Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A new (to me) way of sharing photos

At work today, we had an all-day workshop focused on social software applications.  These are applications like facebook and LinkedIn, but also other kinds of programs that feature some content provided by the users.  Amazon, for instance, uses user-written reviews to great effect.  eBay is almost all user-contributed information (i.e. the items for sale, the bids, the user feedback ratings, etc.).

Flickr.com was already one of my favorite sites.  I use it to find photographs for all kinds of reasons.  I've used it on this blog to show you some of the places I'd love to go.  I've used it at work to find (properly licensed) photographs to convey some message in a presentation.  But I hadn't tried it for housing and sharing my own photos.  One of the speakers at today's workshop was from flickr.  It was a pretty interesting presentation, and it inspired me to give it a try.

So, a couple of photo sets have been put up there.  Some of these photos I've shown here before, but most will be new to you.  I'd be interested in hearing what you think.  Of the photos, sure, but also of flickr as a means of viewing photos in the context of a blog.  Would you prefer to see a few selected photos embedded in the blog?  Or would you rather see a bunch more photos, but a little out of context?

These are photos from a fishing trip I took, up into the Sierra Nevada mountains two years ago.  My brother-in-law, his brother-in-law, and their friends make this trip every year.  I've gone twice, and both times come back relaxed, grounded in nature, and much more in touch with myself.

These are photos from the family driving trip we took last year, up the coast of California and Oregon, and back again.  A wonderful time together, punctuated daily by interesting and beautiful sights.

I hope you enjoy them.

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This morning's yoga class was nice.  Particularly nice, because I learned a lot about a chronic problem I've had.  My hamstrings, and the tendons that run up the back of my upper legs, are very, very, very tight.  So tight that I can't sit up straight with my legs out straight in front of me.

When stretching, I could never get into the muscle, because the tendons would shriek with resistance.  So, I kept trying to lengthen them.  It's frustrating, because there are few leg stretches I can even get started on, because of this tightness.  Today I brought it up in class.

Turns out that, from where I'm starting, stretching with straight legs is the wrong place to start.  It puts all the strain on the tendons.  If I worked those tendons over and over, without also stretching out the muscle, I could eventually damage the connections between the tendons and the bones.  Instead, I need to work on the "belly" of the muscle (a great, figurative term that makes total intuitive sense to me), by giving myself permission to ignore all the advice my high school gym teachers gave me, and stretch with my knees bent.  It felt GREAT.  What was a frustrating, painful part of every stretching session has turned into something enjoyable.

I'm also hopeful.  Hopeful that, with time, I'll stretch out the leg muscles enough to get to the tendons in the right way.  Hopeful that, eventually, I'll have flexible legs. We'll see.

Food log:

Breakfast: yogurt, with strawberries and a little granola.  A cup of mixed chopped fruit.

Lunch: 1c egg salad, a greek green salad, a small handful of potato chips, a chocolate-chip cookie

Snacks: crackers with cheeses, fruit, and a little hummus.  A diet coke.

Dinner: leftover salad of romaine, beets, bleu cheese, fried chicken tenders, and honey mustard dressing.  A glass of milk.  Yum!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Just Fat

It's been a while since I posted here.  It's been a very busy week.  My father and step-mother finished up their wonderful visit, our little son and our eldest daughter both celebrated birthdays.  We've had a few different parties to honor the occasion, with one more to come.  A family party, an afternoon at a local miniature golf course with relatives for my son, etc.  Most evenings, I've been too pooped to post.

But, progress is being made.  I'm now at 221lbs.  A new low, and the official threshold (for my height) between Obese and (merely) Overweight.  So, now I'm just fat.  And it feels great!

I'm really enjoying the exercise now.  I'm starting to feel the exercise addiction one of the comments here referred to some time ago.  I look forward to each walk, each yoga session, and each workout.

I'm going to keep it short tonight.  Still recovering from the week, and it's already another one.

Sleep well.

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with bananas and 1% milk

Lunch: leftover chard soup with croutons and parmesan cheese, leftover grilled vegetables with herbed goat cheese and balsamic and red wine reduction.  Man, those veggies are good.

Dinner: thai beef lettuce wraps

Snacks: twelve M&Ms, a big bowl of French Vanilla ice cream and caramel...we took the kids to Coldstone Creamery for their free birthday club ice cream cones.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Amidst the fun and family time yesterday, we had a serious scare.

As we walked along together, my wife picked up a splinter somewhere.  We all stopped and huddled around her, trying to see whether we could get it out. We messed with it for a bit, then decided to go find First Aid. That's when we noticed that our little son, almost four, was missing.

