Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Time Squared", still not enough

It is hard to believe that we are fast approaching the end of this millennium's first decade, because it seems as though we just got over the whole Y2K ordeal. And here we are on the brink of yet another milestone, the end of a decade. So, where does the time go?

Let's break it down, so that it'll be easier to understand. There have been 3650 days in those 10 years, a lifetime for some. If you figure we sleep about a third of each day, then we will have slept roughly 1218 days. Imagine that one for a moment; you are not Rip Van Winkle are you? And suppose you work 40 hours/week for let's say 48 weeks/year for those 10 years. That's an astonishing 800 days of work, approximately 25% of the time. Let's get this straight; 33% of our time we are asleep, 25% of the time we are working, that leaves nearly 42% of the remaining time to do whatever we have wanted to do. Throw in the 4 weeks of vacation, equaling 280 days, and we are left 1352 days of downtime, so to speak. In all, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 37% of unaccounted for time. If you factor in the evening meetings, kid's events, time for exercise, meal time, watching sporting events, what I see is that 37% is just about a wash with the time you had remaining.

I hope this little exercise has shed some light on an age old problem of wondering where the time has gone. I know it has provided me with some valuable insights. Even with more time, there still wouldn't be enough. What I haven't done this year or this decade, I'm not going to let it bother me tonight. There is always next year. Just don't wait too long, because next year will be here before you know it!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What ever happened to the Invisible Man?

Remember the classic "Who's on first?" story recited by Abbot and Costello? I think everyone of us has heard it at one time or another, but if you haven't, then you ought to take the time to listen to it on You Tube or wherever. It ranks up there as one of the most famous comedy stints of all time.

Well, when we were kids, my friends and I would play games of baseball, even if there weren't enough guys to field a complete team. Perhaps it was because we'd have an uneven number of players or simply too few to play the usual game, so we would draft the "invisible man" to round out the team. This was our version of the now timeless rendition of "Who's on first?".

We'd divide into two teams, sometimes using only parts of the field and maybe not even all the bases. The team batting would "supply" the pitcher just to supplement the player pool. The pitcher might even have to act as the catcher for plays at the plate. Creative, I'd say, wouldn't you? The invisible man could then be substituted anywhere on the base paths that he was needed to take the place of a runner whose turn it was now to bat. If there was a hit, he'd advance equally, along with the batter. If there were plays on the invisible man, it would have to be referenced off one of the "live" players. We all had to keep track of him. It made quite good sense to us, and if there were disputes, we'd settle them diplomatically of course, or the game would end.

So what ever became of the "invisible man"? Was he traded, did he retire or has he simply faded from memory only to be resurrected by a former teammate who is blogging about him. The answer lies safely in the minds of those of us who knew him. As I recall, he never complained, you could always count on him to play wherever you needed him, and above all, he never said an unkind word about anyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Two in One

If you are not aware, this month we are going to witness the infrequent lunar event called the blue moon. When there are 2 full moons in any given calendar month, the second full moon is referred to as the blue moon. This celestial phenomenon occurs once every 2.5 years. Do you know where you were during the last blue moon? I do.

I was vacationing in the great state of Maine with family. After a week of hiking, swimming, running, golfing, and the obligatory dining, my brothers, my brother-in-law, and I sat out on the lawn to view the blue moon rise out of the East over the mountains. It was the perfect evening. The temperature was in the mid 70s with a light breeze keeping the mosquitoes from obtaining clearance to land. With a libation in hand, we initiated our debriefing of the past week and contemplated the future. What could have been more relaxing? We toasted the the magnificence and the glory of the moon. It complimented the wonderful week we had just spent together, and without hesitation, we agreed to reconvene the same time next year.

Although the family pilgrimage to Maine comes annually and not just "once in a blue moon", we consider ourselves quite fortunate to have this opportunity each year to gather in Maine. For us, this is as predictable as the blue moon but thankfully, more frequent!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saturday Night Live in High Fidelity

Who doesn't have just an endless number of childhood memories. At any family gathering, the stories are recounted as if they happened yesterday. The facts can be muddled somewhat, but that doesn't matter; untimately, all the general recollections are rehashed to create the draft and final versions. It just depends on who is there and what is being recounted. Well, since this is my story, I am going to tell it like it was.

Many a saturday evening growing up, after the mandatory bath with my brothers, my father would assemble his "Indian Chiefs" in the living room and we'd listen to the record player. It was monstrous thing, the size of any other piece of furniture in the room. We referred to it as the HiFi. He'd put on a stack of 45's, giving us the chance to pick out our favorites and play those along with his own selections. Tex Ritter, Jim Reeves, Jimmy Driftwood, and Marty Robbins were his favorites. There'd be 25 or 30 records with each go round, and we would do repeats too. He would read his professional magazines, while my brothers and I would wrestle on the floor. Plenty of excitement for all of us. The words have been imprinted in our minds like those science experiments of old. On second thought, that might explain a few things. This saturday evening ritual went on for a number of years until it became extinct just like the HiFi of yesteryear.

