Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Time to Pause

The last day of the year seems like a good time to pause briefly to look back at the previous year, and to look forward to the upcoming year. I really don't have any particularly deep thoughts about either one at the moment, but maybe I can manage a few quick reflections.

2008 was a good year. My family enjoyed good health, safety, prosperity, and some genuine spiritual and personal growth. There were some setbacks and hardships, too, but those seem relatively minor when I consider what many people in the world are facing today. I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing friends and family, and I would be tremendously remiss if I failed to mention that Jesus is the center of everything good and worthwhile in my life. His unquenchable grace, mercy, and love are precious beyond words, and it's because of Him that I can look forward to each new day.

I start 2009 with few lofty goals or ambitions. Perhaps one thing I should try to do is relax and take a little more time off. The folks at my office notified me this past week that I have a tremendous surplus of vacation days accumulated. I'm at an age and season in life where my work is generally enjoyable and rewarding, but I know from experience that it's important to keep a good balance in my life, and not devote too much time or energy to work. Enjoying a little down time, and stopping to appreciate the goodness around me, sounds like a grand idea.

I think I'll start working on that right now. My wife spent the whole afternoon preparing a nice spread of meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and a variety of condiments to take next door, where our neighbors are throwing their annual New Years' Eve bash. There will be lots of food, drinks, friends, kids playing, laughter, and even some fireworks.

Happy New Year! May you and yours have a wonderful 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Though He Often Cheats By Using Extremely Long and Descriptive Titles, and Not Including Those in His Word Count

I enjoy Abraham Piper's blog, 22 Words. I struggle with being too verbose. I'm usually not disciplined enough to use fewer words.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter Gloom

So here we are, just a few days from the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and I haven't seen the sun in weeks. Literally. We've been locked into this weather pattern where there is constant, thick cloud cover. This isn't unusual for this time of year here in Tennessee, and I don't mean to make it sound like I'm complaining.

In fact, we've had decent rainfall lately, and are now ahead of our average for annual precipitation in 2008. This is good, because we've had a couple of very dry years. 2007 was considered a drought year.

I do think there is more than just a psychological effect from continuous lack of sunlight. Our bodies get Vitamin D from sunlight, so perhaps a lack of it has other physiological effects. My sleep patterns are a little off. I feel a couple of degrees off kilter. It's hard to explain.

The last couple of days it has been very cold, and drizzly, and a thick fog has been lingering just above the rooftops. I swear it looks like London in 1891 -- the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery.

But I accept this. It's part of the amazing cycle of life in our world. There was rebirth and new hope in the spring, an almost endless supply of hot sunny days in the summer, and a crisp beautiful change in the fall. Now it's time for things to lie dormant or die. It seems a bit dreary now, and sometimes seems like it lasts a little longer than we'd like. But the truth is that it stays this way just the right amount of time. It will make the warmth and rebirth of springtime that much sweeter when it finally comes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Linked Together

Is it just me and the places I visit, or does the blogosphere seem sort of slow lately?

I find it fascinating that something as chaotic and uncontrolled as the internet manages to ebb and flow in such discernible patterns. Each individual person, acting as a free agent, manages to blend and mingle into a greater whole in ways that can be surprisingly predictable.

Having been part of online communities for many years now, I do understand some of the reasons for this. For one thing, much of the content on the blogosphere is part of an ongoing conversation. A post by one blogger sparks a conversation, and other bloggers write new posts both in response to the original, and as part of new thoughts on related subjects. More and more blogs become linked together by the synergy of these multiple ongoing conversation threads. Eventually there is some sort of consensus or equilibrium reached with the original conversation, but others have arisen to take its place.

When many of the prevailing conversations have run their course, and some sort of saturation point across the whole of the hive has been reached, things quiet down for a while. Because we just completed an election cycle here in the United States, it's possible that a certain level of fatigue has set in. Everyone expressed his or her opinion, poured their passion into the process, and is experiencing a bit of a lull or letdown now. I don't necessarily mean a letdown in the sense of being sad or depressed (though I'm sure some people are), just in levels of passion and desire to express strong opinions about many of the issues that were hot topics a little over a month ago.

It's also possible that the time of year has something to do with it. Perhaps people are busy shopping, or spending time with family and friends. Maybe some are suffering from season-related depression, which unfortunately, is fairly common this time of year.

Ultimately, I'm not sure if this slowdown is real or just anecdotally perceived. And how can something be called "real", when the entire framework and substance upon which it is based only exists in a virtual way in the first place?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Magnifying the Mundane

So I've been trying this "daily blogging" thing, more or less, for about a week now, and I'm still not sure what to think about it.

I find that I can always write something -- sometimes it's something about something, and sometimes it's something about nothing. Sometimes it's an embedded video that I found funny or interesting. As far as I know, I have at least one person who has this blog in his reader and actually reads what I write (thanks, Jim!). But I'm still restless and uncertain about what value this whole thing has, and for whom I am writing it.

I guess it should be obvious by now that I'm an awkward, introspective and self-conscious person. Otherwise, why would I keep stopping the simple flow of daily minutiae to ponder the process, instead of just engaging in it? And I think I should make it clear that I'm not saying this in a negative way, or to be persistently self-deprecating. It is what it is, and I am what I am.

