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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What Time is It?

    In the old days, before watches and thermometers, you could dial a local telephone number for the current time and temperature. A local bank, in my case Plano Bank & Trust, would sponsor a recorded message that gave updated information. Given the lack of technology at the time, it was quite a system.

As kids, we used the number to simulate a fake phone call. Just dial the number and start having a conversation. It seldom worked. The other person standing in the room could hear the blaring voice on the other end ramble on about savings accounts or boat loan rates.

I forgot this service even existed until my wife said, “Do you remember when you could call….” It was like opening a time capsule filled with things we once did as kids. Most of these I can’t mention for statute of limitations reasons with my parents.

When was the last time you called Time & Temperature?

Turns out the 70 Year tradition carries on. The Tarrant County version has a new sponsor with long-time mainstay in our community Haltom’s Jewelers. If you call, you’ll get a pre-recorded message about buying some jewelry followed by the local time and current temperature. The addition of a short-term weather forecast is a pleasant touch.

Haltom’s jumped onboard in 2017 after local banks lost interest in the service. A 2017 Fort Worth Star Telegram article claims that 10,000-20,000 people still call the number each day. While this is a wild range, it is still 10,000-20,000 more calls than I would have guessed. Don’t these people have cells phones or a television? I remain baffled by this new generation that does not feel the need to wear a watch (unless it is an iWatch, of course), but I’ll save that for another time when I’m picking on my kids.

Back to fake phone calls. Who on earth were we calling? Maybe we were trying to impress a buddy by telling him we were calling the popular girl at school who gave us her number. In my case, I think I called “home” a lot to get out of staying overnight with a friend. I never had the guts to say NO. I’m just a people pleaser, so making the Time & Temperature dude the bad guy was a simple way out.

Ask around. I’ll bet people you know will have fond memories of calling that number. Let them know they still can and dial it up on speakerphone. It’s a quick throw back to the Good Old Days we all miss so much.

Tarrant County (817) 844-6611

Dallas County (214) 844-6611

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Joy's Lost Verse

     One or more adult contemporary radio stations in every major market switches to non-stop Christmas music sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. While I am not by the dial to experience this transition, I believe it to be true. This is not a criticism. I like Christmas music just fine, or I should say I like Christmas music in December. So when a Study of Hymns came to my inbox, I opted to set aside this week to tackle it.

The first assignment was Joy to the World. Not the Three Dog Night version from 1971, but the traditional hymn by Isaac Watts published in 1791. This is no accidental transposing of numbers, just a mere fluke. I can assure you the songs have zero in common. I am very disappointed in myself for bringing up the 70s rock band at all. Let me get back to Christmas.

It might surprise you to learn that Watts did not write Joy to the World as a Christmas Carol. I mean, did they even celebrate Christmas back in 1791? In all seriousness, he wrote Joy as a celebratory hymn with minimal accompaniment. The music we now associate with Joy came from Lowell Mason in 1848.  

The study asked that we consider the lyrics alongside the words of Psalm 98 and portions of Psalm 96 and Genesis 3. As with many hymns; the words are from or inspired by scripture. Phrases like the Lord is come! The Savior reigns and the Wonders of His love are full of praise.

It caught my attention that most modern recordings eliminate the third verse of this well-known hymn. One might assume time constraints led to the omission, but the theme and content made this a safe choice. The lyrics of this stanza do not rouse JOY. Words like sin, sorrow, infesting thorns and curses feel more like a car wreck than a sleigh ride. Everyone sing with me:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

far as the curse is found,

far as the curse is found,

far as, far as the curse is found.

Watts draws from Genesis 3:17-18: 

“And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you.  All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.  It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.”

This is no Holly Jolly Christmas.  

It is not surprising the verse gets overlooked. But should it be? I don’t believe so. We need to hear it. We need to feel a little uncomfortable. Humanity was so bad and outlook so poor that God had to straighten things out in glorious fashion.

“He Comes to Make His Blessings Flow.”

Meaning Christ came to remove the curse, the thorns, sins and sorrow. Christmas is about little else than the birth of Jesus Christ. And it is worth Celebrating! This is a heck of a lot better than a new iPhone or pair of slippers. Don’t you see. We must celebrate his coming to earth. To save us. Without this we would remain forever in that bleak cursed world.  

So celebrate the truth of Christmas. While we exchange billions of gifts on this special day, the only one of eternal value is already yours.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


    How willing are we to donate to charity during a pandemic?  Mid-year reports showed some emerging trends, but this evolution is fluid.  Households that remained employed had surplus income from stimulus funds or unspent social engagements.  After upgrading their appliances and remodeling a bathroom or two, most of any leftovers went to Amazon.

