30 December 2011

Oops. My bad.

This blog has sort of become like my mind at times - skipping from one topic to the next.  Trying to expound upon a topic that I think others might have some interest in.  I don't find myself as motivated as others might be to do a daily blog.  I tend to latch onto an idea while I am out running and make a mental blog post for future reference.  I actually have several old blogs in the can that I have never posted because I either left them behind or didn't think they looked good enough in the light of day.  One trick I resort to has been to write my thoughts to myself in an e-mail so that I can try to compose something for later.  I have actually drafted several interesting themes while sitting in one of many boring meetings.   

Anyway, Abby carded my (again) about my new shoes.  I should have realized that new running shoes are a big deal to Abbs.  I forgot to mention I won a new set of shoes from our company last summer.  The company's been on this wellness kick for the past few years.  We have a sweet workout room, an on site trainer, and run a number of healthy living programs (smoking cessation, Tai Bo, Rumba, Maintain Don't Gain, Walk Across Texas, etc.).  I signed up for a "Walk Across Texas" program where teams would be formed and you recorded your activity each week for 8 weeks and those were translated into equivalent mileage.  Felt it was kinda hokey at the time, but since I was doing at least 3-4 runs during the week, I thought could nail the mileage thing for the group.  Of course, there was one young engineer who does soccer three times a week in addition to all the other activities he does, so he pretty much smoked the course and won an iPad.  Some of the top mileage winners got various nice prizes and I wound up in the top 10 group.  Won a $100 gift certificate to a local running store - On the Run.  I've always wanted to shop there but have been too cheap to really buy shoes/gear so this was my opportunity.  I went in and actually got fitted for a new set of shoes.  I rally wasn't looking for a new pair, but the opportunity availed itself and I got a new pair of shiny red ASICS Gel-Cumulus shoes.  I had actually drafted an ode to my old shoes as a blog theme but thought it was too lame to post.  I'm not one to splurge on "extravagances" like new shoes and I tend to hang on to the old ones way past their useful life, so this was a new step for me.  

I used to run in the cheapest, most generic shoe that would fit me.  Way back in my 10k days, my favorite show was a pair of Nike CL100s (no real support, just nylon and rubber).  My first two half marathons and a 10k plus a number of other races and training runs were in an old pair of New Balance shoes (that I picked up at a garage sale).  Those were pretty stable/light shoes that helped improve my mileage.  I wore those shoes for 3-4 years and they were starting to show their age.  
Tired old New Balance shoes
Last year I moved up to a new pair of ASICS I picked up from the local sporting goods chain.  They seemed to improve my time last year (marginally) and I think my legs noticed the change.  
Last year's addition to the fleet (ASIC Cumulus 11)
This year I'll try out the new pair to see if they help.  I got the shoes back in June and have been holding them in reserve until this upcoming run.  Perhaps they will help me carve off a minute off my pace, but if they merely help me survive the run, they will have earned their stripes.  
My new rides (ASIC Cumulus 13)

29 December 2011

Once more into the breach, dear friends

16 days and counting.  

It's getting close to the time for my annual pilgrimage to the altar of Atalanta the Greek Goddess of running.  In a mere 16+ days, I get to test my knees and stamina to see if I can survive another 13.1 miles along the streets of Houston.  Yes, dear friends, it is that time again for me to whine and moan about the upcoming Houston Marathon.  This will be my 4th year to try and kill myself on the roadways of downtown Houston.  The Houston Marathon is a bit earlier than last year on January 15th and I can honestly say that this year, I am NOT ready.  I had hoped to get in training/conditioning for the run so I don't die on the trail, but this @#$&@ cold has sapped all my energy and I haven't run for almost 3-4 weeks.  I want to get some miles in but I am afraid my cold will relapse, so I am laying low for the week.  

Even if I am able to turn the corner on my illness, I won't have the stamina to break any records.  I still intend to participate, but I am not looking to best any of my previous times.  It is usually at this time that I question myself why to I do this every year?  I originally set out to do this run to remind myself that I am still alive and kicking.  After cancer surgery almost 4 years ago, I was determined to complete a marathon, or at least a half marathon.  I don't think I still have a marathon in me, but I am fairly confident that I can do the 1/2.     

