28 May 2010

Summer BBQ Season Begins

The first couple of days of this week were pretty brutal from a weather perspective - wicked hot and humid. We were spoiled last summer with mild, mild temps and milder humidity and it appeared that now Mother Nature was going to exercise some justice. Mercifully, it would seem that She's eased up a bit. The past couple of days have been gorgeous and today was stunning. Stunning.

I had to grab a train into the city for some meetings at the sublime and wonderfully understated Peninsula Hotel Chicago and I relished the opportunity to walk from Union Station up to the hotel. Not a cloud in the blue, blue sky, temps in the low 70's and the sun shimmering off Lake Michigan - perfect day for walking the city. Made me once again declare how much I dig living here. I also was able to ride back and forth on the train with a good friend - it was good to catch up and served as a further reminder about how good it is to live here.

Our offices closed early today and the weather was crying out, no, demanding, a barbecue. I was more than happy to acquiesce. But it wasn't going to be the usual burgers, ribs, or chicken. Instead it was this:
Pizzas on the grill

These really could not be simpler. Just throw together a pizza dough, although I wouldn't go with one that requires a dusting of cornmeal, and toss it on the grill. Make sure you oil the grill. Many thanks to Steve Raichlen of the Barbecue Bible fame for this cool tip - use half an onion to oil the grill. I just dip it in olive oil, stab it, and oil up the grates:
Stabbed Oiling Onion

So we each prepared what we wanted on our pizzas, topped them, and tossed them back on the grill. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML created this traditional one:
Pepperoni and Pineapple

CAL did a very traditional BBQ Chicken and I had to spice mine up:
Chorizo and Orange Pepper

It was two steps to the table since we ate outside. As far as outdoor dinners go, it rocked. Gorgeous evening. The long Memorial Day weekend looks to be a great one. I'm looking forward to it. Life is good.

26 May 2010

"Moving On" Ceremony

Another milestone was reached here in the Den today as the Boy graduated from junior high school. Forgive me for referencing "graduation" as, apparently, it must be called a "moving on" ceremony. The word "graduation" was nowhere to be seen at today's event. I don't know if it's been banned or made illegal (I mean it's not like we live in Arizona, where the creation of insane laws - and you know which one I'm talking about - remember to have your passport at the ready at all times there - has been raised to a sick art form), but it was all about moving on today. Some thoughts on today's event:

- Having the ceremony in an unairconditioned junior high gymnasium was brilliant, especially in what has been the hottest and most humid week of the entire year!
- Jamming hundreds of parents into said sweatbox, blocking all exits was an even more brilliant idea. The Fire Marshall would have had an epic seizure had he shown up.
- Kudos to the parents who shopped the big blowout sale at "Whores 'R Us" for the dresses many of the girls were wearing. Unbelievable!
- And props to the parent that let their 8th grade daughter get a tattoo. Wow...well done. Seriously.

Now, the Boy. He's a good kid. He's closer to 15 years old now and he's growing up. He makes us enormously proud. He really does. He brings us a tremendous amount of happiness. He's a typical teen-age boy and some of the stuff he does makes us shake our heads. But you know what, he's just plain awesome. He's pretty much ready for high school. His sister, CAL, will be a senior as he enters his freshman year. I'm sure she'll roll out the 'welcome mat' for him. She'll have to, otherwise I'll take her car away from her. It's good to be the dad.

We'll wrap up the night going out to dinner to celebrate the Boy's day. It's been a good day.

23 May 2010

Delta Rae - Give them a listen!

Earlier this week, I posted a note on my Facebook page about the release of an EP by a band called Delta Rae. Why did I do that?

1) They are a really good band
2) They are proof that musical talent skips generations

What? The siblings that constitute three of the four members of the band, the family Holljes, are my second cousins. They are gifted, talented musicians. I am none of those things. I am really impressed with what they are doing. You can find them by clicking on any of these links: MySpace Music, iTunes, and Amazon.

I haven't used this blog to really shill for anything, but I'm shilling here, shamelessly. Give Delta Rae and listen and buy their EP. "Holding On to Good" and "Darlin' If" are really fantastic. Check them out playing "Holding On to Good" here:

Lots of good here. Tell your friends about these guys! Now, I need them to play some dates in Chicago!

21 May 2010

Friday (Not) Funny

As I scroll through Blogger using the "next blog" feature, on Fridays, a lot of blogs feature a "Friday Funny." Usually some kind of video, cartoon, or a NSFW picture. Nice.

