Friday, July 31, 2009

Not a Gym Rat

Last night I worked out at my gym for the first time in a few weeks. It felt good.

I’ve been working out off and on since my early 30s, but I’ve never been a gym rat. I don’t really like gyms. Nothing busts a male ego like grunting and groaning on a weight machine only to have the next person in line, a hot young female, effortlessly pump out three sets at a higher weight amount.

In fact, I dropped gym memberships several years ago in favor of my home treadmill and dumbbells. But I decided recently that I needed more equipment and more direction and at that same time a new fitness center opened nearby with a $10/month membership fee – considerably less than my last gym.

Last night I noticed that one third of the people huffing and puffing are obviously older and heavier than I am. Woohoo! And grunting and groaning is not allowed in this gym – at least not the kind of explosive body-builder grunts that are often followed by the clanging sound of dropping the bar after doing five reps too many. In fact, this fitness center’s slogan is “no judgement zone.” All ages and sizes are in there every day and there is no intimidation.

My goals are simple – lose 25 pounds, gain balance and upper body strength and increase stamina. I’m in no hurry. I didn’t get out of shape in three months so why expect to be back in shape in three months. I’m shooting for December as the month to hit that weight loss number. I don’t particularly care about looking buff, but if I hit my other goals, well … I’ll look pretty good for a fiftysomething.

As part of my newfound strategy of doing things just because I want to and not over-thinking it, I plan to hit the gym five times a week. I want it to be enough of a habit that it feels odd to miss a day or two. It’s just part of going home every night. I like how I feel when I’m done. I don’t need any other reason.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Songs to Check Out

I just modified my songs list (scroll down the left column).

If your usual reaction to the words 'country music' involves laughter, a smirk or an involuntary rolling of the eyes, listen to a few of those songs.

"The Good Stuff" and "Hell Yeah" are great stories that take place in a bar, "Ticks" and "Online" show off Brad Paisley's warped sense of humor, "Kiss a Girl" is a recent Keith Urban song (he's my current fave because he's so damn good).

"I'm Alive" is a duet with Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews (Dave fans, and you know who you are, check it out), "Thriller" is just a good song, "Trouble Man" is a cool blues tune from a local artist, "Don't Blink" is a great 'life is short' story, "Clocks" is my favorite Coldplay song (and in case you thought for just a split second I'm cool because I have that song on the list - truth is it's the only Coldplay song I know by name) and "Don't Bring Me Down" is a little time travel vehicle for me.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Now Comes The Hard Part

My road trip to New Orleans this year was my best vacation ever.

Some of the reasons are spread out over the past several posts, but the main reason is that I feel great. I feel relaxed and recharged, I have a better sense of who I am, I’ve adopted more of a ‘live in the moment’ attitude than is my norm, I made a new friend, rekindled old friendships, bonded with my sister and several cousins and only screamed obscenities to three drivers during the entire last traffic-jammed hour into DC.

The challenge is to maintain this peaceful, easy feeling as I dive back into the fray.

I have often returned from a wonderful vacation only to have the positivity erased during the first few hours back at work. This time I am determined to remain in this state of euphoria for a long time. When I caught myself slipping a couple of times as I got closer to home, I mentally shouted “Stop!” That actually worked, in part because I then laughed at myself for using such a silly technique.

I drove straight from Asheville to the office today, worked for a few hours, and still feel great!


And speaking of living in the moment – I’m going to stop writing and go play with one of my dogs.

Road Trip Randomness – Last Day

- Sweet potato fries – yummy!

- Passive aggressive drivers who creep along in the left lane when the right lane is clear, apparently trying to prove some misguided point, can be found in many states, not just in the DC area.

- Hanging with new friends, old friends, my cousins and my sister – all great people. I am the luckiest guy on the planet.

- Except for a couple of stops at McDonalds and Cracker Barrel, every meal I ate out was at a non-franchise restaurant.

