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December 29, 2006

Release the Hounds!

Virtually every runner knows the old joke about the two guys who see a bear approaching their campsite. While one guy gets up to run, the other pauses to lace up his running shoes, leading to the following exchange:

First guy: Why are you bothering with your shoes? They won’t help you outrun the bear.

Second guy: I don’t have to outrun the bear … I just have to outrun YOU.

**

I frequently ponder a variation of the joke whenever I’m with a group of runners that crosses paths with some manner of wildlife. In such situations, I wonder - if the animal for some reason decided to turn aggressive, could I outrun anyone in this group in order to save myself?

Thankfully, the question has always been asked from a hypothetical standpoint. But for a few moments last weekend, it looked like I might finally get a practical answer during an encounter in the Fort Ord open space of Monterey County.

Our group frequently does long weekend runs in the 28,000-acre wilderness that, until 1994, was the property of the US Army. Since the base closure, large portions of the open space have been converted to public use trails, allowing runners and cyclists to log endless miles in the same undulating, chaparral-dense terrain where military divisions once practiced battlefield maneuvers.

Fort Ord is also home to a lot of wildlife, as just about every Western creature has been spotted wandering its hills at one time or another. Most are the small, harmless variety, but everyone knows that the big game are out there also. Mountain lion sightings aren’t particularly unusual, and one day about 8 years ago, a brown bear walked out of the hills and into the parking lot of a nearby Target store.

So when you’re running in Fort Ord, it’s a good idea to keep one eye on the horizon. If you hear wild animals howling, you may want to think about changing directions. And if, in such a situation, you decide to keep going … then you better be confident that you can outrun your training partners.

Last Saturday morning almost put this theory to the test. Approximately 90 minutes into our run, six of us descended a hillside, and heard the unmistakable howling and yelping of a coyote. We could distinguish the sounds enough to determine that more than one animal was involved – and the desperate tones led us to think we were hearing a takedown in progress.

We kept heading down the trail. (On a related note, let’s just say that nobody will ever confuse our running group with a Mensa club.)

As we crested the next hillside, the sounds grew louder, and we spotted a truck parked on one of the fireroads. Approaching the truck, we learned it was from the local SPCA, and its backseat cargo was the source of the disturbance we heard: two coyotes being relocated to the wild.

They had probably wandered into a nearby neighborhood or got trapped in somebody’s yard, then were captured with tranquilizers and kept in a pen until they could be returned to their proper surroundings - at precisely the time that we happened to be running by. They were screeching their despair and anxiety about being caged in such an unfamiliar manner.

We waved “good morning” to the game warden, continued down the trail, and looked over our shoulders just in time to see the coyotes leap from the truck and disappear into the brush.

At that point, we were sure of two things:

1) Two agitated, aggressive, probably hungry coyotes had just been dropped off on the same trail we were using, and …

2) The SPCA guy had given us about a two minute head start.

As you can imagine, the pace of our run became noticeably accelerated.

To our collective credit, none of us went into panic mode. A couple of guys made reference to the “I just have to outrun you” joke, and there was some nervous laughter as we navigated the rolling hills and high brush towards our pre-arranged turnaround point - but no one really lost his composure.

And all the while, I was secretly sizing up the guys around me, trying to assure myself that I could outrun not just one, but two of them (one for each coyote) should the need arise. I made sure to position myself towards the front of the group – away from the back where I’d risk getting picked off from behind, but remaining a step behind the front guys so they would expend more energy while I drafted. During those 20 minutes or so, I was strategizing like a chess master in the middle of the pack.

We made it to the turnaround point without incident, then voted on our potential return route. The original plan was to do a simple out-and-back, but we decided to take a more roundabout way that would add a couple of miles, and take us away from the trail we just finished.

The vote was unanimous – so maybe we’re not complete morons, after all.

