Friday, July 31, 2009

Wet Cake

OK, I may have posted this before, but I'm in my 40s so I can start making excuses. I imagine heaven includes no cancer, my Mom's incredible meals, my sister Anne on the phone, a smiling Dori, laughing kids and painless, fast half marathons. Thanks to The Simpsons, we have another view.


Now for the tunes. Time to flash back, starting with another kind of underrated godliness from The Who.

Since we introduced the excellent Traveler's commercial recently, might as well enjoy the original, a more recent flashback. Who can't relate to this? Brilliant.

Ok, we need classical cheese and pointless fun.

I hope you tap your feet all weekend.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Little Lance

I'm thinking differently about running these days. The vacation cleared away a few cobwebs. I'm beginning to think about training again, not just running.

A buddy who is planning to run an arduous November marathon, the Flying Monkey, has invited me to join his young buck group on Wednesday and Saturday runs. Much of their training is in the hilly Percy Warner Park, home of their goal race. Of course, I'll let you know how those runs go.

On Monday, I ran four miles; yesterday morning, I ran five. Both runs were in 90-plus percent humidity. After the five-miler, I looked like a swimmer emerging from a pool. It was a tough run, but I conquered my little Ventoux.

Will has been on his bike every day since the end of the Tour de France. I know what's going through his mind - the same dreams I conjured, transposing myself to an athlete I admired. Jack Nicklaus was a favorite.

Will asked if he could ride tomorrow morning alongside me. Done. I'm looking forward to it, even though says 97% humidity. Sweating profusely is part of late July, and now I'll have a new morning friend.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wonderful Vacation

Family time doesn't get better than last week's vacation in Edisto, a lowcountry island between Charleston and Hilton Head.

Last Sunday, Dori, the kids, my Mom and I headed east, cars packed with goodies and good vibes. Mom promised to be "our chef" and organizer, and she did not disappoint. We ate like royalty from the local markets.

On Day Two, Dori's sister Kathy brought her family to the area for her son Parker's baseball tournament, so we spent some excellent time with them at the beach, dinner table and baseball park in North Charleston. The four cousins had a blast in the surf while I fished. Watching the kids laugh in the ocean while reeling in fish is a simple pleasure. Over several attempts in the surf and in the back creek, I caught sea trout, whiting, a small sand shark, croakers and a bluefish.

Will and I also played golf three times. It was his first time on a course with respectable yardage, more than 5,000 from the red tees and about 6,200 from the back tees for me. The beautiful, well-maintained course is known for being tough because it is very narrow with water prominently featured on 15 of the 18 holes. You can also catch yourself gazing at impressive live oaks with spanish moss, giant palm trees, fantastic fauna, alligators, jumping fish, egrets, blue herons and pileated woodpeckers, to name a few. The entire course was recently resodded with Sea Isle Paspulum, a very unusual grass that flourishes in areas with water issues. I liked it because the greens putted true.

Highlights for Will include clearing the water all three days on the difficult par 3 sixth hole and chipping in for a par four on the hardest hole on the course, No. 10 (397 yards, all uphill from the red tees). He also had several good holes on other hard par fours. What I liked most, however, was that I asked him to enjoy each day and never get angry after hitting bad shots. He did very well in this regard. So did I, even as I played poorly the last round. I did sneak in a 73, three over par, on Wednesday, the hottest and windiest of the three days. It's about the best I can score. Mom took photos of the boys, which I hope to post soon.

Yesterday, Dori and Kathryn took a boat ride across the bay to Otter Island. On the way, they marveled at dolphin. While there, they beach-combed successfully. Dori called it a highlight. I was on the pier fishing when they returned, and can report they were chatterboxes about the excursion.

Everyone stayed active, working off the good food. Dori ran four days, while I ran five, Monday through Friday. On Friday, we ran together with Pepper, who also smiled (constant tail wags) the entire vacation. I never ran more than four miles, only 15 for the week, but they were good miles early each morning in very high dewpoints. Kathryn took Pepper for many walks. Will scoured the grounds around our impressive villa overlooking Hole No. 7, finding a few dozen stray golf balls.

Last year, we had a celebration of sorts just getting to the beach. Dori wasn't 100% in June 2008. This year, we thoroughly enjoyed our entire stay. Dori was able to engage in every activity with a zest she's always had but with the understanding each moment with family is so very precious.

Happy With Third Place

I watched much of the Tour de France while on vacation, cheering for Lance Armstrong and others and rooting against a few jerks. On Saturday, Lance solidfied third place with a gritty effort up the famed Mont Ventoux, which has some 12% grades, no let-ups, heat and high winds. A British rider died on Ventoux in 1967.

Lance's story is well chronicled. Some who follow this blog also follow his journey closely. I have mixed feelings about Lance. I greatly admire his tenacity, courage, indomitable will and commitment to wiping out cancer. His cockiness and occasional abrasiveness are things I try to avoid and his pursuit of Hollywood starlets and rocky relationships aren't endearing.

