Shared History

Challenger Memorial at Arlington
Challenger Memorial at Arlington

Twenty-nine years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed in a horrific explosion just a minute into their mission.  And I have almost no knowledge or memory of what happened after that.

You see, that was the day I joined the US Air Force.

I was in Knoxville TN, at the MEPS station, awaiting time to ship out to San Antonio TX and six weeks of basic military training.  I watched the launch, and stepped away to the restroom, returning to the news that Challenger had been destroyed.

A few hours later, I was on a plane to Lackland AFB, and for six weeks, I heard no news about Challenger.

During my basic training, there was flow of news, and that was by design.  We were supposed to focus on becoming members of America’s fighting machine.  And we did.

In those weeks of isolation, rumors ran rampant among those of us learning to march, shoot and obey orders.  The story we heard the most:  The Russians.  They destroyed Challenger.

I can remember one afternoon when we were in the dorms, and heard the base air raid sirens go off.  We began putting mattresses in the windows (as we were instructed to do), until the all clear was sounded.  With the heightened rumors about the potential Russian influence, we definitely took the sirens seriously.

Every now and then, we’d find an instructor who would tell us some news of the investigation, which helped squelch the rumors for a while, before they spun up again.  It seemed the lack of information was a breeding ground for misinformation.

And now, almost three decades later, I still hear things about the mission and investigation that I’ve never heard before.  It’s as though I was in a coma during much of the first quarter of 1986, and occasionally, it’s all new to me.

Today, I won’t get on my soapbox about our country’s seeming lack of dedication to space exploration, and the benefits we’ve garnered from that.  I won’t pontificate on my view that we may need a way to escape this planet someday, and might find ourselves with no way out due to shortsightedness.

It’s all about the Challenger astronauts today, and the memory of those souls taken home far too early.

More Racing

Pi Day 5K Medal
Pi Day 5K Medal

It’s been said that I can be a little obsessive.  I think there’s a body of evidence to support that view, and I’d be pretty silly to try to refute it.  :-)

I’ve spent some time over the last few months looking for medal-bearing 5k races to fill out my running calendar for this year.  I’d already registered for a few races here and there, generally some of the ones I ran last year.  However, I wanted to find some other races this year, maybe even in different places.

So over the weekend, I signed up for two fun-sounding races.

The first is the Pi Day 5K in Columbus OH.  This one takes place on March 14th, and the race begins at 9:26:53 AM … 3.141592653.  Get it?  Add to that a pretty cool medal, and I’m in!  I’ve never been to Columbus, so it’ll be interesting to see what’s there.

The other race is in December, and I simply had to sign up for this one.  For the third year, Cleveland OH is hosting the Christmas Story Run 5K.  The cool thing about this one is the leg lamp themed medal.  And, of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there, so I’ll definitely be spending some extra time wandering around there.

The last race I’m watching for is on/around October 21.  You see, Marty McFly visited the future on October 21, 2015, and I’ve gotta figure someone will have a race to commemorate that!

Return to the Streets

Today, I returned to the streets.  I took a long walk for the first time since my injury around New Year’s Day.  The good news is that I had no issues with pain in my foot.  The downside… a little bit of swelling in my foot, and some shin splints on the right side.  Not a biggie, and nothing that hasn’t happened before.  On balance, I’d say this was successful!

I also used my Under Armour “sport” underwear for the first time. I’ve had some real problems with chafing and heat rashes in a “cheeky” location during longer walks/runs. Supposedly, these things could help that with some wicking technology to pull the moisture away from my backside. My walk today bore that out. I was way overdressed for the 50 degree day, so I was sweating like crazy. If that’s not gonna set off a bunch of pain in the backside, I don’t know what will.

So, hooray! It looks like I’m back on the road/trail again. We’ll see where it leads me!

Drink Your Edible Bourbon

Coffee from Jamaica and sugar from Kentucky
Coffee from Jamaica and sugar from Kentucky

I’m a fan of coffee.  I can remember watching my grandmother doctor her coffee when I was a tyke — loads of sugar and cream added until it turned a nice shade of tan.  Likewise, my father would float an ice cube in a spoon so he wouldn’t have to wait for his steaming cup to cool for drinking.  Coffee runs in my blood.

