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Nov 10 16

Where I run the New York Marathon

by John
Running the Course

As I’ve mentioned, I switched jobs in April — my new employer happens to be one of the major sponsors of the TCS New York Marathon. I was just checking my work email, randomly, on a Saturday night when I noticed “guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon.” I read it. I was intrigued. And five minutes later, I had agreed to run it.

The New York Marathon is the biggest marathon in the world, in what might be the most-bustling city in the world. For the most part, I run smaller races, and nothing about this race is small.

Signing up, you need to list three items:

  1. Anticipated finish time (I stated between 4:00 and 4:15)
  2. Whether I’d be using the bag check or receiving a parka (I chose the latter, which I’ll talk about in detail)
  3. What option I’d use for transportation to the start: get myself there, take the Staten Island Ferry, a NJ bus from the Meadlowlonds, or a bus from the New York Public Library. I opted for the NJ Transit option.

After that, it was all just getting through the race.

I don’t know if I chose hastily or what, but I didn’t read through everything that went into choosing the NJ Transit bus option. I knew I’d need to get back home that evening . . . so not having to drive myself out of NYC had a lot of sway in my thinking. What I didn’t realize, though, that there was no parking at Giant’s Stadium for this option.

When I discovered this, my original thought was to just get my way to the Staten Island Ferry . . . but I ended up staying the course. I parked at the Seacaucus Junction rail station, knowing it would cost me $29.00 for the day ($20, if I happened to get back before 12 hours elapsed), and scheduled an Uber to pick me up at 5 in the morning. I had the Uber drop me at MetLife stadium, hopped on the NJ Transit bus, and everything went SUPER easily. After the run, my plan was to either hop on the subway or walk back to Penn Station, take the train to Seacaucus Junction, and drive on home.

Heading into the race, I had to head to the Javitz center on Saturday to pick up my race bib and, simply, enjoy the Expo. Of all of my transportation decisions, this is the one I erred, as I drove into the city. Traffic was heavy all throughout Manhattan and parking cost an arm & a leg. Much like my plan to get home included mass transit, I should have, simply, parked at Seacaucus Junction, hopped on the train into the city, and walked to the convention center from Penn Station (about a mile). Alas, I did park, at Port Authority1. I walked to the convention center and had my bib and in about 10 minutes.

Considering the number of people running, I cannot get over how well-organized this whole thing was . . . though I guess every detail has to be planned, at an event of this magnitude, it’s quite obvious that every detail was thought-of and acted-upon. Truly, I was impressed.

I spent about an hour walking about the expo — just checking out the different vendors. As the mornings are getting darker and darker as I walk my puppy, I actually spent a few bucks on a pair of fingerless gloves which include rechargeable LED lights. Also, I collected brochures from most every other marathon who happened to send an ambassador there. Because, yeah, I don’t think I’m done running marathons.

After I had enough of the vendor spiels, I worked my way back into NJ, where I spent the night with a friend of mine.

In the week leading to the race, I stopped by the local Goodwill store and purchased a bunch of winter clothing: knit hats, sweat pants, sweat shirts, a winter jacket — all of which came with me into NJ for the start. On race day, I woke at 4am and by 4:30, I was dressed for the race, along with layer-after-layer of warm clothing.

By 5am, I had made my way to the parking lot. The Uber driver arrived minutes later.

10 minutes after that, he dropped me at Parking Lot K. My bib was checked and I was on a bus. NJ transit operates continually between 5am and 6am (I’m pretty sure, as long as you’re there by 6am, they’ll take you). They pack one bus fully and send it, then start filling the next. I was at MetLife stadium for less than 10 minutes.

While on the bus, I was informed that I had time to move my car, if I had parked at the stadium . . . but I’m not entirely sure that I did have time, as I have no idea where I could have parked.

I think the trip to Staten Island took just north of an hour, but I was busy chatting with other runners. One of the guys I sat next to someone who was running this marathon for the past 8 years. His advice:

  • Pee at the portapotties after your corral, as they’re far less crowded.
  • Remember that the first mile is uphill so don’t push too hard.
  • The second mile is downhill but don’t let your nerves take off.
  • Use the 5k mark to start moving into your own pace.

Once at Fort Wadsworth, there was a quick check through security and I worked my bundled-way to my village where I grabbed a Dunkin’ Donuts beanie (which was more comfortable than the hats I brought) and chatted with a few runners before finding a cozy batch of ground and taking a two hour nap.

Bundled Before the Start

I woke from the nap, drank a bunch of free coffee, and worked my way to the corral.

The biggest difference for this marathon than all of my previous marathons is the start time & procedure. While I’m kind-of used to arriving, hanging out for a little bit, and running . . . here, I had probably walked, at least, 2 miles prior to starting. And that “hanging out for a little bit” was 4 hours of waiting. Honestly, though, my running strategy as of late worked quite well for me – as I’ve been running, mostly, over lunches, I’ve had a two mile walk with Benji beforehand, and when I do run, there is little more than coffee in my system.