What ever became of our old High Fdelity record player? Like so many other electronics, it was replaced by the latest and greatest stereo equipment which played cassettes tapes and now the CD. However, the memories of horsing around in the living room on those Saturday evenings have endured, as if they had been held safely in a time capsule. As I share this story, I am reminded of my favorite song by Tex Ritter, "Gimme Some"; without question, I got some and a whole lot more!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Plenty of room at this Inn

Arguably, the greatest birth story ever told ends with the recognizable phrase, "They stayed in a manger, because there was no room in the inn." Sound vaguely familiar? When the mass of humanity gathers at the family home, all are welcome to stay, but be prepared for a few, slight inconveniences.

Picture this if you can. The vehicles start arriving, sometimes in tandem with oodles of kids and stuff, in advance of the family feast. Greetings are exchanged and with it, the silence develops into a dull roar. Just like a well oiled machine, the adults organize into "subcommittees" and complete the remaining preparations for the meal. The kids, in the meantime, break out into their respective "pods" interacting as typical teenagers and youngsters. The house is once again abuzz with activity.

The aroma of the food begins to permeate the downstairs. Shortly thereafter, the announcement to assemble for the blessing is made, much like an Amish barn raising. There is plenty of good food, and no shortage of hearty appetites, myself included. Dessert will follow, but waiting for a little while doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

As the frenzy of activity tapers off, the attention to the sleeping arrangements starts to gain focus. With the large number, the use of inflatable beds is essential. Some may get a bed, others share one of the 6 aerobeds, and the remaining few, may be lucky enough to get one of the couches. In all, some 20 people will stay at the inn this night. So, as I reflect on this day, the fellowship with family, the abundance of food , and the comforts enjoyed at this five star B & B, I am thankful to be home. Nothing compares to this pandemonium. Although certain amenities may be limited, overall, the accommodations are priceless. And remember, reservations are not required!

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Nog Blog

Christmas is about tradition, and occasionally, a tradition starts and noone can remember its' beginnings. Serving eggnog at Christmas, when did that little hoiday libation get started? I'll have to do a bit of research on that one, but I am going to tell you about its' origins for me.

When I was just a little shaver, my mother taught me how to make eggnog from scratch. We'd mix several eggs with either milk or cream, add a little vanilla, and then some sugar. It would all be topped off with just a smidge of nutmeg or cinnamon. "Delightful", my mother would remark. Thus, my holiday tradition was set in motion. Whoever said it had to be served only during the holidays? I found the taste of eggnog so enjoyable, I'd mix it in a blender any time of year, probably when the spirit moved. Why egg nog? It simply tasted pretty darn good.

As the fear of salmonella poisoning grew, the concept of raw eggs in eggnog became too much to overcome. Commercial brands purchased at the grocery store, with their pasteurization and homogenized texture, seemed to appear in every dairy case, particularly at this time of year. Some are made with cream and others now boast the lite version. The smooth taste is to die for, and looking at the fat content, eggnog just might kill you. If you are trying to avoid the holiday weight gain, take "the nog" off the menu. "No way to that!", I say. It wouldn't be Christmas without this richly caloric treat.

So, as I think about this holiday tradition, sipping eggnog around the punch bowl, I find myself thirsting for a "noggin" of nog. So, filler' up please, because Christmas is almost over, and I'll be able to "resolve" any second thoughts I have about this very soon!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life, reformatted

"Merry Christmas Mr. Potter", George Bailey exclaimed after coming to the realization that life in Bedford Falls wasn't so bad. For anyone who has seen that now classic Christmas movie, you'd have to agree that GB really did have a wonderful life. However, for him, he had that epiphany only after spending the night with his guardian angel who helped reconcile his feelings for the life he had as the CEO of the Building and Loan.

How does this compare to the dozens of small towns across America, even today? Take the small town in which I live. There is a library, a city hall replete with administration, downtown businesses including eateries, a local watering hole that doubles as a think tank, churches, and even a small liberal arts college. Sound familiar? Imagine now a day in life of one of this city's citzens. It might start with a run with friends followed by a debriefing at the local coffee shop. After a shower, it would be off to the office, perhaps not to the B & L, but some business, one that may have been started generations ago. After another "red letter" day at work, there would be dinner with family or friends. This might be followed by a trip to the ice cream stand, not unlike the one found in Mr. Gower's drugstore. The day then might end with a stroll around the neighborhood simply to enjoy the night air, complete with the locals sitting on the porch viewing the traffic.

