Monday, February 28, 2011

Diets Suck and Other Random Thoughts

My new doctor strongly suggested I lose another 10 or 15 pounds. I am not overweight in the classic sense, but I guess I’m 10 to 15 pounds above what I should be for my height. My blood pressure was a little higher than it should be and he says those two factors could be related. OK, OK, I get it and that last 10 has been on my goals list for two years. Sadly, I am trying to expand my cooking horizons at the same time I am supposed to lose weight. Timing apparently is everything.

I had a sandwich for lunch today. Made it myself. Whole wheat bread, sliced turkey breast, one slice of cheddar cheese and a dab (a large dab) of mustard. Snacked on some cashews. Did NOT hit the vending machine. Actually, I DID hit it, literally, while muttering something about wanting the contents as I walked past it to get yet another cup of water.

I’m planning to take a drive-west-till-I’m-tired adventure soon, just to change up my patterns. I really need it. Not sure where I’m going yet. I have a first choice and a second. I have been to both several times but I plan to do at least a few different things in whichever I visit. The idea is to change things up a bit. I really just need to break a few patterns and distract myself from some personal crap.

No car problems this week. I hate car problems and had several during the past few weeks. None yet this week.

Had brunch with a long-time friend yesterday, someone I don’t see nearly enough of, even though she only lives fifty miles from me. She and I have been friends for almost 27 years. With one exception, my best friends have all been friends for more than twenty years and with one different exception, all are women. I don’t know what that means.

Every guy should have at least a few close guy friends, the kind of guys who will put up with your crap, laugh at your jokes, tell you your female dates are hot even if they aren’t, rescue you when you get stuck somewhere and go to football games with you. The one close guy friend I have lives more than a thousand miles from here and our connection is probably based more on history than any current status. I spent time with him and his wife around Christmas but our conversation wasn’t as easy as it used to be. The guys I hang out with thesed days are co-worker drinking buddies. I like them but I can’t really say we’re all that close.

After dinner tonight I took a long, hard look at the contents of my refrigerator and realized most of what is in there is healthy. Did I mention diets suck?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ask for Help

One of the most important elements that make up the spectrum of friendship characteristics is ‘helping each other out’.

This is on my mind today because I saw one of the saddest sights of my life this afternoon. D, the friend who died last week, was in many ways a very private person, even to her closest friends. I am a friend by association so I was not very close to her, although we did have some deep conversations over the years. M, who I am closer to, was D’s best friend and until today was the only person in D’s entire circle of friends who had ever been inside her house; and that had only happened during D’s last weeks when it was obvious that the end was near.

D claimed the house was messy and she was embarrassed to let anyone see it, even M. I accepted that explanation for a long time and wrote it off to the possibility that D was just easily embarrassed by things. This situation, however, is far more complicated than that. The only house I have ever seen that was in more deplorable shape than this one was my sister’s house after three weeks of sitting in ten feet of Hurricane Katrina flood waters during 90-degree heat. D’s house was almost as bad as the houses in that TV show about hoarders. Stuff piled on top of stuff piled on top of nearly every flat surface; three bathrooms, each without a working toilet; food in cabinets with expiration dates from 2005; dirty dishes in the sink, dishwasher and piled up in a corner of the dining room. That’s just the inside; the exterior has peeling paint and a few missing siding pieces.

My house is pretty messy so I will not criticize anyone for an unkempt abode, but this was far worse than merely unkempt. Reasons? Part of it seems to be that she just didn’t consider most of this to be a priority. She was busy with work and with her main non-work passion. Then her cancer returned. She seems to have been in denial about the effects of her illness and let things get further out of control. As her health deteriorated, she was less able to do even the simplest things, including replacing burned out light bulbs and washing the dishes. Cleaning the cat litter box appears to have also been a challenge.

She experienced physically debilitating problems for several months before her eventual hospital stay but never once asked anyone for help. The four people in her closest circle would have dropped everything to help her. Each offered many times. She never accepted help nor did she ever ask for help till the very end. Even then, she asked for very little and continued to hide the serious nature of what she was going through.

I usually try to find a learning opportunity in difficult situations and the one I found here is this: ask for help. If you have friends, and you need help, just ask. If you are the kind of person who will give help, do that too. There is a cosmic, perhaps holy balance in giving help and receiving help.

To add one more thing for my close friends who read this blog: if you need my help, ask. I will be there for you. You know that already but I reinforce it here. And you have often said the same to me and you know I am often reluctant to ask you for help. Not after seeing this. I know you are there for me too and one day I will take you up on your offer.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stay At Home Perspective

I took the day off work today. That was not my original plan but it turns out I really needed the relief.