The remainder of the run passed without incident, other than it being my first 20-miler in about six months. As I expected, the run didn’t feel as comfortable as I’d like, and illustrated that I have a long way to go to get my marathon fitness back. Ultimately, the coyote episode may have been just what I needed to kick my training into high gear again.

Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to training hard in order to attain certain goals. But anyone can train for a road race. Now I'm thinking that if I treat my training more like a matter of survival, perhaps my workouts would take on a whole new sense of urgency. I want to be confident in my ability to hang with whatever training partners show up on Saturday mornings.

I mean, I’m all for the joy and camaraderie of a running group. However, when the hammer comes down, I like to know that I can outrace some of my partners. I've always thought the payoff would come on race day - but Saturday's run showed me that someday, I could be in a situation with far higher stakes.

Either way, one thing is for sure: I need to step up my training.

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December 21, 2006

My Christmas List

TO: Santa Claus, North Pole
RE: Wish list

Dear Santa –

Hi! Remember me? I’m the kid from Carmel Valley who wrote last year and told you how a lot of great running equipment could help your toy delivery enterprise. I hope that was helpful for you. I like to help people. All 12 months, too - not just in December like a lot of other kids.

In fact, I was thinking of another way I could help you this year – which brings me to my wish list.

You know, Santa, there are so many great products for runners out there, it’s hard to keep up with them. Sometimes I even have a hard time keeping track of them, and I write a column about running! With technical clothing, specialized shoes, and all kinds of gadgets like GPS systems or heart rate monitors or downloadable coaching software, it’s easy to get carried away with the wish list.

But you know what, Santa? I’m not going to ask you for any of that stuff. All of those things are available to runners at any time of year. Heck, I’ve even bought some running gear on eBay – I learned how to bid all by myself this year. And I figured that if I don’t get any toys, it would save you some elf labor costs and shipping difficulties in that crowded sleigh. See? Aren’t I helpful?

This year, instead of material gifts, I’d like some things that are harder to come by. Things that can’t be bought from a website or made in the elves’ workshop, but will still help me become a better runner.

Running is an old-fashioned sport, Santa. A runner can have all of the gadgets in the world, but the only way for him to truly be successful is through hard work. It takes a lot of dedication to train every day, and competing in races can be quite intimidating. So I put together a list of things that would make it a little easier for me to keep training and racing.

This year, what I’d really like is:

* Discipline: to set my alarm early each morning, and

* Energy: to actually get out of bed when it goes off.

* Ambition: to set challenging race goals for myself, combined with …

* Confidence: in my ability to achieve them, and …

* Determination: to stay focused on those goals when success seems unlikely.

Get the idea, Santa? Isn’t this refreshing? You can bring me dozens of these things, and it won’t take up one extra inch of space in your bag. So let’s keep going …

* Speed: Because I’m not getting any younger, Santa. I seem to lose a little bit of this each year. But I don’t want to sound greedy – so just leave enough to get me through the next 12 months and I’ll be happy.

* Patience: to accept that significant change takes time, along with

* Perseverance: to see my long-term goals through to fruition, and …

* Faith: that if I keep working hard, I’ll eventually succeed.

By the way, Santa – marathon season is coming up soon. Which means I’ll need some …

* Stamina: to finish my 3-hour training runs this spring

* Tenacity: to do hard track workouts like 8 x 1600m, even when it’s dark and cold, even when it’s raining, and even when the rest of my training partners don’t show up. I’d also need some …

* Toughness: to help me finish all those difficult workouts even when I feel like quitting. But when you bring this, maybe you should include a little bit of …

* Intelligence: to know when to ease up on training to avoid injury.

Most of all, the things a marathon runner needs are …

* Endurance: to stay on pace through 26.2 miles, and …

* Courage: to run bravely in the face of great hardship. (Now that I think of it – can you postpone delivery of this gift until April 29th? Just drop it off at mile 23 of the Big Sur Marathon, and I’ll look for it there.)

