Thursday, May 28, 2009

Deep breath before you tackle the next hill

I'm starting to really feel that we're over the hump and that the first few, hellish years of parenting are melting away.
I will miss the cooing, the discovery of all that's new to them (keychains, the moon, toilet paper) and the overall cuteness, but I call it hell because I haven't heard any other parent of twins say it any differently. That first year is, indeed, fun, rewarding and enjoyable. It's also hell.
Jayden's got a lot of milestones this summer even though it's a month before his 4th birthday. Today we took him to get a look at his pre-school. He should be writing his name by this fall, his teacher reassured us.
Yesterday I coached my first practice of his very first T-ball team. There's definitely a blog post in there, but honestly it wasn't as comical as I thought it would be. Most of the kids could hit the ball off the tee. Many didn't really know what to do after they smacked the ball, of course, despite me running the bases with them before hitting practice. Almost all, in fact, stood there and admired their hit, something they probably picked up by watching baseball on TV. I explained to them that they were asking for a brushback the next time they were up, but they didn't seem to listen.
A few could even pick it up and throw to first.
And, most importantly, they all listened to me and were good to each other. The kids were great too.
Jayden, though, is the youngest - he barely hit the cutoff date - and while his body can certainly do all the things I'm asking him to do, his active little brain isn't quite grasping it. He liked to run back to me every time someone hit the ball rather than run to second or third. 
We'll get there.
The girls are an even bigger breakthrough, as they can talk quite well. That's reduced the tantrums by tenfold, as they're no longer so frustrated that diving on the ground and screaming loud enough to disrupt a robin's flight pattern seems like the best option. 
"Hi, Daddy," they say when I walk in the house, and they know most of the important words, such as "juice," "cracker," "I want some," "milk" and, perhaps most importantly, "I pooped."
Toilet training and pacifier rehabilitation will start before July, leaving us the (albeit small) chance that they will be out of diapers by the end of the summer. The day they are officially out of diapers, I go on a 24-hour bender of poker, queso and beer.
It's more than just the milestones. They are people now. They tell us what they want - I want to swing is something I hear every afternoon - rather than cry and force us to guess. They're picking the things they like. Dora The Explorer is popular with the girls (something, by the way, I'm all for, given that she hikes, spends her days outside and knows how to use a map) and Jayden continues to support the Pixar franchise practically by himself. They even pick their own outfits now, meaning they're choosing how they present themselves to the world (and Andie, every day, wakes up and says "Dress, dress," meaning she's more of a girly girl than I originally thought). It won't be long before they start to form their own identities rather than ride the ones we've selected for them.
The days can continue to be long, challenging and, at times, utterly exhausting. But not every day.
I've run three races this year so far. Two of them were hilly courses, with steep, sapping climbs. Usually, when I'd reach the top, I'd be out of breath, not knowing if I could go on.
I felt that way many times these last four years (especially during the last two).
But I always managed to catch my breath, and find my strength to go on, on the way down.

