Friday, December 29, 2006

An Adequate Response

Saddam Hussein has been executed.

His case is one of those that tests my opposition to capital punishment. The man was a monster responsible for murder, torture, and crimes against humanity that are beyond comprehension. If anyone ever deserved to die, Saddam did.

But I keep coming back to the wisdom of my 13-year-old daughter. “It doesn’t make sense to kill someone to show that killing is wrong.”

Somehow “yes, but he deserved it” just doesn’t seem like an adequate response.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Can Brown Do For You?

I wanted one thing from Brown – enough extra income to increase my money-to-month ratio – i.e., ensure that my money outlasts my month. While living on one income has been a good thing for our family in most respects, it has put a definite strain on our budget. Charlottesville’s cost of living is relatively high, the area’s household income is relatively low, and having a large family does not make things any easier.

So, at 3:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning in late November, I arrived at our local UPS distribution center for an orientation session for my new part-time job as a package handler. I was hired as a seasonal worker to help them get through the crush of the holiday shipping season, but my hope was that I would find the schedule manageable enough to be able maintain it on a long-term basis. My need for supplemental income was, after all, not seasonal.

The first few hours of the orientation session consisted of a mixture of paperwork and training videos. Then, about 6:00 a.m., we were put out on the floor to get a taste of the work that we had signed on for. For most of us, that work was unloading tractor trailers full of packages.

The tractor trailers arrive at the distribution center fully loaded (floor-to-ceiling, front-to-back), and back up to one of eight bays in the side of the distribution center. The unloader (sometimes solo, sometimes working in a pair) opens the trailer door and starts grabbing packages and putting each one on a constantly-moving conveyor belt. The belt pulls each package out of the trailer and into a complex sorting system that will eventually result in it being loaded on the package car (UPS-speak for the brown delivery truck) that will take it to its final destination.

Unloading tractor trailers is not rocket science. Grab a box, put it on the belt. Grab a box, put it on the belt. Grab a box, put it on the belt. The expected pace is a package every 3 seconds. It's easy to keep that pace when you're grabbing Aunt Edna's Christmas fruitcake or a package from LL Bean. It gets a bit more challenging when you're dealing with heavy auto parts, or picking apart a teetering wall of packages that is threatening to bury you in an avalanche.

But still, not rocket science. I made it through the end of the shift, and reported for duty at 3:00 a.m. the following morning for more of the same. To say that I was grateful for the weekend would be an understatement.

Week #2 dawned two short days later, and my start times were getting earlier as the holiday crunch time approached. 2:50 a.m., 2:40 a.m., 2:30 a.m..... Despite the schedule creep, I was settling into a routine. Up at 2:00, stumble my way to the car, slam a Mountain Dew on the road, clock in at UPS, and slog away for the next 6 hours or so. After each shift I'd head home, jump in the shower to scrub off the grime, and trade the filthy t-shirt and jeans for the coat and tie of my regular 8:00-6:00 job. At least, what used to be my 8:00-6:00 job. It's hard to be at the office at 8:00 a.m. when you're still in the back of a tractor trailer slinging boxes. Fortunately the nature of my regular job allowed me to slink in at 9:15-9:30 a.m. without raising too many eyebrows. I’d get through the day at the office, head home for supper, and try to stay awake long enough to be able to read my 3-year-old a story and put him to bed. Then I’d crash for 5 hours or so, wake up, and do it again.

I was managing, but it was an uninspiring existence. I felt myself turning into a zombie; I wasn’t exactly bubbling over with initiative at the office. Worse yet, I was becoming detached from my family, as I was only with them (awake, anyway) for a short time in the evenings. My only consolation was that weekly paycheck – after all, I wasn’t putting myself (and Jennifer, who was picking up my considerable slack at home) through this because it was enjoyable, I was doing it because it needed to be done.

The next week, Week #3, my start times were earlier yet - 2:30 a.m., 2:40 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., and 2:15 a.m. I adjusted the alarm clock accordingly. The job itself was tolerable. Finding little in common with most of my co-workers, I kept my mouth shut, pushed hard, and quickly attracted the notice of the supervisors. They asked me to stay on after the holidays, thereby removing the “Scarlet S” of the seasonal hire. It was nice to get some validation, particularly in light of the fact that I was informed that same week at my regular job that I would not be getting the promotion that I had anticipated. The explanation was that there was a perception that I was not "excited" enough about the position, and that my lack of enthusiasm would be sensed by the team.

Hell, I thought I had been doing pretty well to stay awake.

The start times for Week #4, the week before Christmas, were earlier still. I clocked in on Monday morning at 1:15 a.m. and started slogging away. 2:00 a.m. 3:00 a.m. 4:00 a.m. 5:00 a.m. 6:00 a.m. 7:00 a.m. 8:00 a.m. I was nearly done with my last trailer when it happened. I bent down, grabbed a box off of the floor, twisted up and to the side to put it on the belt, and felt the hot poker shoot through my lower back. I fell against the side of the trailer and gasped to catch my breath. I had strained my 43-year-old back, and just like that my package-handling career at UPS was over.

Looking back at it now, that was a good thing. I had been earning much-needed supplemental income, but I was becoming an absentee husband and father, and the body- and mind-numbing fatigue was reaching the dangerous stage. It's telling that of the many thousands of packages that I had handled during my stint at UPS, some of them as heavy as I am, the one that did me in could have been lifted by my 8-year-old. My body had just said "enough is enough."

So what did Brown do for me? It provided some pre-holiday cash, which was timely. It broadened my life experience, gave me some interesting insights into how a freight handling operation works, and provided me with a number of colorful character studies that might find their way into future scribblings. Perhaps most importantly, it gave me a dose of perspective, of which I seem to be in continual need. As important as the additional income may be, I must resist the temptation to let its pursuit take the place of family, health, and happiness.

Now to find a part-time opportunity that will let me keep the proper balance....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Enjoy It

The children are nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums dance in their heads....

Or something like that. They are snug in their beds, anyway, and are hopefully fast asleep - Santa still needs to do his thing. In the meantime, I wanted to get this posted before Christmas 2006 becomes a memory.

We had a few minutes left at the end of our adult Sunday School lesson this morning, so I opened things up and invited everyone to share their favorite Christmas memory or tradition. Silence. I quickly gathered that everyone was feeling the same this-is-Christmas-eve-morning-and-I'm-sitting-here-in-church-which-is-where-I-know-I-am-supposed-to-be-but-I-still-have-presents-to-finish-wrapping-and-cards-to-send-and-relatives-to-visit-and-the-kids-have-really-been-getting-on-my-nerves-and-I'm-not-sure-how-in-the-world-I'm-going-to-be-able-to-get-everything-done-ho-ho-ho that I was feeling.

I took another tack.

"How about your biggest Christmas peeve?" Several started to answer at once. As people started to talk, their answers were all variations on a theme. Overbooked. Overcommitted. Overwhelmed. Too many people to see, too many things to do, too many boxes to check off on an overlong list. Several with family in town mentioned how wearisome it can be to trundle the kids back and forth from one relative's house to another. One couple each had parents who had divorced and remarried, in the process doubling the number of grandparents/step-grandparents who expected their own "Christmas" time with the grandkids. Another couple had so many out-of-town relatives coming in for the holidays that they had rented the vacant house across the street to house them. Another recounted a Christmas past in which a toddler nephew had a stomach virus and should have been at home in bed but instead was followed around all Christmas day with a bucket in case his stomach let loose. Why couldn't they have just stayed home? Each story was met with knowing, empathetic nods and affirmations.

The only ones in the room who hadn't contributed to the discussion were a Chinese couple who had been in the U.S. for several years for graduate study. Their family remained thousands of miles away in China. Then, in her halting English, she spoke. "Can I say something before we close? What I want to say is, enjoy it - all of the relatives. Because we can't."

Once again, silence. Whatever insights I had tried to impart during the 45-minute lesson were quickly (and rightly) forgotten. The real lesson for the morning had just been given in those three sentences.

Merry Christmas to all. Enjoy it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Family: Priorities

Nearly two years ago, Jennifer and I decided that she should resign from her job and become a stay-at-home mom. We knew at the time we made the decision that is was not the practical thing to do. Living on two professional incomes had afforded us a measure of financial stability if not flexibility; living on one income would require us to trim whatever fat remained in a lifestyle that was already on the lean side, at least as compared to that of many of our friends. However, we also knew when we made the decision that it would allow for more focused attention on our four kids, and their needs, education, and activities. That knowledge assured us that, however impractical, our decision was the proper one.