I'm going to contribute my own today, on this Friday:

Why this and why does it make for the Friday (Not) Funny? Well, let's see...

I had a physical today. There was an unexpected surprise.
EKG was excellent
BP was excellent
Weight was fine
Everything was going along fine. Until she mentioned the change in prostate testing. That's when things became decidedly unfunny. Turns out, the age for prostate testing has come down from 50 to a couple of times while in your 40's. Lovely. Since I'm sliding (bad choice of word) into to my mid-40's, it was time for the snapping of the rubber glove.

So she calls in her nurse and the not fun began. Wearing the paper gown that I could not tie properly, I get told to lay face down across the exam table and that I'm going to feel some pressure. Any of you familiar with Brian Regan and his awesome routine about your doctor telling you're going to feel some pressure, you know no good can come from that statement. This was especially true now, given where the doctor was heading. I won't go into further detail, but let's just say, pressure was felt and it was highly unpleasant. Nothing funny about it. Nothing at all. I'll say this, that exam makes for a fine torture tactic. Maybe the fascists running Arizona will employ this to get suspected illegal immigrants to show their papers...

And that little adventure set the tone for the rest of my day. Lovely. I hope that the day does close on a funny note. With the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML out of town still at her work conference, CAL, the Boy and I are going to get some dinner and go see "Shrek Forever After." I hope it doesn't blow.

19 May 2010

Bummed about Bangkok

The ongoing political crisis in Bangkok, Thailand has been particularly poignant for me to watch. The last time I was in Bangkok, the "red shirts" were protesting bur had not yet built their city fortresses. It seemed like mild street protesting. I even walked through one of the protests to get to my tailor. I mean I had to get my new suit! And not once did I feel threatened.

The hotel I stayed at, the Centara Grand at Central World, is connected to Central World, one of the sites that was set aflame as the protests drew to their tragic end, and now, according to the Bangkok Post, it is on the verge of collapse. This picture shows the heavy plumes of black smoke emerging from Central World:

These events are tragic. The Thai people are truly some of the most peaceful, decent people I have ever met. I think much of that can be attributed to the Buddhist faith and their embrace of peace that makes the Thai people so amazing. I also think that is what kept these months of protest from turning into something much worse than what it already is. It's been a terrible thing but it could have been a far more horrendous bloodbath.

It's not over yet, according to the latest in The New York Times. I hope that this can be resolved without further bloodshed. The Thai people deserve it.

15 May 2010

Quality pictures from the Half

The one thing I chose to splurge on from my first Half was the photo CD. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Here's some images the photographers caught of me:
At this point, I was totally wondering why I'd even signed up for this.

Now, I know why I did it...just onto the U of I field and heading for the finish line

I'm almost done!

So that last shot made me look like a complete spastic, but after 13.1 miles, I could have cared less. Seriously. I am so glad I did this. Can't wait for the next one!

14 May 2010

Lighten up, it's Friday

It's Friday afternoon and it's been one long week at work. I'm so glad that I am able to work from home as frequently and consistently as I do. I'd have gone completely out of my mind had I been in the office all week.

We all have days that make you wonder why you got up and even bothered to go to work. Days that are stressful, etc. It's good to be able to let off a bit of that off. I can run at lunch. Did so today and it was good. And then, thanks to the reservoir of stupidity that is the internet, there are things like this that will always make you laugh:

This thing slays me, no matter how many times I've seen it. Every.Single.Time. It kills me. Kind of like the movie "Dodgeball," when Justin takes a wrench to the head from Patches O'Houlihan. It just doesn't get any better.

So lighten up. It's Friday. Enjoy it.

09 May 2010

Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day and all's quiet here in the Den. It should be after the lunch we had to honor the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. And thanks to Mother United to getting me home 2 1/2 hours ealier than expected yesterday, I actually had time to get a little prepared for the events of this day.

My pre-Church meetings were canceled this morning, which allowed us to ready breakfast in bed for our honoree. The Boy wanted to make breakfast, which consisted of dropping two waffles in the toaster and smearing them with peanut butter. My gift was not vomiting at the site or the smell. If you've not heard, I have a legendary revulsion to peanut butter. It's epic, but I digress. So, with the plate of peanut butter smeared waffles far enough from me so as not to make me puke, the Boy and I went upstairs, woke up CAL so she could be a part of the festivities and in we went to celebrate the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. So cards and gifts were given, the waffles were enjoyed and then it was off to the races - Church.

