30 May 2009

Great day with the Cubs yesterday

Here's the second round of postings for today...wanted to follow up on yesterday's activities. The stunningly patient SML and I took some good friends, Jeff and Rebecca, into the city to Wrigley for an afternoon matchup between the Cubs and the Dodgers. We were divided in our support with the stunningly patient supporting the Dodgers and me, wearing my Cubs shirt, cheering for the Cubs. Our seats were amazing:
Four stinking rows behind the Cubs dugout!
During the 7th innning stretch

The weather was just this side of perfect. We had a great time and the game really took off at the 7th inning when the Cubs took back the lead and won the game in the 9th. After the game, we got out of Wrigleyville and made our way into downtown. We went to dinner at a great Thai place called Star of Siam. The spicy beef appetizers were really good and my mussuman curry was great. The stunningly patient SML liked her meal, so we've found a Thai place we can both enjoy. After dinner, on Rebecca's suggestion, we walked down to the Shedd Aquarium to see it post-renovation. Sadly, when we got there, it was closed but no matter. It was a beautiful walk. Looking back on the Chicago skyline was incredible. It's a unique skyline and one I never tire of. We walked back up Michigan Avenue, grabbed some dessert, and got home around 930PM. It was a great day.

Today's been no slouch either. Got up and ran 5.4 miles - managed to once again trip on my stinking shoelace about one mile in, coming down on my recently healed knee. I bounced right back up but it knocked the wind out of my sails for the rest of the run. Then home for the usual cadre of errands, etc., and then it was off to the Boy's final soccer game of the season. He scored a goal and then during the post-game awards was given the "It's Not Tackle Football" award. He could not have been more thrilled.

As I was coming back from my run today, I realized that I am really happy (not psycho Sally Field 'You like me, you really like me!' happy) but happy. I've been blessed beyond measure and life, well, Life.Is.Good.

You must see this

It's gonna be a double post kind of a day...I'll fill you in on yesterday's AWESOME day in the city later...but first you must see this. One of the most brilliant SNL sketches in a very long time:
Junine...you are the best.

27 May 2009

What doesn't mix

Certainly you've had one of those times where nothing seems to go your way. I had about an hour of that tonight. I'd been in the office since 600AM - had a call with London and Hong Kong and I wouldn't be going home until late as I was meeting our Church youth group for an activity closer to my office. So I left the office a bit before 5PM in order to get something to eat before the activity.

I picked a harmless place, one of those chains specializing in fast casual. The northern burbs o'Chicagoland aren't exactly teeming in exotic food options, so I took what I could. I ordered some Wisconsin Mac N'Cheese and decided to spice it up with some sriracha sauce. Sriracha is awesome. It's popping up all over the place. Even the venerable New York Times just did a feature article on it. But I digress. So as I'm trying to shake a little sauce on my mac, it just wasn't coming out. So I gave it a little squeeze. And that's when it went horribly wrong. This is when I learned that these two things don't mix:

Somehow this sriracha had some kind of wicked backspin on it and I wound up looking like I had been shot. I'm not kidding. I had sriracha spatters all across my white shirt. Conundrum: I have to be to this Church gig in about an hour and I MUST be in an unspattered white shirt. So I finish my meal and I recall that there's a Jos. A. Banks store in the strip mall I'm in so I bolt over there. The sales guy didn't even have to ask what I needed when I walked in. Took me straight to the shirt section and within about 10 minutes I walked out of the store wearing a new shirt. That's when I discovered that my personal Blackberry was AWOL. Seriously. So I go back into the store and it's not there. I call it. No ring to be heard. I figure it must be back at the place I'd eaten. I go back and things look a little bleak. They must have had a shift change to the highly apathetic crowd. After several tense minutes, they managed to find the 'Berry.

All was well in the world again and I raced off to meet the youth for the evening. Made it. Wound up being a good night. Now let's see if the sriracha shirt can be salvaged. It's soaking in stain remover as we speak.

25 May 2009

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day today. As I write this, President Obama is honoring the war dead at Arlington National Cemetery. Parades are being held across the country, in cities both large and small, including our 'burb here in Chicagoland. Parades are my personal Kryptonite - they are my undoing and I can't watch them, attend them, whatever. So no parade-going here. Mercifully.

Instead, I got up and headed over to Blackwell Forest Preserve and got in a 4.35 mile run. Blackwell was far less crowded than Herrick was on Saturday so it gave me the opportunity to think about this day as I ran. As a victim of the US public educational system, if I depended on what I was taught in elementary and high school, I'd think that Memorial Day was a day for honoring all the animals that get slaughtered for the myriad BBQ's that go down on this day. Alas, I know differently - thanks to a good college education and a fairly insatiable desire to read and learn more about the sacrifice of so many who have fought for our collective freedom.