In the time since, our kids have been bringing home straight-A report cards where there had been some struggling before. We can’t help but think that Jennifer’s time with them on their homework, as well as her very visible presence and involvement in their schools, has played a part. Equally if not more important, our kids have each developed a strong circle of friends, which had been lacking before. Now that Jennifer’s schedule no longer consists of zooming back and forth between the office, court, and daycare and afterschool pickups, it’s much easier to work in playdates and social outings for the kids. Last but not least, there’s that intangible something that’s come from slowing down and cutting back. It’s true that our life can still feel harried, rushed, and even chaotic at times, even though we’re no longer juggling two careers and dealing with all of the tensions that accompany that high-wire act; however, we seem to have a better sense of family. And that is what’s most important.

It was the right decision for us. But did I mention that it was impractical? More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Family: To Build a Fire*

As with all things having to do with the outdoors, and nearly everything else of any import, my Dad taught me how to build a fire. We spent many a Saturday burning brush in the backyard. Using more than one match or resorting to gas to get things going was frowned upon, and wet wood was only an inconvenience. There is always dry tinder to be found if you know where to look.

Those backyard lessons came in handy as I started spending frequent weekends on Boy Scout campouts. Campfires heated water for cocoa and oatmeal in the mornings, and sometimes produced "scrambled pancakes" if we forgot a spatula and had to turn them with a fork. In the evenings, we might have vegetables cooked in aluminum foil, generally crunchy and underdone, but if we were lucky they would be followed by a cobbler baked in the Dutch oven nestled in the glowing coals. Later, we would huddle around the fire and talk, but mostly we would just sit and stare, mesmerized by the flames.

My Boy Scout days are long behind me, and camping opportunities of any sort are few and far between these days, but I still use those fire-making skills on a regular basis. Usually, it's to burn leaves or brush in my own backyard,

but with three girl scouts and a 3-year old around, marshmallows often enter into the picture.

Thanks Dad, for teaching me how to do it.

*With apologies to Jack London .

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Family: Nibbles

Our 13-year-old daughter discovered this evening that her pet hamster Nibbles had done what all hamsters tend to do after 2-3 years. Tomorrow afternoon after we get home from church, we will have a short service and Nibbles will join Wilson in the quiet corner of our backyard that has been designated the final resting place for our family pets.

I realized, as she was sobbing on my shoulder after making the discovery, that there was nothing that I could do to help the situation other than say "I'm sorry." She didn't need me to remind her that she had known that Nibbles had been getting toward the end of his life expectancy. It wouldn't help to note that Nibbles was, after all, "just" a hamster, a not-too-distant cousin of the mice that occasionally meet their end in the traps that we (I, anyway) set in the laundry room. And, it certainly wouldn't have helped to observe that she had never really gotten 100% comfortable with handling him. At that moment, none of that mattered. Nibbles had been alive, Nibbles had been hers, and now Nibbles was gone.

Kids (and all of us) need moments like these in order to grow and develop. But knowing that doesn't make it any easier.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Running: OBX Half Marathon

Jennifer and I are driving down to the Outer Banks tomorrow to run in the OBX Half Marathon on Sunday. Life has gotten in the way of our training, so we're both looking at the race as an opportunity to jump-start our running. Wish us luck!

If nothing else, it will be a nice getaway....

Politics: Meet the New Bush

Dan Froomkin's column in Thursday's Washington Post is worth a read.

The only thing more disheartening about Bush's acknowledgment that he made deliberately misleading and outright false statement during the recent campaign is the fact that the American public is going to receive the news about Bush's revelation in the same casual and "so what?" manner with which he provided it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blogging: Off the Wagon

Aargh! Only 8 days in, and I fell off the daily blogging wagon. Got home, put my 3-year old to bed, read my 8-year old a story, and then made the classic (in my case, anyway) mistake of sitting down in a comfortable chair with a book. Made it a couple of chapters in, and zzzzzz…. When I woke up it was past midnight and the day’s blogging window had closed.

Oh well. Will try to stay on the straight and narrow from here on in.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Politics: Sinking Feeling

G F Allen Republican 951,910 49.61%
J H Webb Jr Democratic 943,886 49.19%
G G Parker Independent Green 21,218 1.11%

At 9:45 p.m., with nearly 85% of the precincts in, I'm getting a sinking feeling.

What could those 21,218 people have been thinking?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Politics: Spectator Sport

Someone asked me the other week when I'm going to run for office.

Not likely. I'm much too thin-skinned, have too many other commitments on my time and energy, and my wife would rather go to the dentist than talk politics - I can't imagine asking her to live it. No, for me, I think politics is destined to remain a spectator sport.

The game is on tomorrow, and I can't wait to "play" - albeit from the stands. I certainly have a firm idea about how I want things to come out. But, it's at times like this that I'm reminded of Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

I'll be bitterly disappointed if Allen and Goode win tomorrow. However, if that happens, I'll take nothing away from the efforts of Webb and Weed. They are both good men, both "born fighting" to borrow Webb's slogan, and have both run committed and exhausting races against well-entrenched incumbents. I hope they win, but if they don't, it won't be because they didn't try.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Politics: Colin the Marine

One night in the spring of 1985, during a college semester spent abroad in England, some classmates and I befriended a rowdy group of Brits in a pub. Pints turned into quarts and quarts into gallons, and all too soon we were dismayed to hear the pubkeeper cry out “last call”. We eagerly accepted our newfound friends’ invitation to accompany them to their nearby flat and continue the party.

As the festivities stretched into the early morning, we learned that our new friend Colin, the most gregarious and obvious leader of the group, had recently been discharged from the Royal Marines. At this point, one of my college friends, who happened to be much more enamored with my recent flirtation with the Marine Corps than I was, told Colin of my experience. Colin's face lit up, and from that moment on we shared a kinship, and he would talk of nothing else. It didn't seem to matter to him that I had only spent half a summer at OCS, while he had seen combat in the Falklands. In his mind, at least on that beery night, he had found fellow Marine, and that was a special thing.

The party eventually wound down, and we in the American contingent gathered our things and prepared to leave. “Wait,” said Colin. “I want to give you something.” He rushed back into his bedroom and emerged with a dog-eared paperback copy of Fields of Fire. “This is our bible,” he said. “Every Marine needs to read this.”

I read it, and have re-read it several times since. It’s a remarkable book, written by a remarkable man.

If you are a Virginian, don’t forget to vote on Tuesday.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Faith: Hypocrisy

I'm making some assumptions here, but imagine that you were caught leading the secret life that Colorado Springs evangelist Ted Haggard has apparently been leading - buying meth from a gay masseuse/escort and allegedly employing him for other services as well. It would no doubt cause incredible shock and heartache for your family and friends. However, even if criminal charges were pressed, it would have to be a slow news day for the sordid details to warrant even a brief mention in the press.

Now imagine the same scenario, except that you are a public figure - an elected official, for instance, or a prominent civic or business leader. The story would make the news, it would be the source of water cooler conversation for a day or two, and it would likely cost you your career. But then some other scandal would erupt, and as long as you stayed out of the public eye, the public's attention would turn elsewhere.

Now imagine that you're Ted Haggard.

Or Jim Bakker.

Or Jimmy Swaggart.

Because of who they are, what they say, and whose work they claim to be doing, their sins make the news. They make the blogs. They become fodder for late-night comedians. Their dirty laundry is laid bare for the world to see, and it becomes ingrained in the public consciousness.

And how do we react? Christians, likely feeling a mixture of anger, embarrassment, and disillusionment, will squirm and try to distance themselves. Atheists will smugly use the salacious details as further ammunition for their assertion that all Christians are hypocrites.

And the atheists are right. All Christians are hypocrites. All people are hypocrites. But the atheists are wrong when they point to individual hypocritical Christians as the basis for invalidating all of Christianity. Fortunately, Christianity is not about Christians. Christianity is about Christ. And Jesus is the only One who has perfectly lived what He has preached. The rest of us, whether we stand behind a pulpit or not, are going to fall short. All of us - Christians and non-Christians alike - would do well to remember that.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Politics: Olbermann Part 2

PART 2: Olbermann's Special Comment (11/1/06)

As with Part 1 of Olbermann's comments, all I can add is "res ipsa loquitur" - this speaks for itself.