The decision was actually based on a suggestion by my boss. I told her some of the issues I was dealing with this morning (the short version: my car wouldn’t start again AND I also had to run a long, convoluted series of errands to fix a different problem that should not have even been mine to begin with) and I explained how I would handle my work till I could get into the office. She suggested that I just not come in today if necessary, as long as the critical work stuff was handled in some way. Best thing I heard all morning, up to that point.

I was able to do some of my timely work remotely while waiting for the tow truck. They arrived just as I reached a stopping point. One by one I was able to handle today’s issues. By 2 PM things settled down, critical issues were addressed and I was safely in my house just as a severe wind storm rolled in. I checked work email again, saw that immediate problems were solved by others and so I took a nap.

Normally I would feel guilty for missing the busiest day of my work week to handle personal situations but not today. I was at the break point with the crap of my week and tackling things one at a time in quick succession helped reduce the stress and enabled me to solve most of the problems.

I will have to go into the office over the weekend to catch up, but that is a small price to pay for sanity.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finding One in a Book

Do you have a doctor? Your very own primary care physician? One whose name you can correctly spell when filling out a form that asks for the name of your doctor? Or do you go to a clinic for checkups or when there is some kind of non-emergency medical problem?

I am a healthy guy who believes strongly in preventative medicine and I generally live a healthy lifestyle. But it has been several years since my last annual physical. Part of that delay is the result of wanting to change docs. Have you ever tried to find a new one?

My specific search involved geography, my health insurance plan and some other factors such as education, experience and patient ratings. I narrowed my search to two and learned as I tried to schedule an appointment that neither was taking new patients. One of the practices offered two other choices and I picked one at random, which leads me to two important questions: 1) am I stupid? And 2) is the whole health care system stupid?

There is no clear answer to either question. I know I am not stupid, but I do feel a bit silly because after spending hours checking out perspective doctors I end up picking one at random, with no information other than his association with my original first choice. I did look up info on him and determined that he met two of my requirements: he has enough experience and he has no negative ratings. But he is not a doctor I would have chosen in other circumstances.

The system is, however, stupid, at least in part. My most reliable method for finding a physician in the past was to ask select friends to recommend someone they trusted. Not one single friend in my county could do that. Many have no doctor and others go to an urgent care clinic when there is a problem.

Rather than procrastinate any more, I decided to keep my appointment today. This doctor seems knowledgeable and I have better rapport with him than the one he is replacing, but the two additional issues I need guidance on have to be done by other doctors and I couldn’t get my blood work done today because I didn’t fast first. Why? Because nobody told me I had to do that. So now I have to make another appointment for the blood work, then appointments with two other doctors I haven’t researched, then go back to the first doc for further consultation. I should point out, without getting too personal, that each of the other doctors will probably need a consultation appointment, then another appointment involving a procedure. So this annual physical will involve at least six separate doctor visits with doctors plus the blood work. All I got today was the good news that my blood pressure isn’t as high as I thought it was and I got a flu shot.

That is just part of my personal crap this week, by the way, but I’ll spare you the rest for now. This whole month is definitely challenging my usual positivity and problem-solving personality. Time to pour another glass of wine and post this.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Great Song

I'm sure I've heard this song a few hunded times but I never get tired of it. Smoking hot video too! Enjoy.

Wow, I Completely Forgot About It.

I knew the day would come that I would forget my Dad's birthday. He died ten years ago so his birthday is no longer a calendar event leading to the purchase of a card or present, but I usually still think about him on his birthday and I acknowledge the date. But not this year. Or at least not consciously.

I was thinking about Dad yesterday as I searched through the old tool boxes I inherited from him, looking for a wrench to help a tow truck driver figure out something on my car. We were talking about how much simpler cars were decades ago and I had even told this guy about my Dad's ability to fix cars. Hours later something triggered the memory of his February birthday and that is when it occurred to me I had missed it.

However, I did not totally miss it. As I spent time with a dying friend in a hospital last weekend I mentally flashed back to my Dad's dying days and that lead to memories of earlier times with him when he was still able to communicate. What hit me as I began to write this post is that I was in the hospital ON HIS BIRTHDAY. So I guess I really was thinking about him on his birthday; I just didn't make the connection to that specific date.

I have several pictures of Dad but very few with both of us in the shot. The one with this post was taken at his Dad's fishing camp. I'm the kid (in case you didn't figure that out).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Carpe Diem Randomness

I am a creature of habit and ritual and I make no apologies for that, but changing the patterns occasionally can make life more interesting.

