30 August 2009

Back to normal - with a clunker or two thrown in, for old time's sake

The stunningly patient SML has returned from her sojourn to dump Our Lady of BYU back in Provo. Our Lady is now safely ensconced in her new apartment, driving the newly-acquired family college car and all appears to be well in Happy Valley with her. I'm really glad the stunningly patient SML had the chance to be with Our Lady-they had a good time together. Due to our respective schedules, though, this meant we've been apart for ten days. I could not have been more happy when she got on an earlier flight this afternoon - got home at 5PM instead of 1030PM. Ten days is just too long. It's good to be together again. I've missed my wife. Now that I've retired from NBTA, these long stretches should be a thing of the past.

While the stunningly patient SML was away, I had some time to catch up on some of the blogs I follow. One, Normal Mormon Husbands, did a post about his collection of clunkers over the years and it got me thinking, as well as laughing, about some of the junk that has darkened my garage over the years. So, here's a quick look back at some of them:

1975 Volkswagen Scirocco
My First Car - and the Devil incarnate
Supposed to be a little sporty car. It was red and had a real boss plaid interior (bear in mind it was the early 1980's and plaid was straight out of "The Official Preppy Handbook," my guide to life in the early 80's). I should have known this thing was going to be trouble when the clutch pedal fell off a few weeks after I bought it. It was named Official Pacecar for Satan when then gear shift snapped off in my hand mid-downshift. It was not long for this earth after that incident.

1983 Honda Civic 1300FE
My Second Car - my first to be totaled
I loved this car from the day I got it until the day I got t-boned by a lady who ran stop sign, totaling what had been come to be known as 'Wanda the Honda.'

1985 Toyota Corolla
Brief life with us - first appearance of Satan in a Japanese vehicular form
To call this car evil is the understatement of the year. The stunningly patient SML and I had been married for a few years when I got this car. I had replaced my Accord with a Chevy Silverado (which I loved) but the gas was killing me (I think gas was maybe $1.00 a gallon) so I went "thrifty" with this heap. I knew I had to go when the transmission went out very early into its life in our garage. It spent more time at some no-name repair place in Mesa, AZ, than it ever saw in our garage. It was hideous.

1995 Toyota Camry LE
My Commuter Beater car
I bought this in Mesa, AZ, right before we moved to California. I finally had a car built in the 90's during the 90's - I wasn't aiming particularly high, but at this point in our lives, this car was the pinnacle of luxury. It was a miracle worker once we moved to California. After a year there, I took a job that had me commuting 130 miles a day and I kept that job until we moved to Illinois. The Camry performed admirably. It's the first car I took to 200,000 miles. It finally gave up the ghost at a parking garage at LAX when I got off a plane from London. It barely made the 100-plus mile drive home, where I basically dropped it off at a dealership and got another car.

1999 Ford Windstar
We leased it and we won't do that again
This was the first brand-new car we got in our marriage and we'd been married 11 years at that point. We were moving to SoCal when the stunningly patient SML's boss Camry Wagon bit the dust. All our cash was going into the purchase of our house so a down payment on anything was out of the question. So we leased a new Ford Windstar-the Recall Express. Born with the spirit of its flaming Ford Pinto predecessor, this car had more than one recall for spontaneous combustion issues, among other recalls. We dutifully kept it for the full term of the lease and in all fairness, it did a good job for us. Tell you what though, I never camped in it. A fire in the fire ring was all I needed. I didn't need the min-van to add to the excitement.

All in all, we've been lucky when it comes to cars. Nothing too horrible in terms of mechanics, etc. We didn't have to take advantage of the government's car handout. We couldn't have as none of our vehicles qualified as clunkers, although SML would probably argue about the Swedemobile (not her favorite car that I've brought home over the years).

28 August 2009

NBTA draws to a close

For the last two years, I have had the honor of serving as the elected Vice President of the National Business Travel Association. NBTA is the leading business travel management association in the world, charged with education and advocacy on behalf of its members. I joined NBTA ten years ago and quickly found a home there. It has been such a rewarding association to be a part of. I've made amazing friendships, developed professionally, and hopefully, have been able to give a little bit back.

