challenges, I have rediscovered how fortunate I am in my family, my friends, my life.

After the last couple of years, it feels like we and the nation need to have a great reset. After this latest crash, I hope we can see and do things differently in the new year. We need to refocus on what is really important - Family, community, passion and compassion. Seeking long term success over short term gain, building something we are proud of instead of chasing the next paper profit, living within in our means instead of piling up shiny things, seeking understanding in our differences instead of feeling contempt.

I look at my posts around new year's a year ago, and my goals were to change many small things, hoping to add up to something big. I was deliberately a bit vague in the details as I wasn't sharing our marriage struggles at that point. I feel that I have made some significant changes this year, and I hope to make them stick while I break new ground in other areas. I don't have a list just yet, but will be setting certain specific goals soon.

I am starting over professionally and personally. I don't even know where I will be working, much less living in a few months. But I am trying to look toward the future as a wide open possibility. I hope to recapture some of the passion I let fall away.

Let us hang on to what is important while striving to make ourselves and our community a little bit better. Anything can happen, anything is possible.

Tomorrow, we get another shot.

December 29, 2009

Some daily links

I get a free blog/newsletter thingy sent to my Kindle when I bother to turn the thing on. I haven't been using it as much lately since my parents get the newspaper and I have been getting my books at the library. Since I am out of town, I am back to reading the Seattle Times on it each morning and reading other Kindle fare.

The blog thingy is called "Amazon Daily" and it has several recurring articles as well as some good links to outside stuff. There is usually a lot of chaff to skip over, but a couple interesting articles popped up in the past day. One is on trying to decide which books to hang on to, and which to sell to Half Price Books or the like. After recently going through my bookcases to thin the herd, I was still left with far too many books. I will also leaving San Diego with at least three more books than I arrived with, so the struggle continues.

The article interviews six authors on their perspective on Books You Can Live Without. A couple good quotes from the article:

  • If I’m being honest, some of it is on my shelf because I like the idea of it being on my shelf.
  • After all, is a gentleman’s library of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves anything more than a vanity?
  • Get rid of a book? No way. Every one is a brick keeping the building standing. Books are my life.
  • Marquez’s “A Hundred Years of Solitude” makes the scrap heap, because it would take precisely that combination of circumstances before I could be bothered to finish it.
  • Ask yourself the following hard question and answer honestly: If I live to be 100, will I read this book again?
There was another interesting "rule of 100" mentioned on Nancy Pearl's book review podcast. She says there are too many good books to read, so you shouldn't plow through one that isn't grabbing you just because you feel you should. Her guideline is to subtract your age from 100, and that is how many pages you should read before deciding to press on or not. Using this formula, younger readers need to give a book more of a chance while older readers need to have their interest captured earlier. This may speak both to reader sophistication and how many reading years left you have to spend.

The other article from Amazon Daily was less heady but still interesting to this child of the 70'/80's. It is in the recurring section of "Car Lust" and is about the Rush song "Red Barchetta". It talks about the song, the short story it was based on, and what the heck a Barchetta is anyway. Great song and an interesting read.

December 28, 2009

Best gift of all

Click to enlarge

Christmas with the family was lovely as always. I am very lucky to have such a close extended family nearby that loves to see each other. Growing up we gathered almost every month to celebrate birthdays, but at some point we reached critical mass and only gather around the same table four or five times a year. Of course that makes me look forward to each time that much more.

We mostly skipped presents again this year. We had decided to try it out last year since money was so tight, and though it was somewhat odd, it reminded us it wasn't about presents anyway. It is about spending time with those you love. And Mom's Christmas-morning coffee cake.

And the next day was one of two presents to myself. I hopped on a plane to visit my friends in San Diego. It has been over a year since we saw each other and another six months since I had made my way down here. Some of the best people I know are down here, and of course there is the miracle baby to spend time with.

I was talking to a friend last week. We hadn't seen each other in over eight years and we tried to catch up on all that in a space of a few hours. She has been getting some insight into my life by reading my blogs, but it was wonderful to sit down and talk and fill in all the blank spaces.

I mentioned that I was headed down to San Diego to visit Matt and Holly, who she hasn't met. About an hour later she mentioned all the blog stories of Annabelle and how she was addicted to checking on the latest updates. She didn't make the connection that Matt and Holly were her parents, and when I explained that Annabelle was who I was visiting, she was immediately jealous.

When I told Matt and Holly that someone who had no clue who they were, but was engrossed in the story of their child, they kind of sheepishly explained that they hear that all the time. Folks from around the world have tuned in and have prayed for Annabelle, and they are still amazed at the involvement and support of all these people who have become strangers no more.

Yesterday we attended a breakfast at their church and then spent the day with Auntie Critters at the San Diego Zoo. The schedule for the rest of the week is almost non-existent, just time spent with friends, which is the best gift I could hope for.




December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone

It's a Wonderful Life

Clarence: "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

George Bailey: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary.
Mary: I'll take it. Then what?
George Bailey: Well, then you can swallow it, and it'll all dissolve, see... and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair... am I talking too much?

George Bailey: You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?

George Bailey: Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!

Clarence: You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?

Harry Bailey: To my big brother George, the richest man in town.

Christmas Story

"I want an official Red Rider, carbine-action, two hundred shot, range model air rifle." – Ralphie
"You’ll shoot your eye out kid." – Santa

A Charlie Brown Christmas

"Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy's right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest."

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Bethany: "Is your house on fire, Clark?"
Clark Griswold: "No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights."

Frosty the Snowman

Santa Claus: "Don't cry, Karen, Frosty's not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. It sometimes goes away for almost a year at a time and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again."
Karen: "Yes, but... He was my friend."
Santa Claus: "Just watch."

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

Rudolph: "But you fell off the edge of the cliff."
Yukon Cornelius: "Didn't I ever tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce."

Scrooged

You have to do something, you have to take a chance, you do have to get involved. There are people that are having trouble making their miracle happen. There are people who don't have enough to eat, there are people that are cold...you can go out and say "hello" to these people.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas - both versions

"And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so? "It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't thought of before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"


Welcome Christmas
While we stand
Heart to heart
and hand in hand.

Christmas day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp.

Christmas day will always be
Just as long as we have "we".


Lou Lou Who: "I'm glad he took our presents. You can't hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor, because it isn't about the... the gifts or the contest or the fancy lights. That's what Cindy's been trying to tell everyone... and me. I don't need anything more for Christmas than this right here: my family."

And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day.

Miracle on 34th Street

Doris: "Would you please tell her that you’re not really Santa Claus...that there actually is no such person?"
Kris Kringle: "Well, I hate to disagree with you, but not only is there such a person, but here I am to prove it."

Kris Kringle: "Now wait a minute, Susie. Just because every child can't get his wish that doesn't mean there isn't a Santa Claus."

Fred Gailey: "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles."

Fred Gailey: Look Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.

Kris Kringle: You see, Mrs. Walker, this is quite an opportunity for me. For the past 50 years or so I've been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we're all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle.

Kris Kringle: "Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind... and that's what's been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here, maybe I can do something about it."


HAVE A WONDERFUL, JOYOUS, BLESSED CHRISTMAS!

December 20, 2009

Four more shipping days 'til Christmas

We are working deeper into the night as the package volume has increased day by day (hopefully peaking on Monday). The trucks are leaving the hub with packages stacked to the ceiling, making the first part of the day tougher. It is pretty hard to find the package you're looking for when there isn't even a walkway in the cargo area.

The company I'm working for was planning on a slower year, but guessed wrong. They didn't use the money they saved on helpers to hire peak drivers like they have done in the past. So without more trucks to spread out the workload, the remaining solution seems to be yelling "work harder".

