September 29, 2010

Don't do it

Let's get this out early. Please don't dress up your pets for Halloween (or for any other reason). It is just wrong. I don't know if dogs can feel embarrassment, but if they can, this would do it.

OK, this one is kinda clever:

NO, NO don't do it!

September 27, 2010

Taking care of the trivial

Well, it isn't entirely trivial. It is coffee after all.

(in my best Andy Rooney voice) "Did ya ever notice that paper coffee cups are often 'dribble cups' in disguise?" Have you had this happen to you? You stop at your local coffee shop or cart to get your morning cup of joe and the first sip ends up on the front of your shirt. The lid seems to be on tight, but it leaks just the same. The problem may be obvious to some, but when I've mentioned it in the past, I often get blank stares or exclamations of "that's what it is?"

Long ago, most places replaced Styrofoam cups with paper ones due to concerns about toxins leaching into food and the release of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. The problem with the paper cups (where dribbling is concerned) is the seam along the side. The seam is where the paper edges meet and are joined by being folded over one another. The fold is thicker than the rest of the cup, and this creates a gap between the lid and the cup. If the drink opening in the lid is near the fold in the cup, a dribble glass is created.

This seems (seams) obvious, but I have never seen a barista look at the cup before placing the lid on the cup. Whenever I pick up my coffee, I spin the lid so the seam is on the opposite side from the drink opening before taking a sip. A family member used to work for a coffee company, and I used to jokingly give her crap about getting this 'major' problem fixed. My older brother overheard this and said that it bugged him as well, making me feel a bit less crazy for noticing this issue.

As a side note, I went to Google images to see if I could get a picture of a paper cup to point to what I was talking about. One was a self-created image from blog post complaining about this seam/dribble issue, so I'm not alone. Another was this one that shows that at least the cup manufacturers know about the problem.

Of course this was all solved by bringing in my own travel mug, thereby eliminating spills as well as paper waste. But I had another annoying (trivial) issue. In this super-sized society, the smallest travel mug I could find was a 16 oz one. But I really only want a 12 oz coffee. So every time I ordered 12 oz coffee and handed them my 16oz mug, they would look at me as if I was trying to rip them off. I would often say "just put a Tall coffee in there" or "leave an inch of room", but I would often get charged for a Grande coffee anyway.

I know, big deal. But it was silly and annoying, and I stop at coffee shops (too) often. If they would just make a 12oz travel mug, I would buy it. For a couple of years, I looked but could not find one. Finally, there it was sitting on a shelf at my local Starbucks, bathed in sunlight with angels circling overhead. I bought it and ordered a tall coffee, hold the distrustful looks, please.

And the first sip burned the crap out of my lips. It wasn't a dribble glass, but more like when drinking from a glass filled with ice. You can't get a sip, so you tilt the glass higher and higher until the dam of ice breaks and the drink splashes down on your face. Annoying with a cold beverage, painful with a hot one.

It took me one more cup of coffee to figure out what the problem was. The drink opening was small enough that no air was getting in. You had to tip the cup higher to overcome the vacuum. If you look at any disposable coffee cup lid, there is a hole somewhere to let air in to prevent this. But for some reason, the designers of my $16 travel mug didn't think to include one. So what is a guy to do? Grab your DeWalt driver of course.

Problem solved, and all is right with the world again.

September 26, 2010

Quote of the day

Before we work on artificial intelligence, why don't we do something about natural stupidity?
~ Steve Polyak

September 25, 2010


Saturday is my typical long-run day, so my day started with a 12 miler. I almost always start in the same place, a park/ball field in Ocean Beach. Officially Autumn started this past week, but there are few indications of it here in San Diego so far. There aren't many leaves to change, though I did see one tree at a jobsite on Friday that had a few splashes of red. One indication of the change of season is the ball fields are now filled with soccer rather than softball players.

The weather certainly isn't a good indication of fall this year, as temperatures are far enough above normal that the schools sent home heat advisories. I forgot to pack headphones in my run bag this morning, so I would be alone with my thoughts. No podcasts or music to distract me. Though I will likely go without an iPod for the marathon, it has been five or six months since I've run without MP3 company. Fortunately, I did remember to pack sunscreen and something to drink.