This last week was our annual international conference and exposition. More than 5,600 business travel professionals from around the world showed up for it. I was delighted to be a part of this event. I approached it with a touch of melancholy as well as this would be my last conference in a leadership role for awhile. I won't go into a lot of detail here about the conference as you can go to the website and read all about it.

I did want to highlight the speakers we had. On Sunday, we heard from Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger - he of USAirways 1549 fame; Dara Torres, the Olympian swimmer; Jay Leno; and former President Bill Clinton. Pretty good docket, huh?

"Sully" could not have been more awesome. Seriously. There were more than 3,500 rowdy folks in the hall when he spoke and you could have heard a pin drop as he spoke. The room was mesmerized. It's not like he spent a ton of time retelling the story of his flight's swim in the Hudson. Rather, he focused on a lifetime of preparation that readied him for the events of that day. It was fascinating. He's humble and human. His wife, Laurie, was there and I was able to escort her around a bit. She's absolutely lovely. It was good to talk to him. I'm certain he was the right man for the job that day.

On Monday, our featured speaker was Olympian, Dara Torres. She was my luncheon companion and was really cool. She is in amazing shape. Seriously. She's big into Twitter. You can follow her there - @daratorresswims. Her story was pretty interesting, especially how she wound up swimming at her 5th Olympics in Beijing in 2008.

On Tuesday, Jay Leno came down and literally put on a "gig." It was like being in a comedy club, except you were surrounded by 3,500 people and a bad chicken lunch. He was really very funny. I couldn't help but notice that Jay seemed a lot more at ease when he was unshackled from the chains of network television. He was with us for more than an hour and had everyone laughing. It was a pleasure meeting him, too. I'm still firmly entrenched in the Letterman/Conan camp, but I have to admit I was impressed with Jay.

Our final speaker on Wednesday was the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton. I was pretty ambivalent about this one. My feelings about him are mixed at best. I mean he did manage to balance the budget, but so many things on the international front, like letting the change to eliminate Osama bin Laden, were missed, and then there's the whole cheating/lying thing, which really was the proverbial nail in the coffin. That being said, his speech was fascinating. He even mentioned his trip to North Korea, calling it a "business trip," which surprised me as I figured Shrillary had muzzled him on that one. At the conclusion of his speech, I had the chance to meet him. It's been said that he is an incredibly charismatic and engaging person, and yep, it's true.

Anyway, I'll be posting some pictures later when I get them from all of this. It really was a great conference and a great way to say good-bye. When I stood on the stage and said my goodbyes, I have to admit I was awash in a slew of emotions. I'm going to miss so much of the things I did in a leadership role, but I know that right now, it's time for me to take a break. It's been a great ride.

27 August 2009

I'm gonna take a nap

Sorry to have been off the radar for the last week. I was at my last NBTA conference as VP of that association. It was a whirlind, a blur, and it consumed all I was doing. Had no time to post - and there's plenty to talk about (hanging with Captain Sullenberger, Dara Torres, Jay Leno, and former President Clinton). That being said, I need a long, long nap. I'm tired. I'll get caught up over the weekend.

21 August 2009

A new addition to the garage

Having a child in university is an interesting experience. As Our Lady of BYU prepares to make her triumphal return to Provo after a long summer at home, we've been getting her ready for said return.

One of those things include getting a car that will be the family college car. I won't go into all the drama that's gone down in finding the right car, but let's just say that the internet has been both a curse and a blessing in our quest. Not to mention the chaos that the government's handout, I mean, stimulus program for cars created for us and we weren't even trading in a clunker.

Suffice to say, I made a detour to lovely Orem, Utah this morning and added this to our garage:

I won't elaborate either on what it was like being held hostage at the dealer either. I think they were trying to create a "Stockholm Syndrome" thing waiting for the finance manager - which was completely lame since I was not financing said car. Anyway, way glad that's over with.

I did have some time to catch up with some old, wonderful friends while I was here and that was great. I also learned that In-n-Out is coming to Provo! They're getting closer to Chicagoland. Yes! They can't get here fast enough.

