December 28, 2008

When snow attacks Seattle, our brains freeze up, too

By Ron Judd

A little teaser - #6 on the list:
Successful United Parcel Service deliveries will occur in inverse proportion to how badly you need the stuff being delivered. Customers clicking on tracking numbers will see lots of verbiage about "natural disasters." What can brown do for you? In December, not a helluva lot.

Up on the rooftop, dig, dig, dig

With the freeze and snowfall this past week, we had over a foot of snow on our roof. Our house has a roof with a fairly low pitch, and with the threat of rain turning the snow into heavy slop, I was a little nervous of a failure.

There were stories in the paper of problems homeowners were going to face with the thaw. Typically water will freeze in your gutters, called an 'ice dam', preventing water from draining through your downspouts. I don't have separate gutters as the drains are built into the roof. I was up on the roof Christmas Eve shoveling off the edge of the roof to expose the drains. They were indeed filled with ice and I chipped away around the drains hoping they would be the first to thaw.

Then it snowed Christmas day. I carried a shovel in my truck in case I got stuck driving over to my parents house. The shovel was put to good use when I helped my brother and father finish clearing the driveway for the arriving guests. I forgot my shovel at my parents when I left. Fortunately I have a spare.

Then it was back up on my roof that evening to clear the roof edges. I also shoveled off most of the snow from the garage figuring it was in the greatest danger of failing. Every so often I would pause to look around the neighborhood, quiet and snow covered on Christmas evening. It really was beautiful.

My driver picked me up for my UPS shift on Friday, and promptly got stuck on my street. We chained up, but still couldn't plow our way through the heavy, slushy snow. Someone on our route loaned us a shovel a few days back, and I ran back to grab my shovel to help dig out. We got stuck a few more times, and we also dug out a few other stuck cars. The day ended early, so I went back up to the roof to clear the rest of the house. Of course I left the shovel on the truck.

I don't own three shovels, so I was down to a garden hoe and rake. Neither worked terribly well, so I opted for a four foot 1 x 4 piece of wood. It worked pretty well, but the snow was wet and heavy by then so it was slow going. But the weight of the snow convinced me it was that much more important to get it off the roof.

We also have an aluminum patio cover with very little slope. I had forgotten about it until I finished with the roof, and briefly thought about leaving it alone and accepting the risk of collapse. Who wouldn't want a shinny new cover from this guy? But the hesitation was brief (very brief Farmers Insurance!) and I was able to clear most of it off with the garden hoe.

The melt has begun in earnest, but our house is surrounded by a tall drift of snow from the roof clearing. It is a bit of a climb for the pooch to get out to do her daily business. The wet snow also isn't nearly as fun to frolic in.

With no more freezing temperatures on the near horizon we can put away the chains, stop shutting off the water main when we leave, repair the damage to pipes and windows, and just get back to the stuff of daily life.

And you may get your Christmas packages delivered soon.

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

It is a white Christmas after all. There is two more inches covering the ground, and it is still snowing.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!

December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

A glass of wine and It's a Wonderful Life on TV. Not a perfect Christmas Eve, but pretty good.

More Christmas delays

"Still waiting for that Christmas package from Grandma to arrive?

It's on its way — really — but you'll need an extra dose of patience as delivery drivers and letter carriers battle the same snowy conditions and ice-covered hills that have turned commutes into crawls and side streets into skating rinks.

The worst winter weather in years means those holiday cards and presents may stay stuck, well, in the mail, until we start to thaw this weekend."

Full Seattle Times Story.

We haven't been able to deliver our full route for the past week. After days of snow and temperatures still below freezing, there are streets where it simply isn't safe to drive. There are several streets that haven't seen our truck in a week.

To avoid the risk of getting stuck, we haven't been driving down any of the cu-de-sacs on the route. This means we (me) need to run the packages up and down the street. Of course this slows us down tremendously, as does the times we do get stuck. The packages keep coming whether we can get to them or not, so there is quite a backlog. Planes have also had trouble landing, so there are even more packages on their way.

As I mentioned previously, as the backlog grows the organization goes out the window. And any number of times during the day we hit a frozen rut in the road, the truck rocks from side to side, and an avalanche of packages rains down. And we're set back another 15 minutes as we dig it all out.

Many anxious folks approached our truck today, hoping and praying that their package was there. Most all of them walked away disappointed. Many Christmas presents won't make it in time. Pretty crummy, but there isn't much we can do about it.

The season has been sent into overtime as has my part of it. Today was supposed to be my last day but since the weather has created such a backlog, we've been asked to stick around probably through next week. It has been quite the adventure but I am about ready for it to be over. These guys work too darn hard.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

There are ornaments, and then there are gifts. Christmas means a little bit more since my wife and I married in 2001. The ornament above is our "First Christmas Together" ornament as a married couple and features a picture of us signing the marriage license. The photographer had Jenn flash a thumbs up sign while I was signing. It may be a little cheesy, but it turned out to be a great photo.

We have made a home and created our own memories over the years. Several of the ornaments on our tree that I haven't featured are mementos from trips or events during the past seven years. I can only hope that the next seven are even sweeter as we grow to love each other more and more.

I asked my wife to marry me on Christmas morning of 2000. The best thing I have ever done, and our first/best Christmas memory was when she said yes.

December 23, 2008

Skipping Christmas

I reviewed Skipping Christmas by John Grisham book about this time last year. It has come to mind again this year. In re-reading my post from last year, the last few sentences read:

"I've thought a bit about skipping Christmas for a year. In reality I just want to leave some of the craziness behind. I would like a holiday of just spending time with friends and family. No gifts, no time at the mall."

Well, this year some of that has come true. My family has decided to forgo exchanging presents this year. Obviously financial times are hard and some of us can't or shouldn't afford it this year. When my Mom and I broached the subject, the response from the rest of the family was warm and great. It has never been about the presents of course, but Christmas will still be a little different this year.

