Days Like Today

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Memorial Day in Boston was a wet mess.  The rain started early, and heavy.  So much that when I took Auggie out for his morning constitutional, he more or less had water up to his doggie knees at the bottom of the stairs.  A light drizzle continued on and off during the morning, but became heavy enough at times that watching people scramble into a Starbucks made them look like they took a swim in their yoga pants.

While such weather should be disappointing, or reason to finally work on the home office I said I was going to work on all weekend (instead of playing video games and watching auto racing … but can you blame me when Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, and Coca-Cola 600 are all on the same day?).  Instead, as I sat around the condo, wandered off for a bagel, and followed it up with coffee, I thought of something far different -but not so unexpected.  I thought of Alaska.

In some ways, that shouldn’t be surprising to any of you.  For one thing, I am blogging on the blog that was first created for the sole purpose of talking about Alaska .. so that is sign number one.  If you personally talked to me at all anytime in the last two years, sooner or later I would have either mentioned Alaska, droned on and on about Alaska, or at just outright said ‘I miss Alaska everyday’.  So, why today?

I don’t know for sure really.  In all honesty the memories that came today don’t seem to make a lot of sense – because it would be hard pressed to question why I reminsed the way I did this morning.

The biggest thing that hung over me this morning was walking around the Carrs on Northern Lights connected to the Sears Mall.  For those of you not from the area, Carrs is a grocery store chain – and since we are being honest, not the best grocery store chain in Alaska.  The one on Northern Lights connected to Sears Mall is not the best Carrs either.  You were more likely hit up by someone outside looking for some change to visit the liquor store next door, and had to be careful to lock up your car or you will find either things missing or someone asleep in the backseat.  Yet there was something about that store that it seemed to have fresh fruit.  Maybe not the freshest in town, but this morning I almost felt myself walking their aisles and choosing between white flesh peaches or Rainier cherries that still smelt of the trees they were picked from.

I was hungry this morning, and there was soup in my fridge.  It made me think for Philly Cheese Stake soup they make at the BP Tower where I worked; how the thick creaming gooey stuff could heat the soul in ways that made you feel like you were clogging your arteries at the same time.  It was a building that was the only thing unbearable enough to consider leaving the state behind, and the ultimate source of what I still consider to be a bad life choice – rather than finding a way to continue on in Anchorage with or without the oil company paying my salary.  Yet even with that negativity hanging over me, I smiled at the way I walked through that old cafeteria happy to see my favorite soup (favorite of all time) waiting for me.

It could have been the weather that triggered my memories.  So many days in Alaska were wet, rainy, and cool.  Maybe it was the smell of the sea coming in off the Atlantic this morning that reminded me of the Cook Inlet’s salty air.  Me standing out in a pine filled park.  Auggie by my side.  Both of us wet from brushing against ferns and brush, seeing the mist of coming rain follow us through the woods.  Trying to convince ourselves being out here was  good thing.  Most of the time, we decided it wasn’t; and now I wish to have those same decisions in front of me, and to smell that air and feel that chill seeping through my clothes.

I would tell people how in the eleven years I lived in Kansas I didn’t have the half the stories I had the two years I spent in Alaska.  This week, and today especially, so many of those untold tales came to my head.   How a place we went to lunch at in South Windsor, CT on a mill pond reminded me of the World Famous Peanut Farm Sports Bar, how Campbell Creek ran along it’s side fast and deep enough that you can watch the kayaks and canoeists test themselves.  How shaved ham reminded me of the Rainster, an amazing benidict-ish breakfast that became a staple for me in the last few months before leaving.  How on the first day of snow I witnessed was rounded out when I had to help a complete stranger push his car out of the road when it broke down.  Random upon Random upon Random.  Some aweful in the moment, some bad, some uncomfortable, but all of them kept warm in my soul, and calling me from thousands of miles and hundreds of days away.

Years and years ago, I read a book that described love in terms of how it influenced you in times when that love wasn’t around.  A couple who saw each other only on the weekends, and the main character saying that things became easy the first day or two but by midweek his lover sat on his keyboard so he couldn’t type, followed him around to rooms so he could remember where he was going, left the smell in the air so he couldn’t breathe.  I feel like that somedays, days like today.

I left Alaska because of work.  Leaving where I was at was something that needed to be done, even if I am not sure where I ended up was the right move.  I was given a choice where to move to and I firmly believe moving to Boston was a wrong decision; but days like today feels to me that I am challenged to ask why I left Alaska to begin with.  It remains as ‘a place I once lived’, but of all the places I have ever lived it is the first that I truly want to return to without knowing how I could possibly make it work.

