January 30, 2010

The farewell tour begins

My departure date to San Diego is still a bit in flux, but I should be heading out in about a week and a half. Things are starting to sink in as I start the goodbyes. My running and biking friends are having a "see you soon" party for me this evening, which I think is a wonderful way to put it.

I went out for a run with my friend Tami this afternoon. One last time around Greenlake before I take off. As if to make sure my memory of Seattle would be clear, it was typical grey and drizzly day. We ran once around the lake, chatting the whole way. We were having such a good time talking, we decided to grab a cup of coffee and walk around the lake one more time.

We talked about lots of things, but of course my pending departure and start of a new life was the main topic. I wouldn't say my decision to move was rash in any way, but it was made a little quickly. I think the idea was growing organically in the background for a while. When the opportunity came up where my move would be mutually beneficial, I didn't hesitate to pull the trigger.

Even though I haven't had many doubts that this is the right move for me, I don't feel like I've been able to adequately explain it. No one has really challenged me on the decision, so I haven't had to defend it. Making two circuits around Greenlake with Tami today helped me work through some of the feelings and reasons that this is the thing to do. With every quarter mile ticked off, one more piece of the puzzle clicked in as I explained each new thought.

I "need" to make several changes about what I do with, and how I live my life. There are things that have been in the back of my mind, and weighing on my heart for some time now. In the past I have been content, but also complacent. There are simply things that I need to do if I am ever going to get the demons of regret out of my head. I have learned so much in this past year, and I actually feel pretty good about where I'm headed. I fear if I stayed where I am, it would be all to easy to settle back into complacency, and I can't let that happen.

It feels like I need to make a significant break in my routine, in order to set up a new way of living. Like Tami said, I am starting a new life, and I can be whoever I want to be. As I make my goodbyes, I will try to put into words what I am looking to do, what my specific goals are, and why this is the right thing for me now. As I work it out verbally with my friends, and here on paper, I will gain the focus I need to make sure I take full advantage of this opportunity.

Thanks again for following me on my journey.

January 27, 2010

Quote of the day

From his last episode of the Tonight Show:
“I hate cynicism. It’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

~ Conan O'Brien

January 25, 2010

The next step

"It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time...and not till we are completely lost, or turned round—for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost—do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as be awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."

From Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
I am currently reading a book entitled, "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes". In it the author describes three main stages people go through when facing a significant life change. They are: 1) an ending, followed by 2) a period of confusion and distress, leading to 3) a new beginning.

It is no secret that 2009 has been a year of significant change for me. I was shaken awake from my life of numb contentment, and found the life and love I had counted on were in trouble. We spent the first part of the year attempting to save that life, but in the end it appears it was too late. The second half of the year was spent picking up the pieces and trying to make sense of it all. That period of confusion and distress is only beginning to come to a close.

But has been a year of growth as well as pain. In tearing down my facade of strength and contentment, emotions were released that I had previously pushed down, and I found real strength in letting them see the light of day. It was overwhelming at first, but in dealing with emotional baggage I have been carrying around for far too long, I feel like I have grown beyond simple recovery, and may be coming out the other side a stronger person.

I am no way near done working on things, but I feel like I may be ready to take the next step. It is a time for new beginnings, and I will be making a move in the next week or so. I will be moving to California for a while.

I feel like I need a change of scenery right now. A new place that will challenge me to open my eyes and mind to possibilities. I have always lived in the Seattle area, and without a job or a lease to break, this is a pretty good time to take a walkabout.

I am surrounded by a wonderful family and circle of friends. Their love and support has been incredible this past year. I cannot express my gratitude sufficiently. It seems a little foolish to leave this behind at this point, but at the same time it is too tempting to crawl into the comfort of home. My comfort zone could use some expanding, and I don't know if I will do it at home. As my friend Dave said, "It's time for a rebuild, not a retro fit".

And I'm not striking out completely on my own. I have another group of friends in California, and I will be staying with Matt and Holly for a while. I am looking forward to spending some time with all of them, in more than week-sized chunks.

