Not everything in nature has a function

My partner and I adopted a third, and final, cat over the Summer. This tiny little black and white animal named Arturo. It’s been fun to watch our other two Texas cats warm up to him accepting him into their respective territories within our little storefront loft above 3rd and Main St here in downtown Columbus.

Our months have been filled with the anecdotes of his development. Little behaviors like shadowing Monkey everywhere, chasing Helen down the hallway and then the toys. One in particular is an artifact from when Monkey was a kitten. Arturo will pick up this 2-foot-long plastic wand in his mouth as the feathery boa part trails behind him. Sometimes he charges the carpet with the wand part as if it were a lance. Other times he’ll bring it to one of us, drop it, then gently tap at our legs or arms wanting us to play with him and his toy. He gets so worked up chasing the feather boa that he actually snorts and pants while zooming around like a black streak of motion.

There is a quote by Garrison Keillor that goes like this “cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.” I think we’d all do well to find those moments in our lives that just are and not worry about making every minute count. In that regard, cats have the unique power to not only power the internet but remind me to loosen my grip a little and just let things be.

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Posted in general

Because I can today

Last week was a great one running wise. I did both the Hot Chocolate 15k and then my first Turkey Trot 5 miler on Thanksgiving morning. I noticed that one of my fellow runners in the 5 miler has a tagline on his Strava profile of “I run because one day I won’t be able to – but today is not that day.” Seeing that made perfect sense to me. As a heart attack survivor you are left with lots of feelings. One of them being the very real fear of a second event. Running has given me a great deal of stress relief from these feelings while at the same time something I can never take for granted.

The phrase is true to how I feel about training for a marathon right now. I’m using a plan I found on Strava for this with three runs, 1 long 1 fartlek and 1 easy, and two cross training workouts per week. Things are going pretty well with that so far and the weather is holding out to a degree so it’s not as unpleasant as it could be.

Come to think of it… I might have a T-shirt made up for the marathon in February with that guy’s slogan on it. It’s definitely my current mantra at the moment.

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Gifts

There is a lady who I see every week at the Starbucks near where I work in downtown Columbus. She’s always upbeat and cordial. I ran into her while voting recently as she was volunteering at my local precinct. Same smile and warm manner.

I ran into her again yesterday where she came out to greet me while I was waiting for my order. She told me three Thanksgiving stories with her husband. The first ended with his cancer diagnosis at Thanksgiving and painful treatment afterwards. The second Thanksgiving came with more bad news and cost him his right arm. Finally, the third, came with no more cancer. The first year they’ve been given a respite from the horrible disease that has taken so many folks I’ve known over my lifetime. The same disease that has made some of my family members lives complicated at best if not painful, dangerous and harrowing.

I was left thinking about how we tell stories. What is it that makes us spontaneously open up to one another and share such beautiful moments? Stories of survival basically made from hope. We have an unending capacity to change and redefine ourselves in the face of even the darkest situations. Of course sometimes we need others to remind us of this. Sharing these experiences is nothing less than one of the most precious gifts we can give to each other.

As the Holiday Season kicks off tomorrow I’ll be spending my time with a small group of family in Columbus thinking of all the people who have touched me over 2016… feeling both lucky to be here and grateful for all the love shared between family, friends and strangers.

dart

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Over the river and through the woods…

And so it’s the week of November 24, 2016. It’s been a full year. I’ve had multiple family members go through major medical procedures, lost my father in law, ran my longest run of 20 miles, enjoyed a great professional year & even visited both Dallas and New Orleans with the AHA while marking my year anniversary as a vegetarian for heart health reasons.

While it’s been relatively easy to make the switch between meat to a plant based diet it is significantly more difficult to cut out fat based dairy. Including all that amazing cheese I used to freely enjoy without guilt and fear. Given the effects of dairy fat on cardiac health however I am motivated to continue the elimination process of these products.

