May 26, 2009

Long weekend

I received a last minute invitation to go camping with some friends over Memorial Day weekend. I had a bike ride on Saturday I needed to do, so I headed up Saturday evening to join the group. They had fortunately picked a site that wasn't too far from home, so even though I was abbreviating the weekend, I would still get a good day and a half out in the woods.

I really enjoy camping. My parents had me out in the woods when I was an infant, and I have tried my best to get out there ever since. For most of the past 20 years, I have been on a camping trip with friends and co-workers at least once each summer. The past few years though, the only camping I have done was when I was on an extended bike ride. A camping trip with my friends was long overdue.

I of course love being out in the woods, but I also appreciate the 'slowness' of camping. I like that it takes 20-30 minutes to get coffee in the morning. Rather than flipping on the coffee maker, camping coffee means pumping up the 50 year old, white gas Coleman stove to the boil water. We have graduated to a coffee press instead of a percolator these days, so the coffee is a little better but it isn't any quicker.

I like that camping is the time I do all the cooking and my wife gets to relax. I enjoy taking the time to make a full breakfast that I so rarely do at home. I love cooking over an open fire, and the food always seems to taste a little better for it. I enjoy staying up late, standing around the fire talking about big and little things in our lives. As the words spill out I tend to the fire, repositioning the logs and stirring the embers to keep things going.

You're so disconnected from the chaos of modern life. No phones, no internet, no constant beeps when you get an e-mail and the feeling that you have to attend to everything right away. Even a walk to the bathroom means walking down a lush path.

Camping is a little different these days. We aren't as far off the beaten path anymore, so there are restrooms, fire pits and camping fees. We're no longer bathing in the river, though I don't let a trip go by without wading into the icy spring runoff.

These days there are kids running around and riding their bikes. It was obviously the same for my parents, and now I'm seeing it from the other side (though not as a parent). A couple of us aren't even staying in tents anymore. One couple had a trailer this weekend, and I suppose it makes all the difference when camping with little ones. We don't stay up as late as we used to, though a couple of us were up til 2:45am on Sunday. Those mornings are a little harder these days, especially when the young ones don't let you sleep in like you wish you could.

This time around was also the first time I was in the middle of training. I ended up doing a 12 mile run on Sunday, which from the outside seemed a little strange to do while camping, but it is just what I do with my weekends now. I ran out of the campground and down to another park four miles down the road. It was a warm day, and I was happy to see another oasis with a water fountain. I wish I could have ended my run here and just walked into the lake when I was finished.

It was great getting away and catching up. I normally spend my camping afternoons reading in the sun, but I read all of a page and a half of my book. This weekend was about drinking in the time with friends (as well as drinking with my friends). I wish we could have stayed and enjoyed it longer, especially considering what the trip home was going to be like.

The way home

I had loaned my truck to a friend on Sunday because he had to head home to work Monday morning. This was so the rest of his family could stay out in the woods one more evening, and I would ride home with them.

After making it back to their house on Monday to grab my truck, I had to head over to my parents to pick up our pooch. Since this was a last minute trip, and I wasn't heading home in my own vehicle, I decided not to take her along. I wish she could have been with me enjoying the time outside, but another result of modern camping is that she would need to be on a leash. The woods aren't the same if you're tied to a tree.

So we headed home with a truck full of gear and smelling of campfire. As I entered I-5 from I-90, my truck seemed to be losing power. I tried to figure out the reason, but nothing seemed to be wrong with the engine. I pulled over on an on-ramp to see if I could figure out what was wrong. There was no shoulder or exits for a couple of miles, and I didn't want to jam up I-5 at the end of a holiday weekend. I walked around to the front of the car checking out the tires to see if I had a flat. When I looked at the front passenger tire, I saw flames.

I dashed back to the truck to get my water bottle and doused the flame. It sputtered back to life, but I had just enough water left to put it out. It turns out my right front brake had locked up and the pads had overheated to the point of burning. The nearest exit that didn't lead to another freeway was a few miles away, so I called 411 for a tow truck.

The automated system doesn't recognize "I need a tow truck" so an operator came on. I told her where I was and she offered Shoreline Towing. I said that Shoreline was several miles away from Seattle, but of course she was long gone. The truck took about 45 minutes, so the Department of Transportation truck had time to stop by and put a big green check mark on my window.