    Traditional non-profits and churches suffer.  I read in the Harvard Gazette that The American Cancer Society estimated a $200 million decrease in donations for the year.  It appears funds flowed to COVID-19 research and local food banks or support organizations.

    So, how do people get the urge or feel the need to give?  Is it guilt?  While doing some digging on 2020 giving trends, one author suggested that people default to give and be generous.  That writer must have lockdown fever.  Human nature is nothing of the sort.  Donating money to charity is a lot like that attic space or closet you’ve been meaning to clean out.  Unless trained to give or need a tax write-off, we seldom follow through.

    If you get motivated to give, how much becomes the next hurdle.  We don’t want to seem cheap, but too generous is scandalous.  There is a biblical answer, but I’m not even sure Christians agree on how to calculate 10% of their annual harvest.  The math is only fuzzy because of the human nature thing mentioned above.

    In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis suggests:

    “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”

    That is a threshold few can meet.  Not me for darn sure.  Why?  As Lewis says:

    “For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear - fear of insecurity.”

    We do not wish to be the one on the receiving end of charity, so we hoard our dollars for a rainy day.  We’ll take risks elsewhere, thank you very much.

    Some will call me crazy, but my perspective on money is off-the-charts Christian.  I believe that my income is a gift from God.  He was the one who gave me all the advantages of living in America, born to my parents and our collective spheres of influence.  Allowed for me to get an education and stay just far enough out of trouble to become an adult.  Then there was the job, after the job, after the job that has made me more than comfortable.

    It isn’t because I studied hard or outworked others, and it isn’t blind luck or coincidence.

    This monetary theory is a common biblical teaching.  One of my favorite examples is from Alistair Begg and is perfect in this Holiday season.  Imagine a Dad giving a child $20 to go out and buy dear Mom a Christmas present.  On Christmas morning, there is no gift under the tree for Mom.  It turns out little Timmy used the money on candy and video games.  Sweeping disappointment fills Dad’s eyes.  That must be what God feels when we take his blessings and waste them on the latest gadgets or gizmos for our pleasures.  He’s not asking us to give it back or even give it all away.  He’s asking us to use a portion of it to care for our neighbors.  It is not all that much to ask if we’re honest about it.  

    Giving is important because it is our response to the gifts we have already received.  What that looks like is up to you, but I’m guessing it might need to look different from what it did yesterday.

    Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Monday, December 7, 2020

Cliché Curious #1

    I feel a little sorry for Cooter Brown.  Was or is there such a person?  Who was he?  Maybe one night of being over-served at the local bar led to a lifetime of harassment for an undeserving man.  I wonder….  Just where did the phrase “Drunker than Cooter Brown” come from anyway.

    One good thing about the internet is that you can be lazy and yet do a lot of research in a short period of time.  This is ideal for someone with a short attention span like me.  Or someone who tends to get drunk a lot, like good ole’ Cooter.

Wikipedia, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and all had similar stories.  There are two basic versions of history about the man.

The first is that Mr. Brown lived on the north-south line during the American Civil War.  He was eligible to be drafted by either army, but had no interest in fighting since he had family serving on both sides.  A conscientious objector of sorts.  Rather than go into hiding, he decided to get drunk and stay drunk so that he would be worthless to either side.

The second version has Cooter, half Black - half Cherokee, living is south Louisiana on land given to him by an old fur trapper.  He lived in a Cajun shack and kept to himself because he didn’t care much for people.  When the Civil War broke out, he didn’t want to pick a side since he was unsure who might win.  So he dressed like an Indian which made him exempt from serving.  As he was a heavy drinker to begin with, staying drunk was no real task and mystified both Confederate and Union armies when discovered.  After the war, poor Cooter couldn’t give up the booze.  One day, his shack caught fire and burned to the ground.  No sign of Cooter after that date so it is assumed his body was so full of alcohol that he went up with the flames.

Today, there remain restaurants, barbecue joints, bars, liquor stores and other establishments named after the man.  He has been referenced in songs and many tales over the years.  Of course, Genuine Cooter Brown Blended Whiskey from Gatlinburg, Tennessee is one of many beverages sporting the man’s name.

A quick search of shows a living human named Cooter W. Brown living in Keatchie, Louisiana.  In case you’re wondering, he’s in his 60’s and had prior residences in Texas (Mexia, Buffalo and Marshall).