It was however during a “pie off,” at the office I am contracting out of, that I had an opportunity to work with cashews and silken tofu for the first time in the creation of a vegan pumpkin pie with pecan streusel. Over the past year I’ve had a couple misguided friends tell me that this or that brand of vegan cheese “is great and you can’t tell the difference.” I tried a few only to find myself completely disillusioned with the meaning of life.

There are no vegan equivalents for cheese, meat or cream and that’s OK. This thought reminds me of a bit I read in the NY Times food section recently about offering vegan meat substitutes to guests over the Holidays. The suggestion was to avoid that temptation. You have to think about vegetables in the most basic of ways… enjoying them as they are and as a main course. Some folks have the moral advantage driving various food choices. As a former meat based foodie I believe you should enjoy what you want to and push your culinary boundaries every chance you get. This made the shift to a plant based diet a little challenging for me at first. In the end and along the way however experiments like these really help to reset my relationship with food a bit further and give me a deeper understanding of how good plant based living can truly be..

The vegan pumpkin pie was not an exact match but it’s cheesecake like texture, the streusel and the graham cracker crust worked so well together that it was something that I would look to repeat again and maybe play on with fruits or chocolate.

This is the original article posted in the New York Times “Can you bake a vegan pie” by Tara Parker-Pope was really great. I’d highly recommend trying it even if you aren’t vegan.

I am truly grateful for all my family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

untopped topped

Posted in food

It begins

2015 was the year I discovered how much I enjoyed running. It was also a year that came with more than my share of lessons. One of them was that once Winter started to take hold of Central Ohio my motivation seemed to retreat with it. I kept up with my cardio workouts at the YMCA well enough but my progress definitely took a nose dive. So I signed up for a string of races all the way through Spring of next year in an effort to keep me running outdoors whatever the weather, within reason, confronts me with.

This past weekend I completed my first of these runs in Columbus. The Hot Chocolate 15k which I ran with my cousin last year. It was one of those very cold and windy Ohio mornings. I was however bundled up in thermal tights and 3 upper layers with gloves and ear muffs. I could still feel it but it was good motivation to keep moving to stay warm.

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In the end I completed beating my last year’s finishing time feeling like I could have gone a little harder. But I was not spent afterwards either which was great because I had separate lunch and dinner plans. It bears repeating that my goal is not speed or anything. I just want to be there, to complete the races and improve if possible while enjoying every minute of the challenge and making good memories along the way.

Yesterday I did just that and it makes me excited for all the other races and training runs on my goals list for as long as I can do them.

Hot-Chocolate-15k-11202016

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Being there

We’ve all been there. Juggling multiple clients, supporting sales efforts, allocating lunches to colleagues and clients, going to tech events, pursuing professional certifications, education goals, slicing out work time from family and personal endeavors to keep ahead of the ever moving curve. With our demanding work schedule, it’s all too easy to slide into patterns of what look like multi-tasking but in fact end up being switch tasking. This practice can become a serious drag under the false pretense of productivity gain. As if that were not bad enough we often times box ourselves so far into corners that we lose focus on the immediate job at hand. Including the people around us.

I propose that it’s people, starting with ourselves, who are the most important part of all business interaction. If we make a conscious effort to regard each other and ourselves it will only help to make everyone we work with more successful. I will cover three different milestones of my career to date where I learned a distinct skill that, I believe, has helped me to be a stronger coworker for my home office and consultant to my clients.

It was the mid 1990’s and I had freshly completed a calculated track of managing a fine wine shop, worked white table cloth restaurant service and even a private club. I wanted to live the life of a salesman for a wine distributor going from place to place with a price book, point of sale and a sample bag. The company I worked with was a statewide very fine wine oriented small independent free spirited and highly creative outfit. It was the best small family organization in Ohio. Management taught us how to tell stories. How to get to know people and forge strong relationships based on mutual interests and trust. They would also send us out to various wine country regions to spend time with vintners, growers and the land where all these stellar wines were coming from. Preston, Chalone, Acacia, Carmenet, St Supery… and the list just went on from there.