- Started my trip in the mountains of western North Carolina and decided at the last minute to end it there too. A perfect end – driving out of Asheville east into the dawn, bluegrass music on the local public radio station, no traffic. Smokey fog in the valley to the right, verdant mountains left and ahead. I didn’t want to leave… that’s the sign of a good vacation!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Cousin Party

My cousins are still as cool as I thought they were when we were kids. My sister and I are the youngest, so most of them are in their 50s and, uhhh, 60s. Some are grandparents.

This motley crew used to get together for every holiday and special occasion.



We met for a family lunch last Sunday at my sister’s house. This is the first time I’ve seen them since my Mother’s funeral four years ago. We told and retold stories. We probably bored their spouses, one daughter and a grandson. That grandson took this picture.



Note that the male cousin and I were acting a little bit like we did when we were the grandson’s age.

We talked some old school shit but we also talked about careers, computers, our lives today and what some of the other family members were up to.

This four hour party was the perfect wrap-up for my stay in New Orleans.

Monday, July 27, 2009

My “20 Things” Theory On Relationships

This is based in part on observation, in part on what friends tell me (because people often tell me things they wouldn’t even tell a therapist) and in part on my own experience. By relationship, I mostly mean romantic relationships, but much of this can apply to non-romantic friendships too.

Here’s how it goes: you have characteristics that make you “you.” Let’s say you have twenty of them … things like personality traits, beliefs, preferences, life goals, hobbies.

You meet someone and connect on 2 or 3 of these characteristics that you have in common. .

As the relationship grows, you emphasize those things to enhance the connection and you might carefully reveal 2 or 3 more similar things, but you mostly keep the rest of your twenty tucked away for later.

The person you met is doing the same thing.

Then your relationship becomes exclusive, maybe a live-in or a marriage. You assume that because your lover/spouse has the 5 or 6 things that connected you, then most of the others must also be compatible, and you’ll overlook the 1 or 2 that aren’t.

What an optimist you are!

Couples who really do connect on most of the ’20 things’ go on to have long-lasting relationships.

But many couples discover years into a relationship that they really only connect on the original 2 or 3 things.

Now what?!

I don’t have the answer to that. Honestly, I’m looking for the answer to that.

So there you have my ’20 things’ theory. Do you see yourself in there somewhere? Does that explain anything you’ve experienced in present or past relationships?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Road Trip Winding Down

I’m starting my return trip tomorrow. Usually I’m depressed at this point because vacation is nearly done. But this time, I’m feeling good.

This has been one of my best vacations ever because of people as much as places. I made a new friend who I believe will be a friend for life. I spent time with old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades, and have re-written those friendships. I spent quality time with my sister and some of her friends who have become my friends too over the years. I spent good, fun time with two sets of cousins.

Isn’t it interesting how we call it ‘spending’ time? Not the same ‘spend’ as spending money, but in some ways it is – if we invest time with friends and family, we reap rewards that have more value than anything money can buy.

Here is something else that is different about this trip: I am so relaxed and have a strong feeling that I will still be relaxed when I jump back into the insanity that defines my “normal” life. I set out on a mission of self-discovery, a solo journey to test drive a new me – or at least a modified me – a me that is closer to the me I want to be.

I laugh as I re-read that last sentence because I’m also trying to be a less analytical me and yet I’m analyzing the hell out of me – but during the last week I really have measurably reduced my tendency to over-think.

And instead of thinking about some snappy, profound conclusion to this post, connecting the past to the future, I’ll just stop writing. Living in the present is part of the modified me.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

High School Reunion

If it’s only three guys, does it count as a reunion?



I hated high school. Mickey, Stan, Jim and my high school girlfriend Pat were my sanity. I’ve seen Jim off and on through the years, Pat and I email regularly, but I hadn’t seen Mickey and Stan since our early college years.



Last year we found each other on the internet and this afternoon we did a few decades of catching up.



They are every bit the great guys they were in high school.

Destinations and Goals

Vacations usually have destinations, but shouldn’t necessarily have goals. Having a goal is a little bit too much like work. But my road trip has some goals.