The moral of the story is this.  Protect yourself from foolish drinking or else you could be a derogatory reference for your grandchildren.

Speaking in Cliché is something we do out of habit and is more reflex than intellect.  If someone in your life, during the formative years most notably, speaks in common cliché, you too will find yourself using this terminology in later years without realizing it.  Some clichés are so common that avoiding their use is next to impossible.  I all too often hear “It is what it is” from perfectly intelligent folks.  After some non-scientific analytics, I have determined the use of clichés increases by 72% when you’ve run out of anything important to say.  It is an indication that you should have shut up at some time prior.

Since I am as guilty as the next bozo, I may use this space to educate us all on both common and uncommon words or phrases.  What the heck else do I have to do during the pandemic of 2020 2021!

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Feels Like a Thursday

 Thanksgiving Day 2020 feels a lot like a Thursday.  Without family and feast, Thanksgiving sort of sucks!

The Pandemic strikes again!  Are we better off ignoring the day all together or adapting the experience to fit today’s New Normal?  Even in my season of trying new things, I have little interest in manufacturing new holiday traditions.  Something just ain’t right.

Maybe my attitude sucks.  I feel guilty about complaining.  Sure, 2020 has had a colossal number of low points, but as the character played by Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting so rightly points out:

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Having part of something is better than having nothing at all.  There will still be food, football and slumber.  We’ll talk over the phone rather than the dinner table.  It will be the most civilized holiday meal in decades!  There will be a lot fewer dishes to clean.  Less stress.  We’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, and other events this year to protect the health of friends and family.  If you think about it, it takes a certain level of love to avoid one another. 

The first harvest celebration that started all this was in October 1621.  90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims attended it.  Thanksgiving (giving thanks to God for rain, survival, or military victory) happened when warranted thereafter.  It was celebrated more frequently following President George Washington’s proclamation in 1789, but didn’t take root until President Abraham Lincoln called for an annual day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” in November 1863.  It took until 1942 for Congress to settle in on the fourth Thursday of November as the national holiday we find ourselves bitching about today.  And, it took Texas until 1956 to get with the program.  Those Texans.  Gotta love ‘em.

Thanksgiving has a fluid history in our country.  Is it possible COVID-19 is the catalyst for another permanent shift in how we celebrate?  The only change I support is to simplify it.  Strip away all the pageantry and formality that muck it all up.  There is one consistent thing about the holiday.  Giving Thanks.  It was and should always be an expression of our gratitude to God.  I don’t think this year is any different just because our gatherings are more intimate.  It might even be easier to be more sincere this time around.  

Yes, it saddens me that far too many people have died, lost jobs, or otherwise rocked to the core by the Pandemic. But there are also many that have recognized just how lost in the externals we are as a nation.  We have been so busy chasing more, more, more, faster, faster, faster that when we could not run anymore we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  I spent two months in denial, followed by learning to exist in my own home 24/7.  Only now can I walk into the kitchen at midday and not have my wife look at me like I was a burglar.

So, tomorrow will be Thursday.  It may feel like most Thursdays, but it is Thanksgiving Thursday and I plan to be more thankful than ever.  My life is blessed.  Beyond blessed.  So is yours.  Zoom out and take another look.

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Friday, November 20, 2020


 Renoir or Gauguin?  Huh?

Public Art has always been difficult for me.  Sometimes I enjoy it and see purpose, but most of the time I do not.  I have a real hard time justifying the expense when a city has more pressing needs.  Pressing in my mind anyway.

That is the problem.  Who gets to decide what is more important?  Pot holes or a painted mural? Helping the homeless or erecting a sculpture?  Public art, while commendable, does not hold up to the harsh demand for dollars.  Okay, maybe those without a car would take the mural.

But, here’s the kicker:

Louis Armstrong by Eduardo Kobra - New Orleans
No, this isn't one of the projects we selected

Against impossible odds, I received a request to serve as a panelist for a series of public art projects in my community?  This was so unbelievable that I questioned it when they called to make sure I received the invitation.  Were they serious?  It turns out that in the past, panels with only members of the local art community received gruesome criticism.  This “misuse of public funds” landed at the feet of the elected officials.  The opponents insisted that “normal” people be included.  Surely the funds would not get spent poorly, or at all, if someone with business experience had a say in the matter.