Sidebar - I conducted services today and it was pathetic. Because I have a cold that has settled in my throat and I pretty much sound like Peter Brady when his voice cracked. You know the episode and you know the song. Sing it with me: "When it's time to change!"

Anyway, after Church, we set up the dining room for lunch. I cooked a roast (well, the crock pot did), Hassleback potatoes (red potatoes with slices of garlic jammed in them, covered in olive oil and sea salt), and carrots, plus rolls. We'll have dessert later - a lemon poppyseed bundt cake - as we watch the finale of "The Amazing Race." PS - if the bigoted and ignorant Caite and Brent win, I will...well, to say be sorely disappointed does not even begin to cover it.

I'm grateful that my three children have been blessed with an amazing mother. They are who they are because of her - truly. And I am most grateful for the examples of motherhood that have profoundly impacted me - my own mother and my mother-in-law. They are amazing women and their influence for good has been and still is, profound. I am fortunate to have them in my life.

I am, however, fortunate not to have these two as mothers in my life:
Lucille Bluth of "Arrested Development" - Fox's finest hour. Ever. Brilliant. If you haven't watched her in action, you need to. You'll call your mother and thank her for all she's done for you.
Colleen Donaghy of "30 Rock" - More brilliant than the aforementioned Lucille Bluth.

I will watch every one of her appearances on the show over and over. Her relationship with son Jack is hysterical. She blames him for JFK's death and tried to send him to Vietnam when he was 12 to make him a man. He believes she faked a heart attack to ruin his first honeymoon. He accidentally ran her over and broke her hip. Jack once said to her, "Mother, there are terrorist cells that are more nurturing than you are."

That, my friends, is genius. Pure genius. And it reminds me why I am so blessed to have the mom that I do. She is amazing and wonderful. I could not have asked for a better mother-in-law. She raised an incredible daughter, who continues to stand by me and make me a better man. And for that I am forever thankful.

07 May 2010

Hoppin' Friday Night at ORD

Hindsight is 20/20, right? Yes, yes it is. I'm being reminded of that as we speak. I am in the Red Carpet Club at ORD with my mom, waiting for our flight back to PHX. When I booked this flight, it seemed like a good idea. It really did. It was not. Here's why...

My day started at 430AM. Woke up to a nice, Midwest thunderstorm but found I could not go back to sleep. So I was at my office desk by 500AM and there I pretty much stayed until 4PM. Long, busy day but I had booked a later flight so I could get in a full day, and I I got my wish. the kids had a half day so Mom wanted very much to take them to a movie before we left and she did that. She also wanted to take us to an early dinner at Courtney's workplace, and we did that. You get the picture - she's had a big day.

Now that winter is over and highway construction season is in full swing, our routes to ORD are chock-a-block with traffic. So I wanted to give ourselves ample time to get there. We got the airport just before 6PM and got checked in and then began the wait for a wheelchair. Apparently every person in need of a wheelchair decided to fly tonight. So when the guy showed up with the chair, my mom and I both did a double-take. He needed the chair more than most. But he was here and ready to push (well, kind of push - it was more like Tim Conway's 'Oldest Man' shuffle from the 'Carol Burnett Show'). It took us close to 30 minutes to shuffle from the B Concourse to where we are now on the C Concourse. And it's madness here...lots of flights canceled or delayed tonight, and tragedy of tragedies for those who drink white wine, they ran out of the "House White" and based in the epic fit one guy was throwing, apparently that's bad thing (another reason I'm glad I don't drink).

So our flight is showing on time but we don't land in PHX until 1030PM. It's going to be a long, long day for Mom, when all is said and done. Like I said, it sounded like a good idea at the time, when I booked this flight. Here's hoping we get out on time...

05 May 2010

Viva Cinco de Mayo!

A todos mis amigos, les digo 'Feliz Cinco de Mayo!'

So it's Cinco de Mayo and I'm pretty pleased about this day. I like this holiday, and that's what it is, a lot. Good food and good friends together make for a great day.

The house is filled with the aroma of chalupa. The tortillas - corn and flour - are ready to go. Chips are everywhere. There's a pinata and Mexican flags. We are ready.

What we don't have are the following:

And since I'd rather ram a fork in my eye than listen to mariachi music, I'm really fine with the lack of roaming mariachis.