Politics: Olbermann Part 1

PART 1: Olbermann's Special Comment (11/1/06)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Career: 4:00 p.m. Friday meeting

At 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in September, my department gathered together in the boardroom for a meeting. We didn’t have a clue as to why we had all been called together, but everyone in the room knew that it was going to be one of those meetings, one at which something momentous was going to be announced. The cryptic email announcing the meeting had offered no hint (which was telling enough in itself), but the 4:00 p.m. Friday meeting time left no doubt. There’s an unwritten rule in corporate America that reserves the 4:00 p.m. Friday meeting slot for the announcement of hirings, firings, reorganizations, and resignations.

It turned out to be the latter. After confirming that we were all present, and that the offsite people on the phone were all dialed in on the speakerphone, our long-time Senior Director got right to the point, and announced that he was leaving the company. Out of all of the scenarios that I had envisioned, this was not among them. My boss had not only led our department over the last decade, he had come to embody our department. After a round of forced smiles and congratulatory handshakes, we all filed out of the boardroom and returned to our offices and cubicles, wondering “what next?”

Six weeks later, we’re still wondering, to a certain extent. I don’t think that anyone really appreciated how much we had come to rely on his leadership, until we were faced with the prospect of carrying on without him. But, it will all work out. We have a talented group of people and we’ll figure out a way to make it work.

I just hope that we don’t have any more 4:00 p.m. Friday meetings for a while. Which reminds me, tomorrow's Friday. I'd better doublecheck my calendar....

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blogging: NaBloPoMo

How's that for an attention-getter?

November is National Blog Posting Month.

As such, all who care to are challenged to post every day during the month of November. What the hey. I'm always up for a challenge, and a quick glance at my archives will make it clear that for me, posting every day for an entire month will be a challenge.

So here goes...

Whitewater: Future Raft Guide?

Here's Morgan's first official rafting photo. That's her in the back, executing what the guide told her would be her most important command of the day - "get down!" I had planned on being next to her in the raft but the guide wanted me in the bow. OK - that's my favorite spot anyway!

I'll do a more detailed post on our adventure once I get the other photos developed (life's gotten in the way), but I couldn't resist putting this one up now. The rapids aren't much in this shot but we'd just finished running through a nice wave train. Morgan's expression is one of excitement and not of terror - I promise!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Politics: Is Kerry Trying To Lose Us Another One?

John Kerry's comment to students at Pasadena City College in California on Monday:

"You know, education -- if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.

"If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Senator Kerry: please please please think about what you are saying. There's only a week left before Election Day. Yes, it's true that the armed forces are struggling to make their recruiting quotas, and that recruiting standards are being lowered as a result. Yes, it's true that for every Pat Tillman, there are a lot more American men and women who are fighting in Iraq because they didn't have many other options open to them out of high school. And yes, it's true that someone with three Purple Hearts ought to be able to make this observation without it being interpreted as an insult to our armed forces.

But you can't. So please think about what you are saying, at least for the next week. Better yet, don't say anything at all....

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Odds & Ends: Going Out Doing What You Love

Morgan and I rafted the New River Gorge yesterday during Bridge Day and had a great time. I will post on the trip once we get the photos - we brought a film camera instead of digital so will need to get the photos developed and scanned.

For the time being, I should acknowledge a sad and sobering event that took place while we were there. Brian Lee Schubert, a 66-year old BASE jumping veteran and apparently a pioneer in the sport, died when his chute failed to open until 25 feet prior to impact. Our rafting group was eating our riverside lunch about a quarter mile upstream from the bridge, watching the jumpers, when it happened. Fortunately, Morgan and I were on the upstream side of a large house-sized rock during Schubert's jump, so we were spared actually witnessing it. Many in our group were eyewitnesses, however. As Morgan and I were eating our sandwiches and basking in the sunshine, the collective gasps and exclamations that we heard from those in our group sitting on the top and downstream side of the boulder told us that something had gone horribly wrong.

One has to be wired a certain way to skydive at all, but Bridge Day jumpers are a unique breed. Not content to simply jump off of the bridge, many ramp up the risk (and resulting adrenaline) factor by throwing in a somerault or back flip, or by jumping in tandem or groups of 3 or 4. While this video clip has a happy ending, it shows just how dangerous it can get.

There is a lot of Bridge Day video out there, but I think this one is particularly insightful. It does a good job at capturing the preparation, reflection, and emotional buildup that leads up to the bravado of the jump itself. I've signed many a liability release form in pursuing my weekend warrior activities, but I've never had to read the text of the waiver on videotape.

Back to yesterday - after Schubert's fall, jumping was suspended for about a half hour. After the authorities concluded that there were no adverse weather or site conditions that had contributed to the incident, jumping resumed. My hunch is that Schubert would have wanted nothing less.

Rest in peace Brian. May we all follow your example of pushing our limits and living life to its fullest.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Whitewater: Bridge Day opportunity

So... I sent a note to the outfitter that we used for the Gauley Reverse trip, thanking them again for the great time. (Additional post(s) on the trip are forthcoming, by the way - just haven't gotten the experience all processed and blog-worthy yet).

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I got an email reply from the owner:

"What are you doing this weekend? Would you like a free trip on the lower New river for Bridge Day Saturday?"

Wow. Talk about great customer service (and building customer loyalty)! Bridge Day bills itself as "the largest extreme sports event in the world" - every year on the third Saturday in October, the 876' tall New River Gorge Bridge is opened up to parachutists and rapellers, along with some 200,000 spectators assembled to watch the craziness. The best seat in the house is from a raft on the Lower New, which passes directly under the bridge. I've always wanted to experience Bridge Day (though not from a parachute - at least not yet), but haven't had an opportunity. Now, out of the blue, I've been offered a free trip.

Responsibility, however, reared its ugly head (see the "Toast" post) - too much to do, and after all, I went rafting just two weeks ago. So, when I mentioned the offer to Jennifer, I told her I planned on telling the outfitter "thanks but no thanks", and suggested that I might take Morgan (our 13 year old daughter) next year. Her response: "I could work things out around you being gone this Saturday."

Double wow. The outfitter offers me a free trip, and my wife redirects me to the present tense and opens the door for me to take them up on it - not next year, but now.

Which leads me to Morgan. I would love to provide her with this experience - both the spectacle of Bridge Day, and the whitewater adventure. While the New isn't the Gauley, it does have some very solid Class IV rapids - what a confidence builder that would be for a 13-year old girl! However, the last thing I want to do is get Morgan into a bad situation. I'm not worried about her safety - although I'm sure I wouldn't be able to breathe completely easily until we were off the river at the end of the day - but I don't want her to spend the day wet, cold, and scared. Wet certainly, and cold probably, but not scared.

I tested the waters (no pun intended) with Morgan, and her first question was "How big are the rapids?" So, we turned to the internet. I found a nice representative video on YouTube - big bouncy wave trains, smiling rafters, and no flips or "carnage". I did the Lower New a few years ago, and that was the way I recalled it.

So far, so good. Then, I clicked on one more Lower New video clip, and it was a raft surfing on a hydraulic. Fun stuff. At least until the raft turned sideways, dropped the upstream tube and dumped several rafters. Still no great trauma, until we saw that one of the dumped rafters had managed to get his foot stuck in the webbing running alongside the tube - his foot was pointing straight up, trapped in the webbing, while the rest of him was pointing straight down - underwater in the middle of the hydraulic. They eventually got him untangled and back in the boat, but not before he had spent more time than he cared to upside down in the spin cycle. For the life of me I can't figure out how he managed to get himself tangled up that way.

Anyway. Not exactly the type of video footage that I was hoping to find, but it didn't seem to scare Morgan off of the idea. I told her to sleep on it, and we'd talk about it in the morning. Hopefully she's not having nightmares....

Running: Too Much Toast

Great run on Sunday. I ran the Charlottesville 10-Miler course Galloway-style (9 minutes running, 1 minute walking) and ran it in 1:33, which was faster than I’ve run the actual race the last three times. Admittedly that’s not saying much, as the last few times I’ve run the Cville 10-miler I’ve run it without much in the way of training ahead of time, but I was still pleased with the result. My goal for the upcoming OBX race is to run the half-marathon in under 2 hours, so I’m on pace for that.

I'm always amazed at what a good long run will do for my general outlook on life. It generally takes me about 3 miles to work out the kinks, but after that, I often start to get into an endorphin-assisted groove where I can pretty much go on autopilot and don't have to think too much about running for another 4-6 miles. It's during this part of the run that that things start to make sense. While I go through most days feeling like Bilbo Baggins ("like butter spread over too much toast"), a long run will generally provide me with some much-needed perspective.