I agreed to serve without thinking.  An all too common error on my part.  If I had thought about it, the potential for public outcry and derogatory media attention might have crossed my mind.  One of the elected officials saw my name on the list and called me to make sure I understood the original invitation.  It turns out, they gave their staff my name so I could recommend a “Common Man” to serve, not serve myself.  Now this was awkward.  Neither of us knew what to do next.  They didn’t want to say they didn’t want me to do it, and I couldn’t bring myself to back out.  It was what one might have called a Mexican Standoff long ago… today we just call it a stalemate, I guess.  

The first round of selections involved sifting through portfolios submitted by over 100 artists.     If it is not already apparent, I’m a few feet short at the wrong end of a swimming pool.  It turns out Art can be a lot of things not resembling the Art I grew up with.  I suppose if we have the New Math, we can have the New Art.  The good news is that almost half were easy to turn away for subject matter (violence, blood, freaky, drug inspired, etc.).  From the Common Man perspective, that is.  The others were much more difficult to assess.

Each panelist submitted electronic ballots of our top three artists.  The list got smaller, and we did it again…. and again, until there were three remaining artists.  They asked these finalists to present their work to the panel in-person.  No longer could I hide behind secret ballots over the internet.  This was going to be serious panel work, my friends!  Like Dancing with the Stars or American Idol.  Okay, not like those at all.

As expected, the panel turned out to be an odd mix of individuals.  My suit and tie drew stares and was not very befitting of my Common Man role.  I’d have dressed “down” if I would have known what the art scene crowd might wear on a Tuesday morning at 9 AM.

As each artist made their presentations, one thing became evident.  Everyone in that room saw the world much differently than I did.  The vision and purpose expressed by each artist was quite inspiring.  How could they look at a grain silo and see that?  Viewing life from an artist’s angle sure makes the world look a lot more interesting.

And I could see their passion.  Much was explained to me, but I felt a genuine connection and understanding and appreciation for it.  Yeah, me, the Common Man.  At that point, I felt bad about my participation on the panel.  They intended for me to raise questions on the sanity of the expenditure, not opacity of the image.  I failed to represent the opposition.  Public Art was happening.  Now.  I was unprepared and unwilling to stop it.

It took some time, but we were able to select a unique artist for each project.  We cast aside the secret ballot and just talked about each artist and their work.  We expressed what we liked or did not.  How we felt the piece was a fit for the location or was not.  There we were, a half-dozen people from different backgrounds and cultures agreeing on something.  Unanimously.  Without hate.  With respect.

Huh, I wasn’t sure that was possible anymore.  There may just be some hope for all of us.  Looks like those pot holes won’t be getting fixed.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Spiritual Retreat: Tales from the First 24 Hours

Learning and experiencing new things interests me for the first time in a long time.  Maybe the whole pandemic lifestyle has me looking for alternative ways to spend time.  Regardless, when a friend described a weekend sabbatical he took, my internal hyper-drive fired up.  Sabbatical is not a term we use much here in Texas.  Seems all academia-like.

This was not a traditional type sabbatical, but a 24 hour spiritual retreat to get closer to God and recharge the old batteries.  I was interested.  All I had to do was take a quick look at the calendar to pick a date and clear it with work and my wife.  When you mention a religious get-away, approvals come quick.  I set my Spiritual Retreat for October 30th.

This “Retreat” had to include a digital detox.  So all electronic devices needed to be left at home or turned off and stowed away.  I was to take only faith inspiring reading materials.  So I packed my Bible, a journal, and a few other books that I thought might light the fuse of spiritual thinking.

The ideal location was our lake house.  Quiet when alone and interruption free during the offseason.  I planned to go down on Thursday evening, rise early for a 5:30 AM Zoom Meeting and begin my 24 hour retreat at 7 AM sharp on Friday morning.

Establishing what I was expecting to achieve in this time of solitude may be of interest.  The answer to that was nothing.  All we do as a society is strive for things.  We pursue few things without a specific outcome in mind.  Not knowing had some level of freedom to it.  Besides, the whole idea was to let God handle it.  My job was to show up and let the magic happen!


By 9 AM, I felt comfortable in the silence while reading about God telling Elijah to head for a brook that feeds into the Jordan River and wait (1 Kings 17).  Elijah, suggested reading for such an occasion, was a prophet.  Hearing from God was part of his gig.  I am not a prophet and unsure when I hear from God if it is Him at all.  This, hearing from God thing, was the point of the Retreat.  It looked like Elijah and I both had some waiting to do.

As the day progressed, I wondered if I was putting too much pressure on myself to “hear from God”.  It was my first retreat and I wasn’t even sure I was doing it right.  Just then it happened.  Not a booming voice from far or near.  Just clarity.   I knew why I was there.  I was there to learn.