It will be a difficult but exciting time when I finally hop in the truck and hit the road. I've never been very good at goodbye. I have no idea how long I will be down there. Trying to keep my mind open at this point. I am hoping to make my way back up here for visits, but the timing and frequency will depend on what kind of work I find.

I feel like a fog has cleared in the past year, and I don't want to let it roll back in. I want to stare at the ocean and see what it has to tell me. I want to wake up and see the world as new for a while. I think I need to get a little lost in order to find myself again. And doing it in the "world's best climate" doesn't hurt either. From what I hear vitamin D improves mental clarity.

"The cure for anything is saltwater – sweat, tears, or the sea." ~ Isak Dinesen

January 23, 2010

Another high tech gadget for readers

I headed down to the storage unit again yesterday to continue the editing process. I decided to attack the boxes of books one more time. I had already sold off a couple boxes worth before I moved out, but I wanted to raise the cutoff line a little higher. I tried applying the "If I live to be 100 will I ever read this again" rule. Well something close to it. Baby steps for the pack rat.

I ended up with another box packed full of books that didn't make the cut. My first stop yesterday was Third Place Books since they seem to pay out a little more than others. There is also a service I found online called Swaptree. You can trade books, CDs, video games and DVDs with other members. Just list what you have and what you're looking for and see if you get a bite. I didn't feel like offering up my box of castaways this time, since I am trying to downsize and I already have a stack of books I still need to read. But I will probably try it out going forward.

Third Place Books has a cool new service for book lovers. They have the new Espresso Book Machine (EBM). No, it isn't a way to lace the pages with caffeine so you can stay up late reading. The machine is a print-on-demand machine that allows you to create a paperback book in just a few minutes. They have one of only about 30 machines in the world, and one of only five in the country (there is also one in Bellingham).

So what do you print on the machine? Google has scanned in 2.5 million out-of-copyright books that are available to print. This could be great for those obscure, out of print editions. On Demand Books (the company that builds the machines) also has negotiated the rights to an additional 800,000 books. Third Place Books has an online search site where you can see what is available.

But probably the coolest use of the machine - unpublished writers can also produce a book from their work. There is an initial set up fee of about $50 to upload your pdf file, and then it is six cents a page. Until you get that big publishing contract, there is no need to carry any inventory, and you can get a copy in less than five minutes.

Bookstores and smaller publishing houses may be a growing market for the machine. From the Espresso Book Machine Wikipedia page:
"The direct-to-consumer model of the EBM eliminates shipping, warehousing, returns and pulping of unsold books, and allows simultaneous global availability of millions of new and backlist titles. These characteristics may in the future lower prices to consumers and libraries, and allow greater royalties and profits to authors and publishers."

A segment from KOMO News:

January 22, 2010

Roman Cavalry choirs are singing

As I mentioned in a previous post, music has the power to take you to a particular place. It can remind you of a person, a period in your life, or maybe a cinematic moment.

In the past I have made slide show DVDs to commemorate events like my bike ride around Glacier, or more recently our Year-in-Review productions. Throughout the year, I keep my ear open for a good song that either has a good background beat, or the lyrics somehow capture the moment.

I have hesitated to use some songs, though. Once used, they can sometimes be permanently linked to the video in my mind. There are some songs that I want to stand alone without visuals. I remember an old Bloom County cartoon where Opus was lamenting MTV. He had a favorite song that made him imagine a wonderful world of open fields. Then he saw the video for the song on MTV. Now all he could think of when he heard the song was exploding dolphins.

I woke to a song on the radio the other day. It was "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay. I had used the song as background in my 2008 running year-in-review video. But that wasn't the image that popped in my head as I groggily met the new day. What popped in my head was this post from last August.

Roman Cavalry choirs are singing

I haven't read this blog in months, but somehow that post and video stuck. Not a bad image for the song. Much better than exploding dolphins.

January 20, 2010

Quote of the day

"We're not a town that has been brought up to seek #1. Give us a gold trophy and we'll have it bronzed to show we didn't think too much of ourselves."

~ The News From Lake Wobegon, by Garrison Keillor

Order out of chaos

My mind works through association rather than logic or reason. When I run those miles over the roads there is all the while a stream of consciousness, a torrent of ideas, coursing through my brain. One idea after another goes hurtling past like so much white water. Giving me here and there a new insight, a new intuition, a new understanding. Each in turn soon replaced by yet another thought, still another idea.