A few years ago, I started favoring raw sugar over white refined sugar for my hot drinks.  I don’t know that I could ever get raw sugar to dissolve in milk, but in coffee and tea, it’s a thing of wonderful bliss.  Raw sugar adds a little hint of molasses to the brew, and incrementally improves my coffee experience just a bit.

About two weeks ago, Becky and I were playing hooky from work, and were wandering around in Maplewood.  This area has really gone through a revival, and is now full of eclectic little shops and eateries. We wandered into one little shop, and I saw something I’d never heard of … bourbon smoked sugar.

Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville KY (whose catchphrase, Eat Your Bourbon, is awesome!) produces this magical sugar (along with many other bourbon-related items; more on that later).   From what I gather, they take raw sugar, and smoke it with bourbon barrel staves, which produces a really complex set of flavors.  When you open the container, you really smell the smoke, and I wondered if it was just gonna smoke up my coffee.

At that first sniff, I was reminded of a batch of chocolate chip cookies Darla made on the Big Green Egg once.  She makes just about the best chocolate chip cookies around, and I thought doing them on the Egg would be a great enhancement.  Yes, they were edible, but the smoke really overwhelmed the flavors.  Would this happen to my coffee?

I dropped a small spoonful of this sugar in my cup, poured my Jamaican coffee overtop, stirred, and raised it to my lips…

It was poetry!

Something about the combination of the strong, almost harsh flavor of the Jamaican beans ground in my favorite Cuisinart coffee maker (six years old now!) and the smoky bourbon flavor of this sugar makes for a great combination.  I’ve done this a few times, and have been able to repeat my results … no cream needed!

I decided to try it with my favorite tea — Bigelow Decaf Constant Comment — and didn’t have quite the same magical results.  To me, the bourbon sugar wasn’t quite as sweet as regular ol’ Sugar in the Raw in my tea.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t have the same magic that I found in my coffee.

I also tried this with K-cups in my Keurig.  Again, the magic just wasn’t there.  Now, I know there are loads of K-cups out there — even Jamaican coffee — so there could be some trial and error to get the right combination of flavors to make this work well.  Straight up Jamaican coffee beans really seemed to pair well with this smoky pixie dust, and so far is the best thing I’ve found to go with it.

The only downside that I’ve found is that this stuff is pricey.  A ten ounce tin ran me $15 locally (it’s $11/tin directly from Bourbon Barrel Foods), so I’m using it kinda sparingly to make it last.  As a comparison, that’s about $18/pound direct from the source, while Sugar in the Raw is about $4 for a two pound box.

Bourbon Barrel Foods make other bourbon smoked products:  sea salt, vanilla sugar, pepper, paprika… they even sport soy sauce that shares a bourbon-influenced lineage.  These are really unique items, but none of ‘em are cheap.  I’m kinda hoping the prices drop on their product line, as I could really see getting into using them with some regularity were it not for the cost.

In short, two sugary, smoky thumbs up — this stuff is very tasty in my coffee!


A Byte of the AAPL

It’s no secret that I’m a big ol’ Apple nerd, and have been for almost ten years,  Becky knows that, too.

The day before my birthday, I was upstairs having lunch when the phone rang.  The caller ID showed it was from Charles Schwab.  Now, us and Chuckie have no relationship, and I love playing with scammers on the phone, so I picked it up.

A very articulate American-sounding gentlemen identified himself, and asked for “Rebecca.”  She was at work, and I offered to take a message.  He indicated he was calling about setting up her new account.  New account?  I took his info, and called Beck.

She thought it could be a scammer, or a friend of ours turning us in for a cold sales call.  She was gonna check it out, and call me back.  While she was doing that, I started looking up the number from the caller ID on the ‘Net.  Sure enough, the displayed number was the real customer service number for Schwab.  Hmmm…

Not long after that, I got a call from Becky.  She was standing in the Schwab office in the Valley, and thought she should call.  As it ends up, she had indeed opened an account, and was concerned that I was gonna be all freaked out that we’d been hacked.  She opened the account (and funded it) so I could buy a share of Apple for my birthday.

So now, I’m not just a fanboy, I’m a shareholder.


Traditionally, folks take some time at New Year’s, reflect on the year past, and decide on some unrealistic goals for the year just begun.  I’d hate to break tradition!  I’ve gathered up my milk and pecan sandies, and am ready to take on 2015.