It may be coincidence or it just might be the way life is, but this all seems quite similar to life in Bedford Falls. The faces have changed, but the way we live and die in these small towns hasn't. There are plenty of the prettiest little towns across this country that have the same Capraesque qualities, and if you ask me, it's a wonderful life, and that's for real!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Random acts of meaness may be a reflection on you

With only 2 more shopping days until Christmas, you should be just about "wrapped" up with your holiday gift buying. If you aren't, then join the millions of other Americans who have procrastinated or who are looking for those last minute deals. This isn't a new behavior though. I, for one, am acutely aware that it has been around at least since I started in with the tradition.

But, what is Christmas all about? This is the very question that Charlie Brown queries his pals during this seasonal special. Linus, of course, answers without hestitation, "Sure CB, I know what Christmas is all about". He then launches into the often heard passages from the Good Book proclaiming the birth of Jesus. At the end of his little homily, he proclaims, "That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown". Sound familiar?

Over the years, I have witnessed numerous, random acts of kindness. After the 9/11 attacks, that behavior was painfully obvious As a nation, we reverted back to caring for our fellow man, perhaps even more so than ourselves. Under trying times, it was what we needed as a society.

As we approach Christmas, let us all take a moment to look in the mirror. I wouldn't want to see some mean, old Scrooge. What I'd want to see is myself; me, an individual, just like you who wants to be treated with respect, dignity, and the love that each of us deserves. That my friends is the gift we all should share, and wouldn't that be a beautiful reflection of us all?

Monday, December 21, 2009

The shortest day is still 24 hours!

According to the calendar, today marks the date of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Although we are actually closer to the Sun at this time of year, the tilt of the earth's axis creates the season we call winter. Astronomically speaking, it's a very cool phenomenon.

Let's look at this from a practical point of view. The amount of usable daylight is less than at any other time of the year. Outdoor activities still occur, but if one has to make hay while the "sun is shining", there ain't much hay being made. Seriously though, many of our summertime activities go into hibernation for the winter and are put on hold. That is decidedly a drag, if you enjoy being outside and need the sunlight to prevent SADD. However, just because it's dark outside, doesn't mean that life, as we know it, comes to a screeching halt. There is time to do indoor stuff like playing board games, reading, or perhaps just getting to bed a little earlier.

So, what's the take home message here. Each day is made up of the same 24 hours, 1440 minutes, or a whole lot of seconds. Whether you say it's the shortest day or the longest night, either way, change is on the way. As I see it, tomorrow the Sun will shine just a little longer!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This one's on me

For years, my friends and I have gathered at the local TH's for coffee after a Saturday morning bike ride or run. Even the locals have grown accustomed to asking us what we did that day. It has become a right of passage into the weekend. As we have aged and hopefully become wiser, it has morphed into a cup of java, even on weekdays. It has been an evolutionary process confirming Darwin's theory, survival of the fittest!

Every club has its' rules, and we are no exception: meet every weekday at 6:00 am, either at the church or at the pool, meet Saturdays at 6-7, depending on the fatigue factor, and Sundays are usually considered a day of rest. Following this aerobic ritual, we convene for a deserved "cup o' joe". Responsibility for the bill generally comes down to the honor system, he who hasn't paid lately, pays today. Dah! Simple rules make it simple, right?

Recently however, the "johnny come lately" has gained the financial upper hand. With a bunch of less-youthful members, he who arrives last, picks up the tab tomorrow. Maybe a quirk, or maybe just a reflection of "our times", but nevertheless, it's the evolution of this group. A group of buddies I call my friends. Regardless of the order of "merit", these friends are golden, because today, this one's on me!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Life without the "Fluff" is just a peanut butter sandwich

Have you ever heard of the "Fluffernutter"? It's a sandwich made with peanut butter and "Fluff". Fluff is a marshmallow treat used to make this sandwich, but it has many other "practical" uses too. One can put it in hot chocolate. It is a key ingredient in the world's best fudge and has been known to adorn a hot fudge sundae as well. There just maybe more to the story, however.

What would life be without the fluff? First of all, it would be noticeably less complicated. Take, for example, the basic phone. You dial and someone answers. Add an answering machine, and you leave a message. What with all the gadgets that you can add to your phone line today, one needs an advanced degree in "electronics" simply to coordinate and understand the components. And the TV with the multitude of remotes that go with all those extras, how has that uncomplicated our lives? At times, I can't even figure out which one to grab. Maybe, the fluff has clouded the simplicity of it all. Yes, I am sure that it has.

Perhaps, we ought to just pass on the fluff occasionally. Life might not be so bad without it. Afterall, if you skip the "Fluff", you still have a peanut butter sandwich, and that ain't too bad!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What happens when your brain freeezes over?

While having a bowl of ice cream recently, I had one of those sharp, unpleasant brain freezes that remind you that maybe you should just slow down and enjoy it. Fortunately, they don't happen too often, but when they do, it takes your breath away. My friends and I believe there may be an environmentally induced phenomenon as well.

