Rate, Rate, Don’t Tell Me

Somewhere around here, napping on my hard drive and in the cloud, is the word “flinder.” It’s a word I made up at a dinner with friends, all about my age, during a conversation about technology. It was just a combination of syllables I slapped together to stand for some new thing that we wouldn’t do, wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t relate to, wouldn’t be interested in. The new Facebook or Twitter, in other words.

Snapchat is a flinder, I think, at least for me, although that might not quite work. I don’t pay attention to Reddit, either. You can’t do everything, and nothing’s for everybody. I’m still in the loop, if a little skeptical these days.

Five years ago, I was skeptical about smart phones. Why would I pay an extra $30 a month so I could browse the webs from my phone? I could actually do that anyway, if I wanted to, although it was awkward and would be expensive if I did too much. I just couldn’t find a reason.

I found one eventually, or at least a rationale that I could live with, and I’ve never looked back. Or up, sometimes. I try to be responsible.

One of my reasons happened in the late spring of 2011, when batteries died in both my digital camera and my video camera at the same time, which was not a convenient time. There was also the annoyance of wanting to listen, sometimes, to music while I walked, but keeping my phone in a pocket just in case. Which, should it ring, might be impossible to hear give that I’m listening to music, and so on.

I consolidated technology, in other words. That’s what the iPhone was, and the ones that followed, and I took full advantage. It was a phone, both kinds of cameras, an MP3 player, and a Swiss Army knife without the blades. It could do a lot of stuff.

And as we moved through the iterations (I’m on my third generation of iPhone, and I may snag the fourth soon), more bells and whistles were added and it became a fitness tool, something I loved. It tracked my walks via GPS and kept records of miles and steps and theoretical calories burned.

But that was something I got for myself, working through the pros and cons, and overall happy with the way things turned out, even if life has become something of an obstacle course, avoiding teenagers walking directly toward me with their eyes on their screens.

This is my technology baseline, then. If there’s a way to combine several things into one thing, I’m interested. If it’s just a different and maybe easier way to do something, I’m less interested. My Amazon Echo, a Christmas gift last year from my son, is useful for playing music and serving as a nice Bluetooth speaker for my computer, but neither of those was necessary, thus making it sort of the perfect gift: I’d never buy one for myself, but I have some fun with it. It hasn’t changed my life in the least, but I can walk in the room and say, “Alexa, play some James Taylor” and that’s kind of cool, so win-win.

Which brings us to 2016.

I should mention that last week, I somehow lost my wedding ring. Sometimes it gets loose, a good sign that I weigh less than I should, but that hasn’t been the case. It somehow got caught on something and tugged off without me noticing. I keep thinking it’ll eventually show up, but since it was my second wedding band, just a nice pair that we bought in Santa Fe in 2009, I put on the original from 1983 and I’m all ringed up again.

I only mention it because my wedding band is symbolic, which is why I wear it. Otherwise, I’m not a jewelry person. I don’t like things around my neck, can’t think of even a stupid reason to get anything pierced, and I live in a world of clocks so I’ll skip the watch, thank you.

Yet now I have this thing on my wrist. It tells the time, but oh so much more, and I’m sort of on the fence about it.

My daughter and her husband gave me a FitBit for Christmas, something that always struck me as superfluous, although maybe not as much as the Echo. My phone doesn’t track my heart rate, for one thing, and I guess that’s an important thing to know, or it could be. So far, my heart hasn’t stopped beating according to this thing. I’m going to assume it’s correct.

I’m also going to assume that it’s correct when it tells me my resting heart rate is 56, which seems pretty good for a guy whose exercise has been spotty for a few months now. I went out yesterday, in fact, and walked about four miles, nothing too strenuous, and apparently averaged 113 beats per minute. Hardly aerobic, although there was some of that, and twice my resting rate? It might be OK. Doesn’t matter. I think I’m fine.

Again, it’s not something I would have bought for myself, so nice gifting strategy. It’s fun, I’m enjoying it, I don’t mind wearing it, and it actually gives me information I didn’t know (I apparently sleep pretty soundly).

