May 28, 2011

Can you judge a book by its cover?

So I received the free proof of my novel. Even though the book is not sufficiently edited and reworked to be ready for public consumption, I have to say it is pretty cool to see it in the flesh, in book form. This is probably not what the book will look like in its final form, but I put together something quickly for the proof copy to see how it would turn out.

And I am impressed with the print-on-demand company so far. Not only does the book look good, but they were much quicker than promised at every step.

So the big unveiling...

Pretty cool.

May 23, 2011

Quote of the day

I held a moment in my hand,
brilliant as a star,
fragile as a flower,
a tiny sliver of one hour.
I dripped it carelessly,
Ah! I didn't know,
I held opportunity.
~Hazel Lee

May 21, 2011

I'm not finished yet

As I am sure you have heard elsewhere and everywhere, a small group of people have predicted that the world is going to be very different after 6:00 P.M. tonight. Earthquakes, rapture, end of days sorts of stuff. I did a quick glance over the math involved in calculating that the rapture would occur at six o'clock on May 21st, and it is pretty convoluted. In one part it depends on days equaling years, and it makes me think of the scene from Star Trek II.

I am not taking this any more seriously than any other 'end of the world' predictions, but I am having a hard time totally mocking it. Not that I haven't enjoyed some of the stuff flying around Facebook. The UPS-like notice was pretty  funny, and the company of atheists that will watch your pets after you're gone is a clever way to sell piece of mind. But I just can't pile on for some reason. Maybe it is my unsure footing. Would I be mocking this guy's prediction, or the whole concept.

One post I don't understand is, "I know that pastor is crazy, but seriously, who doesn't want to go to heaven sooner rather than later?" This comes from a young, happily married, successful, Christian believer with his first kid on the way. I just don't get it. Heaven's not going anywhere, right. Why would anyone be in a hurry to leave this life.

Then I got off my self-righteous high horse and wondered if I am doing all I can to appreciate this life. And what would I do if I knew it was my last day. Not that today is it, but it could be any day for any one of us. So far today I have given my dog a bath to soothe her irritated skin, took her for a quick walk, returned a long e-mail to a friend, did some other writing, and went for a six mile run around the neighborhood.

It was during the run when this all started to percolate. It is a lovely, sunny day here in San Diego, and the Jacaranda trees are in full, purple bloom. There were a few other runners out, and I exchanged friendly waves with more people than usual. An ice cream cart rolled by, and I noticed how the tone of the ringing bell changed as it approached, and then went by. I heard the throaty rumble of a couple Chevys from the '70s, a beautiful sound no modern car can compare with. While waiting for a light to change, I noticed a perfectly restored 1967 Mustang, a gorgeous specimen of the first car I ever owned. I arrived home safely, feeling much better for the effort, though the toe is giving me some trouble afterwards.

Though I was listening to a podcast while I ran, a new favorite song popped in my head. It is one that was originally passed on in a YouTube video by Matt, and after hearing it once I tracked it down online to buy it. It is great song about how we and our expectations change as we move along through this life. I can't imagine shortening this life by a minute. Warning - there are two f-bombs in the song if that is a concern.

And when they put me in the ground
I'll start pounding the lid,
saying I haven't finished yet.
I still have a tatoo to get
that says "I'm living in the moment".
So whether or not the guy predicting the Apocalypse is crazy or not (and I sure hope he is), he got me thinking and noticing today. I felt that much more present during my run and it inspired me once again to make the most of what I have.

I plan on spending the evening with Kristy, probably working alongside her for a while, but then enjoying a nice meal and a bottle of wine. A perfect end to another lovely day.

We'll start again tomorrow, using lessons from today.

We’ve replaced their regular coffee with Folger’s Crystals. Let’s see if they notice!

So it has been three weeks without coffee. I have heard that it takes 21 days to make or break a new habit, so it should be smooth sailing until the end of the month (right?).

It actually has been easier than I imagined. There were mild headaches for the first few days, but they have subsided. I had imagined that mornings would be much more difficult than they have been. I have felt more tired than normal just getting out of bed (like I am ironically sleeping worse since ceasing coffee), but once I get moving I don't miss the caffeine boost as much as I thought I would.

But I do miss coffee so.