So why oh why can't I stay on a more consistent running schedule? Too much toast, I guess.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Whitewater: Gauley Season - Pretrip

Every fall for the past several years I have been organizing a trip to go whitewater rafting on the Gauley River in West Virginia. During the 6 weekends following Labor Day, known to paddlers as “Gauley Season”, the Army Corps of Engineers oversees a controlled release of water from the Summersville Reservoir that is designed to lower the water level in the reservoir by 75 feet. All of that water needs to go somewhere, and where it goes is into the Gauley - at a rate of 2,800-5,000 cfs (cubic feet per second). The result is a world-class whitewater river that is ranked 2nd in the U.S. (behind the Arkansas in Colorado) and 7th in the world. The Gauley boasts scores of Class III-IV rapids, but the highlights are the five Class V rapids found on the Upper section. Class V is as high as you can go, at least in a commercial raft.

I fell into the role of trip organizer by default. In 2000, I was invited to be the token 30-something on a Gauley trip with my dad and several of his friends. That was enough to get me hooked, and after Gauley season came and went without me in 2001, I figured that if I wanted to go rafting, I needed to take the initiative. So, I sent out an email to everyone I could think of who might be up for the trip. The responses that I received generally fell in one of two categories: enthusiastic affirmation, or incredulous rejection. There were a few lukewarm responses as well, but after following up on these I realized that most of them were just folks who were too polite to tell me straight up that they had absolutely no interest.

Once I had the group lined up, we did a 2-day Gauley trip in the fall of 2002, and before we had even left the river, we were talking about the next year’s trip. So, I sent out a similar (although more targeted) email in 2003, and we returned for Gauley season that fall. In 2004 we switched to the New River Gorge, but that was a bit of a letdown after the Gauley, so we headed back for Gauley season in 2005.

Which brings me to 2006. Despite having run the Gauley four times, I had a bit of apprehension nagging at me as plans for the trip began to take shape. My thoughts kept going back to an unnerving swim that I had taken during the 2003 trip. I had been pitched out of the raft, and managed to breathe in more water than air as I went under.

When I bobbed up, I saw that the guide was motioning vigorously for me to swim back to the raft. That was a hint that I was heading for trouble. I took a couple of strokes, hampered by the paddle that I was still holding onto, and then I got smacked in the face by a wave, with my mouth wide open – not good. I went down again and got caught in the faster current running underneath the surface.

I tumbled along for what seemed like an eternity, and when I finally did come gasping back up to the surface, was considerably downstream from the raft. I managed to swim to a neighboring raft, they hauled me in, and after a bit of coughing and shaking, that was the end of the ordeal. Despite the happy ending, a bit of the panic that I had flirted with as I was caught in that underwater current stayed with me. That, I suppose, was the reason for my disquiet as our October 7 trip date drew near. That was also the reason that I knew I had to go. (To be continued….)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Running: Running in Place

I’m writing this post from a hotel room; I’m traveling on business for a few days.

It only takes me a few minutes to pack for these trips. Suits for meetings during the day, a casual shirt and pair of pants, toiletries, and my running stuff. I always look forward to a stress-relieving run at the end of the day. So, I was less than pleased when I realized that I had forgotten my running shorts. While the front desk clerk is happy to address your forgotten toothpaste needs, they don’t offer emergency running shorts. Hence my aforementioned trip out to find an open Target, or Walmart, or Kmart, or something, to find a pair. Alas, nothing was open (it’s late at night – after discovering that I was sans shorts earlier this evening, I had opted to work for a few hours and go shorts-hunting later – where are my priorities?)

Fortunately whoever is in the room below me didn’t complain about the noise from me running in place for a half hour.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Blogging: Ending the drought

It's been nearly 3 weeks since my last post. The haitus hasn't been intentional. Many evenings - most evenings - I sit down in front of the computer with the best of intentions. But, the fatigue of the day inevitably catches up with me, and I find that it's much easier to zone out and click the "next blog" button and see what others have written than it is to craft something of my own. And, before I know it, I'm either struggling to keep my eyes open, or I've skipped that stage entirely and have fallen asleep in front of the computer.

So, the days go by, and with each passing day, the self-imposed pressure to post something substantial mounts. Will this be the day? To post something substantial, probably not. But, I will go ahead and hit the "Publish Post" button and end the drought, anyway. Then I'm going to go out and try to find a store open so I can buy some running shorts. More on that next post....

Monday, September 04, 2006

Whitewater: Swimming in the New River

I'm resigned to the fact that I will probably never get my wife on a river of any consequence, so I have no qualms about posting a link to this video taken by a rafter before, during, and after her raft flipped. None of the other videos that I have ever seen of rafting "carnage" do justice to what it's really like - unless you are actually on the water, you can't really understand how big the waves are, and how deep the holes are, and what it's like to be pummelled under the water after you flip or get bounced out of the boat. This one, at least, shows a bit of what it's like to take a swim.

This video was taken by a rafter who was "riding the bull" on the New River. "Riding the bull" is when you stand up on the front of the boat, holding the tow line in one hand, and try to keep your balance as the raft goes through the rapids. Obviously, you can't do this in big water, but it's still a lot of fun. In this particular instance, the raft wasn't going through anything too big, but they hit a hole the wrong way and flipped.

Here's the link.

Whitewater: One More Post on USNWC

The U.S. National Whitewater Center is finally open and here's a good article about what it's like.

I can't wait to see it for myself!

Odds & Ends: Knowing One's Limitations

I can do a lot of things. I can launch a product, try a case, give a presentation, change a diaper, cook a meal, build a treehouse, play a guitar, paddle a rapid, run a race, paint a house, and a few other things to boot.

I cannot, however, install a bathroom faucet. I couldn't today, at least.

The faucet knob on our girls’ bathroom sink had been getting increasingly difficult to turn and the whole thing was in generally poor condition, so I decided that I would take advantage of the Labor Day holiday to replace it. After a quick trip to Lowes, I came home armed with a shiny new replacement faucet kit and got to work.

My biggest initial challenge was in cramming the upper half of my body into the cabinet underneath the sink so I could get at the blasted hardware. I was able to see it, and I was able to reach it – I just wasn’t able to see it and reach it at the same time. After a while I figured out a way to lay on my back, squeeze my head and shoulders inside, and then wedge an arm in and twist it up and around to reach the pipes. This would allow me about three turns of the wrench before my arm started to go numb because my awkward positioning was cutting off my blood supply. This, of course, was assuming that I had remembered to grab the wrench before I worked my way inside. More than once I crammed myself into position only to find that my tool hand was empty. I then had to extricate myself and start the process all over again.

After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I was eventually able to get the old faucet removed, and the new one set into place. Install the stopper assembly, hook up the water lines, and I’d be done. The directions for the stopper were maddeningly simple – insert the stopper into the drainpipe, slide the horizontal rod into the pipe and through the hole on the bottom of the stopper, and you’re done. The problem was, the stopper seemed to be a half inch too short – I could never get the rod into the hole. Meanwhile, my girls’ cheery visits to the bathroom to check on my progress were becoming more frequent. “How’s it going, Daddy? Almost finished? Need any help?” My increasingly terse responses told me that I had better wrap this project up. I gave up. The sink was destined to be stopper-less.

But that was OK. The sink was already stopper-less; installing a stopper would have been an enhancement. That was a project for another day. So, all I needed to do was hook the water lines back up, and I’d be done. Predictably, the metal fittings on the faucet didn’t line up with the plastic ends of the water lines. I crammed myself back up under the sink, realized that my wrench hand had once again come up empty, twisted myself back out from under, and cracked my head on the bottom of the cabinet for the fifth time. Once the stars had faded from my vision and I had once again worked my way up into the cabinet and under the sink, I set to work bending the metal fittings to reach the end of the water lines. A few skinned knuckles and more than a few choice words later, I was finally ready to screw the fittings together and turn on the cold water line.

My face and left arm got soaked as water jetted out from the ill-fitting connection. I managed to get the water turned off, unscrewed the connection, bent the fittings some more, and screwed them together again. Holding my breath, I turned the water back on. No leak. Success! Giddy at the thought of the project being nearly complete, I turned on the hot water line. The water missed me this time, but instead gushed out onto the bottom of the cabinet. I turned the water back off. Fiddled with the fittings. Screwed it back together. Turned it back on. No gushing torrent this time, just a slight dribble.

