About A Boy

My fourth trip to Texas in the past six months approaches, unforeseen by me a year ago, when I was just barely contemplating the idea of another generation in the family and let’s get real, here: I’m not going to be able to just visit willy-nilly.  It’s 1700 miles away.  I could always go into the backyard and grab some 50s and 20s off the money tree that grows there except oh wait, that’s not real.

But as it turns out, I’m the perfect grandfather.  I know, I know; big duh all the way around.  I meant, though, that I don’t need to be in any one particular place to make even the meager living I usually make.  I’ve done it in hotel rooms.  I’ve done it on kitchen tables.  I’ve done it in a moving car.  How many grandfathers can say that?

OK.  That was awkwardly phrased.  You know what I mean.

So some planning, and various strategies to earn airline miles, and an eagle eye, quick reflexes, and a pure heart are all that are required.  My last trip cost me $2.50.  This one slightly under $200, but again: These don’t involve vacation days or major upheavals.

The only thing I’d change would be maybe flying out at the crack of dawn so I’d have more of the travel day outside of airports, but that would involve engaging a co-conspirator in my crack of dawnness and there ain’t nobody like that in this house.  Otherwise, it’s an easy four hours.  That’s two movies, or one movie and one book, or any number of combinations of distractions.  I’m a sociable person but conversing on planes is awkward and it’s hard to hear and you can’t choose your seatmate, etc.  I know lots of people who come back from trips with entertaining stories of their stranger travel companions, but nope, not I.  I hook up and plug in and wait to land.

And gladly, I might add.  I gladly pack, and go through security, and wait, and pace, and watch movies on my iPad and listen to podcasts on my iPhone.  I’m glad to do all of this, because in the end?  Because this.

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At Ease

The FDA has announced that it will begin regulating the e-cigarette market, finally, after years and now that it’s huge by relative standards, a billion-dollar industry.

One of the reasons for this is because the makers of e-cigs have strenuously avoided marketing their products as part of a smoking-cessation program, although of course that’s what they are.  People have been working on this sort of thing for decades.  Can we shift recalcitrant cigarette smokers over to an analog, a device that sort of acts like and feels like and creates an effect like a cigarette does, except without the smell and stains and emphysema and death?

Turns out, they can, although it’s not been nearly long enough to have any significant data.  And the misinformation is so staggering, so widespread and repeated without investigation, that there are layers of opinion before much information has been gathered.

It’s been well over a year since I tried an e-cig.  I’d heard about it from a college friend (I mean, I was aware they existed; I just got some personal experience related), who dumped her habit when she bought a new car and just didn’t feel right fouling the interior with smoke.  She gave me a lot of information, and so on a whim I tried one.  I was definitely a recalcitrant smoker, a few a day but really?  I’m not sure the number matters.  The damage is enormous, again on a relative standard, by just a few.

Anyway, I never smoked a tobacco product again, or haven’t since.  It was obviously immediately to me that I just liked the habit, the motions, the inhalation, the feel of smoke against the back of my throat.  Vapor fakes all of this very well.  I keep them with me and charged up all the time.  It’s a pleasure for me, particularly when I’m bored and/or thinking, or stuck in a car with a long drive ahead.

They produce a slightly peppermint-flavored mist that dissipates almost immediately.  It’s vapor; it’s steam, essentially.  I could blow it in your face and aside from the rudeness, you probably wouldn’t care.  If your eyes were closed, you probably wouldn’t know.

The ones I use contain a small amount of nicotine, since I found that the non-nicotine ones lack flavor, for lack of a better word.  There’s less oomph.  And don’t get me started on nicotine; there are now studies that actually show some benefit from this byproduct.  Nicotine doesn’t kill anyone.  Nicotine is on par with caffeine.  Some people are allergic or sensitive, particularly infants, but otherwise it’s just a run-of-the-mill stimulant that might or might not be beneficial to some people, although it definitely has the potential for dependency development.  Nicotine has a short half-life, so it’s out of the body pretty quickly and thus withdrawal symptoms, as mild as they are, kick in quickly.