As the workload increases, most people put in the extra effort to get the job done. But there is a point when the workload becomes too much, and people actually slow down. They become overwhelmed, disheartened, and spend time repeating "this sucks" instead of digging in and doing their best. Every person's line is different, and I am glad to say my driver this year has a higher line than my one last year. It also helps when you don't feed the beast by joining in on the bitch session. I have done my best to stay positive and jumping in wherever I can to help.

I've been getting home pretty fried, and just haven't had the energy to do much of anything but catch up on e-mail and zone out before bedtime. On the bright side, the temperatures are back up in the 40s and 50s, and I managed to lose four pounds last week. And exhaustion does help combat the insomnia.

December 16, 2009

I had a dream...

that I was running the same marathon a second day in a row. I guess some runners missed out the first day, and I decided to run it again. I was feeling great and finished strong (it was a dream after all).

And I was carrying a package. I can't even dream my way out of work.

And I woke up exhausted like I really had run the marathon. Seven more working days until Christmas, and stepping off of this treadmill.

December 12, 2009

Must love dogs

This is Molly.

She is one of a dozen or more dogs I get to see each day. We go by Molly's house each day, and she is out in the driveway waiting for us. Most dogs flip out and start to bark when the delivery truck comes by. It must have something to do with the diesel engine and rattling cargo area. But my driver hands out Milkbone dog biscuits, so most of the pooches are happy to see us come by. He has become like the Popsicle Man to the dogs of his route. They come a running.

I haven't learned the name of these two yet, but they are the most well behaved of the bunch. They wait at the end of their driveway until I get in range. Not a bark between them, but one of them jumps straight up in the air like my pooch used to be able to do at meal time.

They wait patiently at this spot because they are at the Invisible Fence line. If you aren't familiar with Invisible Fence, it is a electronic perimeter installed to keep your pet in your yard. The dogs wear a collar that senses the boundary and gives an audible warning tone as the dog approaches it. If the dog continues, the collar gives a mild shock. The installers also place little white flags around the perimeter to help define the "fence" line. Whoever the local installer is, he has made a killing in these neighborhoods. There are several dogs out loose, but all those with the special collars stay in their yards.

For me it is a treat to see all these dogs each day. For someone who doesn't like/love dogs, it could be a little intimidating. There are some questionable dogs of course, and my driver has been bit a few times. At one house where he has been nipped twice, we leave the packages just outside the Invisible Fence line.

I am pretty comfortable around most any dog. There are some signs to look for and ways to behave, but of course you never really know how the dog will react to you. There is one dog on our route that my driver wasn't sure about, so I approached cautiously. The dog was more skittish than aggressive, and he backed around the house so I could get to the door.

I had one run in with a dog on my route last year that had me intimidated though. There were two dogs at the end of the cul-de-sac that were known to be aggressive. I wasn't even delivering to their house, but they came toward me barking. The driver saw the dogs approaching and banged on the side of the truck to distract them. I had one dog snap at me this year, but he was just nervous and didn't seem to be trying to bite. 99% of encounters are safe and even great, but you have to be careful.

This week has been pretty tough. Of course I had the marathon on Sunday, so I was running through serious fatigue all week. We have also been waking to temperatures in the teens, and we've been working in the mid 20's for much of the week. It has been a cold, cold week.

But seeing this will warm my heart.


December 11, 2009

Sleigh bells ring...

In case you haven't been overwhelmed by holiday music yet, a link to the Mountain's Online Holiday Music Channel.

Link

December 10, 2009

Nice Christmas decorations

The lazy neighbor:


The too clever neighbor:
From the neighbor, "Good news is that I truly out did myself this year with my Christmas decorations. The bad news is that I had to take him down after 2 days. I had more people come screaming up to my house than ever. Great stories. But two things made me take it down.

First, the cops advised me that it would cause traffic accidents as they almost wrecked when they drove by.

Second, a 55 year old lady grabbed the 75 pound ladder almost killed herself putting it against my house and didn't realize it was fake until she climbed to the top (she was not happy). By the way, she was one of many people who attempted to do that. My yard couldn't take it either. I have more than a few tire tracks where people literally drove up my yard."

Courtesy of my cousin Nick's e-mails

December 9, 2009

Post game analysis

So, what was different this time around...

Without doing much of any training runs in the month leading up to the marathon, race day lacked a certain build up. Marathon weekend felt kind of dropped into the schedule. After arriving at the start line with only minutes to spare, there wasn't as much pre-race psyching up either. Standing in the crowd as we made our way toward the start line, I was more than a little amazed at being there. Thanks again to Sean and Marci for making this happen.

Since I was tired before I took my first step, there wasn't the typical temptation to go out too fast. I just started running, waiting for my muscles and tendons to loosen up. And oddly enough, the first 13 miles went by pretty quickly. I tried to enjoy the day as much as possible. I returned every offered high five, thanked the volunteers, and applauded the spectators. When I made the 180 degree turn at mile 17, I high-fived people all the way around the turn while trying to whoop up the crowd.

Knowing that I was going to need that extra something, I decided to run with music this time. I hadn't brought an iPod along on my other marathons. MP3 players had previously been discouraged at nearly all marathons, but most have given up fighting it. I had left mine at home in the past, preferring to take in the sights and sounds of the race. I found some headphones that allowed me to do a bit of both:

They are called AirDrives. The speaker actually sits in front of your ear rather than over it. This gives you some music in the background while still being in touch with your surroundings. One of the reasons race directors banned MP3 players were for issues of safety. They feared runners would not be able to hear directions and there would be more accidents. This set up is safer for runners on their training runs as well as races. Those roads are full of cars and other dangers.

Conventional wisdom says not to do anything new on race day, but I didn't get the headphones until a few days before the race. They were great! They were comfortable, the music was clear, and I could still hear the other runners and spectators. There is also a volume slide on the cord so I could turn down my music to listen to the bands along the way. Two thumbs up!

Now that the race is done, I compared my run in Vegas to my last one in Seattle. I love me a little post-game analysis. As I mentioned before, I finished about five minutes slower this time. In looking at my splits, I slowed down earlier but didn't crash as hard. In Seattle I really fell apart in the last two miles, and this time I actually picked up the pace in the last six miles.

In both marathons, the second half was slower than the first, which is pretty typical. The odd thing is that they were slower by almost the exact same amount, about 5 minutes and 50 seconds. I also walked much less this time around. This marathon was more slow steady decline vs. trying to stave off implosion.

I am also surprised at how well I recovered this time around. Of course I didn't have much choice since I was off and running at work the next day. Stairs weren't as painful the next day and I was able to keep up a jogging pace at work. I am still exhausted of course, but there are no sharp pains. A slow fade may be the new race strategy.

Totally looking forward to next time.

December 8, 2009

Sign of the day

There are usually some entertaining signs held up by spectators at marathons. The most memorable one from Sunday was:

"That isn't sweat. That's your fat cells crying."

According to my fancy scale at home, I lost 2 fat percentage points over the weekend. It is probably a dehydration thing, but it was great to see that number this morning.

December 7, 2009

Las Vegas Rock n Roll Marathon


Oh man, what a day.

Every marathon is a little different. And like Sean from the south mentioned, a non-runner may glaze over as you rehash the details. But since you clicked over here, I'm going to pretend you're interested and blather on.

The people who put on the Rock n Roll series of marathons have become a bit of a juggernaut. They are kind of like the big box store that sweeps into town. The inaugural events in Seattle and Las Vegas actually replaced previous events. That being said, they do put on great events.