I felt my stomach fall away.  We had pretty long lines of sight from where we were standing, despite the crowds, and we couldn't see him.  He was wearing a bright yellow hat, and we couldn't see him.  Some of us starting walking ahead.  I stayed behind with my father, in case he came looking for us on his own, searching a little circle around the spot where we'd last seen him.  I got very nervous, very quickly.  All kinds of dark and unwelcome thoughts flashed through my mind.  The possibilities were terrifying.  Unlikely, yes, but very real in that moment when my child wasn't to be found.

And then it was over.  I saw my step-mother waving to us.  She and my wife had found him.  He was shaking, and in tears.  My wife was in tears.  I was in tears.  We gave him long, tight hugs as we told him over and over that we'd been looking for him, that we'd found him, that we were all together again and it was going to be OK.  But the looks my wife and I exchanged spoke silently of those horrific possibilities that had been running through both of our heads.

My little son hadn't noticed when we stopped to inspect the splinter.  He just kept walking.  We hadn't noticed him leave. None of us were holding his hand, as we should have been.  Once we all stopped crying, we took his hand and never let go again.

Last night I woke up twice from dark nightmares, and went in to check on him in his bed. I just had to touch his hair, to let him know he was safe, and to assure myself that he was really there, really home, really OK.

My son, an up-with-the-sun early riser, is still sleeping this morning.  I know.  I just checked.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fairs, Food and Fun

We're having a wonderful time in the family just now.  My father and step-mother are in town, visiting for a few days.  It's always so nice to reconnect with them, and spend time together.  Today, I took a day off from work, and the whole family went to the local County Fair.

For the children, the Fair is about rides.  Rides and ice cream.  Rides and ice cream, and cotton candy.  Rides, ice cream, cotton candy and carnival games.  Silly?  Not at all.  That's what the Fair meant to me when I was a child too.  And just LOOK at their faces.  They're living the moment, and loving every second of it.

Of course, I'm not too grown up to enjoy the rides a bit myself.  Here's most of us (that's me, in the goofy hat), enjoying a relatively slow cruise around in circles.  Our son is in my lap, and the girls are on the horses behind us.

The girls entered the daily art contest, and took home blue ribbons.  Those blue ribbons mean so much to them.  I still remember the blue ribbon I won in a school science fair in first grade.  I'm pretty sure the girls will never forget these ribbons either.

After the rides, the family walked the large animal barns, admiring the cows, sheep, pigs and other beasties.  We were nearly done when we discovered that our new kittens had a pair of...uhm...cousins?  Thor and Loki.  What?  Someone else thought to use these names for their pets?  We're not original?  Shocking.  These two are cute, but I don't think I'd want to try to pick one up and pet it.

The Fair also taught me a little bit about subjective beauty today, too.  There was a contest underway.  One of many at the Fair of course.  This one was an opportunity for young birdsmen (and birdwomen) to show off their prize roosters.  The air was filled with crowing.  Enough to convince me that, despite what I was seeing, and despite my rather ignorant and simplistic notions of farm life, these were, in fact, roosters.  That's what the signs said, anyway.

But I ask you.  Is THIS a rooster?

Or this?

Or this scraggly "bird"?

"No," I say.  Birds, yes.  But more like show poodles than proper working dogs.  Er, birds.

Then we rounded the end of the pens and there, right at the end of the next row, was a ROOSTER.

THAT's what I'm talking about.

Now for the irony.  And the part where I admit that my notions of proper rooster-farianism are only that...mine.  On this proud papa poultry's cage was a small tag, identifying the impressive bird.  Along with the bird's name and that of it's owner, was a description of its breed.  "Not a standard breed."  Sigh.

So when you think of your local Fair, what do you think of?  Animals, sure.  Contests for biggest pumpkin and least proper rooster, sure.  But, admit it.  The true Fair icon is Fair Food.

A good friend of mine recently described it this way: "The foods of the gods...diabetic, morbidly obese, toothless gods...but nonetheless gods."  Here's one of my favorite examples.  Favorite, as in, makes my teeth itch when I think about it.

But, there's a new iconic food in town this year.  Here it is.  The King crispy creation.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

From the point of view of my health, today was about what I didn't eat.  I didn't eat anything deep fried.  I didn't eat anything dipped in chocolate.  I didn't eat anything deep fried, and THEN dipped in chocolate.

This morning my father and I went for a long, fast walk.  Today we walked a LONG way, back and forth across the fairgrounds.  This morning I hit a new low at my weekly weigh-in.

It was a good day.

Food log:

Breakfast: oatmeal, with dried cranberries, assorted stone fruits, chopped cashews and a little brown sugar.