As mentioned, the date was October 30th.  In the afternoon, I opened Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  Jesus Calling is a Christian daily devotional.  I’m sorry, THE Christian daily devotional read by millions.  I know dozens who read it daily, year after year making notes in the margins.  

The entry for October 30th is:

I AM with you. I am with you. I am with you.

Heaven's bells continually peal with that promise of My Presence. Some people never hear those bells because their minds are earthbound and their hearts are closed to Me. Others hear those bells only once or twice in their lifetimes, in rare moments of seeking Me above all else. My desire is that My "sheep" hear My voice continually, for I am the ever-present Shepherd.

Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear My voice. Beginners need a quiet place in order to still their minds. As you advance in this discipline, you gradually learn to carry the stillness with you wherever you go. When you step back into the mainstream of life, strain to hear those glorious bells: I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.

God works this way all the time.  That my retreat and this entry fit so tight is not a coincidence.  “Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear my voice.”  I was in the classroom and committed to 24 hours there and elated to be so.

My uplifted spirit was short-lived as I read again…

“Others hear those bells only once or twice in their lifetimes…”

“Some people never hear the bells because their minds earthbound…”  

Many of us do not relate to being “earthbound” in thought and deed as having hearts closed to God, but are we certain?  We all know wonderful and kind people connected addictively to media (social or otherwise), shopping, gossip, success, and other mindless activities.  How much of that can one handle without trapped in its web?  I do not know many people who would spend 24 hours disconnected from the outside world with no television, internet, telephone, or human interaction of any kind.  As I did an inventory of those I am closest to, most spend much of their day earthbound.  

And I am no better just because I will invest 24 hours in the classroom.  Far from it.  I lost count of the number of times during the retreat I wanted to do a Google search or add something to my Amazon shopping cart.  Countless times I also dozed off while “deep” in thought and ate a snack between page turns of my red-hot spiritual reading.  In the classroom, yes, but in the back row goofing off as in my youth.

I fail to hear the bells just like everyone else for the same reasons as everyone else.  But we need to hear those bells.  

To live an entire life pursuing what we want rather than what God designed for us is a life wasted.  We can only know his desires by asking him to tell us and waiting on the answer.  The wait may be long, but the payoff is perfect.


As my 24 hours wrapped up, I was unsure what to do next.  The silence had become so comfortable that I did not want to disturb it.  What if God had something else to say?  After a long run, I returned to the silence.  It was late afternoon back at home before I engaged with the connected world around me.  It may sound strange, but this was just as uncomfortable as the silence was the day before.  

More than a week later, I am again failing to hear the bells.  No matter how hard I try, my mind gets lured back earthbound.  Face it.  It is dang hard to slow down long enough to hear from God.  I never knew how hard until I actually did it, just once.

 “Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear my voice...  I am with you.  I am with you.  I am with you."

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Monday, November 2, 2020

Hope for Unity

     On the eve of our election here in the U.S., I’m not sure any of us are ready for the outcome.  Many are ready for it to be over with.  The bickering, the political ads, the yard signs, the slinging of half-truths and insults.  The media, the polls, the opinions and the what-ifs or what-thens.  

    Enough already!

Why can’t we just get along!  What happened to finding similarities and common ground?

If you are anything like me, you have family and friends who disagree on politics.  While we are smart to avoid those conversations at the dinner table, it is not so divisive as to wish the other harm.  There remains a bond.

One thing is certain.  We will never unite as a country if we continue to magnify our differences.  Our media (broadcast and social) thrives on division.  Division drives ratings and advertising.  But it tears apart the core values of the nation.

Regardless of the outcome, I wish everyone would just stay home and be quiet for a change.  Turn off your televisions.  Let the dust settle.  Be civil to one another and have a healthy chat.  Don’t let outsiders tell you how you should feel.

Acknowledge that all sides are right.  That may not seem possible, but admit that life according each person’s environment, influences, income, upbringing and education forms their truth.  If you were in the “other persons” shoes you may have arrived at the same conclusions.  Accept that we are all at least a little misinformed.

I’ll be praying for our country and for someone of influence to set the tone of peace and unity.

I have a lot of hope for our future.  Faith gives a person a reason to embrace hope.  Hope is not quite tangible, but it is something people have in common.

John Ortberg on Hope:

“Hope means, among other things, a joyful dying to my need to have my life turn out any particular way at all.  Hope comes when I live in the reality that the world is in better, larger, more capable hands than mine.”