Finally, Santa - since it’s the holiday season, how about …

* Self-restraint: to lay off the cookies and ice cream for a while. Otherwise, this whole list won’t do me much good at all. And most importantly …

* Joy: to love every day I’m able to run, and for the countless benefits it gives me. Sometimes I get too focused on training toward a specific race, so this would be an extra special gift for me.

Thanks a lot, Santa. I hope this list makes your work a little bit easier. I can’t wait to start training with all my new gifts starting December 26th.

Have a great flight!


Sincerely,

Donald B.
Carmel Valley, CA

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December 18, 2006

Racing Toward Manhood

(Administrative note: I switched to Beta Blogger over the weekend. Shortly afterward, I discovered that about 50 of my previous posts were republished on my RSS feed. So if your Bloglines list was overflowing, I apologize. That part was somehow omitted from the Beta promotional page. Now for today’s post …)


Like any parent, I struggle with finding ways to teach my kids the important lessons in life. Choosing the proper time, utilizing the right approach, and providing instruction at an age-appropriate level of understanding is such an elusive confluence of circumstances, it sometimes seems amazing that I’ve ever instilled anything valuable in them at all.

Other times, opportunities fall right into my lap.

Last week was one of the latter days. I picked my 8-year-old son up from school, and during our short drive home, we had two separate, but ultimately related conversations.

First, immediately after we got into the car:

**
Me: So how was school?

Him: Good. We had P.E. today. They timed us in a one-mile run.

Me: Really? How did you do?

Him: I ran it in eleven minutes. We had to make it in 12 to pass.

(The track around his elementary school is a quarter-mile footpath that rises about 20’ at one end of the playground)

Me: That’s pretty good. You’d probably run even faster on a track that’s flat.

Him: Yeah. How fast can you run a mile?

Me: My fastest was five minutes. Right now I could probably do about five-and-a-half.

Him: Wow. That’s fast.

Me: Not really. You can run that fast before too long, if you work at it.

**

The second exchange happened after we stopped at the mailbox at the base of our street, and continued into our driveway. It was triggered by a Christmas card addressed to my son.

**
Him: Hey – what’s this word mean in front of my name? It says “Master.”

Me: That’s a proper form of address for a boy. Just like people use “Mister” for a man. You’re called “Master” when you’re young, and when you’re a grown-up, you become a “Mister.”

Him: Oh. So … when do I become a man?

(I mean … that’s a pretty loaded question, right? Am I allowed to tell him that I’m still wondering that about myself? I realized I could have gone several different ways with this: physical maturity, emotional independence, industrial self-reliance, etc. I hesitated just a second, then decided to play to my strength.)

Me: You’ll be a man when you can beat me in a one-mile race.

**

So maybe that wasn’t the best answer. I’m sure if I thought about it a bit, I could have come up with something a bit more profound. Or maybe not. I said that these opportunities fall right into my lap – I didn’t say that I know how to capitalize on them.

But despite the misguided illustration, I might have inadvertently made my point. He’ll need to get older, stronger, more determined and more driven before he has any chance of beating me. I’ve got a several minute advantage now, but the day will eventually come when his ability will exceed mine. And like any other milestone, this one will probably be here much earlier than I anticipate.

It wasn't quite the response he was looking for - but on some level, I think he got the idea. So maybe the conversation wasn’t such a lost opportunity after all.

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December 14, 2006

Sir Chafealot

I’ve never been a big fan of editors.

From a writer’s standpoint, there’s something inherently malicious about an objective third party slashing key sentences or paragraphs out of your work – especially if it’s done merely to allow space for a half-page Mercedes-Benz ad, or for a 600-word AP wire story about the rise of frisbee golf in America.

Even more frustrating is when they selectively edit words or phrases that might be offensive to Joe Newspaper Subscriber or whoever else might happen to see our articles at the bottom of some birdcage. It’s not like we go out of our way to offend people – but there are some things that just sound funnier or more memorable when we use language that is more, shall we say … descriptive.

