A Brief Intermission

intermission_0I missed the apocalypse.  Last Thursday, I went for a run at lunch time, and it was a beautiful day. In fact, it was the sunniest, warmest day of the year.  According to the folks who keep track of these things, our corner of the country set a dubious record for the wettest October through April.  Ever.  The warm sun was a soothing tonic to the incessant fall, winter, and spring rains, which is why it was hard to accept reports that a thunderstorm would befall us later in the day.  Surely the skies could cry no more.  Summer is coming, we had all whispered to each other for months, like denizens of a more hopeful kingdom of Westeros.  Running with a short-sleeved shirt under an azure sky led me to believe the sodden season was over.  I returned to the office bolstered by the hope I would be back in the sun when the work day ended.  At 3 p.m., I went to a meeting in a central conference room with no windows and stayed there until 4:30.  While I was in this bureaucratic lockdown, the world came to an end.  The only hint of trouble for those of us in the room was that the lights flickered occasionally.  We speculated that perhaps there was some lightning happening outside as the meteorological prognosticators foretold.  We didn’t know that while we conferred to discuss software development lifecycle standards and practices, an epic storm had hit the region.  The experts would later declare it was officially a “microburst,” but that sounds like the name of a new sour-flavored tic tac.  This weather event should be called a Cataclysm of Short Duration.  The entire storm lasted just 30 minutes, but it knocked hundreds of trees down, in turn causing significant property damage and downed power lines.  It also caused minor flooding in our building, as the gutters above the glass-covered atrium overflowed, resulting in rain showers inside the building.  By all accounts, it was an intense, frightening few minutes, but I missed it.  When my colleagues and I emerged from the meeting room, it was over.  I felt like Rick Grimes, in the premier of The Walking Dead, waking up from a coma in an abandoned hospital.  He knew something bad had happened but couldn’t figure out what, until he came across his first zombie.

Fortunately, there were no zombies associated with the microburst, which is a good thing as my drive home was slow enough to allow  the undead to saunter up to the open window of my truck without any trouble.  My commute is typically ten minutes, but it took me an hour and twenty minutes to make the five-mile trek.  The skies were clear and bright again, and there was no visible reason for the unprecedented traffic jam.  One quirk about a microburst is that it is focused.  The route I was driving had no obvious damage, but one mile beyond my driveway was arboreal carnage on a massive scale making the road almost impassible. Hence the traffic.  All I knew was it was slow, and I was annoyed.  When I made it home, I was grateful that we had not lost power in the storm, but we were bereft of wifi, phone, cable, and cell service.  We were in a mainstream and social media blackout and, therefore, unable to learn more about the storm that had wreaked havoc upon our friends and family nearby.

While some people were wondering how to get the tree off their house, we wondered how we would entertain ourselves without TV or Internet.  My problems may not be big, but they’re mine.  We couldn’t play board games, because I hate playing board games.  Reading was out of the question, since we had power and a functioning DVD player.  While I have a degree in literature, reading is never my first choice when electronic visual options still exist.  Fortunately, we have a large collection of DVDs.  Spending time together as a family watching some of our favorite movies while we waited to get back on the grid was a learning experience.

I learned the joy of being disconnected from commercialism.  We watched the movies more intently, without being interrupted by offers to resolve our erectile dysfunction or any number of other medical maladies from which we don’t suffer but on which pharmaceutical companies spend bajillions to advertise their wares.

I learned that I was right in trying to avoid ever watching The Sound of Music.  I had successfully avoided it for 48 years, but when I got home from work on Friday evening, my family was gathered around the TV watching my daughter’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD of the reportedly classic musical.  I was disappointed I could no longer avoid it, but I surrendered to the experience since, again, reading was not an option.  After what seemed like hours of watching annoying, ill-behaved children singing sappy songs with a wayward nun, I was thrilled to see the screen fade to black, presumably bringing my suffering to an end.  Imagine my disappointment when the word “Intermission” appeared on the screen followed by a ten-minute musical interlude.  The horror, the horror.  The Nazi drama in the second half did little to ameliorate my anguish.  At least I no longer have to hear the ridicule of friends who can’t believe I’ve never seen The Sound of Music.  I’ve done my time.

I learned that we have been robbed by a selective science fiction DVD thief.  We thought it would be fun to watch all fourteen episodes of the Firefly series but discovered that disc one is missing from the box set.  To calm my nerves about the crime, I opted to watch the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek only to find that disc also missing.  The boxes were on the shelf, but they were empty, making it unlikely we had loaned the movies to someone. Why would I loan someone the discs without the cases they came in?  The mystery, or heinous crime, remains unsolved, as my kids, to no avail, went through every DVD case on the shelf to see if perchance they had been misfiled.  All The Sound of Music bonus discs remain intact, by the way.

I learned that I have grown accustomed to having any question answered immediately by Google and Wikipedia.  I thought it would be a source of stress, but I quickly adapted, like mental muscle memory, recalling a time not so long ago when some questions might go unanswered unless it was important enough to ask another human or seek out a book that could illuminate.

I learned that I have an addiction to Facebook.  I didn’t realize just how reliant I was on Mr. Zuckerberg to bring me news of my friends until I was cut off, and I found the dearth of updates both liberating and unsettling.  I enjoyed being free of the tendency to watch ultimately unsatisfying click-bait videos of cute cats, but I had to face up to the uncomfortable fact that I had developed a certain obsessive tendency: a desperate need to see every post of every friend since the last time I had opened Facebook.  Once the reality of no longer having access to an electronic social network settled in, I found that I could breathe more deeply.  I realized I wasn’t missing much.  Don’t get me wrong, Facebook friends, I still enjoy your posts, but let’s all face it: much of what we post is not important.  I will continue to post pictures of my dog – because she’s adorable – but it’s o.k. if you don’t click the thumbs-up icon.  I’ll just tell myself your wifi is out and you’re watching The Sound of Music because your sci-fi collection has been purloined.

The cable and wifi came back on Saturday night, and we turned off the DVD player halfway through Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home so we could return to the world of pharmaceutical ads and Facebook posts.  We watched the news to learn more about the microburst and found that the FBI director had been fired, our President continues to act like a toddler with a Glock, and there was a crisis on the Hanford nuclear reservation that could put workers and the Columbia River at radioactive risk.  After about an hour, my wife suggested turning off the wifi and cable.  Good idea.  I just need to check one more post.