As I mentioned, I typically drink only two cups a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon when I can get it. I think I miss the afternoon cup the most. And quite frankly, I miss the visit to the coffee shop. Coffee shops are kind of my home away from home, and have been for more than fifteen years. I love a quality cup of coffee, and the shop has been where I go to read and write.

Work has been slow, so I have been spending much of the downtime editing and rewriting. I am more easily distracted at home, so I would normally head to Starbucks to write. But since I wasn't drinking coffee, it was like my office was closed. I still went in a couple of times, but without a cup of coffee, it felt like something was missing. I don't know if it was my body jonesing for it, but it seemed like the smell of the freshly ground beans was stronger than ever before.

When I said I was giving up coffee for the month, I "negotiated" that I could have four "emergency" cups during the month. I haven't had to go there, but there have been a couple of afternoons where it was tempting. I am glad that it has been easier than expected, and that I have found that I don't need coffee to function. But there is no doubt that I still want it.

I have been drinking decaf tea in the mornings, and I have discovered that I like Chai tea lattes, but it isn't the same. I will be going back to coffee in June. Not because I have to, but because I want to.


And for further encouragement, one of the podcasters I listen to - The Nutrition Diva - posted a video last week called, Coffee: Health Boon or Bust? As of now, it looks like moderate caffeine consumption is a good thing.

May 20, 2011

Quote of the day

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.
~ Mark Twain

May 18, 2011

Moving forward again

I hadn't run in a week and a half, and it is amazing how quickly you can feel fat and out of shape. Well, that feeling doesn't really go away, but it does get worse with inactivity.

I managed to injure myself, and true to form, it was doing something stupid. There was a spider high up on the wall that needed to be escorted outside. Lacking height and anything better to stand on, I stood up on a set of dog stairs. I didn't trust that the stair treads would hold my weight, so I walked up on the outside frame. After trapping the spider under a glass and sliding a piece of paper over the top, I took one step down and the stairs shot out from under me.

I landed on my big toe.

It hurt like a mother. For the next couple of days I was limping around, and for at least a week I couldn't bend it. Since I have a half marathon in a little over a month, I had to balance losing fitness against possibly making things worse.

Today was the first run, and it went relatively well. I picked a flatter course hoping that this would reduce the stress on the toe. The toe isn't quite right yet, but it wasn't too painful during the run. Unfortunately, lots of other things hurt. It doesn't take long for muscles and tendons to get tight and inflexible.

I have also broken the vapor lock I was experiencing with the novel rewrite. I have been working pretty steadily on it for the past week or two, and I did another edit as I formatted it for a paperback. I whipped up some artwork for a cover, and I will hopefully have a proof copy in the next week or two. It is not ready for prime time (not sure it ever will be) but it is to the point where I need to walk away and let someone else read it with fresh eyes. I earned a free copy during NaNoWriMo last year, so I am looking forward to seeing it in book form soon.

It feels nice to be moving forward again.

May 14, 2011

To live

Live without pretending,
Love without depending,
Listen without defending,
Speak without offending,
Give without ending,
Build without rending.
~ Nina Roberta Baker

May 10, 2011

The cloud is looking a little wispy

The cloud, the cloud, everything will live in the cloud!

This seems to be the latest idea, web 3.0 or whatever designation we are up to. All your files, pictures, data and information can be stored on massive servers sitting in some location with low rent and electricity rates. If you store everything in the cloud, you can access it from everywhere, and worry less if your computer dies suddenly or is stolen. The device is just a portal to get to the cloud. 

Many companies have offered online backup storage for your data, but now even programs are living somewhere on the internet, rather than on your computer. Google and their many online products has even forced Microsoft to create an online version of their flagship Office suite. But like anything else, you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket. 