Monday, May 25, 2009

From Start to Finish

My running career - the serious one, anyway - started at the Bolder/Boulder.
The first time, Jayden wasn't born yet, and the twins were a dark joke, an unimaginable situation.
The Bolder/Boulder is one of the largest 10Ks in the country, if not the biggest. I can't imagine one being much bigger. There are more than 50,000 runners, as there were this year.
I was one of them for the fifth time today.
In many ways, the race has gotten easier, even as I've managed to knock almost four minutes off my time since I began running it seriously four years ago. This year was by far my best race. I ran 47:37, a PR on the course by a minute over last year. Not only that, but I rarely really suffered for the first time. I finished 3,000th or so out of the 50,000.
I've never felt good on the course. It's a tough, hilly, at times nasty course, with three miles uphill, and it's hard to say what's harder, the steady climbs or the steep, short humps. And the wave I qualified for started at 7:05 a.m., so we'd have to blow out of Greeley by 5 a.m, making it almost impossible to get a good night's sleep.
Yet this year my breathing was controlled and I was relaxed. These races are hard for me. Most of my life I've been an endurance athlete, someone who could go all day on the peaks for several days in a row. I'm still adjusting to the intensity of races, the edgy breathing, the occasional pains in my side, the ever-present slight sick feeling in my gut, the sweat in my eyes. Yet I am adjusting, and this year's race proves it. I have to say, I practically enjoyed it. I definitely see room for improvement - I should have pushed it much harder the last two miles - but I'm pleased with my performance.
If only I could say the same thing for my kids.
Days like today continue to challenge me as a parent, and sometimes I honestly wonder if these races are a good thing for me. Sometimes I honestly wonder why I feel the need to constantly push myself, why I need that ego boost that comes from the feeling of crossing the line after you've given it everything you had. Because it takes a lot out of me to do that, and weariness gnawed at me all day, and when I am that tired, my patience isn't what it needs to be for three young, incredibly active children.
My kids are intelligent and need a lot of attention and are, it seems to me, abnormally active. They push us all the time. Sometimes it's too much, as Jayden has started hitting his sisters, and us. But I prefer this in my children. I can already tell they won't be passive personalities. I want my kids to be a lot of things, but passive isn't one of them. It's no way to live your life.
Still, when I don't have the patience for it, I'm not nearly as good a father as I should be. I try to spend time with them, but I also zone out for scraps of energy or do jobs around the house, like mow the lawn, clean out the toy box or get them juice and fix dinner. All those chores take energy, too, but not patience, and it's my patience that's always in short supply. After a race the tank is nearly always empty.
Sure enough, I yelled at Jayden around 7:15 p.m., when it was gone and I could see the end. The end of a race is always the hardest because at that point, it's impossible for me not to wish it was over. It's a great feeling to be done with a race, but it's an awful feeling five minutes before. I fell into that trap today despite the good race.
Bedtime is the same way for me. I yelled a little too long and a little too loud after he hit his sister yet again.
He's 3, not 4 yet, though he's close, and I wish I could sit him down and explain how angry it makes me. I tried. I'm not sure it sunk in. I doubt it, actually. We left on good terms, but I don't like him looking at me afraid and sad.
There was a lot of joy today too. I hadn't seen the kids in a couple days, and the girls and Jayden both wanted my attention as soon as I got home. I was exhausted, but that felt good. Honestly my biggest frustration is they don't want it enough. I lay on the couch after helping Kate get them lunch, and Andie left the table, came over and started jumping on my belly. I'm pretty sure that's not how to recover from a tough 10K. But it was really fun. Allie did the same a few moments later.
I need to continue to remind myself that there is joy in my kids, just like there is joy in a race. The hard moments are hard, but the feeling you get from it when you cross the finish line and go to bed that night make it all worth it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Defenders of the Faith

I was sitting at a traffic light blasting "Living on a Prayer," singing a bit, playing guitar on my steering wheel, oblivious to 92 degrees outside, when I looked to my left.
A dude in his 20, his back window thumping bass, gave me a sardonic grin, shook his head and hit the gas.
I gave him the devil horns.
I find myself in these situations more than I'd like these days. Lately, I find myself defending 80s metal.
Fans of A Flock of Seagulls, Asia or the Alan Parsons Project - if they're still out there - probably go through the same thing. But let's be honest. Most of that music sucked, and most everyone realizes it today. 
But the strange thing is 80s metal, especially hair metal, in some ways is more popular than ever. It's in regular rotation on classic rock stations, including those JACK-FM stations that also play the occasional song from Bread. This makes me feel incredibly old, but it's also gratifying and ironic at the same time, given that popular radio at the time wouldn't touch even the more popular groups like Motley Crue. You'd hear Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and "The Final Countdown," but that's about it.
Still, I find myself having to defend the wonders of "Living on a Prayer" to the younger generation, or explain that, yes, Twisted Sister looked pretty stupid, but Dee Snider not only wrote some pretty catchy songs, he could sing, too. 
Even a couple friends of mine who prefer today's demon growlers - music I listen to and enjoy as well - sneer at all 80s metal, save for Metallica and maybe Iron Maiden.
I realize that a lot of 80s metal, most of it hair metal, screams to be parodied. Just look at the pants, the hair and the lyrics. And the sappy ballads. Yeah, those sucked. And, yeah, some of bands sucked as well. Maybe more than some. For every Ratt, Crue and Cinderella, there was a Britney Fox, Bang Tango and Danger Danger. 
But a band like Steel Panther makes fun of hair metal and gets it so right because the guys appreciate the music. That's why I loved their show. They played and sang the songs so well - nailed them, actually - that only a fool would say they were ripping it. True parody, the best kind, comes from a love of the source.
I wouldn't want to bring it back, I don't think. I mean, I did buy Motley Crue's new album this year, and it was great, really great, but I can't see me buying anyone else's. I think Twisted Sister's new one, if there was a new one, would stay on the shelf. 
But that music has its place, just like Men at Work, or many of those 80s bands that were actually pretty good but would probably be horrible today. It has its time. And it influenced more bands than you might think. The music's better than many think.
Though I'm worried. The other day I was playing Whitesnake in the car, and Andie looked at me and said, "ewww."
She also does that when she has a poopy diaper. I'm pretty sure that's what it was. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two years and counting

Despite the cliche, life doesn't always change in an instant. We heard the news 21 weeks into Kate's second pregnancy. We were expecting a baby much like the last one. We expected diapers. Late night feedings. Occasional bursts of screaming.
We just didn't expect twice the amount.
Life did not change the moment we heard the news. It took time. We redid the nursery - Jayden got booted to the smaller room, something I'm sure we'll hear about when he's 14. We redid our lives - I became more of a runner and less of a mountain climber. We redid our expectations. We knew it
 would be hard. We didn't know how hard, but we tried, anyway.
Life changed every day, before, during and after they were born.
Two down and a lifetime of changes to go.