19 August 2009

1st Day of School

According to the calendar and the heat and humidity that we are enjoying (really?) here in Chicagoland, it's still summer. Yet, the school buses got rolling this morning and the carpools churned along as school is back in session. Today was the first day of school for CAL and the Boy. Everyone was up on time with no drama and wearing their new clothes. We've had to keep the Boy's new shoes in lockdown so he could at least get through the first day of school without looking like he was wearing shoes from the "Homeless R'Us" catalogue. He's really, really hard on shoes.

The stunningly patient SML once again made her apple cookies for the kids to eat when they got home from school. This is a tradition that's been going since Our Lady of BYU's first day of kindergarten - 14 years of cookies on the 1st day of school. It's never been missed. We all look forward to it. Here's a shot of what she made today:

I like the first day of school!

So it seemed like CAL, now in her third year of high school, and the Boy, now in the 8th grade, had a good first day. Here's what CAL had to say when I asked her how her day went:
My math teacher is insane. I'm gonna hate it.
My chemistry teacher is really really good.
So she gave us a study in opposites. And here's what the Boy said when poised the same question:
Boring. Boring. Bland.
One of my teachers is insane.
So there's a theme emerging here. It's going to be quite a year.

16 August 2009

When is her head going to explode?

It's been a fun Sunday. And by fun, I mean getting to church and learning that the A/C was out, again. It was about 90 degrees in the chapel. It was humid outside and it was worse inside. So it made for a sticky, dank afternoon.

And speaking of sticky and dank, I can't help think that's a fine way to describe the testy attitude of our nation's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. So let's look at what we know...she get's taken to the woodshed by Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic campaign for President. Her husband's comments about Obama during said spanking cause a bigger furor than her very campaign. She gets nominated to the Secretary of State position and again, her husband's activities (the public ones, at least) had to be scaled back in order for her to be confirmed. And then this pesky tussle with the North Koreans erupts. Hillary lets the North Koreans know that holding those two reporters was not kosher and they needed to let them go. The Dear Leader (and I don't mean her husband) ignores her and just as those two reporters are staring down the barrel of a dozen years of hard labor, North Korean-style, her husband sweeps into Pyongyang (supposedly at the behest of a fellow alleged philanderer, the Dear Leader) and the two reporters are soon back in LA, free to make documentary that their boss, Al Gore, will no doubt narrate in quiet (sleep-inducing) tones. You know this had to have gotten under Hillary's skin. Indeed it did. And out it came while she was in Africa. The poor student that asked this question...Clinton's reaction was fantastic, in an icy, 'how dare you' sort of way:
Nice job handling the tough questions, Madame Secretary!

And now, a former colleague from the US Senate trots over to Myanmar and manages to get that whack job who decided to swim on over to Aung Sun Siu Kyi's place for a chat released from his impending sentence of hard labor. Something Hillary had not been able to do. So I can't help but wonder when her head is going to explode. And I really, really wish SNL was in season and Amy Poehler could re-enact the smackdown in the Congo shown above. Talk about the cruelty of timimg.

Cruelty of timing is a good way to describe the coming week. Can't believe all that has to get done in less than 72 hours. I don't even want to think about it. So I think I'll go read my book about the political strife in the Middle East - that seems more palatable than pondering all that has to get done this week.

15 August 2009

The world at my feet

My running this summer has not always been what I'd like it to be, so I've targeted Saturdays as a "long" run day. Now a long run is interpretive but if I'm out there for more than hour, then color it long, as far as I'm concerned. Since summer finally made it to Chicagoland this past couple of weeks, running early this morning was a must. I ran up to the Herrick Lake trails and found myself reflecting on what's become of me since I took up this running thing...