Excellent! You Reached Your Goal Today

IMG_0863[1]My streak of running in events without paying an entry fee will continue in the month of May.  Long time readers know that I have surreptitiously run several races as Jill, a friend with a fear of commitment insomuch as she pays entry fees and then finds a reason not to run the event.  Next Saturday, I will run as another strong, confident woman, my friend Michelle.  She probably doesn’t want me to say it, but Michelle has a running problem.  She is addicted to road races, so  much so that she double-booked herself next Saturday for two races held on opposite sides of the state.  She opted to go to Bloomsday in Spokane, which gives me the opportunity to take her spot in a local 10K.  Not only do I get a free entry, I don’t have any travel costs since the race starts five miles from my house.

Theoretically, I could avoid driving and parking altogether by running from my house to the starting line of the 10K event, which would make for an 11-mile run (assuming I could get a ride home from someone; 16 miles otherwise). However, the next day, I’m planning to run a practice half-marathon.  Practice, you ask?  Yes, practice.  In three weeks, I will be running in the Capital City Marathon.  More specifically, I’ll be running the second half of the marathon as one of the official pacers.  I’m excited about this opportunity, and not just because I don’t have to pay an entry fee.  I ran the Capital City Marathon last year, and I followed a pacer who helped me achieve a personal best marathon finish time.  Andy rules!

I am anxious about being a pacer, as it means other people are depending on me to be consistent in my pace, which, of course, is the sole criterion for judging the quality of a pacer.  In my case, I will be setting the pace for a group of folks hoping to run a marathon in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which works out to 10 minutes and 17 seconds per mile.  This specificity presents a challenge for me as I’ve never kept good track of my pace.  I run with a Timex Ironman watch with chronograph.  It’s a classic, high quality device, but so was the Sony Walkman.  It allows me to track my total time and split times if I’m running a course with accurate mileposts.  However, it provides no information about how fast I’m going between mile markers.  There are, of course, GPS-enabled “fitness trackers” on the market that provide immediate pace information, but I have not made the investment.  Have I mentioned I’m cheap?

Fortunately, for me, in addition to a racing addiction, Michelle also has a sports watch addiction.  I’m considering gathering her friends and family to stage an intervention.  My Timex Ironman is the only watch I own.  It’s my wrist’s little black dress.  It goes with everything, but it doesn’t know much about how fast I run.  Knowing that I didn’t have a fancy GPS watch, Michelle offered to let me borrow one of hers.  First, she gave me a Polar M600, but that didn’t work out as it asked me to download an app, and when I pushed the button to do so, it told me I had failed.  That’s not an uncommon occurrence for me on first encounter with new technology.  With some embarrassment, I returned the watch to Michelle, confessing that the watch was smarter than I am. She immediately followed up with two other watches: a Polar M400 and a TomTom Spark fitness tracker.  Neither of these watches required any downloading and both were highly tolerant of my random pushing of buttons. Without too much trouble, I was able to get them to record my pace.  Ironically, in both cases, before the watches could start monitoring my running, I had to stand still for a full minute so they could synchronize with the satellite.  That minute gave me a chance to think about the fact that Michelle owns at least four fitness tracking watches, not to mentioned any slinkier wristwatches she might wear with a little black dress.  She has a problem, but I had my own problems to deal with.

I needed to give both watches a thorough test, so I headed out Saturday morning for a nine-miler wearing all three watches now in my possession.  While both of Michelle’s fitness trackers offer a dozen or more data points about pace, time, distance, heart rate, etc., I wasn’t taking full advantage of those features.  I had them both set on the basic pacing default along with my Timex’s chronograph.

The Polar watch gave me information about how fast I was going at each moment, an overall average pace for the run, and the total distance covered.  The comparison of current pace to average pace was unnerving, as the current pace could swing two minutes per mile over the course of a few steps.  That was problematic as, from my perspective, I was running the same speed the whole time.  However, the average pace seemed to suggest I was running at the ideal rate.  Apparently, I am a manic-depressive runner, but over time it all evens out.

The TomTom was set to show me the overall average pace, not my moment-to-moment play by play.  Notably, it also let me know each time I had burned a thousand calories, which was nice as I was getting hungry and I liked knowing I could eat a pizza to refuel and just break even.  Also interesting was that five minutes after I finished running, it said, “Excellent! You Reached Your Goal Today.”  Of course, that was inexplicable as the TomTom had no idea what my goal was for the day.  During the run, it vibrated for a second each time I traveled a mile.  At first I thought the sensation was a heart attack warning sign, but I soon figured it out and took the opportunity to compare the TomTom to the Polar in terms of miles traveled.  I found the TomTom seemed to think miles are longer than the Polar did.  The gap between the two watches expanded with each mile.  By the end, the TomTom said I had run 9 miles, but the Polar gave me credit for 9.07 miles.  Not a huge difference, but it meant my average pace varied according to the two devices.  According to Polar, I was hitting an ideal 10:15 per mile, notwithstanding the wild swings moment to moment.  The TomTom said I was going 10:21 per mile, which would result in a disappointed group of marathoners arriving a little bit late for their desired finish time.  It got me wondering what could explain the difference.  Does Polar use a cheaper satellite that rounds down?  Is one of the satellites closer, because I don’t how science works?

All that explains why on Sunday I will be running a practice half marathon, again with three watches and a friend who will be tracking our pace on her watch.  It will be like an army of data analysts monitoring my performance.  Based on our research, I’ll settle on a watch to use during the marathon when it will be my responsibility to deliver tired marathoners to their personal promised land.  I’m sure it will all work out fine, and I will have Andy there to help keep track of the pace.  If I manage to avoid screwing it up completely, I’ll be rewarded with a free entry to next year’s race, which is, of course, my goal.  If I manage to enter a few more races for free I may be able to afford one of those fancy watches.

Thanks, Michelle, for connecting me with Andy and hooking me up with so many watches.  I’m good to go.

Marching Metal Lullabies


It’s been a busy day.  My wife and I participated in the Earth Day March for Science from our state Capitol to a downtown park this morning.  This is my third protest march of the year, which is unusual for me. I’ve never been much of a marcher, just a runner, but there’s just so much that demands protestation lately, I’ve felt compelled to get involved.  I like to think it’s an expression of my inner heavy metal rebel peaking out from behind the curtain.  Despite the rainy conditions, the crowd was impressive.  I appreciate that so many people were willing to make signs, get wet, and raise their voices in support of the scientific method.