Last night the overnight temperature dropped to a chilly 18 degrees. I could hear the furnace come on several times during the night, reminding me of the season. As you'd expect, when the alarm went off, my body moved out of that nice warm bed as if it was molasses in the cold night air. I gathered my things as I readied myself to meet my "comrades", but even that seemed to be in "slooow" motion. This wasn't the typical morning routine.

As I started the car, I was thankful that there wasn't any frost on the windshield, further delaying my departure from home. While on my way, I received a call from another member of our running group saying he was "running" late as well. Peculiar, but not unusual, I thought. Was it the conditions, coincidence, or just the time of year. Who knows? We all managed to convene at some point, and completed our morning constitutional; today it was running.

How does one interpret such behavior? Generally, the group of us meets, and we head off for some sort of exercise venture. But today, we seemed more "dysfunctional". My explanation, may be, it was simply too cold. Global warming hadn't had much impact on us. The only explanation, it must have been colder than hell, otherwise your brain freeze is over!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Catch this

Have you ever seen the movie, "Field of Dreams"? What kind of son wouldn't want to have a catch with his dad? Well, there are some, but that is a story for another day. If you were at our house, you better have had your glove nearby, because there was always a chance to play catch.

Growing up with 4 sisters and 3 brothers, there was no shortage of playmates. You can imagine the numbers of kids around, especially if any one of us had a friend over too. At times, my parents' yard looked like it was the local summer camp with all the activity. However, by days end, the mass of humanity was called home, and we were left to play amongst ourselves.

When my father's car rolled into the driveway, en masse, we swarmed around trying to get his attention. We could see the fatigue in his eyes, but he never let on just how tired he was. We delighted in showing him our new found skills, like riding a bike or shooting a basketball. But what he really couldn't resist was the chance to have a catch with us. We'd gather at opposite ends of the front yard, tossing the ball repeatedly, until Mom would call us in for dinner. Our response. "We'll be in in just a minute; just a few more." We threw pop ups, liners and a few grounders just to keep it interesting. We pretended we were in the Big Leagues warming on the sidelines. It was our time.

Those days are gone now, but not forgotten. I can almost imagine the smell of my leather glove, as if I had just put it to my face. The accurate throws and the clean catches remain imprinted in my mind. Those are the memories I cherish, and what we reminisce about at family gatherings. If I had the chance to do it all again, you bet I would, because there was nothing like having a catch with Dad!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Lighthouse, a guide for the soul

Growing up along the New England coast provided me with some wonderful memories like eating lobster rolls or fried scallops on the deck of some mom and pop roadside stand, the endless rows of antique stores, and the quintessential Maine lighthouse. We were just a stones throw from the NH border and with its' miniscule coast line, Maine was just "down" the road a piece. "How lovely!", my mother would say as we meandered up the coast for our scenic drives.

Nubble Light was one of those frequented destinations. My grandmother would ride in front with my Mom at the "helm" while my brothers and I would stare out the car windows watching the lobsterman pulling in their traps. The smell of the salt air would open our nostrils like nothing else in this world. Why Nubble Light? Because it was there. My mother was always fascinated by the sea. She'd explain to us the derivation of various terms such as, Down East as part of her "guided tour". We loved it.

But, what about the light houses? She'd talk about them as if she was a veteran sea captain aboard her ship heading up and down the coast, maybe a run from Boston to Bar Harbor or even onward to Nova Scotia. A little geography lesson along with her dramatized guide to seamanship. All of this was imagined while we sat eating our lobster rolls and chips. What a field trip indeed. We could feel the pitch of the sea, even on dry land. The lighthouses, she'd say, offered markers of warning to the ship's captain notifying them of the dangers of rocky shoals and the "no go zones" along the coast.

As I reflect back on these childhood junkets, I realize that the lessons learned go far beyond the obvious "tales of the sea". My brothers and I were being guided by the captain herself. She was educating us, but more importantly, she was providing us with direction and purpose. The Captain's message was clear; know where you are going, maintain a steady course, and the light will keep you safe!

The Story Stick tells all

In woodworking, the term story stick refers to a piece of wood that has the various dimensions to a project such that it can be duplicated time and time again. It might be used to facilitate the making of reproduction furniture or to help hang the shelves in your kitchen. Each stick tells the story of the project for which it was made and thus the story stick. What are our lives but story sticks.

Remember the movie "Fish"? It was about a father who had made a number of friends over the course of his lifetime, many of whom were "unbelievable" characters. Perhaps, it was an embellishment of a story for a son by a father to create intrigue for the son, or just maybe, it was the father's way of seeing beyond the obvious which I believe is the lesson learned. Because of the almost implausible nature of some of these characters, the son always believed that the individuals involved were nothing more than fictitious. As the movie comes to its' conclusion at the father's funeral, these seemingly fictional characters come to life. In truth, the sureal was brought into reality, and the father's "imaginary" existence was made credible, restoring the son's love and appreciation for his dad.