We listened to people’s stories about the artful process of making wine and we brought those back, along with our enthusiasm, to share with our clients. They in turn shared this information with their customers. It was a great circle of storytelling and enjoyment to be a part of… one that I’m grateful for every single day as it made me part of the person who I am today. Even now as a developer I am first interested in my client’s story. Who they are as a person. The organization and the people within it. I find that my time as a wine salesman in the 1990’s has made me a people focused individual.

As time went on and national deals were made a larger privately owned distributor decided to purchase the company I worked for as a gem in the crown of their fine wine portfolio. I had been studying Linux and computer programming on my own but didn’t feel inclined to jump into the Dot Com party as it was not where my heart was. With the purchase and merger though I felt that I could be of more help from within and decided to help at first with the data migration initiative and then system operations. I was quickly promoted to be a developer for the local State office where I built reporting and web tools using the LAMP stack.

It was however when I implemented a State Wide Open Source document management and collaboration system for the larger company that I caught the eye of the corporate office in Dallas Texas. Again with the storytelling that I held so dear. So I was offered a job and moved my family Southwest. I learned Java and worked with the Spring framework. Coming from a PHP background the whole OO thing was a learning curve… but I still believed that there were no problems that could not be solved.

Then came SharePoint 2007. I took the job of growing the framework within the corporate environment toward it’s general release to the larger Nationwide company. It was the wild west in a lot of respects. In any large organization you get pulled in 19 different directions by people who are all equally important. This is when I read a book called “Conversationally Speaking” in an effort to level up my conflict resolution and communication skills. I still use one specific technique called active listening while working with people. You basically listen to another person talk. Listen without interruption. Without finishing their sentences or inserting words. Without looking at your phone or wearable device for email alerts. You just shut the Hell up and focus all your attention on the most important person, the one talking. Once she/he is done you deliver a thoughtful response always leading with something like “What I think I heard you say is <insert some of the speakers own dialogue here in your own words>. The technique can be used to let the other person know you heard what they said. It will help you in requirements gathering, negotiating, and in cases where friction exists among many other situations.

I learned that combining the technique of storytelling with active listening made me a much more powerful employee. I was suddenly better equipped to move seamlessly between departments, mangers, coworkers and contractors as we moved toward our ever changing goals.

Toward the end of the of the 2000’s I got a job offer that was too good to turn down back in Ohio. So I packed up my family once more and we headed home. It was difficult to leave in some respects as Texas had grown dear to me but I always honor my time there and think of it as some of my most pivotal years. While they came with a health cost, as I had become sedentary while working in a high stress culture and having developed a fondness for BBQ, I would not change a thing.

Working as a consultant for a Microsoft Partner was totally exciting. I was no longer bound by legacy code or risk averse management who were slow, if not hostile toward, change. I was all over the place in the technology field. Still working with SharePoint but with a much broader scope, it was everything I wanted and more.

Then came the heart attack.

While I suffered no damage it really made me reevaluate everything from the ground up. After a short break I went back to work a changing man. I started to listen to myself the same way I listen to everyone I work with around me. In that moment I learned mindfulness. For me it’s taking 10 minutes to listen to myself breath. Be present. I used the Meditation for Kids Elevator Meditation a lot. As time went on I was able to do this on demand quietly. I can now use it in meetings to re center myself. At my computer terminal while working in Visual Studio. And even while doing production deployments with my team to keep a calm steady tone present. It reminds me of running in some regards … that feeling of total peace you experience as your shoes rhythmically hit the pavement and sweat drips from every surface of your body as the sun beats down on you. It’s a little bit of Nirvana in a handful of moments.

We all know that keeping our cool and presenting ourselves in a professional manner is key to success at all times. These are the three techniques I use every day. Some of my coworkers have commented on how envious they are of how “you always keep your cool” and that “nothing bothers you.” Well that’s not entirely true as I am what is called a hot reactor by nature. But with the techniques I’ve honed over the past two decades I have been able to wrest control of myself from myself and it’s responsible for all my success both personally and professionally.

