December 31, 2011

Year in Review - resolutions

I don't normally make a lot of resolutions for January 1st. Sure, there are some goals that I shoot for year round, but I haven't been too tied to the calendar to start things off. But this year was a little different. It was all about the calendar.

Back in January, I decided to have a new goal every month. As I wrote then:
I was out on a run December 30th when I decided to take on the Dry January goal I had read about a couple days earlier. As I ran, I decided that I would keep this monthly theme throughout the year. Each month I will take on a new challenge. By focusing on one thing at a time, I think I will have a better chance at success. Also, there is a built in ending point so I think it will be easier to wrap my head around the commitment.
I didn't have the whole year plotted out at that point, just the first three months really. The monthly resolutions came into focus as the year went on. Some were things I wanted to improve, some were suggestions from friends, and others were challenges I wasn't sure I could complete. There is a list in the sidebar, but for review the resolutions were.

Jan - no alcohol
Feb - workout every day
Mar - write an hour every day
Apr - no fast food
May - no coffee
June - no tv
July - better food choices/lose 10#
Aug - meat only once a week
Sep - 30 minutes or less online
Oct - become a morning person
Nov - NaNoWriMo

Each month was challenging in its own way, but I was surprised to find that many were easier than I had built them up to be. Giving up coffee was not enjoyable, but there was little withdrawal and I wasn't a zombie without it. No tv and no fast food were more logistical challenges than anything else.

Eating meat only once a week was not a real sacrifice, and July's goal of making better food choices was a nice lead in. I did not lose the ten pounds that month, but I was ten pounds lighter when showed up at the marathon start line a couple months later. 

The more difficult challenges were toward the end of the year. Spending less than thirty minutes online wasn't exactly a struggle, but it was enlightening. I waste more time than I use when connected to the internet, and the thirty minute limit really made me focus. October's goal of becoming a morning person was probably the hardest on me. The act of rolling out of bed by 5:30 wasn't that difficult, but as the month wore on, the missing hours of sleep took their toll. November's goal was the one that was clearly not accomplished, but I am still happy with the effort and the discipline it took to get as far as I did.

Of course, I was hoping to have some of these thirty day challenges carry over. I drink a little less alcohol, I definitely watch less tv, I spend less time online, I am making better choices with food, and this morning I weighed in twelve pounds lighter than I was at this time last year.

Having this rotating goal set up was an interesting experience. I haven't decided if I will do the monthly goal thing next year, but I would highly recommend it if it interests you at all. By attacking things in bite sized chunks, they were easier to take them all on. I certainly wouldn't have written down twelve goals for the year on January 1st, but now I can look back on a nice list of accomplishments,

December's goal was sort of a secret. I wasn't sure if I was going to accomplish it, but it looks like I will just make it in under the wire. More on that in the next post.

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I hope you have a wonderful day full of peace, love, togetherness and joy. May the spirit of the season warm your heart and bring you closer to the one's you love. Merry Christmas one and all!

Santa hiding the pooch's pooch.

A very good present!

And for the MTV generation, a couple of classics. The first is one of the first Christmas songs I listen to each year. "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" by Annie Lennox.

And the second is a fun one from Billy Squier - "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You." Check out all the old MTV VJs, Paul Simon and other random carolers from thirty years ago.

Christmas is the time to say "I love you"
Share the joys of laughter and good cheer
Christmas is the time to say "I love you"
And a feeling that will last all through the year

So when spirits grow lighter
and hopes are shinin' brighter
then you know that Christmas time is here

December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Went out for a 20 mile run this afternoon, and it was beautiful. Well, not the running per se...

I parked my car at Marymoor Park, a 640 acre field of goodness at the north end of Lake Sammamish. The park sits between the cities of Bellevue and Redmond, and also connects two sets of trails. My car would be home base, and I would run a ten mile out-and-back in either direction.

I first headed north along the Sammamish River Trail. I have run and biked this path a hundred times, but of course it had been a year since I last set foot on it. There were several people out, getting in their exercise before tomorrow's indulgence. It was in the high 30's when I set out, but the rains had passed.

As the name implies, the trail parallels the river as it moves slowly through the valley. Though Redmond continues to expand, the valley is still relatively open and undeveloped. The bare maple trees scratched the cloudy sky, and fog clung to the evergreens on the hillside. A few brave dogs chased balls into the river, and people seemed to wave and smile just a little more on the day before Christmas.

I turned around just short of the Red Hook Brewery. On many bike rides, the brewery was the marker that we were only five miles from the finish. On many occasions, we stopped for a pint or two before finishing the day. I really should have parked there so that could have been my finish line.