I’ve said right from the start of my three years of blogging that I’m on a road to discovering who I am; it’s a boomer preoccupation that I make no apologies for. I’ve led a charmed life so far and have hit most of my original career goals and many of my life goals. Now I am at a crossroads. I can coast, savor the moment(s), stop growing … or I can set new goals and expectations for the future.

OR … I can do the best of both, a balancing act that includes living in the moment and savoring it as well as looking ahead to new challenges, opportunities and experiences in both work and life.

I recently read part of a book called Stop Thinking, Start Living, written by the author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. I don’t buy everything he has to say, but I do accept his main point … don’t spend all your time thinking about the past or the future, just live in the present.

So one of my vacation goals is to be more spontaneous. My long-time friends know this doesn’t come naturally to me. So far, so good, especially the first two days, thanks to a new old friend who is spontaneous by nature. I’ve done some planning on this trip, like hotel reservations and start times each day, but mostly I’ve chosen to go with the flow.

Another goal is to break some of my usual travel patterns. For example, I’ve mostly eaten at local restaurants rather than franchises.

Yet another is to do things with no reason other than I just feel like it.

OK, one more: to express myself more clearly and directly. I’ve been told I send mixed signals.

I guess the real goal is to make spontaneity a big enough part of my life that I just do without thinking about it.

I’ve edited this post twenty times… enough. No more thinking. Hit Publish!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Road Trip Randomness 4

I have taken a few hundred pictures so far. I promise to post some of them soon and lots of them when I get back home to the computer with Photoshop on it.

Meanwhile, here are a few with a theme - things that don't necessarily go together:

Old buildings and modern high-rise buildings



A cannon and a Cathedral



A Starbucks on Harrison Ave. in the shadow of St. Dominic's. You have to grow up in Lakeview to get the irony.



And a few more random pix:

The infamous 17th Street Canal levee break site. I'm surprised it's only a 10 minute walk from my sister's house.



Your lawn will look like this if you don't mow for four years




Cool sign in the French Quarter



New bench on Lakeshore Drive

Confidence and Doubt

I just saw a TV commercial that started with these two sentences: “We all have confidence” and “We all have doubt.” OK, it was a Gilette razor commercial; but the opening sentences are good food for thought.

Confidence, self-assurance, a strong sense of who we are and what we can do, strength without arrogance.

Doubt, insecurity, a nagging feeling that we are not measuring up, fear of taking action because of fear of rejection or ridicule.

Which of those word blocks describes or defines you? I’m guessing both, at one time or another. I’ve been in both and often have lived with both in equal measures. Years ago, I leaned more toward doubt; now I lean much more toward confidence.

When I catch myself slipping, I can often make an immediate adjustment. You can too.

It’s all about attitude. It’s all about paying attention to the feedback you get from other people. It’s all about self-awareness. It has nothing to do with Gilette razors.

Fortunately, the older I get the more confident I feel. I hope that is your fate too.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Road Trip Randomness 3

- Vaca days 1, 2 and 3 – perfect weather. Days 4, 5 and 6 – rain. Day 7 – better, but HOT AS HELL here – humid too.

Not much river traffic today - just this tug


- July is the slow summer tourist month here because it is so hot and humid, but this week there are 36,000 youth group volunteers in town, helping with the ongoing Katrina recovery efforts. It’s, like, crowded here? Like, there are thousands of teens, like, finishing sentences like they were, like, questions? And, um, I’ve heard the word “like” like 500 times?

- I finally had my ‘southern’ meal a few days ago in Vicksburg, Mississippi … catfish, fried okra, corn bread … and a popular country music song called “Chicken Fried” was coming out of the speakers.

- I had one of my “New Orleans” meals for lunch today, a local favorite sandwich called a muffaletta. I don’t know all the ingredients, but the basics include two or three kinds of ham, cheese, a salad of sorts, all on a specific kind of bread that is a little like sour dough covered in sesame seeds.