Anyway, the cannon blasted around 10:40, and I was off.

Running the Course

When they talk about NY being deceptively hilly, it’s because the bridges have some grade to them . . . but the course is quite flat – I really don’t consider a climb of 150 feet worth mentioning. But I kept easy for the first mile, tried hard to rein myself in for the second mile, and, right around mile 3, started to find my pace.

Normally, when I run, I put in my earbuds, turn up the volume, and try to use the music or audiobook to help me into the runner’s high. This race, though, I chose to avoid the earbuds altogether. It’s not that I wanted to avoid the runner’s high (I can’t tell you too much about most any mile marker, so I absolutely reached this little bit of nirvana), but I wanted to soak in The New York Marathon. I wanted it to flow through me. And, honestly, I’m quite glad I took this approach . . . the were just so many runners. The entire time, I had to keep mentally focused, because if I didn’t, it would have meant a 200 pound runner barreling into another runner or, worse, one of the heroes from Team Achilles. Plus, I wouldn’t have gotten the full picture of the crowd.

And the crowd was, simply, the best part of this race. For almost the entire route, the roads are packed with cheering, supportive spectators. Every block or so, a different band plays (be it a middle school jazz band, a bunch of retired guys playing bagpipes, or a death metal duo). People of every race, of every creed, cheering you, for every step of the way. The feeling was, in a word, amazing2.

My mindset, heading in, was to relax early, then break the race into each borough: get through Brooklyn (which is essentially the halfway point), into Queens, take solace in the quiet of the bridge into Manhattan, enjoy the run as I head north up Manhattan, get into the Bronx and mile marker 20, and then ride adrenaline back into Manhattan to the finish.

Running the Course

And the plan worked, until I got back into Manhattan.

Any runner who has ever run knows how annoying cramps can be. And right after I crossed the bridge back into Manhattan, my left quad started to complain. Rather than fight through it, I stopped. I walked, found a place to stretch and stopped. Only, as I stretched, other muscled started to cramp. I’d get the cramping under wraps, only to have it start again a few hundred yards later. The worst was when my hips & *ahem* nether-region started to seize.

Posing for the cameraman

Mom, you probably don’t want to read this paragraph. Guys, you know when you’ve had a particularly long dry-spell? When your schedule is so very crazy that, not only do you & your certain someone have any alone time, but you don’t even have alone time by yourself? And then, *poof* you find some, and you’re getting into it, getting close, and then the kids wake up, the house catches fire, and your boss calls your cell phone all at the same time? So you have to stop doing what you’re doing. Then you try to walk? That ache? That’s what it felt like.

Running the Course

I managed to get all of my *ahem* issues under control by finding a seat and actually taking the weight off my legs for a minute. No fewer than a dozen people came up to me, as I rested, offering me Gatorade or bananas or water or their shirts off their back (well, not literally, though you got the sense that everybody who was cheering you on would have gladly given you whatever you asked for, if it meant that you’d get your way to the end — seriously, I can’t get over how good the vibe from the crowd was, the entire way).

Never leave a kid hanging for a high-five along the course

For the last 5k, I was able to run again.

Crossing The Finish

I finished.

I felt that I succeeded.

With My Medal

I had a blast.

Following the race, you walk a good distance. They hand out the medals, then the film sheets (by this point, I was quite chilly — the weather was actually just about perfect, but once the sweat started drying on me, I got a major case of the chills), then a recovery bag, and then, finally, the parka. I was QUITE glad to get the parka . . . not only did it mean that I was warm and now own a pretty freaking cool piece of outerwear, but it kept me from having to worry about my stuff not making it to the end-point.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I walked to Penn Station from Central Park. Yeah, I could have taken a subway — it would have been faster and more comfortable, but I just had the sense that my legs needed to keep moving in a way that wasn’t taxing them.

Most everybody I passed on the street told me congratulations. I know New York city quite well . . . I’ve visited it numerous times. The number of conversations I’ve had with random strangers in Manhattan, until marathon day, could be counted on one hand. Yet, it seemed that everybody who I passed was eager to know how I did, was this my first marathon, was this my first time running New York, what did I think, how do I feel. Again, the vibe was a good vibe . . . I even get the sense that most New Yorkers don’t mind the clusterfuck that the marathon brings to the traffic conditions. It’s a feel good day.

I got to Penn Station, even the ticket seller at the NJ Transit booth told me congratulations. I hopped on a train, got to my truck, chatting with people all along the way. I got to my car as Giants and Rangers fans shouted their congratulations to me.

As I drove off, even if my finish time (4:10:55) was a bit later than I was hoping (I really wanted to beat four hours), I felt, truly, accomplished.


1 This provided a bit of happy nostalgia, at least. Growing up, about once a month or so, my family would head into New York. We’d park at Port Authority and walk to China Town for a meal before walking back. So, parking here brought me back to memories of my childhood, though the area around Port Authority is quite different than the place I remember.
2 Well, there was a Hasidic area of Brooklyn where the spectators were . . . subdued. They were watching, but watching quietly, as their religion would advise. There was a “you’re running. Why?” vibe — it wasn’t bad, just different.
Nov 9 16

Where I remember I’m Daddy Runs a Lot

by John
maritime_pirate

Sometimes, I need to remind myself who I am. I’m a father, a son, a brother, a husband, a musician, some kind of weird technical person, a joker, a weekend toker, Some people call me Maurice. And I am Daddy Runs a Lot.

What am I not? Daddy Writes a Lot1

So I’ve abandoned you, my dear, six and three-quarter loyal blog readers. Life has been . . . crazy, to say the least. I’ve missed writing here, though. Also, I’ve missed reading your words — the only non-filed, non-deleted emails I have in my inbox are advertisements promising me a humongous cock if I simply pay $8,294,211 for some magic pills blogs from you blog authors who I love to visit, but just haven’t made the priority to do so. It’s really my fault, though, actively choosing to work while at work and then *gasp* play with my kids.

But, alas, I miss writing.

Lack of writing has not left me not running, however. In fact, I’ve been running with regularity as of late. It’s kind of wonderful. See, a little while ago, I switched jobs, and with the new job is an in-house gym and locker room. And in the locker room is a shower. The only thing that was keeping me from regular running, in the past, was this stupid belief that I should shower after I run because I believed my coworkers would take my post run scent2 poorly.

On top of the regular “just for the fun of it” runs, of course, there are actual running events. This year, I’ve:

  • Run a half marathon in conditions that I can only define as “blizzardly.”
    Me and snow and medal
  • Went running along the beach, as I am wont to do.
    Running and my happy place

    Maybe I shouldn't run naked...

  • Went on an epic road trip to Canada to run a 5k (dressed as a pirate whilst wearing a kilt) and then running the most beautiful half-marathon course imaginable3

    maritime_running

    maritime_pirate

  • Set my personal record in the half-marathon running the Hershey Half Marathon for my sixth time.
    The group before the Hershey Half Marathon

Oh, yeah, and I ran the New York Marathon4.

It’s funny — the weather is crappy today; the recent news has me wanting to binge eat ice cream whilst binge drinking bourbon whilst binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer; if I try to stand on one leg for more than 5 seconds, my entire body starts to cramp . . . yet I’m still drawn to run. Heck, if I didn’t have to play with my organ in front of a crowd if the bishop wasn’t going to be in (meaning it would be a really crappy week for me to ditch my organist duties), I’d seriously be considering breaking the post-New York Marathon running fast by running the Harrisburg marathon. I’ve felt horrible after a marathon before and I had a really bad moment running this past one . . . but, unlike before, my head never caved . . . and dare I say, Daddy Runs a Lot may be back.

Just don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.


1 Though, when I do write, I usually write using a lot of words.
2 Imagine if you found a roadkill skunk and set it on fire.
3 I’m a sucker for the ocean and quaint neighborhoods, so Halifax kind of won me over.
maritime_scenery
4 Hopefully, in the very near future, the details of the event will be listed in their own post.
Apr 27 16

Where I return with stories of changes, running, and of course, random

by John

It hasn’t been my choice to disappear . . . I’ve written before, about “not making a priority” for key things in my life. And, as loathe as I am to say it, blogging has not been a priority as of late. Part of the story of why I haven’t been around here is quite good. And, of course, part of it isn’t. But, as is my fashion, here are all the deets1 in the laziest possible fashion my favorite conveyance, bullet points.

  • I recently switched jobs. A few months ago, I got a message, out of the blue, from an old boss, about my possible interest. I was quite interested . . . time passed the position changed even more to my liking, I interviewed, and *poof*, now I have a new job. Mostly, I’m doing the same stuff – syntax is a bit different (technically, I’ve gone from an environment which was primarily J2EE with an Oracle backend to one that’s primarily .Net oriented with a SQL Server backend), but the crux of the job is the same. And maybe it’s just a good honeymoon, but while the job isn’t exactly stressless, the major gripes I had from my last position are an item of the past. Professionally, I’m a good bit happier.
  • My son celebrated his 100 day celebration of kindergarten. This whole idea is something I did not have in school in the days where we walked uphill both ways as I went through — and from the sounds of it, the “100 days smarter” is a relatively new thing. But I loved it. It happens just as the kids are in the rut of the “post-Christmas” pit, the weather is crappy . . . and they get to have a great bit celebration. About learning. It’s just about perfect.
  • One of the perks of the new job is a fitness center on premises. Which means I have a shower available to me. Which means that heading out for a run over lunch is a very real possibility. So I’ve been running a bit more.
  • A few weeks ago, I ran the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon. I have a bit of a history with this course . . . over the last two years, I’ve run the full marathon. Two years ago, I was doing great, then my hamstring started spasming and I ended up limping for a bit before it calmed down right around mile marker 25 and I ended up running to the finish. Last year, the race just about ruined running for me. So, I decided, this year, to “just” run the half marathon2 . . . so I should have been prepared for a curveball. I’m someone who will skip a training run because it’s “too cold” or “it might rain.” I ran this half marathon in freezing temperatures and what I can only call a white-out (though, thankfully, the snow wasn’t accumulating on the road). These were, honestly, the most miserable conditions I’ve ever run through . . . and because you know me, yeah, I’m kind of disappointed at myself for not running the full (though I was downright giddy at the half-marathon turnround, knowing that I “only” had to run another 6 miles, and not another 18).
  • For the most part, the lack of writing has actually been good for me — see, there are three things that I do to “keep the crazy at bay:” run, play music, and write. In each of them, there are moments where I will, simply get lost. When running, I’ll commonly look at my distance flabbergasted because I figured I had gone a mile or two . . . and the reality was closer to 10. When writing, hundreds of words turn into thousands, magically. When playing music . . . well, the moments that I’ve actually lost myself are few & far between . . . but when they happen, when playing becomes entirely reactive and there is nothing between my thoughts & the music that I’m making . . . well, that’s magical. Fortunately, the need to simply lose myself has diminished in my life as of late. But, on that topic, I was chatting with a priest at my church (a man who has recently taken up running, himself) and we talked about getting into that “lost time” feeling in regards to prayer – how it should be the aim of any person’s prayers. Well, I’m not so sure prayer is for me (I’m truly dubious as to whether anyone is listening) but if I could turn this “losing myself” feeling toward something truly good — lose myself in playing with my kids, in reading books to my kids, in volunteering in the community . . . well, I’d be a better person.
  • As the weather turns nicer, I’m getting more & more excited about this year’s version of my garden: cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, squash, and green beans.
  • Between my last day at my previous job & my first day at my new job, I had a daddy/daughter day . . . we went out to breakfast, she got a manicure . . . it was truly a wonderful morning. And made me wish I had the ability to do more stuff with either child, individually.
  • Every few years, I re-listen to some of my favorite audiobooks. So I just started Stephen King’s The Stand. And then Prince died with seemingly the only thing wrong being that he had the flu. I feel like I brought this on.
  • I keep telling myself “once I get through this” or “once that is over,” my life will be far less overly-scheduled. But shit always seems to come in & pile up, and what I once through would be a “relaxed weekend” has me running from place to place on end. But with that said, I’ve actually said “no” to several community theatre productions3 lately because I’m far more interested in riding this “not as stressed” wave as long as I can.

1 Apparently, the lingo all the cool kids are using for “details”.
2 Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know saying “just a half-marathon” is the mark of an asshole but I keep myself in *just* enough running shape that I’m able to run 13.1 miles without training.
3 I know! I’m as surprised as you are!
Dec 16 15

Where I share a few fun stories about my kids

by John
Kids with Santa

Just before Thanksgiving, we went as a family to visit New York City, which included a trip over the river to Medieval Times. There, Leila got a “jewel,” a blue glass paperweight shaped like a cut gem. After the show, we went back to the hotel, and in the morning, the kids were playing with the stuff they got (CJ, of course, got a sword, because he loves swords). In playing, the kids entered the closet of the hotel room, where they encountered a hotel room safe. Leila, having a “jewel” chose to put her new acquisition in there, because a safe is there you put things that are precious. And, of course, as we were packing up, “the hotel room safe” was the last place that Duffy or I thought about ensuring things might be stored. I like to think that the next person who looked into the safe thought they had scored a major “found treasure” for a minute before inspecting things more closely and/or taking the glass paperweight to an appraiser.

We’ve been listening to a lot of music whenever I’ve been driving with the kids, lately — I like trying to push the kids’ preferences toward the stuff that I prefer. This doesn’t always work (preschool playlists combined with “Who Let the Dogs Out” and “What Does the Fox Say?” are the most often played songs in my car), but it does reap some benefit. Not too long ago, “Hey Jude” came over the speakers. After the song, CJ asked why Jude wasn’t answering.

To now, the six-month difference in age between my children hasn’t amounted to much, but lately I’m reminded of reading Stuart Little as a kid. Leila is trying, really hard, to get the concept of what kindergarten is, because the scope of her world is what she does at preschool. And I’m reminded of Stuart not knowing what the kid did when he went to school – but he knew that there were peanut butter sandwiches. And he wanted to go to school because he liked peanut butter sandwiches. Leila sees that I pack CJ a snack every day, which, almost always, includes either potato chips or mini-oreo cookies. She sees that, in his lunch box, every day, I include a Hostess cupcake. So she really wants to go to kindergarten because she wants the cookies & the cupcake.

I’m quick to admit that a big part of my reasoning for working out as I do is so I can pick up my children. Leila is truly turning into a “daddy’s girl” and asks for “uppy” whenever possible . . . and, even when I’m tired & grumpy1, I oblige the “uppy” requests. CJ, unless he’s so sleepy that he can barely walk (kindergarten is hard, yo) or is absolutely asleep, eschews requests for “uppy” unless I’m willing to pick him up, upside down, and then it’s for the adrenaline rush of being carried while inverted. I guess that’s what I should expect from “a kid growing up.”


1 This is almost all of the time.
Dec 1 15

Where I check in with some random

by John
The Family with Santa
  • I ran the Harrisburg Marathon
    • I fared a good bit better than I did during my last marathon. I came in nowhere close to the 4 hours in which I was hoping to finish, but I felt good about my effort. Basically, I started out really strong, and was feeling great. I don’t know if it was the rapidly increasing temperatures (it never got “hot” or, really, even “warm,” but the race started really, really cold and it was quite pleasant by the time I finished) or the fact that I wasn’t really training to run 26.2 miles, but the wheels started to fall of, for me, right around mile 18, where a cramp started to form in the back of my right hamstring. I tried to ignore it, until about mile 20, when I stopped to actually stretch it. But when I stopped? Cramps formed in my lower back, shin, and foot. So I started to walk . . . and that worked. For about a 5k (miles 20-23) I walked while trying to ease through these annoying cramps. Around mile marker 23, some people I was chatting with at the very start of the race started running past me, the cramp in my hamstring started to abate, and I ran with them to the finish.
    • 2015 Harrisburg Marathon Finish

    • During the Garden Spot Village Marathon, I was angry with myself & the world. This time? I wasn’t super happy with my time (4:17), but I didn’t feel angry. I’m very glad to have replaced the last marathon memory with this one.
    • The course this year was different, and the ending in “Downtown Harrisburg” was really nice — but having to walk about a half-a-mile back to my car afterwards was not a fun walk. Heck, my sister was enjoying a beer with some friends at the finish and invited me to share a brew with her. Only that would have meant: walking back to my car for my wallet/id, walking back downtown. Um, yeah, I didn’t make it.
    • I’ve often told myself that I’m “retiring the distance,” but despite walking a good bit, I feel MUCH better about my performance here. I may try “pulling another marathon out of my ass” some time.
  • It’s so rare for Leila to be able to laud something physical over CJ – but the fact that he’s a boy’s boy1 is difficult to ignore. The other week, we were visiting my brother-in-law in New York City. Strangely enough, a five year old & a six year old wake up before a 28 year old musician living in the city. To kill some time, we took the kids to a park in Brooklyn. There was a climbing wall at the park. Leila? No problems climbing up & over the wall. CJ? Well, the kid propel himself on monkey bars like nobody else, so I don’t think it’s a lack of upper body strength for him. But, perhaps it’s a lack of coordination or (more likely) confidence, but he just couldn’t manage his sister’s feat. So The La, well, she’ll randomly go up to passers-by and inform them that she’s “more better at climbing rock climbing than her brother.”
  • We have entered “The Elf on the Shelf” area of the year — Bo2. I’m happy to announce that I have not yet failed in moving him (I’ve actually placed a reminder on my phone, every morning, set to go off just as I return from walking the dog), but I’m concerned about repeating places and/or dealing with the kids waking before 5:30am.
  • Last Sunday was a strange Sunday, in that most regular members of the church choir had announced that they wouldn’t be in church. So, the choir director called off the choir. And, if there is no choir, there is no organ. As I am the organist, I did not need to be at church. We had tickets to “Marvel Universe Live” (a stage show with superheroes & explosions) in the afternoon, at Hershey Park. But, after breakfast (which only partially got rid of my morning crankiness) & some holiday shopping, we decided to take advantage of our season passes at Hershey Park & visit the park. And wouldn’t you know that Santa was there. And, sometimes, at the spur of the moment, you end up with a fun family pic 🙂
  • Every now & then, I feel bad for Luna, the new kitten, when Benji just picks her up by a limb or her head. But, as soon as I start to feel bad for her, I hear a puppy yelp and see that she has firmly affixed herself, via claws & teeth, to his face. If he tries to ignore her, she will try to tackle him, despite the fact that he’s about ten times her size. So, I guess she kind of likes being carried around.
  • Cuddling Pets

  • When they’re not actively wrasslin’, the pets are actually the best of friends. And I’m left wondering just what goes through their minds – are they aware that they’re difference species?
  • While I remain “on target” with my diet & exercise plan (every weekend, I plan out & prepare my lunches for the week; every morning, I pack lunches for myself, my wife, and my son; every morning, I walk Benji and do something within the realm of strength training — based on the day, how I’m feeling, and what’s planned for the day that something might vary in intensity, but there is something every day), I am truly concerned about my desire to drink a shitton (1.337 shittonnes) of wine or tackle all-you-can-eat-buffet when either opportunity presents itself.
  • The symphony with which I’ve been playing just played our Masterworks concert – Mahler’s First. We really performed well. The rehearsal following the concert, though? Well, sight-reading music is always hairy . . . but it was downright painful.
  • I need to find more time for audiobooks — the list of stuff that I want to listen through is growing far faster than the list of items to which I’m actually listening (at present, the Millenium Trilogy before tackling The Girl in the Spider Web while I’m alone, and The Autobiography of Santa Claus when I’m with the kids.

1 We all know that the fact that “he’s a boy” really doesn’t amount to much, and makes no difference to me. But the truth of the matter is that CJ is a very stereotypical boy, and Leila is a very stereotypical girl. When playing in a group, CJ is likely to want to pick up swords & mock sword-fight and/or just run around and create a ruckus. Leila is quite likely to recommend that everyone “play tea party.” Because of this, CJ tends to best his sister in any physical contest.
2 When we first pulled out the Elf on the Shelf, the only word/sound/saying that The La would make was “Bo.” When we showed her the doll, she pointed, excitedly, and said “Bo!” So, Bo is his name.
Nov 25 15

Where I play my wife’s birthday game

by John
Me & Duffy, Enjoying Chinese Food

All year, Duffy has been writing an acrostic for those most-meaningful to her, on their birthday. And, as today is her birthday, I figure it’s only fair to play along.

Delightful
Ubiquitous (as any good mother tends to be)
Foxy
Forgetful
Young-at-heart

Happy birthday, dear. I love you.

Nov 4 15

Where I look back over your last year

by John
School Pic

You can count to one-hundred . . . though sometimes you get tripped up somewhere between 13 & 17. And you’re right, it should be “tenty-one, tenty-two, tenty-three, tenty-four, tenty-five, tenty-six, tenty-seven, tenty-eight, tenty-nine.” Alas, the English language has a whole bunch of stuff that will never make sense to anyone.


I’m not sure if I enjoy your love of cuddles more than you enjoy being cuddled. But, either way, it’s something of which I hope you never outgrow.

Benji Cuddles


You enjoy your sweets.

Blue Lips

Two Pieces of Cake


You.

Lightsaber Buckethead

Are.

Goofy at the Restaurant

Goofy.

Vampire Teeth


And you were even goofy when you graduated preschool.

Preschool Graduation


You enjoy your Legos.
Lego Knight


You’re still not too old for facepaint – then again, neither is your dad.

Face Paint


Video games are a priority for you, but you make the most out of any time to play.

Playing in the Corn Bin


You actually understand how to play soccer, though there are times you forget which goal you’re supposed to be attacking. And the “no hands” rule stymies the best of us, from time to time.

Soccer


You lost three teeth.

Lost Tooth


You got a new cat.

Luna


Your dad made you take lots of selfies with him

Selfie with Daddy - Looking Dapper

Selfie with Daddy - Halloween

Selfie with Daddy - What Is Bedtime?

Selfie With Daddy - Alpaca Shearing

Selfie With Daddy - Organ


You progressed three belts in Tang Soo Do and show a continued urge to “do better.” Random breaks to meditate have turned to random breaks to do push-ups. I’m not sure what brought about either, but they crack me up.

Yellow Belt


You’re quick to point out that we don’t only need to go to the beach only once a year . . . believe me, kid, your dad is trying to figure out how to spend more time there.

Family at the Beach 2015


You started school. Your favorite class appears to be PE.

At School

First Day of School


You’re growing up so fast. I love you.

Kindergarten Pro

Nov 3 15

Where I inspect humility

by John

I don’t think it’s a surprise to any of you that I take Tang Soo Do with both of my children. As an adult, I stand in a strange place in class — I’m certainly a student, I don’t know everything I need to know, but I’m an adult, and a parent at that, and I stand in the area between “student” and “instructor” most days. This causes fairly significant issues when we need an instructor to judge a sparring competition, and one of my children happen to be one of the sparring participants. I *like* to think that I remain impartial . . . but, well, I fear that I’m too hesitant to ever award a point to one of my children, in an effort to not appear biased, which isn’t quite fair to my own children. Though, honestly, they could stand to learn “life isn’t always fair” lesson.

At the end of class, all kids receive a sticker, if warranted, as a point toward one of the seven tenets of Tang Soo Do (Integrity, Concentration, Perseverance, Respect & Obedience, Self-Control, Humility, Indomitable Spirit). If a child collects five stickers for a particular tenet, they get a colored stripe on their belt. When they collect all seven stripes, they get a badge to attach to their uniform — it’s a great system for motivating children to “keep their brain in class” all class. Of all of the tenets, however, humility is the one I, myself, perhaps have the hardest time with.

Within the world of my kids and karate class, humility means “I understand I didn’t do this thing as well as I could, didn’t argue when someone who knows more than me offered suggestions, and then tried to incorporate said suggestions the next time I attempted that thing.”

But, within my world, well, I’ve been questioning my own humility from time to time.

It probably isn’t surprise to any of you that I’m not super happy with my job situation as of late. I mean, it’s a paycheck, and it’s not the worst job situation I’ve ever faced . . . but I have a hard time picturing me doing what I’m doing for the next few years. And that has me thinking of what I might be happier doing. Maybe this is just the start of a mid-life crisis, or maybe this is just a long bout of insomnia eroding my brain into radical ideas of “making things better” but I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what I enjoy doing more than I’m doing now.

I think I’m good enough on the bass, and perhaps even on the piano, to call myself a “musician.”

I think I’m fairly adept at making readers feel the emotion I’m attempting to portray, and I think I’m pretty good at getting a story into words . . . so maybe I can call myself a “writer.”

When I sit at the piano, I can develop the notes into patterns and then add harmonies . . . lyrics, well, they’re a bit harder for me, but when you take the previous two, I think I can call myself a “songwriter.”

I’ve put a *lot* of work into my body. For as busy as I am, I think I am uniquely qualified to assist parents who are looking to make themselves more fit — to the point where I could call myself a “trainer.”

There is something that keeps me from doing all of that, though . . . and it’s the whole “need to sell myself” when I’ve actually moved to that reality. If I want to be a musician? I need to go out & get myself opportunities to play. If I want to call myself a writer or a songwriter, I need to actually have *complete works* and then I need to find people who want to publish said works. If I want to call myself a trainer, well, I need to finalize plans & then go out & find clients who are willing to pay me to work with them.

And, well, doing that is the antonym of “humble.”

Now, you’ll have to excuse me as I go off on a tangent — I recently changed my 401k investment strategy. After hearing a series of stories on management fees of mutual funds, looking over what investment options I have available to me, and wanting to follow an “invest in what I use” strategy, I’ve ditched my mutual funds and invested, heavily, in boxes of cheap red wine companies with which I’m familiar, I understand, and frequent. It just so happens that most of these companies offer a quarterly dividend . . . and there is a very real part of me that says “I should build up enough wealth to arrange for monthly dividend checks from companies Alpha through Omega, and live a life of leisure.”

Yeah, I know, it’s that “build up enough wealth” that’s the tricky part there.

The thing is — if I were living a life of leisure, what would I be doing?

I would be a musician. I’d be playing in the pit for whatever community theatre or high school musical would have me. I’d be writing songs. I’d be writing & telling stories. I’d be working out even more than I am now. I’d be helping friends with their diet & exercise programs. I’d be cooking more. I’d spend more time gardening. Heck, maybe I’d even be sleeping!

And I think I’d be exceptionally good at all of those things. Well, maybe not sleeping.

All this is to say, I think I need to redefine “humble” to myself . . . one can still be humble if one believes in one’s abilities. It just means that I’m willing to hear that what I’m doing could be better, and then work to make it so.

Over the next few months, I think I’m going to try to carve out more time for my creative pursuits, somehow, and see if there might be any way to go from wanting something different to attaining something different.

Oct 5 15

Where nostalgia leads to ice cream and apples and childhood memories

by John

There is something about this time of the year, and I just love it. The air is getting colder, but it’s not yet “cold.” Many a morning, I’ll find myself wanting to lie in the bed, blankets curled tight around me, living in that area between “asleep” and “dozing,” as a cool, crisp breeze comes from an open window1.

This past weekend, we went to the Bloomsburg Fair, and had a wonderful time. As we were leaving, Duffy noted a stand from the Creamery — the ice cream shop from her alma mater, Penn State. We stopped & she got a little ice cream2. There was a look of pure elation when my wife took her first bite. I asked her “that good?”

She responded that, if she’s being honest, the ice cream from a local-to-us ice cream shop is, likely, better. But there’s something “fundamentally good” in the nostalgia from something resoundingly familiar.

Then, the next day, I felt the same, when winesap apples were on sale at my local grocery store.

It’s really a shame that the moments that are best etched in our minds require a level of tragedy. I can tell you any number of details about the day of the Challenger disaster, the Columbia disaster, 9/11 . . . the list goes on. But, the details of my high school or college graduation? My twenty-first birthday? They’re just “happy, nondescript” memories3.

My parents are divorced . . . but, unlike most who might share the “divorced parent” saga, my parents divorced when I was 22 years old. My formative years were well behind me . . . yeah, there were times that sucked, thinking back as a family, but there were great times, too.

As the weather turned from summer to fall, every year, we’d head out apple picking. And every year, we’d pick winesap apples, specifically to be baked into pies (my dad never baked much, but he had a knack for making wonderful apple pies).

I remember, going apple picking and gorging on apples as we went about (I’m still not sure of the legality of this, but, speaking to operators of farms, at present, it appears that it’s anticipated that people pick & eat apples as they go about, that such actions are built into the cost they’re charging, so as long as you’re actually purchasing apples, all is good). I remember countless jokes of “they should weigh us beforehand and afterward.”

The details of these days reside, not etched like those of a tragedy, but exist more like a watercolor — each stroke, simply, implying what’s there. The edges are fuzzy, the details are hazy — but the overall feel is unmistakable. Not every day was good, but the good times did exist. Thinking on this makes me sad for those who look at their childhoods where there were always two families. Or, if they remember “a single family,” the good times were far too few to stand out. Not every day in my own childhood was good — but the good memories are certainly present.

So, back to food, because, well, food is my favorite. We’re at the time of year where apples reign – and honeycrisp apples have become “all the rage” these days; if I’m honest with myself, I find the taste of a honeycrisp superior to any other kind of apple (which is interesting, in that it appears that honeycrisps were almost entirely tossed as a “hybrid experimentation that didn’t yield anything useful”). But, as I enjoy a winesap — there’s the crisp, sweet yet tart taste, and there are the floods of memories of happy, crisp afternoons as a happy family. A silly apple brings me back to happy youthful memories.

And now I need to figure out when to head apple picking with my brood.


1 I should note that this is an actual impossibility, if Benji figures out that you’re awake, he’ll pester you until you’re taking him for a walk . . . though walks in this current weather ain’t so bad, either.
2 I’m still focusing on “minimal refined flour/sugar” when it comes to my diet, and, while it was a “fun, family weekend” where I’d have loosened the reins, just a bit, I chose to spend my “throw away calories” on wine & beer.
3 Fine, the day my son was born — I can recall that with equal clarity, but, as it’s a fact that goes against my argument, I’m choosing to ignore it.
Sep 28 15

Where I think back on the past 1000 days

by John

We all know I can’t go too long without talking about diet & exercise . . . and, with today marking 1000 consecutive days on My Fitness Pal, I really thought I’d give an update to thoughts & stuff from what I’m doing, how I’m approaching life, and what I’m doing in a constant battle to better my physical self.

  • I commonly get asked “what is your secret,” and I always answer “diet & exercise,” which nobody likes to hear. But I think I need to change the answer – what has worked is that I’ve been consistent. I’ve been remarkably consistent. My workouts have become, in a word, boring. On weekdays, I walk Benji then fit in small sets of pulls, pushes, and leg stuff around getting the family ready (dressing the kids, packing lunches, etc) for the day. Every week, I change up something, but it’s all quite mundane – it started as pull-ups, push-ups, and lunges. Then I added kettlebell swings (because there was a kettlebell right there). Then I added goblet squats. Then I added push-presses at the end of the goblet squats. Then I changed up my hand position during the push-ups. Then I increased the kettlebell weight from 25 to 35 pounds (the heaviest I own). Then I started carrying the kettlebell as I did the lunges. Then I put a dumbbell in each hand as I did the lunges. Then I started holding my body at the apex of the pull-up and pulling myself from shoulder to shoulder. Then I added a set of chin-ups after I finish the goblet-squats to push-presses.
  • The true secret is diet. I’ve been reading a ton about “fad diets.” How so many people try this, or that, and it works . . . . then they put the weight back on. Diet is a word that has two distinct definitions — the first is “a restriction of food to promote weight and/or fat loss.” That’s not what I’m talking about — the trick is the broader definition of “the entirety of what someone eats”. People re-gain weight after Atkins, or Whole 30, or whatever because they go right back to their pre-temporary diet lifestyle. I’ve made sacrifices to the way I live my life . . . but nothing I’ve done is temporary – truly minimal amounts of refined ingredients (including flour & especially sugar). It means more cooking & less eating out or “just heating something up.” But, that also means that I’m eating healthier & saving money.
  • I miss sandwiches, I can’t deny that. But I can eat a loaf of bread, or a half dozen bagels, & feel no less satiated when I’m done. It’s just the way my body works, and always has. When I eat, I eat to address hunger, meaning I leave out those things which don’t make me less hungry, and I enjoy the results.
  • I log every bite of food. I log every sip of drink. I used to log every moment of exercise . . . but that was during a time when I was carving out huge portions of my day dedicated to workouts. These days, I’m fitting stuff in, wherever/whenever I can find a spare moment or two, and because of that, I’ve just stopped trying to list what I’m doing. It’s easier that way.
  • When I would work out a lot more than I do now, I used that as an excuse to, essentially, eat whatever & however much I wanted. Running 4-5 days a week, for up to an hour (sometimes two) a day resulted in the left — now? I run, maybe, once a week, or every other week, or once a month . . . if I feel like it.

    Before / After while Running