November 28, 2013


Standing at my front door, fumbling for keys after a wonderful evening, I look down at the cooler at my feet. It is old, stained, and creeks loudly when it is opened. It is mine, but not really. It is a relic of family, and that is some of what Thanksgiving is about.

I showed up at my brother and sister-in-law's house, cooler in hand, stocked with a variety of microbrews. As a single guy, I am (rightly, generally) relegated to bringing beer and ice to parties. My sister in law asked that I bring the beer, and the last couple of years geeking out on beer knowledge has finally become useful. I spent a good half hour at Total Wine picking out beers of different types, beers that were interesting, but not so obscure that they would be intimidating or confusing.

The cooler belonged to my former father in law. Though the beer that I filled it with today may have been worth more than the cooler, and the cooler itself has certainly seen better days, I have seen no reason to replace it. Part of it may be the tenuous connection to a man I barely knew, but respected, but it is mostly because it still works and there is no reason to throw it away. Knowing what little I know about the man, I think he would respect me for either reason.

The top is stained with two rust marks, but they do not leave a clear picture of what was put away wet and left after one of his trips. He was a man who worked with his hands, and it could have been any number of tools, or simply a scattering of lead weights. The cooler itself probably held very little beer in its former life, and was more likely filled with fish. He may have even made use of the measuring sticks stamped in the lid to verify if the catch was legal, in both Imperial and Metric gradations.

Like so many others in my life, I wish I had grown to know him more, that I had pressed against the relationship resistance. I am so surely blessed with the family that I have, but the ones I have lost make me pause on this day of thanksgiving. My older brother and I spent twenty minutes working on his garbage disposal that had been jammed with some fragment of metal during the meal preparation. There is that part of me that misses working with my hands, fixing things that need to be fixed, and wishes I had shared that one commonality I had with Fred when I had the chance.

Today is a day of giving thanks, not dwelling on regret. I am thankful for my amazing family and my wonderful friends, and I am thankful for those strange moments, looking at coolers, that remind me of how I want to do better in the future.

November 27, 2013

Winter warmth

I still have a couple weeks of comp time built up from the tax season(s), so I made a three day work week into a two day work week. Extra time to be thankful I say. I pushed the alarm clock to 8:00am, and was frustrated to wake up at 7:00. It didn't seem like I was going to be able to fall back asleep, but somehow five minutes later the alarm went off. Success!

During the three years down in San Diego, I transitioned to running primarily in the mornings to avoid the heat. Back in Washington, and with a job that started at an earlier hour, I shifted back to running in the evenings. With the shorter daylight hours lately though, it has been difficult to get out. I am not training for anything specific these days, but I want to keep moving to avoid digging too deep a hole to climb out of in the spring, and also to counteract the holiday stuffing. Without a race on the horizon, it is much easier to skip a run, but I laced up my shoes this morning and headed out.

I ran my normal path along the Sammamish trail. The proximity to the trail was definitely a factor when I was apartment shopping, and it is really a blessing to have miles and miles of traffic-free roads to run. Though it was a weekday morning, I expected more people on the path, extending the holiday week as I had. The path has never been this empty, so it was mostly just me and the wildlife. Before I even reached the trail, a crow flew across my path, a full piece of wheat bread in its beak. It alighted on a concrete pillar, probably just out of my reach, but it eyed me suspiciously as I passed. I told him, "nice score" as he waited to tuck into breakfast. Seagulls circled, birds chirped, squirrels darted, and I ran.

There is something different in winter sunlight. It illuminates things in a more focused way, exposing different colors and shadowy textures. I suppose it is mostly the lower angle of the sun, but I think it is also the contrast of bright sunlight against a cold day. The fall colors on the hillsides come alive as if they were aflame, and spaces under concrete overpasses seem luminescent rather than shaded in darkness. If light could play across the steam of your breath hitting the cold air, it would put to shame the twinkling lights of Christmas.