But I’ve been down this road before. Last October I left my phone in the car when my wife dropped me at the airport, and I went through security twice just so I could run back outside and meet her to pick it up. That’s my situation with the phone. I’ve accepted it. I’m not entirely comfortable, but accepting.

And now I can see a situation in which I have no idea what my heart rate is, because somehow I’ve lost my FitBit. This slope is awfully slippery, and I have a feeling I’ve already started downhill.


Note: I wrote the above yesterday morning, December 27. After I finished and began to post, I saw the news about Carrie Fisher. As ridiculous as it sounds, it felt disrespectful to be joking about health and tracking devices on the day somebody famous died following a cardiac event. Somebody about my age; two years older, my brother’s age, younger than my wife by a year. My wife, who had her own cardiac event six years ago.

And the news was and is just sad. It feels odd to me the way we throw around the word authentic these days; everyone’s authentic, but I guess I get it. Celebrity and all. So that’s part of the sadness, I think; she seemed to be a real person, with real problems and a nice attitude about all of them.

On the other hand, it’s not like we needed a reminder after the past year, but life is uncertain except for the last part. There are worse things than taking health a little too seriously. I’ve never been too concerned about heart disease, just because I have no warning signals and a lot of signals that say, nope. You will die some other way. Including the image below, which I don’t really understand but I’ll take. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.

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The Boxer

I have about 40 years of memories with my father. Typing that, just a fact of life, sometimes makes me irritated at the universe. I didn’t have enough time. I’ve still got questions.

That said, nothing is owed anyone and life is cruel by definition, being finite as it is. People lose parents at all ages, and he was here long enough to see all of his grandchildren born, all of whom also remember him well. So there’s that.

But when he passed in 2003, the stories came swooshing out as friends and family gathered to mourn and celebrate his life, and I wanted more. I have solid memories of my dad when he was in his 20s, but I saw no kid in him, not once. He could be silly and joyful and goofy, but he was an adult. I think he was an adult for a long time.

So I wish I could have known the kid, the funny, popular guy with the quick smile, who sang in glee club, who was a bodybuilder for a time, and a boxer. I can see it in my mind, extrapolate from all the anecdotes. It’s not that much of a stretch. He was often the bright light of any party, and I can remember all of this, but I could also see, even as a child, the burden.

He got married just after turning 18, and at 19 became a father. At age 23, he had three kids under the age of 4, and he’d get up in the morning and shake, wondering how he could possibly support a family of five.

He managed to pull that off, as it turns out, but sometimes I wonder if that light he seemed to carry as a young man got dimmed as he faced his responsibilities with fear and obligation. I can remember the job promotions, coming in his 20s, the dawning awareness that my dad was considered something of a superstar in his chosen profession, admired and desired. We moved a lot during that time, better neighborhood to better neighborhood, before he landed an administrative (but still hands getting dirty) position in Phoenix, where we moved when I was a couple of months shy of my 11th birthday.

I was a thorn in his side for a while, always mouthy and snarky as I worked my way through the stages of young wit, and to a man who is scared almost every day and fights the fear by working even harder, having a preteen who is feeling his oats and has a handle on that special brand of obnoxiousness that comes with that, tolerance was not particularly the first place he went.

I got some temper. I got chewed out. I slunk out of many a room with my dad, still feeling righteous but aware that I was on thin ice, and staying alive to snark another day seemed the better part of valor. He had a quick temper, particularly when stressed, and while he wasn’t an abusive father by my standards (and they’re the only ones I care about), I didn’t want to push it, just in case. I got the back of his hand a couple of times, and while that’s not my style and it’s not a choice I think is appropriate, that sort of spontaneous striking out (to a kid who by this time was taller than he was) always has seemed to me understandable, if not my style.

Understand that this was me, and my dad. He commented on this in later years, how he was too hard and in contemporary times the cops would have come and arrested him, etc. I tried to reassure him; this wasn’t a Stockholm Syndrome or just a beaten-down boy. There was no beating. Just a firm hand, a few mistakes, and a life that horrifies me, looking back. How did he survive at such a young age, trying to juggle work and family, one salary, sometimes more than one job.

