Six And Thalatha Wa Khamsin

Well, it's been awhile between posts, but I have a good reason.

First off, today marks six years at my current job. I'll always remember that week because there was hardly anyone around to give me guidance as to what I needed to do as a new hire.

Secondly, and related to the first event, I've recently come back from a 53 (ثلاثة و خمسون, or thalatha wa khamsin in English script (and don't quote me on my attempt at spelling it either)) day work-related stint in Damascus, Syria to help process refugees.

I will be writing on my experiences soon, but most likely on a separate blog, so if you're interested, stay tuned for more details.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is gearing for a terrific 2009 for themselves.


Up In The Sky Sometime

I walked last night
Should say I wandered
I saw the galaxies
And so I pondered

How I would love to roam there, up there
Up in the sky sometime
"Up In The Sky Sometime" - Jonathan Richman

The Big Dipper, distinct in form, glittered into my sweaty eyes on a still and warmish autumn night amidst a set of burpees.

Wow, that sentence sounds like a candidate for submission to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

But really, the fanciest gym couldn't beat the sight of bedazzling stars dancing around in the black sea above me.

I loved astronomy as a kid, learning the basics about the world of stars before my ever-shifting interests went on to other things like airplanes and stamp collecting. Maybe this is where my scientific mind truly outshone my artistic mind. I really dug the concrete stuff like the life-cycle of a star, the heat at which stars burned and the corresponding colors, the chemistry that allowed stars to function, and so far.

On the other hand, the constellations stumped me for the most part. I checked out books from the library that cataloged the constellations to try to figure it all out. Some were easy enough - Orion, the two Dippers, and Cassiopeia - while others escaped my mind completely.

And even then, the Dippers are part of Ursa Major & Ursa Minor - the Big and Little Bear. How someone got bears out of those particular masses of stars I will never know.

But maybe trying to figure out the sky from someone else's POV is a fool's errand. If you really think about it, anyone can create their own constellations out of the hundreds of stars in the sky above. Many perform that same exercise with clouds as they float on overhead on a day where you probably have better things to do but couldn't imagine doing them for the next half-hour or so. So why not the stars?

As I glanced toward the south, I spotted in the stars the runner, both feet elevated off the ground as they stretched for the finish line.

Then I completed my last burpee set. I think someone glancing down from a neighbor's window at me might have thought I was completely nuts by then.


Dolores For Assembly

Capitalism in downfall (the successes are sometimes touted, but the failures are almost always noted) stood brightly on display in the neon-colored clearance signs, screaming 30-60% off of everything in the store (with the requisite "No Refunds" disclaimer.) For this corporate retail store, this particular location no longer brought in the greenbacks, and was closing its doors for good, or at least until the next tenant set up residence.

Clerks tended to the growing throng of customers looking for a good bargain or three. Not many seemed to be smiling, save for the occasional consumer who found a wanted item for a never dreamed about price.

I had made my purchase for the day, garnering a necklace for a niece for her birthday. On the way out, there was Dolores.

Her jubilant face belied her hunched back and the wheeled walker, decked out with a U.S. flag, her purse, and other accessories, which she grasped for support as she ambled forth . I stood my ground as she glanced my way behind her wire spectacles and moved toward me.

"How are you doing, son?" she said jovially, as she slowly stretched her hand. Her handshake was firm and strong, again defying external appearances.

"My name is Dolores and I'm running for mayor of this city." Her smile radiated determination and sincerity. "I sure hope you will vote for me." "Sure thing," I responded, as I nodded my head and smiled back - it would be impossible for anyone not to, in my mind - as she took leave of me and headed deeper into bargain mania.

Alas, I couldn't vote for you for mayor, Dolores, as I don't live in the city where you live.

On the other hand, state officials in the legislature have done little to impress me this year, and the budget, already infested by a recent trend of tardiness past the mandated deadline, was made simply intolerable in my opinion by going almost three months overdue this year.

Thus, Dolores, you earned a promotion - I hope you like state office, because I threw a vote for you there.


Just In Case You Were Wondering...

In my blog post three months ago, I posted some close-up pictures of some objects I happened upon on a wandering kind of day.

I figured it was about time to let anyone who ventured a guess in private or in comment what those pictures are (just highlight the text below - I'll give those of you a chance who haven't looked at the pics yet a second chance to give a quick glance...)

Blue Glob - Exercise ball (yes, with little spikey things)
Hexagons - Rack of Barbells
Patterned Dots - Truncated Dome Warning Strip (found on sidewalks; interesting thing about this pic - depending on how you look at it, those domes can appear as depressions)
Green Circle - Patio Table (outside coffee store)
Wooden-looking Object - Park Bench
White Dots - Box of Cotton Swabs


The Need For Speed

In the athletic realm of things, I know I'm not supposed to compare myself to others for a particular discipline.

With my favorite past time that is running, that really has never been an issue. My goal has always been to see how far I could really progress. It helped that there were always signs of progress during those formative years.

With swimming, however, it's been a whole other matter. I can't help and stare in amazement at folks in other lanes, and how easy they glide through the wake, skimming over the surface of the water effortlessly.

One swimmer I've seen lately sports an Escape From Alcatraz cap as he works out. I think he's probably seen me stare at him at times, and if he has, it's not because of jealousy, but because I keep saying, "Damn, he makes it look easy." Compared to the other elite folk who compete in that event, he may be a back of the pack person for all I know, but he looks plenty fast to me.

I've been doing a lot of form work for awhile, trying to perfect it as best I can sans the a coach's watchful eye, and my swim times have improved up to a point. But now I guess I have to take the axiom I've heard from others that really seems so simple to heart - to get fast in the water, you have to swim fast, which means lots of interval work.

Yikes! I'm suspecting I'll be needing a lot of shoulder & upper back massages next year, because that seems to be the next step.


Emerging From The Mush

I think it's fading now.

For the past few months, I've been going through a serious case of what I call mushbrain.

My focus has gone to heck.

I've seen my emotions sway from complete coolness to something close to frenzied hysteria.

My normal hyper-tangential, multi-tasking mind, has had a numbing dullness from which I could not seem to break.

