It Washes Right Out

I am truly ashamed to admit that just days after declaring to the world (or at least the 35ish people that might read my blog) that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I wasted much of it totally preoccupied with thoughts of those I miss in my life instead being properly grateful for the loved ones still in it. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was spiritually damaging. And even worse, I knew it was completely fucking pointless. But I just could not pull my mind out of the hole it seemed so determined to crawl into. And I hated myself for it.

I had the best intentions. I was up and out early that morning to meet a friend for some pre-feast rounds of disc golf (Shut up. It’s fun and it’s free) and to enjoy my favorite holiday morning at my favorite local park. It was a gorgeous day with fantastic weather. The sun was out with temperatures in the low 50’s. The trees were so many shades of autumn. The water was calm as it slowly flowed out with the north wind pushing a slow parade of sailboats south for the season. Hell, there were even a few squirrels still scurrying around.

And I played like shit.

I knew why. My mind was a complete mess, and I couldn’t concentrate on a damn thing. But I figured playing like shit is still better than not playing. And anything is better than sitting around doing nothing on such a pretty day. Now, if I could only pull my head out of the ground and focus, maybe I could salvage the second round.

Nope. Couldn’t do it.

After two rounds, my friend left for his turkey-day festivities and I had a little time to kill before mine, so I wandered around the park to try and snap a new background photo for my ever more neglected facebook page.

I really just wanted to be alone, soak up more of the sun’s vitamin D, and see if I could get my head straight. It was Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. Why couldn’t I be grateful without lamenting things totally out of my control? Sometimes stuff just happens. Life doesn’t always have to make sense. And to try to make sense of it is sometimes a huge waste of time.

Jerry Springer has been on TV for over 20 years. That doesn’t make any sense at all, but I don’t waste a second of my life trying to figure that out (Even though I am extremely embarrassed as an American that my country produces such an ignorant product for the whole world to see. Ugh).

Sometimes I’m just a glutton for punishment. And on Thanksgiving morn, I apparently wanted to waste my day dwelling on what I didn’t have instead of all that I do have. I was really starting to irk the shit out of myself. And part of me wished that I had skipped the disc golf rounds and just gone for a really long morning run instead. But it was too late for that.

Playing with my camera was a good plan B though. It had been a really long time and it was nice to make myself look at such a beautiful park through that more focused eye and really appreciate just how lucky I am to be able to enjoy it as much as I do. And after taking a bunch of pictures from every corner of the place and feeling a little bit more holiday ready, it was time to go meet everyone for lunch.

Other obligations meant that many members of my extended family were not able to make the trip this year, so we were going to scale it back a bit. Basically we just didn’t make a ham in addition to the turkey, but there was no shortage of food AT ALL. And because no one should ever spend Thanksgiving Day alone, my cousin invited an elderly widow from down the street to join us, as she had no more family in the area.

I had never met the woman, but watching her struggle unsuccessfully to stand and walk up the front steps before reluctantly letting us carry her wheelchair (with her sitting in it) up onto the porch and into the house helped me begin to regain proper perspective, and realize just how fortunate I am. And while at the dinner table, listening to her describe her late husband and just how much she missed him during the holidays solidified it (albeit only temporarily). She had truly lost someone forever. She was literally alone. And the holidays were a stark reminder.

(I’ll forgive the fact that she also called my whole family crazy at least once. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean you just get to blurt it out at the table. She was a pistol for sure.)

I was being so incredibly selfish. I’m healthy. I have a wonderful family that loves me. I have an amazing family of friends that love me. I am only alone when I choose to be, which is admittedly often. And only have to feel alone when I allow myself to be distracted from these facts.

None of this is news to me. And that is why I was so completely frustrated with my inability to shake myself from the dark place I seemed so determined to go earlier in the day.

The holiday season is widely recognized for increased bouts of depression. It’s supposed to be a joyous time to be shared with loved ones. But it is difficult, if not impossible, not to miss those loved ones that we’re no longer able to share these times with. Whether someone has passed on or moved on, the result is the same. You’re left with only memories. You can either celebrate the good times and be grateful for the time you were able to share, or you can selfishly wonder why you have been forced to adjust to such unpleasant changes. Memories are a blessing and a curse in this way. If we couldn’t remember all of the great times shared in life, we would never have to miss anyone. But why would anyone want to forget happy times? They can be so hard to come by.

I spent my entire Thanksgiving Day battling back and forth with myself and really hadn’t settled the issue when I got up Friday morning and left for work. When my mind wants to be in a bad mood, it can be stubborn son of a bitch. But at least I had a plan to win this one.