Recently I’ve written about the last days of a dying friend and about how her situation has reminded me of the ‘seize the day’ concept … life is short so live in the moment, take charge of and enjoy each day. A more complete explanation, courtesy of Wikipedia, is that the whole phrase from Roman poet Horace is Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero – "Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future."

I am trying to embrace that idea in a more direct way by actually seeking out one or more specific pattern-changing actions each day and then documenting them, possibly publicly in this blog. Making note of my successes, or at least my attempts, helps me mark progress and enables me to be a bit more accountable for sticking to the goal.

The actions I speak of could be little things … ordering a different coffee at Starbucks, listening to opera during part of my commute instead of blues, rock or country, eating lunch at a restaurant I’ve never been to, talking to a complete stranger. I get so wrapped up in my routine sometimes that I forget there are other options.

Bigger carpe diem actions for me could include accepting an invitation to social gathering where I do not know one single person who will be there. Another could be calling in sick one morning then driving west for four hours, stopping for lunch wherever I am at noon, then returning home. Hmm, what about this: picking a random amount of money, say $300, and booking a round trip flight to whatever place I can get to for that sum.

This concept gelled in my head this past weekend while driving home from the grocery store, a Saturday morning ritual, but I realize I have been taking little steps in this direction for two years (my self-discovery journey). During the past week I have specifically done some of the little actions. For example, instead of buying lunch Friday at one of the same three restaurants I go to nearly every week, I walked an extra block to Trader Joe’s (like Whole Foods, only smaller) and made up a lunch of interesting food I saw there (curry chicken salad, cinnamon almonds and whole wheat dinner rolls). Oh, and while in the checkout line I had a conversation with a total stranger about the cinnamon almonds (he had chocolate covered almonds in his basket).

I have definitely changed things in my life over the past few years but the idea of doing something a little different EVERY DAY is intriguing. The single image that has pushed me into action is the sight of the empty chair in my house where my dying friend had been sitting for what turned out to be her last week.  That could be me or you. Carpe diem.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Don’t Tell Me That

This post will piss off some readers. I’ll take my chances.

When it comes to religion, I generally respect everyone’s right to believe or not believe whatever they want. I will admit, however, that I am often a skeptic about some widely held beliefs about death and God’s will.

A comment frequently made when someone dies is “they’re in a better place.” My mental (and sometimes verbal) response is “they’re in the morgue (or a coffin). That’s a better place?” I will admit that when someone who has been suffering dies, they are no longer suffering. In that regard, they are in a better place. People who use the ‘better place’ phrasing mean well and maybe their view on religion leads them to believe that the person who died has moved on to heaven and that’s a better place than planet earth. Again, my skepticism kicks in. I do not know if there is a heaven. I try to live my life as if there is nothing after it so I try my best to make this a good life for me and everyone I know. If it turns out there is a heaven, then hopefully I’ve done the right stuff to get in.

The friend who died recently was unique on so many levels. She was intelligent, highly educated (finished 1st in her Ivy League college graduating class), was good at her job and devoted to her main non-job passion. She led a fairly healthy life but cancer killed her at age 48. There is nothing fair about that, but it is what it is. Life is not inherently fair. Maybe there is some meaning behind someone like that dying so young or maybe it was inevitable that someone whose mother and nearly every female in her family tree died of cancer would also suffer the same fate. Some would say “it is God’s will.” My mental and often verbal response to that is “why would God kill off a positive, productive member of society and let a criminal live?” Don’t tell me it’s God’s will! It is fine if you believe that but if you tell me that, be prepared for a fiery reaction. You’ll get that same reaction from me if you say Hurricane Katrina deaths were God’s will or that my highly moral, by-the-book Dad suffering 15 years of Parkinson’s Disease was God’s will. The one good thing that might come from someone dying is that their survivors can learn from her or his life; and we can learn that life is short so make today count for something because there might be no tomorrow.

If God really does control every little action of humanity, then why should we bother making decisions for ourselves? We’re not controlling anything anyway, right? My belief on that: “bullshit!” We do have control; we have the ability to make choices. Much of what happens in life is random, in my opinion, and much of what happens is the result of our interactions with each other. We are all connected. IF there is a God, I believe he/she/it is that interconnection. One of the seven principles of the organized religion I usually claim as mine reads: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. To me, that is what God is. God might also be a name for doing the right thing, treating people well, respecting living beings. God might be the personification most religions teach and if so, that’s great. But I can’t imagine that God is a control-freak pulling all the strings and making every detail of life happen. If I’m wrong about that, then maybe you won’t see me in heaven. Meanwhile I’ll keep trying to be a good person and continue helping others in whatever way I can.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hospitals, Friends, Family and Death

D, the dying friend I’ve written about, was taken back to the hospital Friday and was moved to the Intensive Care Unit today. This afternoon we were told there is nothing more they can do for her, other than to make her comfortable. The ‘we’ I refer to is a collection of her closest four friends and assorted significant others. I am one of the ‘assortment’. She has no living relatives that we know of, so this cast of characters is her family.