An online acquaintance of mine suggested that my surgery had thrown my body chemistry out of whack. Obviously, I'll never be sure what's been happening the past few months, but I suspect she's 100% correct (and I thank her for her insight...merci!)

A good sign of this was my run a couple days ago. When I was able to run post-bone marrow donation and post-wisdom tooth extraction (oh, yeah - three of those nasty molars, out of there!), I could barely concentrate on anything but putting one foot in front of the other.

On this run, I noticed the wind rustling through the leaves on the trees. As I passed the wetlands, the bird calls seemed to echo around me, as if they were making final preparations for a long journey...perhaps a journey to warmer climes to the south? It was as if the fingers of fall were starting to take hold of the land around me.

Today, those fingers were nowhere to be found. The local Indian summer season had set up camp, perhaps causing the members of the Pop Warner football team some unwanted discomfort, but otherwise a welcome visitor to summer-clothing-clad residents enjoying a walk with their pets, or tossing a football with family members in the street.

I suspect I have big globs of mush to wash away still, but the light is at the end of the tunnel. Crossing my fingers, of course...


Oh, Hi, Five-O

Some people think of 30 as their first big age of reckoning. For others, 40 might be that age.

I've barely crept over the latter number, but Saturday was my first encounter with the big 5-0.

Strolling over to the start line for a local 5K race I had signed up, I began thinking of my next birthday, which isn't really too far away at this point. Historically, I haven't paid too much attention to the day in the past nor have I bothered to celebrate or dread them in particular.

My mind mulled over how I might spend this particular year's encounter with this event, when suddenly a notion I had never ever considered flashed from out of nowhere - looking at the big picture, I'm not really that far removed from fifty.

That notion brought a whole flurry of nano-thoughts and nano-questions that peskily flew around my brain like mosquitoes circling around a porch light during the dusk of a warm summer day. I turned my head as to avert my gaze and glanced at the car parked next to me on the driveway.

Eerily, the car's license plate ended with the numerals 5-0.

After staring warily at that vision for a few moments, my mind reverted back to pre-running race mode. Fifty years of age is still a long time off, or so I convinced myself. Besides, I had fifty hectometers of running to deal with and it was 8:50 in the morning, which meant I had 10 minutes to get to the start line.


Tethers and Confessions

I have a confession to make - I'm really don't have a cell phone.

Well, I do actually. But I sure act like I don't have one...quite a bit, actually. Often times, it's turned off and resting on top of a drawer, or perhaps in the bento box on my bicycle, for days at a time.

A cell phone was a compromise to some actually sage advice. I resisted signing up for a cell phone for the longest time, but my parents insisted I should have one for emergency purposes. I finally relented and added one to my possessions.

It's not like I haven't used the phone to text or talk to friends, family, etc. I guess it's just not ingrained in me that it's a absolute need to check the thing every hour, much less every day, for better or worse.

This cell phone mentality I think derived to how I have historically felt about wearing a watch. Generally, I haven't felt the need nor the want to wear a watch.

This leads me to another confession - my mom gave me a very nice watch as a graduation present. Oh, nothing that's truly a collectible or anything - just an upper-end Seiko. To this day, it still sits somewhere among my possessions, resting in its original case, never having seen the outside light of day.

Nowadays, I do wear a watch, but for utilitarian purposes. My Timex Ironman is almost always with me - you never know when an outdoor run might happen, and I like to keep some record of how long the run was.

But even here, I have a third confession. A fair number of runs I've logged in the past have been guesstimates in terms of time, though this is admittedly a rarity these days. Some argue that a run in its truest and purest essence is one where you head wherever you feel like and for however long you want. It is those types of runs that tend to act as a salve to the soul or uplift the heart or work out some frustration; a watch in these cases is at best a secondary consideration and in reality, probably unnecessary.

Recently a question was posed to my running group about what zodiac sign I was. One supposed quality associated with my sign was a tendency to roam, and this fits me to a tee. Maybe part of being a roamer is a natural allergy to technological tethers like a watch or a cell phone. Even on the Internet, which is the closest thing to a technological tether for me, inherently built-in is the ability visit multiple-millions of different websites covering a plethora of information in a myriad of forms.

As far as my cell-phone-itis, maybe someone will loan me an iPhone to test drive for a couple of years, where I'd be open to reconsideration of this I guess somewhat odd stance of mine. But even if that outlandish scenario came to fruition, I'd probably at least give some passing thought to turning the offer down.



Don't know if this is nothing more than just one of those little quirks one picks up or it has deeper meaning, but it's something I've noticed lately whenever I've bought a coffee.

If the store has wooden stirrers available, I will go out of my way to find those that are warped or broken to stir up my coffee.

Kinda' hard to feel badly for an inanimate object, but maybe deep down I'm figuring if I don't make any use of these misshapen sticks, no one else will.


Bend It Like Back, Man

Sloth was the theme on Saturday, which turned out to be love/hate relationship. I badly needed the rest, but for someone who's used to being physically active, it was anathema to the system.

Sunday I made up for it with about 4 miles of walking spread out over an afternoon. It felt good, even if the surroundings (suburban mall central) weren't the most scintillating.

Close to the end of the day, I ended up walking out of the parking lot next to the COPIA Gardens. On a late Sunday, the parking lot was pretty much empty. Every parking space row was bracketed by concrete islands containing trellises with grapes of unknown variety in full bloom .

Nearing the street where my car was parked, I spotted a soccer ball in the grass next to the sidewalk. It seemed an odd place for someone to leave such a thing, not that it was in the best of shape (it could have used a few good thrusts of the air pump) nor the most expensive in its category (the typical black multi-sided shapes were painted as opposed to embossed onto the surface.)

I'm a crappy soccer player. Most any single-digit-aged kid in your typical soccer league could whip my ass dribbling the ball down the field.

But hey, I had an empty parking lot, a slightly flattened soccer ball, and only a few immovable islands and grapevines to give me any resistance. Who couldn't resist dribbling the ball around the lot for a revolution or two?

At the end, I was reminded that I'm still in recovery. My back area where the extraction had taken place 10 days prior was feeling just a little bit sore. I was breathing a little bit hard. But I was feeling quite a bit alive.

I put the ball back where I found it behind that clump of grass. I figured someone else needed to be lucky enough to find one of the best and most simple of treasures.