But that’s not why people keep smoking.  Don’t believe it if you hear it.  A heavy smoker will certainly turn anxious and irritable and all sorts of things if they can’t have a cigarette, but actually studies have found that much of this is psychological (i.e., when people know they can’t possibly smoke, such as on a plane, they tend to relax more and not be so stressed, even during withdrawal.  Some people, anyway).

Smokers smoke because it gives them comfort.  It’s a weird thing to do, when you think about  it, and if you never try it then you’re better off, of course, but that’s what it is.  Comfort.  A habit, a routine, that by its repetition becomes comforting.

I’m not sure I care about the FDA.  I imagine if someone made e-cigarettes illegal or prohibitively expensive, I’d be OK with stopping, although I’d probably miss it.

It’s the reason that interests me.  And how I wonder we would think about people who do things we find socially unacceptable or at least weird (in my case, people who watch reality TV or read compulsively, just to name two things) if we just thought, it gives them some comfort.


I’ve been getting a mess o’ pictures of my grandson lately, as he gets bigger and mobile and crosses off milestones every day.  I’m heading to Austin next week, in fact, for a quick visit.

A recent picture (a series of them, really) inspired my latest column, which you can read here if you’d like.

Or, in something I’ve decided to maybe experiment with, you can just listen to it.


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The Conscience Of The Road

I have an imaginary spiritual guide, which sounds like a spirit guide and IT’S NOT AT ALL.  Just so we’re clear.

My imaginary spiritual guide, in fact, is a lot like Jiminy Cricket, except not annoying.  Just there, telling me what to do and what will happen, and then going off to wherever imaginary beings go.

Here’s the thing: My daughter had a baby, and that was many different kinds of fun, but it changed my routine.  I took more trips.  I thought about other things.  I archived millions of baby pictures.  This all took TIME.

And I noticed that my Runkeeper app had updated at some point, and now showed me a screen that had the hours of exercise I had done this week, compared to last week.  I rarely paid attention, but eventually I noticed that I had been averaging about 3-1/2 hours.  Per week.  So, 30 minutes of exercise a day.

That’s all we ask, healthcare professionals will say.  Thirty minutes of brisk walking or biking or running or swimming or something brisk, anyway.  Would do America a lot of good.

But for me?  Off my game, and I don’t exercise for my health.  It has a positive effect on my health, but I exercise to stay sane.  And then I exercise more if I’ve been gaining weight and need to do that.  But mostly it’s mental health.

Spiritual health too.  Psychological, philosophical…you know the routine.  It makes me feel better, and here I’d let it drop to a minimum, and then winter came, and then spring, and now Jiminy Cricket.

So I immediately got that number up to 8 hours for the next week.  Yesterday I did 2-1/2 hours of cardio, an hour on the bike (stationary, no flat tires) and 90 minutes on the road, walking.  Not as fast as it had been, a year ago, needs some improvement, but still got that brisk thing going and sweat and all.

Because Jiminy said, You’ll feel better.  You’ll BE better.  Somehow.  And maybe not today.  But soon.

Which, of course, can be said for getting an education and eating kale, among other things, but I knew what the cricket had in mind.

So that’s what I’m doing.

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Good Morning, Moon

I am the Moon, and they are the Tides.

This is only my theory, you understand.

But since I have some options, and my serious working hours during the day are in the afternoon and evening, I can get up and go to sleep whenever I feel like it.  Usually.  And while most of the time I lean toward earlier being better, there are times that I lean in the other direction.

So I felt unease with the way some things were going, and I tried to get up earlier.  Just tried a little.  Took advantage of my wife’s alarm.  Used my own alarm.  Tried to move faster.  Cut back on the morning routine of coffee and cruising the newsing.  Headed outside ASAP to move.

I’ve done it before, so no surprises.  Today I was up at 7.  Lop another hour off of that and we’re going to be in good shape.  Because the earlier to rise, the earlier to bed, and the earlier to bed the less chance of eating 4000 calories at 10 pm.  Also part of the plan.

But Julie and John have turned into early risers too, and so I say again: I am the Moon.  Obviously.

Aerobic exercise and lots of water.  Those are the two things.  I don’t understand the water thing, but it makes me feel better and I don’t drink gallons (maybe 80 oz per day, plus a little coffee and tea).  The exercise speaks for itself.  I was getting terribly lazy and a little out of shape, not to mention flabby, 10 pounds heavier than November, which was 10 pounds heavier than I wanted to be, which was 10 pounds heavier than it would be nice to be, and so on.  This never stops, young people, or it shouldn’t.  Self-improvement is a life project.  It’s really the point.