The park is on the San Diego river, just a few blocks inland from Dog Beach. As I was gearing up to go, I heard someone on a megaphone speaking to a crowd across the river. She was coming in loud and clear, so I don't know how loud it was on the other side. She was talking to a group of runners, preparing for the Carlsbad Marathon four months from now in January. It reminded me that I would like to volunteer in some sort of marathon training program. Pay it forward as it were for the help I have received.

On this side of the river, there was another group of volunteers as well. Crowds of people were cleaning up the beach and streets of Ocean Beach. So many that it seemed the helping hands might outweigh the trash. They also seemed to be carrying around clipboards to make notations of some sort. Maybe they were also recording things in need of repair as well. Great to see.

The run went reasonably well. I wasn't up at the crack of dawn, but I managed to avoid most of the heat of the day. There were lots of people out on the paths today. Runners, walkers, bikers and people just out enjoying the morning. I saw one woman on a bench facing the bay, with her legs folded into the lotus position. It looked peaceful as I approached her, but on closer inspection she was texting away on her Blackberry.

After the run I went to find some breakfast. My usual haunt is the Tower Two Cafe (so named because it is near life guard tower number two). Matt and Holly took me there for breakfast a few years ago on one of my earlier visits to San Diego. Breakfast is served all day, and it is decent but not all that special. The appeal is the patio that is a block off the beach and is dog-friendly.

Most of the people on the patio seem to be people with dogs, tourists enjoying the beach view, or hungover 20-somethings having a late breakfast of greasy food. There are usually champagne bottles at a couple tables, sitting in buckets of ice to be mixed with OJ as a 'hair of the dog' cure. There were a few dogs as well this morning, one who parked himself next to my chair the whole time I was there.

Across the street, the beach-cleaning volunteers gathered on the lawn, hopefully for a bit of thanks and maybe some breakfast. Both were well earned.

How Octopuses work

Yesterday, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Should Know. The particular show was "How Octopuses Work". The article that inspired the podcast is here, and you can find the podcast in iTunes, Zune Marketplace, etc.

First off, apparently 'octopi', 'octopuses' and 'octopods' are all correct ways to refer to more than one octopus. Whatever you call them, they are pretty incredible creatures. Interesting things mentioned in the podcast: they often have three hearts and independent nervous systems for each of their eight legs, their suckers are incredibly sensitive and they can feel their way around reefs and "taste" the food they find, and they appear to be highly intelligent and may have individual personalities.

But the most interesting (and visually cool) thing is their ability to blend in with their surroundings. Their skin is covered with tens of thousands of pigmented cells called chromatophores. By flexing these cells, they can change color within a second. And it is not a single color but an array that helps them blend in with the background. They also have reflective cells call iridophores that help them mirror their surroundings. In addition to the ability to change color, they can also change the texture of their skin to add to the camouflage effect.

It was interesting to hear about how it is all done, but of course it is hard to beat actual footage. They encouraged listeners to go to YouTube and type in 'octopus changes color'. Here are a couple of the better, shorter clips that I found.

September 24, 2010

Can a marathon be a work of art?

 When posed the question, “Can a marathon be a work of art?” a group of approximately 30 representatives from city organizations and the Long Beach arts community were encouraged to take their ideas and run with them.
The purpose of the brainstorming session Wednesday morning at the Long Beach Museum of Art was to think of ways to transform the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon into a 26.2-mile art exhibit, which hopefully will be the new look of the event in 2011...
To launch the brainstorming session, Watson said artistic touches added to this year’s event will be mile markers decorated with artwork from children in the program at Miller Children’s Hospital; a 26-verse poem revealed sequentially in segments along the course by local poet Mindy Nettifee; and at the 22-mile mark, known to marathoners as “The Wall” because of stamina drain, will be high-energy performances from the Long Beach Mardi Gras team serving as encouragement to reach the finish line...
“Running is booming right now, and we’re grateful for that,” said John Parks, executive vice president of marketing for Run Racing. “Since October is arts month in Long Beach, our intent is to try and empower art work...
It occurred to me a couple years ago that a marathon could be a work of art,” Hunt said. “I mentioned it to Craig (Watson) around a year and a half ago, because the event draws a huge crowd of people in a great public space.”