And Now For Something Completely Different...

Because life can't be always too serious, here's what happens when James Cameron, Bill Paxton, Judge Reinhold, and a few other semi-famous stars have a whack at a wacky music video


Four Days Later

I hinted at it in an earlier post, but my last three months have been quite the blur. Actually, it's something that has been about two years in the making, and all the nitty-gritty details can be found here at this little posting I made on a running forum I frequent.

I'm now into my fourth day of recovery. Physically, I'm progressing just fine; the various aches and pains that were prominent the first couple of days are slowly fading away. My energy levels are still all over the place though. I've had a fair share of lightheadedness after getting up too fast from a seated position. Also, other things you wouldn't normally think of have their effect; today, a mere ten minutes out in high-eighties temperatures was a lot more draining than I would've thought.

I didn't think too much about the mental aspect though, but that little detail finally made itself known just a couple hours ago. I had recently bought a book detailing the experiences of people who've done ironman-distance triathlons. I've been battling nagging injuries for over half-a-year even before the harvest, and I figured it would be perfect inspiration for me to restart my training once I get back up to speed in a couple weeks. Doing an ironman distance triathlon is a bit out there in terms of my current levels of ability, but deep down that would be personally incredible to experience, even if only just once.

I popped open the book and read the first couple of stories. All the right stuff was there to be grasped for inspiration - pathos, whimsy, overcoming difficult circumstances, and so on. But after only a few minutes I put the book down, completely detached. It was odd to experience, especially knowing stories such as these would normally get my juices flowing.

I pondered it for a bit, then realized that my personal emotional tank had reached the proverbial "E" on the gauge. And considering the month I had prior to the procedure as well as the ramifications of the procedure itself, that's really not too surprising I guess.

However, I'm betting the same salve for my physical healing is applicable to the mental, and that salve is a simple four letter word.


And now that I think about it, it's time to get some sleep. Tomorrow's a new day, as they say...


The Little Things

It's easy to overlook the little things.

Sometimes they can get in the way of the bigger, more important things.

But other times, they can provide a little haven of sorts, as they have lately for me.

And often times, a lot of smaller things can add up to a bigger, really important thing.

Here's some visuals of some of those smaller things - recognize any of them?

Kudos to you if you can figure out all six. And special thanks to a childhood favorite, Games Magazine, for getting me and my crappy digital camera some inspiration yesterday...



Double-ought numbers ruled the day today.

700, as in the number of fires dotting the landscape of my home state here of California as of the time of this posting. The smoke lingers and builds, having no incentive nor any push to leave. The sun struggles to pierce this layer, and often looks more like a laser pointer in a dimly-lit classroom than the light-bearing and life-giving celestial body it normally is.

500, as in the number of cc's of blood for re-tranfusion that I donated to myself for my upcoming marrow harvest next week. Compared to be first time when I donated blood, the actual drawing went a lot more quickly, thanks to the good efforts of the staff. And in this case, the side effects of a running lifestyle (low heart rate) thankfully didn't throw a wrench into this donation; I had tried to donate after the first time but too low a heart rate and blood pressure sabotaged those attempts.

300, as in seconds I got to interact in person with M and B. That figure still might be overestimating it some, but even in spite of that mere sliver of time of personal interaction, I still feel sad that they won't be doing...

100, as in the Western States 100 Mile Race this weekend. The sheer omnipresence of the previously mentioned fires has canceled one of the biggest events in the ultra-running world. Both M and B were going to be first-time participants to this marquee event, and their disappointment that the hard work they've put in the past few months has essentially been trumped by the power of nature gone amok must be incredibly palpable.

200, as in miles I've eked out of my current tank of gasoline. I've been in the midst of an experiment to see how much extra gas mileage I can get out of my car by basically driving more smartly. So far so good, as I still have over half-a-tank left, and by informal calculations, I'm set to get around 10 more mpg than the original EPA estimates on my car.


Extractions And Distractions

I haven’t thought much if at all about the big day in roughly a week or so, but I find now it’s creeping into my head, slowly but inexorably.

When I have thought about the day, it has always been in an objective and somewhat disconnected view. Bone marrow extraction is a relatively trouble-free and uncomplicated procedure, from all I’ve been told and all I’ve read. There can be a bit of a recovery period, but with some good luck, I’ll be below the median on the bell curve. And in thinking about the recipient, you gauge the chances for ultimate success and remission.

Of course there’s the negative, the dreaded “what if” - you have to take that into consideration regardless. This is hardly the run-of-the-mill “paper or plastic” type of decision by any means.

During those moments I have thought about that day, I’ve viewed it somewhat similarly to how I view a running race, as I’m toeing the line waiting for the starting gun to fire. Similar to my of thinking about this procedure, I have a somewhat disconnected yet objective view of the race to be - general notions of pace, weather considerations, the locations of aid stations, my level of training prior and other particulars.

In truth, I really don’t know what’s going to happen until I have made the needed steps to reach the finish line, the end point. And that seems true for almost everything in life - each event has its own unique experience and has its own unique outcome.

Like the run race, I find there’s no sense dwelling on the negative here. I just look forward and try to embrace the most positive result possible. Of course, there is much more on the line here than mere personal best times or missing a mile marker to record a split. This could be a life changer.

And God willing, it will be, and in a very, very GOOD way...


Poker Face

I have been using public transit and carpools for the last five-plus years as a matter of convenience and pocketbook friendliness (transit subsidies as job benefits are always appreciated.) But as gasoline starts reaching the $4.50 level in many parts of this area, many more formerly car-bound people have been forced to brave the pitfalls that I've grown accustomed to all this time.

The temperature hovered in the high-90s when I boarded the bus today. I knew it would be crowded; the previous bus driver decided to break the timed transit protocol with the local BART train and sped away as we ran for the bus stop. This meant this next bus would be taking on our stranded behinds plus the typical next three train loads minimum.

A so-called "Spare The Air" day had also been declared for the area. This meant the final installment of free rides for many of the transit agencies here, and who can't resist the allure of a free ride these days? This added more people to the already crowded mix.

This bus ride would be a doozy, judging from the overalls-clad man sweating and smoking up a nice waft of swirling toxicity that might be rivaled by the nearby Chevron refinery on a good (or should that be bad) day.