Quite possibly none of us has a cast of characters that could compare to those in this movie, but surely we have our own guild. Family and friends who make life interesting provide us with the content of our own stories. Using the story stick to dimension our lives will keep us honest and true, provide a template for others to copy, and a "written text" that, hopefully, will measure up in time!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

As we usher in the month of December, we are reminded that the end of another year is nearly upon us. With it comes dropping temperatures, diminishing daylight, and the prospects of snow. If you like outdoor activities, all of this requires an attitude adjustment, unless you intend to wait for the spring thaw. To that I say, bring it on. Otherwise, we simply would be stuck in the snow and ice.

Well, this reminds me of a New Year's Day run that I took with a friend several years ago. The holidays were almost over and the consequent weight gain was evident. What else can you do on January 1st, other than sleep, eat, and watch football? Maybe make a resolution to exercise? What a novel idea. On this particular day, the forecast wasn't the most inviting, snow, with a predicted accumulation of a foot or more. For some, this would have negated the idea but not this day. It prompted us even more.

The planned run was for about 4-5 miles, perfect for a post holiday jaunt. By the time we started, we already had 3-5 inches on the ground. Currier and Ives would have been inspired by this wintry wonderland. After trudging through the snow for a while, we wondered, "If anyone sees us, they'll think we're crazy, so what'll we tell them?" After a pause, with the conditions deteriorating, we decided we better tell them the truth. "We really thought that it was going to get worse." That seemed to be a good explanation, don't you? Naturally, we completed our run and enjoyed the holiday that much more.

So, what did we learn from this little experience? Certainly, I wouldn't recommend challenging Mother Nature routinely; after all, you can't fool MN. So, let it snow. Simply by letting the prospects of predicted,"bad" weather dictate the plans, you may miss the chance to commune with Her. Let's run with that, because "that's-no" joke!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Life is Good, except when it's Crap

Have you ever seen the "Life is Good" apparel, with it's signature logo, Jake, enjoying life in some manner? The slogans are poignant and succinct. Sometimes, you'd simply want to be in that little guy's shoes kicking back, living life like the "Jakester".

What might be more accurate, however, is that life is real. It is full of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, good days and bad, and that my friends is what makes up its' ebb and flow. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, whether we are paying attention to it or not. This very phenomenon may only be important to coastal dwellers, but it happens nonetheless, does it not? What about the moon? It waxes and wanes each 28 days, whether you notice it or not. We may only be aware of its' beauty when we see it rising majestically in its' full state. The sun rises and the sun sets. In fact, we can set our clocks by it. Heavens. Our own hearts keep right on ticking, without so much as a day of rest; and thank heavens, it does.

So, what does this little pontification all mean? When life throws you a curve, be ready, so you can avoid the crap. But even if you don't "hit" it the first time, most likely, you'll get to take your licks another day. And when that next day comes, the pitch may come right down the middle, and that's when you apply your skill, driving it out of the park. As you round the bases and jump on home plate, you'll be dancing just like Jake, saying, "Life is Good", and then you'll know that it is!

PB & J, it's what's for ...

Remember the series of commercials promoting the beef industry? The background music was Aaron Copland's, Hoedown from Rodeo, and at the end, the gentleman said, "Beef, it's what's for dinner". It remains vivid in my mind, and when I hear Hoedown, that's the image I immediately get. What advertising.

Well, I was thinking about food the other day, not uncommon for me, and I thought to myself, what gastronomic delight would I place at the top of my food chain? Actually, I posed this question, "If I was stranded on a desert island, what would I choose, having my pick, to survive on this island?" Would it be ice cream, chocolate, beef, macaroni, milk, eggs, or some other fundamental foodstuff. It would be difficult not to choose ice cream. Afterall, I believe I possess a single, dominant, gene locus that requires a daily dose of ice cream, simply to sustain life!

Now then, although ice cream ought to be considered a food group unto itself, I realized that the PB&J would be my #1 menu item. Granted, there is more to a PB&J than just peanut butter, but hey, give me some latitude. When I did the IM in Lake Placid several years ago, I made the PB&J my main course on the bike ride. When I was in school, I had a PB&J sandwich before each and every test. That was alot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When I was a kid, my mother would offer me a PB&J when nothing else seemed appealing? The very basic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for me, it hits all the food groups.

Just imagine one now; two pieces of fresh bread with a thick layer of peanut butter on each and a generous helping of your favorite preserve, for me, rasberry please. Doesn't that sound tempting right now? Ooh! I can almost taste it now.

I love Aaron Copland's, Hoedown, and I probably will never be able to separate the song from the subtle message it sends about beef. But who cares? It's the PB&J that has my vote, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, start spreading the word because that's my story, and I'm sticking with it!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Parade of Memories

Remember the parades of old? Lots of fire engines, police cars, Model T's, with a few bands mixed in to balance it out. Those were the days. Maybe those were the days because life was much simpler then. No multiplex cinemas, malls, or other distractions to take away from the Rockwellesque living that some of us remember.