My interest in those who fought for us was sparked when I first read Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation." Brokaw beautifully details the actions and sacrifices of those who fought in World War II. He captured their decency and their dedication to their country.

I was stunned by these men and women and was basically ashamed of my spoiled, self-centered generation. I cannot fathom my high school graduating class dropping everything and going off to war the way these people did. Good Pete, half my graudating class wouldn't have moved unless they knew there was coke around the corner (and by coke I am not referring to a lovely frosty beverage).

After reading Brokaw's book and the volumes that followed, I got caught up in HBO's production of Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers." Ambrose can basically do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. He wrote extensively about World War II and did so in a way that took you straight into the battlefield as well as into the minds of those that were fighting. Incredible writer. The producers of "Band of Brothers" were no crowd of slouches either - Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. they produced a stunning look at the men of Easy Company and what they experienced. I got the whole production on DVD for Father's Day several years ago and it is one that I go back to time and again. Every time it's on the History Channel, I stop and watch.

My desire to learn more about those that for us does not stop with World War II. I've delved into the histories of Vietnam and have lost count of the number of books I've read about our current situation in Iraq. There's one book that could not be more appropriate for Memorial Day. I posted about it last year here. Final Salute is a searing and stunning look into the return of the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan to their families.

It's also an unflinching tribute to those that died. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Read it. It will make this day mean so much more. HBO produced a film called "Taking Chance" about the experience of returning one of the fallen soldiers home. I've not had an opportunity to see it. I hope it's impactful.

I'm thankful for those that have fought for the freedom that we enjoy and take for granted here. May they be rewarded for what they've done.

22 May 2009

Memorial Day Weekend = Summer's here!

With the arrival of Memorial Day Weekend, it seems safe to say that summer is here! Can I get a WOO and a HOO! So glad summer is here. The Boy and I were to start it tonight with a ride up to Sparta/Elroy, Wisconsin to do a 50 mile bike ride. Instead he got the pukes at school today and got sent home by a very jumpy health aide. (Umm...people it's time to get over the H1N1 flu thing...not every time a kid pukes does it mean he's a raging cesspool of flu infection!) Alas, we aren't going and that's bummed me out.

So the stunningly patient SML, Our Lady of BYU, and CAL will proceed with their "Girls Weekend" plans while I will watch Pukie (which means he will stay in his room). I am looking forward to enjoying the long weekend. I'll run instead of do the bike trail. Maybe I'll do a new trail tomorrow. I did start to consider how cool it used to be to have summer. No school, three months off. Days full of fun stuff to do. Going to the lake. Going down the river. It was good. Now, I do wish I had had the skills that these idiots did. Check this out:

I particularly like the genius running around in the arm sling. What was he? The first attempt?

Not to be outdone by this feat of engineering, I found this example of more summer fun:

The music is particularly fitting on this one.

I'd love to do this now. I'd also be a parapalegic by the time the first run was over. This much I know...I'm looking forward to summer. Glad it's here.

20 May 2009

What I Did Today

5:00AM Out of bed, getting ready for the day, watched the BBC
5:45AM Into the igloo that is my office in the basement - the work day begins
6:00AM Conference call-apolooza begins. I am on the phone for about five and a half hours straight. I wonder where is the sweet relief of death?
11:30AM Have to run to FedEx-Kinkos to send a fax since my scanner broke and I can't use my RightFax software. This allows for a stop at NafNaf for a falafel pita.
12:15PM Back in the igloo and back to conference calls. I will have a brain tumor by the end of the day.
2:00PM The conference calls and WebEx's continue their relentless pace
4:45PM Declare the work day over
5:15PM Get out of the igloo and onto the streets for a run. Gorgeous outside!
6:00PM Get home from run, sit down on the deck and watch "The Simpsons" on the big screen from my perch outside
7:00PM Take the Boy to a Church youth activity
7:30PM Get home to find the stunningly patient SML watching the lame finale of "American Idol" and find myself wanting to ram a fork in my eye after watching it for two minutes
8:00PM Begin questioning my sanity after not being able to stop listening to Alanis Morissette lament about what's doing "Underneath."

This is all apart of the fun of working from home. Welcome to my day.

17 May 2009

Did Paris take one massive Prozac?

I've been going to Paris off and on, more off by choice, since 1984. Each of my encounters has gotten progressively worse. Sure, I've found many areas of the city to be incredibly beautiful, the museums amazing, and the food pretty awesome. It was always the people who made each visit to Paris, whether as a turista or on business, more hideous than the next. They always managed to raise contempt and nastiness to the level of high art - the only nastier people I've dealt with are the customer-facing employees of the hideousness that is USAirways.