During the five hours we spent there, I was impressed by much of what I saw. D was very private, so the friends spent part of the afternoon piecing together various parts of the story about the return of the cancer; no one person in the group knew the whole story. The friends and D’s lawyer, who is also a friend, discussed D’s various wishes and options. One very important thing was to have her favorite dog there at some point and the friends went to great lengths to make that happen. Fortunately the dog is also a registered service dog so the hospital did not object. D was in a semi-coma by this time but it almost seemed like she was waiting to see the dog before dying.

I should point out that I hate hospitals. I respect and admire people who work in them; they have a difficult job. Some hospitals are insensitive, assembly line healing factories. Fortunately this one is not. The staff was friendly and compassionate and the main doctor in this situation spent 30 minutes discussing the whole scenario with us. He was sensitive yet realistic and never once did he seem rushed.

A little while later I found myself in D’s room with only one other person, a scene I had tried to avoid. As I watched D in her semi-coma state, with her eyes closed and labored breathing, I emotionally flashed back ten years to the day my Dad died. Even though my Dad could not speak and seemed to be unaware of his surroundings, it appeared that he had waited for his family to all be together in the room before passing on. These two scenes were strikingly similar.

Most of us left the hospital late afternoon and the key players in this group formed a phone plan to keep everyone updated on developments. As I was beginning to write this post two hours later we received news that D had died.

She spent her last few hours with her favorite dog snuggled next to her and her closest friends telling stories to her and about her. Nobody knows what she could hear or understand but the setting was exactly what she wanted. 

NASCAR Randomness

The Daytona 500 is today. This is the beginning of NASCAR season.

Jimmie Johnson has won the Sprint Cup championship a record-setting five seasons in a row. Nobody expects him to top that mark, but I will predict right now, before the first race even begins, that he will come damn close.  And. He. Could. Go. All. The. Way.

Stock car racing began as competition among moonshine runners.

Some of the early ‘official’ stock car race cars were so stock that drivers would take their families to church on Sunday morning then drive the same car to the track and race on Sunday afternoon.

I am determined to go to at least one race this year. The two closest tracks to my house are a little over three hours away. I should be able to do this.

Tracks in Chicago and Bristol are relatively close to two good friends who occasionally read this blog. Any interest?

It is hard to believe that it is already 10 years since Dale Earnhardt lost his life in a serious slam-the-wall crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Most NASCAR drivers are male. Best guess: 99 percent. But famous female Indy racer Danica Patrick is trying to add stock car racing to her resume. She is struggling so far, but all drivers go through that. I’ve read that she has the temperament and temper to make it.

And this is the best one, a reward for reading this far: “racecar” spelled backwards is “racecar.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

C'mon Baby, Do It, Let's Start Now

According to a survey commissioned by Jiffy Lube, three out of five Americans talk to their cars.

Here's what they're saying (they could give more than one answer):

- 50% have thanked their cars for a job well done, like getting them somewhere on time.

- 39% of people say they verbally encourage their cars. Like, "Come on, get up the hill without making me turn off the heat. You can do it. You got this. You're a beast."

- 32% have apologized to their cars, either for reckless driving, getting in an accident, putting them through bad conditions, and more.

- 30% beg or plead with their cars.

- 21% of people talk sweet to their cars while RUBBING the dashboard, steering wheel, or some other part.

- And 17% of people try to bribe their cars by verbally promising them premium gas, a car wash, and other special gifts.

Do you ever talk to your car? What do you say? I’m usually too busy screaming at other drivers to say anything to my car.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Do You Say To Someone Who’s Dying?

Last month I wrote a post about my friend M and her best friend D who is dying from cancer. D learned this when she was in the hospital for back surgery. She had survived breast cancer a few years ago but the cancer returned and has spread to many other parts of her body.

The best guess three weeks ago was that she has only two to six months to live. Now, halfway through that two month marker, she got an update. Doctors say the cancer has spread to her brain and a particularly insensitive doctor gave her that news today on her cell phone and cancelled a consult tomorrow because he didn’t want her to go all the way there (50 miles) just to hear that.

