December 31, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow, we get another shot.

December 29, 2009

Some daily links

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

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

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

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

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

December 28, 2009

Best gift of all

Click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone

It's a Wonderful Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Story

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

A Charlie Brown Christmas

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

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

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

Frosty the Snowman

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

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

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


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

How The Grinch Stole Christmas - both versions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miracle on 34th Street

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

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

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

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

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

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


December 20, 2009

Four more shipping days 'til Christmas

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

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

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

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

December 16, 2009

I had a dream...

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

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

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

December 12, 2009

Must love dogs

This is Molly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But seeing this will warm my heart.

December 11, 2009

Sleigh bells ring...

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


December 10, 2009

Nice Christmas decorations

The lazy neighbor:

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

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

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

Courtesy of my cousin Nick's e-mails

December 9, 2009

Post game analysis

So, what was different this time around...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Totally looking forward to next time.

December 8, 2009

Sign of the day

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

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

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

December 7, 2009

Las Vegas Rock n Roll Marathon

Oh man, what a day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a great whirlwind weekend.

December 6, 2009

6:15am, Las Vegas, 26.2 miles

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

December 4, 2009

Standard excuse post

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

The marathon I ran in June was the one I was best prepared for, and I ended up running my best time. This time around, and work got in the way. I haven't run a training run in two weeks and missed several others along the way. Instead of training, I have been running at work delivering packages. The best I can figure, I am running about 10 miles a day. Instead of tapering this week, I've put in more miles than ever before. So my training is questionable and I am pretty tired going in. never know. The training runs I did do, my pace was good. The running I've been doing at work could be considered speed work. But I'm frickin tired. I could crack 4 hours again, or I could implode and have to walk.

Thinking good thoughts.

December 2, 2009

Dog days of winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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