Well, I recall one of those parades from my youth. My mother had gathered my 2 younger brothers and me to head down to the parade route, right in front of my father's office. It was a perfect spot for viewing, and it was oh, so familiar because there was my Dad's office right behind us. Vendors were strolling up and down the steet, trying to sell their wares. When the "balloon man" walked by, my brothers and I couldn't restrain our enthusiasm. We just had to have a balloon. After much carrying on, my mother finally convinced us that she would get our special balloons when we got home. I am sure there was some other form of negotiation, but that part of the story escapes me now. The parade itself was terrific. Perhaps the best we'd seen; afterall, how many parades had we seen?

Naturally, when we got home the first thing that we wanted were our special balloons. We weren't going to let our mother negotiate with us and then welch on the deal. So, with her creative imagination, she manufactured the perfect balloons. Not the kind we saw at the parade. One of a kind balloons that were made especially for us. She had taken a long, bamboo, kabob stick and tied a balloon onto the end. No helium, no string, just good old fashioned ingenuity at work. Did my brothers and I know the diference? Heck no. We had what no other kid on the block had. We paraded around with them for hours, and never once felt like it wasn't just the greatest thing.

So, in the words of JFK, "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans." As I see it, my mother has her "torch" and has made sure that hers will be passed on to a new generation. Her genuine love of life, love of family, and out of the box thinking has been passed on to us, a new generation of "balloon bearers"!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Aging isn't bad, it just makes you "Half Fast"

Recently, my friends and I were sitting, chatting with a cup of coffee following our morning workout. It took us approximately 50:00 minutes to run the 5 mile loop that we had chosen at the outset. Not bad for some 50 somethings who do this as much for the socialization, as for its' obvious benefits. The converstion drifted between topics, nothing new. We ended up talking about the times recently posted by one of the member's children in the previous night's swim meet; impressive, for them, in their season opener.

Naturally, we began to make some comparisons to the times we had when were, shall we say, more youthful. As a group, we used to run that same 5 mile loop in approximately 40 minutes, give or take the day or conditions. Additionally, instead of 50 minutes, we formerly would run for 60 or 70 minutes. While we are grinding out our 10:00 minute/mile pace, world class marathoners are zipping along at 5:00 minutes/mile. Our swim workouts, which generally would leave us breathless, were quite a bit slower compared to the "kids", usually twice their times. Overall, we were consistently slower, and of course, that comes as no revelation.

Wisdom would dictate our justification, of course. Being older, we were more cautious, thus becoming slower. We clearly didn't want to go "too fast", as that might cause injuries. Heavens, we had had enough of those over the years. And when you get injured at our age, going faster simply doesn't justify the potential loss of training time, compounding our slowness. We unanimously agreed, speed should be reserved for the youth of America.

Have you ever listened to NPR's Kai Ryssdal? Before he reviews the stock market report for the day, before a commercial break, he says, " When we get back, we'll do the numbers". So let's do the numbers. The marathoners and the swimmers are consistently faster than we are; the average for us would be about twice their speed. As a group, we have slowed over the years, but we also have cut down on our workouts, sometimes by at least a half. Granted, this comes as no big surprise. But facts are facts, I am afraid. I'm no mathematician, and the numbers don't lie. I can only conclude with this. Even on a good day, we are at best, "half fast", and that's a fact!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A peace of gratitude

December 7th, 1941, also known as Pearl Harbor day, lives on as a sad reminder of the tragedies of war. Books have been written about it, movies have made about it, but the reality is, war is war. There are no winners, just survivors.

Today, let us remember the fallen; thank and salute those who have served, both past and present. Equally, let us be reminded that we need to seek peace, not only in our world but in our hearts. One must have peace in order to share peace, and I'll take a piece of that!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

All "Betz" are off

Have you ever had one of those days where you were losing your mind? Everything in your life was coming unglued and you had trouble even remembering your own name. If you have, then you are not alone, because when this happens, you probably are on system overload.

As a society, we have become accustomed to the concept of multitasking and living life in the fast lane. We complain about the wait in the drive through lane at any number of locales. On the freeway, we see cars changing lanes frequently just to avoid being behind someone who is going too slow; even though they may already be exceeding the posted speed limit. There is an express check-out lane at the grocery store, often times more congested than the regular line. And while all of this is happening, you see people on their cellphones carrying on their "other" business, while not paying attention to the task at hand.

So what happens to the juggler who tosses more balls into the air than he can handle? Simple, the balls start falling to the ground, not one by one, but all at once. Life can be just like this for us too, but it's not the ball we drop. It's the missed deadline, the forgotten birthday or anniversary, or maybe you can't even remember to put on your socks.