Mike and I have been fairly lucky in our Herald gig, in that our editors seem to print pretty much whatever we submit. They occasionally chop portions of our articles to save column space, but they rarely censor the subject matter itself. (I guess if you’re publishing a column about running, you rarely need to worry about it getting too edgy.)

That’s why we were somewhat surprised when the following column got partially modified when it appeared in the Herald last week. It wasn’t anything major (and not nearly as much as our sex article last year), just selective elimination here and there that made the whole thing seem less colorful. It was kind of a bummer.

Thankfully, I don’t have that problem with this blog. So here’s our article from last week, full length and uncensored. Think of it as the Director’s Cut version. And be reassured that I’ll always give it to you straight.

***

Running Life 12/07/06 “Red Badge of Courage”

Warning: this column contains graphic depictions of sensitive body areas. Reader discretion is advised.

Winter is rapidly approaching, which for most people means celebrating the joys of the season. Like ski weekends. School vacations. Nervous laughter as your boss gets hammered at the company party. Things like that.

On the other hand, many runners become preoccupied by thoughts of flaming thighs, mistybutt, and udder cream.

Cold weather forces runners to wear extra layers of clothing, which can irritate the skin in many places. For them, winter ‘tis the season for increased chafing. So even though it may make you wince or grimace, today we’re gonna talk about it. (No need to thank us. We consider this a public service.)

It’s a problem as old as the sport itself. The first recorded case of chafing afflicted one of the lesser-known Knights of the Round Table, Sir Chafealot (thus the word origin). After a long day on horseback slaying enemies of the king, Sir Chafealot was heard to complain, “Forsooth and alas! My inner thighs feeleth hot as dragon’s breath.”

Runners definitely know how Sir Chafelot feels. Virtually all of us, at one time or another, have had what’s sometimes called the Red Badge of Courage: a particularly nasty case of chafing that grows worse with each passing mile.

Sure, you may decide to gut out the pain and finish the run – but then you end up walking bow-legged for a week and screaming bloody murder anytime you get in the shower. Every subsequent run feels like your skin is peeling off. Alas indeed.

Chafing can occur anywhere that skin rubs against skin, or against certain types of clothing. The most common areas are the inner thighs, but virtually every part of the body is fair game. The longer the run, the greater the chance of chafing.

If you don’t believe us, watch the finish of a marathon someday, where you’ll encounter members of the Bloody Nipple Society. When cotton shirts or other coarse fabrics rub against unprotected nipples for several hours, the results are sometimes horrific. It can happen to both men and women. Sometimes it takes weeks to completely heal. The psychological scars last even longer.

Scarlet Cleft Syndrome is a relatively underreported medical condition caused by running in tights. Many runners wear tights or compression shorts to reduce the occurrence of inner thigh chafing. Unfortunately, if the tights are too snug at the waist, or have thick seams, they can cause this syndrome at the top of the buttocks – a mark known endearingly as “mistybutt”.

You may be surprised to hear that this topic has actually been researched. Dr. Andrew McMillan from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, in a particularly enlightening study, concludes that, “Contact between buns and fabric tends to become troublesome when layering is involved.” Um, no kidding.

Dr McMillan suggests running sans underwear beneath the tights, and that for females, ”Thongs and g-strings can be problematic”. (Remember, that’s only while running. Otherwise we’re very much in favor.)

So how can runners prevent excess chafing during the winter months?

Thankfully, there’s an entire industry devoted to keeping runners’ tender areas tender. Several products are available; some of the more common ones are Runner’s Lube, Body Glide, Chafe Eez, and Bag Balm.

Many runners swear by Udder Cream, which was designed to keep cow udders from getting chafed by milking machines. It’s available in most feed stores or hardware stores. (We know - you think we’re making this up. But it’s true.)

Some resourceful runners use Crisco or Pam right out of their kitchen cabinets. Others use Johnson’s baby oil, Desitin, Gold Bond powder, Balm X, or other bathroom remedies that you’ve always heard about but never really knew what they were used for.