After an incredibly frustrating day, I left work, raced home, changed clothes and stepped out into the unseasonably warm late afternoon sun for a much needed session of run-therapy. I hadn’t run since Tuesday and I could not have needed it more. I’m actually starting to worry a little about how important it seems to have become to my mental health. I’m half kidding. But only half. If I ever suffer some kind of injury that prevents me from being able to run, then I will truly start to worry. Cross your fingers.

It was fantastic. Five miles later, I felt totally renewed. Before I run, all of the stress and frustration I create for myself can build up inside of me and poison everything I see and every thought I have. After a run, all of that self inflicted stress has been pushed out through my pores and is now just weighing down my t-shirt instead. That weight stays with the shirt when I take it off, and gets rinsed away in the washing machine.

Yep. Those dark spots on my shirt aren’t sweat stains. They’re stress stains. And they wash right out. And today, the 24th day of November, just two days after trying to ruin my own favorite holiday, I’m very thankful for that truth…It washes right out.

RUNNING UPDATE again.

Yesterday’s run was great. It was my longest single run to date and my body felt great afterwards. Calves were a little tight but everything else felt loose. And my energy was off the charts, which lead to a pretty nice post-run workout.

I felt like I regulated my pace much more evenly than I have been. I maintained a continuous run for over two miles, took very few and very short walking breaks, and averaged about a nine minute mile overall. That’s good for me. I’m a newbie.

I’ve got my first 5K in two weeks and I’m getting pretty comfortable with my initial goal of finishing in less than 30 minutes. That should be more than attainable now, but I don’t want to readjust my goal. I’ll just run it and use whatever time I finish as my benchmark for future races.

For the last two months, I’ve been recording very basic information about my runs on a calendar, but I’m starting a run journal this week to allow me to keep better records of my progress (time of day, weather, miles, times, aches, pains, etc.). I’ve also been considering buying a GPS watch to track my runs and times and I would LOVE any suggestions. I’ve been researching them for a week and it’s a pretty crazy market.

I’m still working on my music playlist for my upcoming runs, but I listened to This Will Destroy You’s “Young Mountain” EP on my run yesterday, and it was kind of perfect. The instrumental songs are kind of quiet and moody but all with a nice layering of sounds. And a few tracks build up nicely into pretty driving crescendo type endings. It was a great record to run to. I could push it to the back of my mind when I needed to concentrate on setting my pace and form, but once I was on rhythm I could just zone out and listen to it while I ran. I like that.

No matter how my playlists works out, I’m pretty sure that this will be the last song on it. If I can pace myself correctly, it should be rocking out just as I approach the finish. We’ll see. Enjoy.

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Gobble Gobble

Contrary to what your favorite retailer would have you believe, Thanksgiving is not merely the starting pistol for the holiday shopping season. It’s a wonderful holiday that’s proven itself so difficult to commercialize into obnoxiousness that all non-grocery stores just skip it altogether and go strait into Christmas right after Labor Day.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. When I was growing up, it was always spent at my grandparent’s house in rural North Carolina where I happily spent so much of my childhood. My brother, cousins, and I would spend most of the day throwing a football around in the yard or riding bikes or running around in the woods until supper was ready.

We all knew the meal was ready when my grandmother would holler out of the kitchen, “Alright, wash yer hands and get the snuff out chur mouth. It’s time to eat” I don’t know if anyone in the family had chewed snuff since her mother passed away or not, but she said it at every holiday meal strictly out of tradition. And I still miss it every year.

My grandmother and aunts would work together to put together what I guess is the classic southern thanksgiving fare: turkey, ham, stuffing, butter beans, corn, collard greens, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, yams (almost all of which had been harvested from their own gardens) and if you were willing to wait for it, my grandmother would invariably forget about the biscuits until that perfect smell of burning reminded us all that they were still in the oven.

I won’t even get into the massive amount of desserts weighing down that poor antique buffet in the dining room. But I will say that I still think “mincemeat pie” just sounds gross. And no amount of southern or country living will ever get me to like salt cured ham. Eck!

I’m guessing my family isn’t the only one where the kids ate too fast and the adults seemed to have no time to eat over the desire to visit together and share stories from the past, often the same stories they told last year, and a few they’ll tell again a month later when we do it all again at Christmas.