There’s an old 1970’s movie called “Being There” which is what this post is titled after. The main character is an ambiguously functional individual who you never know if he’s intellectually disabled or not. But he proceeds to shine in various high profile situations and even walks on water at the end of the film. The moral of the film as they state is that “life is a state of mind.” It’s a great metaphor in relation to using tools that help us communicate with each other while being totally present at the same time.

It takes a good story teller, a great listener and a present mind to make ourselves, and all around us, successful.

being-there

Posted in general

How President Elect Trump helped me rediscover my center

Like most of the Country I was just as shocked as everyone else was when Trump became the next in line to become the 45th President of the US. My initial reaction was in tune with my normal posture of optimism with the vantage point of politics not being, directly, about us. As such whatever happens-happens and is not worth getting all whipped up over. That lasted for a couple days as everyone else began to cry, gloat, shout, protest and scream around me.

As things unfolded I had a moment of total despair while thinking about all the things the minorities, including my own GLBTQ communities, stand to lose. One of my oldest friends indirectly, and quite involuntarily, helped me through that though. It was not a particularly graceful conversation on my part. I delivered an apology later. After that night I was faced with the realization that the next four to eight years are probably going to be a very dark period in American history… or just another Republican economic crisis that we’ll have to fix… or who knows what since those events have yet to unfold.

What was clear though was that I needed to throttle my exposure to social media users… myself included. I still believe the platforms are a great way to remain connected based on my Texas days where FaceBook became a vehicle to communicate my experience over a long distances back home. I could not, however, overlook the fact that it was increasingly a Dark MirrorWaldo Moment” dialogue in my life. I felt, increasingly, as if I were too much of the reactive hype – of which there is an abundance currently. It was time to take a hard look at myself and re-center.

With Trump, his supporters and the folks railing against him trolling down my FaceBook feed… I had to do something to keep my balance. So I deactivated my account for four days in order to spare myself the temptation of venting. It was while I was away in NOLA doing something noteworthy, and important to me personally, within the heart disease community that I decided I would try and tweak my relationship to social media. It’s a great tool. It’s also a great way to quickly touch base with actual friends and family. It becomes less useful, if not outright destructive, when you start seeing more “news,” sales and special interest related posts.

So I had already begun an effort to remove all my commercial and media related “likes” which had dramatically improved my feeds. But I needed a new way to use the platforms and yet remain a little more at arms length away from it and the political fervor crackling across the feed. I asked a talented front end developer about what his ideas were. That’s when he pointed me to Buffer. It gave me the ability to schedule my posts through a totally separate interface. This is great because it allows me to still participate, share important experiences and promote things that are important and dear to me. And at the same time it provides me with a barrier to the platform. As more distance is what I was looking for… it fit the bill perfectly.

The last tweak I have done has been to consciously log out of the social media platforms. Like all the way. Shutdown. No more phone alerts. Nada. It’s been great. I would never have guessed just how much of a distraction I had allowed this to become. Now, when I do log in, it’s at specific times and I’m looking to catch up with the people I care about most… and then log off again.

The formula has worked so far for me … and I have President Elect Trump to thank for it. Thank you Donald… and good luck!

Balance

Posted in general

New Orleans with the AHA

The folks I work with as a volunteer for the AHA invited me to participate in a new program to be announced later today at the Scientific Sessions here in New Orleans. Working as a volunteer moderator for the AHA Support Network has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done between 2015 & 2016. Talking with folks going through what I did, or worse, has given me a chance to look deep inside myself and realign my values. If anything I truly feel gratitude for what each day brings. It’s also given me a chance to look at the people around me and see their strengths and beauty.