After the march, we headed to a local record store. In addition to being Earth Day, it’s Record Store Day.  While protest marches are new for me, participating in Record Store Day has become an annual event.  My once-a-year vinyl purchases aren’t going to keep the record store economy afloat, but I do like supporting a local business, especially the kind of business that brought me so much happiness as a kid growing up before digital streaming music was a thing.  The days of flipping through stacks of LPs and considering a purchase of music based on little more than a band name and album art are gone, but it’s fun to re-live the experience.  Today, I picked up a copy of Sanctuary’s Inception, the 1986 demo recordings that formed the basis of their debut record.  The album has a gatefold sleeve with lots of pictures, along with a 12-page booklet of photos, flyers, sketches, and liner notes.  If you know your metal, you know this is pretty cool.  Sanctuary was one of the lesser known thrash bands, but, since they were from Seattle, they were huge for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest at that time.  This new release of rare music is – like flipping through records – a blissful return to my heavy metal Eden, circa 1986.

It’s been a week of metal sentimentalism, starting last Saturday night when I saw a band called Blistered Earth, a Metallica tribute band,  playing at a club in Tacoma.  A Judas Priest tribute band – Seattle Steel – was also on the bill that night.  They played a solid set of Priest classics, and their vocalist did an entirely acceptable job copying Rob Halford’s vocal gymnastics.  Their tribute was strictly musical, as visually they looked like…well…me.  The band was comprised of grey (short)haired guys in their late 40s wearing t-shirts and jeans.  While there’s no shame in that, they didn’t leave anyone confused about whether the real Judas Priest had shown up.  Even though the guys in the real Priest are in their 50s, they have a certain leather-clad gravitas that Seattle Steel didn’t capture.  Blistered Earth, on the other hand, were a time machine.  The band members are young and they wore their hair and clothes, even tattoos, as if they were, in fact, the members of Metallica taking the stage in 1986.  They performed for us in every sense of the word.  They played their parts and their instruments perfectly, and I was lost in the romance of it all.  I have no interest in paying more than $150 to sit in the back of a football stadium to see the real Metallica when they come to Seattle this summer, but I would have paid much more than the $10 it cost to see Blistered Earth transport me back to those glory days of thrash.

The only downside to the Priest/Metallica tribute night was that it wrapped up at 1:15 a.m., which is way past my bedtime.  Three hours past, in fact.  This is a problem I’ve encountered with metal shows at smaller clubs: they start late at night and end early in the morning.  This has resulted in my missing a lot of shows I’d like to see on week nights, as I don’t want to fall asleep at work the next day.  I’m not too old for metal, but I’m too old to stay up past midnight.  I don’t even watch Saturday Night Live live.  While I have mixed feelings about streaming music, I’m a big fan of DVRs and watching TV shows at a reasonable hour.

Ironically, two weeks ago, Sean and I went to another metal show and were shocked to find out we had arrived too late to see one of the bands we were there for.  The show had started earlier than advertised, so we were only able to see the headliner, Kreator, perform (flawlessly, by the way).  The whole show wrapped up before midnight.  I was glad for the early finish, but annoyed that I missed Obituary’s set.

Between shows that start after my bed time and shows that start earlier than than announced, I think I need to organize another protest march.  My wife saw a meme recently that would serve as a great protest sign. It read, “WANT TO SAVE LIVE MUSIC?  PLAY EARLIER!”  I’ve got a couple of call-and-response chants in mind, too.

“What do we want?”

“Accurate set times!”

“When do we want them?”

“As early as possible!”

If I can get it organized, I’ll see you at the March for Live Music at a Reasonable, Clearly Advertised Time.  It will start promptly at 11 a.m. and end at a very reasonable time.  The music will be great, if I can get the bands to start before 10 p.m.

You’re Doing It Wrong, Your Highness


I got the giggles at work the other day while watching a colleague wield her mouse.  She was using the computer mouse to set up a Skype session with another colleague working out of a remote office.  The funny part was that she was using a mouse pad, which was unnecessary as it was an optical mouse.  It was a small example of how we tend to hold on to the way we’ve always done things even when there is no reason to do so.  I also come across examples of the opposite habit: adopting new behaviors for no reason.  I was in a meeting in which a colleague was updating us on the status of a project.  In the midst of his remarks, he said he had “socialized” a document with the project team.  I was pretty sure he wasn’t a Marxist, but I didn’t understand what he meant.  The meeting was full of technologists, so I considered the possibility he was using a term of I.T. art and decided I would look it up later.  When he said it again later in his presentation, I determined from the context that he was using “socialized” to mean “shared” or “discussed.”  I’ll skip my rant about inventing words or, in this case, inventing new meanings.  Suffice to say, it was unnecessary to use a fancy word to communicate a simple idea.

When I come across such “You’re Doing It Wrong” moments at work, I think about how I would do things if I were in charge, and I make lists.  Reviewing the lists, I find that many of my royal edicts are related to interpersonal relations.  I work in a large organization, and it’s important that we do everything possible to get along.  So, while I wouldn’t banish mouse pads and unnecessary verb aggrandizement, there are a few things I would do to promote esprit de corps.  If I were king, I would offer these humble edicts:

There Shall Be Themed-Shirt Fridays.

In my office, Friday is the day the dress code – which we don’t formally have – tends to get a bit casual.  During football season, for example, Fridays are designated as “Blue Fridays,” and staff don their Seahawk apparel in support of the local favorites.  I tolerate this behavior, but do not participate, as I am a Raider fan – the most metal of all football teams.  On football Fridays – known as “Silver and Black Fridays” as celebrated by a handful of people in my building – I wear an Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas, ugh) Raider t-shirt.  In the offseason, I would, as king, encourage one Friday a month to be dedicated to Aloha shirts. I am married to a Maui girl, and I have access to a dozen such garments.  Most often, wearing an Aloha shirt in Western Washington is ironic, as we don’t get a lot of Hawaiian-style weather.  Encouraging everyone to wear Aloha shirts one Friday each month should work the same as the football gear.  Even if our team loses, we still wear the clothes to signal our loyalty, so wearing an Aloha shirt makes it clear that even though sun is unlikely, we are all still devoted fans of warm weather.  I would also set aside one Friday a month for “Band Shirt Friday” on which everyone would be encouraged to wear a t-shirt from one of their favorite bands or solo performers.  It would be a fun way to learn a bit about our respective musical tastes.  As a devoted metal head, I have a collection of shirts, and I would love the opportunity to wear them at the office.  I would have to establish ground rules for work appropriateness, as some metal shirts can be considered deeply offensive to those with sense of common decency.  I’m sure I could get away with the Black Sabbath, Death Angel, and Slayer shirts I own, as they are relatively tame, but I’m not sure about the Amon Amarth shirt featuring a viking having his head bashed in…and open. Very bloody.  The Motorhead shirt is harmless, but the Venom Inc shirt features a Baphomet – the goat head pentagram symbol – and would almost certainly cause a ruckus.  While the metal heads would have to use discretion, I don’t presume that everyone would wear heavy metal band shirts. I am surrounded by country music fans at work, so I anticipate a lot of Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band shirts, and that’s o.k.  As long as no one wears something truly offensive, like a Justin Bieber or Nickelback shirt, we’ll get along fine.