Days like today only seem to shake me in that same way.  The memories that haunt me today are not at all the things that make Alaska romantic.  It is the cold, miserable, awful days that seemed as numerous in the last frontier as they are in Boston.  Yet thinking about them only makes my heart ache that much more.  Days like today, Alaska weighs on my keyboard so I can’t type.  Follows me through my rooms so I can’t remember where I am going.  Smell so real that I can’t breathe.

I may not be in Alaska, I may never live there again or visit ever again.  At least I have days like today.

Homeless Shut-In

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Back from my West Coast support and done with La Grande Tour, I am not settling into a period of time where I am spending a majority of my time at home.  Don’t worry, it won’t last … and kinda hasn’t.  I’ve been in and out of Hartford last week and this week, and am just a few weeks away from 10 days in England; which then I get punished by nearly non-stop work in plants around New England.  But that’s so not the point I am trying to get to.

When I am home, I work from home.  If you have never done it, I don’t know if I can recommend it or tell you to run away from it.  Working from home has a strange mix of things that are great and things that aren’t.  The most obvious one is the hours.  I usually have about nine hours a day of work to do, whether it be calls, webinars, e-mails, or just working projects.  That nine hours is typically spread over thirteen hours in the day.  I usually get up, check the e-mails, respond to some, figure out a plan, then take a break for breakfast and a coffee (and maybe an episode or two of cartoons … I am kinda partial to We Bare Bears, go figure).  Then I settle in and work through some of the pressing issues and ‘deal with the east coast’.  That typically clears up by lunchtime .. when I take lunch .. and a shower (this is probably the point to make note I am still wearing what I wore to bed last night).  After that, and maybe an episode or two of more cartoons (or Game of Thrones, if it’s a Monday and there was a hockey game).  The afternoon has three routes.  One – if the west coast has something to deal with, and now is the time to deal with them.  Two – I pack up and head to a coffee shop (or if I skipped lunch something like that) to bang out a fair bit of computer time on a project.  Three – get some errand done that are easier when the rest of Boston is at work.  Finish that up, and I am back at home and then the day seems to go in multiple different ways.  Like I said, there is usually 9 hours a work in the day, and if that isn’t done – guess who has to get back to work.  I’ve been known to work late just to get the stuff done that needs to get done (late meaning, second or third period of the hockey game … it is playoff season).  But then again, if I start early and my plate is clean early, I am spying that bottle of wine calling my name somewhere around 4PM.

The point being, when you work at home, it’s not like you are ‘working’ and you are ‘at home’.  My home is really my place of work.

Yes it means everyday is ‘bring your dog to work day’.  Yes it means ‘casual Fridays’ is ‘casual every day of the week’ … and ‘casual’ is slightly gross.  It’s just that the work day never starts and never ends, it just always is.

I can tell you, that frame of mine hasn’t helped my ‘work-life’ balance.  When you spend all the hours of the day in some state of working, you tend not to look to do something outside of ‘work’.  It’s quite possible that I can spend the whole day without leaving the condo – and while I had a screwed up knee a couple weeks back I didn’t leave it for nearly three days straight.  While you are at it, who will you know to go with?  My workmates are either somewhere else or … my dog.  I feel less like a person freed of the office life, and more like a shut-in.

Of course, when I do go out, it can be misleading to those who see me.  Shorts, t-shirt, days from the last shave, days from combing my hair … I look as much like someone who is homeless than anything (which makes when I ask for the $35 bottle of wine enough to raise eyebrows).

You could say I am just complaining about the good life.  You could get on me that I spent so much time about traveling I should be happy to be home.

Well … no one said I wasn’t a complainer.

Jungle to Bad Haircut

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Sometimes I wonder if Boston exists to break my spirit.  I’ve been back in town for just short of two weeks, and all the hopes of trying to embrace my hometown had a high tendency of kicking back in my face.  After three-plus months of beautiful California sun, when it maybe rained twice during that run, it rained the first eight days after I came back.  Just before the sun started to break, I did something to my knee that made it so sore and swollen I had to stay off of it for four days.

The challenge with all this rain is that it’s kept me from getting work done on my yard, and in fact just made the whole thing worse.  I live in a three story old Victorian condo where each floor is a different condo.  Because I have the bottom floor, my lien also includes the backyard.  For the most part, I took that because it gives Auggie a place to do his business.  The yard isn’t completely fenced in, and he’s proven that he can’t be trusted in a yard without a fence.  Truthfully, its a pretty small yard.  Each building on our street is not even separated enough to fit a driveway for the most part – though our building on one side can fit a couple.  There is maybe 10 feet from the back porch to the back of the property.  Being back there, you feel you are practically moved in with all the neighbors and their back porches.  So to say there is a yard is not saying much.