The marathon started at 6:15am, about 25 minutes before sunrise, and it was a chilly 34 degrees. Traffic was a little crazy, so we were stuck on the off ramp as the minutes ticked by to the start. Sean and I hopped out and jogged over to the start as Marci waited for traffic to clear. She probably had a harder day than Sean and I did.

The start line was a bundle of energy like always, and there were about 24,000 runners braving the cold. There were paratroopers, fireworks, bands, 300 running Elvi - and because this was Vegas - white tigers and show girls. Since there were so many runners, they sent them off in waves of 1,000 at a time. They cut off the runners right in front of me, so I ended up being in front of our pack at the start line. I was a Kenyan for about 60 seconds.

The first part of the course was along Las Vegas blvd, aka "The Strip". Several of the large hotel video screens were showing the marathon tv coverage, as well as messages of encouragement for the runners. Once we started running, the near freezing temperatures didn't seem so brutal, and the sidewalks were soon covered with clothing cast off by the warming runners. There were quite a few spectators, some of which seemed to be up-all-night partiers who were confused at the sight of so many runners. One cool thing about being juggernaut, you can get the Las Vegas strip shut down for 5 or 6 hours.

The marathoners split off from those running the half at mile 10. We hit a long shaded section and it was suddenly freezing again. We also started a slow uphill climb that would last until mile 20. It was gradual, but it was there. I hit the half way point about a minute and a half ahead of schedule for a four hour finish. I had been running a pretty steady pace, but began to struggle and slow down.

My legs were pretty smoked to begin with and progressively got worse. Everything in the back (glutes, hamstrings, calves) began to tighten up as the road tipped uphill. I tried to maintain a relaxed run/shuffle, figuring that any sudden moves may have caused a muscle pull. There was a long out-and-back so you could watch the lead runners on their way in. I kept looking to see Sean go by, but must have missed him. As I saw the marathoners running at a 3:15 pace, I thought "they don't look like they are running that much faster than me." I was clearly delusional.

It was a huge relief when the road headed back downhill. Gravity can be your friend and I was able to pick up the pace slightly. The five mile stretch from 20 to 25 was pointed toward the pyramid-shaped hotel The Luxor, but that beacon just didn't seem to be getting closer. There were a couple of overpasses at mile 24 & 25 to climb before we looped toward the finish line. I tried for my best finishing kick after passing the sign at mile 26. Who knows if I really sped up much, but I felt fast.

They say marathoners "hit the wall" around mile 20. This is where you run out of energy/fuel and have to rely on will power until your body switches to burning fat and protein. I didn't feel like hitting a wall for me, but rather running through mud of increasing thickness. The muscles in my legs were screaming, but fortunately no muscle pulls or sharp pains.

I ended up finishing in 4:02:41. This is about five minutes slower than my June PR in Seattle, and I couldn't be happier. Though I had hoped to finish somewhere around four hours, I had no realistic expectations. As I struggled through the second half I imagined a much slower finish time.

Sean from the south finished in an impressive 3:26:29, a PR of about 20 minutes. He has eyes on qualifying for Boston, and he is now less than 6 minutes away. We celebrated with some weak beer and a post race concert featuring Donavon Frankenreiter.

It was a great whirlwind weekend.

December 6, 2009

6:15am, Las Vegas, 26.2 miles

"The answer to the big questions in running is the same as the answer to the big questions in life: Do the best with what you've got." ~ George Sheehan

December 4, 2009

Standard excuse post

So I am running a marathon this weekend. Like almost every marathon before it, I have some lingering doubts. No matter how much you train, no matter how much you prepare, there is always this nagging voice inside your head. 26.2 miles is a long way, and you never know how the day will go. Even if your 20 mile training run went off with out a hitch, race day could be different. You could get sick, sleep could be elusive, breakfast could disagree with you, you could stub your toe, the weather could be crazy, your outfit might not match...there are hundreds of things that could go wrong.

The marathon I ran in June was the one I was best prepared for, and I ended up running my best time. This time around, well...life and work got in the way. I haven't run a training run in two weeks and missed several others along the way. Instead of training, I have been running at work delivering packages. The best I can figure, I am running about 10 miles a day. Instead of tapering this week, I've put in more miles than ever before. So my training is questionable and I am pretty tired going in.

Still...you never know. The training runs I did do, my pace was good. The running I've been doing at work could be considered speed work. But I'm frickin tired. I could crack 4 hours again, or I could implode and have to walk.

Thinking good thoughts.

December 2, 2009

Dog days of winter

I managed to catch a cold over the weekend. Turns out the driver I am working with picked up a cold as well, but we both made it into work on Monday. Neither snow, sleet, dark of night, or green mucus will keep them from their appointed rounds. Fortunately the package count on Monday wasn't much of a jump from last week. Tuesday and Wednesday however...

The Christmas shopping season is alive and well on the eastside. There is Black Friday for in-person shopping, and Cyber Monday that is supposed to kick off the online shopping season. Tuesday's package count was up 25% from Monday, so we really had to hustle. Neither of us were feeling 100%, but we did a great job getting the route done.

Our reward - even more packages today. We had the most in the city even though our route is the most difficult to work. Their reasoning - we were handling the work increase the best. So instead of improving the under achievers, pile on to the over achievers. Reward hard work with more work. I'd much prefer a bonus check.

I came home from work yesterday pretty smoked, only to find someone had pooped in my bed. Not a metaphor. My parents are dog-sitting for someone and the dog had hopped on to my bed to do its business. I imagined my best lament about "working all day, breaking my back and this is what I come home to!?", but I just cleaned up the mess.

As I was getting dressed for work this morning, the little dog came prancing toward my door. I shooed her out, a little anger in my voice. I had not punished her for what she did yesterday. It is said that dogs don't have much of a memory and that it is difficult to correct a behavior unless you catch them in the act. I thought about bringing her up and pointing to the "present" she left me, but I feared she might be the type of dog to pee when she got scared.

Anyway, I relaxed, figuring that I shouldn't treat her angrily in general for something that happened in the past, especially when she has no clue what I'm angry about. It isn't really fair to punish someone for something they are unaware of without giving them a chance to change their behavior, no matter the species.

OK, I may have veered off onto a different subject.

Anyway, my driver told me that overall for the area there were 2,000 more stops scheduled for today than there were for the same day last year. Kind of puts a kink in the whole down economy and people cutting back theory. One thing I thought was that maybe after the snow fiasco of last year, maybe people are getting their shopping done much earlier to be safe. Maybe the last few days before Christmas will be a bit quieter this year.

The weather is freezing but the skies are clear. No snow on the horizon at this point. Hoping for a green Christmas this year.

November 30, 2009

Another crazy weekend

Four days somehow wasn't enough.

Thanksgiving

I and my extended family headed over to my (second) cousin Jeff's home. Hosting our family is no small task as with all the cousins we are 30+ strong. Side dishes and deserts were brought by all, so hopefully the hosts weren't overwhelmed.

It was my first time with the extended family since J asked for a divorce. It was also my first major holiday flying solo. I was dreading it a bit, not knowing how I would handle it. Five minutes in, a cousin who is my age asked "where's your better half?" "California" I replied. "What is she doing down there?" "Living" I replied. Then I told him what was going on. Most of the extended family had heard, but apparently he hadn't received the memo. He is the only one on that side of the family who has been divorced, so he could empathize. A few folks touched on the subject, but we didn't delve in to deep. We steered towards less volatile topics, like politics.

Overall it was a lovely evening. I have an awesome family and it had been far too long since I had seen them. I really missed out when I didn't make it to the family vacation this summer.

