December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

I hope it has been a wonderful Christmas season for you all. It went by so fast this year, not like when we were kids. I hope in the whirlwind you found some time to enjoy some music and all the small things that add up to so much.

A recent favorite

The pup's owners left some presents for the husky I am dog-sitting

Another non-traditional Christmas favorite

December 11, 2015

Ten years further (farther) down the road

It was one of those things that hit you as you are trying to fall asleep. When you are trying to shut down for the night, your brain has this habit of letting random thoughts pop in. It is usually frustrating, but at times a nice connection bubbles forth as your mind free associates pre-dream. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been at this running thing for more than ten years. It was actually ten years ago in February when I first laced up my shoes.

It all started more or less on a dare. Plans made over glasses of wine to someday take on a marathon, all from the starting point of not having run a step in years, if ever. I ran/walk/shuffled through a half mile run that February morning. It wasn't pretty, a little discouraging to be winded so quickly, but I kept at it. Three weeks later I ran my first event, the St Paddy's Day Dash, alongside a few other friends who had either thrown out the challenge, or stooped to pick up the gauntlet that had been thrown.

Running is generally a pretty solitary pursuit. Some run in groups, but I would guess some 95% of the miles are solo runs. Hitting the road alone after a day of work when the couch and TV tempts, sneaking off for an hour or more on the weekends when your family beakons. It doesn't feel lonely at all though. It is a time to clear your head and re-energize your mind. As the blood flow is diverted to the muscles in motion, it seems to take with it the garbage blocking the synapses in your brain. If you aren't completely focused on just getting your next foot in front of your last, you can get that free associating feeling normally reserved for when your head hits the pillow. You come back both spent and refreshed.

These solitary moments are a big part of running, but they frame some of the best experiences - running events. "What is the difference between a jogger and a runner? A racing bib." the old saying goes. All too simple as most old saws are. You can be a great runner without ever pinning a bib on, but I do think you are missing out on something.

For one, a finish line. There is something particularly satisfying, both emotionally and physically about taking that last step. A sense of relief, a feeling of accomplishment, the simple joy of completing something you set out to do. The reward for all those miles you put in, all those times you headed out when it was so much easier to stay inside.

While it is hard to beat the feeling at the finish line, there is definitely something magical about the start. One of my favorite quotes about running and running events is from the book "26.2 Marathon Stories" by Katherine Switzer and Roger Robinson
The prelude to a marathon is one of life’s strangest yet most vivid times.  It is a time of intensity yet relaxation, apprehension yet resolve; a time of deeply introspective solitude in the midst of the biggest jostling throng most of us will ever join.  So many people, intent on a separate inward commitment, but united in one common physical endeavor.  Our motive is private, the context public.  We are strangers who are instant comrades, competitors bonded by the shared knowledge that we are all about to undertake one of the hardest tasks in our lives.  Ahead lie strenuous effort, weariness, and pain, but we will endure it voluntarily, for the sheer enjoyment of trying.
Even before you take your first step, you are rewarded with the energy of all those around you. And though the road ahead will likely be difficult as you tap into all you have, to do your best, you know you are not alone in the pursuit. And as much as the finish line is a reward for your effort, this camaraderie is the reward for all those miles you ran alone.

I ran the Seattle Half Marathon a couple of weekends ago. This event was my first half marathon, and that first time was ten years ago. Both times I came in under-trained, though these days I have a base fitness that never seems to go away entirely (thank goodness). It turns out that even more important than the base fitness is the base belief in yourself that you can do it. All the miles not only trains your body, but it trains your mind as well. You develop a mental toughness by practicing not quitting, pushing through the discomfort and sometimes pain to keep moving forward.

In 2005, I ran the race alone. Well, not alone of course. I had a couple of thousand other runners keeping me company, but I didn't have anyone really to share the experience with. When I crossed that finish line, having run much farther than I had before, farther than I believed I could, I wept with joy and satisfaction. I broke down without reservation, and that may have been the first step toward feeling a part of something. To appear weak in a crowd of people and be proud and not ashamed.

Ten years later I headed to the start line with five others, four of us jammed hip to hip in the back seat on the drive in. Three were basically strangers, but it was race morning and all barriers were down amidst the nervous excitement. It was below freezing at the start, but it didn't dampen anyone's resolve. We would join in the battle together, and we would finish. We lost each other almost immediately after the gun went off, but we were joined by others, their drumbeat of foot strikes providing a rhythm to the morning.