Sydney. Hong Kong. Paris. Singapore. Eighteen months ago, I would never envisioned myself running in these cities. Eighteen months ago, I was thirty-five pounds heavier than I am today. Eighteen months ago, after hearing yet another “great run” story from a friend, I decided that at 41 years of age, it was time to change. I was sedentary and on the north side of chunky, working toward "pleasantly plump." It was time to do something - it was time to run. A colleague at work, a marathoner hearing of my quest, put together a very simple training schedule for me. Given that it was winter in Chicago, it was focused on the treadmill. Determined not to fail, I got on the rickety old treadmill at the office gym and started. Those first weeks of building up to running one whole mile were agony. And then something happened – it stopped feeling like agony. It actually started to feel good, and then, as an added bonus, the pounds came off. Within four months, the 35 pounds were gone (changing my drive-thru laden diet helped too). Spring came and I discovered running outside. I’d discovered nirvana.

I got a great pair of Brooks shoes and found that I was happy, smiling all the time as I ran. I’ll never forget running into one of my good friends, an ultra-marathoner, along a trail one day. He said the smile on my face said it all, I’d found that high. I ran my first 5K in June 2008 and I’ve managed to run several since. I’ve also had my world opened up to me. As friends and readers of this diatribe know, I travel frequently around the world for work and running has opened up these places to me. I’ve run through Hong Kong Park and the challenging hills on the Island side of that great city. I’ve run around the Sydney Opera House and been able to take in its unique beauty from the perspective of a runner. I’ve run around the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris in the early morning, enjoying a perspective of it that your typical tourist doesn’t get. The beauty of the Singapore Botanic Gardens come alive when you run through it. And who knew how awesome a run in Central Park could be? Especially when you cap said run with a snack from one of the myriad food carts the City has an offer!

Am I an elite runner? No way, not even close. Am I going to run a marathon? I’m not sure yet. The fact that "yet" is in there suggests I may consider it. But I’m still doing things I never thought I’d do. I crewed a 100-mile race for my ultra-marathon running friend. I ran eight miles of it with him and had the time of my life. My shoes and running gear have become a part of my routine. My subscription to “Runner’s World” is devoured, cover to cover. Am I happier as a runner? You bet. Have I set a better example for my three kids? Absolutely. Has it mellowed me out as a husband and father? I hope so. It's made me healthier. I'll be around a little bit longer for them, I think. I’m glad to be a runner.

So this is what was going through my head this morning. Made for a thoughtful run. Set me up for a good day.

13 August 2009

Weird Week

The work week is nearly over and I'm relieved. It's been a weird week. I had to go Washington DC and West Virginia this week for a couple of days and let's just say the WV experience was really, um, different.

The oddness started Tuesday morning when I settled into my First Class seat on the flight to DCA (Reagan National Airport). I hadn't seen the flight attendant working First when I boarded. Imagine my shock when I looked up to find Uncle Fester of "The Addams Family" fame asking me if I wanted an orange juice.
Slap a blue polyester uniform and wings on him and he's working the friendly skies!

I kid you not. So for the entire flight I had the snappy "Addams Family" theme song in my head. It was a trip. Anyway, got to DCA sans incident. You can tell that the Congress is on holiday. The airport was an absolute ghost town at 9AM when I arrived. Normally it's a total mob scene. Getting a cab was a snap. Had several hours of board meetings and then I had to head up to Dulles (IAD) for the prop flight of death to Parkersburg, WV. Believe it or not, one of my major vendors has a customer center across the river from Parkersburg and I needed to make a visit. Dulles does a fine job of not using the air conditioning in the commuter terminal so by the time boarding was called, I was a wreck. My state of mind was not soothed knowing I was boarding a hammered Saab 340. There were 12 of us on board and as usual a few of us were asked to sit in the very back for load and balance purposes. Never a comforting thought. Good news was that it was a quick flight. And then the games began.