A few seconds later, water began to dribble from the stopper rod cap as well, and then the dribble turned into a spray. Meanwhile the dribble from the hot water line became a full-fledged stream, and then the stopper rod cap and hot water line were spraying at me in stereo.

I gave up. Tomorrow I’m going to bite the bullet and call a plumber. I’m sure installing my faucet will be the easiest job he has all day. Glad to oblige.

You'll be relieved to hear that I don’t do my own electrical work, either.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Running: Mission Accomplished

My marathon training schedule said I was supposed to run 13 miles today. It took some doing, but I got it done.

Ridge Road is a favorite in the Charlottesville running community, a picturesque out-and-back run on a winding, crushed gravel road. While a bit anxious about the distance due to my less-than-rigid adherence to my training schedule to date, I was charged up by the beautiful day and 70 degree temperature. With Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood still ringing in my head from the drive to the starting point, I set off. The full length of the road is 4 miles, so for a 13-mile run my turnaround point would be the 3 1/4 mile mark.

The first leg went well. I savored the views of rolling fields and horse farms with the Blue Ridge in the distance, saw several deer, and felt great. I hit the 3 1/4 mark and turned around. It wasn't long before I started to get a hot spot on the ball of my foot, and by the time I was around 5 miles in, it was on fire. My legs were starting to feel heavy (did I mention that I haven't been training consistently?), and by the time I hit 6 miles, I was starting to have serious doubts. 7 miles left to go - maybe I was going to really mess my foot up if I kept on going? Maybe I could run 6 1/2 today and then repeat tomorrow? After all, if I cut this one short then I would be really really good about sticking with my training thereafter and I'd still be OK for the race. Hey, if I'm out here running for another hour-plus and then still have to drive home, I'm going to be late and will worry Jennifer - shouldn't I go ahead and call it a day?

And so on, and so forth. My inner rationalizer/ procrastinator can be quite persuasive. However, as my car and the turnaround/end point came into view, I forced myself to admit that if I quit early and didn't finish the run, I might as well just call it quits on the marathon training. I needed to gut it out. I reached the turnaround and headed back uphill for the third leg.

Around mile 8, I realized that the hot spot on my foot had subsided. Either that, or else I just didn't notice it as much due to the pain in my knees. Sort of like the old comedy routine (3 Stooges?) where the guy goes to the doctor complaining of a headache, and the doctor stomps on his foot to make him forget about the pain in his head. I reached the turnaround point (mile 9 3/4) and turned around for the fourth and final leg. After a mile or so, I finally started to find the zone where I was a bit removed from my various aches and pains, and was able to just keep putting one foot in front of another. I came up behind a guy struggling up a hill, and passed him. Always a good feeling, except it brings with it the pressure of having to keep up a pace sufficient to prevent the guy you passed from returning the favor.

Finally, I crested the last hill and saw before me the long straightaway leading to the finish. I lengthened my stride and picked up the pace as I ran the last few hundred yards. I pulled up even with my car parked on the side of the road, and wobbled to a stop.

13 miles done. Miller Time....

Friday, September 01, 2006

Running: Best of Intentions ... We'll See....

I need to run long tomorrow - 13 miles. My training hasn't been what it should lately, so it's going to hurt bigtime. My wife and 3 daughters are volunteering at a race in the morning (Charlottesville Women's Four Miler), so even though the race is early in the morning (and it's late at night as I write this), I think I'll head out there as well to cheer the runners on and get some much-needed inspiration and motivation.

Sounds like a good plan right now, anyway....

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Politics: Flag Days

Much has been made about the fact that Sen. George Allen (R-Va) used to have a Confederate battle flag hanging in his living room. Allen has long dismissed questions about this with the explanation that it was part of a flag collection. However, recent revelations suggest that the "collection" may actually have only consisted of two flags - the Confederate flag and the U.S. flag.

Be that as it may, I really don’t care if George Allen had a Confederate flag hanging on his wall when he was a young man. I'd be a hypocrite to say otherwise, as I had a Confederate flag hanging on my wall in high school and through the first couple years of college. To me the flag was simply a symbol of regional pride and heritage. So, the mere fact that Allen similarly owned and privately displayed a Confederate flag 20 or 30 years ago does not automatically mean that he is or was a racist.

However, I would feel a lot better about Allen’s flag history if he had simply explained it, as I do, as a symbol of Southern (not white, Southern) pride. That would admittedly be a bit tough to swallow considering the fact that he was born in California and never lived in the South until he transferred from UCLA to the University of Virginia as a sophomore in college, but it would be a lot less suspect than the apparently bogus flag collection story. But, that's his story and he's sticking to it....

Back to my flag - one day I returned to my dorm room and found that the flag, while still hanging on the wall, had been torn into four pieces. A few of my fraternity brothers who hailed from north of the Mason-Dixon came in laughing, and took the opportunity to remind me that the North had won the war. I took the hint and that was the end of my Confederate flag-hanging days.

What I really want to know is, what was up with George's pin?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Running: So Run Already!

I was close to rationalizing myself out of running tonight, when I came across an article on Sam Thompson. He's run 48 marathons in 47 days, at a sub-9 minute pace, and is closing in on his goal to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Oh, and this was despite shattering his leg and pelvis in an automobile accident 8 years ago, after which his doctors told him that he would never run again.

Just as impressive is Michael Mann. Just 22 days after having the entire bottom of his right lung lobe removed due to lung cancer (taking with it 23-25% of his lung capacity), this marathoner was back running. "The first three days, I just ran three miles, but then that felt OK, so I did five or six every day after that," Mann said. He ran 50 miles per week during his chemotherapy treatments, and six months after his final chemotherapy session, Mann ran the Shamrock Marathon in 2:54:26, finishing 27th out of 1,738 runners with a time of 2:54:26.

So, you'll excuse me if I need to cut this post short and go for a run.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Career: Further Misadventures in Sales

Anyone who has spent any time on a college campus has doubtless seen one of those fliers advertising work for $15 per hour, with a phone number to call for more information. Back in the late '80's, I saw one of those flyers and made the call. I needed a summer job, and you can buy a lot of Ramen noodles for $15 per hour (or whatever the rate was back then).

The person on the other end of the line identified the business as Vector Marketing, and after a brief conversation invited me to their office for an interview. He raised my suspicions a bit by not revealing anything about the nature of the work, but he did volunteer that it was not telemarketing or door-to-door selling. It should come as no surprise, based on my previous post, that I breathed a sigh of relief at this point. With visions of Ramen noodles and beer money dancing in my head, I agreed to come in for the meeting.

The office itself was unimpressive - a couple of nondescript rooms in a strip shopping center. I was one of a dozen or so college-aged kids there, all equally mystified about what we had gotten ourselves into (this was pre-internet, so we couldn't easily research Vector beforehand). We all sat down in folding chairs that were lined up in rows facing the front of the room, and then the show began. A guy came out and started his spiel about what a great company Vector was, and how selective they were in who they agreed to interview, and so forth. About 20 minutes later, we finally found out what the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was all about: selling Cutco knives. Vector Marketing, it turned out, was simply the sales and marketing arm of Cutco.

Despite the fact that my folks still had the better part of a case of lotion soap remaining at home, I was intrigued. The guy made it sound so easy. By the end of the interview/pep rally, everyone in the room was convinced that the knives really would sell themselves.

A few days later, I found myself back in that same nondescript room for training, along with most of the same kids who had been in the interview/pep rally session (guess their selection process wasn't really that selective). It was then that we began our initiation into all things Cutco.

First we learned the features -

  • the "patented Double-D edge" of the serrated knives (never needs sharpening!)

  • the thermo-resin handle with 3 rivets (not just 2 like most knives!)

  • the full tang construction (once we learned what a tang was, we were impressed)

Then we learned the tricks -

  • how to use the Super Shears to cut a penny into a copper corkscrew

  • how to use the "patented Double-D edge" of the serrated knife to slice through shoe leather

  • how to use the French Chef's knife to chop vegetables without chopping fingers

Next, we all went through an exercise - we were all instructed to write down the names of everyone that we knew - everyone. After we each compiled our lengthy list, the trainer explained that the list represented our "sphere of influence", which was Cutco-speak for people we could try and sell knives to.