We have been a little behind the eight ball this season. Our Christmas cards will be going out after Christmas because we have been waiting over two weeks for the picture. Broken windows, broken pipes, being snowed in for days - the season seems to have a small cloud hanging over it. The toughest part this year is that my wife and I won't be together on Christmas Day. She is spending Christmas out of town to be with her Mom this year.

Like our Christmas cards, our Christmas will be coming a little late this year.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

Who doesn't love the Peanuts gang, especially around Christmas time. I have a few other Peanuts ornaments adorning the tree, but the above ornament has some additional sentimental value for me.

When I found it in a Hallmark a few years back, I had to have it. It is similar to a magnet that I have had since I was a child. I can remember having the magnet stuck to the side of my grade school desk. You probably had a similar desk - industrial gray metal with the built in laminate wood chair and flip open desk top. All the desks the same except for what little decoration you could stick to the side (and the occasional vandalized scratching in the desktop).

I still have the magnet. It is stuck to our fridge at home. Gone are the typewriter and the visions of being a writer, but this little magnet (and now ornament) still bring a smile when I see them.

December 22, 2008

Tall tales, short legs

Son, I can remember back in aught-eight when we endured a cold snap and the snow was chest high. Well on my dog that is.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

The above ornament was a gift to my wife in 2003. We were hoping to get a dog in the near future, and this was a little promise that it would happen. I also wrapped up a retractable dog leash, though when the real dog came we had to upgrade for her additional size.

We were renting a house in Greenlake at the time, and we hadn't finalized anything with the landlord about a dog. We had mentioned a future dog when we moved in, and though he wasn't excited he seemed open to the idea. We also had to be concerned with our upstairs neighbor as she was a doctor working all kinds of crazy hours. We couldn't have a dog barking all day while we were gone.

We found our wonder-pooch shortly after Christmas. I wandered through a Humane Society and found her and her mother. Both had been given up as a result of a divorce. I mentioned the find to my wife who rushed down on a lunch hour and put our name on the list for Sierra. We still hadn't talked to the landlord, and he received a call from the Humane Society breaking the news. To his credit, though still not excited, he didn't refuse.

Sierra of course looks nothing like the "promise of a dog" ornament, but she is still one of the best Christmas presents ever.

December 21, 2008

Annual Christmas cheer

What a weekend! Saturday was the day for the annual gathering of friends to celebrate Christmas. I'm not sure how many years Brent and Debbie have been hosting, but this is the big one you mark on your calendar each year. The party goes on into the wee hours of the morning, and everyone is encouraged to stake out a corner of the floor and curl up into their sleeping bag at the end of the night.

The invite list grows a little bit each year. People disappear for a while but stay on the list to return in later years. Even out-of-towners continue to get the invitation in hopes that they will be back in town for the holidays. This year we missed out on a number of folks because the snow fell all night long, there were threats of power outages, and as I mentioned the party was near a top of a steep hill. They were definitely missed.

We were treated to a surprise visit from a trio of out-of-towners who hadn't been to the party in at least five years. Matt, Holly and baby Annabelle quietly made there way into town and popped in on the party to surprise everyone. Many folks hadn't seen Matt or Holly in years, and it was great seeing them to exchange stories and hugs. Also, after following Annabelle's story on these and other pages, they were delighted to meet the miracle baby in person. She was sporting her latest pair of casts so we all got to sign them.

The party has become slightly tamer over the years. We're not as young and invincible as we once were, hangovers don't go away as quickly, and now there are children in attendance.

There is always a late night adventure when the guys have sufficient anti-freeze in them, and this year it was sledding. We threw our winter jackets on over our P.J.s and climbed to the top of the street. The snow was a little too deep and the slope of the hill a little too gradual, but it was fun to be out there frolicking in the winter wonderland.

In the morning, Brent and Debbie make a hearty breakfast for everyone that always features lots of bacon. In years past we have lazed away the day, often watching the Seahawk game. There were fewer people who had stayed the night this time, and with the snow-bound roads we all wanted to get the drive home started.

Another wonderful Christmas season spent with friends. Those that didn't make it this year, you were missed, and you will just need to whoop it up a little harder next year. The rest of the photos can be found here.

Hi Auntie

You're so funny.

December 20, 2008

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

We found this ornament at Pottery Barn a few years ago. They had a series of ornaments with all of the 8 reindeer. Blitzen was the only funny one, arms raised with a martini glass and a bottle of double X liquor, and eyes a little blurry. 'Tis the season to party!

December 19, 2008

Eye of the storm

Well it is all clear blue sky today, 22 degrees with the world blanketed in snow.

My driver called me this morning to see if I was ready to go. I am feeling a little better than Wednesday, but still not great. It turns out that he didn't make it in yesterday either, so he said that today's truck will be bursting at the seams. It is going to be a long one. Hopefully the chains will allow us to climb and descend all the hills of our route.

I am really looking forward to the weekend. Big Christmas plans with friends are on the calendar, and this annual party is always a good time. However, lurking on the near horizon is another big storm with threats of snow and high winds.

Plans may be canceled if the storm hits full force since they live on the top of a steep hill. If the winds do hit us while we are in a deep freeze, the power may go out again and we may need those sleeping bags and firewood after all.

Have a great weekend, and watch your footing.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
You're as charming as an eel.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a bad banana
With a greasy black peel.

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders,
You've got garlic in your soul.
Mr. Grinch.

I wouldn't touch you, with a
thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile.
You have all the tender sweetness
Of a seasick crocodile.
Mr. Grinch.

Given the choice between the two of you
I'd take the seasick crocodile.

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You're a nasty, wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks
Your soul is full of gunk.
Mr. Grinch.

The three words that best describe you,
are, and I quote: "Stink. Stank. Stunk."