Heading back south, the sun started to peek through the clouds. It was at its highest point for the day, but this time of year that is pretty low. Sunglasses on. Back at the car I refilled my water bottles and grabbed some other fuel. The day had warmed so I stripped off my hat, vest and gloves. I should have picked up my camera  as well, but didn't really want to carry it for ten miles. But that was a mistake.

I ran across the park to join up with the East Lake Sammamish Trail. This one is another rails to trails conversion and sticks close to the lake edge. It runs past a number of nice lake-front houses, but much of the land is still open.

The lake was completely calm and no one seemed to be out enjoying it other than some herons sitting on old pilings. The sun was even lower in the sky, and passed easily through the bare trees. Across the way, the trees by the lake looked so bare and brown that they seemed to have been burned in a fire. The low sun lit them up once more, and they stood out starkly against the evergreen backdrop. There were many spots where I kicked myself for not grabbing the camera. All I could do was run a little slower and try to take them in for myself.

The last few miles were difficult as always, but I managed to pick it up a little bit over the last mile. The marathon is now less than a month away, so as much as I would have liked to have skipped out on running during vacation, finals are approaching. But I couldn't have asked for much of a better day, so I am glad I headed out.

Our family doesn't really celebrate Christmas Eve, but my brother is finally back in town and is coming over for dinner. We are heading into the holiday at a nice slow pace this year, and this afternoon's run was a peaceful soul cleanser. Since I was too lazy to grab the camera, you'll just have to take my word for it.

December 23, 2011

A walk down a shifting memory lane

Each time I come home, things look a little different.

I have made a point to get back to Seattle about every six months since my move south. Visiting this frequently does not allow much time for change, but it happens anyway. Just driving in from the airport, on ramps have changed, buildings have been knocked down and replaced, Quest Field is now Century Link Field, etc.

Recalling another native that returned after moving south, a friend asked if I had a strong reaction to coming home. That other friend grew misty crossing Lake Washington with Mount Rainier in the background after years in the desert. Since I have been visiting with some frequency, the reactions aren't as dramatic, but I have been gone long enough to have forgotten the particular mixture of gray and green here in the wintertime.

In many ways, it is like I never left. I joked on Facebook that I was "Sleeping in my parents' house, borrowing their car, eating their food, watching Rockford Files on tv, and I have a pimple on my nose. Time travel IS possible." 

I am lucky to be able to pick up with friends after a long absence and there is no weird tension or distance. For some it has been only six months, but I caught up with a great friend that I hadn't seen in almost two years. Much had changed in our lives since then, but conversation flowed as if I had seen him just last week.

Of course progress and chaos still have their hand in things. Just across the street from my friend's house, my old elementary school had been razed and rebuilt. Gone were the sprawling, one story buildings, replaced with a three story structure with interior hallways out of the rain. My high school across the street had also had a face lift, though it was at least recognizable.

Unfortunately, a couple of my friends' marriages are also being torn down, and they are still in the rubble stage. It is depressing, disheartening, and I don't wish that on anyone. Whatever is rebuilt in their place will be very different and may not be recognizable, but I can only hope that it is something strong and beautiful in its own way.

Rather unintentionally, I have ended up visiting several of my previous homes. After visiting Buzz and seeing the new elementary school, it was just another few minutes to the house I grew up in. It was strangely similar even after having gone through a period when it was used as a retirement home. While visiting another friend up north, I stopped by my house from when I was married. The bright red coat of paint still looked great, and only the car in the driveway gave away that it had changed hands.

Today I went for a walk around Green Lake with Tami. We talked about all that had changed and the struggles we were all having. Though the subjects have changed, the walk was familiar, as were several things around the neighborhood. The same woman was sitting at the end of the off ramp waving and asking for change, and there is still a block-sized crater just off the lake where a builder ran out of money years ago. Struggles continue.

As I was driving away, it dawned on me that I was only a few blocks from a house I had rented a decade ago. I lived there for a year or two, taking the place over after Matt and Holly moved back to San Diego. We all live together these days, but the Green Lake house was passed off like a baton on their way out of town. That house was my first rental with a backyard, and allowed me to adopt my pooch Sierra.

I stopped by to take a photo of the house both for myself and to send to Matt and Holly. When I pulled up, there was a family out front, letting their toddler and dog run around the yard. Not wanting to freak them out by taking a photo of their house, I introduced myself and mentioned that I had lived there previously. We got to talking, and it turns out they had moved up from San Diego only months before. We swapped stories about the house and my current town. The baton had been passed once more.