Sphere of influence in hand, we were then ready to learn the technique -

  • first, call people on the list to get an appointment for a product demonstration (by calling for an appointment, there was technically no telemarketing, and no door-to-door selling)

  • then, do the demo, explaining that it was "practice" for us and that there was no expectation of them buying anything

  • at the end of the demo, after counting on the magic of the copper corkscrew and cut shoe leather to induce a sale despite the "practice" nature of the visit, we were to obtain from the customer a list of friends and neighbors who might be interested in the product

  • then, telephone the friends and neighbors and explain that "Mrs. so-and-so" had suggested that we call....

After about a week of this, I chucked it and worked construction for the rest of the summer. As far as I'm concerned, Cutco makes a fine knife, and the company is perfectly legitimate (although there is certainly disagreement on both points). The whole thing just made me feel sleazy, and life's too short for that.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Career: 100 washups still remaining

In the spring of 1982, my high school lacrosse team held a fundraiser to buy new equipment. We didn't have a car wash. We didn't sell t-shirts. We sold lotion soap.

Some of us did, at least. While I can still remember some of the product features that we were supposed to reel off ("240 washups!" "wildwood scent!"), I'm not sure I sold a bottle except to my parents, who bought a case. I believe the bottle in the photo is the last remnant of that order - it's probably the last bottle remaining in all of Charlottesville.

I hated selling. Whether it was light bulbs for the Boy Scouts, Florida citrus for the high school band, or lotion soap for the lacrosse team, my main (and sometimes only) customers were my parents. At least we stayed well-lit, vitamin C fortified, and clean.

Fast-forward a couple of decades - so what does my job as a legal publisher entail? Among other things, I sell. On January 1 of each year I start out at $0.00, and by the time December 31 rolls around I'm on the hook for several million. Fortunately, I've warmed up to the selling thing a bit over the years.

Hey Mom and Dad, wanna buy some books? I'll throw in half a bottle of 24-year-old lotion soap - there has to be at least 100 washups left in there....

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Running: Night Run on Grounds

I had an entertaining run last night. Needing to run longer than I cared to stay on a treadmill and living on a country road with no streetlights, I drove downtown about 10:00 pm and parked in my church parking lot, just across the street from U.Va. I strapped on my water bottle carrier and chuckled as I figured that I was probably the only person I would see over the next 6-7 miles who was drinking water unaccompanied by barley malt, hops and yeast. Wondering whether everyone else might actually have the better idea, I started heading up University Avenue to the Corner, the commercial hub of the University.

I quickly realized that I was going to be dodging reveling Wahoos for much of the run. This had been “move in” day at the University, and the students were out in force on the first Saturday night of the new school year. While a few places had kids lined up waiting to get in, most of them were just milling around, seeing and being seen. They seemed surprised to see an "old" (and already sweaty) guy in their midst.

Past the Corner, I headed down Rugby Road, fraternity house central. No formal frat parties yet, but definitely some lively goings-on. With The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” blaring through open windows, one house was full of bare-chested guys alternating between playing pool and playing air guitar. Girls could wait, this was definitely a male bonding night.

I looped back around and ran past the Lawn toward the dormitories, and suddenly felt like a salmon swimming upstream as I encountered a huge contingent of first-years on their way down to the Corner. Their anticipation was palpable on this their first night as college students out on the town.

A bit further up I ran into what I gather was a University-sponsored alternative to partying on the Corner - a moon bounce, DJ and what appeared to be kids in giant sumo wrestler fat suits duking it out. Lots of kids were milling around, most of them carrying a plastic bag with what I took to be a souvenir t-shirt of the event. I ran past the first-year dorms, each festooned with RA-crafted banners proclaiming their dorm to be “the” place to be. I thought of a colleague of mine whose daughter had just moved into one of those dorms, and wondered whether she was in the Corner crowd or the moon bounce crowd.

I eventually made it back to my car, narrowly missing being run down (for the 3rd or 4th time) by 3 guys who were zooming around on their “crotch rocket” motorcycles. They seemed very impressed with themselves, but somehow I don't think that view was held by many others.

Family: Brian's Latest

A while back I introduced you to my brother, Brian. Over the summer he hooked up with a band that was signed on to play in the Vans Warped Tour 2006 but had recently lost its lead singer. Enter Brian - have cojones and a great stage presence, will travel.

With the summer gigs (including one at Dodger Stadium) completed, Brian's latest project is a radical departure from fronting the "Part Eastern World and Part Western Metal" sound of Healer. He's rehearsing with Two Loons for Tea in preparation for a U.S. and then European tour. Two Loons' sound is described in their MySpace page as "Pop/Trip Hop/Ambient". I'm biased, but I find it sort of addicting....

Family: Perspective

'Nuff said.

Whitewater: From Napkin to National Center

The Charlotte Observer ran a story today on the genesis (and long-awaited opening, scheduled for next week) of the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Kudos to all involved for their vision and persistence.

I wonder how many other great ideas can trace their origin to a dinner napkin? More than a few, I bet.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Whitewater: Bad News, Good News for USNWC

Repeated delays in the opening of the U.S. National Whitewater Center have prompted organizers to move the first scheduled event to another location. The American Canoe Association's Open Canoe Slalom National Championships scheduled for August 18-20 will instead be held at the at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC.

This is disappointing news for the USNWC, but there is good news to report as well. On July 6, Scott Shipley, four time kayaking world champion and USNWC course designer, took the first test run on the course. Check out the video here. It's also available as a Quicktime download at the USNWC site.

Sure makes me want to take my kayak down off the rack and get wet. Hey, I did clear out the nest that wasps had built in it the other night. Hopefully one of these days....

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Running: Be Watchful for Alligators

No thunderstorms on tonight's run. That's a good thing, because the trails I ran tonight managed to kick my tail without any extra excitement.

I realized I was in for something a bit different when I saw the sign at the trailhead saying "Be Watchful for Alligators." Fortunately (or unfortunately, because I really wanted to see one), it was a gator-free run. Plenty of mosquitos, though!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Running: Rainy Run

I'm on the road again this week, spending a few days in steamy Tallahassee. It's times like this that I wonder who actually invented the suit and tie. Whoever it was, my hunch is they had never been to Tallahassee in July. Impractical or not, the corporate uniform is de rigeur for client meetings. But, I always look forward to hanging up the suit and putting on my running shoes at the end of the day.

Tonight I ran around the campus of Florida State University. Well, not actually all the way around it. It is a big school, after all. The most impressive thing about the FSU campus is probably Doak Campbell Stadium. These people really take their football seriously. It must be a pretty incredible atmosphere on Saturday afternoons in the fall.

It was 91 degrees when I started my run tonight, and by the time I finished a full-on thunderstorm was starting up. Anyway, after getting a bit lost, and a bit antsy with the lightning getting closer and the wind picking up to the point where clumps of Spanish moss were getting blown out of trees, I located my car before I was totally soaked. Not a top 5 run, but well worth the effort.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Odds & Ends: Esse Quam Videri

I have long been captivated by the motto of the state of North Carolina: "Esse quam videri" (“To be, rather than to seem”).

By contrast, some state mottos are so obviously rooted in the past that they run the risk of seeming antiquated. For example, Alabama hearkens back to the Civil War with "Audemus jura nostra defendere” (“We Dare Defend Our Rights”), while my home state of Virginia reaches back even further to the days of the American Revolution with “Sic Semper Tyrannis” (“Thus Always to Tyrants”).

While these mottos may seem dated, at least they are inspirational. Not so with states such as Indiana ("The Crossroads of America"), Tennessee ("Agriculture and Commerce") and Utah ("Industry").

And then there’s Michigan: ("If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you"). Not to be outdone, New Mexico boasts: "It grows as it goes". Huh?

Back to North Carolina. More than any of the other 49 states’ mottos, North Carolina’s presents as much of an individual challenge as it does a state rallying cry. To be, rather than to seem. As society bombards us with the artificial, the superficial and the trivial, we would all do well to adopt North Carolina’s motto as our personal watchword. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Blogging: Stay Tuned

For the 2 or 3 of you out there who have been checking in to see what I've posted lately, sorry. I've spent a fair amount of time staring at the computer screen but haven't come up with anything that I thought was post-worthy. I'm trying to keep this blog limited to things that I think are at least mildly interesting, so have resisted the temptation to post just for the sake of posting.

Until now.

Stay tuned and I'll try to come up with something better soon.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Running: Third Time's a Charm

I officially start training for the OBX Marathon tomorrow morning. While I've run a couple of half-marathons, and am fairly comfortable at 10 miles, I've not run a marathon before. This is the third time I've paid the entry fee, however. The first time I was injured during training, and the second time I fell off the training wagon and realized a month before the race that it was too late to hop back on.