There Shall Be Cookie Mondays.  

In addition to fashion-oriented team-building, I will encourage the devourment of treats to spur camaraderie.  Breaking metaphorical bread together is the oldest form of relationship building, and cookies are much easier to bake than bread.  While Fridays are reserved for themed shirts, Mondays call for a sweet respite from the misery that is Monday morning.  As a generous king, I will do the baking myself.  As the culinary arts go, I would rather barbecue than bake, but smoking sufficient ribs and brisket to feed everyone at work would get complicated and expensive.  Perhaps the barbecue will be a once a year event, but I’m not making any promises.

There Shall Be No Royal Edicts.  

Aside from decrees about Friday fashion and Monday carbohydrates, I would not make a lot of pronouncements.  I prefer my decision-making to be deliberative, and I believe it’s another way to promote fellowship at work.  Recently, I called together a team to let them know my plan for how to proceed in starting some pre-planning in advance of a formal project launch.  I was proud of my proactive thinking, calling together the experts to get a head start on an ambitious effort.  After the meeting, I checked in with one of my staff who had participated.  I confess, I went to her in hopes she would tell me how clever and enterprising I was.  Instead, she asked me why we were doing this.  She interrogated my assumptions and challenged my great idea with specific questions for which I had no answers.  I was annoyed…for about ten minutes.  After I walked away and gave it some thought, I realized I was grateful.  Her questions pointed out the flaws in my thinking, and now I could fix it.  I could get the answers to those questions, answers she and the others deserved, and put the effort on an even better track.  I sent her an email thanking her for pushing back.  As a leader, I’m reluctant to say I’ve decided something until I’ve first said, “This is the way I’m leaning, what are your thoughts? What am I missing?”  My experience has shown that when I make a quick decision, I spend a lot of time cleaning up messes.

If the king wears Aloha shirts and eats cookies but doesn’t listen to the people when they speak up, he’s doing it wrong.

Physician, Heal Thyself


Day 4 without caffeine.  I think I can do this.  A week and a half ago, I noticed my right eye was out of focus.  I have worn corrective lenses for most of my life, and my eyesight has gotten worse over the years, but this was the first time I noticed a worsening overnight.  I was sitting in a morning meeting, trying to read a document when I realized my right eye wasn’t focusing.  Being a man, I chose to ignore it.  When it hadn’t self-corrected after a week, I decided to get a professional opinion.  Tuesday morning, my eye doctor’s assistant administered dilating drops so they could take some pictures of the interior of my eyes.  I settled my chin and forehead into their respective rests and stared into the business end of the large camera.  She asked if I could see the flashing green circle, and when I confirmed I could, lightning struck.  After two intense bursts of light in each eye, she had what she needed for the doctor to make a diagnosis.  Based on my symptoms and what he saw in the pictures, my doctor diagnosed me with central serous retinopathy.  I thought the name was cool – like the title of a Carcass song, the metal band that  wrote such ditties as “Hepatic Tissue Fermentation” – but I had some anxiety about the prognosis.  It’s an idiopathic condition, meaning they aren’t sure what causes it, but it tends to happen to people who experience a lot of stress and are users of caffeine and corticosteroids, which, it turns out, is an apt description of me, emotionally and pharmaceutically.  I have a stressful job, feel a fierce attachment to my morning cup of coffee, and I have been inhaling corticosteroids for many years to treat allergies.  The recommended treatment was to give up all three.  I told my doctor that I could, reluctantly, give up the coffee, but the stress and steroids would be a little trickier.  My employer seems committed to generating a significant amount of stress, and I have grown attached to breathing deeply through my nose and mouth.  It’s hard to imagine life without either.

My doctor referred me to a specialist to confirm his diagnosis, and that specialist advised that I have a driver for the appointment.  That was code for more dilation.  I hate having my eyes dilated.  It ruins my visual field for five or more hours, which my doctor tells me is the common among people with gorgeous blue eyes.  Well, he didn’t actually say “gorgeous”, but I have testimonial evidence that my eyes are pretty.  I was not excited about having it done twice in one week and wondered if the dilation procedure might exacerbate my condition.

I was brought into a room for dilation and pictures.  This camera was similar to the one from Tuesday, but the flashing was a bit more intense.  After a few pictures of my baby blues, I returned to the lobby until I was summoned to a different room with a different camera.  I positioned my head in the chin and forehead rests, and the technician explained he was going to take another series of pictures before injecting the dye.  I stared at more flashing green lights and nuclear bomb-style camera flashes and thought about having dye injected.  Since I was there to be treated for an eye problem, I assumed he would inject the dye into my eye.  I am not an expert on physiology, but I’ve always had confidence in my common sense.  After a round of pictures, he prepared the syringe, pulling back on the plunger to draw the dye from a small glass bottle.  My blood pressure rose at roughly the same rate as the level of dye in the chamber.  I wanted to tell him that, based on my diagnosis, I was supposed to avoid stress, and he wasn’t helping, but I was rendered mute by the terror of how it would feel to have a needle inserted into my eye.  When he told me to extend my arm – so that he could inject the dye into a vein there – I exhaled deeply, realizing I had been holding my breath in dread.

He began injecting the dye and asked if I felt any burning. I told him no, that I was just relieved he didn’t stick the needle in my eye.  He giggled, but I wasn’t trying to be funny.  I was giving some indirect feedback about his bedside manner.  He could have let me know up from that he wasn’t going to stick a needle in my eye and alleviated a lot of anxiety.  I learned a little later that bedside manner is not one of the specialties of this specialist.  As I’m wont to do when confronted with situations that don’t conform to my sense of how the universe should be ordered, I started making a list:

1. Always let the patient know where you’re going to stick the needle.  Depending on the condition, or body part, under evaluation, this can be source of unnecessary apprehension.