There was no room for the dog in the tow truck, so she had to ride in the cab of my pickup truck. She can be a nervous passenger, so I was a little leery having her ride back there. I imagined her freaking out a bit, so I kept looking back to see if she was pacing. I could see clearly into the truck, but I couldn't see her so I think she stayed prone in the back seat.

The dealer that replaced the brakes six months ago is no longer in business, a victim of the dealership closings. I had some things I was planning on getting fixed soon, and now the locked up brakes forced the issue and added to the list (and cost) of things to do. Fortunately a friend has a spare car that they could loan me for a few days, and she was nice enough to pick us up at the dealer.

I had plans of mowing the lawn and doing a load of laundry to wash away the smell of campfire, but by the time we made it home it was all I could do to unload everything and take a shower. They didn't finish working on the truck today, but by the sounds of it it isn't going to be cheap. A trip to the dealer never is.

Looking on the bright side, I am glad this didn't happen to Dave when he was driving home late Sunday night. Cell coverage was non-existent at the campsite and it could have been a long walk to get any kind of help.

Should have stayed out in the woods.

May 21, 2009

Can't hold it?

So one more website that defines the value of the internet (for good or bad). A website that lets you know when the best time to get up and use the restroom when you're out at a movie.

May 20, 2009

Wanna go for a ride?

Whenever I see a dog in a car, it makes me smile. They're always so happy to be out on the road with you; noses out the window taking in miles of smells. And when you park to run inside for a jiff, they hop up into the driver's seat ready to take the wheel for you.

A guy driving a truck with his dog riding shotgun is just a little bit of Americana. Of course seeing a dog loose in the bed of a pickup is something you don't want to see. Just too dangerous and a rotten way to treat your best friend.

This seems like another bad idea:

Thanks for the goggles, but where's my helmet and full leathers?

May 18, 2009

run fatboy, run

So I'm about 2/3 of the way through my 16 week marathon training program. This past weekend's run was 16 miles, which is nothing compared to what this guy did last weekend.

My run went reasonably well. It was kinda warm and I didn't bring enough electrolyte-dosed fluids. My face was covered with salt and as soon as I stopped the muscles in my calves tightened up like twisted rope. I hobbled home and eased into a cool bath which is supposed to squeeze some of the toxins out. It is a painful bit of medicine.

Looking back to this time last year I'm about :30 faster per mile at this distance. I am also about 10 pounds lighter. I saw this chart today, and it looks like I am reaping the promised rewards.

I'm still far from having a runner's physique. I probably need to drop another 10 pounds to get out of the overweight bracket on the BMI scale, but at least I'm no longer pushing obese.

One of the movies I picked up at the library was run fatboy, run. In the weeks leading up to a marathon, I'm always on the lookout for a running/inspirational movie. It was about Dennis who runs out on his pregnant bride at the alter. Five years later he impulsively decides to run a marathon to compete with the new boyfriend in her life. He initially hopes to win her back, but settles for regaining a little self-respect by finally finishing something.

It was pretty good, veering close to formula before turning away just enough. Certainly worth a rental, or the $0 I paid for it. And it turns out the main character also plays Scotty in the new Star Trek, which I saw the next day.

And Star Trek was great. Two split fingers up!

May 16, 2009

Nice job Lassie!

Seattle leads the nation in per-capita sunglasses sales. It is the same reason that Los Angeles leads in sales of umbrellas. The sun it out so infrequently, when it does shine, people have trouble locating their shades and run to the store to buy another pair.

I lost my sunglasses last weekend. We were over at a friends house, and I remember walking in with them, but didn't have them the next day. There was wine involved.

I've mentioned before that our dog likes to drag things around the house while we are gone. I came home to this yesterday:

Shoes and clothes are the usual things that we find in the hallway, but the top item is a wine bottle carrier that a friend gave us last Christmas. This was a new one for the pooch. Even before I picked it up, it clicked in my head - my sunglasses were in there. When we left our friends last weekend, I must have dropped them in there on the way out the door. The pooch must have sensed I was looking for them. She's that smart.

Nice job Lassie! Extra kibble for you tonight.

May 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

A light supper, a good night's sleep and a fine morning have often made a hero of the same man, who, by indigestion, a restless night and a rainy morning would have proved a coward.

- Lord Chesterfield, diplomat

Good night...