After everyone had eaten their fill plus one more piece of pecan pie, the men would slowly herd into the living room and one by one fall asleep in front of the football game on television. I think Dallas still plays every Thanksgiving day. They always gave my Redskins fan of a grandfather someone to root against.

While the men slept off lunch in order to find the energy they’d need to eat again later, my grandmother, her sisters, cousin, and occasionally her brother would all stay at the dining room table for hours catching up with each other while my great aunts filled the air with smoke and the ashtrays with smashed and bent cigarette butts. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen siblings closer to each other than they were. They spoke to each other either in person or on the phone all of the time, but never ran out of things to talk about. And if that threat ever presented itself, there were always the family stories to retell. I loved sitting in on those sessions. It’s a shame that I don’t remember more of the stories.

These days, we gather at my cousin’s house, still in rural North Carolina and enjoy much of the same delights. There are no more cigarettes at the table. Some of the stories are different as the story tellers have also changed. And for some reason football is too often replaced by an all day marathon of some tool or gadget show on television. But it doesn’t matter. I can sleep through anything. And the fun of family is the same.

Yep, Thanksgiving is it. A lot of people prefer Christmas. But Christmas is really just Thanksgiving with the added stress and hassle of shopping. It is most of the same people with much of the same food and a lot of the same stories, games, and laughing, but with more stuff to pack into the cars and less money left in the bank. No thank you.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to hate on Christmas. The lights are nice and I enjoy seeing everyone, but Christmas can’t hold a peppermint stick to Thanksgiving.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people on social networking sites have been spending November sharing a daily expression of what they are thankful for. I’ve also noticed that after about 10 or 12 days, fewer and fewer people are keeping up with it. That is totally understandable. After family, friends, good health, maybe your faith, and a few select creature comforts, it’s hard not to slip into more trivial things just to maintain the daily posts. “I’m thankful I was able to sleep in this morning.” Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for a lot of things; my family, my friends, my health, my home, my memories. I’m thankful that this diffilcult year is almost over and will soon be gone forever. But most of all, I’m thankful for the fact that even though betting on hope has almost never paid off, I still have some. And today, I hope all of you have a Happy Thanksgiving this week.

Do it for me. It’s MY favorite holiday.

Don’t eat too much though. You don’t want to be too sluggish to head out late-night and trample a stranger for a good deal on that gadget/toy/whatever that no one really needs. Happy Holidays.

OH SHIT! IT’S TIME TO EAT! (c’mon, it is almost the holiday season after all)

Today is the thanksgiving potluck lunch at work. It’s the usual. There is a sign-up sheet of what people are going to bring. Those less comfortable in the kitchen race to claim paper plates, utensils, sodas, cups, or anything else that can be quickly purchased and requires no cooking. Then there are the people with their favorite recipes for pasta salad, chili, green bean casserole, and other delights guarantying that there will be the proper over-abundance of food.

And like all holiday meals, there will be no shortage of sweets represented. We do love sugar around the office.

What Thanksgiving dish am I bringing? Quinoa and Black Beans. Hey, what were they expecting from the guy that’s been bringing a mixed green salad for lunch every day for the last seven years? Buffalo chicken dip?

I was admittedly not a fan of Quinoa the first time I tried it. I believe “textured air” was my initial response to what I thought was a very light and flavorless food. But I was converted as I was repeatedly shown just what a great vehicle it is for so many flavors ranging from citrusy vinaigrette dressings to simple herb combinations, or just sautéed vegetables. And it’s a high protein, high fiber super-food. I was slow to get it. But like everything else, even though I’m slow, I do eventually get there. This was my first time actually cooking it.

I started by doubling this recipe (click), but with the following changes: I added two diced red bell peppers to the onion/garlic sauté. I rinsed the quinoa before using it to reduce any bitterness. I used about half as much black beans and cayenne pepper (though if I was making this for myself, I probably would’ve added pureed chipotle pepper). And I added two cans of fire roasted tomatoes at the end with the beans and cilantro, but drained them at the beginning and used that juice together with broth to make up the liquid required to cook the quinoa. Oh, and I mixed in the juice of two limes at the very end as well.

I think it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. And if it’s not a huge hit at work, I’ve got a ripe avocado and crushed red pepper flakes just waiting to be stirred into the leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I Think I’ll Stop Right Now

Everywhere I go, I carry a “To do” list scribbled on a small white index card. If you ever see me out somewhere, just ask to see it. I always have it. But until recently, it would have been better referred to as my “Grocery / things I wish would magically happen on their own” list.