One runner’s website has an expert suggestion for mixing your own formula with various ingredients including A&D ointment, Vitamin E and Aloe Vera Cream. Never question the lengths that runners will go to protect their valuables.

Of course, the most predominantly used product is that old-school classic, Vaseline.

Many elite marathoners extol the virtues of petroleum jelly. Frank Shorter, the last American to win a gold medal in the Olympic Marathon, gave a clinic at the Big Sur Marathon expo several years ago. One runner asked Frank exactly how he prevents chafing.

Frank’s answer was simple and sage-like. He uses Vaseline. With increasing emphasis, he stated, “I use it everywhere. EVERYwhere. EVERYWHERE. I use it on my legs. I use it on my toes. I use it on my arms. I use Vaseline EVERYWHERE. Whatever place is in your mind – I use it there too. I use it EVERYWHERE!”

We definitely agree with Frank on this one. Go ahead and use it. Use it everywhere.

Your choice of clothing is also very important. Better fitting clothes will reduce your chance of gaining a Red Badge. If you wear tights, make sure the seams are soft and don’t lie over delicate areas.

With shirts, there are a large number of moisture wicking fabrics that move sweat away from your body, preventing the shirt from becoming heavy and coarse. Many runners also wear Band-Aids to decrease their risk of developing nipple “issues”.

Chafing doesn’t have to be inevitable. With a little trial and error you should be able to find the right combination of products that work best for you. Once you find a system that works, stick with it.

Then hopefully you won’t end up like Sir Chafealot this winter.

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December 13, 2006

Plan B Follow-Up

I wanted to tie up a couple of loose ends related to the previous post before moving on to other subjects. In particular, the question has been asked – more than once, I should add – about whether my wife freaks out after reading posts like that.

It’s a fair question, and one that I usually have to clarify with another question: Do you mean, the “extended analogy about cheating on my wife” part, or the “I’m doing an Ironman next year” part? Because they’re each, in their own way, potentially quite flammable.

Here then, I have some answers. Regarding the analogy – the answer is “not really.” I’ve mentioned before that my wife is extremely perceptive. She’s not threatened by the thought of me finding somebody else – primarily because she knows it would take too much time away from my training. (Or, in her words: I’ve already had a mistress all these years – it’s my running.) So I think she sees the whole analogy thing as a bemusement.

On the other hand, the Ironman business is a little more bothersome. Not that she doubts my ability to do it, but she worries about the commitment of time and energy it will take away from the family. They are concerns that I completely agree with. In fact, such considerations are the primary reason I didn’t go down this road several years ago.

But nothing about the announcement took her by surprise. My Ironman scheme has been gathering momentum very slowly over the years, and we had already talked it out well ahead of the time I finally posted it here. (I mean, yes – I’m an idiot, but I’m not THAT stupid.)

More practically, there’s this: over the weekend she asked me a couple of questions that offer a reasonable summary of her feelings about the whole matter.

First, while I was watching the Ironman World Championships: “So are we going to be watching every triathlon that’s on TV for the next nine months?” And then, while I was getting ready for bed on Sunday: “Wait – does this mean you’re going to start shaving your legs again?”

And I think those are really her primary concerns: the day-to-day idiosyncrasies and ridiculousness that she’s forced to tolerate when I get obsessive about triathlon. Plus the inevitable new quirks and wrinkles I’ll acquire in the midst of high mileage multi-sport training. All the little things that aren’t immediately objectionable, but cause her to roll her eyes and wonder how she got herself hooked up with such an oddball.

That’s what will bug her the most. And that’s why I almost didn’t have the heart to tell her – the answers were yes and yes. Let the craziness begin.


***Postscript: I started writing this as an introduction to another post, but it sort of took on a life of its own. So let’s stop here for today. I’ll post the new article tomorrow.