But it's nice to see the old man of the tour mellow some over the years, including in this introspective interview with ESPN. Lance, a seven-time winner of this race, says he's pleased finishing third, and I believe him. He's found some nice perspective along the way.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Beach Tunes

I've been work-free this week, and until now, blog-free. I'll recap later about the great vacation we're having. Nothing like smiling faces and relaxation at the beach.

It only makes sense to go coastal with FNFs.

The more refined studio version. Both are good, just depends on the mood.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One Run, Two Tales

Yesterday afternoon, Middle Tennessee was greeted with fall-like weather. A cool northwest breeze, something we don't expect until late September, rushed through town. All I could ponder during limited free time was "long run tonight."

Three earlier runs this week didn't go so swell. A five-miler early Monday was humid and slow. The last two miles took effort. A three-miler Tuesday with Pepper and a solo three-miler Wednesday weren't impressive, either. We've had a decent July, just muggy as usual. Maybe that's it, I thought.

Around 5, I took off feeling great in the dry air. My aerobics would be good the entire run. My legs muscles and back, on the other hand, didn't perform. It was confirmation this pair of Brooks Dyads, which seemed different than previous pairs, was toast after 150-plus miles. Usually, I get 250-plus.

At Mile 4, with muscles clamoring for a break, a skinny-mini gal glided past me. I didn't hear her with my iPod playing. I rationalized, "She's not running eight like me." Some mystery voice on my shoulder said, "She doesn't eat as much cheese as you, either." I kicked mildly, hoping the legs would loosen up, but to no avail.

At 5.5, a skinny-mini dude soared past at the same pace, probably on an 8:00/mile. Near my favorite independent grocery store, I decided to gel and stretch briefly. The effects were instantaneous. My legs felt almost stress-free for about two miles. Toward the end, the leg bite returned.

I wasn't tired after the run. I felt refreshed, a sign my conditioning hasn't dropped too much. That's been a goal this summer. My back and legs, however, begged me to buy a new pair of shoes. I listened, purchasing some Brooks "Defyances" this morning. The Dyads worked well for a few years, but the last pair was a failure. Time to try something new.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Techno Flashbacks

Ladies and gentlemen, start your synthesizers. Here are some programmed tunes from the 70s.

Alan Parsons always had one or two like that on his albums, like Hyper-Gamma Spaces, Lucifer, Voyager, and my favorite The Gold Bug.

Many fans pair video creations with their favorite songs on YouTube. Most aren't good, and a few are disturbing. Once in awhile, you get some good ones, like from this Simple Minds fan. Wonderful scenery to a great song.

Anyone remember this one? It's pretty cool on an iPod loop for a fast 5K.

Lastly, a friend requested a tune. If enough requests are made, maybe Casey Kasem makes an appearance.

Dori's Good Day

Dori called me for the third time today just after lunch, delivering the third piece of good news of the day. Round One was to tell me she had a job offer at an elementary school she likes. Round Two: Job offer number two, same view of that school.

The after-lunch call was to tell me how well her scheduled clinic visit at Vanderbilt went. Her blood counts are normal (translation - excellent). Red blood cell counts hit 42 (36-43 is normal), white blood cell counts were a very good 9, and platelets, those old bugaboos, were 166, a two-year high. Dr. Greer called her a success story and said she looked great. I'm eager to tell Hans this fall he makes good blood.

"I'm having the best day," Dori said. I'd say so and isn't it wonderful, I replied. While Dori filled in the details, all I could think of was where she was even a year ago. She sounds so different today. Her energy was lower a year ago, almost non-existent in late 2007 and early 2008. She had to combat near-constant lethargy, doubts, fears ... all of it. Some of those enemies still try to breach the walls, part of the legacy of cancer. A big part. I was a little verklempt on the third call.

I also thought of friends who are not doing as well or whose blood cancer fights have recently been renewed. I wouldn't say I felt guilty today. I would say any idea of euphoria was tempered.

I said a prayer for those friends. Whatever it takes ... I hope they survive and thrive. The other side is nice. My beliefs tell me the other-other side, which so many of us fear, is even nicer. It's always comforting to have that outlook, no matter how grim things look or will look in our temporal existence.

I'm a lucky man in so many ways. Dori is healthy. She's a gem of a wife and mother. I like the beat of this song and hope the needle gets stuck in the right place.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bonus Flashbacks

Dori, who's with the kids visiting her Dad in Florida, called me an hour ago, gazing with wonder at the Gulf of Mexico with Kathryn. On speakerphone, they described the panorama. Through the eyes of battle, Dori had a view she won't soon forget.

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice, I'm hanging with Pepper, listening to tunes. I've come across some great ones, enough to offer you some goodies across the retro spectrum. Don't say those last two words fast cause it may sound sorta dirty.

A few years before she went breakin' your heart, the very talented Kiki Dee found the rhythm.