Not that any of us "normal" clothes-clad types were fresh-smelling either. A huge dose of "Hai Karate" cologne may not be more preferable, but I figured it would down to the bottom of the ninth with a two-strike count before one or the other choice won out in the olfactory department.

I got on pretty quickly and started to nap. It wouldn't be that bad if I could get some alpha and maybe even a few theta waves going in my cerebral cortex.

And then it happened. *POKE*

I had figured out with my eyes closed that the seats had been re-adjusted to accommodate the final passengers for that trip, which included a mother and her two kids. Yes, it was one of those youngsters driving his finger right in the center of the back of my head. I guess I knew now what seats they had...


This one was more situated on the right shoulder, closest to the window. "Oh oh," I thought as I tried to refocus on my

*POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE* The fusillade that was the finger came furiously now, slowly ascending from my shoulder up my trapezius to my fun, floppy earlobe.

"Sit back, stop bothering him!" I heard the mother admonish her child, but she seemed to be having trouble with her other youngster.

Sure enough, the rat-a-tat-tat of his digit came back in force, but this time it was enhanced by a primal pronoun pronouncement.


I tried to play it cool, unlike the bus' air conditioner, which had cut out as the bus pulled away. A little friendly response never hurt. "Yep, that's me."

Evidently, he wasn't convinced, and needed more concrete evidence. Each "YOU" corresponded a more firm *POKE* as he explored new territory such as my cheek and neck. More admonishments from the harried mother went unheeded, as my mind turned to, of all things, the cartoon character Johnny Bravo. My memory could be wrong, but I seemed to recall him in an episode trying to shake someone's hand, only to see that someone manhandle him overhead onto the ground front and back, like a demon-possessed pendulum, until he was battered senseless. It would be so easy to grab that hand and...

(Okay, there are laws against that, I do believe. And I would never do that kind of stuff. Maybe I'll just recheck that tonight, though, just to be sure.)

Ahh, but as things were building up to Bravo...suddenly, silence. Not a peep, or even a *POKE*. A minute or two, and I tensed up, suspicious that this was just preparation for a sneak attack. Alas, my suspicions were correct - a hand lurched over my shoulder.

This time, though, the voice sounded like a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll whose batteries were about to go Robert Conrad and get knocked off the shoulder to a merciful demise. "HWALUUH-ALA-HUUUULAHH-AAAALUUUUUUUUUH."

Yes, not a peep from him the rest of the trip, amazingly enough. However, that didn't stop his sister from testing her vocal range capabilities.

A shriek that acted like a bunker-busting bomb for the human eardrum pierced through the dull roar of the bus engine and other scattered conversations. Judging on the varying pitches emitted within one single shriek, this young gal just might have a future in learning a tonal language like Yoruba, Punjabi or Mandarin. Sadly though, tinnitus would be the order for the rest of this trip.

As I got up to deboard the bus, a passenger behind me declared, "Boy, am I glad that this is MY stop!" to much laughter. Good to see that the gathered throng could still find humor about this ride home; maybe free rides on the bus are a stronger elixir to cure minor pains than I figured.


Ants In My Rants

In the spirit of Rube Goldberg let me tell you the easiest way to get an ant colony to reside inside your automobile. Believe you me, it's really pretty simple when you think about it.

Step A: Drop two quarters into newspaper machine - buy one “Super Tuesday” edition of the local newspaper to read about Barack Obama’s big delegate haul on the first big day of the 2008 Democratic Primary, amongst other things. Throw newspaper in back of wagon for future reading and other unforeseen usefulness

Step B: Insert one twisty screw lying on your friendly neighborhood local Interstate freeway into left rear tire of vehicle - said tire goes flat, forcing you to change over to the emergency tire. Previously described newspaper, along with other random scrap energy bar wrappers, trash, and other food items, slips down into wheel well during change

Step C: Visit the nearby Sears Tire Center to have them replace damaged tire. However, due to time constraints (you need to make an evening appointment) newspaper and other trash remains in wheel well.

Step D: Later on, run over one 4-foot metal bar, bent at 90 degree angle, on different section of friendly neighborhood local Interstate freeway - pull over to side of road as bar continually makes loud clanking against bottom of car while entrapped on rear axle. After extracting said metal bar from axle you notice no obvious damage and drive away fairly satisfied your car has made it through relatively unscathed. However, despite your diligence, you have missed...

Item E: One two-inch gash in the metal of the raised section of the wheel well wall, made from initial collision of bar and car

Step F: Pay $1.00 for one plastic 2-liter bottle of Arrowhead water at Market of Choice, Eugene, Oregon - you’re playing it smart actually. You never now what might happen on the long journey back home to Northern California by way of Crater Lake.

Step G: Even after trip is over, keep bottle in back of wagon just in case. Of course, who would think that you would encounter...

Item H: One intense 3-day heatwave - your Step F water purchase, trapped in its new heat-conducive environment, expands to the point of leakage. Water now drips through fake plastic panel down to wheel well. Previously bought newspaper mentioned in Step A soaks liquid up like a sponge. Now go to...

Step I: Eat (approximately) thirty in-car meals over the next month or so - after all, you’re a commuter, and on-the-go meals, snacks, and other food and beverages are just part of the natural order. In the meantime, continually park your car next to

Item J: A forever-foraging Argentine ant colony in a nearby lawn - said ant colony has made many an invasion in your abode, leading to constant bouts of irritation. And unfortunately for you...

Item K: an enterprising ant scout, discovers that Item E exists and finds a nice warm, moist environment from the now soaked newspaper and some yummy morsels down in the wheel well described in Step A.

Step L: Have Item K inform Item J that Item E exists to set up...

Item M: An ant foraging team of hundreds to enter through still-unknown to you Item E not only to forage existing discoveries, but also to trek around nooks and crannies of hatchback car for other food sources. Sure enough, Item M soon discovers that the yummy particulate matter that you generated in Step I is around the car floor in abundance. Jackpot!

Step N: Take trip over to museum of one of your favorite cartoonists. Ignore warning sign of a couple ants on napkin smushed into drink well next to you during the journey over there.