The technician took more pictures, this time to observe the flow of the dye through the blood vessels in my eye, and the process was putting a strain on my eyes.  Being fully dilated and having bright lights flashed into your eyes seems a bit cruel and unusual, and when he said he was done, I was thrilled and all too happy to tell him everything I knew about ISIS and al-Qaeda.  He moved me into yet another room that did not include a camera.  I took a seat in a chair facing the door of the room and noticed a set of colored plastic signal flags.  A similar set of flags was affixed to each exam room door in the office.  Each set included a blue, yellow, green, and red flag.  After I was situated, the technician left the room and flipped the red flag.

2. Don’t use red signal flags if the patient can see them.  I’m sure the color-coding system in this office indicated varying stages of patient processing, but as a patient concerned about the results of the macular photography, I was sure that the red flag was a signal to the staff that I was near death.  I would have felt better with yellow or green.  Even the nondescript blue flag would have been more reassuring than red, traditionally associated with blood, fire, danger, and disaster relief organizations.

When the doctor arrived to let me know the results, she didn’t have any red alert-worthy news.  She used a tool akin to a jewelers loupe to look into my eyes. As she navigated around – asking me to look up, up and to the right, to the right, down and to the right, etc. – she called out to her assistant who was tracking information on a computer. She used words including “blunt” and “quiet” to describe what she saw in my eyes.  I took comfort in those unexpected adjectives, much more than if she had said “red” or “yellow.”  After completing her exam, she told me she concurred with my other doctor’s assessment, including the need to give up caffeine and steroids.  It was too much to hope that she would say increasing my coffee intake was the proper course of treatment.  Fate decided, my wife drove me home so I could spend the first sunny day of Spring cowering in the darkness waiting for my eyes to constrict voluntarily.  It was shortly after we got home that I added one more item to my list of suggestions for the doctor:

3. Let the patient know about side effects from the dye.  Not only does a dye injected into your arm travel to the blood vessels in your eye, but it also finds its way into your urinary tract.  When I relieved myself, I was quite startled by the vibrant stream.  The water in the toilet bowl looked like a vat of yellow highlighter marker ink.  It glowed.  I almost screamed until I realized why I had become a liquid light saber.

That was two days ago.  Since then, my pee has returned to its normal color, the caffeine withdrawal symptoms are diminishing, I’m starting to ween off my allergy medication, and, if all goes well, my right eye will come back into focus in the next couple months.  Nothing to do now but wait, and send my list of free advice to the doctor.

P.S., I read this to my daughter who has worked in a veterinary clinic.  She tells me that a red light outside an exam room there is the signal for euthanasia.  Exactly my point.

Hugs to All


I went for a run today. It was my typical lunch-time run: about three miles.  I ran alone.  When I got back to the building where I work, I saw two co-workers who were finishing a similar daily run.  We exchanged hellos and observed that it was a perfect day for running: 50º and overcast.  Yes, runners have an odd sense of ideal weather.  We walked inside to the locker room together, and Patrick said something about a time he was almost hit by a car when he was running. It was an early morning run, and the sky was dark, but he was wearing a day-glo yellow shirt and headlamp.  He saw that the driver was looking at their smart phone, more concerned with Facebook than watching the road.  Outrageous.  Those of us who run on a regular basis have had close calls with inattentive drivers.  Most of the time, it’s just a story we tell.  Close call, crazy driver.  No harm, no foul.  Most of the time.

Another runner is being recognized as I write this.  A friend of a friend went out for her long run last Friday morning. She was getting ready for a marathon. It was her last long run before starting the taper. It was early, and it was dark, so she wore reflective clothing and carried a flashlight. She got hit by a car. She died.  Her funeral was tonight.

I didn’t know her – as I said, she was a friend of a friend – but I have learned a bit about her, and a couple of things are very clear: she was dearly loved by many, and she made an impact in many lives.  She was a teacher by trade and by personality.  As an elementary school teacher, she had the opportunity to shape young minds, to help kids discover their talents and learn how to learn.  As a runner, a serious runner with many marathon notches in her belt, she inspired people.  From the people in the spin class at the gym she visited to a little girl who ran their first 5K because Ms. Higgins said she could do it, Amy made a difference.

I take my daily run for granted.  It’s no big deal; just another few miles of abusing the sidewalks.  My run is for me and, so far, I always get home safe.  But I can’t take it for granted today, because tomorrow is not promised.

In general, I tend to think too much.  When I get emotional, it can get messy.  I’m going to share the thoughts swirling around my head and heart today.  Forgive me if I go off the proverbial rails:

1. To my many running friends, my fellow road warriors, I love you.  Please be careful out there.

2. To Amy Higgins’ friends and family, I’m so sorry for your loss.  It’s clear she was a beautiful person who made an enormous difference in the lives of many.  I wish you peace.

3. To everyone who reads this, I encourage you to like what you like. Deeply. Your passion for what you love matters to others.  Mostly we’re all so caught up in our own shit that we don’t pay attention to others, but once in a while our attention is drawn to someone who is really good at what they do. They have an interesting hobby. It might be something quirky, something we wouldn’t do ourselves.  It’s cool.  It’s admirable, and it makes us think about whether we should give it a try, or why we wouldn’t because we’re a different kind of person.  We grow a little.  You can make that difference in someone else’s life.  You can be like Amy.

Hugs to all, as Amy would say.