And so it goes.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." 

(1 Thess.5:16-18)

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Call Me Flash

     Writing about specific running results is super boring for everyone, even me.  But, in a time of cancelled events, I’m craving some results to let me know the sport is still alive.  Sure, there have been a few live events, but the whole COVID-19 era, like the steroid era in baseball, will forever have an asterisk by it.  We’ll look back and say “yeah, so and so is a major marathon winner, but that WAS during the Covid era.”

Enough of that nonsense, let’s talk about me.

The wind chill was 33 degrees, blustery wind out of the north with a fine mist in the air.  I don’t normally run after work, but given the conditions were worse at 5 AM morning, I made an exception.  Am I crazy?  Why not knock out five miles on the treadmill?

This was to be a Fitness Test, that’s why.  While I am not training for a specific race (thanks Covid), I still have a training plan that I keep reshuffling with the hope that live in-person racing will be back soon.  This test calls for a ten-minute warm-up, 30 minutes running as hard as possible at a sustained effort followed by a five-minute cooldown.

When the weather is nasty like this, I always choose a route that starts with the direction of the wind.  Running into the wind when your body is cold up is a good way to mess with your mind and quit before reaching the end of the block.  Downwind, I set off.

At the 10 minute mark I hit the gas.  At 52 it’s more of Press than a Hit, but I sped up.  Within five minutes, I’m worried that I have gone out too fast.  Bad feeling since this is a downhill segment.  My body settles into the pace.  What pace, I’m not sure, but my mile times are dropping and staying there.

I’m soaked on the outside by rain and on the inside by sweat, so remove my gloves and hat.  The last 7 minutes of the 30 minute push are uphill and I struggled.  Once I reached the mark, 40 minutes total, I eased to a walk to catch my breath and turned for the short 5 minute jog home.

My workouts upload to TrainingPeaks automatically from my watch, so the data is readily available.  While I was happy with the effort, I waited a day to dive into the numbers.  There was little chance I improved from the August Test, but not much slower either.  

The next morning, as I’m isolating the hard 30 minute effort, I notice a star and a plus sign next to the Records column.  It thrilled me to see that I ran my fasted mile of the year at 7:47.  In looking at the map, this ended up being the downhill segment I mentioned above.

The most shocking thing was just below the mile record was the 5k record.  At 8:10 per mile, it is my fastest 5k segment on record.  “On record” is limited to the past 10-ish years.  My training seldom had me going all out for over 10 minutes, so the “Record” effort is misleading.  I “could” have run faster in the past if I tried.  Regardless, it was an improved Fitness Test.  My time in the mountains and on the bike in late summer paid off.

I was curious what qualified as the second fastest 5k.  It turns out to be on my birthday in 2013.  What is also interesting to me is that this second fastest 5k came in the final 5k of the Cowtown Half Marathon.  I finished that race with an 8:15 pace for the last 3.1 miles.  After running ten miles first!  Yeah, I was probably faster back then.

Cowtown’s pace had me looking for more.  I finished the final 5k of the Dallas Half Marathon in 2016 at an 8:17 pace.  In my 30 years of running, I’ve always been good at pacing my races.  Starting out slow and then gauging how I feel in the second half of the race is part science and part experience.  A hard effort too early is a disaster.

There is something fun to me about running fast at the end when others are hobbling to their slowest miles of the day.  This helps lift me up another level and carries me to the end.  It also limits the suffering to the final 25 minutes in an almost two-hour effort.  Suffering sucks.

All this is silly.  Like I said before, nobody enjoys reading running results.  It is just that there is so much negativity consuming our world that I wanted to focus on something personally positive.  I am thriving in COVID-19’s wake!  But most important, I might just be faster than I was 7 years ago!

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Back to School

Have you ever signed up for something and had massive regret as the “thing” approached?  Maybe a luncheon or seminar?  This is me.  I cannot remember the last time I signed up for something that I did not have reservations about.  Yet, I strive not to be a hermit all the time, so in sporadic moments of weakness I make commitments certain that regret will not follow.

I signed up for a writing class.

Yeah, don’t ask.  

My writing is somewhere in a deep canyon between who gives a crap about the typos and this is garbage, full of mistakes and no way can I share this.  More or less I needed of a little kick in the pants to get past this.

I think the theme of the workshop was Finding Your Voice.  Sort of how-to in writing to reflect the inner person telling the story.  I was hoping to find out who the guy is within me while ruling out multiple personality disorders once and for all.