And we all did just fine. We’ve had our troubles, but my parents managed to provide a happy childhood and enough lessons to allow us independence, and soon. All of us left home for college, returning occasionally when summers came or money got low, but mostly for holidays and birthdays. We were always a family.

Like many men of his generation, and with his background, he started smoking cigarettes at an early, formative age, long before public awareness of the dangers blasted into our cultural awareness. He tried to quit many times, finally decided he couldn’t, then spontaneously stopped in January 2003, just feeling bad and hoping to feel better.

But feeling bad was part of the lung cancer that was spreading already, finally diagnosed in that spring. He lived another six months or so, sometimes annoyed at the chemotherapy and its effects, and then slipping into gentleness, slightly goofy with tumors growing in his brain, then hospice and pneumonia and the end. He turned 67 four days before losing the battle.

We all lost that battle.

I wrote when he died that some people lead unremarkable lives, but there are no unremarkable people. My father could figure most things out, particularly mechanical things, a natural handyman, and at one time his most remarkable attribute to me was the way he could switch from an artisan to a polite and kind medical professional, who treated his patients with respect and dignity. People with physical disabilities need this, and my father seemed to understand that these were fully-developed human beings, facing adversity. My father understood the diversity of lives, and I suspect his patients loved him.

I loved him, of course. Early squabbles and arguments turned into diplomatic discussions and only the occasional heated ones, but from my early 20s on we were just friends, sharing a Scotch and a cigarette, talking about sports or families or the tough road ahead as the children grew up.

I learned to rely on him, in my own dance with the universe, Saturday night calls to pick his brain, run over options, get some advice. He would wander through his shortcomings, arguing that he was the last person to offer suggestions to my personal problems, but he always helped. And I always knew he was there, with over half a century of battling the odds that he would end up digging for scraps in an unwelcome economy. He made it work. He had some help, but mostly he used his own intuition and probably a few educated guesses on how to survive.

He was a devoted grandfather, intrigued by the different personalities of his descendents. Cory, Holly, Beth, Ben, John, Brendan, and Ryan. The older ones have already many inroads into adulthood, and the younger ones are working their way there.

He missed the great-grandchildren, and his 50th wedding anniversary, but I hope he thought occasionally that his offspring and their offspring would be OK in life. And if he dismissed his contribution, few of us believe that. I feel my father every day. He murmurs to me in quiet moments, and there have been times when I’ve felt strangely guided, likely a result of knowing how he was, but I’m ruling out nothing.

And oddly enough, I’m less inclined today, which would have been his 80th birthday, to focus on me. I would like, if I ruled the world, to have everyone focus for a second on him.

He rode trains by himself, traveling to another home, watched over by soldiers heading somewhere in those war years, remarking that the kindness of strangers was more prevalent those days.

He met my mother as a teenager, courted her relentlessly, wrote endless love letters to her when they were away, and knew what he yearned for. Both of them coming out of what we’d now call dysfunctional homes, they were determined to do the family thing the right away. A little Dr. Spock, a little common sense, a dash or two of their own upbringing but only the good parts. Discipline, daily chores, expectations of good grades, endless seats in an auditorium where I did plays, where my sister played in the marching band and orchestra, sitting in the bleachers for my basketball game.

He wasn’t perfect, but neither I and I doubt anyone else had perfection down. He had a short temper, and a disdain for the teenage rebellion and sarcasm that my brother tossed his way, as if he couldn’t remember being young. Which was very possible.

But he was the strongest person I’ve ever met, physically and mentally. And that stuff stays.

Thirteen years has a way of massaging grief, turning it into a gentle overview of what I miss, and more importantly what I saw. My father would probably roll his eyes every time I pick up a screwdriver, but he supported the effort. And then he’d fix my mistakes.

I learned humor at his feet. I actually sat by his feet, watching together the first episode of “Saturday Night Live” in my senior year of high school. I found him sprawled on the ground, roaring with laughter. Another moment to share.

I can tell you some stories he passed on about his teenage years, but this was rare and didn’t come up so much. This is what I got from the people who knew him when. A picture of somebody I never quite knew, but could see through the mist.