I ran a solid race. The time was almost unimportant, though I found some satisfaction in the clock. I came in just under my goal time, and more satisfyingly, I ran the second, hillier half in just about the same time as the first. I found that hidden reservoir to keep pressing even as the road grew long (and steep). Afterward, when we had all crossed the line, we got to share in the victory, each understanding what the other had been through. Community through shared experience.

I still struggle to get out the doors some days, and there are often more ticks on the clock by the time I finish, but running still has power in my life. Power to detach, power to connect, power to challenge and power to succeed. The power to bring me closer to friend and stranger alike.

Ten years on, the finish line was (almost) as sweet.



Number one and number ten

November 28, 2015

On the road(s) again

While I was down in San Diego, along with reconnecting with friends, I wanted to reconnect with running as well. I needed a kickstart, and I thought sunshine and beachfront scenery would do the trick.

My first run was a nice pairing of the connections. I went for a run with the other Sean on one of his regular loops up in Oceanside. It was great chatting with him, though it was between my slightly labored huffing and puffing. It didn't help that it was the longest run I had been on in five months, or that we had spent the previous evening catching up over (several) beers.

Once I headed south to San Diego, I retraced some of my favorite routes over the next few days. I had picked a place steps away from the Mission Bay Loop, so running would as easy as stepping out the door. The loop around the whole bay is about fifteen miles, so I opted to only do the western half. The shorter seven miles was still pushing it for my current level of fitness, but the sun, surf and other fit bodies out running kept me pressing forward.

Over the next couple of days I ran up to Sunset Cliffs and then along the Mission Beach boardwalk. Getting back to regular exercise was of course part of the motivation, but running along those familiar paths again helped bring back all that was good about my time in San Diego. I found parts of myself I had neglected or forgotten in my time living there, and I found memory triggers of those feelings three years later in random places along the path.

Back at home, there is little sun or surf to tempt me outside, but it looks like I was able to bring a bit of that San Diego magic back with me. I have managed to get out eight times in the two weeks I have been back, so the habit is starting to feel ingrained once again. The half marathon scheduled for tomorrow also helped to add a little urgency to get my butt and feet back out on the road, but there seems to be more to it than that. I am starting to care again for this body I have been given. Though I am still struggling with the food aspect (especially during the holidays), when I am running regularly I start to look at food more as fuel than as a source of comfort, so hopefully that will begin to spill over.

In another moment this week, after returning from a lunchtime run, I walked over to the local coffee shop to grab some caffeine. Before even taking a sip, on the walk back I noticed the world seemed a little sharper, the colors a little brighter. An endorphin afterglow I suppose. Whatever it was, it felt like a veil lifting for just a moment to get a peek at what was on the other side, and confirmation that I have taken some positive steps down the right road.

November 11, 2015

A San Diego state of mind

I landed in San Diego on Thursday, and after finding my luggage that had arrived a day earlier, I hopped on the shuttle bus to the rental lot. I ended up with a basic Nissan coupe, with the most important features being great gas mileage and a place to plug in my iPod, as I would be on the road quite a bit. Though my new-to-me Honda is a noticeable improvement over the old truck, driving a new car highlights the fact that my "new" car is more than a decade old. New is just so tight, clean and appealing.

After getting my new wheels, I headed out of town immediately. I would be spending my first night in Oceanside seeing the "Other Sean" and his wonderful family, and the following night in LA visiting other friends and checking out the brewery they opened a year ago. The feeling started to sink in on the drive north to Oceanside, a feeling of warmth and peace. This was home for almost three years, so memories rushed back as I drove through a landscape so different from Washington. I found myself smiling behind the wheel, at least until traffic slowed to a crawl in huge backup.

This vacation is a bit different than most. It is both getting away and going home. As I have written before, I am blessed to have many friends that feel like family, and doubly blessed to have two places that have these anchors of friendship. I have been welcomed back and into homes like no time has passed, yet heard so many stories of what has changed over the three years since I have been away.

Outside of reconnecting with friends, I left the rest of the itinerary largely empty. There are no real tourist destinations to hit this time around. It is more about taking advantage of the vacation bubble and catching up and reconnecting with parts of my life that I have let drift away. A week unscripted seems both a lot of time to fill, and not nearly enough time to get it all done.