Apple Cup

My friend Mark had some extra tickets to Saturday's Apple Cup between the Huskies and the Cougars, so he invited Scott and me along. Mark and his family have had season tickets for years, and there were three generations at the game.

We arrived three hours early for the tailgating party. The parking lot was packed with tables of food, canopies in case of rain, and lots of fans in purple and crimson. I can totally see the draw of tailgating. Even in a rival game like the Apple Cup, fans from both sides mingle in the pre-game excitement. I hadn't seen Mark in a couple of years, so it was great to hang out before the game and catch up on the years gone by.

The Huskies ended up winning the game 30-0. We haven't had a win like that in several years. When I was a student at the UW, we had a pretty dominant football team. I loved going to the games each Saturday with friends, and the student section was the place to be. You can't relive the past, but it was great to see another good game with friends some 15 years later.

Seattle Marathon

Tami and I volunteered again this Sunday, continuing my tradition of either running or volunteering for the last five years. We ended up working as road marshals in the same spot as two years ago. The weather was perfect for the runners, if a bit chilly for those of us standing still. But no rain, which is pretty rare this November, so perfect.

It ends up being a bit boring duty in the beginning and end, but in the thick of the race it is great to be able to cheer the runners on. Having been on the other side, I know how a little spectator enthusiasm can make a huge difference. We were stationed at mile 18 of the marathon, so runner energy was flagging by then. I tried to throw out phrases I'd want to hear when I was running on empty.

The house

With the sale set to close on Monday, I spent quite a bit of time this weekend at the house getting it ready to change hands. Thursday was the day for yard work, pulling nails, and gathering up all the things left behind after the big move. Trying to find a place that was open to eat lunch turned out to be the biggest challenge. Starbucks has a fine turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwich in case you're wondering.

Friday it was another trip to storage, signing escrow papers, three trips to Goodwill, one trip to the dump, and trailering the motorcycle and taking it to storage. Lots of driving, but lots of progress.

Saturday I took off for the football game, but Sunday I headed back to the house after the marathon. I needed to pack up one last truckload of stuff to take to storage, and do the last bit of cleaning. I had also written a note to the new buyers to pass along some things about the house. Trying to be as good about this as possible.

After wiping everything down, sweeping and mopping, and tracking down the missing garage door opener, I was about out of things to do. With the accelerated close date, I've been flying around trying to get everything done on time. I've been dreading this day, but have kept my mind busy with the details. I've been hanging on to the thought that this is the right thing to do, but that bit of wisdom went right out the door as I sat on the hearth and stared at the empty house.

Not proud, not ashamed, but I sat there crying. All that was, all that could have been, all that will never be. It took me a little time to pull myself together, and a longer time to leave for the last time. The sale closed today, and now it belongs to someone else. I hope they enjoy the home as much as I did.

Time for me to find a new place and some new memories. And I'm really looking forward to a quiet weekend.

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I don't know why most people are in such a rush to blow by Thanksgiving to get to Christmas. Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays still untouched by Hallmark and commercialism. It is a time to pause, to spend with friends and family, to remind yourself of the blessings in your life.

I spent the day at the house, getting started on that last 10 percent before heading over to my cousin's house for the family dinner. There will be 35± people there, and love will be mixed with a little chaos.

Just finished raking leaves while listening to 'Alice's Restaurant'. It feels like Thanksgiving already.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

November 23, 2009

Piling up

Busy weekend...

-Friday evening: book club.
-Saturday early morning: volunteer meeting.
-Saturday late morning: 12 mile run.
-Saturday afternoon: waiting for the furnace guy, last minute prep for the move.
-Saturday evening: Friend's Thanksgiving.
-Sunday: moving stuff from the house to storage, taking the movers to pizza, one more trip to the house.

I was supposed to get a 18 mile run in this weekend, but the schedule just didn't allow for it (without doing something crazy like getting up before dawn). Quite frankly I probably wasn't up to it anyway. The additional running I am doing at work has me a little run down.

So now it is on to the two week taper period in preparation for the marathon. The taper period is when you back off the mileage after months of build up, in order to rest up for the big day. My longest training run this time is only 16 miles, so in one way there is less to back off from. On the other hand, I will be running the Monday - Friday before the marathon, so there won't be a lot of rest. Each time you toe the line, there are doubts. They're piling up early this time.

In the midst of the busy weekend, my debit card stopped working. I had stopped to gas up late Saturday night and it was declined. After using a credit card, I walked over to Albertson's to pick up some breakfast for the movers, and my debit card was declined there too. Paranoia rising, I jumped online as soon as I got home. Fortunately, there was still money in the account.

I received a call from my bank Sunday evening. They said there were some suspicious charges so they had shut off my card. Someone has stolen my account information for the second time in the last four months. This time around the charges were pretty big. I asked if there was some common issue going on here, but he said this wasn't that unusual. Not too reassuring, but I'm glad they are looking out for me.

After the busy weekend, I was smoked. So tired it felt like a weight in my chest. Even though I was ready to doze off during dinner, I wasn't able to get to sleep Sunday night. Too much swirling around in the old noggin. You'd think it would be tired by now too.

We are in the home stretch (hopefully) in the house sale as well. With the holiday weekend, and a slightly disorganized escrow company, there will be a mad scramble to get all the papers signed in time. There is still a fair amount of touch up to do at the house as well. As my brother put it, the last 10% seems to take forever.

I'm sure part of what is swirling around in my head keeping me up at night is the sale of the house. It is bittersweet. If the sale goes through, it will be sweet that we were able to sell it so quickly. But there is a shade of bitter as well. It is the right thing to do at this point, but I hate to see the house go. The mad scramble to get it done in three weeks only adds to the tension I'm feeling.

My printer broke this evening. There was a paper jam, and when I pulled the sheet out, a little wheel came with it. I needed to print out documents to sign and get to escrow ASAP. I so desperately wanted to put my fist through the scanner. Need to find a way to uncoil the spring until things taper off.

November 21, 2009

Quote of the day

"Literature will always be political: It cultivates empathy for a theoretical stranger by putting you inside his head, allowing you to experience life from his point of view. It can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place and time, power and vulnerability, all the elements that influence social interaction. What could be more political than that?"

~from an interview with author Barbara Kingsolver

November 20, 2009

Dream job

I have started working with the delivery company again. I am on a different route with a different driver this year. I like the new guy well enough, but the new route has me running about three times as far. Lots of dirt roads and long driveways. At 20% less pay, it is quite the bargain.

The trucks are also wired with a little Big Brother this year. Of course they were already updated constantly when packages were delivered, enabling customers to track their deliveries. In addition, the trucks now monitor whether seat belts are fastened, the cargo door is closed, and how long the truck sits at idle. A company that relies on efficiencies continues its quest for every saved second and increase in safety.

My driver Rich and I have been chatting, sharing histories and stories. Conversational segues veer this way and that, sometimes on the thinnest of threads. It was raining steadily as I hopped in the truck yesterday. I was wearing a running skullcap made of some technical fabric. He asked if it was waterproof, and my response was, "We'll find out. Maybe once my head is soaked it will act like a wetsuit and keep me warm."

So then we were off on scuba diving. I've been on a couple of cruises in the past, and have fantasized about leaving the world behind and teaching scuba to tourists on a tropical island. My driver Rich did something close to it. He and his wife moved to Key West and opened up a shop. He said it was fun for a while and he met a few celebrities. But he said that even the dream job turned into a job. His wife turned out to get seasick, customers were jerks, etc. Then he had a customer die of an embolism while he was surfacing. Fantasy over. He eventually moved back to Washington, his wife became his ex-wife, and swimming in the sun was replaced with running in the rain.

Reality really messes with the fantasy.