Muffaletta, one of many spellings. Locally pronounced moo-fuh-LAH-tuh


- New Orleans, like Asheville, has a good vibe, but it is a unique vibe. Other words that describe Noo Awlins … funky, rhythmic, hot, lazy, friendly, stubbornly and fiercely loyal to rebuilding itself, jazzy, drunk.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First Impressions of New Orleans

This is my first trip here since April, 2005. I’m staying at my sister’s house, the one Dad built, the house where we grew up. It took two and a half years to rehab it after the Hurricane Katrina floods and this is the first time I’ve seen it complete.

The first thing I notice in the Lakeview neighborhood is that at least a fourth of the lots are still vacant, including the lots on either side of my sister’s house. Some houses are still boarded up like they were nearly four years ago and some are actively under construction or reconstruction.

Her house has the bones and spirit of the original 1950s-era cottage but is now very modern. Some of Dad’s original features remain, including a few decorative door frames. The anchors for our childhood swing set are still visible in the yard; the grass is pulled away to reveal our names carved in the concrete. The guest room I’m in was my bedroom as a kid.

I have had the expected emotional reaction to seeing the house – a glassy-eyed smile, if you can picture that.

Today is a good day.

Walter and the Moon

If only Walter Cronkite could have lived a few more days, to somehow provide his perspective on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Any kid growing up in the 60s will remember his coverage of every space flight. His sonorous voice, attention to detail and eloquent linguistics set him apart from the other network anchors. He showed just the right balance between the facts of the story and its emotional, psychological and scientific significance.

Click Here to see a short clip of him in 1998 reflecting on what it was like to cover that event.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Road Trip Randomness 2

- Eating my way through the south … sausage and spinach pizza, Thai, Irish, taco salad, free hotel breakfast, McDonalds fries, Chinese … but no ‘southern’ food yet. I’m writing this sentence in Alabama, so there must be some BBQ or fried chicken or fried okra around here somewhere!! And the New Orleans food is still ahead. Yummy!

- This is the most remarkable weather I’ve ever seen on a vacation. Sunny with highs in the upper 70s to mid 80s every day so far.

- My watch is in my suitcase … a very liberating feeling.

- One point of this vacation – any vacation really – is to disconnect from work. But I did do one work thing. A public relations guy who represents recording artists asked me to interview Jeff Cook, a member of the country group Alabama. The band retired in 2004 and each member is working on solo projects. Usually this would be a phone interview but I was driving right through their hometown Ft. Payne anyway, so we had the interview there. In fact, we recorded it in the town park, fifty feet from some bigger-than-life statues that the town built for them a couple of years ago. It’s hard to call that half hour of my vacation work, isn’t it?

Jeff Cook next to his statue in the park at Ft. Payne


- I had a dream back in the 1970s of taking a year off and living on the road. Making a living got in the way. A lot of seniors are on the road now, living in their RVs. Boomers often think of doing that in their/our future, but we don’t necessarily want to wait till we’re in our 70s to live that dream. Problem is, we/I can’t really justify that fantasy in our 50s.

- I’m over-thinking again. Time to live in the moment again. Computer off, engine on. Zydeco on the iPod.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Road Trip Randomness 1

- I really did play "On The Road Again" on my iPod as I pulled out of the driveway to begin this long-overdue road trip.

- The more distance that I put between me and home the more “me” I become. Why is that? I must find out!

- Western North Carolina is beautiful! Layer and layer after layer of tree-covered mountain ridges slice the sky in scallop-like patterns, green and blue-green, receding to gray-green as far as the eye can see and beyond.

- Asheville has a great vibe. It’s the kind of city you can describe using the word vibe. Other words that come to mind: karma, mellow, hippie, artist, multi-cultural, old, new, at a crossroads, deco, funky.


One of Asheville's deco buildings


This guy really was playing a harp on the street


- One of the undiscovered gems of Asheville is my blogger friend known to her readers as 'eliz in asheville'. I finally met her face-to-face and she graciously played tour guide. She has a great vibe too.

"Eliz" mimicking one of Asheville's street statues

- Asheville is the kind of place where I could live but could not make a living. If feels like home, but I’d have to spend more time there to decide if it could ever be home.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The ABCs of Me

This is a little egotistical, but what the hell - it’s been awhile since I’ve done one. Do yours and tell me where it is.