Step O: Before visiting museum, purchase but don’t completely finish an egg-white omelet with sausage, green peppers, zucchini and pepper jack cheese, along with home fries and wheat toast, from old town brunch restaurant. Package said meal in typical foam container for later consumption. Place foam container in paper bag in place in back of wagon before entering museum destination.

Step P: Leave museum after satisfying visit. Open hatchback to find several hundred frenzied ants having a gleeful time on food contents obtained in Step O.

Step Q: CAREFULLY place contents obtained in Step O plus gleeful Item M hangers-on inside plastic bag and tie bag firmly. Deposit entire package inside nearby garbage can.

Step R: Pick up Step F's Arrowhead bottle and commune with its utter emptiness. Pull up on fake panel to peer underneath, and greet your vision with hundreds more frenzied ants, the soaking wet newspaper and assorted trash described in Step A, and the previously unknown Item E.

Step S: Go to drivers seat to leave and notice ants from the now somewhat crippled Step M mob crawling on foot panel below. Open up all doors and brush off any found ants onto the ground below before closing up the car and driving away.

Step T: Drive to nearby mall and buy your personal favorite pretzel of the moment (in this case, jalapeño cheese) and walk out of said mall around downtown.

Yes, you just may be feeling like the biggest idiot in the world, but neither your bout with clutter, a battle with a swarm of Linepithema Humile, nor a two-inch gash in your car that you hadn’t known about previously aren’t going to ruin the fruits of a nice leisurely walk through downtown on a nice summer day.


A Wishy-Washy Time

Work's been crazy, and I'm feeling just a little worn down in general from a long week, so what do I do? I went to connect with my favorite blockhead.

The Charles M. Schulz Museum, centered around the cartoonist known world-wide through his Peanuts characters, and known to his closest friends as Sparky, is but an hour's drive away from my living quarters. I have always been a Peanuts fan and those jazzy scores by Vince Guaraldi, and as a kid, I related big time to the numero uno blockhead himself, Charlie Brown.

As I discovered, you can't walk around Santa Rosa, California, without seeing the influence of one the town's favorite sons somewhere, mainly through the life-size statues which are placed throughout town on street corners and sidewalks, as well as main public gathering places, including Sparky's favorite Coddingtown Mall, which was a favorite escape place when he needed to take a break from his work from his nearby studio.

From what I could gather at my time there at the museum, townfolk appreciated Schulz's penchant for just being as ordinary a guy as a super-famous cartoonist can be. My discussion with one of the very friendly volunteers at the museum, Rose, talked about his love of athletics, the trips to the mall to camp out mainly at the bookstore, and his dealings with other cartoonists, from Lynn Johnston (For Better Or Worse), Patrick McDonald (Mutts), and Stephan Patsis (Pearls Before Swine). She also touched on how he would try to at least give some constructive advice on budding cartoonists' work, no matter how wretched their work happened to be.

Schulz's real athletic love was hockey, which I imagine was imported from
his birthplace of Minnesota. In fact, the bio tape that's available on the
museum website and plays in a room filled with comfy beanbags and other casual foamball seats shows the cartoonist looking quite sprightly banging in a goal in his mid-70s during a seniors tourney game. In fact, he opened up the Redwood Empire Ice Arena back in 1969, which not only hosts regular skating and hockey leagues, but hosts concerts and can be rented out for birthday parties and similar events. I guess this also explains the decent selection of hockey supplies at the nearby gift shop.

Every second Saturday the museum has an guest Cartoonist-In-Residence, and I got to meet this month's invitee Pam Stalker who has worked on stuff like Oregon Trail 5, Strawberry Shortcake and the PowerPuff Girls. I caught her near the end of her time there, but even in that shortened session, I found the portfolios that she had brought over to be varied and quite well-done, and covering a wide-swath of animation and illustration works. More importantly, she was very pleasant to talk to, and I found it a little funny that I could relate to her in that we had trouble mastering the drawing pencils at first, being "number 2 pencil" sketchers. Of course in my case, I never did progress past that point like Ms. Stalker has (and then some to boot, obviously) and my regular sessions of sketching pretty much died once I left college.

This world-wide appeal for the Peanuts comics and cartoons was evident in the people I passed by looking at the exhibits. I heard many different languages spoken as I walked past, and the kind volunteer Rose mentioned that I'd probably want to check out the Beethoven exhibit due to open up later this year, since I actually lived in the area, unlike many of the people she offered her rich tidbits of Schulz history prior, who were visiting from greater distances.

Bottom line, I'd say anyone who has any soft spot for Peanuts characters and happens to be in the Santa Rosa area would definitely enjoy spending a few hours in Sparky's Museum. Don't bring a kite, however, or the kite-eating tree in the courtyard in the back might just do it's dirty work, as it has done many a time to our loveable but wishy-washy young Mr. Brown.


Flight Or Fight

This could perfectly describe the attitude of most people who choose to brave the nation's skyways on almost any of the domestic airline carriers. I figure if I'm going to be traveling for another big meetup with my running friends, I'll have to bite the bullet myself eventually unless the get-together is within relatively close driving distance (which will involve another different biting the bullet, but that's another story)

Service sucks. Fees increase both in number and price. Moods on both sides of the aisle sour.

But then again, is anyone really surprised?

Of course, there's no excuse for the crappy service and attitudes that have become the norm. In some sense, I think this is a perfect example of contempt breeding contempt. Miserably treated passengers engage miserably treated employees (anyone remember the retirement plans gone belly up, massive layoffs, and renegotiated reduced pay & benefits contracts?) inside a cramped, thin tube of metal. Not exactly a fertile ground for nirvana to blossom.

And if you think about it, the prices are all relative. I cringe myself when I see that that cross-country fare may not be in that sub-$300 range the next time I have to pony up, but there was a time when airlines were pretty much exclusively the realm of the well-financed. Interesting that I found this column this evening pretty much reflects my views.

Just for, uh, fun, I checked out airfare for a flight from SFO to JFK on a hypothetical birthday celebration roundtrip for a week - the lowest fare is roughly $400 including those new baggage fees I figure I'd have to pay. But I make $400 easily after one paycheck even after taxes.