Though really, if you are going to call my yard anything, you would call it a jungle recently. With all that time I spent away from the place last summer, most of it was overgrown.  Then with an early spring all the weeds and brush that can overrun the area did just that.  The rains of the last couple of weeks only seemed to made some heavy rooted weeds to blow up and reach two or three feet high.

Today, with the sun out and the knee in better shape, I went to work to reclaim that yard.  Let’s just say, it’s got a long way to go.

I don’t have a lawn mower.  There’s one under the porch, but I don’t trust it.  Though in all honesty, this wasn’t the work of a lawn mower.  I bought a trimmer, and just weed wacked the hell out of that yard.  After just short of an hour, the yard went from a jungle to something that better looks like a bad haircut.  Half the yard that sees most of the sun was just a mass of poorly cut grass, the rest of it that doesn’t see the sun is now down to its rudiment mud.  A good portion of the yard is set-up as a garden, and I was able to terrorize that to the point that I can see what is still good tendable perennials and what needs to be tilled to the soil.

I don’t have the brilliant green thumb my mom has, but there is something that comes with working in a yard like this.  It feeds my OCD tendancies, showing off to me all those little things that I am never short of to dig and clean-up.  The fresh smell of cut vegetation, the wet ground, the earth rising up triggers that inherent farmer in my soul.  There isn’t a satisfaction that comes with working a yard because it never seems to be done, but there is a satisfaction that you did it.

The good news is that there is a lot of work left to do.  I can see now the garden, but it still has to be reclaimed, and still needs to be edged.  Even with the discovery of a lot of good hostas and other flowering plants.  They need to others to slip in next to them, then maybe build up the greenery with ferns and taller plants.  Then maybe that garden will be mine again, and the yard.

The bad news is there is a lot of work left to do.

Oh … and I looked at my schedule away from the condo this summer, and it’s not pretty (and not getting prettier).

“Home” (Quotation Marks Required)

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As I write this, I have officially been home for five hours.  Le Grande Tour ended about 1PM EST after a whopping 25 days and 5744.7 miles.  The tour was extended by a couple of days at the end to wrap time at a couple of plants in Connecticut and to break up the last leg of the drive — and I will tell you right now that the last of it was when it was ready to be over.

More painfully, it’s been four months and five days since we drove away from Dorchester — and over three months since I have been physically in my condo.  My main concerns walking in the door (or realistic concerns I guess) was whether or not mice have moved in (which it smells like they have) and whether or not the floors were still in good shape.  In February, a water line burst in our condo and leaked a large amount of water into my unit.  My fellow tenants with access to my keys were able to get in, clean it up best they could, and work with a plumber to at least make sure it doesn’t happen again.

As it turns out, the floors only really needed a good sweep and a good clean.  Because it was mostly dirty interior drywall that got damaged behind my washer/dryer – all the real problem was getting the muddy mess where the water came in at washed up, and sweep up the dried pieces of drywall.  That and it seems my front room became a place where house flies go to die.  Now the place stinks of pine-sol so thick I can taste cleaning fluid.  Of course, I had to restock the fridge, since I emptied it smartly before I left.  Of course, I had to restock the pup food bins as well.  Sadly though, I still need to restock the wine rack … with … a lot.

It’s a little weird being here.  I mean, I live here, which should not make it all that weird.  I may call this home, but it really hasn’t been a home before and doesn’t feel like one either.  I spend so few nights here, I tend to treat it no different than a hotel room.  As a result, the towels need to be washed, the sheets need to be changed, and nothing seems to be where I can find it.  Except, I could always take a quick run out to get dinner — something that is not at all convenient in Dorchester, and not the options on I want either.  See, part of the wierdness is that I am a different man than when I left.  I’m already down 90lbs, more active, and more focused than when I left.  I have a plan for when the weather breaks to work on the backyard, something I never wanted to touch before now.

That, and as I am pretty honest, I don’t really like it here.  The condo is small, the pup seems uncomfortable, and the area always has me worried when I will get the next parking ticket.  I plan to make a change of things here – my near term schedule has me staying on the east coast for the foreseeable future, and I am challenging myself to reduce my travel, which means all the things I complain about here can be changed if I put the effort in.

It’s just weird, you know.  This place that is supposed to be home but doesn’t feel like it.