D was discharged from the hospital a week ago and has been at our house since then. She is not allowed to go home yet because she needs constant assistance for the most basic functions and M offered to take turns helping along with another of D’s friends; the plan is/was two weeks here, two weeks there, etc. D has been making a very slow recovery from the back surgery but still can’t even walk without help. D is not usually a helpless person and this whole situation is, as you might suspect, frustrating for her. It is also frustrating for M and for me because there is nothing we can do to make things better, other than helping when we can.

When I heard this news this evening, a big dose of reality swept over me. D might be spending the last weeks, or even days of her life in my house. She was asleep when I got home so I haven’t had a conversation with her about the latest news.

So my question: what do you say to someone who’s dying? I am usually supportive and optimistic. D is a fighter but is also fairly pessimistic about things. I want to say something that is comforting and supportive but I also refuse to speak bullshit. It would not be welcomed anyway.

If D was mobile, I’d offer to take her places, movies, dog shows, parks, whatever she wanted. But she only gets up to go to the bathroom and that can take an hour of incremental movement consisting of multiple attempts to transfer from the chair that has been her home for a week to the wheel chair that transports her to the bathroom.

We could have conversations like we did when she stayed here after her breast cancer radiation treatments two years ago. She is very intelligent, an Ivy League graduate with advanced degrees, so it was a challenge for me to keep up sometimes. But her thought patterns are now very scattered. I attributed that to the pain meds but now I wonder if it is related to the cancer spreading to her brain.

My first thought is to say “you’re still alive, don’t give up yet, get another medical opinion or two.” Another idea is to get her to tell stories about pleasant memories. I am also tempted to ask about her advanced directives. That is none of my business, but if she dies in my house, I might need to know some of this. M knows a little bit but not nearly enough, given how close they are. D has few, if any living relatives; M and a handful of other friends are her whole support system.

D is lucky to have the friends she has. Watching this unfold scares me because I have let so many of my geographically close friendships whither away. If I were in this same situation I should be able to count on M for the same support she has given D, but if you know me in person, you know how ironic all of this is.

I don’t know what I will say to D next time we speak but I do know these events reinforce my growing desire to focus more of my attention on the present. The bottom line: carpe diem.

23 Adult Truths

I have seen many lists about various topics, but this one is new to me and is one of the best. These aren’t mine originally but I can hear myself saying them. You too? Enjoy!

1. Part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.

13. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

16. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than with Kay.

17. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

18. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?

19. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

20. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

21. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

22. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.

23. The first testicular guard, the "Cup," was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important. (Ladies.....Quit Laughing).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February Randomness

The temperature in my town is supposed to be in the upper 60s on Friday. The sandals I ordered should arrive Thursday. Timing is everything.

The Daytona 500 is Sunday. I am quite certain I’ll be watching it.

Warm weather and NASCAR races are sure signs that spring is coming. It might get cold again before April but I am an optimist who is always looking for signs of better things to come.

The gym is usually crowded on Mondays but there weren’t very many people there last night. Is February 14th some kind of holiday or something? -:)

Several people at work celebrate birthdays in February and we usually have ice cream cake on those days. Good thing I went to the gym yesterday.

Some good blues bands are playing in my area this month (and next). Looks like I’ll be busting my budget.

Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor turns 50 this month; actress Jane Seymour turns 60.

Some tech geeks will remember February as the month iPhone became available for Verizon users. Next February those same tech geeks will be crying because their iPhone will already be out of date.

This February is the month I will finally get a smart phone to replace the cell phone that can only make calls and texts. Which smart phone I get will be determined by how good my negotiating skills are (some are just way too expensive). My current phone is great, by the way, but a smart phone is almost a necessity in my line of work; however my negotiating skills are not quite good enough to convince work to pay for my upgrade.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Randomness

I am romantic. Yes, men can be romantic without giving up their ‘man card’.

I usually remember birthdays, anniversaries and preference details of women I like. I usually pay attention to what women tell me. No, I’m not perfect and my ego is not as big as this post makes it seem.

A female friend called me a ‘peaceful man’ a few months ago. I am that and sensitive too, but don’t ever confuse that with lack of resolve in conflict. I am perfectly capable and willing to beat the shit out of an adversary if I can’t find conflict resolution with words.

Love is a complicated four-letter word in the same league as jazz and rock. It means many different things to different people and there are many shades and degrees of love. Parent love, friend love, romantic love, love of country, “I love that song” love, sibling love … all of it involves caring and some of it involves chemistry.