Full article

September 23, 2010

Is it that time already?

My roomies are headed out of town for a while. They left me a very short list of things to take care of while they are gone - keep the animals and plants alive, that sort of thing.

Before they left, they thought to decorate for an upcoming holiday, probably because they knew I wouldn't.

Man, where did the time go? It seems like Fall started only yesterday.

September 20, 2010

Thank you Cherie

It all started with some sunburned knees.

In the summer of 2002, I was working at the Keg Restaurant as a waiter. My friend Cherie showed up for her bar shift with a pair of sunburned circles on her knees. It was an oddly shaped sunburn so I had to ask. She said she had ridden in the Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride the previous weekend, and had worn those flexible knee braces the whole way. She didn't think to put sunscreen on before the braces, so she had these neat little red circles on her knees.

She then began excitedly talking about how much fun the bike ride had been, and said she and her Dad were planning on another long ride in about a month and a half. Then the hard sell began that I should dust off the bike that had been gathering rust since I graduated college. Cherie's enthusiasm can be very persuasive, and it wasn't long before I found myself saying, "let's do it!"

The ride turned out to be harder than any of us expected, and we ended up only riding about 60 of the 84 hilly miles, but the challenge and beauty of that first ride had me hooked. Cherie and I would go on to ride many more Tours des Lacs, six STPs, and a few rides to Vancouver, Canada. And of course it ultimately led to my rides down the Pacific Coast and through Glacier National Park.

And it was Cherie who started me running as well. We were at a Super Bowl party in 2005 and she said to me, "grab a glass of wine, I have something I want to talk to you about". Once I had a few sips in me, she said "let's run a marathon!" She had a friend who was a runner and was targeting a marathon in October. I had two brief periods (a few months each) where I jogged once in a while, but it was never anything serious and it had been many years since foot had met pavement.

Once again, Cherie's enthusiasm was hard to resist, but in truth it didn't take much arm twisting. Both the STP bike ride and running a marathon had been one of those vague "someday" notions floating around in the back of my mind. Five weeks later we were running The St. Paddy's Day Dash, a 3.5 mile run from Seattle Center to Safeco Field. It is a great event with some 15,000 festive runners, and the new challenge and race day atmosphere had me hooked once again. We didn't make it to the marathon we had planned for October, but I ended up running ten events of varying distances that year, including my first half marathon. Cherie and I would later run a marathon together in 2007 and 2008.

Whenever we are planning the next biking or running event, or struggling to climb the last hill of a route, we often jokingly say "how'd I let you talk me into this?" Though Cherie was the spark to get into biking and running, I have enthusiastically picked up the gauntlet she threw down (what is a gauntlet anyway). I have done some of my own persuading to sign up for events, so the line of who got us into it gets kinda blurred.

But it is all in jest. I am so glad that I started biking and running, and thankful that Cherie gave me that first enthusiastic push to take them on. It has taken me to some amazing places (both physically and mentally), and I have met some wonderful people along the way. The biking and the running communities are amazingly positive and supportive. Everyone seems to share in your triumphs and setbacks. And the energy of a start line is something everyone should experience at least once.

I received a text message at around 11:30pm Friday night. It was from Cherie and it said, "Getting ready to ride the tour, but something is missing...oh wait, Sean is missing!" She and her Dad were riding the Tour des Lacs again over the next two days. I hadn't been thinking about it, but it was suddenly odd that I wasn't there, riding along with her and her Dad where this all began eight years ago. But it was nice to be in her thoughts, and it was great to hear today about how the ride went.

And that marathon we initially targeted in 2005 but didn't run? It was the Long Beach Marathon, which I will be running in about 26 days. It took five years to finally get to the start line but I will finally complete the journey we started out on.

And, of course, Cherie will be there in spirit. This is all her fault, after all.

Shadow puppet

September 19, 2010

The long(est) run

The 20 miler.

In many marathon training programs, this is the farthest you will run before race day. Some wonder how you can expect to run 26.2 miles on race day if you have never done it in training. The theory is that the 'rest' of the taper weeks, combined with the energy and excitement of race day, will carry you through those additional miles.