According to the U.S. census, the median income back when I was about born (late 1960s) was a little under $9000 annually. Keep that same fare range (I don't think bargain basement fares really hit the airline industry until deregulation started going in the 1970s) and you can see that not only a $400 fare back then would've been a bigger chunk out of the average Joe's (ahem) pocketbook, but that same $400 could pay for a lot more amenities for a typical airline.

I suppose all this doesn't make it any easier though for the modern day traveler. Pretty much everyone grumbles that we're flying the "fiendly" skies these days, and I think that trend will pretty much transform into the status quo before too long.


Going Back To Cali, Cali, Cali

As all things, good or bad, must do, they must end. And now, it was time to head back for my home in Northern California.

The experience that was Oregon soon began to slide one grain at a time into from the present into the vast memory bank that most people carry deep within their minds. There were still some interesting tidbits that the nation's 33rd state still had in store. Upper Klamath Lake proved to be soothing in its own right, which surprised me a bit after the incredibly breathtaking vision that greeted me at Crater Lake just a couple hours beforehand.

I passed through Klamath Falls (where the heck are the falls, by the way?) and encountered something right at the border that I'd figure California would be on the cutting edge of in terms of modern conveniences - a wi-fi enabled rest area. If I had seen the sign sooner, I would've stopped over and broken out the laptop to test the setup.

Alas, I was back in California, but a few more picturesque surprises awaited, one of which was racing a train. Entering the small town of Dorris, a long train cut off the flow of traffic entering town. Considering how the road coiled through here with sharp turns and stop signs that limited speed, this speed-burner of a train got quite a lead before I was able to catch up again. With no cars at all for miles at a time on this stretch of the highway, I imagined myself in the Old West as a lone ranger of sorts, saddled up on my thoroughbred horse and racing against modern technology itself as the volcanic cone of Mt. Shasta gained more prominence in the windshield.

Later on, I was treated to the most picturesque valley of epic Hollywood pioneers venturing west/Cinemascope blockbuster movie that hasn't been made in seemingly eons. If that style of movie ever did make a comeback, I'd suggest that the film crew come up here, if only to shoot some spectacular setting shots for their project.

Soon enough though, the virgin territory I had been traveling through became the once-ventured as I drove into Weed to reconnect with I-5 back to Redding and points south. The discovery and thrill of the prior few hours soon transformed into the mundaneness of brownish farm fields, scattered Indian Casinos, and hundreds of bugs splattered on the front side of my vehicle.

California, rest in peace
Simultaneous release
California, show your teeth
You're my priestess, I'm your priest

California, you're no Oregon, at least for those almost three days I was traveling through the latter. But you are home to me, and it was time to return to your comforts


On The Oregon Trail, Part 4

After post-Eugene Marathon festivities at and one more night staying at my host Chris' humble abode, I set off back home to Northern California. I didn't drive this far up to Oregon just to drive straight back, however, so I took a detour and headed over to Crater Lake, about which I've heard tremendous things.

The drive down State Route 58 out of Eugene was a leisurely yet beautiful one; nature was in full force as I made headway into the national forest and the mountains of the Cascades. Trees, streams, and lakes like Lookout Point, Odell, and Crescent, blended well with an absolutely gorgeous mid-Spring morning. In some ways, you didn't mind getting stuck for a bit behind a big-rig wending slowly in front of you during one of this road's one-lane both ways/no-passing sections.

The northern entrance was still closed at this time of the year, so I would have to head down US 97 and turn back around up SR-62 to the (mostly) open year-round southern entrance. Even though the drive wasn't as scintillating on US 97, the landscape seemed to be another variation on volcanic landscapes, one where the land had to regenerate itself after the devastating effects of eruptions and other related forces.

As with most of this journey, the increases in elevation were somewhat imperceptible, and this remained the trend when I finally got onto SR-62 and headed back northward. It reminded me of the San Francisco Bay Area, where you can drive 10 minutes and experience a 10 degree shift in temperatures; in this case, you go from relative warmth to snow-lined roadways in about as short a time.

Crater Lake is within the cone of the former Mt. Mazama, which 7700 years ago erupted so much mass out, it lost its support and collapsed onto itself into a caldera. Once the volcanic activity stopped almost 3000 years later, the water, which had simply evaporated away before, began to collect from the snow, rain, and other runoff. Evaporation and other forces have now balanced themselves out now so that this lake, which is the deepest in the U.S., only varies by three feet annually. Also, the water itself is supposed to be some of the purest in terms of lack of pollutants on the entire North American continent.

The crowd was Monday-lite and I felt as I stepped out of my car in Rim Village and breathed the crisp, clean air that I would be in for a visual treat. Indeed, the first visual of Crater Lake in all its glory as I trudged up the icy snowbank to the overlook is indescribable by mere words. Even the pictures that I shot only hint at the beauty, stillness, and in a way, other worldliness of where I was standing at that very moment. Nevertheless, here are those pictures, presented in slideshow format.

Crater Lake Photo Slideshow

I definitely would love to get to Crater Lake and just this entire region of Oregon again. If I do make the trip again though, I'd love for it to be with a friend or a group of friends - a vision such as that that greeted me that day would be much better shared with people for whom you care.


Logey On Your Right, Maverick

Someone who I know asked me why I was looking so glum today.

It's funny how expressions can be interpreted in so many different ways.

I'm not really glum about things. I'm mentally overworked, and maybe that's what's showing through in my facial features. A good night's sleep would help, but frankly I need a few of those nights in a row at this point, and that's not going to happen anytime soon.

I was in line a couple days ago audibly mumbling when some dude cut directly in line in front of me. I'm pretty good about letting things like that slide, but I didn't have the energy this time, and I mumbled on for quite a bit. I even thought ahead to the possibility he might respond, and I thought of saying, "Yeah, you cut in front of me and I'm mumbling about it...so?" or some similar B.S.

I'm probably not the greatest cheer-you-up source right now, but I'm not really in any mood to go all Muddy Waters and break out the blues chords on the gee-tar either.

I think David Letterman had a term for it - feeling logey. So that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.


Laying Dorm-ant

If Mr. Sandman were to tell my tale, I've been living in college dorms for the past several months.

These dreams are getting to be annoying. Every week it seems I get placed in a situation where I'm in the last day before I have to leave the dormitory, and I'm faced with either a decision or a harried bit of travel of some sort.