Please let there be an ice storm, I pleaded the night before the class.  By the next morning no ice storm materialized, but wonderful fortune came none the less.  The instructor was ill and needed to reschedule.  At that point I could request a refund (oh yes, I paid for this) or attend make-up class.  I hesitated for a moment and then left my chips on the table.  Twice the remorse for the price of one!

The rescheduled date came around and I had a conflict (or manufactured one) on that Saturday morning and could not possibly make it in time.  Not to worry, they say, I can join via webcast.  This would sound crazy in the pre-Covid world, but I’m guessing you’ve had your fill of Zoom by now.

Once I worked up the courage to dial in, they informed me that I could see and hear the class, but they could not see or hear me.  I could send my questions via text directly to the instructor.  Fat chance of me asking a question, but fine.  Let’s get this over with!

This writing class experience was nothing like I expected.  I was so distracted by the dialogue from the other “students” that I doubt I learned much of anything about writing.  This is unfair to our instructor.  She was a trip and scattered and well…goofy in a professor sort of way.  

My observations are further unfair because I attended via video instead of sitting around an enormous conference table.  The faces of the students were not visible because of the camera angle.  This enhanced my fascination with them because I could manufacture their appearance based on their voices.

The class got off to a slow start with some technical difficulties and handouts.  Then the dreaded, “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves and why we’re here”.  At that point, I was calculating how much these introductions cost me.  $50 for 3 hours is $.28 per minute.  There goes $12 down the tube.  It’s a 3 hour workshop by gosh…do we really need to know any of this?

Yes, we did!  This is when the fun began.  10-12 students.  Four of whom had already been published.  Though three of the four were quick to point out their books were product manuals, training guides, or work related.  I think one guy said a website.  Really?  Another lady told us the third book of her trilogy was set to be “released”.  I find this next to impossible to believe.  Released?  How so?  And you're just now taking a class on Voice?  But the instructor was too kind to ask a single question.  I suppose with self-publishing anything is possible.

I was not out of place, however, as there were people like me who weren’t exactly sure what they were doing there, but enjoyed writing and thought…why not?  One guy was there because his son bought him a gift certificate for a class and this one sounded interesting.  I liked that guy.  That’s how I normally get roped into stuff.

The star of the show was a very outspoken evangelical Christian who hates Trump, believes the world needs to hear her voice for Jesus Christ, and knows she needs to be part of the cultural conversation.  (This almost verbatim from introducing herself).  Let’s call her Pam.

Why Pam?  I don’t know.  That’s the first name that popped into my head.  It’s my Voice dammit.  If your name is Pam or you know someone named Pam who is not irritating and over the top, I apologize.

I should also point out I am considered a hardy Christian by most (the above swear word not withstanding) and agree with Pam that the so-called Religious Right are not Trump supporters regardless of what FOX or CNN or the rest of those bozos would have you believe.

Pam’s most irritating trait was acting like this was a one-on-one tutoring session between her and the instructor.  You know how people give a knowing “uh huh” “sure” or “I follow” during a conversation?  Pam did that with the instructor the entire class.  Audible enough to hear 30 miles away (via web cast).  I wanted to call the host and say, “Tell Pam she’s not the only one in the room.”  Yes, Pam, we know you are paying attention.

We read excerpts from famous authors as one of our exercises.  The instructor asked the students to take turns reading.  Pam had to pass because her assigned passage was “much too vulgar”.  I must concede that there was a lot of salty language in most of the pieces the instructor asked us to read in advance.  But these were classic works.  Don’t they get a pass…Pam?  

After reading the passage we (they) would discuss the tone, rhythm, feeling, etc. of the author and the instructor would point out subtle and not-so-subtle characteristics that is consistent in most of that author's works.  Sort of fascinating.

I about fell over when Pam chimed in stating that “feeling” something when reading was much too feminine a term.  Well, well, well, I didn’t see that coming.  A feminist too?  Of course.  But a religious zealot feminist?  Say it ain’t so.  Since when did one of those exist.

Okay, I’ve picked on Pam long enough.  Let’s try some others!

There was the older gentleman who seemed to have a one-liner or dad joke for every situation.  The awkward laughter (if you can call it that) was only pleasant from afar….via webcast, for example. 

Then there was the lady who had never written in the first person before.  This was confusing since she was working on a memoir.  How do you tell your personal story without I’s and My’s?  Unless it was about someone else, at which point it would be a biography. Just weird.  Stranger yet is the gal who asked if memoir needed to be true.  What?  Where was she during the Million Little Pieces controversy in 2003?  Yes, yes, yes.  Next?