May 12, 2009

A whole new world

I started my new job on Monday, and after a bit of a false start, things are rolling right along.

Last week I jumped online and mapped out the address of the office. I wanted to avoid driving into Seattle, and it looked like I could take either the bus or the train into work. It turned out to be cheaper and easier to take the bus, and it looked like there was a stop right by the office.

I went in early on Monday to give myself plenty of time and to check out the area. As it turns out, the stairs out of the bus tunnel came out at the door to the building. Or so I thought. Though the building is named after the bank I was going to be working for, it turns out they have additional offices a block and a half away. A few phone calls and a frantic dash, I found the recruiter and the other 11 new hires. Show up a half hour early, and end up being five minutes late.

We spent about 5 hours in a orientation where we learned what we'd be doing and how to do it. As all we had was a job title and no job description, we were really starting at the beginning. After going through class, we took a tour of the floor and found our cubicles. Then we were turned loose to dive in and start working on the files for a couple hours. After the first full day today, I'm already doing better than expected. Kicking ass and taking names.

I hadn't really thought about it, but this job is a whole new experience for me. I haven't ever:
  • Worked for a large company.
  • Worked in downtown Seattle.
  • Been able to take public transportation to my job.
  • Taken a bus through the bus tunnel. Stepping out of the bus it felt like I was in a subway station in D.C.
  • Had a job with one of those security ID cards on a retractable leash.
  • Worked on a computer with two screens.
  • Had a job in a building with more than one floor.
The position itself may not be the most exciting, but I am truly happy to have it. And for now I'm enjoying life in the big city.

May 10, 2009

For all you do, this bud's for you

Thank you to all the Moms out there today. Your children, husbands and significant others probably don't say it enough, but we appreciate everything you do.

May 9, 2009

Quick personality test

If a car makes a left turn in front of you and cuts it a little too close, or turns into your lane and doesn't get up to speed quickly enough, do you ease up on the gas or do you speed up to put a little scare into them to teach them a lesson.

May 8, 2009

To nap or to run, that is the question

This week has been a tough one for sleep. I am having bouts of insomnia matched with early morning appointments for most of the week. I am tired every morning regardless of how many hours of shut eye I get, but there are definitely levels of fatigue. It is tough to think straight, much less lace up the shoes and head out the door when you're running on fumes.

Then I saw this post on Half-Fast: Go Away! Want Sleepy! He is having a similar lack of sleep problem this week. The title was enough to make me laugh, but here is a snippet of the post:

If I’m tired when I get home from work there’s little chance of me running and when I do get myself out the door my pace usually suffers. I guess there is something to be said for making sure you get enough sleep.

Back in the days when I was enjoying morning running (or more accurately enjoying not having to run after work) I didn’t have to be in the office until 8 or 8:30. Plenty of time to get in a run. Lately I’ve been getting to the office a lot earlier (so much for banker’s hours) and I frequently work from an office that is much farther from my house which means that if I wanted to get in a short run at my lumbering pace I’d need to wake up somewhere around 4am and as I’m sure you’re all painfully aware there is no such thing as 4am.

May 7, 2009

Tea time wisdom

Artists who seek perfection in everything
are those who cannot attain it in anything.
- Eugene Delacroix

Not just artists...

Scrubs finale

A fond farewell.


Book of rants (today is a five).

Hugh Jackman.

You were Bambi - somebody had to teach you how to walk.

Did you stick a penny in there?

Perry's final honesty.

You smell like a father figure.

Once you learn that information, you can't unlearn it. This way the future is still mine.

The janitor's name?

Colin Hay.

Boing fwip!

Did you ever go on that picnic?

Happily ever after.

Who can tell me my fantasies don't come true. Just this once.

Goodbye J.D.

May 6, 2009

An apple a day - hey sanitize those hands!

I had a doctors appointment today. It was mostly about my battle with allergies, but I was also checking up on a couple of other issues. Nothing life-threatening, more for peace of mind.

As I stepped off the elevator, I was greeted by a sign that said, "For your safety, we are screening people for flu-like symptoms." Before I could enter the office, a nurse asked me some questions and took my temperature. A simple precaution I suppose when you are entering a place where people aren't at full strength.

Much has been made of the swine flu pandemic. It has filled the news cycle with something to fear in a time when we already have plenty on our plate. Several local schools closed down last week, but now have reopened as practicality takes the place of caution. Turns out it this strain of flu isn't any more harmful than the one we get each year. It just had a better (or worse) press agent.