A month or so ago, I had to leave my dormitory, which was located in Chicago, to make it over to Boston. For whatever reason, I decided I didn't want to fly out of Chicago, so I made my way toward Indianapolis instead.

A couple weeks ago, I had a party raging on in my dorm. Weird collection of people, from family members to online friends to co-workers to utter strangers. I was worried I wouldn't be able to clear the partiers out of the room and clean up before I had to check out.

Let's not even mention the two or three times I've had visions of checking out of my dorms in Toronto, Ontario, of all places, trying to rush over to the airport loaded with all my junk to make a flight at the airport back to the U.S.

And last night, I had to decide whether to clear out my dorm for the summer, or whether the school actually covered the costs of my room and I could still use it in lieu of making a long commute from home to take classes. The indecision I went through as to whether to pack or not was torturous.

Well, at least I haven't gotten any of those "trying to desperately find the location of a final for a class that I've barely studied for" dreams that were the norm for a long while. That got REAL old and then some...



I suppose this could really is confluence of two posts - On The Oregon Trail (Part 3) and Half The Man I Used To Be (Part 2.) Seems appropriate that the focus is a place where the confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers takes place - the city of Eugene, Oregon.

One of the big bonuses of this new fitness lifestyle has been the chance to travel to far off places and meet newfound friends for races and for just plain good times together. I can't imagine that the original inventors of the Internet ever envisioned social networking as one of the major effects of their creation, especially when you add in websites like youtube, facebook and their cousins.

Cincinnati and Philadelphia had been host cities prior for my destination races in 2007, and Eugene ended up being my first destination race of 2008. The city itself has a great running tradition and is truly a mecca for the run-oriented individual. I didn't do too much touring of the city itself, but it seemed like a place I wouldn't mind living in if I ever moved away from California.

Friends are just simply invaluable. This trip, and for that matter, the past trips to other parts of the country, wouldn't have been half as good as they were if it weren't for the people I got to meet. For this week, these people included Chris, whose hospitality was truly incredible. In my case, he not only gave me and my other friends gathered the royal tour of the University of Oregon facilities (if I ever have a son who has any athletic talent, especially on the football or running front, I'd recommend U of O in a heartbeat based on what I saw) but also allowed me to stay a couple nights in his humble abode with his truly wonderful family.

My 5K effort on an individual scale was a lot better than I had envisioned EVER running, but that wasn't nearly as satisfying as meeting up with another friend Larry, who I had met at the Philadelphia gathering, during his marathon effort to run with him for 10 miles until the end. He had had a spate of injuries leading up to this race, and it was evident it was going to be a tough race because of the lack of training. But Larry persevered to a sub-4-hour effort, and I was glad to have been there to help in some way. The smile on his face after he realized he had broken that sub-4 mark is something I'll always remember.

There were many other people here I had the chance to meet for the first time as well who perhaps I will cross paths with again in the future. And that's perhaps what all this has brought. I don't mean to sound dire, but sitting around as a couch potato isn't exactly a prescription for a prolonged future. Granted, a focus on running and things fitness-oriented isn't a 100% guarantee to a prolonged future. I suppose you can spend your life plopped down on a sofa munching on value meals every single day and outlive quite a few people for whatever rhyme or reason. But I'll take the odds in this case, especially if this means I can make trips around the country to meet up with friends, both old and new.


A Year Lost?

On a totally separate topic, I'm beginning to think 2008 might be a "lost" year of sorts, at least on the run/triathlon front.

I've got a wicked case of peroneal tendinitis that I've kinda' let go for too long. My PT said I should really avoid anything that will irritate the area right now (especially running...ugh) and my motivation to do anything else (save for the strengthening exercises my PT has prescribed for me) is a bit muted

I've got two pretty much set-in-stone interruptions coming up to any training that I can get in the next month or two.

Later this year, there may be a work-related opportunity that would be exciting on one front, but it would throw any run/tri-related goals I had planned for late this year out the door

This is more of a reality check than anything. Something tells me 2009 could be a great year on the fitness front if I play my cards right. But motivation is a pretty tough thing to hold for something so far off in the future.

Who knows...there could be another fork in the road I haven't even contemplated. But we'll get to that if it comes

Ads And Dads

The last three weeks have been nuts. In fact, it made me forget I had a blog going until earlier today.

Much of it was a special project for my dad that I promised I'd help him with last year: putting together a program for a big local festival for which he is the acting chairperson for this year. A deadline of mid-April had ostensibly been set for submission of messages, ads, etc., but material was coming literally the day before the whole shebang was to be sent in to the printer.

Three all-niters in five days might be de rigeur for most college students. It's certainly not recommended for middle-aged adults...unless you're having a LOT of fun in return.

It was annoying at times. Hectic. Brain-deadening. Sometimes all at once.

But I saw the finalized product today. 80 pages worth, and pretty good looking. Better than last year's edition by far (I should know - I was given that thing last minute to try to rescue it when the person who had been in charge of it was out of town for the holidays.)

I'm glad it's over for certain - the lack of sleep plus the spare-time hours spent on the project from mid-May onward certainly has taken a toll on my mental sharpness as the month has marched onward. Early sentiment is to have me back to do the program again next year. I'll have to think about that...


On The Oregon Trail (Part 2)

Once you pass Redding and head into extreme northern California, the predominant feature is Mount Shasta. In fact, it's impossible to ignore this sleeping giant of a volcano, whose last recorded eruption occurred roughly 200 years ago (lately, the mountain has averaged an eruption every 600 years.)

As impressive a sight as Shasta was in passing, my glances were drawn to the tinier cinder cones and similarly-shaped rock formations that dotted the valley north of Shasta, as well as some of the smaller features such as Black Butte (there is another Black Butte mountain up in Oregon as well, as I found out later.)

I began thinking how cool it would be to go climbing on these things or just ramble around and examine the rocks and plants and things on the landscape. Maybe one of these days when I have a lot more time on my hand.

Also impressive in a future CGI/Lord Of The Rings way was when I caught sight of the top of Castle Crags National Park. The top of the mountains here are impressive, and I was thinking that some smart Hollywood studio would grab a camera crew to shoot some film, and then some CGI crew would super-impose a real intimidating, creepy castle face on these slabs as an imposing obstacle for their stalwart heroes to overcome.