After many, many weeks of self reflection, a little gloominess and some serious self-induced stress, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t seem to be able to change the behavior of other people, at least in ways that will make my life better, so I guess I need to change myself and hope for the best.  You would think I’d be smarter by now.  Maybe I get credit for finally figuring it out.

Aerobic exercise and water.  Early to bed and early to rise.  Less Internet wandering and more walking the streets.  See what happens.

And if I have undue influence over the circadian rhythms of the people I live with, well.  Turns out I can change some behavior without really trying.  Which is ALSO sort of the point, if you think about it.


My grandson turned 6 months old yesterday.  In 20 days I will see him again.  Call it a postscript.

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Thanks to everyone who has been reading along during this little discipline/exercise/indulgence.  It’s not the end of Lent, nor has it even been 40 straight days, but I’ve learned some things.

And one of those was that I need to focus on certain things, and that this is getting in the way.  So.  Divestment, as I’ve said so many times.  But I’ll still be here, still journeying.  Just not official Lent journeying.

Wishing you well in whatever yours may be.

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The Band Is Playing Somewhere, Simple Gifts

In 1987 (let’s say; it sounds about right), Julie began singing with a group called Northwest Opera In Schools, Etc. (NOISE), started by a married couple of Northwest-based singers who moved on to careers in New York but kept their baby going via long distance (which was more of a challenge in those days, come to think of it).  It’s been 30 years, in fact, and a couple of generations of singers have passed through NOISE’s spring shows, taken to elementary and middle schools, 40-minute versions of famous operas, introductions to something many had never seen before.

Julie sang with them every year, it seems, until she didn’t.  Probably at some point during the seminary years; it’s hard to remember.  But every spring for a long time it was the same routine; she’d disappear for a few weeks, off early in the morning to tour the state in a van, setting up scenery and singing to children.

Wait.  She was doing a performance in 2001 during the Nisqually Earthquake on February 28, 2001.  I remember her story of huddling in an elementary school gym.  So she’s been retired for fewer years than I thought.

And for the past few years, she’s been back, directing productions now.  Staging them for a week or so, working with singers who were babies or not born when she first started with the company.

Yesterday, when they went to a school near and dear to our church neighborhood, she asked me to record the performance, as I’ve done many times in the past.  This time, I had better equipment and the desire to do it right.  I’d use my Nikon with its fabulous 1080 high-def video and a zoom lens so I could get close-ups, etc.  It’d be professional and everything.

Listen: You can’t do this in an elementary school gym.  Among many other things, but this one I knew personally you can’t do.  For one thing, there are kids crawling around your feet like serpentine little humanoids.  It’s like trying to film “The Magic Flute” in that cave of snakes in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

So the zoom lens was out; too much chance of shakiness, even with a tripod (human snakes can bump tripods.  They will, too).  So I essentially did what I used to do, set up a static shot and push “record.”  And it turned out fine.

I also wandered around with my iPhone, trying to capture different angles to edit in; we’ll see how that goes.

In the end, though, I got what she wanted, which was a record of the staging and a memory of the show.  And I learned what I already knew: Complicated can sometimes sound interesting, but simpler is usually easier and often better.

And then last night we went to the Edmonds Center for the Arts to watch the Rainbow City Band perform a concert of Americana,Ives and Copland, a little Dvorak and a tear-jerking rendition of “Shenandoah,” my favorite American tune.  This is an LGBTQwhatever group of musicians, probably most not professional, who have dusted off their high school instruments because they just want to play.

And they do play.  A long-time blog work buddy, Phil Philbin, way back from our old days on the Salon blogs in the early aughts, who lives in Fremont with his clarinetist wife Betsy, found his way onto this team almost by accident one year, eventually encouraged Betsy to join, and they have regular gigs up in Edmonds, which have been the only times we’ve actually ever seen each other.