You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch.
You're the king of sinful sots.
Your heart's a dead tomato spot
With moldy purple spots,
Mr. Grinch.

Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing
with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable
rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch.
With a nauseaus super-naus.
You're a crooked jerky jockey
And you drive a crooked horse.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.

December 18, 2008

Snow day

Snow continued to fall today. Freeways were parking lots for most of the day. My driver for UPS didn't call me this morning. I'm not sure if he didn't make it out, or if he took sympathy on me as I was feeling fluish/feverish yesterday. I am guessing the later as not much slows those guys down. So I had a snow day.

Our power went out for a few hours. Preparing for the worst, we dug out the candles, sleeping bags, lanterns and brought firewood in for a fire. The weird thing was our backyard neighbor had power but our street was dark. We didn't need to worry about the food in the fridge since we had some natural cooling going on outside.

I think my wife was a little bummed when the lights came back on. It meant her laptop was working again and she needed to get back to work. Away went the books and on came the electronics. Not nearly as nice a glow as from a fire.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

Well, it isn't an ornament, but it is an important part of the tree. This tree skirt was a gift from my mother. And no ordinary gift, it is one she made herself. I am sure it took her many hours to counter cross stitch, and it brings a smile every year we unpack it. She also counter cross stitched a stocking for my wife. It is nice to have several little reminders of family on Christmas morning.

December 17, 2008

Snap, crackle, and burst

The fractures continue. As I was hopping off the truck last night around 8:00, my next door neighbor walked up with her dog to talk to me. She let me know that my piping/spigot on the front of the house had burst and a shower of water was pouring out. Fortunately, another neighbor shut off the main water supply to the house to stem the flow.

While we were driving around the neighborhood, I found a similar problem at a house I was delivering to. They had a timer hooked up to the water spigot, and the plastic device had burst flooding the driveway. The fix was simply turning off the valve, but it made me think "glad I insulated my plastic pipes". Clearly it wasn't enough to prevent a freeze.

So after gulping down some pizza my wife had thoughtfully picked up, it was off to Home Depot. I dashed out so quickly that I didn't remember my wallet. Fortunately, my wife had a pile of change in her car and I was able to come up with stacks of quarters and dimes totaling $6.40 for the repair.

The pipe on the back of the house is still intact, but we will be turning off the water to the house while we are at work and while we're sleeping. It looks like it will be a number of days before there is any hope of a thaw.

More snow is forecast for today and tonight. The forecast led many school districts to close for the day though no flakes were falling. I can remember as a kid anxiously listening to the radio, waiting for them to come around to my school district and tell me there was no school today. As an adult it is quite different. A world blanketed in snow inspires quiet, but most days there are places you must get to and you can't stop to play in the snow. A white Christmas sounds fantastic, unless there are serious hills to get to your family's house.

Frosty footprints

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

Camping has always been a big part of my life. My family went on camping trips as I was growing up, and I have continued the tradition with friends as an adult. The camping trips with Buzz and Darrin were some of my best memories in my 20's. I have missed out on the big group camps the past couple of years, but I was able to do a couple biking & camping trips instead. In 2006 it was a two week trip from Seattle to San Francisco, and in 2007 it was a week-long adventure around Montana and Glacier National Park.

I really enjoy getting away, and the slower, simpler pace when you are camping in the woods. I actually met my wife on a camping trip about nine years ago, so camping continues to bring me joy every day.

December 16, 2008

Cold snap, literally

Yesterday was a long one out in the cold. The temperature hovered around 25 degrees during the day, and fell pretty quickly after sundown. The roads were a mix of bare and clean, and completely covered with ice. The city did some de-icing and sanding on some of the major streets, but many side streets shaded by tall trees never had a chance to melt.

When my driver picked me up, he had already tackled the neighborhood I was most worried about. Apparently the city (or maybe a hired contractor) made this hill a priority and he was able to climb the hill without chaining up. Unfortunately around noon we became stuck in someones driveway and had to get the chains to get out. This slowed us down and gave new meaning to vibration headache, but I did feel a little more secure on the steeper hills of our route. We were out until 7:00pm, and would have been out past 8:00 if another driver hadn't come to lend a hand.

I slipped a few times on the icy streets and walkways, but fortunately never took a spill. The words for the day were 'slow and deliberate' and I felt like an arthritic old man taking baby steps all day. Today promises to be more of the same. Hopefully the package load will be a little lighter, but I am guessing there will be no let up until Christmas Eve.

I had an appointment early this morning before work, so I had to brave the icy streets in my two-wheel drive truck. I loaded in some bags of concrete and rocks over the rear axle to try to gain a little more traction. The roads in my neighborhood were the worst and once on the freeway it was smooth sailing.

I had a reason to roll down my passenger side window this morning, and...

The window didn't make it a fraction of an inch before it completely shattered. Now my truck has that open door feel just like the UPS truck.

"Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today."

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

This one doesn't need too much explanation. Both my wife and I have a soft spot for the Muppets. We loved the TV show, we've seen all the movies, and we played Rainbow Connection at our wedding. And in case you didn't know already, there is a new Muppets Christmas special, "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa", this Wednesday at 8:00 on your NBC station.

December 15, 2008

Who throws a shoe?

A surprise visit by US President George Bush to Iraq has been overshadowed by an incident in which two shoes were thrown at him during a news conference. Mr. Bush deftly ducked both shoes and seemed unflustered by the attack. He later quipped "All I can report is it is a size 10".

Here is a video of the incident, and President Bush's response to a reporter. In his level-headed response he talks about protester's attempts to garner attention, which this one certainly did.

I don't know if anyone else's mind went immediately to this, but mine did.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

This ornament is one of my wife's. It is a figurine of a nurse who is also an angel. Her Mom gave it to her in 1993 and there is a story behind it. My wife's mother was in a car accident that year, and my wife was living out of state at the time. She moved home to take care of her Mom for a few months. She was her Mom's angel.