The last couple of days I have largely wandered. Most of the (intended) destinations were about being close to the water. Like so many, I am drawn to the shore for vast horizon, crashing surf, and the peace that those things bring. A visit to Dog Beach (sorry Disney, this is "The Happiest Place on Earth"), a run around Mission Bay, and a trip to Sunset Cliffs to watch the sun go down were on the list, but most everywhere I went a memory popped up.

Some were obvious like when I headed out to the old house and regular haunts, but others were decidedly random. Just bits of life relived three years later. I was on a run from Dog Beach up to Sunset Cliffs and back Monday morning. I passed by a set of low houses with shallow paved front areas. Hanging from the fence were sets of planter boxes. I recalled running by one of these houses in the middle of summer a few years back and a guy was out watering the plants baking in the sun. Seeing me approach, he lowered the hose so as not to splash me. Eleven miles into training run, I slowed to a walk and asked him to spray me down. He was happy to oblige, and we ended up chatting briefly before I pressed on. A moment lost in thousand others that I had forgotten about, but came back so clear when running past three years later.

I found some peace here three years ago, and I am here seeking it again, though on a much tighter time frame. It feels like leaving my schedule and time largely open will give me a chance to soak some of that San Diego vibe in random moments. The yoga at sunset, surfers heading out in the morning, and dogs romping in the surf throughout the day. Like California this year, I am need of a good soaking.

November 8, 2015

The Vacation Bubble

When I travel, it is not just an opportunity to get out of town, but also a chance to step away from life for a while. The daily chores and routines are left behind that door I locked behind me on the way out of town, and do not return until I do. I am pretty good at leaving the thoughts of work behind as well, and I tend to float along in this self-contained bubble. Even as I let in new places and experiences, the "real" world of home is kept outside the barrier.

The flight out is a great transition. You are pretty much forced to sit still. Thirty thousand feet in the air traveling 600 miles an hour, texts, emails and phone calls can't catch up to you. Well, at least they didn't used to be able to. Now you can have that wifi tether if you want to, but thankfully phone calls are still verboten. For me, the flight is the time to pull out that book that lately has been pushed aside for whatever is on Netflix.

It is as if the vacation bubble has a bit of helium to lighten the load of each step. As the days pass, life at home and all that it entails fades further from my consciousness. Shoulders relax, eyes brighten and the mind clears. I feel more present. I am sure this feeling is hardly unique. Take any animal out of their regular habitat, their senses are heightened to the new surroundings.

Inside the vacation bubble, everything looks brighter, and maybe even easier. As you acclimatize to the new world, maybe you start to let in a few bits and pieces from home. Holding them up to the vacation light, things start to look a bit dingy and worn. You start to fantasize about leaving it all behind and setting up shop to teach scuba to tourists or open up that beachside restaurant with the swim up bar.

It is the rare few that actually pull the trigger, though. And of course your vacation paradise is someone's everyday home. All of their daily chores and responsibilities are there, you just can't see them inside your bubble or behind their locked doors. Still, on two separate trips to San Diego, the bubble popped and triggers were pulled.

Returning from the first one some ten years ago, my wife and I went out to dinner before settling in back home. She wondered aloud what it would be like if we moved south. I thought it was just vacation glow that hadn't dimmed yet, but it turns out it wasn't. A few years later, she confided that she resented that we did not move, and later headed south on her own.

I took my own trip to San Diego not long after, and while there on vacation decided to make it my home for a spell. Of course I knew it would not live up to what it felt like inside the bubble, but even after a new set of chores and responsibilities arrived with the new home, some of that vacation feeling remained. The new surroundings, new friends, and lets be honest, the sunshine allowed me to see things in a new light. I had planned to stay for a year, and ended up staying for almost three.

As I head south this time for another visit, I plan to use this time in the bubble wisely. To reconnect with parts I have left behind, and to the love and friendship that remains in this vacation spot that became home. To see things in a new but familiar way, and to bring some of that light home with me.

November 4, 2015 Making me Wait.

Everyone needs a little time away.

A backlog of comp time expiring soon and a surprise bonus check at work meant I could head out of town for a while. I have been meaning to get down to San Diego for a visit since I moved back, yet somehow three years have slipped away.