As the clock wound down, the instructor asked if we could stay late since she didn’t get to all the material (because she was unfocused, distracted by Pam’s “u-huh’s” every minute or two and the 40 minutes of introductions).  One guy must have had better things to do because he immediately packed up and walked out.  He showed up 20 minutes late, so it is hard to say what his deal was.  Maybe he stumbled into the wrong class and weathered the Pam storm as long as he could.

I hung around, but the river ran dry within ten minutes.

In all fairness, I am glad I took the class.  It was motivating, even though I haven’t been writing regularly (or at all).  It turns out Finding Your Voice is as simple as this:

Say what you want to say; not what you think someone else smarter or wittier than you would say or how they would say it.

This was helpful because I am stranded between the guy I once was and the guy I am today.  At one time, I wrote from the hip with little regard for, well, much of anything.  Now, more reserved, I recognize I have thoughts and opinions that the world is far better off without.  

But again, it was worth $50.  This piece represents more of my Voice than I’ve let flow in some time.  Good or bad, it’s just the guy in my head.  Not me at all.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace  

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Ever Want to be a Ski Bum?

As I prepare for a quick weekend of skiing, I am reminded of the many wonderful trips with family and friends in recent years.  It has been such a blessing to return to skiing after several decades away from the mountains.

One thing I have always found interesting is talking to people on the ski lift.  I am not one to start conversations with strangers, but ski lifts are fairly intimate and silence sometimes screams at me.  Plus, I have a certain fascination with skiers and what they do for a living.  Here is a sample of things I’ve jotted down.

Many were there on vacation with family.  No surprise there.  The most interesting people by far were locals that took the day off work to ski.  Just what types of careers allow people to head out on a random Tuesday for fresh powder?  

Now, I need to point out that my sample size is small.  If you take out all the Texans I’ve ridden with, it cuts the field in half.  What these folks do I don’t recall.  Vacation apparently.

But back to the locals.  There was the young programmer who told me he works when he feels like it.  Was he on skis or a snowboard?  Board, of course.  I mean, if you are under 35 years old you are on a board.  Once you’re older, the skis are a lot easier so long as you stay upright.

There was a substitute teacher who told me he never answers his phone when the snow falls.  It is all about priorties people.  Priorities!  I mean seriously?  Would you?

The winner, by a measurable margin, was the fruit tree trimmer.  Who knew there was such a job?  It makes sense I guess.  I just didn’t know the subtleties  to the arborist career path.  Though I never gave it much thought.

He was fascinating.  Work is slow for tree trimming in the early part of winter.  So, he does a lot of reading and skiing November through January.  I asked him how he became a fruit tree trimmer.  It turns out he got on a work crew as one of his many random jobs and had a gift for it.  Before long, the head arborist at the tree company had him leading his own crew.  It is very physical work as you might imagine so he got a degree “just in case I get tired of climbing trees or ski into one up here.”

This past trip I met a former part-time ski bum who retired from work at Los Alamos.  He said once he could ski everyday he no longer enjoyed it.  So, he became an instructor and guide for the disabled skiers unit (Adaptive Ski Program) there at Ski Santa Fe.  He takes a shift every third day and fills in when others are sick or out of town.  His plan that afternoon was to ski with a young girl who had cerebral palsy.  “She doesn’t like to get up, but once she does she can really go, go go.” 

On days off he skis with friends.  Most of whom appear to be a close reflection of this man.

The joy in his voice was clear and I regret that I always held a fairly negative view of the “ski bum” (although it might just be jealousy).  Regardless, it is cool that he is doing something he loves and helping bring joy to people with disabilities. 

“When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.” - Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Spontaneous Joy

Writing this might be risky.  If I say something maybe this feeling will disappear.  Maybe it will leave as mysteriously as it arrived.  Maybe…

This morning I was overcome with joy.  I was just going about my day like any other and I realized I was extremely happy.  The pessimist in me began to ask why.  What was the source?  But digging for reason just revealed contentment from all angles.

Post-Holiday Blues is a real thing from what I can read and goes by many names.  This is the opposite of that.  Am I joyful that the holidays are over?  Am I happy for the start of a new year so I can hit the reset button?  Maybe and Sure.

Who cares?

Don’t question it.  Embrace it.  

Don’t balance it against how you normally feel.  Don’t put it on a scale at all.  Just realize that God is shinning on you and for the first time in some time you recognized it.

Blessed.  I am blessed indeed.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace