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Jul 31 15

Where I pontificate global standards of “not belonging”

by John

I was chatting with someone the other day about children & “how they fit in.” While my son is no longer a preschooler1, during every preschool parent/teacher meeting, while there may have been some things that we needed to focus on at home, the predominant news I received was “your kids are kind, and are well-liked by their classmates.”

I’m the first to admit that I view the future with rose-colored glasses . . . and the past always with an air of skepticism. I assume everything will turn out ok — but after it’s done, I beat myself up over anything that wasn’t “perfect”, and I’ve always done this2. So, it’s possible that I’m thinking back to my formative years with memories that have been “overly influenced” by Sadness and I was actually more popular than I remember . . . but I never quite felt that I fit in. Hearing this news about my kids, well, I was left wondering if my kids might grow up feeling that they will, in fact, “fit in” through school3.

Then I thought about it some more — and I think there is more to the story for all of us — though, I believe we are loathe to talk about much of it. So I’m declaring the following public truths:

  1. Everyone has a nagging fear that, no matter what group/circle/clique they’re in, the rest of the group/circle/clique is only “putting up with them” because the alternative would be more difficult for them.
  2. Everyone believes people talk behind their back.
  3. Everyone is self-conscious about their art (including music/movie/book/etc) preferences. I happen to be listening to the Audiobook of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, and I believe this is actually, simply, a different issue than it used to be. It used to be that liking anything “nerdy” or “not cool” made you “nerdy” or “not cool.” Now, it really seems that enjoying anything “in the mainstream” is what’s avoided — U2 may be the greatest band in the history of music4, yet people were scrambling over themselves in removing a free album delivered to their iPhones. We won’t talk about the seemingly universal hatred of Nickelback.
  4. Nobody likes their body. While there may be varying levels of “it’s a work in progress,” I have a hard time believing that there isn’t a single soul who would Klosterman’s 12th Question without, at least, giving the matter some serious thought.
  5. Everybody always fears that they’re a fraud, no matter how great they are at something. It’s easy to forget that, as you practice, you get better at something — things that you find easy to do today, well, at one time, they were really fucking hard for you to do. Every time I play bass (be it with a band, or in the pit for a musical, or in a symphony), something will come up where I’ll start thinking about the fact that I don’t play as fancy a part as someone playing another instrument . . . and, if I screw up, even the tiniest amount (so that I’m the only one would could possibly know), I’m just waiting for the world to collapse around me “Hey John, you’re playing the easiest instrument in this group and you can’t even get that right). The thing is, I’m not playing the easiest instrument — yes, the violin player might be playing faster, but that’s a different instrument — there are things that I’m doing that the violin player, without practice, cannot do. In the heat of the moment, though, it’s easy to forget this.

I know, with the first one . . . that’s a biggie for me. I’m constantly convinced that everyone in my life simply “puts up with me” because it’s a lot easier to do that than to deal with the fall out of trying to arrange for me to not be in their life. I know this is stupid and asinine and whatever . . . but it’s the truth. I actually think it’s part of why I keep myself so busy — because, if I’m just “sitting around,” part of me wonders why I’m not hanging out or doing something with friends5, and I fixate on that.

Or, maybe I’m just crazy.

Anyway – what did I miss? Or is the Cheshire cat wrong?

1 That my son is “a kindergartner” causes more emotional harm to me than anything I may be mentioning in this post.
2 We can talk about the fact that “perfect” is something that happens to be fully unattainable – but, well, that’s speaking rationally as we look at a blog post . . . it’s entirely a different story when you’re thinking, emotionally, on past events.
3 Part of me also wonders how much all of this “fitting in” is an introvert/extrovert fight — my inclination is to be extroverted . . . yet, there are times that “that’s it, I’ve had enough” and I just want to sit by myself for a few decades hours. And I feel guilty about that — time is a precious resource, why “waste” it by being by myself. In my daughter, I’m seeing a little of this developing — there are times that she claims “she needs to be alone.” Now, part of it, I think, is that she “wants to be alone” because she wants to watch what she wants to watch on a television or her iPad or whatever device happens to be serving as a replacement parents as I get drunk be her focus at the moment — but part of me also wonders if it’s heredity, and the electronics just so happen to be how she needs to “lose herself in the moment,” something I find myself doing by meditating these days – but, in years past, it was in masturbating playing video games — even today, I shy away from the “massive online worlds” when I play a video game, and, almost solely, play games where it’s “just me vs the computer”.
4 And this is a Beatles fan saying this.
5 The reason, of course, would be because I didn’t call any friends to make plans . . . but, when one is feeling sorry for oneself, well, one feels sorry for oneself.
Jul 15 15

Where I kind of like going to the dentist

by John

I’m aware that I’m in the minority here, but I actually enjoy going to the dentist. Don’t get me wrong, when there is shit that needs to be done in my mouth, it’s no fun at all (and I’ve had fillings, filling replacements, a crown, and two crown replacements — all of which have sucked). But, for a routine cleaning, I enjoy it. You see, I’m someone who tends to always be “on.” I’m plugged in, I’m available. Even when I go on vacation, I keep my cell phone handy — if something happens at the office, I get a phone call. When I’m “just sitting around,” I’ll find myself texting or playing games or checking email or facebook or twitter.

In short, I am seldom “bored.” My mind seldom “just drifts.”

It’s that “drifting” where I come up with my best ideas — where I start formulating stories, coming up with key concepts and then tying stuff together. It’s where I envision melodies that often become songs.

It’s where I feel I’m at my most creative.

And in the dentist’s chair, I can’t be plugged in . . . I need to “just be.”

I found myself thinking about this truth the other day. As many of you know, I’ve been recovering from shingles. I really think I’m getting better — but, as I get better, I get increasingly discouraged by any setback, no matter how small. Rather than waiting to be “fully healed”, I chose to run after work. I had several free hours on my hands; I drove myself to the “hilly part” of the Harrisburg Marathon, with the hopes of running a technical 5k course a couple of times.

I had no pressing matters, yet I found myself stressing about getting started.

There was no reason for me to be stressing. And? I was actually dreading the run because of this. I got to the park and felt, immediately, that I needed to run out & find a place to change into my running gear . . . if I was quick, I’d be “running” in just a few minutes. Fortunately, I figured out that I was stressing for no reason at all; I was following some fabricated schedule which only existed in my mind. I stopped. I took my time changing into my running gear. I stretched and meditated before starting the run. I started the run with a clear mind; I enjoyed myself.

I had nowhere to be. I had no time constraints — I allowed myself to relax, and it was good.

I find myself thinking the same heading into the next week — I am heading to the beach on vacation. “Getting there” is stressful in itself — there are lists to ensure that we’ve identified everything that we’ll need while there1. There is packing. There is the actual driving. I start thinking about everything that needs to be done, and I start to stress . . . but the thing about vacation? It starts when I get there. If we leave the house at 8 in the morning, we leave the house at 8 in the morning. If we don’t pull-out of the driveway until the early afternoon, so be it. Part of me wants to schedule everything to the minute – as much of my life is scheduled to the minute. But here? There is no need . . . once I’m at the beach, there might be two things that I need to be at a certain place at a certain time — but that’s it. And neither of those events require me leaving the house by a certain time, or crossing the Bay Bridge by a certain time, or pulling in at the beach house at a certain time.

I need to remind myself that it’s not imperative that I am constantly in motion . . . when life allows for relaxation, I need to step back and relax. When life allows me to smell the roses, I need to smell the roses, and enjoy the act of smelling the roses — and to not turn “rose smelling” into yet another itinerary item.

In short, I think I need to spend more of my time living like my kids do – where everything in their world is only what is happening “in the now.”

1 We won’t talk about the time that my wife went & packed a bag . . . and, somehow, that bag stayed, perfectly packed, in the bedroom while the family made it safely to the beach.
Jul 4 15

Where I chime in on the hot-button issues of the day

by John

There is a LOT in the news these days. And, well, I think it’s about time I shared my two cents with everything that’s happening.

The Confederate Flag
After the senseless shooting of nine individuals at a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina, there is a lot talk of banning the Battle Flag of North Virginia from flying over public places. Many major retailers have stopped selling said flags. Heck NASCAR has even asked its patrons to not display said symbols.

Now, I fully support an individual’s right to fly/display/wear-as-a-toga any flag. This is a pretty cut-and-dry free-speech issue. And, while I may think anyone displaying this flag (or, really, any flag – the Nazi flag, the ISIS flag, the Rhodesian flag) is, at best, an ignorant jerk – but, more likely, a racist traitor to my nation, that doesn’t mean that they should be suspended of said right.

But, let’s go to NASCAR for a moment — because I’ve heard a LOT about NASCAR trying to “censor” its fans. It’s doing no such thing. NASCAR events are not open events, you need a ticket in order to get in, meaning it’s private . . . whoever is holding a private event can make the rules for their event. Enforcing those rules is not censorship. If the government says that you can’t fly the flag? That is censorship. I do believe that any organization receiving public funding should be prohibited from flying / displaying said flag outside of a purely historical context (e.g. a museum display).

To anyone who believes that I’m misguided in my thoughts here – how is the display of this flag not a traitorous act? If it’s truly a symbol of “The South” and not “of racism,” if the Civil War were truly about “states rights” and not slavery (and it was about the states rights to maintain slavery), how does that change the fact that the flag is a symbol of not wanting to be a part of America? People who fly the stars & bars next to the American flag perplex me.

Gay Marriage
The Supreme Court recently passed a decision that any state law prohibiting two people of the same sex from getting married is unconstitutional. I applaud this – I believe government has no place in dictating how people should lead their lives, as long as the way a person leads his/her life does not impede on the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of another.

I try to place myself into the turn of the last century, when pillars of the community were giving impassioned arguments about why women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. I try to place myself in the middle of such discussions, to think that someone so misguided as to the change of our nation’s direction isn’t necessarily a bigot — but I can’t.

However, I find myself the organist of an orthodox church – an organization which, absolutely, believes that the supreme court got things wrong here. They will not be blessing same sex unions at any time in the future. Leviticus spells it out pretty straightforward:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
– Leviticus 20:13

But, why are we picking and choosing bible passages to follow to the letter of the law?

You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.
– Levitus 19

For anyone with a religious objection to the allowing of same-sex unions (and I’d argue that two men cannot lay “as man and woman” because the angles are somewhat different . . . and I see nothing prohibiting sex between two females), why do we focus on this passage and not care that most all clothing sold these days has a mixture of cloth?

Race relations
There have been some tremendous incidents in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, and Baltimore over the past several months. In each case, an unarmed black male was killed by the police. In each case, demonstrations have turned violent. To try to put some perspective on this, I’m going to talk about the whitest movie I can think of: A Christmas Story. Ralphie is picked on by Scott Farkus, time and time again. It sucks, and he just runs away, feeling minimized with his dignity removed – but, for the most part, he ends up unscathed. But, one day, he’s simply “had too much” and beats the everliving shit out of Scott Farkus. I’ve never heard a fan of the movie talk about “violence isn’t the answer” or “Ralphie should have been in jail.” Everyone cheers for the kid “standing up” to the bully in the only way he could. And, well, I can say that violence isn’t the answer – that bringing about violence in a tense situation makes things worse. But, I’ve never been frisked just because “I might be up to something.” I’ve never been arrested because I “fit a description”. I can see systematic mistreatment of a population simply ruin relations between “the authorities” and said population . . . I think it’s happened in each of these instances, and think talk of “criminal behavior of citizens” without addressing police behavior & neighborhood/police relations is causing far more harm than good.
Recently, rounds have been made about adding peas to guacamole — in theory, they add a wonderful sweet accent while proving to be a “color stabilizer” that will keep guacamole green after a few hours. My take? Try it, and if you like it, bully for you. Seriously – I don’t think there is anything gained in being a “food purist”. That said, the best guacamole I’ve ever had was made with an avocado & a series of spices, mixed on a beach in Mexico. The guacamole that I’ll be making today will include avocado, jalapeno, onion, tomato, garlic, cumin, cilantro, and lime juice. I’ve been working on the recipe for years – it’s how I like it. Sweet and spicy has never really done it for me.

(Note, I’ll be back to boob references & thickly-veined thinly-veiled dick jokes in the near future)

Jun 30 15

Where I list the A,B,C’s of Daddy Runs a Lot

by John
Biggest Fear
Forgetting my priorities — I tend to invest myself into whatever I happen to be doing . . . sometimes, that “thing” I’m doing? Is entirely unimportant. And if I becomes all encompassing, well, important shit gets lost. I’m constantly telling myself to step back & look at what I’m focusing on, ensuring that I’m not missing something bigger.
Current Time
9:30 on a Tuesday morning
Drink I last had
A mixture of pu-erh & white teas with lemon juice & apple cider vinegar
Easiest Person to Talk To
Favorite Song
If I’m taking “song” at it’s actual definition, meaning a musical piece with words, well, this is still a fucking loaded question. It’s like asking Bob Ross about his favorite cloud. Seriously, this question freaks me out & stresses me more than I’d like to admit. Right now, there are several songs that I absolutely will stop whatever I’m doing to listen:

  • The Pixies: Where Is My Mind
  • Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt
  • Allman Brothers: Midnight Rider (though I’ve also been digging Willie Nelson’s cover of the same)
  • Mumford & Sons: Little Lion Man
  • The Moldy Peaches: Anyone Else But You
  • Lou Reed: Walk on the Wild Side
  • Plain White T’s: Hey There Delilah
  • Modest Mouse: Float On
  • The Rolling Stones: Ruby Tuesday
  • Pink Floyd: Comfortably Numb
  • Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah

Then there are songs with an incredible amount of significance to me, which will always put me in a better mood:

  • Jeff Healey Band: Angel Eyes
  • Stevie Wonder: Isn’t She Lovely
  • John Lennon: Beautiful Boy
  • Billy Joel & Ray Charles: Baby Grand
  • Tom Petty: Free Fallin’

And I have my “guilty pleasure” songs:

  • Zac Brown Band: Chicken Fried
  • t.A.T.u.: All The Things She Said

Then lets not forget my actual favorite musical pieces which don’t qualify as songs:

  • Antonin Dvorák: Symphony Number Nine “From the New World”
  • Edward Elgar: Enigma Variation IX (Adagio) “Nimrod”
  • Pablo Casals: El cant dels ocells (“Song of the Birds”)
  • Carlos Gardel: Por Una Cabeza (“By a Head”)1

But, if I’m listing a single song? I’m going with The Beatles, I’ve Just Seen a Face. For today. If I don’t let myself think about it too much more.

Grossest Memory
The La and repeated code browns.
New Providence, New Jersey
In Love With…
Ok, this is stupid, because I should answer Duffy, or the kids. But I’m going to say “playing in front of a live crowd.” People have often commented on this to me, how I’m “more alive” after a great performance. And getting over the shingles, well, “feeling alive” does a lot for me. And, well, I’m actually feeling it (normally, I just kind of ignore the “good energy” comments if I talk to someone after a gig).
Jealous of
People who have the ability to sit down, plan out what they want to do, and see those plans to fruition. If I have the money to do something, I don’t have the time. If I have the time, I don’t have the money. If I have the time & the money, the task is, simply, unattainable.
Killed Someone?
Not today. Though the day is still young….
Longest Relationship
Well, I’ve been married for the better part of 12 years — but Ryan has been my friend since the first grade, so I guess it depends on how we’re defining relationship.
Middle Name
Number of siblings
One sibling, Jessica. I also have a stepsister, two stepbrothers (one of whom is no longer with us), three brothers-in-law, one sister-in-law, and many close friends who happen to be so close that I consider them family & can sometimes forget that they’re not blood-related to me.
One Wish
That my kids grow to be happy, confident, and secure in themselves.
Person who you last called
People still use their phones as phones? Really? It was a work call to the Bangalore office.
Question you’re always asked
How did you get fit/lose weight? And/Or: How do you have the energy for what you do?
Reason to smile
I’m up to no good
Song you last sang
What Does the Fox Say? Because kids.
Time you woke up
5:20 — I considered trying to go back to bed, which would have given me an extra hour, but Benji had other ideas.
Underwear Color
Vacation destination
Chincoteague Island, Virginia
Worst habit
See greatest fear — getting so involved in a meaningless task that I tune out those in my life
X-rays you’ve had
So so many. Aside from regular dental X-Rays, in no particular order:

  • Right Elbow
  • Rib cage
  • Right Shoulder
  • Right big toe
  • Right shin
  • Right wrist
  • Left pinky finger

Looking at that list, I guess it’s really not a surprise to see why the shingles decided to attack the right side of my body.

Your favorite food
Favorite food and favorite song in the same list? Really? Bullshit.

Cheese. A cheddar so sharp that it feels like it’s cutting into your tongue. Paired with a pinot noir.

Zodiac Sign
Jun 17 15

Where I ruminate on being sick

by John

Those of you who know me know that I push myself pretty hard — when I’m at work, I work hard. When work out, I workout hard. When I’m not working out or at work, I rehearse/perform hard. I am my own toughest critic, and I demand a LOT of out myself.

With the latest Jurassic Park movie being released (I haven’t seen it yet, but I want to), I’m reminded of the line “life, uh, finds a way.” I’ve been pushing myself a bit harder than normal, recently. And life, uh, found a way to slow me down.

Sunday was a glorious day. I woke up early, got a small workout in, visited with a band member in order to pick up some equipment so that a community theatre friend of mine might have a keyboard to use for a musical he’s responsible for, played my last Sunday at church for the summer, dropped off the keyboard with my director friend, and went to have a 5th birthday Linner1 for Leila (all you can eat sushi, and I ensured that I got my money’s worth). Duffy had rehearsal until late at night, and with no school the next day, I kind-of let the kids dictate bedtime . . . which meant that bathtime included far more play than normal and two five year olds’ eyes closed, perhaps, a bit later than normal, but there weren’t any tantrums. It was a good day/evening.

Monday morning, my alarm went off at 4:50am, because I’m a masochist. It was raining. Hard. I looked at Benji and informed him “sorry, bud, but I’m not about to walk you in this.” My pup was not happy. However, by simply getting out of bed, my children absconded my share of the bed, so I laid myself back down in Leila’s unused bed. Benji tried, for the next 10-15 minutes, to remind me that he hadn’t been walked (he has a dog door, so he can get outside to relieve himself . . . but he’s an exuberant dog who likes his exercise) before lying down next to me. Duffy went off to the gym. She came back to find me still asleep & asked what the rash was, on my back.

I had no clue that there was a rash on my back . . . though I had a painful area, I figured that I’d done something stupid while working out, so I was dealing with some muscle pain. Upon her asking me about it, I wondered if I had bumped into something that I didn’t remember & well, this was the result2. Then she asked if I was feeling all right, and I had to answer that no, I wasn’t.

Now, I had eaten far more sushi, the previous day, than any one person has a right to eat. And I did drink a little bit of wine, but far from drinking to excess. So I wanted to blame my feeling crappy on that combination . . . but, then I found that I had a fever. So I called off of work. Then I started having some stomach issues, and decided to make a doctor’s appointment.

I sat down with my doctor3 . . . the rash/scrape on my back was the least of my worries, but was at the forefront of his. He looked at it, and had a diagnosis immediately. “Sorry, my friend, but you’ve got shingles.”

Apparently, the chickenpox virus hits a child — you get over it and it lies dormant, just chilling behind the scenes. For most everyone who had chickenpox as a child, that’s the end of the story – Valar Morghulis: All Men Must Die . . . and, when most who had chickenpox die, they never hear from the virus a second time. But, sometimes, the virus chooses to revisit.

I’m past the initial suck. My stomach has calmed down. My fever has, mostly, broken (every now & then, I check & find that I’m running a low grade fever). I’m no longer feeling the need to lie down as soon as I stand up. The rash has spread from the right side of my back to my right elbow (which is, basically, a collection of bubblegum and wire) and wrist (which the doctor speculated might happen – it would either move up my back or spread to my hand, but keep on one side of the body, as the virus attaches itself to one side of the spinal column, which is a neat bit of biology — and I’d be fascinated by how that’s even possible were it not for the stabbing pains with which I’m frequently greeted).

In short (too late, I know – hey, I’m wordy), I’ve been sidelined. This morning, I walked the dog, and that was about all the exercise I could handle. I’m going to bed early. The past two days have seen me napping a significant amount of time (I’m pretty sure I spent most of Monday asleep). Post-work activities have been put on hold. I’ve been more focused on video games than pull-ups. Honestly, going with the video game analogy, I feel like I’ve just pressed a reset button. I’ll be back to my old habits, I know that much (heck, today, I’m even back to my typical diet plan, though I’m still fighting a general lack of appetite, which *could* be related to the lack of exercise, and my body just trying to figure out what the heck is going on). I’m just hoping, when all has returned to normal my regularly scheduled life, I can remember what happens when I press myself too hard for too long.

1 Lunch/dinner
2 This is the cause of most bruises/scrapes/bumps that I get . . . something that looks nasty as a result but I have no recollection of how I might have attained said bruise/scrape/bump.
3 My vitals were all in good shape, aside from my fever . . . after years of having “borderline” high blood pressure, and talk from my doctor about possibly putting me on medication, my combination of physical fitness, diet, and meditation have lowered my average BP from 135/80 to 110/70, so that’s something, at least.
Jun 11 15

Where bullet points quell the silence

by John
  • We just had my daughter’s fifth birthday party (her actual birthday is this coming weekend, but we held the party when we could maximize attendance). I’m still coming to grips with the fact that I have two five year olds. There are two human beings, of whom I am fully responsible. And they’re both five years old. This is difficult.
  • This past weekend, we had Geekend 2015, wherein a group of people gathered at my house, binge-watched the television show Firefly, ate copious amounts of Chinese food, and drank copious amounts of booze. We kicked things off Friday night, with a meal at the local Hibachi Grill, which offers All-You-Can-Eat sushi. My waiter could not fathom how much sushi I’m able to eat (to be honest, I could have eaten a little bit more before we left, but everybody at the table was done eating & I was eager to head back to the house so that my son & my friend’s son could play video games together), saying “you’re becoming a legend among the staff – a skinny guy isn’t supposed to be able to put this much sushi away,” and I was taken aback by the term skinny. It’s not a word that, until very recently, could ever be used to describe me.
  • I’m going back for more All-You-Can-Eat sushi this coming Sunday.
  • My daughter has taken to voicing her displeasure over life disappointments in song — last night, my nephew was over, and he chose to play swords with CJ, rather than make an art project with her. So Leila sang “he never wants to play with me, he always wants to play swords. Why won’t you do art with me, Charlie?” in a singsong voice. This makes me deliriously happy for two reasons: first, it’s ultra-creative. More importantly, she’s finding a creative outlet to avoid a tantrum.
  • I have a lot of good stuff in my life right now. A lot. I’m very fortunate.
  • It’s a few months before my next running event, and I’m finding it difficult to find the motivation to run.
  • Aiding in the lack of motivation are terrible nighttime leg cramps — I’m not sure what’s bringing them about, but part of me feels that I should be resting my legs more, or something. Anyway, it sucks to have to get out of bed (which, typically, means that I need to detangle my legs from both the blanket and Benji) in order to use my bodyweight to force my calf muscles to relax. While I feel that “rest” should equal “fewer cramps,” that doesn’t appear to actually be the result . . . so I may start trying to run more to see if, just maybe, keeping my muscles near a state of exhaustion might help alleviate the cramping.
  • My wife is officially off for the summer. Meaning that I don’t have to dress the kids every weekday morning. This kind of makes me happy (more “me” time) — and, at the same time, makes me sad. Because, when the school year starts back up again, there’s a good chance that both kids will be dressing themselves. Refer to the first bullet point as to why this is bullshit.
  • That I can dress my children, pick them up, and buckle them into their car seats without waking them really, really scares me for their teenage days.
  • I find myself wondering if I should focus on restricting my coffee intake. While I drink a good amount on the way into work, most days, that’s the only coffee I drink in a day (some days, I get an afternoon pick-me-up . . . today, well, today may include a few afternoon pick-me-ups, see bullet point about leg cramps for why). But, while “less coffee” seems like a good idea on the surface, the most recent research on low-fat diets (essentially, fats are far from being your enemy in living a healthy lifestyle) makes me question just how bad caffeine might be fore me.
  • The amount of rain we’ve had recently has me really, really excited for my garden over the next few weeks.
  • As I knew I would, I completely lost steam in the “organize everything in my life” stretch, with which I started the year. But, I went through my T-shirt drawer yesterday, separating the “I like it and it fits” from the “I like it, but it’s too big for me” tshirts while getting rid of a bunch of “maybe I’ll wear it to work out” t-shirts. That little bit felt good.
  • I’ve recently teaching a bass student, which had me looking through my old music from when I was a student, myself. One piece, in my handwriting: “less motion, moron.” If you’ve ever seen me play, you know that I move around, quite a bit to the music — I can only imagine what I was doing to make me think that, as a solo player, my physical moving, as a I played, would be seen as a distraction.
  • There is a possibility that my schedule might be a little less crazy, each & every day, for a little while . . . I may actually get myself a decent guitar & start trying to play it. For real, this time.
  • I’m just wrapping up the Audiobooks of the Lord of The Ring — I know the next book I’ll be working on, but then I need to figure out what’s after that . . . I have a bunch in my Audible library that I haven’t yet listened to, but I’m always eager to hear suggestions.
  • Every weekend day, for the foreseeable future, contains something epic: an amusement park visit, my daughter’s actual birthday dinner, a private party gig with my rock/jazz/funk/fusion band, Father’s Day, Camping (x2), July 4th, the matinee/final show at the local community theatre, a weekend with great friends at their pool (x2), the trip to the beach at the start of a vacation, the first full day on the beach . . . as I said earlier, I’m quite fortunate.
  • I have been on a SERIOUS avocado kick lately (it started with an attempt to ensure I was getting enough potassium in my diet . . . see bullet point about muscle cramping). If I find myself at home, with a ripe avocado? I split it in half, dig out the pit, fill each pit divot with an egg, and then bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes . . . dippy avocado eggs! For lunches? I’ve been mixing a pouch of tuna with an avocado instead of mayonnaise for a tuna salad. I’ll be sad when these green pieces of heaven return to regular prices at the grocery store.
May 21 15

Where random happens

by John

Just a big ‘ol pile of random today:

  • Yesterday was the last day of preschool for CJ. I am the father of a kindergartner. I’m having issues with this reality.
  • If you’re one of the three & a half regular readers, you’ll know that I take karate with CJ. Often, there are too many of us in class to perform warm-ups all at once, so we team up. Every time we do this, CJ comes straight to me. The other day, he went to one of the friends in his class & asked him. Part of me was happy to see him branching out, but part of me felt like the last kid to be picked on the playground.
  • We had a “family night” at home last night. Between symphony, karate, band practice, theatrical shit1, swimming lessons, work events, family parties . . . well, it’s been quite some time that the four of us were under one roof, with no pressing item on the agenda dictating our schedule. I made prime rib. We played board games, took a bath, watched mindless kid television shows on Netflix, and read books. I have always tried to keep myself busy – but, lately, it’s been a bit overboard. While it’s one thing for me to constantly feel that I’m “catching my breath,” I’ll admit I’m a bit worried about overtaxing my kids: karate, swimming, soccer, ballet, tap . . . well, it seems that there is always something for them to get into. I do hope they play, for the sake of playing, often.
  • Speaking of “playing for the sake of playing,” part of me gets very concerned about my kids’ reliance on electronics — they always want to be watching something on their iPads or the TV, or playing video games. But, when the screens are turned off, they play very nicely & come up with elaborate storylines to their playtime. In other words, while I will continue to worry, I think they’re mostly ok.
  • I’ve given up trying to buy pants in stores – it sucks to have to order stuff without having tried it on, first, but I can’t seem to find my size anywhere.
  • My vegetable garden is planted: tomatoes (roma, grape, and cherry), peppers (jalapeno, banana, & sweet-mini-red), lettuce, cabbage (green & purple), cucumbers, squash (butternut & zucchini), green beans, sugar snap peas, and watermelon. Last year, we used a small wooden fence to keep the dogs out of the vegetables (the vegetable garden is bordered on two sides by a chain-link fence) . . . but, well, Benji wasn’t deterred by that fence at all, so I’ve ripped it out. I’m using a line of marigolds (that I’ll regularly fertilize with coffee grounds) to try to keep pests away.
  • After years of shaving my head, I’m letting my hair grow back in a bit — it’s a bit startling to see just how much gray is coming in, alongside the dark.
  • I’m hosting a “Geekend” at my house in a few weeks — bunch of people coming over, binge-watching the TV series of Firefly and eating Chinese food. I’m very excited.
  • I’m getting SERIOUS itches to start practicing guitar and to start work on my next tattoo. I fucking need more time in my day, every day.
  • Is it wrong that I’m already a little jealous that I’m 99% sure my daughter is going to take home a baseball from the minor league baseball game we’re heading to, this evening, yet I’ve been to HUNDREDS of games throughout the years, and I’ve yet to catch a foul ball?
  • My daughter’s dance recital was just about the cutest thing ever. I can’t contain the excitement that I have in seeing how energized she was by performing in front of a crowd.

1I just wrapped playing Spamalot at a theatre over an hour away . . . that I’ve been out of half the karate classes, making CJ “fend for himself,” might explain part of why he chose someone else to be his partner, as well.
May 15 15

Where I define the music that has made me

by John

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know that I’m a musician. Yes, I’m a father. And a nutjob someone who takes his health seriously. And a web developer. But I’m a musician — in fact, lately, I’d say that I’m “a musician” more than I am most anything else1. Music makes up a HUGE part of who I am. So, with the “these are the songs that made me” meme going around? I feel the need to play along.

  • The Beatles, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Truth be told, I had no idea what the name of this song was, who performed it, or, really, much anything about this song, until I was a tween – possibly even a teen. But, I knew the song. See, my dad — well, I can say that I’m a musician — I play several instruments, some of them quite competently. And, while I concede there is no way to measure this, and while I consider myself an “avid reader,” I believe I read music better than I read the English language. My dad is not a good reader of music — but he’s a better musician than I am. He can hear something and then sit down on the piano, or the guitar, or the clarinet, and reproduce what he’s heard – honestly, it’s a talent that I envy (though, in not having said talent, I’ve had to develop my ability to read music, which, I believe, is something he envies about me). Anyway, when my dad would sit down at the keys (an upright Steinway that his mother had rescued from a junkyard), LSD was a common chorus played. I just new it was a “happy tune,” but never knew the words, until I really started listening to music on my own, and studying rock, and finding the Beatles.
  • Art Garfunkel, 99 Miles from LA. Yeah, Paul Simon might have been the musical genius between Simon & Garfunkel, but I grew up listening to “The Voice.” I hear this song, and I’m transported to staying up past my bedtime, bugging my dad & his friends sips of beer, trying portwine cheddar spread. My parents didn’t host a lot of parties – but, when they did, and we were inside, and music was played – this song was featured, always.
  • Del Shannon, Little Runaway. as was this.
  • Neil Diamond, America. My family would spend a week, most every summer, with my mom’s best friend’s family, close to the beaches in Delaware — it worked for a cheap getaway for a family on a budget. My mom’s best friend’s husband? Loved this song — I hear it and, *poof* I’m taken to playing with a Samoyed and eating crappy pizza and bracing myself for long shopping trips.
  • Elton John, Crocodile Rock & the California Raisins, Heard it Through the Grapevine. The first mix tape that my dad made . . . these are the two songs that my sister & I requested, the most, while driving about. Of course, it was a tape, so if we wanted to listen to a track over again, we had to stop and wait for the damn thing to rewind.
  • Roy Orbison, You Got It. When we drove, my parents listened to a lot of country — basically, my mom liked it, and, at least in the 80’s, any “inappropriate” references in country songs were way over my head. Naturally, I claimed that I hated country, because of this, at the time2. But, then the movie Pretty Woman came out, and Roy Orbison shot to national prominence. Then the Wilburys formed, and, suddenly, this older, old-school country artist was “popular.” You Got It was the first song that I figured out my own arrangement for. Heck, I think I can still remember the little things I brought into the piano part.
  • Alannah Myles, Black Velvet.
  • Queensrÿche, Silent Lucidity. Part classical part hard rock. The opening acoustic guitar riff still gets stuck in my head. This was the piece that told me “it’s pointless to say that you like, or dislike, a genre of music.” And now, when I sit down at a piano with nothing much in mind, I’ll look to play a repeatable bit, to get it stuck in my head, and then tweak that to see if I can make a song out of it . . . I don’t know that’s how Silent Lucidity started, but it sure feels that way.
  • Carlos Gardel, Por Una Cabeza. German riverboat cruise, I never did know her name.
  • Smetana, The Moldau. I wrote about it in pretty great detail, back when I used to post far more regularly.
  • Billy Joel, We Didn’t Start the Fire & Piano Man. I can still recite each & every word. I still debate what the fuck “shared a drink they called loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone” actually meant.
  • Don McLean, Vincent. Yeah, I enjoyed American Pie, and trying to figure out what lyric referenced which artist as much as anyone else — but Vincent, listen to it. It actually FEELS like Starry Night.
  • Elgar, Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. The first piece to make me bawl. Heck, I can’t hear this, now, without tearing up.
  • John Coltrane, Naima. Just look at my son’s name. I would listen to this piece endlessly when I played with my first band, The South Street Jazz Machine (well, my first band was titled Peripheral Vision — and I can still recite the words to Matt Sitomer’s original “Blind Side,” and still warm up to some of the bass lines from some of the original Peripheral Vision numbers — but Peripheral Vision never gigged, and the South Street Jazz Machine did gig). If the high-school me had a weakness as a musician (besides having an over-inflated sense of my own talent), it’s that I wanted to push . . . this piece – it might be slow, but it drives. It “feels right”.
  • BB King, Lucille. He passed away yesterday, but this would have made the list, regardless. That I name my instruments didn’t start with BB King — it was Mary Skweres, the orchestra teacher back from elementary school. But BB King taught me that it wasn’t a stupid practice . . . and, well, he has a relationship with Lucille — you can hear it in the lyrics of the song and in the way Lucille sings . . . my instruments are like that with me.

(I’d be remiss to not link to the posts which inspired this: The Flying Chalupa pointed me to Midlife Mix-Tape‘s original prompt)

1 A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend & fellow musician — he was the music director for a community theatre production of Spamalot, and he was left without a bassist at the start of tech week — might I be available? Well, the theatre is over an hour from my house, and I had conflicts on many of the dates, so I said “no.” But then, well, there aren’t a whole lot of bassists who can just “pick up” a Broadway book & play, and I had just played the show two years ago . . . so, well, maybe I could play those shows that I could make, and they’d just “do without” on the other nights? I gave it a thought — and with the Shady Maple Smorgasbord within commuting distance (I’m not shy about eating piles of lean meat & vegetables) and the pay being decent (though I’m just barely breaking even) and Spamalot, simply, being a LOT of fun to play – I was in. So, 3-4 nights a week, I’ve been getting home around midnight after leaving work & playing a show. I kind of miss my kids. And my bed — getting home around midnight, hopped up from playing in front of a live crowd, and then getting up at five in the morning – well, it takes a LOT out of you.
2 I no longer hold onto this, though I can say that I dislike a lot of country. I believe that, whenever something “new” hits an art, that new thing gets overdone, leading to mediocrity. In my formative years, both country music and rap saw huge increases in popularity, and with that, the markets demanded more, and stuff was released because it made money. Fortunately, most of the chaff gets lost to history – but, as Louis Armstrong says “there is two kinds of music: the good kind and the bad kind.” Well, I believe that — in any genre, there’s stuff worth listening to. Right now, I find myself listening to a LOT of the Highwaymen. Because damn, they could play.
May 13 15

Where I chronicle my kids’ cuter odd-habits

by John
  • The other night, we went to the drive-in (honestly, it was my first time to the drive-in). Waiting for sunset, my kids were climbing on a large pile of rocks in front of the screen and I was sitting around, just keeping an eye on them. I looked over at Leila a few times & she asked “Dad, why are you looking at me?”

    I responded “I like looking at you, you’re pretty.”

    She, thusly, responded by flipping her hair and stating “Oh, I know.”

    My hands, they’ll be full with this one.

  • CJ and I continue to take karate together (though, lately, I’ve been playing a show that means that I haven’t been to half of the classes . . . it’s a little disconcerting to see CJ progressing in skills beyond what we learn in class — I mean, it’s good, but it catches me off guard). When I pick him up for class, I always try to make sure that I have snacks for him – usually some fruit and something sweet. Yesterday, he critiqued my selection, so I found myself restocking stuff to store in my truck while at Target that evening.
  • For Mother’s Day, the kids filled out a little sheet about their mom — according to Leila, Duffy is 6 years old. What’s funny is that I can tell you, precisely, why she would say that. Just like anything that happened in the past “happened last week,” Leila is acutely aware that she’s 4 years old, and is turning five. Anything beyond that, at this stage, “older,” which, to her, is “six.”
  • We’ve been big into reciting our full names . . . just in case the kids should ever have to talk to the authorities or something. I know it’s just a kid saying stuff, but CJ revealed that he thinks his name is “so boring.” I could only respond with “you may think lots of things about your name throughout the rest of your life, but, I assure you, Coltrane is not a boring name.”
  • Leila’s first dance recital is this weekend. I know there may come a time where I dread events like this . . . but, for right now, I’m giddy to see it.
  • For Mother’s Day, we ended up grilling at my sister’s house for dinner . . . my kids & her kids sat at a kids’ table & actually ate a meal, discussing Star Wars the entire time. The combination of geekitude and the kids all growing up & getting along, the kids actually eating what they were supposed to be eating (when they were supposed to be eating it), and being able to eat a meal without interruption . . . well, it all made me incredibly happy.
  • Leila has taken to carrying around a pen & notebook most anywhere she goes. She “writes down” things of note. However, my daughter is shy of five . . . she is barely aware of the letters of the alphabet — reading is beyond her. Writing? Yeah, it’s foreign. The other day, she came up to me & pointed to a scribble. “Dada, what does this say?”

    “Hmmmmm, I don’t know, Leila. But you’re the one who wrote it — what did you write?”

    “I don’t remember, Dad. And I can’t read!”

  • Every morning, I make Duffy a mocha – meaning that I have a good bit of leftover, frothed chocolate milk. Most every morning that the kids are awake as they leave the house (many a morning, we carry them to the car as they sleep), I offer them this little treat. They, knowing it’s a coffee ingredient, knowing they dislike coffee, and therefore thinking that I’m offering them something that’s “for adults” and something they don’t like, refuse the offer of chocolate milk.
Apr 20 15

Where I chronicle a busy, fun weekend, renewing the “daddy” part of my handle

by John

My poor performance at the marathon had been looming over my head for a full week, which isn’t entirely horrible. Because, with the way my mind works, I’ve been figuring out how I can run the distance again, and run it better, and do better, and, you know, actually feel like I ran a marathon. While a very real part of me was talking of “retiring the distance,” I don’t want to have my last marathon have such a sour taste in my mouth1. So I’m already devising running plans so that my next marathon will be stronger. And, injuries aside, it’ll happen in 2015. I might not get to four hours . . . but I’ll cross the finish line strong, with a smile on my face.

While last week was a week of recovery, both emotional and physical, this past weekend was necessary on many different levels . . . even if it didn’t allow me to catch my breath – because, well, what’s “rest” when there is fun to be had?

We’ll start on Thursday. As I mentioned previously, my son absolutely rocked his karate belt test. However, in our school, you don’t receive your belt when you test — the results need to be validated by a third party . . . which means the belt ceremony, where you get the next belt, happens the next week. This happened on Thursday. And CJ, having achieved something he really wanted, got to pick where we went to dinner. He choose a local hibachi grill – you know, the kind where they cook the food in front of you with a little show. CJ loves this place – especially the sake part (for adults, the chef squirts sake from a squeeze bottle from the grill to any willing participant at the table, quitting when they beg out or when the drink starts dribbling down that person’s chin — then, for kids, he does the same, only with water in the squirt bottle — my kids are DANGEROUSLY good at this). So, we went out for a fun dinner. I had sushi, and steak, and salmon.

Hibachi Dinner

Is it really dinner if it doesn’t involve a selfie?

Damn, I love food.

Friday had me at work all day . . . so, well, I guess Thursday wasn’t really part of the weekend, but it really felt detached. After work, I got the kids, got home, made dinner and spent the night watching movies & playing video games and, well, just enjoying being with my kids.

Saturday, forgot to reset my alarm, so my phone started going off at 5am. I tried to reset it — but I have a two-stage alarm. First, there is the electronic alarm that is my phone . . . then there is the physical alarm that is a 50-ish pound shar-pei mix mutt that likes to lick my face. Especially after the alarm goes off. I think I managed to say in bed for the better part of an hour, thinking “Benji will grow tired of bugging me, eventually” but I was wrong. So I got out of bed. I walked him. I got Snickelfritz, and fed both dogs. Then I dressed . . . to run.

I “only” ran 4 miles — and, honestly, I was fighting pain for much of the run — my knees and hip are still dealing with the marathon. And I really don’t know what’s going on with my shoulder, but it’s still not happy. But, I ran. Just for a little bit, I lost myself in the sweat, the “going.” It was splendid.

I had big plans for the day, so I got right back to work after getting home.

First, the kids showered with me, then we got dressed, and then we got out of the door. The National Aquarium in Baltimore beckoned.

My first job out of college was as a software developer for a startup firm headquartered in Baltimore — I worked directly across the street from the aquarium. When work got to be too frustrating, I’d find myself taking lunch at the aquarium — I’d make a B-line to the sharks (avoiding the crowds where possible, completely skipping the rainforest exhibit) and just watch them for awhile. If time allowed, I’d make a second loop of the aquarium, taking everything in, marveling at the colors and the . . . serenity that are fish swimming about.

My kids — well, they’re four and five. Sitting around, looking at fish? Not super high on their priority list. I mean, sure, fish are cool & everything . . . but there is a definite lack of appreciation for just “watching.”

I told Leila the highlights from when I used to visit regularly: the poison tree frogs, the anaconda, the octopus, the puffins (that she insisted on calling penguins . . . I stopped correcting her at some point, though we revisit penguins in just a little bit), the seahorses, and the sharks. Every time I tried to stop to admire something, I got a “Dad, you’re getting distracted,” and she wanted us to see what she wanted to see, which was what I said was cool. Most things, we got a cursory glance of, not much more. But that was expected.


Fortunately, I was able to point out the seahorses . . . watching the comprehension that I wasn’t just “looking at sticks in the water” and was looking at “real seahorses” was pretty cool. The touch exhibit was recently opened . . . Leila was very happy to be able to touch horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, whelks, and stingrays. CJ wasn’t quite brave enough to try.

CJ was quite happy to see a tarantula — but happier that it was behind glass. Leila was disappointed that the poison tree dart frogs didn’t come in pink. The rainforest was a hit, if only because it was “just like the movie Rio 2!” Everyone was hugely impressed with the “nice sharks,” with CJ being especially fond of the sawshark, whom he named Sir Shark.

The dolphins were a HUGE HIT – and the kids even paid attention, a little, to an instructor explaining why porpoises have bite marks2. I considered the outing, despite the breakneck pace through the exhibit areas, a huge success – and an educational success, at that.

But, on the way in, CJ saw a huge sign with a Lego figurine on it . . . and he really wanted to see it.

And, to be honest, I kind of wanted to see Port Discovery as well. I had never been.

Now, there was some kind of major running event going on in Baltimore when we arrived — but it really didn’t affect us heading into the aquarium. I think the very large beergarten near Port Discovery was tied to said event. But maybe not. What I do know is that, as we approached Port Discovery, there was a VERY VERY long line of 20-50-somethings and very loud music. But, I think this, actually, worked to our advantage . . . as nobody there was actually heading into the children’s museum, but waiting to have their ID checked for some beer event. And, while a beer event sounded great on the hot day (it his 85F/30C), it’s not the most child-friendly decision I could make. So, long line of people waiting for beer meant less of a crowd in the kids’ museum.

The kids played with Legos. They climbed intricate treehouse-type structures, they slid down slides, they experimented with water flow, they blew bubbles. They, basically, played at a huge toddler park (I may have climbed said treehouse-type structure, as well . . . because, well, I’m me – and CJ wanted help, half-way up).

When we had seen all that could be seen there, we started working our way back home . . . when CJ asked about the zoo.

And we didn’t really have a timetable to abide by. So we went to the Baltimore zoo.

Kids with a Lego Dragon

In retrospect, this was a parent mistake — but not a huge one. If you were to ask me for advice in planning an adventure to Disney, the first thing I’d say is to “schedule downtime.” There is no need to be doing something active at all times — it’s a recipe for child (and adult) meltdowns. This . . . well, it kind of made for a minor meltdown. First off, the kids had been going strong since 7am, and I mean GOING STRONG. Things were in constant motion. It was a hot day, and the sun was blaring — I put sunscreen on them, but, well, the sun still takes a lot out of you . . . especially when the winter has been brutal and the kids, simply, aren’t used to sweating when walking about outside. The Baltimore Zoo has a significant walk between the entrance area and the first exhibits . . . all of that made for some grumpy.

On top of that, it was a mid-April day, and there are some animals, that prefer the hot, that the zoo keeps elsewhere, until some time in May, just because freezing, in April, happens. But, because of the temps, many animals that would normally be about were hiding in the shade. Essentially, there were a lot of what appeared to be empty exhibits to the kids.

And my kids were done.

I reminded myself that I workout because I want to be able to carry my kids. So, I picked both children up. They rested their heads on my shoulders. And I walked them back to the car. We drove home. The zoo, sure, we could have skipped . . . but the kids did get to see real penguins (though I’d argue that puffins were cooler). They saw zebras and giraffes and polar bear and rhinoceroseseses. They had a good day.

Not unexpectedly, bedtime was quite easy Saturday night . . . we watched The Lego Movie (because, hello, we had been playing with Legos most of the day) and the kids, kind-of, put themselves to bed.

Sunday woke with a dog walk, because, well, Benji is relentless. Then I made lunches for the week. Then the kids were dressed. We went to church and did the church thing (heck, CJ even spent a significant portion of the service sitting next to me at the organ), then I went to watch a show. Duffy has been helping backstage for the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which is just a delightful three-person show, and I really wanted to see it. So the kids went with my in-laws and I watched a show.

CJ with Daddy at the Organ

It’s very rare that I sit in the audience and enjoy a show . . . I’m far more-used to putting on a show. But I had a blast, and the cast & crew of the Oyster Mill Playhouse should be very proud of themselves for a truly high-quality production.

Then, it was time to rehearse, once again . . . because, well, it’s what I do. I’m playing bass in a production of Schoolhouse Rocks, Live! next weekend, which meant that Sunday night was the cast sing-through. There were minimal costumes, next to no dancing, no dialog . . . but, I can already tell this show will be fun. So that’s that.

But now we’re at Monday — I’m exhausted (and am looking at a week of work & rehearsals — little else), but, well, I’m feeling much better than I was, at this time, last week. So there’s that 🙂

1 In all of the negativity with my last post, there was a very real positive from the run . . . see, with the online blogging & everything, it’s easy to forget that there are real-life people involved, sometimes. A good friend of mine ran the half-marathon, and she stuck around to cheer me at the end. And, well, even if I was hating life as I crossed the finish line, it’s always great to see a friend and to be cheered on. Thank you, Kris, for sticking around. It was unfair of me to make it seem that everything about that day was horrible.
2 In a display of dominance, a stronger dolphin will bite another dolphin, essentially to say “I’m stronger than you.” When a new dolphin appears in a new group, the bite marks (or lack thereof) will explain how this dolphin fared amongst his/her previous brethren. My kids asked why dolphins would make the bad choices of biting each other.