Whatever the case may be, we need to stop and smell the roses. Just like the Nationwide commercials say, "Life comes at you fast". Take the scenic route occasionally or cruise in the slow lane, because if you don't, you may find yourself on system overload. When the system crashes you'll have to shut it down , and then all "Betz" are off for getting anything else done!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Time waits for no man, unless you rewind the clock

As the sun sets on another day, I can hear my internal clock winding down telling me that days end is drawing near. My energy is low, my enthusiasm is waning, and it's almost time to call it a day.

For some, the well may run deeper. "Well" for me, the well has run dry. So, when my quill pen is dry, and there is no ink in the ink well, the words of this writer will remain within the confines of my heart and soul until tomorrow.

Therefore, today's blog is about nothing but a thought not yet written. When the sun rises to greet me, I will be refreshed and ready to rewind the clock once more!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Take the "F" out of Fun and you've got Nothin'

Almost everyone knows how to have fun. Heck! When we aren't working or going to school, most of us would rather be having some sort of fun, wouldn't we? Even when we are at our jobs or in school, if we make it fun, it makes it more enjoyable, often times more productive, and it keeps us going back.

So, what happens when you take the "F" out of fun? You are left with "un", and according to the dictionary, it comes from the Greek and is used as a prefix meaning "not". Now that we understand this, how can we apply this to life?

Let's take the the "F" out of fun to see what happens. Instead of being fun, we become "un" or unhappy. This makes it more difficult to face the challenges of the day, and that seems to require even more energy. Energy that, because of the circumstances, noone probably has to spare. What was once a healthy outlook, now becomes unhealthy and that may upset us even more. Coping skills become compromised. Our ability to reason becomes unreasonable, and this then can lead to arguments and more disruption. The cascade effect can be endless. What was once fun is now a total shambles of unrest, and that would be unfair. You may end up with less than you had or maybe even just a whole lot of nothing for your troubles

Well, what should we learn from this little exercise in enlightenment? Just remember, when you next loose your cool, thus becoming uncool, you need to find your "F". Not some 4 letter word that reduces your stock value to nothingness, but the "F" that reverses your "un-ness". The "F" that, if you put it back where it belongs, it'll make you "Fun" again!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A marathon, 26 and a little more.

Anyone who has been running since the 70s or before, certainly would remember Jim Fixx. Some people have credited him with the running craze that appeared to take off during that decade. Unfortunately, he met with an early demise in spite of his commitment to exercise. Running in those days was somewhat of a novelty, but for those of us who knew of its benefit, it only seemed natural to lace up and head off for a jaunt.

I recall my first official road race quite clearly. I was required to register with the Amateur Athletic Association in order to prove my amateur status. What an ordeal. However, after much paperwork, I was able to register for a 10 miler near my hometown. I believe there were 150 entrants in all, but the community support was terrific. That is a far cry from what typically happens today. Registrations are accepted online, via the mail, and no one, and I mean no one, questions your amateur status. You can register almost to race time. However, if you do that, you might not get the T-shirt! Sound familiar?

Naturally, for anyone who has been running for a while, the marathon becomes the defining goal, the ultimate distance race. How can anyone run 26.2 miles? Undeniably, it takes a fair amount of commitment, self sacrifice, and maybe just a little bit of fringe behavior. But once you have completed one, you will always be able to answer yes to that query when someone asks you, "Have you run a marathon?".

So for 26 miles, the thought of completing the race may not appear on your radar, but as you run those final 365 yards, with the crowds cheering and the adrenaline flowing, it will be worth going just a little bit more!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What happens when you smile?

Remember the old television show, Candid Camera? Do you recall how each little vignette ended? They said, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera!" In the end, the individuals, even if they were embarrassed, couldn't help but smile when they were captured on film.

So, what happens when you smile? It releases a number of emotions indeed. Typically, you experience happiness and joy. It just depends on the reason why. Maybe you just heard the news about the birth of a child, the favorable results of a test, or any number of things. Whatever it is, when you display that contagious smile, it conjures a feeling of comfort and happiness from within and conveys a similar message to the recipient. What, if anything, can be bad about that?

In these difficult times, it is not uncommon to feel somewhat down and dejected. We all have expectations and aspirations that sometimes can't be achieved. However, if we maintain our sense of well-being and perspective on things, we hopefully will overcome. Success in this case may not be measured by dollars and cents, but by the priceless smile on our faces. Spread the wealth and share a smile today!

Monday, November 30, 2009

No, a mighty little word

How many times
did you hear your parents say no when you were a young child? Perhaps it was the first word that you understood. Maybe it was the tone of voice or maybe it was instinct, but clearly it helped us understand the meaning of no. I am sure that every one of us has little or no recollection of that learning process, but certainly we learned the meaning.