And you thought we were struggling for material. Here's a stellar tune from Seattle grunge. Darker, yes, but fantastic. Just as powerful is Pat Benatar's You Better Run. Some songs aren't meant to be played on low volume.

The movie Risky Business had some excellent moments, but none better than when Joel saw the light on that train before he went to Princeton. Same tune, different video.

Here's Elton again. I miss Soul Train, the way it was.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Work Is Done

Remember that song by Loverboy, "Everybody's Workin' for the Weekend." Of course you do. It seems that most e-mails and conversations on Friday conclude with, "Have a great weekend."

In this little corner of cancer activism, what weekend wouldn't be worth igniting without fiery Friday Night Flashbacks? Good music is part of what makes life worth livin'.

Pure 60s.

Pure power.

Pure diva.

And now for some modern-day brilliance. Hands down Will's and my favorite commercial this year.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Teaching Moments

Dori's review from her Teaching Fellows training program is in. According to her advisor, Dori has "a natural way in which she provides direct instruction ... Her classroom management was based on respect." Her instructor was "especially pleased with the level of respect ... returned by her students."

The local head of the teachers' union called programs like these a "gimmick." Uh, excuse me, hombre. My girl's gonna teach some of our kids who need more people like her. Dori is interviewing now for a permanent position.

Hey, I'm feeling like a runner again.

Monday night, I struggled through a six-miler with no shortage of soreness and mild pain. My joints, muscles and bones hurt from the previous day's 90 minutes of tennis with Fraulein Forehand, Dori the Warrior. Last night, I ran seven fluid miles in July conditions that were an anomaly - very dry and comfortable. Smart runners were everywhere, taking advantage of the break. Tomorrow, I'll run four, getting me close to last week's 20.

The media is reporting plenty of sad, disturbing stories, one of which is in our backyard - the Steve McNair death/girlfriend suicide. Tonight, before and at dinner, we talked with the kids about details of this modern day Shakespearean tragedy. We're not folks who hide from the uncomfortable stuff, as you probably know. Some in my family have buried things in the past that we should have talked about. Not me, nor some of my other astute relatives.

With our kids at defining moments, we've decided to share our thoughts while encoraging them to talk and elaborate, appreciating what they tell us. Tonight, they delivered measured, poignant remarks one might not expect from two kids combined age 20. We've been impressed by their conclusions, and I'll leave it at that.

I know our friend PJ and other RFD visitors love good food. My sister Anne, Mom and I collaborated on a great meal at her house Saturday. Here's a sample of the mess, from an old naval officer. Life is good, and tasty.

Good food, good wine and good photos. Here's a link to better photos by brother-in-law Stephen, including a special page with our kids at a younger age and my departed black lab Otis.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Outdoors With Family

Experiencing the great outdoors is a favorite pleasure. Thursday morning, the kids and I headed on a three-hour trip to Southeast Tennessee to raft the Hiwassee River and camp overnight. Dori, who needed to wrap up her workweek, said she'll join us on the next run.

It was a chore convincing Kathryn to join us, mostly because of her apprehension about sleeping in a tent. Will, who has watched too many grizzly bear attack shows on Animal Planet, bless his heart, told Kathryn the night before we had a "50-50 chance of being attacked by a bear." After talking through that one, a reassured Will was ready for the show.

Armed with a spinning rod, we started the four-hour float on Class I and II rapids at midday. I pulled in a few fat rainbows, but spent most of the day steering the canoe raft. The Hiwassee, fed by mountain streams before emptying into the Tennessee River, is a marvel of nature. More like a Western mountain tributary, it's teeming with healthy fish, elegant waterfowl and a cornucopia of aquatic life.

I think these photos say it all. We had a blast.

We woke early to explore the river and Gee Creek. Before heading home, we visited the picturesque Delano Farm Market run by the Mennonites. The market overlooks a well-run 50-acre operation. A sign asked customers to respect the market by wearing proper clothing. The two hundred customers who stormed the market at its opening complied, thankfully. I didn't see an exposed navel, tattoo or nose ring.

Like viewing a painting, we absorbed horse-pulled buggies, windmills and Mennonite women harvesting in the valley. A Mennonite gentleman tallied our produce, which included corn, cucumbers, red potatoes, plump tomatoes and banana walnut bread, on a cash register the Waltons may have used.

On the way home, we talked about similarities and differences with modern markets. I had planned the visit to buy good food but probably more to ensure our children view life outside our bubble.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Will ranked the trip a 9.75 while Kathryn gave it a 7.5. Both said the only downer was the ruckus neighboring campers created well past dusk. Will loves nature and wants to camp again soon. I'm game. I had a terrific time.

Friday, July 3, 2009

70s Trip

Sometime soon, I'll blog about the excellent getaway the kids and I just had. For now, it's Friday Night Flashbacks, fellow homo sapiens.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

National Weight Problem

Apparently, we remain intent on eating ourselves into our graves. We have a health crisis, folks, more than a healthcare crisis.

Tennessee obesity rate No. 4
State rankings