Maybe ask me tomorrow.

Remembering Ohio Sunrises

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The Le Grande Tour is nearing it’s end, which basically means I’m closer to the East Coast than the West Coast.  Gone are the days when I had to put up with miles and miles of flat desert occasionally interrupted by an oil well.  Gone are the days of the flat tree lined boring of the midwest.  Gone are the days in Texas .. nuff said.  Now, deep in Appalachia, I am on ground that I know well but love driving none the less.

Yesterday, in particular, I was able to make a run that wasn’t just interesting, it was reminiscent.  Let’s start with a bit of a story, why not.

It was the summer of 1998.  I was living and working in the Milwaukee area, and things were not going to any plan of my own.  Recently, I bought my first new car (new new, not something just to get me from point A to point B) a ’97 Saturn SD-2.  While I had made a few trips in the car, I was itching to go for a trip of some sort.  With a three day weekend coming up for Independence Day, and a desperate desire to change my world from some things that were sucking the life out of me, I started to consider my options.

Pulling open a map, I looked at places to go to within driving distance of Milwaukee and was immediately disappointed.  Wisconsin and Minnesota seemed like it meant I needed to visit family, and I was looking for some ‘Me’ time.  Illinois was about as interesting to me as watching paint dry.  I could have gone to Michigan, but I was too closely removed from spending 5+ years in college trying to break free of that.    This was when looking at the map seemed fruitless.  I was now looking at places that were going to be a long drive, so if I was going to do it – there better be a destination worth it.  Iowa?  No.  Indiana?  Heck No.  Ohio? No, Serious.  Pennsylvania?  …

All of a sudden the grumpy answers stopped, and I asked myself again … Pennsylvania?

Then that little insanity in my head said: “Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania.”

Now, nearly 20 years removed, the thought process seems more normal to me, but only because I live in a world where I am driving 5200 miles for work.  But back in 1997, I hadn’t done much driving like this.  In 1992, I drove from Wisconsin to New Jersey to try out for Drum Corps, and in 1995 I took a 3 week road trip to visit my brother in Nevada; but both of those took on months of planning and preparing.  When I made that plant to Gettysburg in ’97, it was literally a decision made on a Tuesday, and hit the road on Thursday.  Not just that, I didn’t know what to expect when I got there.  I’ve been to Gettysburg well over 10 times, and am not afraid to say I want to retire there someday – but that was my first trip to the Civil War city.  This was going to be an experience, and I was about as nervous as I was excited.  Not just that, this was pre-internet prevalence.  I had no GPS, no good research on the path, heck … I didn’t even have reservations to stay anywhere, but that wasn’t even much of my plan.

Yet for the most part, the trip went as planned.  I left work on that Thursday night, drove home, changed, packed, and hit the road.  Leaving Milwaukee a little late was part of the plan, there is just no way to get east without going through Chicago, and traffic in the windy city is a nightmare on the last day of a work week.  By the time I reached the Indiana boarder, it was already well past 10pm.  The route at this point was nearly completely toll roads — I-90 across the top of Indiana & Ohio, then the Penna Turnpike on in to the finish.  By the time I reached the Ohio bored, I was pretty tired – which since I was in my 20s and dumb, that meant that I was going to need to find a nice isolated part of a travel plaza and sleep in the car.  As it turned out, this was a lot tougher than it sounds.  I would sleep (kinda) for an hour, then tried to drive on until the next travel plaza 50 miles down the road then try to sleep again.  This meant that by 5am, I had only made it to outside of Cleveland, where I waited diligently for donuts and coffee when a certain ‘dunking’ style donut shop was opening.

This was when things started changing for me.  Hitting the road, the sun was starting to come up.  This country was healthy farm land, still flat, and mostly treeless.  So as the sun was coming up, with just a hint of orange in the air.  A bit of the morning dew turned into a wisps of fog hanging low on the fields.  The angle of the road, allowed for the sun to not hit me directly in the eyes, but wasn’t so out of the way I couldn’t soak in the whole of the start of this day.  In the twenty years since that drive, no memory remains as strong as that sunrise.  I have seen hundreds of sunrises since then, some more grand and more beautiful, but none more important.  After a long night of driving, this was the first point that I fully realized that I was nowhere near where I lived.  As much as the destination was my goal, the whole desire for this trip was to break free – and that sun rising up that morning told me I had broken free, and the road ahead was all going to be new.