Perhaps it's the mundane and introspective nature of my life (and therefore of my subject matter), that has me constantly rethinking this process. Other than a few friends, I'm not sure who wants to read about my simple daily existence. One of the common criticisms of blogging I've seen is this very thing -- that there are millions of people creating dull and meaningless logs of their dull and meaningless lives, and trying to make it sound like they are interesting or have something important to say.

Which means that at this point, I'm a blogger whose dull and meaningless chatter includes allegedly witty observations about how other writers I've read like to make fun of the fact that most blogging is just dull and meaningless chatter.

Somebody stop me.

It's One of a Kind

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holy Strep Throat, Batman!

So after a few days of pretty severe symptoms and no apparent improvement in her condition, I took my wife to the doctor today. Turns out she has strep throat. We were both pretty surprised to hear this. She did have swelling at the back of her throat and lymph nodes, but she did not have what we usually think of as a "sore throat" -- you know, that thing you get during a bad cold, where you can't even swallow without extreme pain. I always thought that was one of the main symptoms of strep throat, but apparently that's not necessarily the case. Reading through the list of other symptoms for strep throat, I see that my wife has exhibited every single one of them.

While I was there in the doctor's office, the doctor wrote me a prescription and recommended that I take the same type of antibiotics that my wife is taking, since I have been in close contact with her the whole time she's been sick.

I think the biggest mystery for us is where my wife got this. We couldn't recall any friends or family who have had strep throat, and are not aware of coming in contact with anyone who has had it recently. We did go to a restaurant and have a meal a couple of days before she began showing symptoms -- and that's about how long it's supposed to take them to show up. That seems like the most likely scenario, but it's a scary thought -- that somebody working as a cook or server at a public restaurant is running around infecting everyone with strep.

I think we'll stay home and cook our own meals for a while.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

My poor wife is sick as a dog this week. We're not sure exactly who she got it from or when, but there's always lots of this crud going around this time of year, so it really doesn't matter. Nobody in particular owns it, and nobody wants it.

She's a little congested and has a bit of a cough, but this one is mostly aimed at her stomach and body. She can't eat anything without getting extremely nauseous, and she has an intense achy sensation all over her body, especially in her back and joints. She's alternating between a high fever with sweats, and chills with violent shivering. She's been taking either acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the aches and fever. These are providing some measure of relief, but she's still pretty miserable.

I've been trying to be helpful and comforting, and to keep the house clean and functional so she can rest a lot without worrying about anything. So mostly I'm just sitting around, waiting for her to need more water, or medicine, or a back rub. And wondering what the odds are that I'll be getting this exact same thing really soon. These kinds of bugs have a way of getting passed around among all the members of a household, so it's probably just a matter of time. Boy, now that I think about it, I am a little achy. And is that a tickle in my throat? Hmmm...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cow Town

My wife grew up in a place called Vacaville, California. It's about halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco.

For several years, I always got the same response when I would tell people where my wife was from. They would always smile and say "Cow Town". I thought they must have known something about the history of Vacaville that I didn't. Sure, I'd seen some cows in the countryside around the area where my wife grew up. But not that many cows. I figured maybe that was some sort of California in-joke, or something about the history of the place that I was unaware of. Or maybe they considered it some sort of hick town.

One day I mentioned something about Vacaville to one of my coworkers and he said "Cow Town," so I asked him if he was familiar with the place. "No, never heard of it before," he said.

"Well then how did you know it's called Cow Town?" I asked.

"In Spanish, 'vaca' means 'cow'. So 'vaca ville' would be 'cow town'."

Ah, mystery solved. At least, the mystery of why everyone would say that when I mentioned Vacaville. But it turns out that the place is actually named for a guy named Juan Manuel Vaca, not for the cows.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My Baby is Growing Up

What you see below are actual, unretouched photos that I took myself, mere moments apart, from the driver's seat of my 2003 Honda Civic last night:

That's right, she's just crossed over to 100,000 miles! (Also notice, kids, that I came to a full stop before attempting to take these photographs). If you've been the owner of a Honda automobile, then you know that this mileage is barely adolescence in the life cycle of the car. I finished paying this car off a few months ago, and have been doing all the recommended maintenance, so it should continue to be safe and reliable for a very long time.

In other news my daughter, age 24, is living in her own apartment, and doing really well for herself. After a bit of a slow start, she is now exhibiting more responsible behavior and making wise choices that reflect a better understanding of how to achieve her long-term goals.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Old Man Pains

For most of my life, I've generally tried to live in a reasonably healthy way. (Note the generous use of modifiers in that sentence.)

When I enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 26, it was the beginning of a fairly consistent pattern of exercise, diet, and other behaviors aimed at taking care of my body and allowing me to lead an active lifestyle. Running has always been an activity I've enjoyed -- it helps to relieve stress, gives me more energy, and makes me feel more healthy in general.