I saw results from a survey on the Comcast home page yesterday called Best Cities for Love. It ranked American cities in various categories including social life, emotional health, single life, marriage and divorce. The city choices are a bit odd, in my opinion, but it turns out I have lived in three of the top ten: New Orleans (definitely romantic), Milwaukee (not so much) and San Antonio (I was in the Army there, so no love).

Flowers and chocolate are symbols of love but my Valentine preference is to send goofy things that make a woman laugh.

For some people, a typical idealized romantic evening begins with sipping fine win in an elegant restaurant with a fancy dress code. My idealized romantic evening begins with sipping fine wine while strolling along an empty beach holding hands with someone special and sharing a beautiful sunset. Music, laughter and other things come later and there is no dress code. Bonus points for sharing coffee and a sunrise the next morning.

I shot the photo that accompanies this post at Duck, NC several years ago. It is one of my favorite places for beach walking. Is it a sunset or a sunrise? Imagine the setting yourself; the reality of that particular day is not nearly as good as the story you create.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend Thinking

What is your typical weekend like? Is it exciting? Filled with fun activity with friends; parties, movies, athletic pursuits, exotic meals? Or do boring-but-necessary activities dominate your Saturday and Sunday? Things like running errands, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, catching up on the sleep you didn’t get during the week?

Mine is mostly on the boring side and the older I get the less I like that. There are reasons not currently in my control that lead to some of my weekend scheduling and that will change this year. Meanwhile, I do routine things most weekends, sprinkled with the occasional fun activity with friends maybe once a month.

The rundown this weekend, so far: got my car radio fixed at a Honda dealer, shopped for groceries at two different stores, worked out at the gym, bought two bottles of wine, cooked jambalaya for dinner last night, solved some logistical issues in my house relating to a house guest who is recovering from severe back surgery, repaired a sticky garage door, started writing blog posts for the future, scanned and edited a photo for tomorrow’s blog post, took a nap or two, texted some funny stuff with a friend, spent way too much time on the internet and watched the news on television.

OK, that seems like plenty of activity and although most of it was routine it wasn’t really boring. But that activity list is not how I want my weekends to play out. Play is the key word here … I want to play on the weekend.

If I could design the perfect weekend, the list of activities would include things like this: hiking on nearby trails, riding my bike on the C&O Tow Path, taking pictures on the National Mall, seeing live music with friends, going to sporting events, movies or parties with friends. I do like my privacy and time alone and errands and chores are part of life, but the current balance is all wrong for me. I want more play time and more friend time. It annoys me that a simple goal like that has been so difficult to achieve.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

There Is Music Again

The whole situation in Egypt is both scary and encouraging. The scary part manifests itself on many levels. There are the obvious factors related to thousands of people trying to overthrow a government. Even when the intentions are good, such as tossing out a dictator, the chaos is dangerous. Another scary aspect is the possibility of an even worse governmental entity taking over to fill the power vacuum. That population’s goal is to have some form of democracy installed, but they are not at that point yet. And then there is the possibility of our own country sending in troops to ‘help’. It appears that will no longer be necessary, but in my opinion it would never be necessary, just as it hasn’t been in some of the other conflicts over the past few decades. Why should we be the world’s police? I know things are not as simple as I’m making it here but sometimes simplicity is the correct approach.

What is encouraging about developments in Egypt? The fact that their president/dictator finally did resign and a newer government will be formed. It is mostly the result of the population standing up for the right to govern themselves. The people wanted freedoms they were denied and now they may get them. We take some of our own freedoms for granted at times so this might be a reminder that we have it pretty good here.

Music is often at the heart of freedom and free expression. A Facebook friend posted this vintage photograph today … American Jazz musician Louis Armstrong serenading his wife in the shadow of a famous pyramid in Egypt during the 1960s. His caption: There is music again tonight in Egypt.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Holy App!

Need to go to confession? There's an app for that. Catholics and those who study that brand of religion will either laugh or be offended. Please tell me you have a sense of humor. Catholics can now confess via their mobile device. I can hear it now: bless me Father for I have linked.

OK, I borrowed that last line from the headline in a New York Times story about this new confession option. Hmm, I wonder if reprinting without permission is a sin. At least I am reprinting with attribution.

As long as I am quoting, here is a re-written prayer, copied from that article.

Our Father, who art in pixels,
linked be Thy name,
Thy Web site come, Thy Net be done,
on Explorer as it is on Firefox.
Give us this day our daily app,
and forgive us our spam,
as we forgive those
who spam against us,
and lead us not into aggregation,
but deliver us from e-vil. Amen.