The prevailing thought is that if you go farther than 20 miles in training, that the risk of injury outweighs any training benefit gained in those additional miles. However, there are plans like the Jeff Galloway run/walk program that take you to 23, 26 or even 30 miles in training. The other Sean has put in a couple of 29 milers in his ramp up to the marathon this time around, and I may up my mileage in the future. But I have always erred on the safe side, preferring to be a bit under, rather than over-trained.

Even though they know I have run a few marathons, people are often amazed when I tell them I just ran 20 miles. It is harder in some ways - no support crew handing you drinks, no one cheering you on as your energy flags, no other runners beside you sharing your challenge, and no medal at the finish line. Just you alone on the road with your iPod, carrying whatever fluids and fuel you might need. As I have said before, the marathon itself is almost the reward. The real work is the hundreds of miles you put in during the months leading up to the race, where you are the only one keeping yourself honest.

This time around, the plan calls for two 20 mile long runs, at two and four weeks before the marathon, and yesterday was the first 20 miler. Normally you are supposed to run at a pace slower than your goal time (somewhere between :30 to 1:30 slower per mile). The long run is more about the miles than the pace, and you are training both your body and mind for the hours spent on the road. I have never been disciplined enough to go that much slower, and since I am still trying to dial in a time goal for Long Beach, I decided to run without looking at the clock (much).

The day started out wondrously foggy and the temperatures were almost cool. I chose a relatively flat route with some hills in the beginning, and a few overpasses to climb toward the end. The sun broke through at around mile 11, but I was able to find a couple of drinking fountains where I could wet down my hair to stay cool. There were a number of other runners out on the roads, some who I saw multiple times. They may have wondered, as I did, "how far are they going today, and what are they training for?"

I would occasionally check my pace when it felt particularly slow or fast, but I did not keep tabs on how I was doing overall. I felt pretty good during the run, though my calves were tight for the last four miles or so. When I ran past my truck for the third time, I was at 19.4 miles, so I had to keep going. This always seems to be the toughest part, to pass by what you thought was the finish line to get in that partial mile. Physically, that additional half mile is probably meaningless, but continuing on when you thought you were finished strengthens your mental muscle.

I ended up finishing in 2:56:28 which translates to a 8:49 per mile pace. This is just 2 seconds over the marathon pace called out in my training, so this gives me a boost of confidence for the marathon. I still don't have a clear goal time, but yesterday's run may make me aim a litter higher. Having this run under my belt, I will probably take it a little easier during the 20 miler two weeks before race day. Better to be rested, and trust the interval training to produce the speed I am hoping for.

September 16, 2010

This I Believe

Another essay from the book, This I Believe:
In Praise of the ‘Wobblies’
For years I really didn’t know what I believed. I always seemed to stand in the no-man’s land between opposing arguments, yearning to be won over by one side or the other, but finding instead degrees of merit in both.
I remember some 35 years ago, sitting at a table with the editor of The Washington Post and a half dozen Harvard kids. We were all finalists for a Post internship and the editor was there to winnow our numbers down. He asked each of us what we thought about the hot issues of the day — Vietnam, Nixon, the demonstrations. The Harvard kids were dazzling. They knew exactly where they stood. Me, I just stumbled on every issue, sounding so muddled. I was sure I had forever lost my shot at the Post. Why, I wondered, could I not see as clearly as those around me?
When the lunch was over and everyone rose to leave, the editor put his hand on my arm and asked me to stay. We talked again about the war and how it was dividing the country. A month later he wrote me a rejection letter. He said I was too young for the job but he liked my attitude. He told me that he “hunched I had a hell of a future” and to keep bugging him. I did.
Seven years later he hired me.
But that first letter, now framed in my office, had already given me an invaluable license. It had let me know that it was OK to be perplexed, to be torn by issues, to look at the world and not feel inadequate because it would not sort itself out cleanly. In the company of the confident, I had always envied their certainty. I imagined myself like some tiny sailboat, aimlessly tacking in whatever wind prevailed at the moment.
But in time, I came to accept, even embrace, what I called “my confusion,” and to recognize it as a friend and ally, no apologies needed. I preferred to listen rather than to speak; to inquire, not crusade. As a noncombatant, I was welcomed at the tables of even bitterly divided foes. I came to recognize that I had my own compass and my own convictions and if, at times, they took me in circles, at least they expanded outward. I had no wish for converts — where would I lead them?
An editor and mentor at the Post once told me I was “Wobbly.” I asked who else was in that category and drew comfort from its quirky ranks. They were good people all — open-minded, inquisitive, and yes, confused. We shared a common creed. Our articles of faith all ended with a question mark. I wouldn’t want a whole newsroom, hospital, platoon or — God forbid — a nation of us. But in periods of crisis, when passions are high and certainty runs rabid, it’s good to have a few of us on hand. In such times, I believe it falls to us Wobblies to try and hold the shrinking common ground.
~ Ted Gup is a journalist who has written for Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic and other publications. He is the author of “The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths At The CIA." Gup teaches journalism at Case Western Reserve University.

