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.

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:


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.

October 2, 2009

Clearing the cupboards

One disadvantage of reading the morning paper on the Kindle - no newspapers to wrap up the dishes when you're packing up the kitchen.

There were a couple days worth of newspapers at my parents, but that wasn't nearly enough to wrap up everything. So after I ran out, I drove over to the local transfer/dump/recycling station. Since the recycling bin at the house was filling up fast, I brought along some glass to recycle. I figured I'd grab some newspapers while I was there. Kind of a 'take a penny, leave a penny' situation.

Unfortunately, the newspaper bin was nearly empty, and the few pages that were there were rain soaked. As I walked back to my truck, an older gentleman popped open his trunk. It was full of newspapers. I said "jackpot" and told him what I needed the newspapers for. He was happy to oblige, and we ended up chatting for a couple of minutes. After years in the construction industry, it's not that unusual to have social hour at the dump.

The kitchen is mostly boxed up. There was at least one thing that was eight years old (bread mix), and there were four canisters of Morton salt. And I discovered that the range top converts into a rotisserie. This has definitely been a year of digging into things - finding both things rotting as well as surprises I wish I had known about.

October 1, 2009

Lost and found

Another run in the rain tonight.

I was over at my parents this evening, so I had to figure out a route. I jumped on the Map My Run website and plotted out a 3.5 mile loop. I didn't write anything down (the ink would have run anyway), so I was going from memory. Turns out my memory isn't all that good.

I missed a turn which added a long out and back. Then I made another wrong turn on the way back in. So my planned 3.5 mile run turned into a 6.25 mile run - 'cause I'm good like that.

Around mile four I came up on three deer, two adults and a fawn. My eyes were down toward the road because of the rain, so I was almost on top of them before I saw them. I quickly veered to the other side of the road, hoping to avoid scaring them off. They settled down and went back to chewing on the trees just above their heads.

So I stood in the rain, staring at deer grazing. It was great.