The Parkersburg airport gets two - count 'em, two - flights a day. Our government has made sure that there is a ridiculous amount of TSA on hand for the walloping average of 24 passengers a day. I think there was one TSA person for every passenger. The airport restaurant pulls an interesting crowd. But the real fun began when I went outside to wait for my ride. (Note - it took my coworkwers an hour to get from the hotel to the airport. Normally a ten minute drive - an hour if you're directionally challenged.) As I was outside, I happened upon a family that brought every West Virginia stereotype to life. Grandma and Grandpa were getting on the flight but were outside for a bit. Grandpa needed to suck down the last of his homemade cigarettes. Grandma was feeling the heat and using the bottom of her shirt as a fan, revealing more than anyone EVER needed to see. Their daughter, her husband, and two kids had come along to see them off. It was more like the teen father was using the time to practice his screaming voice on the children. What did I learn while I was watching this (I got to hear all this since apparently screaming is the only volume known there) - Grandpa didn't wear shoes until he was nine. The daughter then announced that she got her first period during her first trip on an airplane. As I live and breathe, I'm not lying. Upon hearing that, I went back into the terminal, wishing for the sweet relief of death. Instead, I got to see the return flight leave and see the lights turned off in an airport terminal. Never seen that. My coworkers finally got me and it was off to the haunted hotel. Again, I told you it was a weird week. The next day was fairly normal and flew out of Columbus, OH, and got home fine.

Today I once again weirded out while giving blood. There was a blood drive at work and I made sure I had eaten well before my donation time. All was well until just before they were removing the needle. All of the sudden I got wicked hot...and on came the cold compresses and the chair went into full recline mood. No passing out this time but felt just as stupid. I have got to figure out why that's happening.

So no run tonight. CAL has announced she wants to run a race with me in October in Charlotte, NC, so we'll start that training shortly. That's going to be fun.

09 August 2009

A few days away

As our children grow older, it's gotten a bit more challenging for the stunningly patient SML and I to find a time when the five of us can get away, even for a couple of days. Knowing that this is probably the last summer where we will all be together for awhile, as Our Lady of BYU will probably spend more time at school next spring/summer, we drew a line in the sand and blocked off a couple of days. Those days came up this past week.

We loaded up the family cruiser on Thursday and started driving. We drove past O'Hare without stopping, much to my chagrin. We had about 400 miles of road ahead of us - the Cleveland, Ohio, area as our final destination, and I was already wishing we'd flown. Fortunately, the drive is pretty much a straight shot from Chicagoland to the Paris of the Midwest, or as it is better known, the Mistake by the Lake. Some insights from the drive - northern Indiana is one huge cornfield and the rest stops in northern Ohio are pretty fancy pants.

We stayed a couple of days in Mentor, OH. Some wonderful friends own a charming, small hotel, the Lawnfield Inn, there and that's where we nested. The hotel was perfectly situated for what we were doing in Mentor. Mentor is next door to Kirtland, OH, and we were visiting several sights of historical importance to our Church. We spent Friday touring historic Kirtland and the surrounding areas. It was a cool and humbling experience to walk in the footsteps of those who literally gave all in order to see the Church established. We had a good time as a family. We capped the evening with dinner with friends at their home in Kirtland. So good to see Jess and A.D. - it was a fantastic summer's night, so we ate outside, pizzas from the grill. Awesome! We are so blessed to have good friends, all over the world.

Saturday we made our way to Cedar Point, northern Ohio's amusement park and thrill ride capital. Several things conspired against us here - nonstop rain, a distinct lack of exposed tattoos in our family, and no exposed muffin tops.
I only had the stomach to show a drawn rendition of the horror that was the crowd there. This image, from a t-shirt, doesn't do what was on display yesterday justice and photos would only serve to harm you, trust me. Why? Because most of the horror on display was accompanied by ill-fitting short shorts. Do these people not have mirrors? Or was there just a big fire sale on fun house mirrors down at the local Big Lots? It really was appalling. And then there was the cavalcade of tats. Each one increasingly worse than the next. Wow.

And I'd like to point out that this visual assault started at the parking lot and never let up. Just like the rain. It was raining the entire time, which was a drag because it shut down almost all the roller coasters. We rode two - Raptor and Blue Streak. The lines were wicked long as they were the only ones working and once we realized there was not going to be a let up in the rain, we headed home. Fairly painless drive home. It was good to be together. And now it's Sunday and I've been up since 430AM. Nice.