At those times I can believe Erich Segal’s story of wanting to dash up to a house and ask for a pen and paper to write a thought down. For he knew as surely as I that the thought, however clear, would soon be forgotten. And since there is no logical progression, no amount of reasoning would bring it back.

~ George Sheehan - Running and Being

When I am out on the roads, thoughts rush through my mind in a similar fashion. Like a free-association exercise where no idea is a bad idea, the mind just throws them out in succession to see what sticks. It can be wonderful to watch how the mind moves from one thought to another, and it takes me to interesting places. Unfortunately, the thoughts don't always stick, and revelations get left at the side of the road.

I am battling insomnia again this week. I have been up past 3:00am the last few nights. Though I am physically tired, I just can't seem to find the off switch for my brain.

I usually read for an hour or so before turning off the light. This usually helps clear my mind so I can shut it down for the night. Lately, I have been having trouble keeping thoughts at bay even when I am reading. They feel like a multitude of hands tapping me on the shoulder while I am trying to concentrate. When the book is put down and the lights go out, the thoughts wash over me. Sometimes there is a particular issue weighing on me that won't go away quietly, but at others it is just a stream of thoughts pinging around from subject to unrelated subject.

When I land on something of value, I try to write it down to get it out of my head before it is pushed out by the next free-association. Getting it down on paper seems to help quiet the mind a bit. I do this during the day as well, because even when awake those "brilliant" thoughts don't always stick with me. For a while I carried a small notebook with me, but it wasn't always practical. I've ended up with thoughts written on the back of receipts and any other scrap of paper I can find.

What I ended up with was basically a hundred little post-it notes scattered between my truck, pockets and bedside. Not the best system and it only adds to the feeling of disarray. I needed a new system.

What I have been using for the past couple of months is a Microsoft program called OneNote. It is kind of a digital version of the notebook, but with lots of advantages over the paper version. Like a thousand little post-its, you can take random notes on the page. The advantage is now you can cut & paste, and drag & drop your random thoughts and put them in some order. Like a notebook, there are separate pages, sections and binders to help organize your thoughts. Notes can can also be marked with various tags so it is easy to find that random thought later on. And if you forget to tag it, a quick search can find that buried note.

It is also a great tool for research. You can take screen clippings from websites that are then pasted into OneNote. A hyperlink to the website is also attached to the clipping so you can refer back to the original article. In the past I had used browser bookmarks to stash interesting articles, but they have grown to a point where it is difficult to see them amid the clutter.

In addition to text and webshots, you can put drawings, pictures, tables and audio notes into your work pages. OneNote is also integrated with the other Office products as well. If you tag something as a task in OneNote, it pops up in Outlook to remind you. Once you mark it as complete, it is updated in both places. Like Word and Excel, there are probably more cool features than I will ever use.

So, how does this help me when I'm not in front of my computer? There's an app for that. OneNote also has a mobile version that I have on my phone. When a thought strikes, I can make a note of it before it disappears. When I sync/update my phone, the notes pop up in OneNote. As I have been struggling with insomnia lately, I have been keeping my phone by my bedside for those 3:00am deep thoughts (with the ringer off of course). As for when I'm out running, I may need to carry a pen to jot notes on my hand. The original Palm Pilot.

I am hoping that by using OneNote, I can reduce the physical and mental clutter in my life, and capture that epiphany when it happens. And get some sleep.

Not part of the Microsoft Office family? There is also a free online program called EverNote that sounds very similar.

January 16, 2010

Digging out of a hole, trying not to snap

I went out for my second run of the new year yesterday. I haven't been running for pleasure since the Vegas Marathon in December, and not at all since Christmas Eve. I hurt the Achilles tendon/heel area of my right foot about three days before my delivery job ended. I suffered through the last few days of work, and it was painful just to walk on for another couple of weeks after that.