Follow the Metal Geek Road


I visited the Emerald City, but I did not find my tribe there.  I took a Friday off work to join my friend Sean at the Emerald City Comicon event.  He was given two passes by a friend who couldn’t attend the Friday festivities.  While it was a four-day-long convention for lovers of comic books, role-playing and other games, and science fiction and fantasy art of all kinds, five hours was enough for both of us.  No, we did not engage in cosplay, a portmanteau of costume and play in which people dress up as characters from favorite – and often obscure – comics, video games, TV shows, or movies.  I rarely don a costume for Halloween, so it’s unthinkable I would dress up in the off-season.  I stuck with my usual t-shirt and jeans attire.  I my defense, it was a “Nostromo” t-shirt, so I could, if cosplaying bullies wanted to start trouble, make a half-hearted claim I was dressed as a crewman from that ill-fated spacecraft from the movie Alien.  I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

When we arrived at the Seattle Convention Center, we made our way to the main hall for the Outlander panel featuring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan from the TV adaption of the novels about a woman, Claire, who time-travels from 1945 to 1743 Scotland where she gets caught up in the politics of the time and falls in love with Highlander Jamie.  For an hour, the two stars took questions from devoted fans who had lined up for hours to express their love and appreciation for the actors and the characters they portray.  My wife and I watch the show together, and I was fanboying.  Arguably, I was fangirling, as Sean observed all of the people lined up to ask questions were middle-aged women.  As a man, I was in the extreme minority.  One of the women told Sam that, thanks to his My Peak Challenge program that inspires people to live healthier, happier, more balanced lives, she, for the first time in her life, thought of herself as beautiful.  She thanked Sam with a cracking voice and tears in her eyes.  I was caught up in the moment, sniffing back a tear and clapping heartily along with everyone else.  Well, everyone except Sean, who gave me a sidelong glance, wondering when, exactly, I had turned into a woman.  I didn’t care. This was fun.

After that, we ambled through the bigger-than-Costco aisles of vendors offering up every comic book, video game, t-shirt, and work of art a geek’s heart could desire.  It was all intriguing, but the majority was beyond my ken.  Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and The Walking Dead are my science fiction staples, but I don’t read comics or play video games, so I didn’t recognize much of what was being offered for sale or paraded by clever cosplayers.  We also visited a Lego expo, which included life-sized renditions of R2-D2, BB8, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and a Stormtrooper.  Sean informed me that the artists had made good use of the SNOT technique, which is an acronym for Studs-Not-On-Top.  Through some engineering voodoo, the little bumpy parts of the Legos were not visible on the surface of these plastic brick statues.  I had no idea there were such significant advances in Lego construction since I was a kid.

The last stop, after a requisite trip to the beer garden, was a trip to the autograph expo, in which celebrities were camped out, ready to sign things and take selfies with anyone willing to spend between $50 and $100.  I was unwilling to spend anything for someone’s signature, but it was cool to see Alice Cooper, Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher from Star Trek: TNG), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and others, even if it was from a distance.  I don’t fault celebrities for profiting from their inscription or image, but I will not be one to fork over hard-earned cash for the privilege.  I prefer my celebrity encounters to be coincidental, like meeting David Bowie in an airport, which is the highlight of my “Brushes with Greatness” resume, just ahead of the time I met Olivia Newton-John.  She loves me, by the way.  It says so on the piece of paper she signed (“To Todd. Love, Olivia Newton John”).  You might think she was just writing a polite valediction, but you weren’t there. You didn’t see the love in her eyes.

After five hours at Comicon, Sean and I had seen enough.  I loved the positive, judgment-free energy of everyone who was there.  These people – thousands of them – were proudly being who they were, liking what they like, and doing cool stuff.  There were more smiles per square foot than I’ve seen in a long time.  I started the day following my usual pattern of not making too much eye contact with the people I walked past, so as not to seem creepy, but it quickly dawned on me that most of the people at Comicon wanted to be seen and were all too happy to stop and pose for a picture.  Taking pride in your passions is a beautiful thing.  I enjoyed the people-watching, but I felt more like an anthropologist observing tribal rituals than a participant in them.


My tribe was at a bar in Seattle two night later, where I attended a metal show featuring six thrash, groove, and death metal bands.  My t-shirt and jeans were de rigueur in that crowd.  I met up with similarly clad metal friends, both young (who have bands of their own) and old (including co-workers who joined the metal fun after spending the day at Comicon).  I was the senior member of the clan, and the pinnacle of my evening was being up at the front of the barricade, singing along with Death Angel when lead vocalist Mark Osegueda stretched his hand out to me. I’m certain that he was reaching out to me specifically.  Death Angel has been making great metal since the early 80s, and I think Mark saw a fellow graying headbanger in the front row and decided to shake my hand in recognition of my lifelong devotion to the metal arts.  We were tribal elders acknowledging each other.

That weekend of geeks and metalheads got me thinking about tribal culture. While my kids were prohibited by their teachers from citing Wikipedia as a source in their scholastic endeavors due to it’s lack of reliability, I am bound by no such restriction, and I found two references there that intrigued me:

Stephen Corry, a British anthropologist, defines tribal people as those who “…have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and are clearly different from the mainstream and dominant society.”

Anthropologist Morton H. Fried[…] concluded that tribes in general are characterized by fluid boundaries and heterogeneity, are not parochial, and are dynamic.  

The geek tribe has been around since at least 1966, when Star Trek debuted on NBC, and metal was born in 1968, when Black Sabbath began laying down the blueprint for heavy metal.  That’s at least three generations of fandom for people who’s respective passions have kept them on the fringes of the mainstream.  Both tribes include a wide array of variations on the respective themes, with too many sub-genres to count.  Both have an openness, even a hunger, for new expressions, and both epitomize dynamism in their visual, verbal, and aural expressions.  Pretty cool.

In the middle of one band’s set Sunday night, my metal sister Rachel tapped me on the shoulder, and I saw her holding up her phone for an epic selfie of the two of us celebrating our love for metal.  I was having far too much fun to put on a good metal grimace, and the photo showed me grinning broadly.  It was not a Facebook-worthy photo due to my expression of childlike joy rather than metal menace. Oh well, I love what I love.

Cheers to all of you who proudly join with others to fervently pursue your passions.  You are not alone.

Unsafe at Any Speed


I think I need to surrender my license, hand over my keys, and stop driving for a while.  It’s been a rough week, vehicularly speaking.  On Sunday, I drove to Seattle, an hour from home, to attend a metal show.  I would be relying on my phone’s Google Maps app to direct me to the venue.  All I needed to do was type in the address.  Unfortunately, there was a major middle-aged First World problem to be dealt with.  When I go to metal shows, I like to wear contact lenses, as the spectacles I normally wear are at risk for significant damage in a mosh pit.  My eye doctor provides me with a few pairs of single-use contacts for just such an occasion.  Well, he thinks he’s providing them for some civil activity, like scuba diving.  I don’t feel a need to point out that he’s enabling me to participate in a sort of riot.  It’s been a good system for many years, but my doctor recently prescribed bifocals for my aging eyes.  When I put in the contact lenses, which are not bifocals, I found I was unable to read the small text on my phone.  I handed it to my wife to look up the address for the venue and enter it into Google Maps.  This is an example of how my advancing age is at the “inconvenient stage.”  I’m told it gets worse.