September 14, 2010

Keep it to yourself

One bit of advice you often hear when trying to achieve a goal is to tell several people about it. The thought process is that if you tell a bunch of people, you will feel accountable to them (whether or not they check up on your progress).

I caught this TED video the other day that shows that maybe that isn't the best way to succeed. Most goals take a lot of work to achieve. When we tell people about our goals and they cheer us on, we experience  some of that satisfaction and gratification of success without having done the work. There is already a sense of completeness in our mind.

What is recommended is that you talk about the steps you are taking, rather than focusing only on the end result. As Chris McDougall said last night when he chose not to talk about his next project, "I want to gain a little traction before I tell people what I am working on next".

Of course keeping goals entirely to ourselves could bring down a lot of blogs. I will of course continue to blather on about my running goals and what I am doing to achieve them, but I think I will keep my next project to myself until I get some forward momentum.

September 13, 2010

Born to Run

A friend recently sent me a link to "40 free (or cheap) things you can do in San Diego". I clicked on the link yesterday and found a few interesting things to do. One recommendation was to attend book-signings at the Warwick's Book Store in La Jolla. After clicking over to their site, I found out that Christopher McDougall (author of Born to Run) was speaking today. I read his book back in February, and it was excellent, so I decided to go listen to him speak.

The author was on assignment on a different story when he saw an article on the winner of the Leadville 100 endurance race. The accompanying picture showed a 52 year old man running in what appeared to be sandles made with soles of old tires. He dropped what he was working on to find out more about the story. It lead him to the reclusive Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who have the uncanny ability to run hundreds of miles, and display a serenity that leads you to believe that this is what we were born to do.

Upon discovery of these 'natural' runners, the author seeks to understand their secret from both the natives themselves, and scientists who have been studying human evolution and history to explain how our makeup sets us apart from other animals when it comes to covering great distances. One of the major factors that set us apart is our ability to dissipate heat through sweat. Early hunters likely survived by running animals to exhaustion and death.

The Tarhumara run on very minimalist sandles, and during his research the author encounters a few runners who believe running completely barefoot helps runners to avoid injury. This is the topic that has garnered the most press coverage and controversy. It has helped start a growing trend toward running in less structured shoes, if not going completely barefoot. The author himself used to be frustrated with a list of injuries, but going barefoot has allowed him to run again.

The story leads up to a 50 mile race that includes both the Tarahumara as well as some American ultra-runners. The blend of narrative, history and science make for an interesting read. And it turns out the author is a pretty good speaker as well. Tonight he expanded on the topics covered in the book, and interestingly didn't touch on barefoot running until the last couple of minutes. However, during the question and answer period, barefoot running was once again a hot topic.

One major lesson beyond all the history and science of running began with that first photo of the Leadville 100 winner. The author spoke with a running coach that saw the eventual winner at about the 60 mile mark. He was standing at the top of an embankment which punished the already weary runners. When the author asked about the Tarahumara runner, he was looking for information on the runner's style, gait and form. But all the running coach kept saying was, "you should have seen the smile on his face".