As we walked around the tree this evening talking about my wife's ornaments, many of the ones from her mother had something to do with the year they were given. If the year was not already on the ornament, she wrote it in somewhere. There is a little 1993 on the bottom of the nurse's right foot. The Christmas tree is a little This is Your Life presentation.

December 14, 2008

Cold snap

We received about two inches of snow last night. Nothing major, but the forecast is for very cold temperatures for the rest of the week. The overnight low is forecast for 19 degrees tonight, the lowest temperature in the Seattle area in almost two decades. Monday night's low could be 17 degrees and the daily highs may not get above freezing for the rest of the week.

Snow will not be the problem tomorrow, but rather ice. Western Washington is quite hilly, so tomorrow's commute will be hazardous. I'm not sure if tire chains really do much for traction on ice. I asked my UPS driver if they ever shut down. He said it has only been once or twice in the 15 years he has worked there, and one of those was during the windstorm a few years ago when no one had power.

There are streets I don't think will be safe tomorrow, so I hope we at least skip one particular neighborhood. There is only one way in and out, and it is a street steep enough that traction in the rain is sketchy. I also don't think there will be much running tomorrow. I had difficulty staying upright just walking to my shed this afternoon. Tomorrow is going to be long and probably more than a little ugly.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

Santa in his workshop. This ornament doesn't have huge sentimental value, but it stands out for another reason. It was given to me by a co-worker when I was working as a CPA. When Jeff handed out presents to people in the office, he commented that you often forget where certain presents came from, but you remember where your Christmas ornaments came from. I haven't seen Jeff in over ten years, but I still remember his gift.

December 13, 2008


Well, the weather bureau did exaggerate a bit, but the snow is falling tonight.

With the threat of snow and temperatures in the 20's, I spent the day tracking down chains and wrapping the pipes outside the house.

As we don't get lots of snow in the northwest, I have never bothered to get chains for my truck. Of course trucks have terrible traction to begin with, so adding chains is only a minor improvement. Typically if it snows I will drive my wife to the train and borrow her car which has all-wheel drive. For some reason I thought this year was when I would finally get stranded in my truck. So now I have $35 worth of peace of mind.

Since I redid the plumbing outside the house for the sprinkler system, the normal styrofoam hose bib thingy (that is the technical term according to the lady at Home Depot) no longer works. So I had to improvise something to insulate the pipes to guard against the freezing/bursting problem. The pipe wrap stocked at the Depot were not large enough to surround the 1" sprinkler pipe, so I had to use two pieces cobbled together. Duct tape and plastic bags were involved. My solution isn't pretty, but hopefully it will be enough.

Rudolph Run 5k

It was cold and windy, but no rain or snow this morning. Five of us braved the cold weather to participate in the annual Christmas 5k. It is a local run with little frills, but some of the best events are the small ones. It is kinda cool when the race director knows your name.

Last year we dedicated the race to Alyssa who had just found out she had breast cancer. This year she is cancer free and was there to run with us. A nice bit of closure.

It was also Amy's first time running a 5k. She walked the event last year, but this time she did a run/walk. She had done all her training indoors on a treadmill, so breathing in the 35 degree air and fighting the hills made it a bit tough, but she finished well and promised to run another 5k. We welcome another sucker runner to the fold.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

The two ornaments above are ones that my Grandmother made years ago. She was my Mom's mother. And she wasn't 'Grandma', she was 'Nannie'. Even folks at work called her Nannie. She was a wonderful woman, very loving and caring, but she would shake her finger at you when you were in trouble.

I can remember many holidays spent at her house, our ever expanding family crowded around the table. It was quite an event to graduate from the kids table to the adult table. I remember the glass dish with butter mints on the dining room bureau, the game cabinet in the living room with games from my mother's youth, and all the other treasures in her basement. Her house was Home.

December 12, 2008

TGI the weekend

Well it was a blustery day here in the northwest. We have been enjoying a very mild November and December, but the weather has turned. Temperatures moved into the 30's and winds were steady all day. The typical "Storm of the Century" weather coverage this morning was predicting temps in the 20's and possible snow tonight. They have backed off a bit on the dire predictions, but winter weather is here.

It was a long day at work fighting the wind and sideways rain. When the high winds whipped across the roof of the truck, it rippled like the sound effects metal used to simulate thunder. Pine trees were swaying, and garbage cans were rolling down the road. If a house didn't have a sufficient enough covered area to protect the packages from the rain, we had to put them in large plastic bags. For a job that depends on shaving seconds, this makes it tough to stay on schedule.

Tomorrow morning is the local Rudolph Run 5k. I am pretty smoked from a week of running packages in work boots, so this 5k will definitely be just for fun. Friends and I have run this event the last few years, and it is a nice way to wrap up the year. As I head off to bed I hope that the threat of snow has been exaggerated.

Have a great weekend.

The twelve ornaments of Christmas

The bird ornament above is one of three that decorate our tree - one red, yellow and blue. They are made of wood, rather delicate, and have about an inch and a half wingspan. They are ornaments from when I was growing up, and they are the first ones I put on our tree each year. They are probably older than I am.

When I was growing up I really liked flying ornaments, I'm not sure why. I also had an ornament with a reindeer flying a biplane, but it disappeared somewhere over the years. There was also a family favorite called "Joy Bird". It was a big, yellow, construction paper bird made by my older brother. It had 'Joy' in big black letters on the side, and the bird was wearing a ball cap and sneakers. It was a classic.

Happy Birthday Amy!

December 11, 2008

Wait a second

"With a brutal economic slowdown, 2008 may feel as if it will never end. Now the world's timekeepers are making it even longer by adding a leap second to the last day of the year.

Along with the economy, the Earth itself is slowing down, requiring timekeepers to add an extra second to their atomic clocks to keep in sync with Earth's slightly slowing rotation. So an extra second will be tacked on to Dec. 31 after 6:59:59 p.m. and before 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time."