Crossing into Oregon, I noticed immediately that at least on I-5, there isn't much in the way of flat ground. You're either going up or down for most of the route. Most of the first southern Oregon towns you drive past like Ashland and Talent are awfully long and slender because of the mountains on either side.

An interesting historical sidelight is the Republic Of Jefferson which was established during the early 1940s. I had previously heard the story behind the republic several years ago on TV, so it was interesting to see the barn pictured in the link while driving by on I-5 as well as listening to NPR Radio stations in the area, which refer to themselves as "Jefferson Public Radio."

Driving through the town of Grants Pass in search of dinner, I passed by a very lively scene. School was out for the weekend, and the downtown was filled with the local youth cruising by various local establishments in their autos with many others just walking out on the street en masse, hanging out and enjoying each other's company. Not sure if this is the case in other small towns nowhere near a huge metropolis around the country, but it definitely was a new experience for me.


On The Oregon Trail (Part 1)

I took a race/vacation trip this last weekend up to Eugene, OR, to both meet up with some running forum friends as well as get in a little sightseeing.

Google maps out the journey from my house to Eugene, OR, at right about 500 miles (anyone want to break out the Proclaimers song right about now?) My plan was to initially was to ease on up there, bunk down at a hotel in extreme northern California or southern Oregon, and ease into Eugene in the morning to the expo first thing to sign up (I had missed the deadline for online registration.)

The trip started off in herky-jerky fashion. I got going about an hour later than I wanted to, and ended up having to backtrack to my house when I found out the AAA map vending machine I had tried to proffer a Northern California map from indicated I had an expired membership card.

Amazing that I had been traveling with my expired card pretty much since last September, so it was fortunate I discovered this before heading off for more remote parts of the country. I was even more fortunate to actually locate my newest membership card (still glued into its cardboard template in the original mailing...kinda’ embarassing, actually.)

Can you imagine being stuck 20 miles out of Weed (cannibis jokes aside, the town was named for Abner Weed, who owned the local lumber mill) pleading my case before with a skeptical tow truck driver staring at my expired AAA card that I did fork over the annual membership dues?

The northern Central Valley of California is much like its southern half in that it’s something of a boring drive. The first eye-catching thing that grabs you, though it is a little hard to see from the interstate, is in Redding where the Sundial Bridge resides.

The Sundial Bridge is a pedestrian bridge designed by Spanish architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava and closely resembles his Puente del Alamillo bridge he designed for Expo 92 in Seville. The bridge, which resides at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, has a deck surface consists of greenish, translucent structural glass; apparently, it provides quite a visual at night when the deck is illuminated from underneath. Below is a slideshow of the pics I took at this rather striking landmark

Sundial Bridge, Redding, CA


Seems Like Such A Long Time Yesterday

Time does funny things

Seems like I haven't typed into this blog forever, and I managed to grab a minute or two to pound the keyboard for a bit this night.

That said, I'm off to Oregon this weekend to meet up with some running buddies for the marathon in Eugene. Seemed like only yesterday when I was off on a plane over to Cincy almost one year ago to this date to what has become an annual ritual for the Queen City - The Flying Pig Marathon.

I loved the fancily decorated pig statues all over the town; it is but one aspect of the terrific support the city and its residents place into this event. Here is but one of the many porcine vanguards that dotted the cityscape that weekend.

I definitely wouldn't mind a second run at the Pig in the future. But for now, lovely Eugene is on the horizon for this runner.

Oh, I haven't mentioned I am a runner yet? More details on that in Part 2 of the yet-to-be-written Half The Man post. Hopefully that won't be too far down the road...


Half The Man I Used To Be (Part 1)

Wow, a second posting! That must be a victory in itself

I suppose this is somewhat obligatory, but the photo helps explain a bit of where I used to be and where I am now. About six years ago, I had pretty much reached the point where I couldn't carry that extra poundage around. My joints ached, I was on two high blood pressure meds, and I couldn't walk a flight a stairs without losing my breath.

When you suck in your gut in the mirror (in my naive attempt to convince myself that things weren't that bad) and nothing moves, it's pretty much time to do something about it. Thus, I started my quest.

My mind is a bit of a tangent-loaded minefield. Thoughts, ideas, tasks will pop in and disappear at a whim, only to reappear within a myriad of time periods. But when I do need to focus, I can get stuff done quite efficiently, as was the case here. I started off this quest at over 280 lb; right now I hover right around the 135 lb mark.

People who knew the past and present me ask me if I have some secret diet, some nutritional supplement, some gimmick or secret that helped me out. I wish I did. I'd be marketing it right now, making loads of cash, and probably buying up residences across the country in this down housing market.

What I respond with isn't terribly sexy. "Didn't aim high (I went what seemed to be a relatively attainable goal of 1-2 pounds per month.) Ate less. Exercised more."

Obviously, it's not as easy as that. I've encountered many people on my journey who are doing the right things and have the most difficult time knocking off that little extra. And there are those jealousy-inducing folks who can seemingly eat a cartload of food and not gain a single ounce.

Maybe one of these days they'd be able to take into account your genetics and be able to construct the best dietary regimen on an individual basis. But until then, there will always be a little guesswork involved. I know I'm still trying to perfect things (I still need more veggies & fruits in my diet, though I am starting to work more of those in) myself, but I'm pretty happy at the results so far.


Over One Billion Bloggers Served

Wow, the first post ever. Am I like the one billionth person who has owned or at least has attempted a blog before?
(And is there a prize involved with that? Something like a free toaster that handles thick-cut bagels?)

As I type this, I imagine I'm getting a similar feeling to the guy gets who makes a McDonald's change their sign from the "Millions Served" to "Billions"

Don't know why I started this really - well, I kinda' do actually. My only other semblence of a profile has gone to the vast graveyard that consists of dead internet sites, and I figured this might act as a suitable substitute.

So anyway, here's a start. Of course, it may not be until this time next year where I actually pound out some text on this thing. I could be wrong though - in that regard, it wouldn't be the first time, and it definitely won't be the last. Such is human nature...