This is my first trip to NOLA. I missed my chance to do something romantic when I lived in Dallas like take the Amtrak to NOLA taking in the Texas to Louisiana landscapes and have unknown conversations with strangers along the way because I was “too busy” to slow down. That’s one of those items in the regret bucket which you can’t change. But I finally made it and have met some great folks already, gone for a slow sight seeing run through the French Quarter… which was a little crazy as I was the only one without a cigarette and a cocktail while pacing down Decatur St. The architecture is crazy beautiful as is the vegetation. The people are colorful as are all the shops and restaurants and night time activities on the streets. Toward the end of the day I had a chance to go to a great little vegetarian restaurant called Seed which was fantastic. One Mexican salad, glass of Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon and eggplant Poboy later I headed back to the hotel to call it a night.

I got up pretty early, walked down to Starbucks and then up to the Mississippi where I had breakfast while reflecting on the slow undulating motion of the river. Next up are the Scientific Sessions where I’m scheduled solid from 9 am to 9:45 pm. It’s going be an amazing experience with roughly 14 thousand folks in attendance throughout the whole event.

Arturo wanted to come with Run through the French Quarter Breakfast on the Mississippi Breakfast on the Mississippi Dinner at Seed NOLA's version of the Quickie Mart Sights along the run Bourbon St in running shoes Running through the French Quarter Palms - a native told me these are new post Katrina Hotel view Hotel view

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The journey home

“Sometimes it takes a journey to come home” is a quote I came across while reading on the flight back from Dallas to Columbus last weekend. The American Heart Association had flown a group of us out to tell our stories in preparation for a National conference called the Scientific Sessions in New Orleans the following week. We all had a chance to sit and talk with one another. Together we represented two strokes and three heart attacks. Each one of us under 50… and runners.

One was a 27-year-old stroke survivor who had set her iPhone lock screen to a picture of her brain scan. It was one of those colorful medical imaging things except for one small very white spot that had died. She was the one who had her stroke during a 5k she was running. While she noted a heaviness in her left leg, she ran a good race and came out the other side of the finish line. She kept encountering people asking her if she was OK. Suspecting it was race fatigue she brushed it off until she saw her friend. When she did, she saw the shock of concern looking back at her which told her something was very wrong. It was then that she realized she needed immediate medical attention and soon learned that she was having a stroke.

Another woman I met was a stroke nurse oddly enough. Her event happened while driving in the car with her son who had gone through elective stroke training for school. She told me about the moment she lost control of her left arm. She was talking with her son about it then realized, through his responses, that he could no longer understand her. She’d lost her ability to speak but not her ability to do math. She knew exactly how many brain cells she was losing per minute, 2 million if I recall correctly, during what she knew immediately was a stroke.

Then there was the 39-year-old father, also in the medical field, who realized he was having a heart attack as he battled through the improbability of it happening to him. He was young and in great health. Not possible. But when face to face with it, knowing the signs, he jumped on the situation and acknowledged it to his family. Like the stroke nurse however, he found it difficult to communicate what was happening to him not because he couldn’t speak, but because it was happening to him.

The other person who suffered a heart attack was a woman, also in the health care business, whose condition was brought about by taking birth control. Talk about a whammy after having done everything right, planning and raising a family and… boom. Sadly, her stents developed restenosis and she suffers from chest pain after too much exertion so she’s patiently waiting for her return to the running trails. Oddly enough her Dr suggests that her arteries not as hard as an older person which may be the cause for her stent issue. I was deeply impressed with her ability to take two whammies in stride.

Like me, these people all retreated, briefly, at first. Not fearful but sensing something was deeply wrong. This feeling is hard to explain. Logic, reasoning, denial and emotion all get involved in this conversation. That’s where the fear comes in because it’s a fucking scary conversation to have. When people talk about “a sense of impending doom” … that’s it.

All of the persons at the table were runners. While I was humbly impressed with myself for completing my first year in the sport and putting 4 half marathons under my belt, the father had done 4 marathons over 2 years since his heart attack. The stroke nurse… 12 marathons in a year’s time period. These were serious runners. Not a happy fool like myself who picked up running as a way to slow down my head and balance the moments between cardiac anxiety on top of getting a hopeful health boost along the way.