I had vacation brain and short-timers disease this past week in anticipation. My body and brain have been cloudy lately, and I was really looking forward to having the warmth of sunshine and rekindled friendship burn away the mist. There always seems to be a thousand little things to take care of before leaving town, so that preoccupied my brain as well.

It didn't used to be this way. Vacation did not start until I locked the front door behind me, and thinking about it didn't start much earlier. It was like if I thought too much about it, it might vanish. I still don't pack until the night before, but I am a bit better at attending to those thousand little steps.

Still, when I got to the airport, it finally felt real. My vacations the last few years have been within an hour or two's drive, and the airport somehow feels like so much more possibility.. After passing through security (without needing to take off my coat or shoes thank you very much), I walked into the crowd of travelers with the wall of glass to the runways as a backdrop - and it got a little tingly.

I guess it has been while.

Unfortunately the reality of travel set in. There was a guy in San Diego barricaded in an apartment with a rifle taking shots at the police. The apartment was relatively close to the airport, and also in the flight path of arriving planes. The airport was shut down.

Initially our flight was delayed two hours. Then it was cancelled. Then I was re-booked on a flight seven hours later. Then that flight was cancelled. A long line later and I was re-re-booked on a flight the following morning. Rather than trying to find a way home and then back again early in the morning, I found a relatively cheap hotel near the airport. My luggage of course was still on the original plane, and being the out of practice traveler than I am, I hadn't stashed a change of clothes or toothbrush in my backpack. I did have two books, a magazine and a newspaper though, so, priorities.

The plan of the day was to get to town, stick my feet in the ocean, head north and meet some great friends for dinner. Instead, I walked along the highway to Denny's for dinner in forty degree weather, thankful that I wasn't wearing shorts like I usually do in anticipation of warmer destination weather (I got diverted to Denver on the way home from a cruise one year. Shorts, Hawaiian shirt, hat made of palm leaves - you get the picture).

Tomorrow we try again. Maybe the additional anticipation will make the airport even more tingly, the ocean more refreshing, and the meeting with friends that much more awesome..

November 1, 2015

The Sanctuary

It was a dark and stormy night...Sorry, couldn't resist.

A storm front has rolled into town this weekend, bringing high winds and warnings of flooding. Friday night I listened to what sounded like a downpour hitting the gravel drive, but it was really just the wind whipping through the tall pines surrounding The Sanctuary.

I moved into my new place in March. It is never a great idea to do anything time-consuming in the middle of tax season, but I could not let this opportunity slip by. Outside of one annoying thing, I was pretty happy at my old apartment. My lease was not up until the end of May, but this new place was something special. So special that it hasn't been advertised in years. You have to know a guy.

A buddy of mine was moving out of the place and asked if I wanted to take over. He in turn had moved in after a friend gave him the heads up that it was available. The house has been passed along almost like an inheritance. Not only is the place special enough to earn the moniker The Sanctuary, but the landladies are special in their own right. I think before the place gets passed down, the new person is evaluated on how they will treat the landladies as much as the house.

Well, house might be a bit misleading. It is more of a cottage. At something like 550 square feet, it is some 300 square feet smaller than my apartment was. It is not often that you need to downsize when moving from an apartment to a house, but there it is.

The cottage is downhill from the house where the landladies live. The mother (92 and still going strong) has been there since sometime in the 50s, and used to own the land all the way to the lake. At some point, they sold the waterfront section, but the old cottage remained. I think they rent it out mostly to cover the taxes these days. What used to be a sleepy suburb is now a booming town, and property values (and taxes) continue to rise as those 50s ramblers are knocked down for McMansions.

An opposite movement has been gaining traction with some - Tiny Houses. A pack rat by nature and nurture, I am surrounded by stuff like most people these days. For me, it is not new and shiny stuff, but more sentimental and broken stuff. The idea of a Tiny House, living cleaner and more simply, is one I would like to pursue.

I suppose this desire has been in the background for a while now. Henry David Thoreau's Walden and the PBS special "Alone in the Wilderness" have always had a place in my heart. To go off into the woods and live the slower and more attuned life. But one thing that has changed over the years is the need for contact. I have discovered that although I am pretty comfortable being on my own, it isn't the best thing for me. If I spend too much time by myself, walls come up and thoughts and navel-gazing get out of control. I need to be pulled outside of myself on a regular basis.