It finally felt better, so I ventured out on Monday for my first run. After a layoff of more than a month, I have a bit of a hole to climb out of. I need to get my base fitness back before I can start a new training program. Nothing snapped and I felt OK - other than feeling fat and out of shape. It doesn't take long, especially over the holidays.

I have some things up for sale again on Craigslist. Even though I sold/gave away/donated a bunch of stuff before I moved out of the house, I still have too much filling up a storage unit. I ended up keeping things that should have been sold already. Thing that are really tied to home ownership like lawn and garden tools. I don't anticipate having a yard for a while, and it doesn't make much sense to pay to store them. If I can get rid of enough stuff to reduce the size of my storage unit, it will be worth it.

I was waiting around yesterday for people to show up in response to my Craigslist ads. It worked out that the appointments were about an hour apart, so I was stuck at home for most of the day. I decided to do something mindless like cleaning out my e-mail inbox.

Being a packrat by nature, I don't do a good job of deleting e-mails as they come in. I keep things I may need to reference, as well as conversation threads that have some personal value, but there was also so much junk that I should never need again. It all added up to over 7,000 e-mails sitting in my inbox (and that doesn't include my msn/hotmail accounts).

So I started to make my way through four years of e-mails. I have only made it through 2 years worth but have deleted 3,000 so far. It was an interesting walk-through the past. The excited chatter building up to our first marathons, cancer diagnoses and cures, baby announcements, the tributes to my friend Gerry, and the day to day conversations that make up my history.

Then there was the random find like this video Amy sent me a few years ago. As I climb around my storage unit, feeling a little claustrophobic, I sometimes feel like snapping and throwing things. Fortunately there isn't video surveillance.

January 14, 2010

Save your money

It looks like the expensive tech shirts with "anti-stink" technology aren't worth the extra money, and can do some harm to your health and the environment.

Why "Anti-Odor" clothes stink

We don't need no stinkin' nanotechnology...

January 13, 2010

A little give and take

When my friend moved into his home, he didn't have a lawnmower since it was his first house. He didn't want to be "the guy who borrows stuff", so his lawn grew knee-high before he got around to getting his own lawnmower.

Of course when his neighbor's lawnmower broke, my friend thought nothing of loaning his out. It is probably partly a guy-pride thing to not ask for help, but to be happy to lend a hand when asked. We can be kind of pinheaded at times, and I am no exception.

In the past, I would not only resist asking for help, I would most often refuse it when it was offered. It was not only male pride, but a need to be self-reliant that I took to extremes. This ranged from the physical (no, no, I can get the washer and dryer myself), to the emotional (no, everything is fine), to the odd (I've cut my own hair for the last 15 years). In my head, this self-reliance somehow made me stronger and ready to handle any situation.

One of the biggest things I had to get over this year was myself. I accepted a lot of help and even found myself reaching out. I know, "poor baby had to put up with help from people". Well, pinheaded or not, it was still a difficult mental barrier to knock down - that I couldn't solve my problems on my own.

I didn't accept all comers (still a man after all), but more than I was originally comfortable with. It initially made me feel a little weak, but that feeling soon passed. Of course what it really made me was human. We all need help now and then, and we should accept it as readily as we offer it to others.

When someone asks, "Are you doing OK? Do you have everything you need?", I may give a more honest answer these days. I don't share my life story to every casual inquiry, and I would still much rather offer help than accept it, but I fess up when I need a hand these days. Self-reliance and pride are important, but not at the price of happiness and a life lived honestly. And ironically, I feel stronger, not weaker, for having asked for the help.

January 11, 2010

Nerdiness of another kind

After our running year-in-review party on Saturday, a game of Rock Band 2 broke out.

As I was the newbie in the room, they gave me the bass. Wise choice. Later in the evening I grabbed the microphone for a couple of songs. I mumbled my way through Elvis Costello's "Pump it Up" and I think I did only slightly better on Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy". Back to bass for me.

I could see how the game could get addictive. Air-band dreams mixed with high tech toys. Soon I was tapping my foot and bobbing my head as I played along. In my head, I was killing on the bass.

Give me my shades and I'll hang out in the back.

January 9, 2010


The new library is open! The new library is open!