Nothing is completely stable, change is constant, the past is consistently being rewritten. But there are certain anchors that keep us tethered. My address has changed, and there are two places I call home, but family and friends are my anchors, and they keep me from drifting too far away.

December 19, 2011

The chaos and quiet of the season

Vacatons always feel busier than my normal life, and this one is no different.

The first part of vacation has been largely about seeing friends, and it feels like I haven't even had a chance to unpack or get any sleep. We were up past three in the morning at the sleepover party this weekend, getting in as much fun as possible, and for one night denying our age. There were a few surprise guests, and it was a great way to kick off the Christmas trip.

Speaking of packing, that has changed significantly over the years. I always over pack and that part hasn't changed, but what comes along sure has. I brought two bags for this trip, and one was almost entirely devoted to running. My duffel bag was stuffed with shoes, clothing, warmer clothing, gadgets, water bottles and food.

And all the cords, cords, cords (in my best Grinch voice). Cords to charge and cords to sync. Phone, camera, laptop, GPS, iPod, Kindle - they all need their juice and I am forever looking for an open outlet. I definitely do not unplug on vacation.

As a side note, one bonus of reading on the Kindle is that I can bring as many books as I like and not worry about space or that my suitcase will be overweight. The disadvantage is not being able to read on the plane during takeoff and landing when all electronic devices have to be shut off.

But there have been some unplugged moments as well. I have been out for a few runs in the mizzle, and I am headed up to the mountains to play a round of golf in a few minutes. I managed to forget my sunglasses, but so far that hasn't been an issue. I had forgotten how gray the winters here can get, but at least it looks like there won't be any snow this year.

While the first part of the week has been a rush to see as many people as possible, the second part should be a bit more relaxed as the focus switches to time with the family. It really is a fine mix of chaos and quiet, and it is almost as neatly separated as my luggage.

December 16, 2011

Home for the holidays

In reverse migration, I headed north for the winter.

I am up in Seattle to spend Christmas with my extended family, and see as many friends as the schedule allows.  Like I said last year, it is odd to leave where you live halfway through the season, but it is more difficult this year.

Unfortunately, Kristy was not able to make the trip, so we will be spending Christmas apart. We spent the preceding weekends decorating, shopping and enjoying the lights of Balboa Park, but I will miss spending the next week and Christmas Day with her.

As a special treat, Matt and Holly prepared a lovely going away/early Christmas dinner the day before I left. Kristy and I were able to spend a mini Christmas together with great friends. And they even sent me off with a gift that will be a hit at another gathering of friends up here.

Each Christmas season for more years than I can remember, many of my Washington friends have gathered for a sleepover party. It is an awesome combination of the warmth of the season, and the festive feeling of a New Year's celebration. The party goes late into the night, and most spend the night curled up in a sleeping bag wherever they can find floor space. The party has taken on new significance now that I live a thousand miles away. It am looking forward to seeing everyone and spending a long evening together.

I am fortunate to have so many good friends in two different places, but it of course makes it difficult to see everyone as often as I like. The large gatherings around Christmas time makes it that much easier to get it all in. I will see several friends at the sleepover, and I will get to see most of my extended family Christmas evening.

I didn't think I was going to be able to make it to Seattle for the holidays this year, but a special Santa came through for me. It was a wonderful gift, and I can't ask for much more than to be able to spend the holidays with family and friends.

Except of course to have San Diego and Seattle be an hour's drive away from each other.

December 13, 2011

Quote of the day

You can never change the past, but you can see it.
You can never see the future, but you can change it.

~ Charles Laquidara, former morning DJ on WBCN in Boston. Quote passed along by Phedippidations.

December 11, 2011

Maybe I'll look smarter

Time marches on.

I have grown a beard for the winter again. I do this most years as some sort of nod to the season. For a few years, I dyed it and my hair white for my Christmas Eve shift at work to get in the Santa spirit. I haven't worn a beard in a few years, and unfortunately I have discovered that there is less need to dye it white these days. It is still more red than not, but there is noticeably more gray this time around.

There is still plenty of hair up top, and I could lose a year or two by shaving off the beard, but I have marked another milestone to age this week.

I need glasses.

I have managed to avoid this for 44 years, but it is time. I think I am the last to wear glasses in my extended family, so I had a pretty good run against genetics. Similarly, I won't expect much sympathy from anyone, and I am sure I will hear "It's about time" more than once.