CLICK HERE to read the whole article, especially if you are or ever were Catholic. I grew up in that faith so I remember confession well. It was always a challenge for me because I was one of the ‘good boys’ in school (boring, I know but trust me, I’ve lived a balanced life since. Think about that for a minute). If the worst sin you could think of was being angry at your sister because she took the last cookie, how do you even justify going to confession? How many Hail Marys does it take to forgive minor sibling anger? Maybe I can get the answer to that question on a web site.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Random Happiness Quotes

We all need these sometimes. Nothing too serious, just cool little things to contemplate. Enjoy.

Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed.

- Storm Jameson

Happiness is like a kiss … you must share it to enjoy it.

- Unknown

The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is and the future less resolved than it will be

- Marcel Pagnol

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Monday, February 7, 2011

Totally Random 5.1

February 7th is boring. Super Bowl is past, NASCAR is future, and winter is still here. Why can’t it be April now?

Winning the lottery would be a good thing for me and my peeps and my causes. I would not be one of those sad winners you hear about who get so caught up in the money that it ruins their lives. Few people in my circle would even know. I’d help my sister and a couple of select friends who are struggling with finances, I’d get through a current personal situation much faster, I’d find a way to anonymously donate large sums of money to my favorite non-profit groups and I’d travel. I would keep my job for awhile but I’d change my job description a bit. My lottery prayer: “C’mon, help me prove good guys win.”

An acquaintance recently got an overnight job. I was telling him what I did to make my life relatively normal when I worked that shift. I skipped the part about how thirteen years later I still don’t sleep well.

Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious. Can’t get much more random than that, can ya? Did I spell it correctly?

Reagan at 100

Yesterday would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. I did not like this wildly popular President but I did respect how he was able to make the country feel better about itself.

There appears to be a big publicity campaign centered on his centennial year. As a history enthusiast, however, I am less interested in him and more interested in how much the world changed during his 93-year lifetime and the seven years since his death.

Think about 1911 for a minute. The Wright Brothers first powered human flight had just taken place eight years earlier and commercial flights did not yet exist. Women did not get the right to vote for another nine years. Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states and Oklahoma had only been a state for four years. Most American homes did not have indoor plumbing, air conditioners or refrigerators. The typical work week was 50 hours/6 days and there were only three holidays a year.

Two of Reagan’s primary pre-politics careers, radio and television, did not yet exist and most movies did not yet have sound. Life expectancy was 50 years.

Another impressive aspect of Ronald Reagan’s life is that he did not let age get in the way of accomplishment. He was elected President at age 69, the oldest to assume office; the majority of Presidents were elected in their 50s.

He had a great sense of humor too. When asked in a debate during his 1980 campaign if he was physically up to the task of handling a crisis as President, his response was, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Even his opponent laughed; and Reagan won that election.

Like him or not, Reagan had a remarkable and memorable two-term Presidency. But he was three inches and a reporter’s question away from being merely a footnote in history. As you probably know, he survived an assassination attempt just weeks after his first inauguration. What you might not know (and I didn’t know till I read a politics daily article) is that seconds before the shot rang out, a 5’9” tall aide moved 6-foot-tall Press Secretary James Brady in position to answer a reporter’s question and ultimately into the line of fire. Had Brady not taken that particular bullet, Reagan would have been killed. Fate? Divine Providence? Either way, Reagan defied the odds and holds a cherished place in American history. I don’t have to like him to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Who Nose?

You’ve heard the phrase “it’s all in the eye of the beholder.” I have been contemplating a different one lately: “it’s all in the nose of the smeller.” Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard that one; I just made it up. It goes along with my question of the day: what is good fragrance for a cologne or perfume?

Brut and Old Spice were popular men’s fragrances in my youth and I’m sure I soaked myself in plenty of each at one time. Yuck! I hate both now and I bet women I know would agree. Tigress was the perfume my first girlfriend used and I have fond, unprintable memories related to that one, but I do not believe it is made any more. I wonder what my reaction would be if I whiffed that scent today.

So what men’s cologne is favored by women in this century? I tried many brands ten or fifteen years ago but gave up because I did not like any of them. My favorite non-cologne scents are coconut, pine and coffee but I’m not sure those would make for good manly fragrances. Axe is allegedly popular with young men, but I hear it’s a joke for any male over 22.

What women’s perfume is in favor these days? A female friend I only see once or twice a year uses one that is awesome. I don’t know what it is, but it is perfect for her. And that might be part of the answer to my question: different fragrances work differently for different women (and men) and preference is also determined by the smeller as much as the user.