As we shared our stories there was a point where each one of us had tears in our eyes. I think the stroke nurse joked about it being almost like a support group of sorts. It was when we were talking about those very personal moments we faced the reality of what was happening in the presence of our sons, spouses and friends. It was something like knowing that this may be the last time we see these people, or them us. Every day afterward became a gift. Every Holiday became one more we would not have been there to celebrate. Enter the tears, not crying, but definitely tears on every face when it got to this part of our stories. Five open hearts talking and sharing deeply personal experiences intersecting on love from across the table.

We met as strangers. It’s what the opening Levine quote says to me. “Sometimes it takes a journey to come home.” We were just as powerless as our loved ones to stop what happened. And yet we were at that table in Dallas together.

We met somewhere between the fear on the 27-year-old runner’s friends face and the concern in the 39-year-old father’s son’s eyes as his dad knew exactly what was happening but could not guide him through for once as dad’s do. We met in the recognition of the stroke nurse’s son who could only tell his mom he knew what was happening and then get help as quickly as possible as she calculated the size of the dead space being burned into her brain as the blood flow had stopped. Again in the moment where me and my spouse were sitting in my hospital bed together watching the “Wizard of Oz” the night after my heart attack and stent surgery. Just happy to be there together.

There was another passage in the Levine book about dying “One Year to Live” that I was reading on the plane.

“It is said that we must love ourselves before we can love anybody else, and this is true. But the opposite is equally true: we must love others before we can love ourselves, before we can recognize ourselves. Seeing the universality of our shared condition offers a broader path of healing.”

All five of us walked away from that table as friends who had something amazing in common that day. Love. That is the strange gift inside of any life threatening condition however… and the journey you take to find it and bring it back home.

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R12 Running goals

I had a chance to talk to some fellow runners in Dallas while we were there at the American Heart Association to record some stories for the patient champion initiative of which we are all volunteers. Each one of them renewed my decision to run as many races as I can in order to keep myself on the healthier side of everyday choices. So without further ado here’s my goals for the next R12 (rolling 12 months). The full marathon in February is a big goal as it will be my first of hopefully many. This will mark my second year of running so I’m excited to see where the journey takes me.

“Sometimes it takes a journey to come home,” Stephen Levine.

  • Hot Chocolate 15k, 11/20/2016, time 1:37:55
  • Turkey Trot 5k, 11/24/2016, time 00:00:00
  • Santa Speedo Dash 5k, 12/10/2016, time 00:00:00
  • Decemburrr Dash 5k, 12/21/2016, time 00:00:00
  • Broke Man’s Winter Warm Up, 1/15/2017, time 00:00:00
  • New Orleans Rock’n’Roll Marathon, 2/5/2017, time 00:00:00
  • Cap City Half Marathon, 4/29/2017, time 00:00:00
  • AIDS Walk 5k, 4/?/2017, time 00:00:00
  • Columbus 10k, 6/4/2017, time 00:00:00
  • Jaeger Run for Pride 5k, 6/17/2017, time 00:00:00
  • Tree Town Trot, 7/?/2017, time 00:00:00
  • Big Bad Wolf Run, 10/?/2017, time 00:00:00
  • Broke Man’s Half Marathon, 10/?/2017, time 00:00:00
  • Columbus Marathon, 10/15/2017, time 00:00:00

road-ahead

Posted in general

Activity

  • Afternoon Walk
    On December 2, 2016 3:57 pm rode 1.10 mi. during 00:25:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Evening Run
    On December 1, 2016 6:47 pm rode 2.96 mi. during 00:29:36 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Evening Run
    On November 30, 2016 6:09 pm rode 3.59 mi. during 00:41:34 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Evening Walk
    On November 29, 2016 5:07 pm rode 2.20 mi. during 01:00:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Lunch Walk
    On November 29, 2016 12:00 pm rode 1.80 mi. during 00:30:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Lunch Walk
    On November 28, 2016 11:50 am rode 1.80 mi. during 00:30:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.