I'm hoping that the third time will be a charm.

Here's a list of running quotes that I've pulled together. I imagine I'll be referring to these more than once over the next few months.

"Self-conquest is the greatest of victories."

"Somewhere in the world someone is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win."
~Tom Fleming

"(Scientific testing) can't determine how the mind will tolerate pain in a race. Sometimes, I say, 'Today I can die.'"
~Gelindo Bordin

"The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win."
~Sir Roger Bannister

"There will come a point in the race, when you alone will need to decide. You will need to make a choice. Do you really want it? You will need to decide."
~Rolf Arands

"Pain is weakness leaving the body."

"There's no such thing as bad weather, just soft people."
~Bill Bowerman

"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."
~Emil Zatopek

"Anyone can run 20 miles. It's the next six that count."
~Barry Magee

"Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts."
~Steve Prefontaine

"If I am still standing at the end of the race, hit me with a board and knock me down, because that means I didn't run hard enough."
~Steve Jones

"Few of us know what we are capable of doing... we have never pushed ourselves hard enough to find out."
~Alfred A. Montapert

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit."
~George Sheehan

"It's at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys."
~Emil Zatopek

"Men, today we die a little."
~Emil Zatopek, at the starting line

"My life is a gift to me from my Creator. What I do with my life is my gift back to the Creator."
~Billy Mills

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Politics: Caught in the Middle

Christian Democrats (no, it's not an oxymoron) find themselves caught in the middle - on one side fending off the Religious Right's efforts to lay sole claim to the "Christian" label, and on the other side struggling with secular humanists' attempts to remove any hint of Christianity from the "Democrat" label.

Senator Barack Obama took the latter to task yesterday, urging his own Democratic Party to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people." As reported on, Obama noted the influence of his own Christian faith, and contended that "secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square." Preach it, Senator.

I was going to post some similar thoughts for the benefit of the folks on the other side of the aisle, but came across a blog posting that said it as well or better than I could. Read and heed.

Oh, and if you want to order the bumper sticker, here's how.

Running: "Sorry, dude"

Got slapped in the face by reality tonight. I was running around the lake, and couldn't shake a guy who was running right beside me, then just a bit behind, then just a bit ahead. I cast aside my intended easy pace and blew past him with about 2 miles to go. It was a bold move because I had 3 "20's" on him - 20 pounds (at least), 20 years, and 20% body fat. But, I kept up the pace and when it was safe to sneak a glance over my shoulder, he was nowhere to be seen. I kept pumping; the endorphins were flowing. I rounded the last curve around the lake; my car was in sight.

Then he came out of nowhere and passed me like I was standing still.

He finished the run, and jogged over to join a group of equally gaunt LSU students. The cross-country team, perhaps? I walked over to him, and said with a smile, "I thought I had you back there, but you were just playing with me, weren't you?" He looked up at me, pausing from his post-run stretch, obviously incredulous that I had presumed to think that I could pass him for good. "Sorry, dude."

I laughed, said "nice run", and jogged off with the sound of muffled sniggers behind me.

Oh, well. It was still a good run.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Running: Rave Runs

I had a great run tonight - 4 miles around a picturesque lake on the campus of Louisiana State University (I'm in Baton Rouge for a few days on business). I found the route courtesy of the USATF's "America's Running Routes" site. I'm trying to jump start my marathon training, and may try and do it twice tomorrow. This easily goes into my top 5 list. Too bad it's 1,030 miles away from home!

Rounding out the top 5:

Charlottesville Ten Miler course. This is my favorite race, which I've run every year since 1999. It's a challenging course with enthusiastic crowd support on race day, and is a great training run as well.

Piedmont Park in Atlanta. I take a different route through this park every time I go, but it's always good for a workout and people-watching. As with the LSU route, too bad this one's 500 miles away from home.

Emerald Isle, NC. If I'm running at Emerald Isle, it means I'm on vacation, which is enough to put any Emerald Isle run in the top 5.

Reynolda Gardens at Wake Forest University. I enjoyed running through these roads and trails when I was an undergrad, but it wasn't until I was in law school and started timing my daily runs to coincide with those of my future wife (she calls it stalking) that I really fell in love with this route.

Politics: Land of the Free

Those pressing for the United States to join the anti flag-desecration club (consisting I believe of China, Cuba, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein) were rebuffed today as the Senate rejected a proposed constitutional amendment by one vote.

As I noted in a previous post, I believe that burning or otherwise desecrating the flag is constitutionally protected speech. I also believe that it is highly offensive speech, and that anyone who is presented with it and offended by it has the right to state a different opinion, within the bounds of the law. Enforcing that different opinion by statute, however, would make the land of the free less so.

I guess those wanting the U.S. to join the China/Cuba/Iran/Iraq anti flag-desecration club will have to be content with continuing to associate with those countries in the capital punishment club.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Career: Law School by Default

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal included an insightful commentary by Cameron Stracher on law school and the legal profession, "Law School by Default". Stracher notes that lawyers are leaving practice in increasing numbers, "a silent drain of talent to banking, business, and premature retirement," and that in light of the resulting student loan debt ($60,000 average) and opportunity cost of 3 years of law school, ambivalent college students considering this path would be well-advised to think twice.

Amen. I spent 8 years in practice before finally reaching the conclusion that I would be happier doing something else. Chalk that up to being a slow learner, I guess. Anyway, I am now 16 years out of law school, and am happily ensconced in a publishing career in which my JD degree and dual bar admissions frankly don't amount to much. However, I am still paying off my student loan debt, and have 11 years of opportunity cost to consider. What might I be doing now if I had spent those 3 years that I was in law school and 8 years that I was in practice doing something else?

Honestly, I probably did need to go to law school. Inspired by equal parts of Atticus Finch and "L.A. Law", the idea of the courtroom had long excited me, and it was something that I needed to get out of my system. But, for anyone who is not so compelled - think long and hard. There are a lot of less expensive ways to pass time while you figure out what you want to be when you grow up.

Politics: Who Are You?

Actually, the title of this post should more accurately be "What Are You?", but I couldn't resist using the title of one of my favorite songs from The Who.

Anyway - short post, but I wanted to put up a link to an interesting site maintained by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press - The Political Typology. Recognizing that it is overly simplistic to divide the U.S. into "red" and "blue" states, as each party is comprised of voters of varying shades, it has identifed 9 different "Typology Groups":

Social Conservatives
Pro-Government Conservatives
Conservative Democrats
Disadvantaged Democrats

The site features a neat little questionnaire that you can complete and see which Typology Group you fit into. Depending on how I answer a couple of questions, I flip between "Conservative Democrat" and "Liberal". Interesting stuff.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Odds & Ends: An Ominous Adjustment

The Washington Post reported today that the U.S. Army, faced with the prospect of missing its recruiting goal, has raised the maximum enlistment age from 40 to 42. This is on the heels of a 5-year adjustment (from 35 to 40) just five months ago.

I find this very troubling. Not that I think 42 is too old - I happen to be 42, and I appreciate the Army's acknowledgement of the fact that I'm not quite over the hill yet.

Rather, what I find troubling is the last sentence of the article: "Some analysts have said if the military cannot attract enough recruits, the United States might have to consider reinstating the draft." While carefully couched in qualifiers ("some", "if", "might"), this sentence really contains the crux of the article. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I don't care what kind of spin they put on it, if the Army wouldn't take anybody over 35 years old in December 2005, and they'll now accept recruits who are just a year away from their 25th high school reunion, times are getting desperate.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Family: Goodbye and Thank You

I buried an old and faithful friend yesterday. Sixteen years ago, as my future wife and I were finishing up our final semester of law school, I came up with the remarkably shortsighted idea of getting her a puppy. So, off we went to the local SPCA, and came away with a black lab mix – a lively little bundle with a smooth black coat, soft puppy belly, and needle sharp puppy teeth. We named him Wilson – his namesake was the university’s provost, who would soon be giving us our diplomas. We couldn’t begin to imagine what we would experience together over the next sixteen years.

Yesterday, Wilson stretched out for a nap in the sunshine on our deck, and didn’t wake up. Many memories washed over me as I dug his grave in a quiet corner of our backyard. My favorite is him chasing after a tennis ball with my parents’ golden retriever, Deacon. Deacon would come loping back to us dutifully bearing the slobbery tennis ball; Wilson would inevitably return a few steps behind with a mouthful of fur from Deacon’s tail.