I stopped by an hour or two after it opened, and it was packed. Lots of adults and children showed up for the grand opening to check everything out (sorry, bad pun). They were welcomed by a live band, clowns, balloon animals and homemade cookies. It was definitely the place to be on a Saturday morning. It was great to see so many children excited to check out books, though they may have been hopped up on sugar cookies.

The new library is bigger, in a better location, and has lots of high and low tech improvements. Where the old library was more of a pickup spot for books on hold, the new one is set up more as a destination. There are more computers and meeting rooms, larger teen and children's sections, as well as a reading area with comfy chairs and a fireplace. One of the high tech improvements are the state-of-the-art book return machines. Each book is scanned so your account and their inventory is updated immediately, and the books are carried to stocking carts, saving employees hours of lifting and sorting books.

Green features of the building include: Natural lighting from banks of windows and skylights; native-plant landscaping and rain gardens; pavement that is porous to let water percolate through it; roof gardens to reduce heat loss and water runoff; and a geothermal energy element, which heats and cools the building using the earth’s energy. Makes ya green with pride.

Now if our town could just get a post office, we'd really be on the map.

January 8, 2010

Not how to run a company

So my temporary work delivering packages is over. The job ran (pun intended) from the middle of November to Christmas Eve. I had worked for them last year, and enjoyed it enough to sign up again this season. I hope I don't need to return next year.

I had written an acidic screed to post here about all the things wrong with how they run their company and treat their employees. I enjoy analyzing companies and procedures to come up with ideas to improve production, satisfaction, efficiency, etc. They gave me plenty to work with - yelling at employees, mindless procedures in place of real effort, awful communication and more. But I decided you didn't need to hear me bitching about a company when I should be thankful for the work. I will pass along one thing that seemed to put a nice bow on the experience, though.

December 23rd ended up being the highest volume day. By coincidence, they had chosen to make that day "Driver Appreciation Day". There would be pizza and other treats when the drivers returned to base. While out on the road, the drivers do a good job of taking care of each other. When there were 60 packages left to deliver, two other drivers came to take 20 each so no one driver was stuck out on the road.

After the busiest day of the year, and after helping each other out of a bind, they returned to the base to have some pizza and commiserate. When they got there, the cupboard was bare. Management and HR had eaten all the pizza, showing how much they appreciate their drivers. Some drivers were understandably pissed, while others just shook their heads thinking 'typical'.

It wasn't all bad of course. My driver was great, I lost a little weight, and made a little cash. Just not a company I would want to work for if I could help it.

January 6, 2010

Year in Review

Time once again to tally up the miles and reflect on how the last year of running and biking went.

I keep a paper training diary to track all the stats as well as aches, pains and impressions of the day. This year I have also started keeping an online log at Buckeye Outdoors. I remain a bit of a numbers geek, and you can get endless stats and reports to look at your year from lots of angles.

So the numbers from this year compared to past years:

2009 613 miles
2008 649 miles
2007 660 miles
2006 373 miles

2009 1245 miles
2008 878 miles
2007 1346 miles
2006 1748 miles

2009 .5 mile
2008 17 miles
2007 13 miles

So my running and biking miles were relatively typical, though there are probably an additional 250 miles run with UPS to add to the mix. I obviously gave up on swimming last year, but that will change in the new year. According to my Buckeye report, my average run pace was a 8:49 mile and the average distance was 6.4 miles. On the bike it was a 48 mile ride at 15.1 mph.

In the interest of saving money, there weren't as many events in 2009. I ran two marathons and one 5k, and rode in three bike events last year. I did set a few personal bests this year, though, so there was some quality if less quantity.

I am hoping to run a couple marathons in the new year, but would also like to focus on gaining some speed at the shorter distances. I would also like to get into triathlons in 2010, but we'll see how much I can afford to fit in.

What I'd really like to do is run, bike and swim for the simple enjoyment of it, without needing a finish line to shoot for. Just enjoying staying in shape and spending time outside. But I don't know that I will ever get rid of the geeky/number crunching side of my personality.

Oh, and calories burned in 2009 - 134,493. You'd think I'd be thinner.