There have been multiple stories about failures of online systems in the past couple of weeks. 
  • "Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing service crashed overnight, taking down a bunch of key web sites. Affected sites included Foursquare, Reddit, Cydia, Discovr and Scvngr."
  • "Sony confirmed personal data from over 20 million user accounts on its PlayStation network was stolen in a hacker attack last month, but said it aims to revive the network by the end of May."
  • "LASTPASS supposedly was a sanctuary from hacking: a security service that allows customers to safely store all their passwords in the cloud. However the small online password security provider has experienced a hell of its own making, to some extent, since it revealed to its client base that its database could have been hacked."
None of these affected me personally, but around the same time, a website I store my workout information on crashed. The last couple of times I tried to upload a workout, I would get a generic error message that "Something went wrong". The simplicity of the error message made me laugh, but the next time I went to the website, it was down, and a otherwise blank page read:
"Buckeye Outdoors has suffered a major outage. A series of electrical storms first knocked out the backup servers that were located at the backup up location. Then the unthinkable happened 4 days later and a second electrical storm caused an extended power outage at the datacenter where the primary Buckeye Outdoors servers are hosted."
"The current situation is pretty grimm and I'm despritly trying to recover the data that has been lost. If I am un able to recover the data I will put the application back online but right now I am holding out hope and I even might send the Hard Disks to a data recovery place."
The site is now back online, but without any of the workout information I had logged for the past two and a half years. This is the site behind the little widget that used to be on the right side of the blog that detailed my mileage for the week, month and year. I am sure only a couple of you ever looked at it, but it was a handy way to keep an eye om my progress. 

If there had to be a crash and lost data, this was the one part of my digital life where I was protected. Ever since I started using my Garmin 310xt GPS watch to track my workouts, it has sent the data to their website as well as to a program that lives on my computer. Pre-Garmin, I recorded everything in a paper training journal, and I had still maintained it, though I now see that it has been about a month since I bothered to write anything down. 

It is still a bummer because I liked certain aspects of the Buckeye Outdoors site. The web is a great place to store massive amounts of data, but I will always be a little paranoid about storing my only copy with a system or company that could suddenly fail. I am glad that my backups had backups this time around. 

May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

For all you do to nurture and raise your children in those quiet and not so quiet moments (why won't my kid stop screaming!?). For all the sacrifices you make each day and each year to put your kids first. For all the appointments and activities you juggle while trying to have a life of your own. For the lessons and love you provide when we don't always deserve it. For all the times we didn't call or say thank you. For being the backbone of nearly every family.

Thank you.

And Happy Mother's Day

May 7, 2011

I could use a jolt

Be careful who you ask for ways you can improve yourself.

A number of years back, some friends and I were sitting around a campfire. We were exchanging stories and jabs at each other when a friend asked in mock exasperation, "what is wrong with you Sean?" I responded by saying, "do you want them in chronological order, or alphabetically?"

She then spent the evening listing my faults alphabetically. I don't remember them at this point, but I am pretty sure that the letter 'A' did not start it off well.

As you know, I have been doing the one resolution-a-month thing this year. Last month was no fast food. It went just fine, and I celebrated the victory with an awesome burger at Five Guys on May 2nd. I had left May's goal open for a while, not knowing what to do or give up.

Then one evening as I walked into Starbucks for a cup of decaf, Kristy turned to me and said, "you should give this up next month." Thinking she meant Starbucks, I agreed that I should cut it out for a month, save some money. When she clarified that she meant giving up crap.

So I am on day 6 without coffee. I am not going completely caffeine free, but coffee is my main delivery system. Though I  typically only drink a couple cups a day, I have had a few headaches likely from withdrawal, which is probably a sign that it affects me more than I know. I have said in the past that I couldn't imagine giving it up, so that in itself another reason for a system check.

It has been a little tough, but not brutal. Thursday morning was a little worse after a night of insomnia, but I managed to give myself a couple of electric shocks at work that day, and it perked me right up.

May 5, 2011

Someone special

There is someone new in my life.

Well, she has been in my life for a while now, but the relationship has taken on new meaning recently. Kristy is someone I have known for a few years, but have spent much more time with since the move down to San Diego. I think there was always some attraction between us, but we have only recently taken the leap from friendship to something more.

I think we both held off, not wanting to torpedo the friendship if things didn't work out. We are part of the same, great circle of friends, so as silly as it sounds, it felt like we were risking that as well. I also don't think I was ready for any sort of relationship for a while. But I really feel like I have turned a corner in the past six months and I am excited about this relationship.

Even though we have been friends for a long time, we are still discovering new things about each other. We have been dating for about three months now, and it is going great so far. It feels wonderful to turn that part of my brain back on, and to be more deeply connected to someone I care about.