So it was with some serious trepidation that I boarded a flight to Paris last Tuesday. I had to go over for an NBTA-sponsored conference and was facilitating one of the sessions. I figured this was going to be three days of unpleasantness. Landing at Charles de Gaulle, which is the ugliest airport on the planet bar none, I was ready for the usual serving of contempt at Customs. Instead, I got a non-mechanical, dare I say sincere "Bon jour" and a smile as my passport was stamped. Hmm...so as I was on the Air France bus into the city, I started to think about how I would play this. I decided before rolling out the English, I'd roll out the Spanish, indicating that it was possible for Americans to speak more than just anglais. So when I checked into my character-less convention-serving hotel just off the Champs-Elysees, I broke into Spanish. Turns out the front desk agent was from Spain and we were off the races. Upgraded to Club Level and given a room with a wicked view of the Eifel Tower.
The tree-lined street below the Eifel Tower going to the left is the Champs-Elysees

After a shower to get rid of the infamous Boeing Funk, met up with a couple of colleagues and we marched down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc d'Triomphe, which was about a mile from the hotel. Along the way, stopped at a patissiere where I bought a bacon quiche and an eclair which defied description. And again, as I tried to order in what little French one of my colleagues had tutored me on, the lady at the patissiere could not have been more, and here it is, pleasant. At this point, my head is exploding.

This pretty much characterized my experiences with Parisiens for the rest of the stay. The waiters at the various restaurants we ate at were friendly, as we worked three languages - French, Spanish and English. Had some great meals - went to one place where we grilled our own meats tableside:

Had time to get to Poilane, an amazing bread bakery. I brought home a sourdough that was the size of a spare tire. I'm not kidding. Here's a view of the street where Poilane is located:

Had an amazing meal Friday night at a place called Georges. Had to have the Duck a l'orange. Suffice to say I was not disappointed:

This duck was perfection. Cooked rare but with the skin crispy but not greasy. And the celery puree underneath was really subtle. One thing I didn't get was a picture of my appetizer on Thursday night - bone marrow on toast. Plate full of three bones, brimming with marrow and a spoon for getting to the amazingly tasty marrow. It was a carnivorous heaven.

I could not believe what I'd found this time around in Paris. As I ran one morning down the Champs-Eylsees to the Arc d'Triomphe, I got the occasional wave from people on the sidewalks. People seemed actually pleasant, although I do not recommend crossing the Champs-Elysees. Remember the scene from "Dodgeball" when Patches takes the team out to dodge traffic ("If you can dodge traffic, you can dodge a ball!") and it doesn't go so well for Gordon, well, that's what it's like crossing the Champs, even at 630AM. On my last run Saturday morning before getting on the plane, I wondered what had happened. Had massive amounts of Prozac been injected into the water system of Paris? Had the French President Nicolas Sarkozy's affinity for America rubbed off?

I don't care what it was or is. All I know is that this was a good trip. I'm even tempted to come back a time or two now. Who knew?!

10 May 2009

Giving Moms their day

It's the second Sunday in May and it's another Mother's Day. I hope it's been a good day for the mothers in my life. My mom, my wife, my mother-in-law - all three are and have been amazing mothers and I'm so grateful for how their lives are intertwined. Their connections have resulted such blessings for my family. I am so grateful to them. Grateful probably doesn't do it justice.

I can think of no greater blessing than the one that occurred that September day so long ago when I arrived in my parents' home. They'd waited a long time for me and the selfless gift of adoption made it possible. That put me where I was meant to be and I've been blessed with the most amazing mother as a result. It was good to talk to my mom today. I woke her up this afternoon when I called and it was good to hear her voice and hear about her day. I'm glad she's had a good day and am even more grateful for my brother and sister supporting her and my dad the way that they are. Words can't express my gratitude there.

I am also grateful for my mother-in-law, Julie, for raising the daughter that she did. She and my late father-in-law raised a rare and special woman. One who chose to marry me (some things simply can't be explained...UFO's, Hillary Clinton's cankles, etc.). I'm grateful for how she has supported the decisions that the stunningly patient SML and I have made along the way. I know it's not been easy for her watching us move, first to SoCal and now to Chicagoland. But she's been a tremendous support and I'm grateful.

And then there's my wife, the stunningly patient SML, the mother of our three children. She's created a home, no matter where we've lived, for us. She's simply been an amazing mother. And she continues to mother to this day. She's done an incredible job. She's a woman of faith, spiritual strength, patience, and good humor. I cannot imagine a life without her.