And the sanctuary seems to be the perfect next step. It is not exactly a Tiny House (generally under 320 square feet), but it is certainly small enough to make you reevaluate what you really need, and what is just excess baggage you have been carrying around. It is also a spin on that cabin in the woods. Surrounded by trees down a gravel road, it feels away from the world, yet downtown is a short two miles away. Secluded, yet connected.

In my apartment, I had to run a fan at night to provide some white noise to try and cover the creaking of my upstairs neighbor pacing the balsa wood floors at 3am. In The Sanctuary, there is less need for white noise, though nature was providing its fair share Friday night. One more benefit to having my own four walls is the ability to get something else that has been missing from my life.

A dog.

October 21, 2015

Keep looking UP

I watched UP this evening for the first time in years. For some reason, the Pixar movies are not on Netflix, so I hadn't been able to revisit them in my ever expanding queue. But then I thought, "To the Library!" Wall-E was first, and I need to get in line for the other wonderful cartoon adventures.

Being the social media butterfly that I am, I posted "First fifteen minutes of UP. Gets me every time." A friend commented not long after, "I don't watch that crap."

And it made me sad.

If you are one of the few that haven't seen the movie, the first fifteen minutes are the meeting, courtship, marriage, life and ultimately loss of a loving partner. The life between ages 10 and 70 is portrayed with no dialogue, and yet you completely understand the joy and then loss of love and companionship. The rest of the movie is still a fun romp, including a lovable dog that you can listen in on his thoughts. The dog portion alone would be enough to grab me, but nothing tugs at the heartstrings like the first fifteen minutes.

The reason the comment made me sad (and it is completely possible that I am reading too much into it) is that the person writing it has had a tough go at love. Many of us have. I have. I don't imagine the storybook running through the fields of flowers ideal, but somehow, I still hold out hope for that growing old together and looking back on a life well lived picture in the scrapbook.

Anyway, the odds can seem long at times, and it is entirely possible I will be that cranky old man in a run down house shouting at "progress", but I still hold out hope for the happy ending.

You know, the stuff of movies.

October 19, 2015

Trouble light

2015 has been a year of change. New home, new car (well, new to me), I started dating again, and I adopted a dog. Not all of it has worked out, and those stories will come later, but all in all change has been good.

So where exactly have I been? That is a good question and I am not exactly sure of the answer. I have felt very lost recently, and unfortunately that is not an entirely new feeling. I have battled depression on some level for as long as I can remember. It is not always sitting at the table with me, but it is always lurking in a corner asking me to greet the darkness again.

I was recently at my 30th high school reunion (another story on the docket). As I was ducking out a bit early, I ran into an acquaintance, if not a close friend. We chatted enthusiastically for a bit, and then she stopped me with a question seemingly out of nowhere.

"Are you happy?"

The question was so honest and direct, I did not stall or deflect. I took a breath and with a half smile I said:


A couple of recent mornings, I have walked out my door and a weight fell on me, wrapping itself around my chest. A feeling I can't quite describe welled up in me, and I felt like weeping there on the front porch. Though it had been a couple of hard weeks, I can't point to the trigger or thought behind the feeling. It just is. And I can't reason my way out of it. On some level, I feel like I should be able to, because again, life is generally good, can't complain, thanks for asking.

I was listening to a two part interview with a Dr. Kirk Parsley on a running podcast recently. He is a doctor, athlete and former Navy Seal who has focused his research on the importance of sleep. His point of view is that sleep is one of the four pillars of good health and performance, along with nutrition, physical activity and stress management. In an analogy, he describes a man driving into a shop to try and figure out why his car is driving so poorly. His suspicion is that it is a clogged fuel filter. The mechanic points out that he is driving with only three wheels, and maybe he should address that first.

We tend to focus on these small things, tweaking the air/fuel mixture, ignoring the sparks flying from the wheel-less rotor scraping the ground. Dr. Parsley goes so far as saying it is often pointless to try and make a medical diagnosis without first addressing these four pillars. He himself was diagnosed with ADD when in med school, and the symptoms line up almost perfectly with sleep deprivation. Sadly, it took him years to figure out that was the real problem.