I don't know how much I will write about the relationship, but since she has appeared here a number of times already over the past year, it seems silly not to say who I am dating. I mostly wanted to share the good things that are going on in my life, and to say that I'm happy to be happy.

May 2, 2011

Changing history

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been trying to put together my medical history to apply for a new health insurance policy. Most all of my records are back up in Seattle, so I have been trying other avenues to remember what I did the last five years. And this blog has turned out to be rather useful (for once).

The only hospital visit was when I was being tested for acid reflux and seeing if there was any pre-cancer in my esophagus. I knew the relative timing of it and even had the doctor's name, but had no record with me on what procedures I underwent. Fortunately, I wrote about it here and was able to fill in the forms.

While looking at last year's posts, it got me thinking about the divorce again. For as much writing as I have done here and on the other blog, of course there is more to understand. When trying to explain how something feels, nothing seems to resonate quite as well as a metaphor.

And I have been searching mostly in vain for a tidy little image to capture it all. The best I could come up with was returning home after some time away, only to find that your house had burned down. Everything is lost and you are suddenly homeless. Sure you still have all the memories, and you can rebuild, but everything has changed in one moment of tragedy, and everything is now covered in blackened char.

And this blog turns out to be another type of metaphor for me. All the words are the same, but there is a different meaning once you understand what was going on. It has recently been revealed that the story in the book "Three Cups of Tea" was not entirely true. If I were to reread the book now, knowing that the author had made up certain details, my perception of the story would be different though none of the words had changed.

In the posting about the Esophageal Manometry procedure that had the medical information I was looking for, I described how I felt like I was choking and drowning, and ultimately broke down because "I hadn't been sleeping well for a few weeks. I was physically and emotionally strung out." What I didn't say at the time was that it was because a month earlier J said she didn't think she could make it home, and I first read the word 'divorce' two weeks later.

I looked back on some of the other posts in 2008 and 2009, and there are many that read differently after everything changed. Of course there was subtext to much of what I wrote during that time, including all my battles with insomnia and the various quotes I posted. Other posts didn't tell the whole story, like when my window shattered into a thousand little pieces. It happened on the drive in to our first session with the marriage counselor (not a great omen). Even other authors seemed to be writing about what I was going through without even knowing it.

But things continue to change. These posts mean something different to me now. I can remember the time in which they were written, but they do not have the power they once held over me. Like looking at the photos from your past - the picture looks exactly the same, that moment frozen in time, but the emotions attached to them are entirely different as your life story has evolved. Nothing looks different on the surface, but the perception of the past is changed, and now it reads entirely differently.

Though I am forever altered by what I went through, the changes I have embraced are for the better. Outside of this exercise in blog post history, I live less in the past and I am more focused on the promise of the future. And once again, more on that tomorrow.

May 1st, 2011

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory. Hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky...
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war...
Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense...
Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children...
Full text of President Obama's address last night.

May 1, 2011

Cutting costs

One of the things I have been doing while not online is trying to cut back on expenses. I haven't had a formal budget in something approaching two decades, and though I have been cutting back on $7 fast food meals and trips to Starbucks, more drastic measures are needed right now.

I cut out a recurring donation and some other small items before looking at my larger bills. After looking over my monthly bills, the first to go was the gym. This expense to stay healthy shouldn't really be at the top of the list, but after using the gym several days a week in February, my membership went mostly unused. I used it primarily for the pool, and I have set aside triathlon aspirations this year to save money as well. My running shoes and bike are already paid for, so I can workout for free for the summer.

The big ticket item that needed to be addressed was my health insurance. I am currently on a COBRA policy, and it looks like I could save better than $100 a month by getting a different policy. There are hundreds of policies to chose from, and I have spent hours online looking through charts to see what would work best for me. Copays, deductibles, annual out of pocket limits, and percentage of coverage for various procedures are all intertwined with the monthly payment, and it is tough to keep it all straight.

It is all a bit of a gamble, trying to decide how much security you want, and how much you want to pay for it. There is even a line of coverage called TONIK that cuts to the chase with the names of the three different levels of coverage: "Calculated Risk Taker", "Part-time Daredevil", and "Thrill-Seeker".

I think I have figured out my desired level of risk and I am now trying to put together all the medical history info they want. And oddly enough, that lead me back here. More on that tomorrow.