  1.  Running.  Once again, I want to complete a dozen or so races.  However, the seed of this resolution is around my 5K completion times.  I’d love to shave some time off my time.  In 2014, my times have been in the 50+ minute range, which is just about as fast as most folks walk that distance.  Rather than putting pressure on myself to hit a certain speed (like 8 minutes/km, for example), I’m simply gonna shoot for “faster.”
  2. Exercise.  Embarrassingly, I’ve had a gym membership for most of the last two years.  And, like most folks who have gym memberships, I used to go a few times a week when I first signed up, only to drop off pretty quickly.  And like most folks (and falling into the best planning of most gyms), I kept the membership alive, telling myself that I was just around the corner from going back soon.  Having seen the benefits of regular exercise in my brother, I’ve gotta give myself that same benefit this year.
  3. Weight.  When I was a young’un, I was a rail.  Too much metabolism for my size kept me way skinny.  However, life, work, stress and age have conspired to change the way this machine works, and it certainly hasn’t kept me at my once-svelte proportions.  Much like my running notion above, I don’t want to stress myself by placing a number of my goal.  Simply “less” is what I’m shooting for.  If I can keep up with #1 and #2, then #3 should take care of itself.
  4. Diet.  I’ve never been known for eating the right stuff.  I loves me some junk food.  However, even beyond the not-as-infrequent burger and fries, my diet in general isn’t all that great.  I still eat more red meat than I should, and likely don’t get enough of the good stuff to make me percolate appropriately.  I’ve heard all kinds of diets out there — Atkins, paleo, chocolate (ok, not really!) — but the change in my diet that seems to make the most sense is Mediterranean.  The addition of fish is a good thing, and the other benefits of that kind of diet are well-documented.  However, if we’re gonna do it (and it’d be “we”), I’m gonna need to take the lead on the what and how parts of that, and therein lies the point of this resolution.

That’s it!  2015 in a nutshell… better, stronger, faster.  It sounds like something out of The Six Million Dollar Man, but I’d like to think it’s just another year of stuff to do.  :-)

2014 Races — By the Numbers

2014 was the first year that I was serious about running races.  Frankly, if I’d been more serious about training, my races would’ve been dynamite!  As it was, my fastest time for the 5K was in April, with a few other races approaching that time.

Unfortunately, the end of year brought a foot injury that hobbled me after a race in Shawnee KS, and left my skipping my last race of the year (and first of 2015).  That’s a subject I’ll address when I work on my resolutions for 2015.  :-)

So, this year’s numbers:

  • 13 Races
  • 11 races @ 5K, 1 race @ 4K, 1 race @ 4M
  • Slightly more than 40 miles of racing this year
  • 3 destination races (Kansas City MO, Tulsa OK, Shawnee KS)
  • 1 “delayed” race run in the Caribbean
  • Shortest time between races:  24 hours (Rock and Roll 5K Remix)
  • Lowest bib number:  9 (Tap ‘n’ Run 4K)
  • Highest bib number:  31212 (Rock ‘n’ Roll 5K)
  • Closet parking to start/finish line:  Operation Jack KC 5K (about 50 feet)
  • Farthest parking from start/finish line:  Mo’ Cowbell 5K (about one mile)
  • Kudos for Becky for winning “Best Costume” at the Undy 5000
  • Only one weather-impact race:  Route 66 5K (Tulsa OK), with some rain
  • LOTS of new attire:  new shoes, jacket, running pants, toque, neck gather, running socks
  • Met Fredbird
  • Three races in Forest Park, two in St. Charles, one in Soulard, only two in downtown St. Louis

Favorite Christmas Commercials 2014

Three Christmas commercials really impacted me this year.  Only two aired in the US, but all three captured important elements of the season for me.

Sainsbury’s (in the UK) launched this one that reinforced the peace of the season:

Kohl’s brought the magic of the season:

And Apple… well, Apple emphasized the importance of family, and what’s more important than that:

Race #21 : Operation Jack KC Run/Walk in the Snow 5K

Now that title’s a mouthful!

A few weeks ago, I was looking for races to close out the year, and found this one.  It was a close race — Shawnee KS (a Kansas City ‘burb) is only about 3½ hours from here — and benefitted the local KC Autism Society.  How could I go wrong?