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December 7, 2006

Plan B: The Mistress

“It started out with a kiss - how did it end up like this? –
It was only a kiss – It was only a kiss …

But it’s just the price I pay –
Destiny is calling me –
Open up my eager eyes – ‘cause I’m Mr. Brightside.”


- The Killers, “Mr. Brightside”

***
At long last, it’s time to talk about my Plan B for 2007.

I realize I’ve been delaying this particular post for several weeks now. My intent wasn’t really to string people along – it just didn’t seem sensible to talk about something if I wasn’t really going to do it. (I mean, look at how much good that did me with Western States ... )

The unintended downside is that by this point, there’s no way that the announcement can possibly live up to the advance publicity. It’s like finally seeing a blockbuster movie that had been promoted all summer, only to walk out of the theater thinking to yourself, “Wait – why were we so excited about that again?” after discovering it was just an average film.

So think of this as the Da Vinci Code of race announcements. Except that there aren’t any homicidal albinos, sexy French policewomen, or cryptexes to solve at the end.

No more suspense - I’ll just come out and say it: During the 2007 season, I’m breaking up with my wife, and moving in with my mistress. So to speak.

It’s been almost 15 years now since I first fell in love with running. For most of those years, I’ve been a fairly loyal, monogamous fellow. Yes, I’ve had dalliances with other sports, but running has been my soft place to fall at the end of the day. No matter what other activities I enjoyed, I always thought of myself as a runner, first and foremost.

But over the last couple of years, that fidelity slowly eroded, as more and more of my attention was drawn to the younger, more seductive sport of triathlon. I’ve beaten this analogy to death (like here and here and here) in the past, so I won’t belabor it further now (at least not for the next few paragraphs). Just suffice it to say that the temptation became too overwhelming, and I couldn’t deny the desires of my heart any longer.

Yes, I’m a flawed person. But very soon, this flawed person is going to be getting a LOT of action. And if I’m gonna go, I may as well go with a smile.

Instead of an epic running event (Western States), I’ll be entering an epic triathlon: the Vineman long course in Sonoma County, California next August. It’s an Ironman-distance race, except that they can’t legally call it an Ironman - which is the topic of a whole separate post some day.

The Ironman (sorry - I mean Vineman) will be my primary focus of 2007, and for a tune-up race I’ll be at the Wildflower Olympic distance triathlon in May. Wildflower is only one week after the Big Sur Marathon – which I haven’t signed up for yet - so I chose the Olympic distance instead of the half-IM as an easier option of doing both races if I decide to do that.

If running has been my marriage, the Big Sur Marathon has been my wedding band: a constant reminder of everything I’ve gone through and everything I love about running. I’m not quite ready to throw that race away yet – there are just too many great memories - so for now I’m tucking the ring in the back of a sock drawer where I can still look at it every once in a while.

At first glance, it may not appear that doing two triathlons would automatically disqualify me from being a pure runner. But for me, it’s not really about the races I enter, but the mindset I have as I train for them.

I’ve mentioned before that when I’m committed to a major race, I think about it every day. During almost every training session, I’m considering how that particular workout will help me succeed in the main event. The race occupies my thoughts during work and family hours as well.

Consequently, the chosen event begins to influence my self-image. When I trained for the Pikes Peak Marathon, I considered myself a mountain runner. When I raced the mile, I thought of myself as a track demon. For better or worse, my identity is perpetually shaped by the task that lies ahead of me – with only one exception.

For whatever reason (probably that monogamy thing), even though I’ve done triathlons for several years now, I’ve always considered myself a runner who periodically dabbled in triathlons as a fun diversion. But training for an Ironman can’t be done in a secondary manner. In order to fully satisfy the mistress, I have to finally walk away from the wife. So that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I’m not simply a runner anymore. For at least the next nine months, I’m thinking of myself first and foremost as a triathlete. I’ll focus on running only in the context of how it can help my triathlon training. I’ll spend as much time pondering my stroke mechanics or pedal cadence as I do my one-mile track intervals.