Fortunately, driving doesn’t require the ability to read small text, as road signs are designed for far-sightedness.  The kind female voice of Google Maps directed me to the venue with no problems, and, as she predicted, I arrived an hour and ten minutes after departure. The next order of business was finding a parking space.  My goal was to achieve the “sweet spot” balance between the cost of parking and distance from the venue.  As I was pondering how many factors of ten would be withdrawn from my bank account to park, I observed the car in front of me pull into an alley directly behind the venue.  With hope in my heart, I followed him, and we pulled into the last two spaces in a row of eight cars.  It seemed perfect, except for one potential flaw: we were parked in front of a row of twelve overflowing garbage barrels.  While there were no signs forbidding it, parking in front of the club’s dump seemed unwise at best.  In an unusual bit of bravado, I took the risk.  While I am terrified at the thought of having my car towed, this spot was just too good to pass up, and if my car was going to be towed away, I knew I would have eight other drivers with whom I could strategize to get our cars back from where they were impounded.  My judgment may have been impaired by my desperate need to see a metal show.  It had been almost five months since I’d moshed it up, and I needed a heavy metal fix.

Not having entirely lost my senses of fear and paranoia, I took advantage of the club’s generous in-and-out privileges to check on my car between each band’s set.  In total, there were six bands on the bill, and by the time the last two were set to perform, I stopped worrying and surrendered to the metal madness that was breathing new life into my weary bureaucratic soul.  When the show did come to an end, I hastily made my exit in hopes that my chariot awaited.  I walked along the side of the building and craned my neck to get a look at the parking space as quickly as possible.  What caught my eye first was the garbage truck looming behind my car.  Fortunately, the garbage truck was not accompanied by a tow truck.  As a devotee of the subjunctive mood, I shuddered at the thought of the garbage removal service provider having an earlier shift.  If he had rolled up to the club an hour earlier, I may have had a serious problem, as he would have had plenty of time to call his colleague at the tow truck company.  As it was, the driver pulled across the street to wait for the metal heads to vacate the area so he could go to work.  I got in my car, quickly removing my contact lenses and putting on my bifocals to ensure I could make good use of Google Maps to direct me to the freeway.

My map maven directed me to turn left on 1st Avenue and proceed to Spokane Street, and, even with my limited sense of direction, I recognized this was a case of going back the way I came, which is my favorite kind of directions.  I was on 1st Avenue, and I saw Spokane Street approaching.  I stopped at the light, read the sign for Spokane Street, heard Ms. Google instruct me to turn left, and engaged my left turn signal.  When the light changed, I turned left and felt satisfaction that I would soon be at the freeway entrance.  My elation was short-lived as I observed two sets of headlights coming at me from the other direction. I considered the possibility that the driver on the right was in the wrong lane but realized it was more likely I was going the wrong way on a one-way street.  I put on the brakes to avoid a disaster unfolding more quickly than necessary.  Fortunately, the other drivers, including the one in the car that had been behind me on 1st Avenue, the guy who saw me turn onto a one-way street, all seemed to recognize that there was an idiot amongst them, and they should all come to a stop and let the poor soul work this out for himself.  I backed up, reversing my left turn, and  proceeded in a straight line on 1st Avenue, heart racing.  Ms. Google recalculated and told me to take a left on the next street. However, now leery of her advice and counsel, I scrutinized the signage and saw that this, too, was a one-way street and, again, the wrong way.  I declined her suggestion and continued on 1st.  I needed time to think.  Ms. Google took a breath and recalculated.  Her new plan took me on a Odysseus-like journey through the industrial parks of South Seattle. Scylla on the left, Charybdis on the right.  I thought perhaps she was angry at me for having failed to follow her earlier instructions and was taking me on a snipe hunt.  However, after a few miles of meandering, I was safely delivered to a freeway entrance.  From here, it was just a one-hour drive home on a sparsely populated post-midnight Interstate 5.  The wide open spaces gave me a chance to reflect on what had transpired, including the fact that no law enforcement officers had witnessed my spectacular wrong-way one-way turn.  I had much to be grateful for – a great night of heavy metal and no arrest for reckless driving – and, when I got home, I slept well.

After surviving those travails, I crashed on the way to work the next morning. Yup. I was distracted by an accident on the side of the road and when my eyes returned to the traffic in front of me, I  found the car ahead had stopped more suddenly than I had expected.  Bang!  My bumper is in bad shape, more concave than convex.  The other parties – yes, there were two other cars involved – are relatively unscathed, but my insurance will be going up soon.  I’ve gotten to know several insurance agents who wanted to get my perspective on what happened.  I kept my remarks focused on the circumstances of the crash, leaving out the sordid details of my sketchy parking decisions and blatant disregard for one-way traffic requirements, but I was tempted, as it’s a good story.  Finally, the next morning, I arrived at work unscathed, having carefully obeyed all driving laws and best practices, only to lock my keys in the truck.  Dammit.  My wife was kind enough to bring me the spare key, so that I didn’t have to walk home or figure out how Uber works.  It is now Friday night, I’m home, and the vehicles are nestled all snug in their spots.  I think I’ll stick close to home this weekend.

Some Assembly (and Patience and Laughter) Required


“For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.”  That old adage came to mind last week when I was assembling the treadmill my wife ordered, so she could cancel her gym membership and get her workouts done at home.  She did careful online research to find the highest quality machine at the price we could afford.  After identifying the treadmill that most closely matched her requirements, she called the folks at NordicTrack to place her order.  They explained the shipping costs were on a sliding scale. Normal delivery was curbside.  For a few dollars more, it could be delivered to our porch.  Another fistful of dollars would result in it being brought into the house.  If she wanted it assembled, that would require an additional deposit into the Nordic Track revenue-generating machine. She opted for in-home delivery but decided we could put it together ourselves.  The amount she paid to have it placed in our living room was worth the extra cost, as the box was the size and weight of a coffin custom built for Andre the Giant.

I have no interest in the functional value of the treadmill.  I prefer to run outside.  My only treadmill trots have occurred when staying in a hotel in some city where I was unfamiliar with running routes and relative safety of the neighborhood.  I use treadmills out of necessity, as I despise running in place.  The only exercise I intended to get from this machine was the upper body workout from screwing bolts into the frame and holding rails and uprights while my son put the screwdriver to work.