"The Earth is rotating slower and slower over time, while the atomic clocks are not slowing down. On one average day the difference is around 0.002 seconds,which means around 1 second in 500 days. In order to synchronize the atomic clocks with the Earth's observed rotation, the atomic clocks are occasionally instructed to add an extra second – the leap second. Leap seconds are inserted so that the difference between the UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and UT1 (mean solar time - observed Earth rotation) is kept below 0.9 seconds. "

Associated Press
Time and

December 10, 2008

Quote(s) of the day

“Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” --Plato

"Every time I fail I assume I will be a stronger person for it." --Joan Benoit Samuelson

December 9, 2008

Quote of the day

Friendship with oneself is all-important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else.

- Eleanor Roosevelt, human rights activist

The person you are trying to reach is unavailable

The Dawg Run has a rant on phones this morning. I can sympathize - I am not a fan of talking on the phone, but carrying one around is a necessary evil for my regular line of work.

The battery in my "fancy" phone is almost toast. This is the phone/PDA with e-mail and web access, as well as all my calendar and contact information. The battery won't last 8 hours on standby and will drain with a couple of phone calls. I have a cheaper/simpler back up phone that I normally take out running or biking. The fancy phone is bulky and expensive so I don't want to carry it or risk dropping it.

With the battery issues, I have been carrying the cheaper phone with me on the UPS truck. So no e-mail during the day. Not many folks are calling these days, plus I can't hear the ringer over the diesel engine so I may miss the call anyway. Being untethered has been kinda nice. I could use a little focus in my life right now, and being away from the "bing" of a new e-mail every few minutes is refreshing.

What was your name?

I am terrible at remembering names. A times it seems like I am trying to not remember their name. When someone tells me their name, it is like my mind says "what is that shinny thing over there" to distract me, and the name is gone.

I am trying to improve, and I am getting lots of practice delivering packages during the day. We have regular business stops where we need to get a signature when we drop off a package. As most signatures are illegible, I need to ask them their name to clarify who I left the package with. I don't want to ask the same person "what was your name" every day, so I am trying my best to focus. It is an uphill battle with all the new faces, but it is getting better.

Happy Birthday Dave!

December 7, 2008

Stringing up the lights

Today Christmas officially began in our household. We made our annual pilgrimage to Home Depot to pick out a Christmas tree, but their trees were looking a little peaked this year. There was another lot a half a mile away that was sponsored by Chubby and Tubby. Chubby and Tubby was a discount store in the Seattle area opened in the 1940's, and they sold relatively inexpensive Christmas trees each season. The last store closed a few years ago, but they are sponsoring three tree lots this year staffed by some former employees. There were a few Charlie Brown trees at a discount, but their regular trees weren't so cheap this year. We splurged on a Grand Fir and its a beaut.

We threw in a couple of our favorite Christmas CDs and started digging out our decorations. One of the best parts of decorating the tree is going through all the ornaments each year. Some we have bought together as a couple, but many are from our youth. I've inherited ornaments that used to decorate my family tree, and there are handmade ornaments made by my Mom and Grandmother. Each has a little memory attached to it.

One thing missing from our tree is candy canes. We always had them on our family tree growing up, and I can remember sneaking a few off the tree in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'd grab them off the back of the tree where I though no one would notice. I know I can just buy a big ol' box of them now, but it would be more fun to sneak one off the tree each day.

December 5, 2008


Well Black Friday gave way to Cyber Monday and our trucks are full. Delivering packages goes further into the earlier-darkening night. I spend the last hour or more running packages with a headlamp on. It is a good thing my driver knows the neighborhood so well as so few of the houses have lights on by their house numbers. Our house, like too many others, doesn't have house numbers at all. We didn't like the ones on there before the paint job, and haven't replaced them yet. Take pity on your poor delivery people and put those numbers where we can see them (day or night).

We actually received a UPS package yesterday, and my driver handed it to me as I hopped on the truck. I ran it back inside and wondered all day what it might be. A Christmas anticipation (Thanks Kevin!).

The shelves of our truck are full and the floor stacked four feet high with packages. UPS survives only with incredible amounts of organization, and tis the season when they need it the most. Unfortunately when systems get overloaded, organization takes a beating. A half empty garage is easy to organize with shelves, bins and labels, but when it starts getting filled to capacity, you tend to give in and just toss any additional items anywhere.

I'm still enjoying the job, but I am taking a bit of a beating. Walking is a great way to recover from a full or half marathon - running and climbing stairs all day, not so much. I decided to wear a pedometer to see how far I was running each day, but unfortunately the bouncing of the van adds to the clicking off of miles. I stashed it in the van yesterday instead of on my belt to do a little subtraction, and it looks like I am running between five and seven miles in short sprints each day.

There were lots of flat screen tv's from Costco on the van yesterday, so there must have been a good sale I missed. Guitar Hero III is popular this year, and yesterday marked the release of the Harry Potter lite book The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Amazon had some clever muggle packaging to mark the occasion.

Riding around with Paul has been another nice change of pace. The last four or five years I have been working largely alone. Without daily social interaction, an already introverted personality has turned farther inward. This has taken a toll on friendships and on the wife. I often describe myself as a loner who happens to have a large number of friends, but that isn't really accurate. It isn't that I prefer to be alone, it is just that I can be content without others around. But content isn't happy, and I need to aim a little higher.

The sunset was beautiful last night as I ran around my town. Have a great weekend everybody.

December 3, 2008

Dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century

When the Mom-in-law visited over Thanksgiving, she brought early Christmas presents with her. She gave the wife and I each a Kindle, Amazon's wireless electronic reader. Knowing that we were both big readers, she figured we'd enjoy the latest technology. After a few days using the Kindle, it is a pretty cool device.