Before I delve too deeply into why the darkness has returned, I am going to address these four pillars. Sleep was number one on the list. It has always been a problem for me, so it seemed the obvious starting point. I have been going to bed earlier and reading pages instead of screens. I still feel like crap most every morning, but I am trying to fix each tire in turn.

That said, I think writing again is a critical piece of the puzzle. I am re-reading George Sheehan's Running and Being, the Total Experience. I read it almost six years ago, and did not particularly enjoy it. To be fair, I was not in a good mental state when I read it. I had just moved in with my parents after selling my house as a result of my pending divorce. Some of his statements seemed all too black and white. I have never been a fan of absolutes, and I certainly wasn't when it felt like there was not much I could believe in.

Anyway, there is a quote early in the book:
"Sin is the failure to reach your potential. Guilt is the unlived life."
This is where a lot of my guilt comes from and is a significant part of the darkness. I don't wake up each day disappointed in myself, but there is certainly a baseline shame in what my life has become. Though logically I know outside forces and circumstances played some part, it is my own two hands I look at for my failure to make this life something special. To heed Thoreau's warning, I may just come to the end of this life and find I have not lived.

On a run tonight, and on another running podcast, a Friedrich Nietzsche quote struck a similar chord. Nietzsche believed that the central task of philosophy was to teach us how to ‘become who we are’, in other words, how to discover and be loyal to our highest potential.

I don't know if there is any great purpose in our lives, some certain thing we are destined for, but at the same time it feels like we each have something unique to contribute, and it would be a shame if the world did not get to share in it. I don't know that writing is my highest potential, but for now it feels like an important part of who I am, and a critical part of my way forward.

So before we pop the hood and start yanking on wires, we start with making sure those four tires are not only on the vehicle, but are fully inflated and have some tread on them. If the four pillars are in place, I will be able to think more clearly and make better decisions. Then we can start tweaking the finer points and see if there is something else that can shine a light in the darkness.

And we start here, pen to paper and bits to the ether. Decrease the words stuck in my head and maybe elevate them to some purpose.

January 29, 2015

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mom's birthday. Her 80th.


One of those nice round numbers that makes it mean something more. Every time you venture into another decade, somehow everything feels a little different, even if you are just 24 hours older than when you woke up the safe side of calendar marker. Imaginary or not, 40 does seem older than 39, 50 older than 49.

In our family there is this running theme started by one of my cousins, "you're not old until you're 80." It started with my grandmother, a woman who was not only the classic grandma to her family, but seemed to be this matronly anchor to friends as well. Not many people called her by her given name, Gladys, but more often by her family moniker, Nannie. Mom is now the matriarch of the extended family, and is "Aunt Bev" to most.

Time of course smooths out the edges on memory, mine especially, most of which seem to be clouded in movie flashback fog. Anyway, Nannie at 80 seemed much older than Mom at 80. Part of it is difference in scale of course. As a young kid, everyone seems so old. My parents were in their mid to late thirties when I was growing through my pre-teen years, and they seemed much older than I feel even now at 47. We are also living longer these days, and I think my Mom has been more active in trying to stay healthy, making 80 not what it used to be.

Still another part of it is lifestyle, and how you spend your time. In my head, Nannie stayed at home most of the time, though of course that probably isn't true. I am more tuned into what my Mom is up to. There is water aerobics, bridge and book club with friends, plays and the occasional opera with other friends, lectures at the UW, and of course their travel. I am happy to see her and my Dad (just a month shy of his own 80th birthday) doing those big trips to Europe that weren't feasible while raising four kids.

80 though.

Still hard to wrap my head around all that they have seen in that time. Beyond the whole string of historical events and technological advances, there are all the (not so) little day to day things like building a career, creating a home, raising a family, and doing right by friends, family and the world. Though we tend to look back at the "big" events when rewinding a life, it is those million tiny moments that make up who you are and where you have been. And growing up, there were few big lectures about being a good person, just a thousand little demonstrations on how to be one.

I am eternally grateful for my family, and most of all for you Mom. I am blessed to be able to spend the big days and random Tuesdays at the dinner table with you and Dad. Mostly, though, I am just so happy that you both are still off discovering new lands and building a life when you've supposedly reached "old."

I think the notion that 80 is when you become old is being re-written. By you two.

Happy birthday Mom.

Love always,