We were halfway through the assembly when we discovered two bolts were missing.  To be more specific, two bolts were not included.  I will testify under oath that we did not lose the bolts; they were simply not in the box.  I am a seasoned veteran of IKEA furniture assembly and keep careful track of the parts and pieces to avoid excess frustration.  I get cranky enough trying to figure out how the simple line drawings represent three dimensional objects, so I don’t need to compound the problem by losing hardware.  Plus, I know the bolts were missing because, according to the instructions, they were to be found screwed into the top of the left side upright.  There were two bolts screwed into the right side upright, but none on the left.  The Swedes of IKEA never let me down like this, and I would have expected similar quality control from another, presumably, Scandinavian firm. It’s called NordicTrack, after all.  Alas, they are headquartered in Utah.

I searched through my extensive collection of nails, screws, and bolts – amassed from years of furniture assembly and woodworking projects – for appropriately-sized bolts to substitute for the missing ones.  Despite having hundreds of bits of hardware, obsessively sorted by size and type, I couldn’t find any two inch long 5/16” bolts.  As a result, I spent 44 cents at the local hardware store to purchase two bolts with the correct specifications.  They were silver instead of black, but I was going for function, not appearance.  I needed to fix this, but just as I was about to proceed with the assembly using the substitutes, my wife informed me she had contacted NordicTrack, and, after some tense negotiation, new bolts would arrive in 3-5 business days.  I just needed to be patient.

I was annoyed to have given NordicTrack many hundreds of dollars for this machine, only to have them fail to provide two bolts necessary for assembly.  The little things matter.  I recognize this as a common ailment of large organizations: little things get missed, and people get frustrated.  It happens in my organization all the time.  Last week, for example, I inherited a laptop computer.  I’ve been driving a desktop for many years, but a colleague took a new job, giving me the opportunity to take possession of her laptop.  Of course, it wasn’t as simple as her handing it to me.  It had to be processed through our IT group, which inexplicably took several weeks.  One day last week, I returned to my office from a meeting and found a laptop computer sitting in my chair.  I noticed it was unaccompanied by any accessories, such as a bag or power cord.  I also learned that it was not configured with the software that would allow me to connect to our network remotely.  After waiting two months, I was now in possession of a glorified typewriter with about four hours of battery life before it would become useless.  My co-workers wondered what I was giggling about until I explained the absurdity, and we all laughed about the laptop’s, metaphorical, missing bolts.

The treadmill bolts arrived in the mail earlier this week, and I also received a power cord and remote access software.  My wife is up and running, and so is my laptop.  Our respective kingdoms weren’t truly lost for the want of nails, but these anecdotes got me thinking about some other adages to consider:

1. The little things matter, but they often get missed.

2. The little things tend to work over time; be patient.

3. Patience is easier if you can laugh about it.

While you’re waiting for the bolts to arrive in the mail, tell somebody the story.  Make ‘em laugh.  You’ll feel better.

I ‘Saur What You Did There


Last week, I received a compliment at work.  It was a handwritten note from a colleague expressing her appreciation for my efforts.  As kind and generous as the sentiments were, I had a hard time taking it seriously.  The words were written on a pre-printed 5” x 8” card, specifically designed for giving kudos to co-workers.  The top of the card featured a cartoon dinosaur – a friendly one, smiling broadly – and the words “I ‘Saur What You Did There.”  It’s the kind of card – and terrible pun – I might choose to recognize the finger-painting talents of a kindergartener, but not the leadership abilities of a 48-year-old who has been in a senior management position for nine years.  Frankly, I wouldn’t use it to recognize the efforts of the new nineteen-year-old guy in the mailroom.

I don’t fault the person who gave it to me, and I sincerely appreciate the kind words. She was just using a tool intended to encourage praise by eliminating the need to shop for an age- and experience-appropriate Good Job card.  However, a convenient device is not necessarily an appropriate one.  For example, I’m told texting is an expedient but unseemly medium for a break-up.  My negative reaction to the card got me thinking about other forms of expression and the importance of ensuring form is suited to content.

For the past three years (or is it four? Ugh), I have made references in this blog to my efforts to write a book about my family’s three-week trip to Europe.  It’s been excruciating trying to shape the manuscript into what I intended to be my third book.  I’ve spent more time thinking – and fretting – about the book than I have writing it.  Last week, I faced the truth: I don’t have a book, I have a collection of anecdotes strung together with a series of “It had been another great day” and “When I woke up the next morning…” statements.  The humor and humanity of my European vacation is buried beneath mundane details associated with three weeks of travel through three countries.  Aside from the eight of us who were there, no one will be regaled by a recounting of each visit to a gelato shop, of which there a dozen.  My readers, I suspect, are not clamoring to know the respective orders of each family member at the more than 30 restaurant meals of which we partook.  My best chance at holding your attention is to share a few stories that capture the essence of the experience: the places, people, frequent humor, and occasional misery.  While I believe the tales will make for a good read, they do not amount to a full-length book, and that is heartbreaking for several reasons.

1. I’m letting down my family.  I promised them a comprehensive account of our grand adventure, but I can’t muster the energy to turn ten thousand details into a compelling narrative.  Sorry, folks, you’ll have to rely on the five thousand – I’m not exaggerating – photos to refresh your memory.

2. I’m not as close to my third book as I’d hoped.  I figure this manuscript will amount to about half a book, so I’ll need to figure out ways to supplement it with a few other stories before I have enough to justify charging people to read it.

3. I’ll have to edit with an axe.  Sanding and varnishing text is never easy, but, in this case, blood will be spilled.  A writer friend of mine says, “Every word is my child,” and while he means it as a joke, all good humor contains truth. Deciding which of my true life experiences to delete will carry the same emotional turmoil as deciding which five fingers I would like removed.  Those are not decisions I want to make.

I took the first step by reorganizing the chapters into one for each country instead of one for each day of the trip.  Now that I have settled on an organizing principle, I’ll break out the chainsaw and get to work hacking some limbs off the overgrown tree of words.  If I should manage to carve the manuscript into something publishable, I’ll be sure to let you know.  I’d love for you to read it.  Who knows, you might even like it so much you’ll want to send me a note expressing your appreciation.  I know where you can get a pre-printed card for just such an occasion.