It has been cold lately. Of course it is only "Seattle cold" and not "Minnesota cold", but it was still in the 20s for several nights. Another bonus for my apartment choice was an underground parking space. Not that my truck needs the protection, but it was a designated spot I knew would always be empty. I briefly thought about the winter benefits, but they didn't stick in the brain when I moved in July. Driving down the hill past all the iced over cars this past week made me extra thankful to not have to scrape windows every morning. The disadvantage of the apartment is that is on a hillside, however, and I am not sure if I will be able to make it out when it gets truly icy and snowy.

I came home late last night, looking forward to the extended Thanksgiving weekend. As I rounded the corner halfway up the hill, I saw the manager's office decorated and lit up in Christmas lights. The Christmas creep into Thanksgiving and even Halloween bugs me, but rather rail against it coming too early, I just enjoyed the light in the cold darkness.

Tomorrow officially begins the holiday season. My wish is that we all feel warmth in the cold, light in the darkness, and that we see magic hidden in the shadows.

November 25, 2013

Quiet time

It is a strange, wonderful, lonely experience to come home to an empty house.

After the wife and house went on to live their new stories with a different set of characters, I have lived with others, metaphorically sleeping on someone else's couch for the last three or four years. Great strides were made, and setbacks were had in the meantime, but it never really felt like I had truly found my feet and started life anew.

I moved into my own place at the start of the summer. Beyond the last few years of living under someone else's roof, I had not lived alone for fifteen or twenty years. On the one hand, I longed to set up my own camp, cook in my own kitchen, have the mess or cleanliness be mine, but I also wondered what it would be like to be left entirely to my own devices. Though people may not actually put expectations on you, their presence nonetheless acts as a monitoring or filtering device. What would it be like with no one to consider or watch over.

I have found that now living alone, the battle against slipping into bad habits is more difficult. I'll have that larger helping of food, a second beer, or call chips and humus a meal with no one else around. Maybe I veg out to a marathon of Pysch episodes instead of shutting it off after an hour and reading a book. Since alone time is mine to be had, there is less of a push to go out and say go for a walk or hide out in a coffee shop where writing seems more likely.

I have actually been doing some writing, though nothing has appeared here in quite some time. I started the NaNoWriMo challenge on November 1st, and it felt like if I were to be writing, I needed to focus on that. Well, I am not going to make it to 50,000 words, so I feel safe to "waste" a few words here. I am only about half way at this point, but I will press on even as the deadline goes whishing by me this Saturday. The point of the exercise was to get me back in the habit and mindset, and I will call it at least half successful. The habit is still spotty, but the light in my eyes is flickering more regularly.

I have always been pretty comfortable on my own, but I have become less so in the past few years, and I think that is a good thing. I am glad to finally get started again with a place I can call my own, but I do miss the random conversations that come from living with others. It is funny how someone you haven't seen in a few weeks will ask you how you've been, and what's been going on, and you can come up blank. All the details fade into the background that is your daily life. But a daily conversation with someone at home, and you share the little tidbits that may not seem important a day later, but made for a good story that night.

And of course I still miss Sierra. She wasn't much of a conversationalist, but she was a wonderful presence and beacon of love. I went for a bike ride last Sunday, and I swear every whitish yellow lab was out for a walk. Each one made me smile, and reminded me of what a special thing it is to have a dog in your life. There will never be another Sierra, but there will be another dog someday. I don't know that I am ready just yet, but since my apartment doesn't allow them, the decision is at least delayed until next summer. Cats are allowed here, and I will admit that thought has crossed my mind.

Summer was pretty busy with big biking events, the annual family trip to eastern Washington, a hiking adventure and the run around Chicago. For the first few months it felt like I was hardly home (that is my excuse for still having unpacked boxes stashed in the den). Work filled up some weekends through September and October as well, so for several months it felt like I was just home to sleep, shower and change.

Now things have slowed dramatically, and life has been pretty quiet this past month. The days are shorter and the freezing temperatures have kept me indoors, looking at the growing list of projects that were left for another day. The silence of the house is more noticeable without all the activity of summer, and the cold seems to creep in and it can be hard to shake the chill.