It is getting harder each year to get a slot in this run.  The Houston Marathon organizers have gone big time and the only way to get a slot is to sign up for a lottery.  If you are a "veteran" marathoner (have completed 10 or more Marathons), you have a guaranteed slot.  The only way to improve your odds in getting selected is to kick in some moola to one of the sanctioned charities (Run For A Reason).  Last year I donated to the ASPCA, the year before was the American Cancer Society, and this year it is the Epilepsy Foundation.  To me, even if I don't get a slot, it is my way to kick in some funds for a charity I believe in.  I signed up for the lottery in the early summer and got picked when I was over in Germany, so I have had this on my calendar since July.   

I did get a new pair of shoes for the run this year (won them as part of a fitness challenge at work) and I was hoping they would help improve my time.  I've worn out a few shoes in my years (nothing like the number Abby has gone through), but I have always been an ASICS fan.  I got a new pair last May that I have been saving for this run.  Last year I broke in a new pair of ASICS but those have a few miles on them now and I want to try out the new pair for this year.        

Running in the red this year
Each year, I say it will be my last, but somehow, in the post race euphoria, I talk myself into another round.  Somebody stop me.  

28 December 2011

Tripping the light fantastic

Still sick, but I am making the best of it.  Really pisses me ff that I had plans for this week off and I am laid up trying to get over this cold/flu/cough.  Buckley's is not helping all that much.  It still tastes like crap and does tend to damper the coughing, but I haven't yet turned the corner.  At this point, with all of the various concoctions I have taken, I might as well go back to drinking scotch and smoking cigars for all the good it has done.  

Grayson napping under the tree
But enough whining about me.  Let's talk about lights.  I've always had a fancy for lights.  From my previous years posting, one might surmise I put out a lot of lights and I tend to favor one flavor (red).  Au contraire.  I loves me all sorts of Christmas lights.  Blinking, multicolored, bulbs, icicle lights, string lights, led lights.  Lights have always held a special place for me when it comes to holiday decorations.    

When we bought our first house in north Texas, I went out and bought strings of lights from the local box hardware store.  Multicolored to start, but eventually, I wanted an all red theme.  I would work each year to add another string to the run.  I used to staple the lights to the eves of the house until one year when I stapled through one strand and shorted out the whole house.  I have carried that tradition forward each year, adding one new string each year, but I have reached a certain limit around the house.  Being an engineer at heart, I have even got a pattern for each string that goes up each year (left side, right side) so that I know which string goes up where.  Was late getting them up this year, but when I do, it takes about 3-4 hours all told.  I really have to question why I do it each year.  I'm no longer the first one in the neighborhood, the kid is gone, momma is busy taking care of her folks, the dogs don't really care.  Honestly, it wouldn't diminish the holidays if I didn't get them up, but somehow, it doesn't seem like Christmas to me without some lights around the hacienda.  

We used to make an evening around looking at lights.  One evening before Christmas, we would go out for dinner and then we would drive around looking at various Christmas lights.  In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, there were whole subdivisions that decorated.  Some subdivisions had traffic cops out and an hour queue to drive through the various streets.  Down here, we have a few certain streets in our neighborhood that band together each year for the holiday decorations.  We always made the trek over each year to view the lights.  One house in particular that was a regular for us was Roller Coaster Santa.  Not one of your run of the mill, store bought displays.  The house had the same display year after year and it was a regular draw for us.  It was a home made set up where the guy took up the entire front year with a roller coaster track and a quasi sleigh/car that made the circuit.  It wasn't very fancy, but as an engineer, I had to admire the ingenuity.   It had a chain driven lift that would take the one lone car from the bottom of the hill to the top of the peak and then let go a wild ride around the track.  There was a Santa doll in the car that looked like a crash test dummy that suffered from whiplash.  The route was simple, a 2.5 minute lift up the incline followed by a wildly careening ride around the track to wind up at the bottom again.  I was amazed and somewhat envious of his set up.  Cars would be stacked up for 20 minutes watching the ride.  It is those kind of simple things that memories for the holiday.  