So we tried to pay tribute to her today with breakfast in bed. That was made by Our Lady of BYU, who has returned from school with a new-found focus on diet and exercise. She's the house nutrition fascist so she made her mom breakfast. Then it was off to Church (most of my pre-meetings were cancelled today) where we got to hear the stunningly patient SML address the congregation. That's never easy - speaking to a couple of hundred people, but it's especially challenging on Mother's Day. She did a great job. After Church, it was dinner. The girls did the sweet potato fries (baked, of course). The Boy and I grilled the strip steaks. I had hoped to do them over charcoal this afternoon but my one meeting after Church ran long and didn't allow enough time to get the coals going, so four gorgeous strip steaks went on the gas grill. It was a fairly perfect spring afternoon here so it made it awesome to be outside. Our budding vegetarian, CAL, got a piece of chicken. Made a garlic butter for the steaks, plus had a chimichurri sauce. Simple meal, but dang good. We capped it off with strawberries and angel food cake.

And speaking of capping things off...tonight is the finale of the 14th season of "The Amazing Race." I won't spoil the ending. I'll just say I was happy with how it went down. I'm even happier that TAR has been renewed for a 15th season. I'd be even happier if I were on it. Some day...

09 May 2009

Patience, runner, patience

Never in my more than 40-plus years on this planet did I ever consider that I'd be at a stage where I was called a runner or even wanted to be a runner. That changed last year, in early 2008, when I grew weary of being described as the "stocky American" at conferences I would speak at in different parts of the world. The fact that I probably needed a "bro" didn't help either. Anyway, if you've kept up with the blog, you know that I've chronicled some of the experiences I've had as I've tried to become a runner or even grow into the "runner" label.

The fact is that I fell hard for running (and this will be a surprise to a good friend back in SoCal who watched me wheeze like someone racked with emphsyema while trying to run with him on more than one occasion). I was shocked at how good it made me feel. I loved how good it felt to be outside, particularly for the few months here in Chicagoland that allow you to be outside without eighty-six layers of thermonuclear industrial strength warming gear. So when did I start thinking I might be a runner? Was it when I started scheduling my runs to insure that I'd get them in? Was it when I used my lunch breaks to get in a couple of miles? Or maybe when I started subscribing to "Runners World" and devoured each issue.
Perhaps it was when I replaced my "Simpsons" wallpaper on my laptop with some boss wallpaper, like the one on the left, from "Runners World" that it was a sign I was becoming a runner. I love this one in particular because I did this run in Sydney last year. Maybe it was the wild euphoria I felt when I finished my first 5K (getting the greatest race t-shirt ever), coupled with the irritation that I didn't do as well as I wanted and I knew I had to sign up for another one - fast.

After that first 5K, I knew I wanted to keep running but I wasn't thinking marathons. Nor sure I'll ever run one and I don't think I have to to be considered a runner. I was happy with the goals I'd set for myself. I ran five 5K's last year and as 2009 dawned, I was aiming for my first 10K. And then I literally fell hard running. And the running became difficult and painful. And then by order of el medico, the running stopped.

Until this past Monday when I got to run again. El medico made it perfectly clear that I had to start easy, very, very easy. Recognizing that I'm not twenty anymore and in peak physical shape, although I'm probably in better shape now than I was then, I am taking his guidance to heart. So Monday it was just a mile. It felt so good. But when I stopped and saw my performance on my Nike+, I was disheartened. Nearly a minute added to my mile time. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. And more ugh. I've told myself that it was OK and would get better. And that's what I'm working on. Improving. I've gotten a couple of more runs in, adding about 10% more distance each time. Times are coming down but not where I'd like them to be but I realize I've got to be patient. I realize it's going to take some time to get back to normal. I can't let it frustrate me. I'm going to get my first 10K in by summer's end. I'm lining up my training now. I just have to get through this hurdle. I'm on it.

02 May 2009

Hail holy...queen?

I'm the first to admit that I have a fairly tortured relationship with YouTube. Mostly, it drives me nuts. It seems to be a repository of delusions and borderline insanity. It fascinates me, no, galls me, that they'll scrub it like there's no tomorrow for possible copyright infringement, but don't seem to have a problem letting borderline porn and other reprehensible garbage flow like there's no tomorrow. Who are they protecting? Anyway, when you do finally find something you want to share, more likely than not, the ability to embed has been locked down under the guise of "by request." I won't go on a tear about that because this afternoon, I happened on to something that has had me laughing like no tomorrow. This may be one of the funniest.things.ever.

"Hail Holy Queen." Seriously. As choreographed by a slew of Filipino prison inmates in the prison yard. With two dudes in drag - full habit, no less. It brings a whole new meaning to "Hail Holy Queen." This just kills me. Can you imagine a bunch of inmates at San Quentin putting a show like this on in the yard? Or maybe down in Angola in Louisiana? I think not. Where this might have legs, and high-kicking ones at that, is one of the outdoor tent prisons in Maricopa County, AZ...Sheriff Joe Arpaio would like this. His tactics are another reminder of why I'm glad we packed the moving van and moved from AZ so many years ago.

Anyway, hope you get a kick out of the prison dance team. They're killing me!