January 4, 2010

Getting away from it all

Throughout the past year, I have had some things rolling around in the back of my mind. If things fell apart, life would change and I might want/need to get away from it all to find my way again.

I've always had this vision of spending a year like Thoreau, and live very simply off in the woods somewhere. "...I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what they had to teach..." I wished to leave most material things and distractions behind, to live more honestly, and be completely present. To confront any delusions I may have about myself, and to find out who I was and what was most important.

There was a man, Dick Proenneke, who went into the Alaskan wilderness the year I was born to live such a life. He built his own log cabin, intending to live off the land for a year.
"I suppose I was here because it was something I had to do. Not just dream about it, but do it. I suppose I was also here to test myself. Not that I had never done it before, but this time it was to be a more thorough and lasting examination. What was I capable of that I didn't know yet."
He filmed himself to pass along to relatives what he was doing and how his life in the woods turned out. His recordings were released as a show called "Alone in the Wilderness", and I have seen it a number of times on PBS. Pieces of it can be found on YouTube.

But of course this sort of life is easier in fantasy - I am not sure I am prepared to really live off the land. One of the other things I have found this year, is that I really need to have time with friends and family, and more social interaction in general.

I have always been a bit of an introvert and I still need to be drawn out from time to time. When I worked in restaurants, that atmosphere helped to bring me out of my shell, but the jobs I have had over the last 10 years had much less social interaction. I became increasingly withdrawn for several reasons, and pulling back into my own shell was one of the major strains on our marriage. I think the dream of being off alone for a year was one I could have enjoyed earlier in life, but I think that I need something different right now.

Another recurring thought has been to take off on a long bike ride, maybe across the United States. I have dreamed about this sort of trip for years, first on a motorcycle but more recently on a bicycle. Carrying only what I could load on my bike or tow behind me, it would be another trip toward minimalism and away from distraction. This sort of trip would also have the physical challenge that has been important to me for the past few years. I would also get a chance to see the country and meet new people if I did it with a group.

But the reality is I couldn't afford that sort of trip this year. I didn't have the financial ability and I also didn't have the time, as I had to fix up and sell the house among other things. I also think I wasn't mentally ready to take advantage of such a trip last year. It would have seemed more running than reflecting.

What I have been able to do is to get away for brief periods to see friends, and this has been the best thing for me right now. First I went to see Bill and Veronica in Arizona, then the quick weekend in Vegas with Sean and Marci, and now this great week in San Diego with Matt and Holly. I have always found this time away with friends restorative, and these past two months have been a wonderful tonic for my soul. And just the break in routine allows you to return home with a new perspective. To come home with a fresh set of eyes to see through all the clutter, to what lies at the heart of your life.

I will be heading home tomorrow, and I am in a better state of mind these days. I have a feeling whatever work I will find this year will be short-term contract work, so I may be able to get away to another place of friendship, solitude and reflection I seek.

January 2, 2010

Please make a note of it

Today is a palindrome, the same thing whether read forward or backward - 01/02/2010.

In case you were feeling a little discombobulated this morning.

Painless green tip for the day

Next time you boil water, cover the saucepan with a lid. A lidless container can consume up to three times more energy than a covered one. And make sure the pot covers the burner: a six inch pot on an eight inch burner wastes more than 40% of the heat.

~ from Runner's World

January 1, 2010

I love San Diego

"Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be."

~ Peter from "Office Space"

More new year's thoughts

From an e-mail from Dr. Gary Chapman who wrote "The Five Love Languages":

This is a day for reflection. We stand on the threshold of new opportunities. Are you pleased with the way you invested your time and energies last year? Are there changes you need to make in your lifestyle as we move into 2010? Do you need to drop some activities and add others? Family, church, vocation, and neighbors are all important.

The key word is 'balance'. The greatest satisfaction in life is investing your life in the lives of others. But you also need to take care of yourself. Proper food, sleep, and recreation keep the body strong. A daily quiet time with God, and weekly involvement with other Christians energize the spirit. Could a minor change in your lifestyle make a major difference in you effectiveness?

I challenge you to make the most of the year. Take time for reflection. Make necessary lifestyle changes. Find balance. Take care of yourself. And above all seek the Lord's guidance daily.