So head to your nearest taco shop and enjoy Cinco de Mayo!

01 May 2010

Illinois (Half) Marathon Weekend Report

Unless you've never stepped into the Den and read a post or two, you know that I've bee preparing for my first half marathon. That half went down today at the University of Illinois in Champaign as a part of the Illinois Marathon. Here's a recap of the weekend:

Friday, April 30
Took this day off so we could get down to Champaign with time to pick up my race packet and to check out the Expo, as well as figure out the parking situation for Saturday. My Mom is with us and given the area they'd be covering as spectators, we had a wheelchair so Mom could be "Ironsides" for the day.

I got in a 2.25 mile final run, got my hair cut (as if that would streamline things a bit more), and then we started down for Champaign around 11AM. The kids got to take the day off from school, for which they were delighted. On the way down, we stopped in Kankakee, a mistake we will never make again. Ever.

Once in Champaign, we checked into the hotel, got my Mom settled, and the kids and I went over to the U of I. Got my bib, shirt, and signed up with a pace team for Saturday. Found out that there were something like 15,000 runners expected for the various events associated with the Marathon, so suffice to say, the Champaign-Urbana (C-U) area was under siege. This made dinner interesting. We had as many as 15 people in our party for dinner (two other families that were running). Not a lot in C-U can handle such a party. It doesn't help that the place has never met a chain restaurant it doesn't like. Anyway, we had dinner and then decided to call it a night. I wanted to get to bed early. I'd had two lousy nights of sleep prior to Friday, so a good night's rest sounded like a capital idea. Before calling it a night though, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, CAL, the Boy and my Mom threw a little "Half" party for me. All gifts were half - like one running sock instead of two or a half-filled bottle of Propel. It was pretty funny. Apparently, I'll have to run another half. My Mom did write and read, pretty much on the spot, this poem:

There once was a young man named Mike
Who seemingly everyone liked
He decided to race
Could he keep up the pace?
Perhaps he should be riding a bike!

He trained hard and ran many miles
He found that he ran his own style
A half marathon he did run
And he found it was fun
And despite many blisters he smiled and won

Enjoy the gifts of half
Because you're running a half!

Truly the work of a really good mom. With that reading, I was done and called it a night.

Saturday, May 1
The race was due to start at 7:30AM. So we packed up and headed over by 6:30AM. After the 5K group went out at 7:00AM, we took our positions. I'd found my pace group and started to get antsy. I'd prepared months for this moment and now it was here. We were due to go at 7:30AM but the gun didn't fire until about 7:40AM. I didn't cross the start line until 7:44AM or so, and then we were off. It was somewhat humid this morning and it turned steamy as the sun rose. My first five miles were dead on pace, either just under 10 minute miles or right around 10:18, which was ideal, since that was the pace group time. After about five miles, I needed to cut back a little bit and then at mile six, this thing turned into the Bataan Death March. The one mile from six to seven was ridiculously hard for me. My legs suddenly felt like they weighed a ton of bricks. I dragged them to seven miles and then began the process of working to recover from that mile. That never happened. Ultimately, things were just a little off for me. I did a lot of talking to myself, pushing myself along to mile 10, and then after mile 10, I started feeling like a runner again.

With about two miles to go, the U of I football stadium came into view and I knew I was going to finish this thing. The finish line was on the 50 yard line and as I ran up the walk to the entry area to go into the field, I have to admit I got a little emotional. I was really going to finish! Turning the corner into the chute, the JumboTron came into view and I could see the runners ahead of me on the screen. I looked up and saw the race clock and realized I was going to make the time goal I had originally set when I decided to run this race - 2:30:00. I could feel the smile busting across my face as I ran in. It was awesome. And what a feeling when the volunteer handed me my medal. Oh my gravy! I'd done it! And then I looked up in the stands and saw my family, waving a poster, cheering me in.

So I did it. My time was 2:30:08/pace 11:28 per mile. I'm proud that I finished this run. Would I have liked to have done better? Absolutely. Two weeks ago, I ran nine miles at a minute faster pace. Suffice to say, I learned a lot. I liked what I did today. Will I do it again? Yeah. Will I do a full? Probably.

Here's a few shots, post race:

So 13.1 miles, no blisters, all my toe nails accounted for, and one great hour-long massage later, I'm done. I'm tired. It's been a long, great day. I ran a half marathon. Unbelievable.