Beyond all the arguments about science and running with or without shoes, the Tarahumara have a way of looking at running as fun. It is probably no coincidence that they also experience much lower rates of disease and depression than most any other society. Toward the end of the author's presentation, he said his hope was that after all the barefoot-running debates die down, that people will look closer at the joy of running displayed by the Tarahumara. That could be the real lesson of the story.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

September 12, 2010

Sorry, wrong number

click to enlarge

Several years ago, J and I lived with another couple in a rented house. The guy was one of my best friends and we worked together building decks. His girlfriend was another friend of mine who I worked with at my second job. We were all intertwined in some fashion, and the house was jokingly called the 'commune'.

It turns out, our phone number was one digit off from a movie theater, so we received plenty of 'wrong number' calls. After a while, we changed the outgoing message on the answering machine to "If you are trying to reach (our four names), please leave a message. If you are trying to reach the movie theater, please learn to dial". Most everyone just hung up when they realized their mistake, but one guy left the stumbling message "uh, um, you learn to dial, b*#ch".

The phone rang one evening when we were all hanging out together. I picked up the phone and in my best imitation of a halting, computerized voice said, "If you need the theater address, please press one. If you are looking for movie times, please press two". I heard the touch tone after the second choice so I launched into "If you want to see Star, Wars, please press one". My roommates were laughing in the background, and at that point I started cracking up and hung up.

The person called back, and it turned out to be my roommate's sister. But ironically, she was trying to reach the theater and not her sister, which made us crack up all over again.

When I got my current cell phone number, I would get calls for "Russ" relatively frequently. I still do once in a while, and it surprises me how many people get irritated or suspicious when you say that they have the wrong number. And for some reason, we are compelled to say "sorry" even though it wasn't our mistake.

September 10, 2010

He does not speak for me

An East Coast friend said she figured I’d be hearing a lot of rural tavern talk of how it was time to kick some towel-head ass. Well, sure. There’s always some loudmouth eager to swab the flag around like a World Wrestling Federation banner. But I have heard equivalent sentiments expressed on NPR and CNN, refined only in terms of diction and dress. Bigotry and extremism have a commonality: Both are difficult to eradicate; both respond poorly to benevolence; and both are an embarrassment to those impugned through putative association, whether we wear NASCAR caps or turbans. The battle for civility will outlast all others.  
~ from Michael Perry's essay in the days following 9/11, featured in Off Main Street.
I'm sure you have heard by now about the pastor in Florida that plans to burn the Quran as a way to commemorate the 9/11 attacks nine years ago. The church's website (which has been taken down, at least temporarily) claimed this is not an act of hatred, but an act of love. The pastor claims that by burning the holy book of Islam, he is helping to awaken the misdirected and confused who have not taken Jesus Christ as their personal savior. He tries to equate it to a parent pulling a child out from in front of an oncoming semi-truck. However, though they may be confused and child-like, he still calls them evil.

In the 24 hour news cycle that thrives on extremist hyperbole, this fanatic man and his plan are getting a lot of airplay. He claimed that he was praying earlier this week over whether or not to go through with it. My hope is that he chooses not to, but whether or not he goes through with his book burning, my real hope is that no news outlet shows up, and not a single picture is taken. His 15 minutes of infamy should be considered over already. Of course neither of my hopes will come true, and coverage of this will be shown around the world, images that will fan the fires of hatred and likely put our citizens and troops in more danger.

This man and his message disgust me. He may have his first amendment rights to spew his venom, but it feels like this could fall under the definition of hate speech, or the "you can't yell fire in a crowded theater" heading of endangering the public. But of course whether or not he is within his rights, we needn't listen or give him a slot in prime time.

And I don't believe that this extremist pastor represents the Christian faith, any more than the terrorists of 9/11 represent the religion of Islam. The fanatic messages of these people on the fringe do not represent the body of the whole, no matter how loudly they shout their toxic message. But that is the exact message that the pastor is selling - that someone who perverts the message of a belief system implicates everyone. That we shouldn't single out the criminals, but rather condemn the entire population. I can only hope that the people of our nation and the world don't think like the pastor does, on many levels.

I would say ignore him entirely, but if we do not speak out against this sort of message, history has shown that messages of hate can spread, particularly through a scared, struggling population. I can only hope that these messages of hate will create a pushback from people who will stand up and say that this is not acceptable. This is not who we want representing our faith, our country, our people.