The drive continued with experience after experience.  I took a detour through Pittsburgh for he experience of breaching the Fort Pitt Tunnel onto the downtown that I’ve seem to have done a million times since.  I got lost in the Western Pennsylvania hills trying to find something that would stand for breakfast.  My stink needed to be dealt with somewhere around Sommerset.  Yet by 3PM, I was pulling into Gettysburg … then pulling out of it, because the closest available hotel (only because it opened that day) was 30 miles away.  The next morning was a trip around the battlefield on a double decker tour bus (a tour group that still uses the exact same audio to this day).  While I could wax on of all of that day, this story is about the journey not the destination — and as much as I was enjoying this, reality was setting in – I had to hit the road, as I had to get home by the end of the next day.

On the way back, starving after a long day, I pulled into the Midway Travel plaza along the Penna Turnpike and grabbed a Stromboli from the Sabaro’s there.  If you ever had one … it’s kinda gross.  Yet, in that moment, in that weekend of freedom, it found itself in that page of satisfaction like little else.  The cooling summer day, a bit of rain in the area, the road ahead, I was happy – truly happy – that kind of happy that makes you want to have that feeling forever.

Since that summer, I’ve recreated that trip a number of times over.  Sometimes in full, sometimes in part.  Yesterday was just another one of those trips.  While I didn’t cross Ohio at sunrise, I still ran that stretch on the Penna Turnpike in the cloudy rain that reminded me of those days all those years ago.  Capturing them in the way I felt.  While I couldn’t say I was having one of those ‘happy’ days (my new stomach really was messing with me), it was nice to remember – it was nice to reflect.

That’s the point though.  Sometimes, it is just nice to use the memory of Ohio Sunrises to remember what if felt to break free of your troubles to remind you why you do it.

How Lucky Am I

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There is a quote that I mistakenly attributed to Winnie the Poo (but it turns out I am not the only one … there’s a whole website attributed to Poo misquotes) but is actually from 70’s movie called ‘The Other Side of the Mountain’.  I first came across this quote on a day that I couldn’t have been better set-up to find it.  I was in Kansas, waking up early, stopping off at a Starbucks, and in such a need for good coffee that I bought two cups – one to guzzle in the next hour and one to sip on throughout the morning.  I was on my way to my house ready to put in 16 hours into cleaning & fixing it up.  It was, in fact, the last day I ever lived in Kansas, and I was just a mere 24 hours away from moving to Alaska.  It was a day I was split with emotion, ready for what was coming, but wanting to make sure I didn’t ignore the past I was leaving.  Walking into that Starbucks, they were celebrating that one of their employees was on their last day as well.  On a chalkboard, someone wrote this quote that, regardless of the source, had a message that seemed perfect at the time:

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Since then, I have used that quote often.  More so in cases when we need to embrace the pain of loss; like when someone has to say goodbye to a loved one or to a beloved furry member of their family.  I use it to remind myself that what sadness that there maybe is the result of something that made you feel good.  Truthfully, in those situations, when it is time to say goodbye to someone, we need that idea to remind us of what we are saying goodbye to.  As ready as I was to move to Alaska, I was leaving 11 years behind – 11 years of laughs, 11 years of good times, 11 years of good people — and it was going to be hard to say goodbye, but I needed to remember what was so hard about it.

In the last few months, the first part of that quote has found itself into more and more situations.  I keep thinking: “How Lucky Am I …”  I’m not always one with a positive outlook on things, and few would confuse me with an optimist, but this statement is different to me.  It’s not about sugar coating the world, or blowing sunshine about.  It’s about keeping perspective.  It’s about appreciating what you have.

Sometimes it’s about taking advantage of things.  Like how often I traveled for work in the past, but made sure that if I was spending time somewhere special, I took the time to see those things.  How lucky I was to see things like the Forum in Rome, or the Mona Lisa, or the Great Wall of China.

Sometimes it’s about chance.  Like when I look at the circumstances when a really good friend came into my life – and that night I approached a bad situation in a way that was unlike me, which if I did follow what I would normally did I would have never become friends with them.  How lucky I was that I broke free of my negativity for the right people to brighten a positive world.

Sometimes it’s just realizing what could be.   Sometimes it is knowing that your world can change on a dime, but even if it doesn’t how good of a chance you had to be considered.  Sometimes it is enough to realize that having the opportunities you have had is worth seeing what could be.

I don’t always keep up with my blog because I am committed to it being about the good things that happen in my world.  Yet it seems these days, I grow better and better at embracing what positive there is.  That should be all the more reason to blog more.  All the more reason to share it with you.

Because … How Lucky Am I that you take the time to read this.