I’ve had adversity of  types he never experienced, particularly dealing with three devastating medical crises (and possibly five) over a short time. He was long gone by then, and I missed bending his ear. His opinions, useful and sometimes not, were a reflection of his strength, endurance, and experience. I could have used some of that.

Cancer is a thief, cancelling our futures and rescheduling, with iffy long-range plans. There are no long-range plans for small-cell lung cancer and 50 years of the most smoking I’ve ever seen in another person. It will kill you, almost always, and if he was a little unclear about the timeline, the rest of us knew, gathered from time to time, seeing this unrecognizable man who was finally dependent on the kindness of strangers and family, particularly hospice. We have nothing but love and admiration for hospice and palliative care.

And I have admiration and love for this man, as briefly as he was with us. He was complicated but simple, with standards and traditions that made sense to him and passed on to us. You take care of business, you can’t change the past, you work as hard as you can, sometimes hating it.

He moved back to Arizona just when the Diamondbacks went to the World Series, a gift to a man who’d let baseball drift out of his life without a local team to root for. I think I could have swayed him over to my side and the Seahawks, but I’ve a feeling he’d be pulling for the Cardinals. You support your guys, the local team, the community. Loyalty was not unknown to him, sports in a small way, family in a much bigger one.

His own athletic career was not much, participating but never standing out, but then he was a different sort of man. Team sports were fun, but sometimes some of us just prefer being the one in the arena, singular battles that proved something, and that perhaps defines my father as much of anything. The ways of the world carry good roadmaps to convention, but he tended to find his own map, so in my mind I see him clearly.

He carries reminders of every glove that laid him down, and how he got back up. I am his son, far less able to emulate the man, but understanding that he flows through me, and his life before I was born has drawn a straight line to other lives, those he touched and who sought to touch him.

In the clearing stands a boxer. He remembers every blow, every cut, every loss. He let me remember with him, and so that’s where I see him. Standing in the clearing, waiting for the next blow, knowing how to get up, knowing that lesser men would have given up. Understanding, I hope, that he never did.


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Passing The Plate


Between my trip to Austin in October, during which I ate great food but maybe not as much as I should have (kind of typical for me when I travel), and the viral illness that knocked me back a bit, I lost a few pounds. Nothing huge, but given my issue with loss of appetite for half of 2015 and through the winter of 2016, it’s something I’m aware of.

And awareness is really all it takes, at least now. I was well aware a year ago that I’d been losing weight, but c’mon. It’s losing weight. Who doesn’t like that? And it was such a slow loss, drip drip drip, about a pound a week.

But do that for 40-plus weeks and you get what I got, sort of a frog-in-boiling water situation (not that this is an adequate metaphor, since in fact a frog will jump out of the pot long before it starts to boil). Incrementalism in any situation can create all sorts of illusions, a tilt-shift focus of the big picture.

I can see the big picture better now, and those few pounds dropping off didn’t create a crisis, especially with Thanksgiving and the holiday season now upon us, but I’m still reminded from time to time of where I was and where I am. I went to one of the Beacon offices the day before Thanksgiving for a farewell party (the young woman, Sara Bruestle, who’s been editing me for the past few years got a new, terrific job) and met the editor of one of the other newspapers my column runs in. We had a nice conversation and he was very complimentary, but apparently he whispered to Sara that I looked nothing like my picture.

This bothered me for some reason. I actually like that picture, and when it was taken I thought, yeah. That’s the face I see in the mirror. For the first time, at least in the context of a headshot, I felt as though the picture looked like me.

So that was weird. Weird enough that I mentioned it to my wife, who gets irritated when she hears this stuff. She knows how panicky and scared I got last spring when all the lab tests were wacky and my doctor got real serious, real quickly, and I think she resents it when a stray comment tickles my anxiety.

And I should mention that she thinks I look great, healthy and fit. But different, apparently. And when people see Winning Dad and then see me, they comment that I look nothing like the guy in that movie. This also seems weird to me. I’m about 35 pounds lighter, but is that enough to change a person’s appearance drastically? I guess so.