I generally prefer fragrance-free products but the shaving cream, body wash and deodorant I use each have scents with marketing-infused names like Active, Arctic Edge and Vault. I have no idea if they are appealing or repulsive. I haven’t notice anyone steering around me in the hallways at work but I have not heard any ‘you smell good today’ comments either.

One thing I do know about fragrance: any deodorant scent is better than no deodorant.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winter Randomness

I haven't taken many photographs lately so I decided to do something about that. This is in my yard today.

Visit my photo blogs for more:

Photo Bernie

Middletown Daily Photo

Friday, February 4, 2011

Totally Random 5.0

Had margaritas with some work friends tonight. I have great work friends. The drinks were good too.

Still no tunes in my car. I had an online chat with the local Honda dealer via their website. Weird. But “Kevin” couldn’t answer my question at that moment and I’m still waiting for their reply … and my sound system.

Super Bowl is Sunday. My 5th favorite team is playing. Not sure I’m going to watch, although I do want to see the commercials and the half-time show.

Many incomplete sentences in this post. My high school English teacher would be pissed.

I was thinking about my friends, the ones who are the emotionally closest but who all live so far away. The geographically closest of them live an hour away, the rest are spread out across the globe in North Carolina, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, Hawaii and England. They are a diverse bunch, mostly female, most in their 40s and 50s. The main two things they have in common are music and me. I met every one of them in totally random situations. I will write a book about it one day.

Fitness update: weight is almost back down where it was before the food holidays and I’ve been fairly consistent with my gym visits. Eventually I might actually look as good as all this fitness stuff makes me feel. My sister noticed the weight loss last time I saw her, which I take as a good sign because her main job is teaching fitness.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cool Quote

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter...and those who matter don't mind."

- Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Radio Code

If you drive a late-model Honda you might already know where this story is going. If not, read on.

First, a set up. I am not the kind of person who believes that the ‘good old days’ are better than today but I do believe that some aspects of the past made life simpler than it is now. Take cars, for example. They used to be simple. Spark plugs, carburetors, direct throttle linkage, fan belts … fairly easy to understand parts that made cars run. I did my own routine maintenance and even a few things that were not routine. I once did a clutch adjustment on my beat up old Mustang in a parking lot and once changed a broken fan belt on a Toyota while on the side of the Capitol Beltway as a legendary DC traffic jam crawled past me.

My current ride is a ‘pre-owned’ Honda. The pre owner bought it new with nearly every option that was available that year and it is definitely the most luxurious vehicle I have owned. I love the electronics but I do not have a clue how to fix anything on this car. When I got to work today and shut off the engine, the instrument panel blinked at me a couple of times. I have never seen that. Hmm, I though, as I hit the unlock button. Nothing unlocked. I turned on a dome light to see if I had hit the wrong button and the light barely lit. I had hit the correct unlock button but it would not unlock the doors. Uh-oh, dead battery? But there had been no warning. I tried to start the car and it would not start. I manually opened my door, manually opened the rear door to grab my computer. I’m late for a meeting so this problem will have to wait.

Later I enlisted the help of a couple of co-workers who actually do understand the electronics of contemporary cars. Basically one of the battery terminals had corroded so much that it broke the cable connection. (I actually figured out that part on my own) My co-workers went to a nearby car parts place, bought a $3 connector and re-connected the battery. Old school solution! Turns out the battery was not dead, just not connected well. The car started right up. I have great co-workers! I can’t imagine what a repair shop would have charged me to fix this (and that would have been after finding a tow truck that could fit in this underground parking lot).

Moving ahead to quitting time, as I left the parking lot I noticed the radio was not working. The word CODE blinked mockingly at me, reminding me of a useful but annoying feature of late-model Hondas. When the battery is disconnected, the sound system becomes disabled and the driver needs a code to reactivate it. This is basically a theft deterrent feature for the sound system. Great! BUT I do not have the code and was never given the code. I first learned of the Radio Code a year ago when I had the car in a body shop for a repair that might have required a battery disconnect. It didn’t, but I discovered I could not get the code on the Honda web site because it did not recognize me as the real owner of this specific Honda.

So tonight was the quietest ride home I’ve had in 2 ½ years … no FM, no AM, no XM, no CDs. Just the annoying CODE, CODE, CODE blinking at me, daring me to shout. Or sing a cappella. I did neither. I actually enjoyed the silence. I did not enjoy not having access to traffic reports.

And now I will not enjoy the process of finding my radio code. At least I do enjoy the car. But I also enjoyed my beat up old no-frills Mustang.