So what does it mean to us today? Usually, when one of us says no, it means that we don't want to do whatever! Sometimes it may be because the option is unacceptable or simply we don't agree. Regardless, no usually means no. It doesn't mean maybe; it doesn't mean ask me later because I might change my mind; it generally reflects one's commitment to a particular position at that moment in time.

What are the consequences of saying no? Certainly, for a parent it might prevent an injury or alter a learned behavior that is undesirable. For an adult, it just might mean that we are expressing our position with regard to a question or difference of opinion. Regardless, each of us has to be prepared to defend that position.

As for me, knowing when to say no is worth knowing, wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Biking takes on a new low

So the calendar says November, therefore it must be time to put your bicycle away for the winter. Not so fast. For the die hard cyclist or triathlete, the date on the calendar really doesn't impact the decision to bike outside. In fact, if the weather looks enticing, the threshold to go can be just about anything.

For my friends and me, we used to set the threshold at 40°. This, of course, was barring any precipitation either present or already on the roads. Windchill really did not play a role in the decision to go. That may have all changed this weekend!

Certainly with the advent of the new technical clothing, outdoor activity in the cold weather is not the challenge that it once was. Sir Edmund Hillary or George Mallory would probably laugh at our concerns. However, safety and comfort need to be considered.

With the fall weather hitting temperatures in the 20s early in the morning, consideration for an outdoor ride came to the forefront of our group discussion. To a person, a unanimous thumbs up was given to our morning ride. The temperature was a chilly 26°. Fortunately, there was very little wind to contend with. So after recommitting ourselves, and bundling in multiple layers, we headed off for the hour long bike ride. It was delightful to say the least. In fact, it was much more than that. It was an hour spent with friends, communicating with each other and the outdoors, in the most simple way. At times, the obvious chill in the air went unnoticed by the group. However, after an hour or so, the harsh reality of the cold morning air took its toll. We were all ready for a cup of hot coffee.

So what does this all mean? Well, for one it means that if the conditions are ripe, take advantage, because there may be not be another opportunity in the near future. More importantly, however, if you can share your experience with other willing individuals, the experience often times is not so intimidating and it can fill you with the warmth of friendship!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday commentary

What is Black Friday anyway? Sure, I understand what Black Friday is. Generally, it's considered the day when retailers finally get their businesses in the black for the year.

But what is Black Friday really? It's the day after Thanksgiving when retailers advertise fantastic deals simply to get consumers into their stores. We've heard stories where people camp out simply to be the first in line in order to get the terrific promotional gift or sales price on an item. There have been tragedies associated with this behavior, as people have stormed into retail destinations in order to be that first person or one of the first 50 people or one of the first hundred people. What is this madness? Are these items that none of us can live without?

Remember the good old days when our parents would tell us that we'd have to wait until Christmas to get something that was on our list? Many of us would write a detailed wish list for Santa Claus and mail them off to the North Pole only to be overjoyed on Christmas morning at the prospects of receiving one of those gifts. Whether we received something from our list or not, it really didn't matter. I know there was disappointment for some of us, but most of us did survive in spite of ourselves. Our parents, grandparents and other relatives made sure that we did not go without, regardless of the circumstances.

Despite the news of global economic recession, Black Friday has become an obsession. That obsession has gone so far as to detract from the once relaxing holiday called Thanksgiving. People find themselves getting up early to be part of the mad rush. I realize that for some this is a social event, but I believe that it is more of a social commentary.

If any of you has listened to or read Susie Orman, she makes a very important distinction between needs and wants. Needs are things that are absolutely necessary, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Wants on the other hand, are things that we can live without. Sure each of us has lots of wants, but what do we really need? Hopefully, for most of us, what we really need, we have.

At the turn of the 19th century, people around the world were dying of consumption ie. Tuberculosis. As we have entered into this new millennium, the new consumption has become consumerism. If you look at the global financial picture, it is little mystery why we are in the predicament that we are in. The basic needs haven't changed much over the years. On the other hand, the balance between needs and wants has shifted dramatically in favor of wants.

As for me, I think it's a good time to reflect and reassess how my Black Friday was "spent". I may just finish a few homemade gifts and share them with my family and friends at Christmas. A gift from the heart can go a long way to keeping me out of the malls and traffic, and may be, just maybe, help me keep my perspective and checkbook in balance!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Cheer

The Thanksgiving holiday is coming to a close. What makes this such a special holiday is the relatively simple nature of the day. You awaken, maybe do some exercising, in anticipation of consuming a disproportionately large amount of food. The food preparation, the gathering with family or friends, all are part of the holiday experience.

There might be the traditional family football game, conversation around the table, the watching of football, or playing of games as part of the daily activity. All of this is what makes this holiday so special.

When it all comes to a conclusion at the end of a busy day, you ask yourself, have I had enough? Hopefully, the answer is yes. Yes that word enough means many things. It means that you have refueled both emotionally and nutritionally to face another day. We all ought to be thankful that we have just enough!

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