November 18, 2009

E-mail wisdom

Most of the time our happiness is reactive behavior. We let things or people be the cause of our happiness. True happiness has no reason. It's a choice.

Today, find one reason for joy. And focus on that for the day.

-- Signature line from a freecycle member.

November 17, 2009

Is that a new toy for us?

I found this picture in the boxes of cards I went through last week. It is our two dogs checking out the hamsters in the Habitrail. They were hypnotized watching the hamsters running through the tubes. Pretty cute.

Off the grid

I have been away from the tubes of the internet, and it has been good.

I spent much of last week at the house. I was meeting several people who had responded to my 'for sale' and 'giveaway' ads, and it just made more sense to stay there and avoid the drive each day. The house has been pared down quite a bit, but at least there is still a bed to sleep in.

There is no internet or tv hooked up at the house to distract or escape to during the evenings. I brought along a movie or two to watch on my laptop, but spent quite a bit of time digging through boxes I haven't unpacked for the last few moves. Three or four of them were cards, letters, announcements and the occasional picture I have saved over the last 20 years. I spent more than one evening sifting through the souvenirs of years of friendships and relationships.

It still seems odd to describe things in decade-size chunks. Most of the time I don't feel old enough to have 20 years of adulthood to look back on. There were cards and notes from my high school girlfriend, letters from people I used to work with, wedding and birth announcements, lots of birthday and Christmas cards, and some other random objects. Objects that would mean nothing to almost everyone, but for me are talismans representing events at different points in my life. It was a mostly fond walk down memory lane. We'll deal with the more recent boxes sometime later.

I came across a note from my Mom letting me know that she and my Dad were getting remarried. I also found a wedding picture from their first wedding tucked away with a couple photos of me around age two. I found things from a couple of friends I haven't seen in more than 10 years. By some coincidence, one of them found me on Facebook a day later. We are hoping to get together sometime soon, and looking through the cards reminded me of what a great friend she was. Having had this memory refresh it will probably be even more surprising to see each other after so much time.

I am a sentimental pack rat, but I tried to thin out the things in those boxes. Birthday and Christmas cards went into the recycling bin unless they had special meaning. There were several wedding invitations, but if the marriage didn't survive, the invitations didn't either. All the letters made the cut, and after all the sifting, I probably only cut things back by a quarter. Still a sentimental pack rat, just with a fairly open-weave filter.

I was largely offline for the week. I went to a few coffee shops to update ads and respond to interested buyers, but there wasn't any blog reading or random surfing.

Then over the weekend, a couple of friends flew me down to Arizona. I have been visiting my friend Bill for the past 10 years since he moved to Tucson for work. Scott and I head down to watch a little football and play a little golf. We missed last year for financial reasons, and because Bill was expecting his first child.

Scott and Bill chipped in to make sure I made it down this year. They felt (knew) I could use a little away time with the boys. We didn't go to a football game, but did catch the Seahawk's loss on tv. The weekend was otherwise very low-tech. We caught up on our lives over rounds of golf, morning coffee, and lovely dinners at home. Their almost one year-old wobbled around the living room showing off her new walking skills. She slowly warmed up to Scott and I, but still wasn't sure if we were OK after three days.

I dragged my laptop down in case something was needed for the home sale, but didn't ever turn it on. It was a wonderful weekend off the grid, spending time more wisely - sharing it with friends.

November 9, 2009

Goodbye

I helped a friend say goodbye to his dog Mandy today. She has been going downhill for sometime, walking through her life with a variety of ailments including Cushings disease. She had lost weight, most of her sight and almost all of her hearing. Toward the end she had difficulty eating, drinking and taking care of business. She became weak and had some difficulty walking a straight line.

My friend has had Mandy since she was a puppy, and they spent something like 17 years together. Even with all her ailments, she didn't seem to be in pain. This made the decision that much harder for him. Was it really her time he kept asking. He didn't mind taking care of her and cleaning up her accidents. But she was clearly a different dog. Though she may not have been in pain, it didn't appear that she had much joy left. She wasn't Mandy anymore, just a shadow of what she was.

I went over to build a box for Mandy to be buried in. We talked about her and my friend's tortured decision as we prepared for her final moments. He originally thought he wanted to be alone at the vet, but I ended up joining him. The vet was very caring and professional, allowing us to spend the time needed, then explaining the procedure and assuring us it would be peaceful.

Dogs live in the moment and have a grace I doubt many humans will ever achieve. As the vet said, dogs don't know what is coming at the end. They do not suffer the torment of the approaching end. They pain just stops one day as they move on from our world. The vet was wonderful, asking questions about Mandy, prompting happy stories from my friend as his dog drifted away in his arms.

Today was painful, but I was honored to be chosen to be there. I dread the day when I need to make a similar decision. It was the right one, but for some time that won't much matter. There will just be an emptiness in the home that won't be filled for a long time. When joy and grace disappears, it can leave a pretty dark void.

But slowly, bit by bit, fondness will replace the pain associated with memory. He will move a piece of furniture months from now and find a toy or wisp of hair, and it will bring a smile. It will warm his soul as he remembers his best friend and how lucky he was to have her grace his life.

November 8, 2009

Server busy.Take a moment.

With the (hopefully) rapidly approaching sale deadline for the house, I need to get more stuff out of the house. I've been posting things I can sell on Craigslist, and giving away more stuff on Freecycle. I apparently overwhelmed Craigslist at some point. I got this error message.


Not many errors come with poetry...from elves.

November 6, 2009

What a day

A lot happened yesterday.

We have accepted an offer on the house. Pretty fortunate in this market to have an offer come to us in just over a week. I am not counting my chickens yet, as there are inspections and appraisals and various other hoops to get through, but we're hopeful. Looks like the clean up and improvements made a difference.

A couple hours before we heard back from the buyer, the owner of the company I used to work for called to tell me he was closing up shop. Certain things happened to make it much more difficult and expensive for him to stay in business. And since the market is a fraction of what it used to be, he has decided it is not worth the fight to carry on. He called me to both let me know what was happening, and to ask for my help in winding things down.

And later I found out that one of my friends lost his job. He wrote me today that it could end up being a good thing in the long run, as he may be able to get a different (better) position at the company as a contractor. But that is only so much comfort as he packed up his office.

So yay, crap, and damn it?

November 3, 2009

What the...

I went over to the house today to check on things, refill the flyer box, and see how many business cards were sitting on the counter.

Each time I come home, the house is a little different. Lights are left on, blinds are left open, etc. Today was more disturbing. The door from the house to the garage was wide open and the light in the garage was left on. On closer examination, the garage side door was unlocked as well. In addition, the shed door was locked but not closed all the way, so the door just pushed open.

I can only hope this was carelessness and not intentional. Each agent has to electronically sign in to obtain the key to the house, so there is a record of when they were there. Of course I have no idea who their clients are at this point. I am having my agent check the records to see who was there last.

When I was an agent, it was odd to walk through someone else's home, and now I am on the other side. As an agent, it was my responsibility to protect people's property and keep the house secure. I always did a final walk-through to make sure everything was buttoned up, especially if I had a client with me. It was my responsibility, so I couldn't just assume they had locked up.

I occasionally found doors unlocked and things that seemed wrong when I walked into a home. I made sure to call the listing agent to let them know what I had found so they could make sure nothing had been taken. We haven't heard from anyone, so I can only assume it was the last agent through that left things unlocked.

Feeling a little violated.

Another weekend of good stuff

My weekend long run is up to 15 miles, and I decided to get it in on Saturday before Halloween kicked into gear. More good weather, just some wind messing things up toward the end. I did fine until about mile ten, and then ran low on energy. Legs felt heavy, heart rate started to climb, brain started to rebel. I had skipped lunch, so I was pretty hungry by the time I was done, but I made it through.

I was invited to a friend's house to walk the neighborhood with her kids. Halloween means very little to me most years. I don't get in to the dress up thing, and we didn't get more than handful of trick-or-treaters at the house on any year. Walking around with some five year olds was right way to spend the holiday.

They were seriously amped before they even dug into the candy for the sugar rush. The neighborhood was a good one for trick-or-treaters with plenty of the houses handing out candy. One house had even set up a haunted house in his garage, scary enough that some of the kids didn't dare go in. As we went along we ran in to some of the kid's friends, so the group grew as we made our way down the street.

The kids are old enough to walk up to the doors by themselves, so the adults hung out in the street. As the kids ran back, they screamed out "we got ___" (fill in the blank with type of candy). Skittles and popcorn balls seemed to be the most exciting. Fortunately the kids ran out of steam before the adults, and were content to head back to dig in to their loot after about an hour.

The adults stayed up late playing cards while the kids tried to come down off their sugar high long enough to fall asleep. The group got together again for lunch on Sunday with a couple more friends. We walked down to a local brewery and became card carrying citizens of the Rogue nation. Citizenship has its privileges - discounts, birthday beers, etc. I also picked up my King County Library card on Sunday so the wallet is getting filled with good stuff.

October 31, 2009

When unprepared, just fake it.

I have accepted the challenge to run the inaugural Las Vegas Rock n Roll Marathon on December 6th, owing much to my sponsor (s) for making it happen. I am very fortunate to have the support of friends like this. To not only challenge me, setting a goal to get me moving forward, but to lend additional support to make it happen. I don't know where I find these people.

Because there are no days off in December, I will be flying in on Saturday, running 26.2 miles Sunday morning, and flying home Sunday night. Definitely not the right way to recover, but you do what you have to. On the plus side, there won't be any time to gamble away any money I don't have.

My prepwork for this marathon will be a little different as well. Much of my mid-week running in the final weeks will be done in short bursts running packages. It will be a modification of the popular run/walk method, becoming more of a sprint/sit rotation.

I will get some longer runs in each weekend, but I will definitely have fewer miles than normal under my belt by the time I reach the starting line. I will take a tip from Anthony Edwards and make use of my best make-believe skills.

Anthony Edwards returns to tv in NYC Marathon

That and his special use of Accelerade and sit up techniques. Is there a stunt double that I can call on to take my place when it gets difficult?

Hat tip to Half-Fast for the video link.

October 30, 2009

The person you are trying to reach can not be located

The home officially went on the market on Tuesday. Today the yard sign is in place, and discussions with neighbors have been ratcheted up a notch.

I was calling around changing addresses yesterday. Since I am mostly out of the house while it is on the market, I also am trying to reduce unnecessary expenses where I can. I called Verizon to see if I could reduce the tv and internet service we’re signed up for at the house. I thought the contract ran through January, so I was hoping to get a cheaper package to cut costs in the meantime. Apparently the contract was up last week, so I was able to cancel both TV and internet service. Yay!

I wasn’t thinking things through though, because that also canceled my Verizon e-mail account For some reason it also wiped the DVR clean. Now I can’t log onto the account and any e-mail sent to me from now on goes nowhere. I wasn’t sure if people would get an error, or if it just goes into the ether. (A friend latter let me know that he received a bounce-back message).

I like so many others have become very e-mail dependent. When I was working as a real estate agent, I realized how many people turn to e-mail as there first means of communication. I was meeting a potential buyer at a house, and waited 45 minutes before giving up on him. When I made it home and checked my e-mail, I found a message from him that he wasn't going to make it - sent 5 minutes before our meeting time. Of course I was already at the meeting place by then. He had my phone number, but didn't think to use it. I bought a new phone that received e-mail a short time later.

My Verizon e-mail was my main and professional e-mail address. It is on my former business cards, my resumes, networking sites, etc. Now it was no longer valid. As an odd coincidence, two days ago my Windows-based phone required an upgrade on a program that allowed me to access my MSN e-mail address. The upgrade wiped out the old program, but did not install one to replace it. I haven't done research yet, but for now the end result is my Windows-based phone can't receive e-mail from my MSN account (and now I'm hooked on mobile access).

So my MSN e-mail wasn't accessible by my phone, and the address wasn't the most professional anyway. Not something I should be putting on resumes. So I added a Gmail account to the growing list of e-mail accounts. Of course I am late to the Google game, so my name is long gone as an e-mail address. A series of numbers had to be added.

Then came the task of letting all the people and websites know how to get a hold of me now. People were updated relatively easily - at least those in my address book - but websites were another issue. Since I've acquired several e-mail accounts over the years, different websites have different e-mail addresses attached to them. I've run into more than one site that won't let me change the address without signing up for a new account.

It would be nice to have e-mail portability something like cell phone numbers have now. That, and a forwarding message like you could put on an old phone number when you moved. Of course changing my address did drop several mailing lists that I won't go out of my way to renew. Maybe I don't want leave a trail after all.

October 28, 2009

Back in the jumpseat

So I got the job running packages over the holiday season.

I was called over the weekend by someone in the HR department offering me the job. I mentioned the day off I was hoping to take in December, and she made a note of it and didn't imply it would be a problem. Cool.

Then I received a call back yesterday from the guy who did the initial interview. He said the previous caller didn't understand their requirements. I needed to choose between taking the day off or getting the job. Naturally I chose the job. I should have about five weeks worth of work starting in mid-November, hopefully with as many full days as possible.

I'm crossing my fingers the weather will be better this year. The deep freeze and unusual amount of snow we received last year really made a mess of things, extending Christmas into the new year. Judging by the temps and amount of rainfall we've had recently, I think rain is more likely than snow this time around due to El Nino, the Pineapple Express, or some other thing.

Now get out there and shop so there is something for me to deliver!

October 26, 2009

Voices in my head

With the carpet installation, etc over the weekend, I didn't have time to get in my long run. I managed to find a two hour, rain-free window this afternoon to squeeze in a 12 miler. Instead of running several loops around the house, I headed down to Lake Sammamish to run along the lake trail.

It is a great gravel path that was created a couple of years ago through the "Rails to Trails" program. It is nice and level, and it generally stays about 100 feet from the shoreline. It was about 10 degrees cooler than my run last week, but we are still in the upper 40's, so it is still relatively comfortable.

I brought my Shuffle along and listened to a couple podcasts as I ran. One of them was the latest episode of Pheddipidations. This week's installment was the race report episode from the Worldwide Festival of Races. Steve shared some race reports submitted by the other 1160 participants from 45 countries who ran one of the events.

I had written an e-mail to Steve the night before the race, thanking him for both his podcast and for sponsoring this event. This last minute entry into a (free) half marathon was the kick in the butt I needed. As I ran the path today, I was surprised to hear him read my letter on the podcast. It wasn't my race report, since it was written the night before the race, but was more about why I was running. It was pretty weird to hear my words, spoken by someone else come through the headphones. My words about why I was running, while I was running.

It's a small world after all.

A new look

Well the carpet is in and looks pretty nice. It definitely gives the house a warmer look. The installation went pretty well - they had it in by about 4:00 and no hidden charges. They did ding up some of the trim, so I had to touch it up. On Sunday I moved all the furniture back in and mopped a bit, so the house is ready to go.

The biggest difference is in the hallway and living room.
I created some flyers this evening, so we should be ready to go live. Fingers crossed the market isn't as bad as they say...

October 24, 2009

The morning after

After another night of too little sleep, I am waiting for the carpet installers to arrive. It has been a stormy week weather-wise. The sky has opened and pounded us with rain, like the world was ending and you'd best find a spot on the ark. Rains that make you pause in dumbfounded amazement. The sound was especially impressive underneath the aluminum patio cover.

This morning, all is quiet sitting at the dining room table surrounded by furniture. Outside it is calm, and the world is trying to dry itself off.

video

October 22, 2009

Last minute upgrade

Once I moved most of the stuff out of the house, and did a thorough cleaning and touch up tour, I invited our real estate agent over to take a look. She took several pictures and we filled out the preliminary paperwork. Then it was on to the discussion of price.

The best way to come up with a listing price is to see what similar homes have sold for recently. Then you take a look at comparable houses that are currently for sale. It doesn't matter what you owe, or how much you would like to profit - the buyer is looking for the best deal on the market. In the current market, there are lots of sellers competing for a small pool of buyers.

Our agent and I looked at online photos of our competition. Several had made some upgrades. We would need to price ours lower to attract a buyer willing to do some remodeling. Our floors are the worst problem. The carpet is in pretty bad shape, heavily worn with some stains, and each bedroom has a different color. The hardwood floors in the living room are almost as bad. The previous buyer had carpet over them and tore them out just before the sale. There are multiple stains from the staples as well as some water marks from spills. The wood is in bad enough shape that they aren't worth saving.

We have decided to replace the carpet in the house before we put it on the market. We considered setting aside some money for the prospective buyer to do it themselves (and pick the color), but the floors are bad enough that they make a poor first impression. We hesitate to put too much money into the place since we don't know what the market will bring, but we have agreed that this will make a huge difference in the look of the house. I originally looked at replacing the hardwoods as well, but it is much cheaper to just put carpet over them.

To save some money, I am doing the tearout myself. I also needed to remove and replace the base trim. In the rooms with carpet, the trim is sitting directly on the wood floors, and they need to be a half inch higher so the carpet can run underneath. While I had them all torn out, I gave them all a new coat of paint.


The carpet in the hallway was in the worst shape. It of course gets more traffic, and it was pretty beaten down and stained. As I pulled it up and saw the underside of it, it was clear we made the right decision.



I think our pooch had at most two accidents in the house, so the underside of the carpet was a gross record of all owners past. I didn't unearth any terrible smells, but there was definitely a funk that has now been exorcised.

The new carpet gets installed this Saturday. It should make a world of difference in how the house looks. When the buyer walks in the door, they will be greeted with a brand new room and won't have their first impression be a house in need of repair. The beauty and potential of the house should now outshine the few remaining blemishes.

October 19, 2009

More on health care

"This American Life" is one of the better podcasts that I listen to. As Matt mentioned, their last two podcasts have been on the health care system.

Part one describes how doctors, patients and insurance companies each contribute to the problem of escalating health care costs. Like so many issues, everyone has a hand in the problem. Part of the reason market forces don't work as expected in the the health (and other) insurance markets, is the disconnect between who consumes and who pays for the product. Part two expands on this topic.

In part two of the series, they team up with another good podcast on my regular rotation, "Planet Money". Planet Money does a very good job of explaining the complicated economic issues of our time. In part two they describe how we almost accidentally ended up with employer based health insurance. They have a great comparison with shopping for groceries that does a good job of pointing out the oddity of this setup.

They also cover the huge difference between the cost of name brand and generic drugs. They compare two identical acne drugs, one is $50 and the other $668. The difference - the $650 version comes with (non prescription) calming wipes, calming serum and a calming mask - worth a few dollars. Because of the disconnect, the patient (if he has insurance) has no clue about the costs of the two choices. The piece has a good bit about how the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies encourage patients in opposite directions.

There is also a good bit on pet insurance, how costs of treatment are thought of differently, and the story of a hedgehog.

Another topic that has been brought up is that patients often receive multiple bills for one office visit. One from the hospital, one from the doctor, one from the radiologist, etc. Adding to the confusion is the varying amounts listed on the bill. There is the listed cost, and then the adjusted price the insurance is willing to pay. Each insurance pays differently, based on their market share and negotiating power. From this number, the insurance pays their portion depending on your coverage, and then finally there is the bill due to you.

I have received four bills so far for my doctor and hospital visits earlier this summer. I'm not sure if this is all I will be billed for, as medical bills are notoriously slow to arrive. There may be other bills from radiology, lab work and other folks that had a hand in things. As near as I can interpret, the charges so far:

Total Charges - $9,407.19
Insurance adjustments - ($5,784.15)
Insurance payments - $2,764.25
Billed to me - $858.79 (plus co-pays of about $125)

If I am interpreting things correctly, the hospital/physicians are getting paid about 39% of what they are billing. Is the total charge line like the sticker price of a car that no one is expected to pay, or are these real costs that need to be made up elsewhere? According to the last part of the podcast, some of the costs are passed on to insurance companies that have less bargaining power. Ironically, it is possible that increased competition in the insurance market could actually mean higher premiums.

I highly recommend both health care podcasts (part 1, part 2), and regularly tuning in to both This American Life and Planet Money.

October 16, 2009

Clean this place up, the folks are almost home!

The house will be up for sale soon. I have decided to move out now in order to keep the house as clean as possible while it is on the market. My parents have offered me a room until I get back on my feet. They didn't hesitate to offer, and I am very grateful for their support.

They have been on vacation for the last two weeks, so my own pooch moved in while I was was taking care of theirs. I've been moving in bit by bit each day as I worked on my own house. It has been nice but odd to have their place to myself. I have been able to take my time getting settled in, but I'm still moving into someone else's home. I'm not sure where their things are or where my stuff should go.

They come home tonight, and I'm looking forward to spending some time with them. We are pretty close already, but I have a feeling we'll be breaking new ground over the next few months. Important stuff, like where the pasta strainer goes.

October 15, 2009

This year is a little different

Just a little barometer on the job market.

I worked for a delivery company over the holiday season last year as a driver's helper. It was a decent job with a little heavy lifting and lots of running. It was supposed to run from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but went into overtime because of all the snow we had last year.

I received an e-mail that they were hiring again for the holiday season, and had an interview on Tuesday. I don't know how many people they interviewed last year, but there were 20 of us there on Tuesday, and there are many more appointments over next two weeks. And something they didn't mention in the ad is that they are paying $8.75 an hour instead of the $11 they paid last year.

They also anticipate fewer hours this year since folks may be shopping/shipping less this year. The hours are not guaranteed, and are adjusted daily to meet their needs. We are kind of at-will employees. It worked out OK last year, but who knows what this year would be like.

I mentioned that I was planning one day off the first week of December, and they freaked out a little bit, saying they would need to check with a supervisor. So they can't promise the number of hours, or even that we will be working each day, but they can't work around a day off with two months notice. And in this climate, they can afford to be this way.

Still hoping I get the job.

October 12, 2009

Planting season

The projects are getting checked off slowly day by day. I am about done with the inside of the house, and since today was supposed to be the last rain-free day for a while, it was time to head outside.

I spent today at the nursery getting plants to spruce up the front yard. For someone lacking a thumb with any hint of green, it was an interesting experience. The number of plants I can point to and name could be counted on one hand, so it was a little overwhelming. Not exactly like a kid in a candy store, since I was wasn't looking for a sugar rush and overwhelmed by choices. More like being told you need a computer, then going to Fry's Electronics to grab everything you need to build one, operating on your base knowledge of a typewriter. Or insert any mega-store experience where you haven't a clue.

So anyway, I don't know what I am doing. The first of the two planting areas I am working on is the planting strip in front of the house. It has largely been allowed to grow wild, so I cleared most of it out and was looking to put in plants to add some street appeal. The second area is a 10x10 square just to the right of the front door. I was originally going to put in a small deck, but later decided on plants. A deck is what I would want, but the prospective buyer might have other ideas. Plants were a cheaper, less permanent option.

That is another thing that added to the confused feeling I felt as I wandered around the nursery. I'm not even buying plants to satisfy my desires, but guessing what some random person will find appealing. But that is a whole different subject.

So lacking any plant knowledge or artistic talent, I tried to break it into (man)ageable chunks. I started with only getting perennials because I didn't want to spend money on flowers that wouldn't make it more than a month. Next I broke it into two trips based on sun exposure - one area is shaded and one gets full sun. Fortunately, most all the plants had tags that listed the necessary sun exposure. If they had tags like Garanimals, it would be almost idiot proof.

Besides all the digging, it actually ended up being an enjoyable afternoon. A little window into a new world. Once I throw in some bark, the place will look a little more welcoming. I'd like to say I learned something, but I still don't know the names of the plants I put in.

October 11, 2009

By myself but not alone

It was Worldwide Festival of Races weekend. There were a total of 1137 participants from 45 countries running in one of three events: the "Kick the Couch 5k", the "Zen Run 10k" or the "Worldwide Half Marathon". As I mentioned previously, this race is a free, non-commercial event for runners of all abilities to 'virtually' run together. People could run an official event or make up their own route. I ran a solo half marathon this morning to get myself moving in the right direction.

I was not only running virtually with the folks that signed up for the Worldwide Half, but also with my friend Sean who was running the Long Beach Marathon. I chose a route in West Seattle so we would both be running along the Pacific Ocean, and timed it so we would be finishing at roughly the same time. He ran the first 10 miles with another friend before striking out on his own to finish the marathon. His friend was running the half marathon a couple years after open heart surgery. The day was filled with lots of meaning for all.

I started my run in Lincoln Park not far from the Fauntleroy Ferry Dock. I had found this route while on a bike ride back in June, and it seemed perfect for today's run. One advantage of running a solo event is there weren't the normal long porta-pottie lines at the start. However the park restroom was padlocked, so the advantage was short-lived.

The park is right on the water, and there is a asphalt/gravel path that hugs the shoreline for about a mile. The winds were calm and the weather perfect. There were several people enjoying the morning, coffee in hand while walking their dogs. I wish I had my camera with me, but I have misplaced it in the recent move. I took some shots with my phone, but the lens was gunked up so they aren't worth posting. This event isn't half-assed, but it turns out my preparation was.

The path ended at a narrow street, which then met up with Beach Drive. There was a small hill at mile two (and mile eleven), and the sidewalk disappeared for a while, but this was the only complaint on an otherwise great route. Beach Drive took me past several beautiful beachfront homes with occasional views of the water. There were several remodels taking place, and I was able to find an unlocked porta-pottie around mile 3.

The route continued along the shore and met up with Alki Ave. For those not from the Seattle area, Alki is our one beachfront community with lots of public access. There is a three mile public beach, and wide paths filled with walkers, runners, skaters and dogs. The street is lined with coffee shops, bakeries and other restaurants. Some condos have sprung up, but there are several funky houses that have not given into developer pressure. The pedestrians far outnumber the cars along this beachfront avenue, which is a beautiful thing.

There were lots of people scattered along the sand and taking to the paths on this glorious fall morning. There were even some folks with running bibs on. They were participating in an event called "Miles for Midwives". Some were running and others walking, but all returned my smiles. You are rarely alone on the roads, and it is almost impossible to be without a friendly face on Alki.

As this was an out-and-back route, I made my U-turn around mile 6.6. I took in all the friendly faces on Alki Ave before turning back onto the less populated Beach Drive. I had brought my iPod Shuffle along, and was listening to a couple Pheddipidations podcasts. Steve Runner produced a race day episode made up of listener submitted shout-outs to encourage fellow runners as we ran together this weekend. I also listened to episode number eight from September of 2005 entitled, "Why we Run". Many thanks to Steve for not only putting on this event, but also for his enthusiastic podcasts that keep us company.

After climbing the hill at mile eleven, and then rejoining the gravel path around mile twelve, I was able to kick up the pace a bit on my way home. Since I entered this event with a little over two weeks of training, I was unsure how the day would go. It felt great to have something left in the tank at the end to push to the finish. Since the mileage was calculated by my Polar watch, I don't know that giving you a precise finish time is important, but I was able to make my goal of 2 hours with a few minutes to spare.

After my marathon in June, I went into a bit of a tailspin. With money tight, I didn't sign up for another event, so I didn't have a goal on the horizon. Post marathon blues combined with the depression of my looming divorce was a potent cocktail. I stopped caring, stopped taking care of myself, and settled back into the "Couch of Doom". I needed this event and the challenge issued by my friend to get me back out on the roads. I am thankful, and happy to call myself a runner once again.

All in all a great day. The run went well, the route along the water was beautiful, and the friendly faces of Alki were an added boost. My only complaint is that the beer garden was a little weak.





October 6, 2009

Moving right along

Made it out for a little over three miles this evening. Feeling a little sore after the mileage ramp up last week, but nothing was tweaked. I ended up running carefully, if that makes sense. Treading lightly like I was anticipating a muscle pull or twist . So far so good.

Several homes in the neighborhood I was running through have already put up their Halloween decorations. So wrong, but I suppose it is just more holiday creep. When Home Depot starts selling Christmas in September, I guess folks feel Halloween needs to reassert itself. Easter decorations come out next week!

I've been working on the house to get it ready for sale. After the garage sale, I put some of the leftovers on Craigslist. I've been able to sell a few things, but there are a couple more things that need to go. Those things that aren't worth listing, I've been giving away to friends. I don't have the room to keep all the mementos and other things that we've accumulated over the years. The line of what to keep gets pushed back a little more each day. The pack rat needs to die.

I have most everything packed. Now I'm moving on to making small fixes, touching up paint, and then the dreaded cleanup. There is a big difference between normal clean, and sell your house (or get your damage deposit back) clean. Particularly when your tolerance for dirt, dog hair, etc. is a little higher than most.

I've been dog sitting for my parents, so I've been bouncing back and forth between their house and mine. I've left my pooch there as well. She would not only be underfoot (and shedding hair) as I tried to get the house ready, but also a little confused as to what all is going on. Our dog-friendly house probably needs a little airing out anyway.

Once I'm done, I'll have a particular neat freak I know do a walk-through and critique. After five years in the house, I know that there are things that I just don't see anymore. With this market, the house needs to look its best to fresh eyes.

October 4, 2009

First week down

If you try to push an upgrade before your body is ready, you're asking for trouble. Any upgrades need to be proposed by the mind, but ratified by the body.

~ Danny Drayer in Chi Running. Quote courtesy of the Phedippidations podcast.


After taking much of the summer off, I have a training schedule and I am back to running again. I have put a solo half marathon on the calendar next weekend, and may run a marathon in December.

Typically in training, you want to slowly ramp up the mileage so your body has time to adapt. Conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% week to week. But since I didn't do much the last couple of months, I am now cramming for finals. Here are the run totals for the last six weeks:

0
6
3
6
7
18.25

This is pretty much a recipe for injury. I ran 8 miles this evening, and my legs are kind of tight. Tomorrow morning will be the real test. Hopefully my body will respond well to the quick ramp up.

Late night cramming was the order of the day when I was in school. I managed to make it work, but it is definitely not the best way for lasting results. I needed the shock to the system to get me moving again. Now it is time for slow and steady progress.