"What does the Diary tell you that it doesn't tell us?!"
Vogel reaches out to slap Henry yet again, but Henry grabs his arm, stopping him.
Henry: "It tells me that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them." 
~ from Indian Jones and the Last Crusade

September 8, 2010

New music

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to get back to listening to more music instead of podcasts. On my road trip through Arizona I brought several CD's along that I had not listened to in a long time, and it was great hearing them again as the miles flew by.

Though I have two big boxes of CD's to catch up with, I would love to find some new bands to add to the mix. Back in Seattle, there is this great radio station called The Mountain. They play an eclectic mix of old classics as well as new bands that aren't yet (or never will be) played on more mainstream radio. This was about my only source of new music, and I have not found a similar station down here in San Diego.

Recently, my only discoveries have been from a running podcast I listen to. Steve puts in a single song in the middle of each episode, usually from a new artist that has offered a song up as "podsafe", meaning that podcasters can use it without dealing with copyrights or making payments. Some established artists also release a song or two as podsafe, so occasionally Michael Franti or Ingrid Michaelson will pop up.

We were recently over at a friend's house for a birthday party, and we ended up staying the night. Over breakfast the next morning, the host put on some music, a recent discovery that they love to play on weekend mornings. I enjoyed it and ended up buying the album. I listened to it for the first time during my Grand Canyon run, and it made for a great soundtrack for the morning.

And I thought, this is how I should be discovering new bands, I should be talking to my friends to find out what their latest fave is. So, thanks Jonathan and Lynne for introducing me to Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons.

I asked my friends in Phoenix the same question, and they came up with some bands I already listen to. When they countered with asking what my latest finds were, I was initially stumped. That's my problem remember - no new music. After thinking for a bit, I guess the most recent bands I have purchased whole albums from are: Brandi Carlile, Needtobreathe, and Gomez. Not new bands, but newer to me. My newest addition just came in today, courtesy again from the Phedipidations podcast. He has played a couple of songs from Great Big Sea, and I ended up getting their Up album.

Then the other day, Matt was cleaning out the shed and dropped this in my room.

He knew I was looking for music, so he offered these up before they were sent off to the Salvation Army. No new bands, but I did find some older stuff that I didn't have.

So, what is your latest musical find? I'd love to hear about it.

September 7, 2010


I just finished the book Lit by Mary Karr. It is a memoir about her struggle with family scars, marriage, motherhood, and becoming a writer all through the hazy veil of alcoholism. The book details how her dependence on alcohol pushed her away from life, and ultimately tore apart what she knew of it. Later in the book, she struggles to get sober, and through her support group, grapples with "letting go and letting God".

I have read a number of "my life sucked, let me tell you about it" memoirs over the past few years. At some point they all seem to run together, and I need to step away from this genre. I'm not sure what online snippet led me to put this book on my 'to-read' list, but it lurked there for almost a year before I sat down to read it.

I had some difficulty getting into the book initially, but about a third of the way through it grabbed on to me. She has an unflinching way of writing about how alcohol blew apart opportunities and relationships, without playing the victim and glossing over her part in the collapse. Though she is descriptive in the details of the demise of her marriage, she is clear that her descriptions are not only filtered through a haze of alcohol, but her own perceptions of what happened. She allows that the story would be quite different if told by her ex-husband. As she notes in the book, "I would’ve preferred that my ex vet this manuscript and correct the glaring flaws. Wisely, he balked – I’d have hated to see his version, too."

Many dependency recovery programs have a strong element of prayer and faith. Mary would have none of it initially, and it is interesting to read about her reasoning and struggle as she grapples with letting go of control and preconceived notions. She walks a rather crooked path before entering the doors of church, and even when she sits down in the pew, she brings something to read in case she is bored. Not a quick conversion by any means, but I found her path interesting.

As a side note, I have been marking good passages in books over the last year or so. If I own the book, and particularly if it is a work of non-fiction, I will highlight good passages or turns of phrase in pen. If it is a book on loan from a friend or a library, I have been using these little Post-It flags. This is what Lit looked like when I was finished.