I see that people are already taking down their lights around the neighborhood.  I am debating pulling mine down this week but will probably wait until after New Years to do so.  So, what's the unofficial ruling on how long to leave the lights up?  1 week?  2 weeks? After the Super Bowl?  Valentine's Day?  Easter?

26 December 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

Once again, we rounded the final turn, slipping and sliding all the way and skidded into Christmas morning.  After all of these years, you'd think I would be better prepared for the holidays, but each year it seems like a sprint to the finish.  Still, it seems to add to spirit of the season.   

We had a great Christmas all around.  Finally got the tree decorations up.  We have collected a ton or decorations & ornaments over the past 31+ years and if we ever put them all on one tree, you wouldn't be able to see any green.  We have a several still from our early days that we tend to hang up each year - wooden ornaments from Germany, a set of nested glass bells that survived an overseas move, three dogs, one cat and one curious son, several handmade ornaments inscribed with the year, the skier with the broken leg.  Each one has a back story that is meaningless to anyone but us.  

Got up early to to fix our Christmas breakfast casserole.  This has been a tradition over at my brother's house, but since we cannot seem to make it over to there for the morning rush, we decided to make it here this year.  Nice, simple recipe.  Fix up the night before and throw in the oven on Christmas morning.  Had Christmas at our house first, then went to my parents to have a late lunch with them, drop by my brothers for a quick visit and then off to my in-laws to visit with them for a while.  It was great to spend time with everyone, but we are worn down.  

I am still fighting off my cold.  Thought I had tackled it last week, but it has come back with a vengeance.  I am taking various medications to correct, but I am still fighting the hacking cough.  One thing I got from my mom (always willing to dole out medicinal advice) is some new concoction for a cough.  Some really potent mixture called Buckley's mixture that is supposed to fix a cough, period.  I was warned it was some really nasty/foul tasting stuff that they are proud of.  It is even advertised as 1) it tastes awful & 2) it works.  Forewarned, I am willing to try just about anything to get rid of this cough.  I will state, without exaggeration, it is some really nasty stuff.  Has the color and  consistency of snot and tastes like liquid vap-o-rub.  So far, it has helped, but I am still dogged by this cold.  I am planning to lay low for the week to see if I can kick this thing.

And my brother, always one to go for the exotic gifts, gave us a pint of the newest Ben & Jerry ice cream flavor:  Schweddy Balls.  Family - ya gotta love them.

I hope everyone had a great holiday and can enjoy the week.

25 December 2011

Mele Kalikimaka

Merry Christmas Ya'll

May the peace and joy of the holidays be yours
I hope everyone is enjoying a great Christmas.  

24 December 2011

One day and counting

In spite of all the planning and preparation and anticipation, Christmas is coming whether you like it or not.  

So much left to do, so little time.  Even though it was chilly and wet, I took both dogs to the dog park.  Set out to meet up with a woman who sat Grayson for a week when we went to Seattle.  She had a Golden for years but it had passed away and she wasn't sure if she wanted to get back into the dog business again.  She sat Grayson for us and they had a blast.  That was two years ago and she now has two Goldens in her home and was getting ready to foster an 8 month old (she blames Grayson for getting her hooked again) and needed to borrow my kennel.  Turns out that several other GBGRR alumns were there as well.  All told, it turned out to be Golden day at the park with 9 Golden Retrievers running amok.    
Social hour at the dog park

Running with the pack
Picked up the ham yesterday.  We have gotten into a habit of getting a Honey Baked ham every year and it has become a regular routine.  HB Hams are kinda a big deal down here - several stores in the area have these hams they sell for special holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter), and near the holidays, there is a line out the door trying to get one.  They ain't cheap, but they are mighty tasty.    