The screen is one of the more impressive features. Amazon's calls the technology "electronic paper", and it is pretty similar to reading a printed page. There is none of the electronic glow and glare of a typical computer screen, so there is none of the eye strain associated with it. The bonus features of doing your reading on the Kindle include:
  • The ability to carry about 200 books with you. You can also delete any of the books and download any of them later if you wish.
  • An included electronic dictionary so you can look up any words while you are reading. You can also look up the terms on Wikipedia as well.
  • You can create bookmarks, highlight passages, make notes and store clippings for later reference. The clippings can be saved to your computer as well.
  • You can purchase books for $9.99 or less and have them sent wirelessly to your Kindle for free. This can save quite a bit of money and time, especially on best sellers and new releases still in hardback.
  • You can download samples of any of the books before you buy.
  • You can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines and have them sent wirelessly to your Kindle, again at noticeable savings.
I have downloaded a sample of one of the books on my to-read list. I think I will especially enjoy using the Kindle for non-fiction reads. The ability to take notes and look up terms all on one device will be helpful. This will also come in handy for book club discussions.

The Kindle is one of those things I was interested in, but would not have purchased for myself anytime soon. And those are the best kind of presents. I have a stack books staring me in the face, so my regular use of the Kindle will probably a month or so away. I only wish I had it before I bought the Nicolas Sparks book for book club. Then I could have read it anonymously.

December 2, 2008

Weekend couch time

My Mom-in-law came up to visit over the Thanksgiving holiday. She lives about 2 1/2 hours away by car, and we always appreciate when she comes up to spend time with us. As we were all a little run down, and trying to avoid spending extra money these days, we stayed in during the evenings to watch a couple of movies. We rented Juno and The Bucket List.

Juno is about a teen girl named Juno who gets pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption. The movie's attraction is in the quirky characters and Juno's snappy/sarcastic dialogue. The adoptive parents are Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, and though they seem to have it all initially, in the end they aren't as prepared for adoption as they think. Juno's parents in the movie are more understanding and supportive than she expects. Overall it was an enjoyable movie.

I enjoyed The Bucket List. From the previews I expected a pretty formulaic movie, but I was pleasantly surprised. With Jack Nicholson, you can expect some over the top moments, but I didn't feel him dominating the movie like I expected. And I always enjoy Morgan Freeman. Their characters share a room in the hospital as they are both being treated for different forms of cancer. Their relationship is initially abrasive, but after going through chemo together they form an uneasy friendship.

Freeman's character recalls a teacher's exercise of writing a bucket list of all the things you want to do in your life before you "kick the bucket". He starts to write one, but after a couple of entries he gets the news that he has less than a year to live. He crumples up the list thinking "what is the point now". Nicholson's character finds the list, convinces Freeman that it is now more important than ever, and offers to fund the adventure. He adds his own entries to the list like skydiving, getting a tattoo and kissing the most beautiful girl in the world to the list.

They jet around the world to a safari in Africa, the pyramids in Egypt, and the Great Wall of China. Along the way they delve into topics of philosophy, religion, family and regrets. There are some predictable moments, but I found the movie to be pretty satisfying.

After the movie, my Mom-in-law asked what was on my bucket list. I didn't really have an answer. I have some goals and things I'd like to do, but I'm not sure they are big enough to be on a bucket list. I've been fortunate to have some great adventures, and I have lots of stuff in my bucket already (to mix metaphors). The goals these days are smaller and as a couple.

November 30, 2008

Seattle Half Marathon

It has become a Thanksgiving week tradition to be involved in the Seattle Marathon. I ran my first half marathon at Seattle in 2005. In 2006 I handed out medals to the finishers and in 2007 Tami and I directed a little traffic out on the course. This year Tami and I decided to run.

Tami picked my up at the house around 6:15am which we thought would be plenty of time to make the 7:30 start. Traffic was great until the Mercer Street exit. It took us nearly an hour to get off the freeway and get to the parking garage, a distance of just over a mile. When we reached the start line, the race was to begin in one minute. Unfortunately we still needed a porta-pottie break before heading out. More unfortunately the bathrooms were on the other side of the street, blocked by all the eager (on time) runners.

We salmoned our way across the street and climbed over the barrier and got in the bathroom line. One benefit to being so late was that the lines were short. After our pitstop, we crossed the start line about six minutes late. Since the race is chip timed, our clock didn't start until we crossed the start line. The problem was that we were now behind most of the runners and we would be weaving through them to make any progress.

The weather was fantastic for late November. The temperature at the start was 53 degrees with a fog layer blanketing the city. Many of the runners were overdressed, so the misty air helped cool them down some. I had hopes of possibly beating my time in Bellingham, but with the slow start I was going to be happy to break two hours.

The route starts outside the Experience Music Project at the Seattle Center. From there we ran down 5th avenue lit up with Christmas lights to reach the I-90 bridge. The half marathoners then dropped down to Lake Washington Blvd which as the name implies runs right along the lake. The thick fog layer clouded most of the views, but it is still a beautiful run.

The route then turns uphill at Madison, then heads through the beautiful Arboreteum. We then wound around on an access road through another wooded area, cresting the hill around Roanoke with a view of downtown. At the top there was a stereo blasting Boston's "Don't Look Back" which I thought was appropriate. I got another shot of motivation shortly thereafter when I came upon a runner with one artificial leg with a carbon fiber running foot. It was clear he was a veteran and we all gave him variations of "you rock!" as we caught up to him.

The route then winds its way back to the Seattle Center to finish in Memorial Stadium. Running out on to the field with the finish line in sight gave me that final boost and I sprinted to the finish. I came in at 1:56:05 only 30 seconds shy of a PR, which I am totally happy with. Best of all my ankles didn't go out. We'll see how they feel at work tomorrow.