I have struggled with night vision for a number of years, so driving at night was always a little taxing. And the last few years, staring at a computer screen for more than an hour would leave my eyes strained and tired. But the thing that tipped me over was reading. I swear that print is getting smaller in magazines in an effort to save paper, but I can't deny that things have been getting blurrier.

I went in to get my eyes checked on Thursday. When they had me fill out the patient information, one of the questions was when I had my eyes checked last. Outside of getting my driver's license (which I passed only a year ago), it has probably been since high school. I was overdue.

The verdict - I have an astigmatism in each eye in need of four levels of correction, and my up close/reading vision is needs six levels of correction. And it turns out that my distance vision is also in need of some correction. Like I said, I was overdue.

So since I have multiple problems (understatement), I would need one set of glasses for reading and another for driving, and both would probably have to manage the astigmatism somehow. Or I jump right past regular glasses and head straight for progressives.

From what Kristy and Holly have been telling me (both work in the eyewear industry), adults who have never worn glasses have the most difficult time adapting - set in our ways, prone to whining, etc. Add to that the additional challenge of needing to look through different parts of the lenses in order to see...well I am in for an adjustment.

I am both dreading it and excited to get glasses. I need them most to read, but I really interested to see what it does for my long distance vision. It doesn't feel like I have much of an issue, as I can still see individual leaves rather than trees being big green blobs, but I may not know what I am missing. I am most looking forward to getting rid of the eye fatigue.

Now I just need to settle on a set of frames. This is no small task, but I am fortunate to have a couple of professionals ready to tell me what works/looks good. More to follow...

December 7, 2011

Quote of the day

“I have forced myself to contradict myself,
in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”
~ Marcel Duchamp

December 4, 2011

The runner's high

"People talk about the runner's high. The only runner's high that I've really felt is when I stop running."
~ Jerry Meyers in "Spirit of the Marathon"
The elusive runner's high. I am not sure I have experienced as other's have. It is generally described as a rush of endorphins that occurs when you have pushed your body to the limit. The body reacts, and the release of endorphins not only help negate the pain you are feeling, but can also give you a sense of happiness and well being.

I have pushed my body to the limit on more than one occasion. I have crossed finish lines in physical disarray where I was unsure I would be able to walk upright for much longer. But the runner's high has not shown up in these moments. And boy could I have used it a few months ago.

I have had experiences that feel like a runner's high, and it is often when I am out running, but it is almost exclusively triggered by my mind and not my body. There are times when I am plugging away and I imagine rounding a corner to see the finish line or a loved one, and a wave of happiness and well-being passes through me. I can feel it spread across my skin in a tingling sensation like sunlight on a cold day.

Though it is certainly more likely to happen when I am exercising, it is the thought, the vision, the imagined scene that seems to set it off rather than the effort. Most often the thought is triggered by music.

Yesterday I was out on a long run in preparation for my next marathon. I generally listen to podcasts, but lately I have been mixing in music. My pace always seems to pick up slightly when people stop talking and they start singing.

I don't spend a lot of time setting up playlists for each run, and have just been going through my song library alphabetically (backwards) plugging in four or five songs as musical breaks. Near mile 16 of my 17 mile run, "Closer to Fine" by the Indigo Girls came on. This is a longtime favorite and it picked me up. It was immediately followed by "City of Blinding Lights" by U2. And the high kicked in.

I have watched the coverage of the Ironman Championships for the last few years. You can not help but be inspired by watching these people go beyond what they thought was possible. There is a time limit to the race, and it is said that the last hour is when you see the most courageous people. Many of the pros who finished hours before, come back to watch the last competitors cross the line.

On NBC's 2006 Ironman presentation, "City of Blinding Lights" was played over a montage of weary finishers exaltedly completing the challenge, spent and forever changed. When I hear the song, I can not help but think of the joy and elation these people felt. And when I heard the song yesterday, a sense of joy passed through me in a wave of warmth and goosebumps, inspiring me to push onto the finish.

An additional connection that I did not make until now was that I was at mile 16 of 17, and those finishers are between the 16th and 17th hour to beat the cutoff. Hard to imagine.

But I found last week that I don't need to be pushed to the red to have that music triggered feeling happen. I was between mile one and two of the Turkey Trot when I passed by some speakers blasting the theme from Rocky. And damned if it didn't get to me, as cheesy as that sounds.

I have heard running compared to hitting yourself with a hammer - the only time if feels good is when you stop. Not true. Of course it feels great to finish, and it is much more difficult in the moment, but there are times when you can feel elation during the struggle. It is all in the power of the mind.

December 1, 2011

Quote of the day

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
~ Winston Churchill