Lunch: the insides of the a Rubio's HealthMex burrito, and a diet coke

Snacks: a little of my son's chocolate ice cream cone (the nearest I came to Fair Food).

Dinner: a sandwich made from leftover salmon, a little mayo and sour cream to hold it together, lettuce and mustard on whole grain bread.  Two apples.  Another diet soda.  OK, not such a good day for my caffeine intake, but MAN was I tired by dinner time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Love the cats...but could I get a good night's sleep, maybe?

We had a rough night last night. The kittens, finally truly at home here, decided that our bed would be a good place to try sleeping. Not so much sleeping, really. More like walking on our heads, licking our faces and nibbling our noses and fingers. Loki is a biter, you see...just in play, and not hard, but certainly a rude way to be awakened.

My wife and I didn't get much contiguous sleep. She's in bed already tonight, and I'm heading that way.

Aside from the feline nocturnal shenanigans and their groggy aftermath, today was a good day. I went for a nice long walk this morning, taking advantage of the slowing Summer pace of our morning routine, and stretching my usual thirty minutes to forty or so. It took a little while to work the stiffness out of my muscles and joints, but before long I was moving fast and enjoying it.

Yoga this afternoon was a mixed bag. I love the Ashtanga class. I get a GREAT sweat and stretch my muscles to a languid, deep, peaceful state. But, there are a series of poses that I find really, really hard to get into. The whole series of muscles, from my calves up through my hamstrings, through the glutes and into the lower back, are very tight. So much so that I can't sit up straight with my legs flat in front of me. Ninety degrees ain't happenin'. More like 100 or 110 degrees. This makes all of the forward bends on the floor, and many of the standing forward bends, really challenging. It just hurts to get started with these poses. My hamstrings prevent me from getting enough into these poses to even feel them in the muscles they're supposed to be stretching. Often, as today, I end up feeling discouraged and frustrated about two thirds of the way into the class (when we get to these poses). So it's about forty minutes of empowering poses I can do and enjoy, followed by fifteen minutes of frustration, missing that bliss feeling very much and wishing my hamstrings would let up already. By the time the Savasana rolls around for the last five minutes or so, my mental state is frazzled. What should be deeply relaxing is instead a five minute fight to get past the negative emotions and find my center again.

I do love the class. And I know, intellectually, that the more I do this the looser my hamstrings will get. But emotionally, it feels like I should be further along after months of practice. I'm frustrated with my body.

Right now, my body needs sleep. My eyes are closing, and it's time to heed the call.

Tomorrow is another day. A walk in the park while my daughter attends her ballet class, then back to the house to prepare for a family reunion in the afternoon. I'm looking forward to all of it very much.

Food log:

Breakfast: peaches, nectarines and grapes, with a little French Vanilla yogurt, granola and ground flax seeds.

Lunch: leftover salad from last night, half a quesadilla

Dinner: a slice of leftover pizza, steamed zucchini, a glass of milk

Snacks: blueberry crunch snack pack

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Catching up, in technicolor

The pace of my posting fell off a bit over the past week or two. It's been a busy time at home, and at work. By the time the evening rolls around, I'm generally dead tired. So, I thought I'd take the time to catch you up with some goings-on at our house. Most of these area scenes of peace, of family, of exercise, of produce. The things that bring me peace.

Last weekend, the family and some good friends had a nice hike in the local canyon, and did a little geocaching. The first cache we found was challenging one. As in, twelve feet up in the air. Here's our eldest daughter, out on a limb. That little dark green box in front of her is the cache.

The hike was wonderful. We saw some wildlife, including a hare and several squirrels, and many of the local wildflowers were popping.

The garden in our backyard is popping too. The first of our purple greens are ready to harvest, and made it into the dinner salad this evening. Our blueberry bushes have a few juicy morsels showing up now too. Not more than a nibble's worth yet, but there's buds on them thar bushes!

Faithful readers will have heard a lot about our composting project. A few weeks ago we rented a pickup, filled the bed a couple of times with compost from our local landfill, and shoveled it into our driveway. Over the past couple of weekends, we've been filling wheelbarrows and spreading it out in our gardens beds. A couple of layers of newspaper, four to six inches of compost on top, and the rampant weeds now growing in our garden beds will be toast. We hope.

It's a dirty job, but the kids love digging in the big piles of compost.