And I  have finally turned the corner on the gift quest.  After weeks of scratching my head for some really cool, but not cheesy gifts for my nephews, I finally had an epiphany yesterday.  While scouring the net for ideas, I checked my Facebook account (I'm pretty dormant on FB) and noted that my nephs were into the same local brewery that is a favorite of mine (St Arnolds).  On the spur of the moment, and taking a chance, I hoped in the land barge and drove downtown to the brewery on the hope it was open and I could hit the company store.  They have an open house from 3:00 - 4:30 every day where you can sample some of the beer and sit with friends and buy some St Arnolds stuff.  Got there too late to sample the beer, but was able to score some shirts/signs/mugs for the nephews.  Even ran into a couple of old Eagle scouts from my troop (one guy is in the Air Force home for the holidays).  Scored some nice last minute gifts.  Now, if I could only shake the cough/cold that seems to have come back.

Bold squirrel
Oh, and the local indigenous tree rat population (aka squirrels) has gotten a wee bit braver/ballsy in their foraging and have taken to taunting the dogs... 

Happy Festivus!

23 December 2011

Are we there, yet?

It's late in the 4th quarter and we're trailing by 10 points.  Still time to make up ground, but time is running out.  I've knocked off a few more gifts, but still have stuff to get for nephews.  I got some new/updated requests yesterday that sent me out in search of new stuff (don't you love people who change their lists late in the game?) and I have still not found the right give for my brother and his kids.  For some reason, this year I have not been able to come up with any good ideas.  My wife suggested gift cards to various stores, but I have always felt that was a cop out.  I tried a few on line orders, but it's too late for anything to arrive on time.  I am debating getting gift cards to some restaurants but haven't reached that threshold (yet).  

Today is more shopping.  Going out to pick up a ham (seems to have become our annual tradition) and some more wine.  Stephen is due in sometime today and will stay through Monday.

Every year I seem to wind up at this point.  Rushing around the final days before the holidays trying to get "just the right gift", spending more money than I had planned, buying stuff we really didn't need (Ooooh - Wallyworld has lights on sale), trying to get into the spirit.  Regardless of how much I plan or worry, Christmas will come and go and next week we'll be looking back wishing it lasted longer.  I hope to have some of the last minute shopping done today and kick back to enjoy the season, but I know that I will probably be sitting here tonight thinking, did I get a gift for whatshisname, or should we get some more for themfolk?  

Ah, I miss the simpler times when I looked forward to the Dolly Madison Christmas specials and show on Christmas eve.  Holiday stress - the gift of the season.  I know that, in the end, it is all about spending time with your family and friends.  Maybe I'll go listen to some more Barking Dogs Christmas.  

I hope you guys are ready for the holidays.   

21 December 2011

Twas the night before the night before the night before Christmas

Ok.  I did finally get the tree up, but the dogs had to help me.  It's been hard to get into the mood this year and I finally got off my kiester to assemble/set up our tree.  This is a new tree this year for us.  Way skinnier than the last ones.  After years of big, tall trees, we're not quite sold on this one, but give me a few days and a few ornaments, and I'll make it work.  It appears that Grayson has already gotten used to it. 

I am actually off until the new year.  Wasn't planning to take off all of next week, but things worked out and I got the green light from my boss so I am officially statused as "Out of Office".  Of course, given the current technology available (aka Blackberries), you are never really out of touch.  Last weekend I was off on vacation, but spent half my morning answering e-mails.  I even got mildly chided when I didn't answer my blackberry phone from my boss (was out running at the time).  Hopefully, next week will be a quiet one.  

In the meanwhile, 3 days and counting...

And in my current state of mind, I was in sore need of some humor provided my brother and this hit my funny bone:

A Touching Christmas Story

A couple was doing last minute shopping on Christmas Eve.

Walking through the very crowded mall the wife looked up and noticed her husband was no where around. She became very upset because they had a lot to do. She used her cell phone to call her husband to ask where he was. 

The husband, in a calm voice said, "Honey remember the jewelry store we went into five years ago, where you fell in love with that diamond necklace that we could not afford and I told you that I would get it for you one day?"

The wife, crying, said "Yes, I remember".

Husband: "Well, I'm in the bar next to that jewelry store."

20 December 2011

Working my way into the spirit

Four days out and I'm still way behind the plan.  I haven't gotten all the presents, I am still trying to finish up projects/reports at work, I still have to work on getting decorations up, no way I am ready.  But, like most things in life, stuff happens and we will persevere.   Remember the motto:  Improvise, Adapt & Overcome.   

But, looking on the bright side.  I got the tree up!

16 December 2011

O' Tannenbaum

I've been fighting off a cold for the past week, but I think I am finally getting the upper hand.  With a plethora of last minute projects/chores/tasks, it has been hard to get into the spirit this year.  I did, however, manage to get my outside lights (red, of course) up on Monday so we have officially entered the season.  Have not yet set up the tree inside, but I was waiting until after we had the carpets cleaned today and will set it up this weekend.  We're going with a new tree this year.  Several folks have indicated that they prefer a live tree over a fake one, but we have had an artificial tree for since we bought our first house back north Texas in the 80's.  

Growing up as a kid, we had live trees for Christmas.  My dad would get one around Thanksgiving, set it up in the living room and we'd decorate it with all of the old style lights and ornaments.  I recall the house smelling of pine tree for weeks.  When we moved to New Jersey in the early 60s, we started a whole new tradition - a live tree.  Not the cut down and stick in a pan kind, but a real live, ball & burlap tree with roots.  We would bring it home before Thanksgiving, store it in the garage for a week or two, and then haul it upstairs to the living room in early December.  Set it up in a washtub full of water and decorated it with all of our ornaments.  After Christmas, we would take it back downstairs to the garage and keep it watered until the ground thawed out and then we planted it along the back of our property.  We did that for about 5 years in a row.  Last time I was in the area a few years back, all the trees were growing strong and well over 40 feet tall.  

When my wife and I set up house in Germany, we had very little money and lived in post housing on the 3rd floor apartment.  We bought a cut tree every year at the PX and hauled it upstairs to our apartment and decorated it with new ornaments that we started collecting our own ornaments (still have many German made ornaments).  It started it out as a Charlie Brown kind of tree but with a couple of cheap string of lights and few hand made ornaments, it was a beautiful tree.  It wasn't much, but it was our first tree together.    I think I am going to have to scour my photo albums to find a picture of it.  Of course, after the holidays were over, I used the express method to get it downstairs.  I simply opened our big bay window in the den and tossed it down 3 stories to the ground floor.  

Nowadays, with kids and dogs, we are totally into the artificial trees for simplicity.  The older one has been losing needles each year and it is time to let her go.  I got a new one that is a bit skinnier and hope to erect her this weekend.  We used to make an event out of decorating the tree (wassail, Christmas music, wearing silly Santa hats) but since junior has left home and momma is busy taking care of her parents, looks like it will be me and the dogs.  Maybe I'll crack open some Christmas beer....

What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?  - Claus-trophobic

09 December 2011

There's always room for a good brew

Ok, Abby caught me.

She noted on the last posting that there appeared to be a pattern in my pictures.  In a number of my postings, there may be a picture or two of one of my favorite libations (aka beer).  I have to admit, on these road trips, I have an ulterior motive – I’m trying to drink my way across Europe.  Since I have only been to Germany, England, and Belgium, I have a long way to go. 

I think I explained this to Rock when we met at (of all places) a pub.  I used to be a Miller Lite fan for many years.  I experienced some really excellent German beer when stationed in Stuttgart back in the 80s, but when we moved back to Texas, I switched to “Great Taste, Less Filling”.  Oh sure, I have partaken of some of several different commercial brands like Heineken, Corona, Dos Equis, and Shiner Bock.  A few summers back, my bride and I flew out to Seattle for a week to visit with my brother and my son while he was working for the Evil Empire (Microsoft).  While we were hanging around the area, I got to sample sample several local breweries (i.e. Red Hook).  Seattle is famous for having a wide variety of some really stellar local microbreweries and I got hooked back on craft beer.  The trip wasn’t long after my cancer surgery and I've decided that life was too short to settle for cheap/mass produced beer (or scotch).  I been on a mission to try different brands and varieties wherever they present themselves.  I even rediscovered a local Houston Brewery (St Arnold) that has become my signature beer in town. 