And the training is bound to impact my writing. The subject matter of this blog will probably incorporate a lot more triathlon references in the months ahead - at least, as much as it did with running up until now. (Which – come to think of it - often wasn’t very much. So maybe you won’t notice such a big change, after all.)

For me, on the other hand, the change will be enormous.

In some ways, it’s much easier to have a mistress. You maintain your emotional (albeit fraudulent) foundation at home, while she provides as much excitement as you want whenever you call upon her. She keeps the relationship quiet, manages her own finances, and has no expectation of commitment - at least not at first.

But once the relationship is out in the open, everything changes. You feel the need to defend your actions to people (including yourself). The mistress expects you to be with her all the time. She needs to make up for all the lost time she spent while you pretended not to know her. She starts costing way more money than you anticipated. She wants to merge your life with hers – and what’s more, she becomes fiercely possessive, because she’s paranoid that you might leave her just like you left your previous love (she already knows you’re that type). Worst of all, you no longer have anyplace to escape when she completely overwhelms you.

That’s where I am right now. Welcome to my 2007. The first year of a new, crazy life. Sometimes I look back and wonder how it ended up like this.

I have no idea if this changed mindset of mine will be permanent, or if I’ll come crawling back on my hands and knees to pure running someday (but here’s a hint: a Western States bid for 2008 would have me begging to return). All I know is that right now, my heart tells me that the Ironman is something I just have to do. I’m not going to second-guess myself for a minute.

Whether or not my changed focus turns out to be a long-term relationship, one thing is certain: it promises to be quite an adventure.

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December 4, 2006

Blue Daddy

So the whole Western States thing didn’t work out. Whatever.

I’ll talk about Plan B at the end of the week. But for today, I wanted to post a conversation my daughter and I had on Sunday, after I spent a few hours in the morning mixing concrete for a foundation wall at the base of our driveway.

While I was working, my two daughters walked around the yard dropping bread crumbs for the multiple birds that flock to our house on a daily basis. It seems the birds have pegged us as reliable crumb distributors lately.

Anyway, when I had finished, I sat next to my 5-year-old at the edge of our driveway, and we whispered to each other as various quail, robins, and sparrows rummaged through the feast my daughters had laid out.

Most of the birds just hopped and scurried from point to point in the yard, but there was one blue jay who kept swooping down, walking past the smaller crumbs, and lifting the largest pieces he could find in his beak before flying off into the trees again.

On his third or fourth swing into the yard, my daughter and I had the following exchange:

***
Her: That blue bird’s back again.

Me: I like him. He looks cool.

Her: He’s making a lot of trips back and forth.

Me: Maybe he’s bringing the food back home to give to his kids.

Her: He must be a daddy bird!

Me: Probably. He’s definitely cool-looking enough.

Her: He’s moving slower than the other birds when he’s on the ground.

Me: Maybe he’s pacing himself.

Her: What do you mean?

Me: Well, maybe he knows he has a lot of trips to make because there are a lot of mouths to feed at home and his kids always seem to be hungry. Or maybe he’s already done a lot of hard work today, and he just wants to take it easy for a while. Plus, he might be extra tired because he woke up early this morning to go for a long fly. So he’s probably trying to save some energy just so he can chase his kids around without falling asleep once he finally gets home again.

Her: (blank stare)

Me: Or … you know, maybe he’s just a slow walker.

Her: Yeah, probably. I’ll bet he’s a good daddy.

Me: I sure hope so.

***

So, um … perhaps this was one of those cases of seeing what you want to see in a particular situation. It’s also one of those exchanges that I think back on and wonder how screwed up I’m destined to make my kids as they're growing up.

On the plus side – we did have a nice time watching the birds. And that has to count for something, right?

I sure hope so.

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December 2, 2006

Rejected

I didn't get into Western States. I'm on to Plan B - I'll explain more next week.

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