A - Age: ageless (you wouldn’t believe me anyway)

B - Bed size: Queen

C - Chore you hate: washing my car

D - Dog's names: Nash, ZeeZee and Tory

E - Essential start your day item: Coffee

F - Favorite color: Red (although I own almost nothing in that color)

G - Gold or Silver: both

H - Height: 5’11”

I - Instruments you play: trombone in high school, saxophone in my 30s and bass guitar. If you heard me attempt to play any of them, you’d swear I never had a lesson.

J - Job title: Creative Services Director, Public Service Director, Photographer

K - Kid(s): Not that I know of

L - Living arrangements: one woman, three dogs, four birds and two fish.

M - Mom's name: Ursula

N - Nicknames: Bern, Bern Man, Bernie The Lens

O - Overnight hospital stay other than birth: eleven nights, after falling down the stairs in the 12-foot wide Baltimore row house I was living in at the time

P - Pet Peeve: drivers who tailgate me when I’m already driving 20 over the limit

Q - Quote from a movie/tv show: “what we have here is failure to communicate” (from Cool Hand Luke)

R - Right or left handed: right handed for everything except telephone use

S - Siblings: one sister

T - Time you wake up: before sunrise, when I have a choice

U - Underwear: boxer briefs

V - Vegetable you dislike: turnip greens

W - Ways you run late: when I underestimate how long it takes to get anywhere in the DC area

X - X-rays you've had: see letter O above

Y - Yummy food you make: omelettes

Z - Zoo favorite: elephants

Monday, July 6, 2009

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed!

Space flight dominated my youth. Every rocket launch in the 1960s got wall-to-wall television coverage on every channel. Astronauts like John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong were as well-known as movie stars and politicians of the day. Can you even name one current astronaut?

It is hard for me to believe that the 40th anniversary of the first human footsteps on the Moon is just two weeks from today. One of the most famous quotes in American history was spoken live to the world by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the lunar surface at 9:56 pm EST, Sunday, July 20, 1969: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”


Earth view photographed by Apollo 11 astronauts



Today’s cell phones probably have more computing power than the computers that assisted in that flight. In fact, the actually landing was flown manually because the auto-pilot computer overloaded during the last few minutes of landing and was aiming for a boulder field. The lunar module had only 30 seconds of fuel left when it landed.

The primary goal of that flight was to send a human to the moon and back safely to earth. Far more was achieved, both in science and in psychology. This adventure renewed the collective spirit of our country and began to heal us from the divides of the tumultuous previous year.

There has been talk in recent years of a return to the moon. Lunar mission capabilities are designed into the replacement vehicle for the soon-to-be discontinued space shuttle. But the sense of adventure is not there. For much of Congress and the American citizenry, space flight is just another budget line item to be debated and cut. For many fifty-something boomers, it is both a fond memory from youth and an exciting goal for the future.

Videos:

Landing



Moon Walk



Additional information:

Apollo 11 Timeline


Apollo 11 Highlights


Apollo 11 First Steps

Friday, July 3, 2009

Random Observations About Facebook

Facebook is a great way to reconnect with old friends.

Facebook is a very efficient time sucker!

Sometimes I learn more about people I know from reading their Facebook pages than I do from actual face-to-face conversations.

Do I really want to know the minute-to-minute status of my 132 FB friends?

Wow, do I really have 132 friends?

Yesterday, I got a friend request from someone who seems to know me. He included a comment indicating we knew each other at a specific previous job. We have several friends in common, mostly from that time in my life. I don’t remember him at all.

It is easy to forget that your boss and your boss’s boss are also Facebook friends.

Why do some people on Facebook include the year in their birthday and a complete address and phone number? Isn’t that just asking for trouble?

I’ve never had a My Space page and I don’t plan to tweet on Twitter.

Some people change their profile picture every few weeks, or days. I’m still using the same one I started with five months ago. Something must be wrong with me.

The word friend is now also a verb.