A bunch of flags is usually a good indication that I enjoyed the book, but not always. There have been a few books heavily flagged that I thought weren't the best. Although, some of them were read when I was going through the toughest part of our separation, so it makes me wonder if I was just not in the right mental place.

On the flip side, Lit may have been really enjoyable for me because I read it at the right time. The author's struggles with depression, dependency, divorce and despair may have hit me at the right time. Who knows, if we had read it in book club back when life was different, I may have written it off as just another woe-is-me memoir. But I don't think so. I think this one stands above the others, no matter when I picked it up. Worth a read.

September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day

On those rare mornings when I don't set an alarm, this is how I wake up:

The pooch's stomach is on its own clock, and she puts her nose on the bed and starts doing her little tap dance to get me moving. If there are covers on the bed, she will use her nose to lift them up and drag them away. It is pretty cute, but not at 6:45am on a day off.

For some reason, she hit snooze this morning and let me sleep in to almost 9:00 this morning. Best start to Labor Day ever!

September 5, 2010

Training update

So I just finished week ten of the sixteen week marathon training program. Quite often during a training period, I reach a point where I grow tired of it, and I am skimming along that point right now. The training runs are getting faster and longer, but the marathon is still far enough away (six weeks) that I can't quite see the finish line. It is that point in climbing a hill where your legs are about to fail, but you can't quite see the summit. It is the discouraging feeling where you are not sure if you will make it and you start to wobble. 

The miles have been piling up, and I feel like I never quite recover between workouts. I start each run with legs that feel a little too sore and a little too empty. The weekend long run is now becoming legitimately long, and is a two to three hour investment of time and energy. The weather has been warm, and though I try to get out earlier, I often weigh an extra hour of sleep against trying to beat the heat. Though this has been a milder summer from what I understand, it is still hot enough to make it a struggle for me.

And there is just the mental fatigue of trying to run every scheduled mile, to hit every scheduled pace. The training calendar becomes this thing you just dread looking at. I had a tough long run last week, and was feeling like I could use a break to recharge. But this week's mileage was going to be the highest so far.

But this time, it feels like the dip in enthusiasm may be more short-lived than in the past. Even though the last three days of work were physically draining (digging through clay and rock, carrying 8" x 18" wood beams), I put in 10 miles on Thursday and 18 on Saturday. Both were run at a decent pace and I finished feeling like I still had some more in the tank. Though I was feeling a bit run down physically and mentally, I was able to find a reserve I wasn't sure was there. I gives me some confidence that I will be able to push through this lull and show up race day ready to run.

I am still happy with the new training program, as challenging as it has been. I haven't missed any of the runs, and have only cut one short so far - a 17 miler became a 14 miler in the Phoenix heat. I haven't been as good at the cross-training, averaging about once a week rather than twice. But overall, I think the program is a solid one, and I am feeling more prepared than I have in the past. 

Less than six weeks until the final exam. 

September 4, 2010

Game day

The promise of a new season.

The first University of Washington football game is today. It is half time, and the score is UW 17, BYU 13. The last few seasons, the Huskies have been pretty dismal, bottoming out in 2008 by going 0-12. Last year with a new coach, they improved dramatically to 5-7. Our Heisman candidate quarterback is returning, and the buzz is that we may go to our first bowl game in eight (?) years. Of course pre-season hype does not equal success during the season (as the Mariners are painfully aware).

I went to UW for two years, and had student tickets for the football season for three years. This was back when the Huskies were at their peak. One of those years the Dawgs went undefeated and shared the national title with Miami (before #1 and #2 played each other at the end of the season). Husky stadium is one of the loudest stadiums to play in, and especially during those years, opposing teams had difficulty even calling plays. Our defense was so impressive, it was not unusual to look up at the scoreboard and see negative numbers for the other team's rushing yards. We were on our feet for almost the entire game. 

Three years in a row, my brother, I and various friends made the road trip down to Pasadena to see the Huskies play in the Rose Bowl. I am not one of those guys that is obsessed with sports, able to quote stats past and present, but I do love to watch Husky football come game day. 

Today, I am huddled around my computer to listen to the game online. Not the same, but GO DAWGS!


Aw, crap - Huskies lose 23 - 17.