I am happy to say the quiet house and calendar has encouraged me out in a different way now, and I have kept up on the group bike rides the past few weekends - new places, and new faces. And the holidays are on the horizon, and the weekends will fill up with all that is wonderful in family and friends. Then it is on to another tax season in the new year, and the weekends will be filled with a different sort of craziness.

I relish the peace, but look forward to a little noise now and then.

November 10, 2013


I had this past week off from work. It wasn't planned in advance, so it ended up being a "Staycation". Basically, the boss said that I had too much comp time built up, and that I needed to start taking time off before the end of the year.

I certainly had plenty to do, and I ended up getting several things checked off the list, but ultimately it felt a bit like a wasted week. Chores were done, beer was brewed and bottled, health care was researched, and boxes were torn through, but at the end of the week, I didn't feel like I had a good "what I did this summer" report to give.

The timing was actually fortuitous as it was the first week of NaNoWriMo. My friend Sean encouraged me to get back out there and take on the challenge once again. It is obvious to everyone that there hasn't been a whole lot o' writing going on here (or anywhere), so though it had been tugging at my brain, I really wasn't planning on committing to the 50,000 word challenge again this year. But in the week leading up to November 1st, the writing brain was reawakened, and I liked how it felt. I don't know that what I am working on currently will go anywhere, but it is great to be putting metaphorical pen to paper once again.

Then my laptop died.

I was writing in the local Starbucks (my other office) when the screen froze. Then I froze. When was the last time I hit save? I took a picture of the screen to at least capture a paragraph or two, and then rebooted. Then it happened several more times, and I basically gave up for the day. Soon, instead of just a frozen screen, I was getting this:

Now, I know that I am looking for excuses at this point. It is so easy to find them when the task is difficult. I could start writing things out on paper, but of course the word count is much easier to keep track of in trusty old Word. I do have a desktop computer, though it is sitting on top of the tv, being used only for watching programs on Hulu. There is always the library, or using the computer at work on off hours. Options abound, but it doesn't take much to derail the creative process of a procrastinator.

This weekend it started to feel like I was making use of my time off. On Saturday, I got in a 6 mile run, then went to a SIFF film festival featuring award winning short films. The draw was a film called "Sleeping with Siri", produced by Marty Riemer and Michael Stusser, who I listen to on a weekly podcast. The film is about how our constant use and dependence on technology is warping how we think and perceive our world. As a reaffirmation, Google Maps led me to the wrong place and I was nearly late to the show. And then of course, my laptop died.

Today, I signed up on a Cascade bike ride, and rode new roads with new people. I have felt kind of shut off this week, so it was nice to get out and conquer a not so solo task. Afterward, I stopped off at a local brewery to catch the end of the Seahawks game, and randomly ran into great friends I hadn't seen in too long a time. It was great to feel this reconnection and presence throughout the day.

There was a moment on today's bike ride where I found myself veering toward the edge of the road where the pavement had broken away. The dangerous spot was highlighted with white paint, and my wheel naturally turned into the gap. This is a lesson in biking, that we tend to naturally steer toward what we are looking at. If we see an obstacle in our path, our eyes lock on it, and we head right for it even though that is exactly what we are trying to avoid. It takes conscious effort to look to the safe path, but once we do, we tend to steer toward it.

I have plenty of obstacles, real and imagined, getting in the way of writing, but there is always a path around them. It just takes focusing on the right thing. I am currently about 6,500 words behind on my goal, when I should have been far ahead with all this time off. A busted laptop and other hurdles will make it tough to catch up, but if I don't make it, it will be because I listened to those dark voices telling me I couldn't, that what I was writing was not worth putting down. I will have steered into the obstacles instead of the open road before me.

So I cleared off the sofa table, drug it in front of the tv/computer and banged out this bit of writing. Eight or nine hundred words that should have been put toward a new novel, but there is always tomorrow. I am best when cramming for finals, and sliding in just beating the tag makes for a better story.