Deacon has been gone for several years now, and it’s been almost as long since Wilson has been up to chasing after anything. But, he seemed to accept his body’s gradual deterioration in the same graceful manner with which he accepted the fact that the four children that entered our lives after his arrival would take his place in the spotlight.

Goodbye, Wilson, and thank you.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Politics: Don't Misunderestimate the Need for English

According to an article in today's Washington Post, “President Bush on Wednesday emphasized that illegal immigrants who want to stay here should learn English….” He noted that there are ways for immigrants to stay in the country legally: "One is to say you got to pay a fine for being here illegally. You got to learn the English language. In other words, you got to repay a debt to society and learn the skills necessary to assimilate into our society.”

Did he really say "you got to" three times in a row? While admonishing others about the need to learn the English language? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Try a Google search for "Bush grammar" and see how many million hits turn up....

Politics: "Get Back Into the Game"

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University last month. I'm posting a link for several reasons. First, Warner was a great governor (he had an 80% approval rating when he left office). Second, assuming people will wake up to Hillary's unelectability in time, Warner may well be the Democratic nominee for President in 2008. Third, Wake Forest is my alma mater. Fourth, it's a good speech. So here it is.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Whitewater: Whitewater Center Hits a Roadblock

Three weeks before the scheduled opening of the U.S. National Whitewater Center outside of Charlotte, six neighboring residents upset about construction traffic on the Center's entrance road installed a steel gate and blocked access. According to, they offered to lease the road to the Park for $12,000 per month. Let's see...with six neighbors, that comes to the tidy sum of $24,000 annually per neighbor. Nice work if you can get it.

After a court hearing today, the neighbors agreed to unlock the gate, at least for the next ten days. Another hearing is scheduled for next week. In the meantime, work on the Center will resume, although the Center's opening has been delayed until the end of June or early July. Stay tuned....

Monday, May 29, 2006

Odds & Ends: Skydiving Reality Check

CNN reported two separate skydiving accidents over the weekend. Today in Kentucky, two experienced skydivers collided about 200 feet above the ground. One died after impact, and the other, his fall broken by a tree, survived with a broken leg.

Two days prior in Ohio, a a first-time skydiver slipped out of her harness during a tandem jump with an instructor, and fell to her death.

According to the Skydiving Fatalities Database, there were 69 skydiving fatalities in 2004, 59 in 2005, and 11 (now 13?) so far in 2006. There are a lot of ways to spin the numbers, and there are many websites and other resources out there asserting that skydiving or (insert favorite outdoor adventure sport here) is safer than driving your car in traffic.

Probably. Maybe. Whatever. If it's your time to go, it's your time to go. Might as well have fun doing it. Skydiving remains on my "to do" list. I've just promised my wife that I'll tell her about it after the fact.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Odds & Ends: Greatest Play in Baseball

Barry Bonds hit his 715th steroid-enhanced home run today, passing Babe Ruth. However, Bonds' asterisk-accompanied accomplishment is not the "greatest play" referred to in the title of this post.


Thirty years ago last month, during a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, a father and son jumped out of the stands and ran into the outfield. Once they got there, they pulled out an American flag, soaked it with lighter fluid, and attempted to set it on fire. Before they could get it going, Cubs center fielder Rick Monday sprinted up and grabbed the lighter fluid-soaked flag away from the protesters. Afterward, the crowd in the stands spontaneously started singing "God Bless America."

I firmly believe, as does the Supreme Court of the United States, that burning the flag is constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution. See (Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)).

I also firmly believe that Rick Monday did a great thing in grabbing that flag. has photos and video.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Odds & Ends: Fork in the Road

More old photos, more memories. Not that I need a photograph to recall the summer of 1984. Summer camp that year was spent not at Camp Shenandoah, but at Camp Upshur, for Officer Candidates School. At Camp Shenandoah I carried a walking stick; at Camp Upshur I carried an M-16. At Camp Shenandoah I was trying to earn merit badges; at Camp Upshur I was trying to earn the gold bar of a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.

I wonder about the guys in this photo. How many of them went to Kuwait? To Afghanistan? To Iraq? Were any killed or injured? Are any still in the Corps? If so, the guys in the khaki shirts in the front row would be addressing them respectfully as "Colonel" and not contemptuously as "Candidate" now.

As for me, the summer of 1984 was the sum total of my experience in the Marine Corps. Four or five weeks into the program, I felt like my body was falling apart. Slowed by a bum knee and fatigued to the point where I was letting the drill instructors get inside my head and stay there, I believed that I was at risk for washing out, and that was a prospect that I could not bear. So I "dropped on request", with the stated intention of reapplying once I was healed up.

Long story short, I didn't reapply. As I look back over the last 42 years, this was one of the proverbial "forks in the road" of my life that stands out. If I had stuck with the Marine Corps, would I have met my wife? Would I have my 4 kids? Would my life bear any resemblance to what it does today?

Doubtful. And so, while I have immense respect for those who have served, and an occasional twinge of remorse at not finishing what I had started, I am grateful beyond words that I took the fork in the road that I did.

By the way, I'm in the middle row, 3rd from left. My wife hates this photo - says I look "mean". Believe me, I felt mean.

Odds & Ends: Where It Began

Rummaging through old pictures....

My outdoor adventuring got off to a less than auspicious start in the summer of 1975, as a newly-minted Boy Scout at Camp Shenandoah. My troop arrived at camp on Sunday afternoon, and when my parents came for family night on the following Thursday, they found me laying in my tent with pneumonia and a 104 degree temperature. I had been having such a good time that I didn't want to let anyone know that I was sick. Suffice it to say that we didn't stick around for the family night campfire.

In the photo I'm in the second row, 5th from the left.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Running: America's Running Routes

I came across a great feature on the USA Track & Field website - a searchable database of running routes across the country. Far too often when I'm traveling on business I'll ask the concierge or desk clerk for suggestions as to running routes, and I'll either get a blank stare or directions to the hotel's treadmill. Problem solved!

The site isn't just a good resource for travelers, however - it lists no less than 78 routes right here in Charlottesville. And, it has a very cool mapping feature that allows users to map (and measure!) their own routes and add them to the list. Surprisingly, I noticed that the Charlottesville 10 Miler course isn't one of them - I'll have to get on that....

Monday, May 22, 2006

Whitewater: Summer Teeth

This photo is from October 2005 - "Pillow Rock", one of the class 5+ rapids on the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia. I'm the one in the right front of the boat (bottom right-hand corner). If you run this rapid aggressively, the object is to paddle hard straight into the big rock on the left, and let your momentum pop the front of the raft up as high as possible - sometimes the raft will get nearly vertical. The hope is that the rafters will remain in the boat while this is happening.

I've called this one "Summer Teeth" because that's what I almost gave my buddy Tom on my left. Our guide explained that "Summer Teeth" is West Virginia-speak for one of the most common injuries sustained on the river - it occurs when the uncovered T-grip (handle) of a rafter's paddle connects with the mouth of a fellow rafter. The result of the contact is "Summer Teeth" ("some are here, some are over there....") Thankfully Tom was able to keep his pearly whites intact despite me taking my left hand off of the T-grip. Hey, I was just trying to stay in the boat - swimming through a Class 5 is no fun!

Faith: C.S. Lewis on "The Da Vinci Code"

The op-ed page of the May 19th edition of the Wall Street Journal had a great piece by Joseph Loconte on the current "Da Vinci Code" controversy - Debunking the Debunkers: C.S. Lewis' message to "Da Vinci Code" fans. Maybe it's the lawyer in me, but I do wish that those who are protesting the movie would, in Loconte's words, "take a cue" from Lewis, who based his own considerable faith in logic, reason, and common sense. If they would, they might come out with their faith strengthened, and possibly even bring some others along with them.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Family: Brother Munk

This is my brother, Brian. Songwriter, harmonic throat singer, fire dancer, actor, thinker of deep thoughts. Oh, and he also breathes fire, as you can see.

It would be a collossal understatement to say that we are wired differently. But, he's my brother, I love him, and I'm proud of him for sticking to his dream.

Buy his CD....

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Blogging: Viewfinder Blues by Lenslinger

Let me introduce you to my cousin Stewart, a/k/a Lenslinger. Stewart is a news cameraman who has been blogging about life behind the lens (and otherwise) for a couple of years now. Growing up, I always sensed that Stewart had a creative bent. I'm now inclined to call it a gift. I check his site every day and am disappointed on those rare occasions when there's not a new post. Check it out for yourself at