I’ve had a broken guitar amplifier sitting on top of my speaker cabinets for just over a year. I broke it when I tried to take it off of the cabinets with one of the speaker cables still connected (remember, I’m really smart), and it broke the output jack away from the circuit board inside the amp. In January, I even moved that heavy broken amp from one apartment to another just to set it right back atop those cabinets so that it could continue to stare down at me wondering when I was going to get off my ass and fix what was wrong. That poor thing probably thought I didn’t care about it at all.

Even though I’ve leaned more towards acoustic guitar playing since I first bought one roughly 16 years ago, I’ve never stopped loving the sound and feel of an electric guitar. They are very different instruments in my opinion and I approach each of them differently. But because of my amazing and long nurtured talents in procrastination and excuse making, I have been relegated to playing through a small practice amp on those rare occasions when the urge to play guitar could not be quelled with one of my acoustics.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to make time to play guitar more. Maybe learn some new songs. Hell, maybe do something nuts and write a few. I’ve got bad poetry all over the place around here. One of my very good friends has even been nudging me to get my amp fixed so that we can try to play together. That little bit of extra playing and focus just made me miss my amp even more.

I’ve looked at that amp wishing it worked. I took it apart hoping to find a simple fix that I could handle, only to discover the electronic issue I wasn’t comfortable tackling myself. So I put it off. I’ve looked online to price identical replacements for it. I made those prices into excuses for putting it off. I’ve lazily asked around for any suggestions for reputable repair shops in the area and let the lack of definitive responses justify putting it off even more. I missed that damn amp, and I wanted it back. Apparently just not enough to actually DO anything about it.

Last Saturday, I dropped it off at a local repair shop. Wednesday, I picked it up. The bill was 88 dollars. I have been living without an amplifier that I love and not playing with friends for a year because I was too lazy to drive 25 minutes and spend 88 fucking dollars. In that time I have probably spent more than 88 dollars on food that I’ve thrown away.

I am an IDIOT!

But at least I did finally get to mark “amp” off of that index card in my left front pocket.

That’s two things in just a few weeks. I’m on a roll.

What was the first thing?

A few months ago I started fishing around for a primary care physician. I’ve never had a “regular doctor” in my adult life and really had almost no idea how to even begin to find one. I did what I do. I asked around, called that miminal effort “good enough,” and moved on to the next thing on my “things I wish would magically happen on their own” list.

In 2001, my grandmother died of lung cancer after never smoking a cigarette in her life. A few years ago, one of my oldest and best friends lost his father to the evil C. In the last two months, two friends have prematurely lost a parent to cancer. And a childhood friend of my sister-in-law recently gave birth to her second child only to then be diagnosed with terminal stage four colon cancer. She’s younger than I am. She’s going to die younger than I am.

While scheduling my preliminary “new patient” appointment a couple of weeks ago, I told the receptionist that “I’m 37, never had a physical, and just want to make sure I’m not dying of something I don’t know about.” She laughed. That’s a good sign, right?

I hope it turns out like the amp, and I just procrastinated finding out that I’m in fine health for my age. But no matter how that turns out it felt good to mark it off the list.

What’s next on the list? Stop procrastinating. It’s not very productive. And so far, it’s just making me feel stupid. I think I’ll stop doing it…RIGHT NOW.

RUNNING UPDATE:

I feel good. I’m making slow progress (which I feel could end up becoming the theme of this blog if I’m not careful). I’m still limiting my running to three or four times a week, but I’m upping my distances a little each week. My pace and endurance are noticeably improving and making me feel better about my decisions in both my diet and training.

I’m starting to make music playlists for the runs I have coming up next month. I’m hoping to build good sets that are synchronized with my expected mile splits and keep me moving on pace. I’m not yet sure if I want a more rocking playlist designed to “drive” me during the run, a more low key playlist that will lay in the background allowing me to focus on my pace and form, or a predominantly instrumental and mellow (almost ambient) mix that will let me just zone out and run. Suggestions are always welcome.

I’m looking forward to getting my first run out of the way to see how I do, and more importantly, how I like it. I’m registered for two runs in December, and have tentatively planned (but not registered) for roughly half a dozen races in three states between now and the beginning of May. One of which may be directly tied to fund-raising for cancer research. More info on that to come.

Thanks for your time. Have a good one.

This is the band I listened to on my run this evening. The band’s name is coincidental. But after realizing it, it seemed a no-brainer to tack them onto this post. I was lucky enough to see them several years ago, but have lost track of them since. Enjoy.