Finally, a peaceful note. This morning, I came out of our bedroom to find that my little son had, at some point, come out of his own room and crashed on the couch in the living room. So sweet :-)

The kittens had found their own cozy spot. These two are nearly inseparable. When apart for more than a few minutes, one or the other will start crying out, bringing the other running. So sweet :-)

I had a great workout this morning. I cranked up the intensity during my warmup, increasing the incline on the treadmill, then did two sets, each with squats, crunches and a lot of chest work with dumbbells. I followed all that up with a nice long set of stretches. All of this with Radiohead's "OK Computer" on the iPod. Jammin.

On a scale of one to ten, today's workout was about a six. My Anusara "restorative yoga" class would be a 1. My morning walks are about a 4. Two weeks ago, when I increased to three sets and upped the weight on all exercises, then went to my Ashtanga class...that was a ten...maybe an eleven. Much pain and fatigue followed. I'm shooting for an eight, by slowly adjusting things. This morning felt like a step in the right direction.

I've also added a little extra workout on the mornings when my wife goes for her walk. I do two sets of pushups, crunches and squats. I don't know if it's helping, really, but it can't be a bad thing.

On another note, I've been discovering all kinds of music I like through Pandora. I created a station based around Wah!, and am really enjoying Krishna Das, Larisa Stow, Deva Premal, Laureena McKennitt and many others. If you haven't tried Pandora, give it a shot. I love it. And it's free. Coolness.

Food log:

Breakfast: granola and fruit again...it's fast and easy, but I'll tire of it quickly without mixing it up a bit. Need to buy more fruit.

Lunch: sauteed veggies...the last of my current batch...need to make some hummus soon, grapes, some small slices of sausage and cheese on crackers.

Snacks: a granola bar

Dinner: leftover Macaroni and Cheese, a BIG mixed salad, and a glass of milk. Here's a picture of most of the veggies that went into the salad. Organic veggies, in a rainbow of colors, are just plain beautiful.

At the back left, you'll find our purple green beans. They have a deep lustrous purple skin, and are bright green on the inside. I'm told (but haven't tried it yet) that they turn green when cooked too. We'll see.

The Starfish

Tonight, sitting around the dinner table, my eldest daughter said, "Daddy, what's your favorite story?"

That's a great question. And a hard one to answer. I'm old enough now to have collected a lot of favorite stories. I don't know how to choose among them, really. So, I picked _a_ favorite.

One morning, a young man was walking along the ocean shore. As far as he could see, starfish dotted the sand, washed up by a big storm the night before. He walked around a curve in the beach.

Up ahead, he saw an old man. The old man was standing at the edge of the water, gingerly bending down, lifting a starfish, and tossing it into the waves. As the young man approached, the old man slowly repeated the motion. Bend, lift, toss. Bend, lift, toss.

The young man shook his head and smirked. "Old man," he mocked, "what on earth are you doing? There are thousands of starfish washed up on this shore. What you're doing...it just doesn't matter."

The old man bent, lifted a starfish, and tossed it into the waves. He turned to the young man, pointed out into the surf, and said "It matters to that one."

Little kindnesses. A few words. One small step further. Doing a little more each day than you thought you could. These things can make a world of difference to those you affect with your little actions.

My father believes that one way we define ourselves is through our stories. He believes that, in order to change our ways as a people, we need to change the stories we tell. I think he's right.

I'm grateful to my daughter for making me consider the answer to her question. I'm glad to have had the chance to share that story with her, and my family.

P.S. I don't know where that story comes from. I heard it years ago, and I'm sure it's changed in the retelling. If you know it's origins, I'd like to know them too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Celebrations and Indulgences

So, if you have a gander at the food log below, you'll see that today wasn't a good day. At least as far as my intake goes. Some days, I slip. Today was one of those days.

This time, it wasn't about stress or anxiety. Today was about celebrations.

At work, a friend of mine is leaving the company. He's a young, unmarried man, and is off to found a startup. I admire his willingness to take on a new challenge like that. And while I'd never trade my terrific life for his terrific life, I'll admit to a little envy, and a little regret that I never took advantage of those younger years of mine to try our a startup or two. Water under the bridge, and I'm happy, but there it is.

Anyway, tomorrow is his last day. Today we had a little departure party for him, with a couple of cakes. Really beautiful, really nicely made, delicious-looking cakes. And it was a party. And I wouldn't want to be rude. Yeah, that's it.

I did keep to one, small piece, picking from the part of the cake laden with fresh strawberries on top. But still.

This afternoon, our eldest daughter and her troupe "bridged" from being Cadet Girl Scouts to Junior Girl Scouts. They did some fun activities together, walked over a long bridge in a local park, then had a few key ceremonies. These girls not only advanced to the next age group, but earned a number of badges and their Bronze Award...a significant achievement requiring quite a bit of planning, execution and community service. We're very, very proud of our daughter.