Seattle was my first major run so it will always have a little extra meaning. It is also my hometown race held during the holiday season. Today was another great event and I'm glad we decided to run this year.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

The first quarter I was at the University of Washington Business School, one of my teachers gave a day-before-Thanksgiving lecture. Attendance was optional, but most all of the class showed up.

The lecture was mostly about heading home for the holidays. He talked about seeing various relatives, each with their own viewpoints and opinions. As young adults, we would be getting lots of advice from friends and family, some who we only see a few times a year. Of course it would be difficult to digest, much less follow, all the varying bits of advice from all the people in our lives.

Our teacher tried to give us some perspective. He suggested that while listening to each point of view, we needed to decide who's opinions mattered most to us. This being a business class, he called it our "board of directors". This board would be fluid (people would be added and subtracted as life went on) but those on your board were the people you would turn to for guidance and support. Of course this year this concept has become that much more important. Rather than a board of directors, it is a circle that we rely on.

I am fortunate to have some very special friends and family in my own circle. I am thankful for the varying backgrounds, interests and viewpoints they bring to my life. Of course I am most thankful for my wife at the center of my circle. Without her this life wouldn't mean nearly as much. I am very lucky man, and I hope I express that year-round. Today, I offer my heartfelt thanks to all the wonderful people in my life - new and old, local and distant, and those I see frequently or just once a year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

DON HENLEY "My Thanksgiving" (live)

November 25, 2008

Running for UPS

Today was my third day working as a driver's helper for UPS. It is going pretty well and I am definitely getting a good workout.

They matched me up with the driver that works my neighborhood. He actually picks me up at my house in the morning and drops me off in the evening. Nice commute. Paul has been working for UPS for about 15 years, and has been on this route for the last three. We get along pretty well and he has been impressed with me so far.

From what I can tell, his route covers about a 25 by 25 block territory. Our serpentine route is a bit confusing so far. It is an odd feeling to be so turned around a mile away from your own house. Part of the reason for the odd route is that UPS "avoids left turns to save fuel, reduce emissions, and improve safety". UPS micromanages in many other ways to achieve small efficiencies that add up to savings of time and money. Just saving 10 seconds on each package really adds up over the course of a day.

It is also a bit surprising how many packages are delivered to a relatively small area. Many of the stops are regular customers. Outside of the holidays, 80% of the deliveries each day go to about 20% of the addresses in the neighborhood. Paul knows my neighborhood like no other. Of course he knows where all the aggressive dogs are, but he knows lots of little details about the people too.

My day is pretty fast-paced. I run most of the packages as Paul organizes and scans the next ones to be delivered. Everything of course is tracked. The board he carries has all the packages to be delivered loaded in its memory and we scan them and check them off one by one. The board is also a cell phone and GPS so it uploads our progress regularly, sends tracking numbers and signatures to the website, and also receives messages if there are last minute changes. It sounds like there are even more high-tech tracking methods on the way.

There are lots of "flag lots" or "easement lots" where there are several houses set back from the street off of a long driveway. This means extra running, but I am also seeing houses I've never seen even on my regular runs around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, my ankles are bothering me right now, so I'm not doing any additional running outside of work. I wish I could wear my running shoes at work. This would probably solve my ankle problem.

A little surprise on today's route - I delivered a package to the people who owned our house before us. I had heard that they had stayed in the area, but I never bothered to track them down. And one last tidbit - invest in QVC. They are doing some brisk business, making up about 10% of our deliveries.


You can't find life's answers in a bottle of booze. Or can you...


November 24, 2008

Running to beat breast cancer

Below is a cartoon video from Brooks Running called "Dream". Brooks is donating five cents for every view of the Brooks Dream video between November 13, 2008, and December 21, 2008. Once the views have been tallied, Brooks will donate up to a maximum of $25,000 to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, earmarked for the support of breast cancer research.

I particularly like the water bottles growing on trees and the vacant and clean porta-potties.

Also, next March, Brooks is launching Brooks For Her, an exclusive apparel collection in support of breast cancer research, awareness, and support. For each Brooks For Her item sold from March 1, 2009, to December 31, 2009, Brooks will donate 12.5% of the full wholesale price to three breast cancer-related charities: The Young Survival Coalition, Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Mailman failed to deliver

Sick of junk mail?

Pay homage, then, to overstressed, overworked mailman Steven Padgett, who has confessed to a cardinal sin among the letter carriers' tribe: He failed to deliver.

"Mailman Steve" — a kindly, 58-year-old who toiled along a route in a rapidly growing neighborhood in Apex — was given probation in federal court last week for squirreling away at least seven years' worth of undelivered junk mail, which he had stacked in his garage and buried in his yard.

It should come as no surprise that the U.S. Postal Service did not receive a single complaint from Padgett's customers about missing mail during the years he withheld pizza circulars, oil-change discounts and Chinese restaurant specials.

"Mailman Steve" was not making a statement about junk mail, he simply could no longer carry the volume of mail as he was contending with heart problems and diabetes. He could have faced a $250,000 fine and five years in jail, but instead the judge gave him three years probation, a $3,000 fine and 500 hours of community service.

Full Story

November 23, 2008

A friends Thanksgiving

Our friends Amy and Dave hosted a Thanksgiving gathering for our circle of friends. A wonderful prime rib dinner was prepared by Ingrid and Andy, along with a fine spread of appetizers and deserts. Most of us will gather with family on Thursday, but it was a treat to share this holiday with friends as well.

We had all agreed to bring a nice bottle of wine to sample and share with the crowd. With tightening budgets, we had all been drinking $5 bottles of wine for a while. When Scott brought a nice bottle to our last gathering, we remembered the pleasure of a really good wine. And a good bottle of wine is even better when shared among friends.


November 19, 2008

What can brown do for you?

My job is in the real estate and lending field, and it is no secret that things are really slow right now. Actually you can hear the sound of crickets if you listen closely.