I also had a secret, hidden reason for going to this race:  Shawnee KS is home to the closest Runza I know of!

Friday, I cruised into town, got checked into the hotel, and set about finding the Autism Society office.  When I got to the building and walked downstairs to the race pickup area, I noticed someone had been eating Runza for lunch.  I chit-chatted with the folks doing race registration, and as it ends up, one of them had also been in Nebraska for a while, fell in love with Runza’s, and understood my mania.  After handing me my race materials, she directed me to the nearby Runza.

I haven’t eaten in a Runza since our half-cross-country road trip in 2008, so this was a treat — a regular Runza, onion rings and a root beer.  That was an awesome, awesome way to start race weekend!

Questionable Linens
Questionable Linens

I got back to the hotel, relaxed for the afternoon, and eventually wandered outside my room to find a pile of laundry appearing to contain every piece of linen from the room next to me.  I don’t know if there was some kind of plague in that room, or a crazy game of Wesson Oil Twister — either way, I stepped gingerly around the pile, and sequestered myself until the morning!

I figured out that the race site was about five minutes’ drive from the hotel, so I headed toward the park around 8:15am for a 9:15am race start.  And when I got there… there was almost no one there.  I parked within fifty feet of the start/finish line, which is as close as I’ve ever been to the line of any race I’ve attended.  Through the next forty-five minutes, runners filtered in, with maybe about 150 runners lining up for the half marathon, and about half that for the 5K.

When I walked to the registration table to make sure I had what I needed for the run, one of the folks from the office recognized me, and said, “You’re the Runza guy, aren’t you?”  I guess it’s good to leave a positive impression on folks!

Start/Finish Line
Start/Finish Line

There was no electronic timing, no banners, no post race activities… just a simple run that maximized the proceeds for the Autism Society.  That was nice to see, but I didn’t realize how much I missed having the post race hubbub, and the bigger cheering crowd.  And I missed having chocolate milk at the end of the race!

My time was really slow in this race, and I’m sure part of that was the crazy cold weather.  It couldn’t have *anything* to do with my lack of training this winter!!!

Cold Weather Running Duds
Cold Weather Running Duds

The temperature wasn’t really any colder than any other event I’ve run in, but there was a ton of wind and moist air to make things really cold.  For this run, I added a Buff reflective neck gather, and a new Saucony DryLete Skull Cap.  These kept my head, face and neck really warm.

I also had a new Nike Element Shield jacket, partly in preparation to stay warm in the upcoming Lincoln races.  I had a long sleeve jersey on as a base, and a short sleeve atop that, and then the jacket.  I was waaaaaay hot with all that, so I think they’ll do later this week for Lincoln.

However, my new Brooks running pants proved to be warm, but not warm enough.  Same with my gloves.  I have some Saucony gloves, but they’re proving not to be very useful once you hit 30 degrees or so.  I’ll need to resolve both of these pieces of human real estate before Wednesday.

In all, it was a good trip, and another medal for this year!

Three Years of Semicolon Goodness

Three years ago — almost to the hour — I was exiting surgery, cured of colon cancer, and starting a new phase of my life.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been three years… that time in my life was really dark and scary as we led up to the resection that eliminated the evil intruder in my bowels.  It seems like a lifetime ago.

And as scary as it was, it was, in the end (no pun intended!), pretty straightforward.  Had it not been for the massive infection that followed, it would’ve been almost a non-event.  I spent more time recovering from the infection than I did from the removal of a third of my colon.

Now, three years downstream, I think I’m a little healthier — I’ve squandered that opportunity somewhat, although adding running to my life has certainly been a step in the right direction.  I think I’ve got a long way to go to fully “get healthy,” but it’s doable, and I know I’ve been given a second chance to position myself for healthier days for the rest of my life.  That second chance is a gift, and one I need to take more advantage of.

For the family and friends that made up my support team over the last three years — THANK YOU!  You have no idea what it meant to have your support at the time, or what you’ve meant to me since.

Later today, Becky and I go off to lunch to celebrate my NED (No Evidence of Disease) anniversary, and I can’t wait.  It’s so wonderful to celebrate my “rebirth” at this time of year when we’re also celebrating the birth of Christ.

can·a·peel (noun) ˈkan-ə-pēl – A meal with a lot of variety, where each participant finds and cooks their own food.