All of those festivities were capped off with a picnic in the park. My food options were limited. There was fruit available, and a veggie platter, but not enough of either for me to feel right loading up a plate from those two sources. The other options were pizza and nachos. And it was a party. And I wouldn't want to be rude. And the Lemon Squares one mother made looked _so_ good. Yeah, that's it.

Let's just say this. The food was tasty. I enjoyed myself. And now, I'm REALLY looking forward to hitting the gym hard tomorrow morning.

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with blueberries and a banana, 1% milk

Lunch: sauteed mixed vegetables (I've been eating a LOT of these, and STILL am not even close to being tired of them), a fresh apricot from the Farmer's Market (did I mention that stonefruit season is here? Awesome.), and a small slice of chocolate chip banana bread.

Snacks: two Dove singles, a small piece of VERY rich, decadent cake...with strawberries...so it's OK, right?

Dinner: two pieces of pepperoni pizza, half a dozen nacho chips with spicy cheese sauce, some grapes and cherries, some carrots, broccoli and grape tomatoes with a little ranch dressing. Two lemon squares. Yes, two. But they were GREAT. And there's lemon in them...so it's OK, right?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On letting go, and being good

Lately, I've had some stuff on my mind that left me in need of a confidant with similar experience, a sympathetic ear, and some good advice. So, I invited a friend out to lunch.

This friend and I have known each other for years. I count her as one of the best of the "good people" at work. By which, of course, I mean the people who see the world as I do :-)

As I've mentioned before in this blog, I've been stressed lately. The economy is hitting hard, even on our strong business. Performance reviews are coming. The guidelines I need to follow for those reviews are stringent, and in some cases run contrary to what I'd do with my limited recognition budget if I had free reign. I needed someone to talk to. Someone in the same boat.

My friend listened, commiserated, then gave me some great, straightforward advice.

First, don't own the outcome of every decision. If you made the decision, definitely own it. If not, do your best under the circumstances, but don't hold yourself responsible for the quality of that decision.

It's not about abdicating. During a decision making process, I'll still fight like heck to get the right decision made. Once it's made, I'll do my best to make whatever is called for happen. But there's a difference between that, and having to believe, deep down, that every decision made is the right one. Or holding myself personally responsible for a decision that I fought against and lost, as if I'd made that decision myself.

Don't let them eat at you. Put them aside. Recognize them. Do your best to live with them, and to follow through on them. But don't own them.

Her second bit of advice was counter-intuitive, at first. When you're having a bad day...when you're feeling like the leaders around you maybe don't get it and are sometimes making things worse...go out of your way to do something nice for someone else. Make someone's life at work a little easier. Go beyond, on purpose.

Here's the genius part: First, it'll make you feel good. Helping other people is a reward unto itself. Second, that person will be so happy. They'll notice and remember that you helped them out. Great for your relationship with that person. Finally, you'll be setting an example. That other person might, or might not, be seeing some of the same oddities in leadership around him. Regardless, you'll have provided a real, positive example of what leaders can (and, through you, ARE doing) to help.


She's my good friend. She's also a great leader. I learn from her often, and I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to do so.

Thank you.

Food log:

Breakfast: yogurt with blueberries and granola, and a bowl of mixed fruit

Lunch: Half order of California Pizza Kitchen's "Thai Crunch" salad. Yummy. Cabbage, peanuts, edamame, crunchy noodles and chicken, lightly dressed with a spicy peanut sauce.

Dinner: two slices of leftover pepperoni pizza, steamed green beans, and a glass of milk

Snacks: a granola bar

Monday, June 1, 2009

Stress = Craving

Thor and Loki are slowly getting used to their new home. They spent the day huddled in the bathroom, with occasional forays out into the hallway and adjoining rooms. They seem to have lost their fear of me, but are still skittish around the kids, especially our young son. The boy is just much louder and more active than they're used to.

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Today was another trying day at work. I'm noticing that my food cravings are MUCH more present and are harder to ignore when I'm very stressed out. It's a challenge, but I did well resisting the temptations presented by the snack machine and my neighbor's ever-present candy jar today. And tomorrow is another day.

Just a short entry tonight. I need to get to bed. Sleep is essential to managing stress, and I have my Anusara yoga class in the morning. Can't wait!

Food log:

Breakfast: granola, 1% milk and bananas

Lunch: leftover collards with bacon and onions, the last of my latest batch of roasted red pepper hummus with carrot sticks, a few small slices of cheese.

Dinner: chicken fingers, roasted potato wedges, and a small bowl of asparagus soup

Snacks: an apple, and a scoop of Mint Moose Tracks ice cream for desert tonight