Since I my current job has me on the road a lot, I make it a point to research the areas that I am going to visit to see if I can sample any local brews (when in Rome).  California, New York, Austin, Milwaukee, Pennsylvania, Germany, and now Belgium and England.  Some places have been a challenge to find a good brew, but Germany and Belgium were over the top.  After living in Germany, I was a German Beer fanatic and hadn't really been interested in Belgian beer in my old age (Heineken doesn't count), but while in Brussels, I had an epiphany.  The have some really, really  GOOD beer.  And sooo many varieties.  Whenever I had the evening free, I would take the train downtown and find a good hole in the wall that served up some local brew.     

When I go on these road trips, there is a running joke at my office.  I will take a picture of my meal and/or drink and e-mail it back to my coworkers.  Given the time difference I am usually out drinking for the evening when my e-mail shows up in their box in the morning.  I have gotten more than a few unprintable responses from my fellow coworkers.  I even started to amass a collection of road meals and beers from my travels and I have even created a folder in my Flickr account to track my conquests.  Juvenile?  Perhaps.  But IMHO, that's a cheap way to enjoy life.  




So many beers, so little time

Everybody has their vices.  

02 December 2011

Typical American

Ok, time to wrap up this little road trip and get back to the real world.  Despite the 12 hour flight and hassles of international travel, I had a great trip over in Belgium and London, I only wish I had more time.  While I may grumble and gripe about the headaches, I consider myself very lucky to have the opportunity to travel for the company and try to take them in stride.  We are already making plans for our 2012 audits and, while most are closer to home (California, New York, Texas, Minnesota), there is possible trip to the Philippines that looks like it has my name on it (just so looking forward to 22+ hours travel time?).  I guess I'll worry about that later.  

In the meanwhile, I am trying to gear up for the holidays.  Only 22 days until Christmas.  Lights to hang, tree to put up, cards to write, gifts to buy, dinners to plan/attend.  

A few more shots from the road...

The Queen says hi!

Not sure who he represents
And of course, what's London without the buses?

Fish and Chips

Wooden ties?  Did I miss a fashion trend?

Kwak Beer (Belgium)
You know it's good beer when you have to serve it in its own special glass/handle contraption

Waffle girl

Belgian Waffle
Side note:  whenever I travel to a different city (domestic or international), I strive to be on my best behavior.  After my years in the military, I've seen a few "ugly Americans" and I try not to be too annoying (key word is "too").  I try to adopt to the local customs, eat the local food, drink the local brews.  When I finally got around to ordering a Belgian Waffle, the young lady offered up an array of toppings and I chose simple, whipped cream and chocolate.  Now here is where I lost some points (in her eyes).  She offered up to use either 1) dark Belgian chocolate or 2) Nutella.  Since I have never had Nutella and somebody had mentioned it earlier, I chose the latter, just so I can say I had it.  From her response, I think I insulted her.  I might as well have ordered it with ketchup.  It was really good (totally meaningless calories) but next time I will stick with the Belgian toppings.      

01 December 2011

Point of order

To take a brief pause from my European travels while I deal with the daily crisis at work, I made this mental note to myself last week while working out of the Holiday Inn in Brussels.
To the kind young gentleman stuck in transit from one country to another, if you are going to use the hotel computer to surf the net, please follow the simple rules/guidelines:
  1. if you walk away from the terminal, it becomes fair game to any and all who want to use it
  2. try to limit your excursions to something your mother or wife would want to see
  3. if you are logged into the chat room of Babes with Burkas, please, for the love of God (or Allah), log off when you leave.
Your fellow pc users would greatly appreciate this.  


Now, let me Purell the keyboard...

Another random picture from the streets of London

Christmas display near the London Eye