In the center of the media storm, a person being interviewed on NPR recommended that we all fill our gas tanks and draw as much money out of the ATM as possible. His reasoning was that so many people would be hit with the virus that everyday services might come to a halt. It was very reminiscent of the Y2K panic that ended up being overblown. Not everything is the "storm of the century", but inciting a little panic (or at least caution) makes for great headlines, sells a lot of duct tape, and covers your butt in case of a lawsuit.

To complete the day of metaphors, a car alarm was set off by a passing fire engine as I headed to my next appointment. When a car alarm goes off, how often do you think "please shut that thing off" rather than "someone is breaking into a car". You can only cry wolf so many times before people stop tuning you out.

May 5, 2009

Past, present and future

Rather than living in the present, I think most people have a habit of focusing more on the past or future. My own habit has been to live more in the past - guilt, regrets, old pain recycled. Like many others this year, my mind has become more focused on the future. Rather than rehashing mistakes of the past, I am stressing out about the unknown of the future.

Those that live mostly in the present are probably happier than than the rest of us, so I'm doing my best to change my ways. A few phrases have come to mind recently.

"I must live above all in the present" -- Henry David Thoreau

"Don’t worry about the future, or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday." -- from Baz Luhrmann's song Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)

The next one was passed along by my wife. It was something along the lines of "Worrying about the future is like praying for the worst." Why focus your energy on something that you don't want to happen.

The latest was a from a podcast I listened to today. The podcaster lost his job late last year, launched the podcast and related business recently, and was talking to his brother about how things were going. The podcaster said he feels more confident than ever that he was doing what he was designed to do, and for the day or week he feels fine. It is when he looks a few months down the road that he becomes confused and concerned.

The brother has a son with Cerebral Palsy who has had multiple health issues in his short life. After listening to the podcaster talk about his concerns about the future, and probably drawing on his own experiences with his son, he replied simply that "You can't see past your headlights."

I need to stop focusing so far down the road. I need to stay more in the present so I am ready for those random events on idle Tuesdays.

May 2, 2009

Practically perfect in every way

I'm a brilliant parent (on paper). Hypothetical children are the easiest.

Cheap entertainment

One of the money saving habits I have started is heading to the library instead of the bookstore. As soon as we decide on the choices for book club, I log on to put a hold on the books. I am not alone in this as libraries have been reporting significant upticks in the number of people walking through their doors. This is also apparent in the number of people ahead of me in the hold line.

I was listening to NPR yesterday and they were interviewing someone from the Seattle Library. He was talking about some slightly obscure movies he had requisitioned. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought about this before, but the library has a bunch of movies available for checkout. Not that I spend a lot of money at Blockbuster, but the amount will be pretty much zero going forward. I have holds on five movies so far.

I need to stick to the more obscure movies, though. I am 199th in line to see Wall-E.

May 1, 2009

The battle of the dandelion is renewed

It is an epic battle each year. When we first bought the house, the backyard looked like this:

Well truth be told, when we bought the house it didn't look like this. The homeowners had mowed all the dandelions down, so it wasn't quite so obvious how bad the yard was. It was our first house and I wasn't looking down at the quality of the grass.

A few months after we moved in, we tore the yard up and put new sod down. Before we did this, I pulled as many dandelions up as I could, then put down two applications of weed killer. It reduced the number, but they still return with some force each year. It doesn't help that the dandelions mass in our neighbor's yard like so many plastic armies in Kamchatka*, ready to sweep in and take over each year.

So I've been working in the yard quite a bit the last week or two. After yanking the dandelions and a little chemical warfare against weeds and moss, it was on to the neglected planting areas in the yard. There are a couple areas that we haven't planted anything, but become wildly overgrown each year. It ends up being a grazing area for our pooch.

The area was well beyond the point of weeding or chemicals, so I had to dig up the area and filter out anything growing. It is a lot of digging, and I end up being limited by both my energy level, and by the amount of yard waste we can set out every two weeks. I finished one of the planting areas this afternoon, so the pooch will have to find another field to graze in.

Of course there is a lesson here about neglect and procrastination. It would be much easier to tackle the weeds as they came up instead of waiting until they take over and the job becomes a week long project. This is true for so many other things, and is a subject of a future post.

* geeky Risk reference.