I continued with my good exercise and dietary habits for several years after my time in the military ended. However, I got away from those good habits for a couple of years when we moved here to Tennessee. First, there were a few months of house hunting; then several months of renovation on the house we bought. I got into the habit of eating out a lot, and simply didn't have make time to fit exercise into my schedule.

Eventually we got settled in and began making home-cooked meals again. But it took me over a year and a half to try and start back into an exercise routine. The first time I started running, I had to stop after a couple of weeks, because I was having a lot of pain in my knees -- something I had rarely experienced previously as a runner.

In January 2008, I decided to give it another try -- this time taking into account that my body would need to be introduced to exercise gradually. I needed to lose a little weight, but mostly I just needed to ease my body back into a workout routine slowly, so that it would adapt without rebelling. I started with brisk walks, push ups, and the rowing machine. Within two months I was running again, and this time with no pain. Throughout the year I gradually went longer distances in shorter time. I was feeling good, and looked forward to my runs.

Then about a month ago, I returned from a run and noticed considerable soreness along the outside of my right leg, from my knee to my ankle. As a runner, you learn that various aches and pains come and go, but this one seemed a little worse than usual. The next time I ran, the pain built as I was heading out, and was bad enough that I had to walk the final mile or so back. I'm pretty sure I didn't do anything unusual, like turn an ankle or land awkwardly during a run.

So I tried resting for a week, then started up again -- but the pain returned. I've been through this pattern a couple of times now. My wife says (mostly joking) that I'm just having "old man pains". You know, the "not as young as you used to be" thing. Yeah, yeah, like I want to hear that.

I think it's actually tendinitis. Most of the pain is in the deep tissue just above my ankle, but at times the twinge shoots all the way up to my knee. Apparently you're supposed to avoid the activity that caused the tendinitis for three to six weeks, ice the affected area, and take NSAIDs when the pain flares up.

Three to six weeks sounds like a long time to me. That's long enough for my metabolism and cardiopulmonary conditioning to really suffer. That's long enough for the currently-healthy muscles in my legs to begin to atrophy. And worst of all, that's long enough for me to get away from the habit of exercise that has once again become a part of my life. I think that's the part that scares me the most.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Looking Back

My blog friend Jim recently did a series of posts with videos from the early days of MTV. I really appreciated the excuse opportunity to watch these, and allow them to do what such things typically do -- transport me back to the time from whence they came.

When the soundtrack of my past takes me back to that time, it somehow seems like things were good back then, even if they really weren't. I had nothing, and everything was confusing and uncertain. Yet something inside me aches for that time. I can't explain it.

In all honesty, things are much better now than they were then, in so many ways. And I'm glad and grateful for that, and don't actually want to go back to an earlier time -- even when it seems like an appealing idea.

What I conclude is that the past can sometimes create an optical illusion. It's always a safe place to visit, no matter how bad things seemed back then, because I know the outcome. I know how all those bad and confusing and scary things managed to work together to lead to the good things of today.

Though it seems like it would have been hard to believe then, I probably should have known all along that everything would be OK.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fading Into the Background

In case there's anyone out there who still visits blogs, rather than reading feeds from blogs, you've already noticed that I've gone minimalist on my blog layout.

For those of you reading this in your reader, there's no real point in visiting my blog to see it for yourself, since the whole point of going minimalist means that there's nothing to see here.

Really, this outward change in appearance accurately reflects the way I feel on the inside: plain, simple, not flashy, searching for the important core components of existence, shedding the complex and the showy.

Frankly, I'm happy about this. I know that the written word doesn't always convey tone, so I just figured I'd make that clear. I'm not feeling drab or trying to be pretentious.

Though I haven't published anything on this blog for a month, I've actually written some stuff. But I can never seem to finish what I start or allow myself to be satisfied with "good enough". I'm back to the same old conundrum that I arrive at pretty regularly -- undecided about why I'm writing or to whom I'm writing. Different bloggers have different advice on what works for them, and I've not only listened to this advice and taken it to heart, I've pondered it deeply, and deconstructed it to the point of paralysis. Which ironically, would also be an accurate description of how I've processed most of the other information that has found its way into my cerebral cortex in the last few days, or weeks, or months, or years.

I'm thinking of maybe trying one of those "post every day for a month" or "post every day for a year" things, like Jim has been doing. I do have thoughts almost every day that might be interesting to look back on at some point in the future. I also love my community of online friends who regularly meet "virtually" around the blogosphere. It seems that actually writing a "blog" would make me a better "blogger", and hence a better member of the "blogosphere".

I could do a lot more with this, too, but honestly have no desire to do that. I know how to cull accurate statistics of web site visits. In my professional life, I've set up dozens (if not hundreds) of web servers, manipulated the server log data at the most basic level, and have installed a wide variety of web statistics programs for years. I know all the tricks to get "noticed" by a larger audience, how to create content that is attractive to important search engines like Google and Technorati, how to use social networking sites, and on and on. Perhaps it's my past and present professional involvement in such internet marketing that makes me not want to do any of that for this blog.

So maybe I'll try writing again, or try writing regularly, or try committing to something, or try to stop writing long sentences with lots of commas and repetitive coordinating conjunctions. That last one certainly seems like a noble goal.