It was a small crowd for a nice Saturday night with wonderful music, although maybe Edmonds doesn’t exactly hold their fan base, but then: We’re talking again about simple gifts, not complicated ones, and the older I get those are the ones I find myself more drawn to.  Straight drama, simple rom-com, straight-forward biographies, long walks instead of the elliptical machine.

It was a bandstand in the park kind of night, and a nostalgic day at an elementary school, tastes of creative art presented in friendly forms, and in retrospect I’m not sure I’d be happier doing something else.

Day 33: Tell yourself to keep it simple, then do what you’re told. #lenten
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A Place For Us

John and I went for a walk, and as we trudged back up the hill (he always trudges; I was just being polite) he mentioned that he missed our plum tree, a little.

Just because it was there all these years, and now it’s not.  I understand the feeling, although I don’t share it.  I could have mentioned that the crows probably also miss it, and miss grabbing plums and dropping them on the roof outside my window, where they nibble a little before dropping more.  Every year, a bombardment of plums, but no more.

I do understand, though.  Even though our plum tree conversation led me to reiterate that should any person, who looks and talks and smells in any way, offers me the right amount of money to vacate my house by tomorrow so they could bulldoze it and build a real house instead, I would take that offer.  I might insist on a full 24 hours, just because of the grand piano and issues.  But I would take it.

And then, later, miss the house.  But not that much.  As with the hungry 2014 crows I won’t see, I understand sentiment but don’t let it involve real estate.

But sentiment is a strong force.  There are places on this planet that take my breath away and rattle my soul, and I’ve never even been there.  The places I’ve lived over the years call me.  Kurt Vonnegut used to say that every time he returned to his home town of Indianapolis, he wondered, just briefly, fleetingly, where his bed was.  I understand this, too.

I’ve become too frozen to this place, I know, and now I’m trapped by reality.  But I understand the bad side of that stasis.  And that’s just my individual, personal house.  I can get frozen to lots of places.

It was only last fall that I got unstuck, to steal a little from Kurt again.  I went to Texas for a longish stay, and there were moments of panic, at feeling that I’d be lost in another place.  Where would I put my computer?  Could I use the bathroom any time I needed to?  Where was my bed?

Ridiculous, too.  I was completely comfortable away from this place, and I suspect I would be in most places.  In an Einsteinian sense, I’m not stuck to this place by a mysterious force.  It’s because time-space is warped, at least in my life.

Shut up.  That’s not a bad metaphor.

And all of this is simply to say, to myself, there are lots of places.  Maybe people who travel a lot lose that wonder, but I don’t.  Whenever I see a new place, I see its history and its space and I imagine all sorts of lives,  including mine.  And I feel better, having seen it.  So.  That’s a goal.

And the places that make me feel uncomfortable?  Those places, I suspect, are maybe sacred in some way, and I should pay attention, and that’s a goal, too.

Day 32: Place is important. #lenten
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The Best Things

In case anyone gets this wild idea that I have adopted a Lenten discipline in order to fit into a certain pair of pants, let me disabuse you of that idea.  Let me stop you right there.  Let me fake outrage over your perceived shallowness at my personal spiritual pathway that I’m walking, slowly and hesitantly, toward enlightenment and understanding simply by…blogging.  Hmm.  I guess you can think what you want.

Anyway, no signs of blubber disapparating have shown up this season.  On the other hand, there’s no additional blubber, unless you count the 8-10 pounds I gained during the holidays that have extended their welcome.  But I’m OK.  It could be worse.  I still look roughly like this, taken in Austin in February.

And it’s not a big deal, not when compared to missing planes and earthquakes and Supreme Court rulings.  I might like to be a bit more organized and healthful with the diet, but sometimes?

Sometimes you look around and see that there are good things, and they make you feel a little better.  That’s sort of my point here, in this Lent.  If I can gather up all those things, then pick a few, hopefully the healthier ones.  Surrounding myself with happy, shiny people.  Doing work that makes a difference.  Playing with babies, walking in sunshine, encouraging young people.

But sometimes a slice of pizza is the best you can do, other than three slices.  And that salted caramel ice cream that’s apparently all the rage?  OMG.

In other words, let’s do the best we can, then work on better, and in the meantime be grateful for goodness wherever it’s found and just try not to go overboard.

Day 31: There can never be too much butter. Never. #lenten
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