05 August 2009

"Fasten Your Seatbelts"

I spend entirely too much time on planes and as a result, there's a lot I really don't care about anymore while on board. If the video is broken on a short flight, it's no big deal. Just get me there as close to on time as possible and in one piece, it's all good. I do, however, pay attention to what it takes to get me there in one piece. I count the rows of seats from my seat to the exit rows. I watch the "safety ballet" whether it's live or on video from the flight attendants. And the thing I always do...I keep my seat belt fastened at all times. Why? Because I don't need my head making a wicked indentation on a ceiling panel in a Boeing or Airbus. I give you Exhibit A:
Scene inside Continental Airlines #128

This is what happens when you don't keep your seat belt fastened and you mow through some clear air turbulence. You and everything that isn't nailed down becomes a projectile. And not a soft, Nerf-like projectile. You get hurt and you hurt people around you. So then your plane gets to make a costly diversion and you get to ride off the plane on a stretcher. I give you Exhibit B (more fun from inside Continental #128):

I've had more than one run-in with clear air turbulence. Seeing a flight attendant tossed from the galley to the other side of the galley stays with you. So, keep your seat belt fastened. I really don't want you crashing down on me.

Had a decent longer run this afternoon. Five miles. It was a little warm and I had four water bottles on my fuel belt and that was too many. I need to figure out what's appropriate to carry on these longer runs. It wasn't a humid run, but it was great to have the sun pouring down on me. It was just good to be outside. August is already here, which given the last three seasons here in Chicagoland, can only mean that winter is around the corner. I kid (kind of), but I know I need to enjoy the outdoor runs for as long as I can!

02 August 2009

Sunday Mash-up

Sunday is winding down. How this is a day of rest is beyond me...well, at least it's a respite from work and all the temporal stuff. But, let's not fool anyone, this is no day of rest. It has been a good day though. Plenty of good religion and fellowship with a lot of really good people at church today. I like days like that.

It's been a good couple of days as well. After work on Thursday, I drove north up into Wisconsin, through a charming thunderstorm, on my way to meet the Boy at Scout Camp. By the time I got there, the storm had passed and I set up my tent, inflated my air mattress and made my own little "Four Seasons" in the woods. OK, that's a bit delusional, but it's what I had to keep telling myself so as not to go insane. It was really good to see the Boy as he'd been gone for five days at this point. He and buddies had had a really good time and for that I was glad. He's a much better camper at 13 than I was (I hated, HATED, HATED Scout Camp). He's just a much different kid than I was and that's good. Have to admit I slept surprisingly well and the boys were off early Friday to clinics. The Boy's Scoutmaster and I decided to go out for a run. This was not a wise pairing. He's an amazing athlete and I am a train-wreck runner. But off we went anyway. I kept up with him for our first mile and then, as I told him, we went our own directions. Well, we went the same direction, I just went a lot slower. Anyway, it was a hilly run through the Wisconsin cornfields. I did about 6.5 miles and found that I really dug a good long run. It was slow, but it was good. The weather was just about perfect. Warm, but not hot, and no stifling humidity. I found running by the farms to be very centering and calming.

I also liked the challenge of getting through a long run. I did a lot of talking to myself. The cows must have thought I was a maniac. My one mistake was not bringing my new "Fuel Belt" with me. I brought no water and that was kind of stupid. It was really stupid. I need to call a spade a spade here. Anyway, after the run, a shower, even a scout camp one, was in order. I have to give props to whoever designed these showers though - hot water instantly and open to the sky. It was very cool. The afternoon was quiet as the boys wrapped up the last of their classes. Closed the night at the agonizing closing event, which included the usual array of lamer than anything skits and songs. Again, it all reminded me why I could never get behind the whole Scout thing as a kid. At this point, the boys were ready to go home so it wasn't too tough to convince them to get some rest so we could leave early Saturday. Which is precisely what we did.

We got home by noon on Saturday. The stunningly patient SML had been in the City for the day in the Mexican area called Little Village. She bought a lot of outstanding pork and chorizo and corn tortillas. We had a veritable feast when she got home. Sadly, I nearly lost it all when she and I and the Boy went to see the "Transformers" sequel. It was hideous. 30 minutes in, I was begging to leave. I spent the last two hours of the film crafting a class action lawsuit against Michael Bay, the director, in my head. I want justice.

And now, it's Sunday night. I get to fill out school registration forms now. What a way to close the weekend. Nice.