And yeah. There are worse problems to have.


This is all about diabetes. There’s some depression and just plain aging thrown into the mix, but it’s really about the sugar.

At least five of us who are related to Bix and know his story have lost weight, including everyone in this house. Most of America wants to lose weight, of course, but there’s no getting around our knowledge that this little guy eats well, a nutritionally solid diet, and he eats basically as though he’s working his way through the stages of the Atkins Diet.

But he’s a toddler, and for the first 17 months of his life he ate as healthy a diet as any baby I’ve ever known. So despite having pretty brittle diabetes, difficult to control, he had a head start and there was not much to take away, I think. He certainly never approached fast food.

A lot of this is speculation, which is all I’ve got, but my take-away is that if you want to lose weight, and you don’t want to be inspired by a family member with an autoimmune disorder, look at the sugar. It’s always the sugar. Glucose, fructose, lactose, you name it (it probably has a name).

So for those of us with a lot to unlearn – I’m really just talking about myself – cutting way down on sugar produces a new problem. Foods containing a lot of sugar are the most calorie dense, and that’s essentially the American diet. Take it away for the most part and you’ll lose weight. If you don’t want to lose weight, you’re going to have to compensate.

To give you an example, when I looked at our Thanksgiving dinner, which was small but pretty traditional, with sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes and gravy and so on, my brain, conditioned as it now seems to be, looks at about 85% of Thanksgiving dinner as dessert.

So how crazy is this? After years of paying obsessive attention to what I was eating, always looking to drop a pound or two, I now have to make sure that doesn’t happen. And so I pay obsessive attention to what I eat. This doesn’t feel fair.

But not much is, and as I said, there are worse things. Any number of worse things, though, could cause me to lose weight, and as strange as it is I get that it’s important to have some room to lose, so to speak. Pass the mashed potatoes.

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Weather Or Not

After 33 years of living in the Puget Sound region, I’m well aware of the misconceptions people have. The same sort of misconceptions I have about other areas of the country I’ve never lived. For a long time, just for one example, I had this vague idea that Delaware was in New England. Really.

Anyway, the two main misconceptions are that Seattle is on the Pacific coast, and that it rains all the time. These are both understandable. I couldn’t tell you much about South Dakota. Or Wyoming, which is actually on my side of the country.

It has, in fact, been one of the wettest years in recorded weather history, which up here means the late 19th century. That aside, though, in terms of inches of annual precipitation, Seattle doesn’t even crack the top 20. New Orleans, Atlanta, New York, Nashville…if you’re looking for wet, there are far rainier places.

Even in terms of days on which some precipitation fell, Seattle sits at #6, with some stuff falling from the sky on about 40% of our days. But not a lot of stuff, not usually.

What we’re not known for is snow, although it looks like we might see a bit next week. Our topography (I may not be using that word correctly, but I can’t think of another at the moment) creates really complicated weather, and mostly keeps us in the moderate range, highs in the mid-40s in winter, with lows slipping into the high 30s usually. We can certainly get cold air sweeping down from Alaska, but getting cold and moisture at the same time is hard for Mother Nature to pull off. It makes it very hard to forecast snow, which makes some people irrationally angry at meteorologists. In a region where it rarely snows, the difference between a dusting and 4-5 inches can create havoc.

So we shall see. Next week will probably be not much of anything, but there’s always a chance for something more. Living in a Puget Sound convergence zone as I do, which because of our mountains and other factors means that a narrow strip of weather can form, sometimes right over my house, we sometimes get inches of white while a few miles in any direction it’s dry.

I have a soft spot for snow, having gone to college in one of the snowiest cities in America (Flagstaff, AZ), where I also fell in love and got married. It’s a sentimental form of precipitation, although of course I’d prefer to just watch it fall and get a couple of inches that melts within a few days. I don’t need a snowmagedden.

This means I end up taking a lot of snow pictures when it happens, so I have a record of sorts. And we haven’t had any serious snow, according to those pictures, since 2008. Before that, it seemed as though we got at least one decent snowfall every year, or every couple of years, so go figure. Maybe the world is getting warmer or something.

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