The subprime market failure and collapse of the secondary mortgage market has made it tougher for borrowers to get a loan. Rising unemployment and foreclosure rates (and a little media-fueled panic) have made buyers wary and kept them out of the market. So though prices and mortgage rates are low, there isn't much happening right now.

So in the meantime I am picking up some holiday season work. I will be working for UPS starting tomorrow and likely through Christmas Eve. I will be riding along with a driver and running packages. The recruiter explained that their volume typically doubles or triples during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They obviously can't double or triple their fleet of trucks, so they hire some extra hands to make them more efficient.

With the way the economy and consumer confidence is going, this Christmas shopping season may be a little tepid. With this in mind, there is no guarantee how many hours I will be getting. It sounds like they will be calling me each morning to let me know how much (or if) they need me for the day. Once the season gets rolling, hopefully I will be able to count on a full day's work.

It looks like I'll have some concrete insight into consumer confidence this season. I'll just count the packages.

November 18, 2008

Network time wasters - Muppet version

Whatever you do, don't hit the "do not touch" button.


Sundown on a season

Training in the winter is a bit tougher.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, so it is not like I am battling snow and sub-zero temperatures, but it is getting colder and the hours of daylight are shrinking. I'm about seven weeks into a training cycle that will take me through January so there's no avoiding it.

I headed out on a seven mile run at 4:30 today which is when the sun sets this time of year. So in the interest of safety, I picked up a Xinglet a week or so ago. I also took along a headlamp and a flashing tail light with me.

The Xinglet really lights up when headlights hit it. The headlamp seemed meager by comparison. Once twilight ended and I needed the light to find my footing, it was a little sketchy. The headlamp did do a great job of lighting up my foggy breath though.

Unlike biking, when you run on the roads, you run against traffic. It is much safer, ensuring cars don't sneak up on you. I discovered tonight how difficult it is to see with headlights coming at you. I couldn't see much of anything so it was much simpler just to step off to the side. Guaranteed breaks.

On my long run Saturday, there were a bunch of runners out in my neighborhood. The weather was beautiful, one of those perfect Fall days. I saw a few of the runners more than once, so they were out there for a long run as well. The Seattle Marathon is less than two weeks away, so that may have something to do with it. Unfortunately I think those beautiful weather days are numbered.

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

November 16, 2008

Running with fruit

The latest fun run - The Winter Pineapple Classic.

It is a 5k run with obstacles run in teams of two or four. The additional detail so the name of the event make sense, each team needs to carry along a pineapple while running the course. We crawled through tubes, climbed walls, vaulted hay bales, limboed under pipes, ran through tires and swung on the monkey bars. If you couldn't carry the pineapple through the obstacle, you let one of your teammates go first and then passed it over like a football. To extend the tropical theme, they truck in tons of sand to create a beach for the after party.

This is the third year for the event that raises money in the fight against Leukemia & Lymphoma. The event was started by Eric Cox after his son battled Leukemia at the same time his wife battled breast cancer. The event has grown dramatically in the three years, and raised $285,000 this year. Here is a video from channel 4 news about last years event and the Cox family.

I was a last minute replacement promoted from the camera crew to participant. I joined the guys team and got to run with Brian in his first running event since his leg surgery two years ago. His next 5k should be much easier.

Welcome back!


Our book club met last night and had some great discussions on The Grapes of Wrath and The Art of Racing in the Rain. And the wine flowed as freely as the conversation, so I thought the shirt above was appropriate. The picks for our next round include our first real chick-lit book, The Lucky One by Nicolas Sparks, and the controversial Lolita.

Shirt link.

November 14, 2008

Historical audio

As an interesting coincidence to my reading The Grapes of Wrath came about a few days ago. I was listening to last week's This American Life podcast on my run on Tuesday. The first portion of the show was in honor of Studs Terkel who had passed away on October 31st. They played about 20 minutes of his 1970's interviews with survivors of the Great Depression. After reading Steinbeck's portrayal, it was interesting to hear from folks who had lived through this period.

Mr. Terkel's Conversation with America is a collection of interviews he conducted for his books and radio program. They covered a number of topics, and his interviews on the depression were used for his book Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. The interviews selected for the podcast were an interesting snapshot of the time. More audio of his interviews on various topics can be found on his website.

November 12, 2008

Grapes of Wrath

I finished The Grapes of Wrath last night. It was a book club choice suggested by me. I had read the book 10 or 15 years ago, and often said it was my favorite book when someone asked. Of course tastes change and memories get fuzzy over the years, so I was excited to read it again. I also thought it would be topical to read a book about the Great Depression as we fall further into recession.

The story is about the Joad family. After several years of bad crops in the dustbowl of Oklahoma, they along with most every family lost their farm to the bank and were forced out of their homes. With fliers heralding great farming jobs in California, they head west to the promise of a new start. Their journey is difficult, but they come to find out that their suffering was only beginning.

The fliers sent out offering 800 jobs were sent to tens and hundreds of thousands of people. The Joads get hints of this on their drive to California, but it doesn't make any sense to them. Why get a hundred thousand folks to move across the country for only 800 jobs? They, and the reader, come to find that the land owners were creating a labor market so hungry and desperate that they would work for less than sustenance.

The story deals with topics of economy, history, class conflict, human nature, and the coming together and tearing apart of society. We learn about life in Hoovervilles around the state, and also about how people come together in times of crisis. Even when they had little or nothing to offer, and when their own survival was in doubt, folks reached out to each other to lend a hand.

The writing is wonderful, poetic at times. Steinbeck alternates chapters covering the Joads journey with short chapters describing the events from a pulled back perspective. You come to understand the events and motivations of the time by following this family as they try to survive the Great Depression. There are glimmers of hope and shots of redemption, but no neat and happy ending. These were difficult times and you find the strength of the human spirit in their struggle.

The novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature. It becomes once again one of my favorite novels. Two thumbs up and five stars.