It's been a crazy, hectic, trying, sometimes impossibly difficult but unique, special and kinda wonderful two years.

Happy Birthday Andie and Allie. I love you:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why am I getting two more cards?

I'm about two-thirds of the way through "Pot-Limit Omaha" by Jeff Hwang. I'm probably also two-thirds of the way through my Omaha experiment.
Both, I think, are going well.
The experiment is playing Omaha almost exclusively for a few months. I know Hold 'Em. You know Hold 'Em. Everyone knows Hold 'Em.
I think I overheard the twins the other day discussing the merits of raising with a small pocket pair in EP.
But not many people know Omaha. I mean, they think they do. But they don't. I'm trying to take advantage of that before they learn.
I see Omaha as Hold 'Em, circa 2004. At the limits I'm playing - $25 if you care - all you have to do is play tight and make lots of "huge" laydowns (which aren't all that huge really) and push with serious draws and you're good.
It reminds me of the old days: Play smart and wait for the mistakes. Football teams win titles playing that way. 
But that doesn't appear to be enough now. It's enough if you don't mind breaking even or making $1.50 a month. But the fish have mostly disappeared, and I'm not sure Barney Frank getting his sensible law approved (gay legislators rock) will bring them back. It seems to me that Hold 'Em's time has passed. I won't give up on it, but I also can't devote the time needed to the game to get a whole lot better than solid, and solid's marginally profitable these days.
Omaha? Well, that's different. Lots of money to be made there if you can stand swings, suckouts and folding flopped straights. And so far I'm right. I obviously need to improve at the game - a lot, actually - but so far solid's working well in Omaha.
I also noticed a nice side effect. When I played Hold 'Em the other day, I was much more aggressive. No, really. Because I do bluff in Omaha - checking is weak and needs to be attacked - and if I can bluff in Omaha, bluffing in Hold 'Em is easy, sort of like running a 5K after completing a half marathon a month ago.
The best thing I like about Hwang's book so far, other than giving me clear, easy-to-follow rules that will help me play a solid, tight game, is it's teaching me how to be aggressive in Omaha. Omaha can be a passive game - it's a fine play to call with a flopped straight with four players left to act behind you on a board with flush potential, for instance - and it's easy to slip into just calling when you have it and checking when you don't rather than taking advantage of position.
Position is just as important in Omaha as in Hold 'Em.
I have a lot to learn, but poker's a lot of fun again, and the best part is I'm learning something new. That's something I never take for granted.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Nothing surprises any longer

I'm really having a hard time understanding why there's so much outrage over Manny Ramirez getting nailed for steroids. 
I mean, really, steroids just don't get me outraged any longer. Or even angry. Or, to be honest, even into a minor tiff.
Because to be any of those things, I think, you have to be at least a little surprised. And I'm well past surprise. I don't think I'll be surprised at the news of any professional athlete taking a banned substance.
Mostly what I do these days is shake my head. If it's another baseball player, I shake my head and wonder if there will be anyone left to vote into the Hall of Fame, and I also wonder how much credibility that place is going to have in 20 years when none of the game's greatest players of this era will be there except for Ken Griffey Jr.
Honestly there's only two athletes that would really let me down if they ever tested positive for a banned substance, and that's Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong. And I guess Phelps, technically, already's been caught for taking a banned substance, but I'm OK with that substance because he won't have to give his gold medals back. 
Maybe I'm merely hoping that Lance is clean because he's tested clean and I admire him so much.
As we've already seen, however, none of that is enough.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Three annoying things this week

Lord, since I was born a ramblin' man, I had three annoying things happen to me in the last couple of days that I'd like to post about here. Consider it a walkabout.

1. So I'm driving down a tight street with cars parked on both sides in downtown Greeley. Yes, Greeley is large enough to have a downtown. It's not New York but it's still a downtown. Anyway, I had just pulled out of a parking space and was on my way when a lawyer pulled out of his space right dead in front of me, causing me to slam on the brakes.
I know he's a lawyer cause the courthouse is right there. And he has a Porsche.
He then proceeded to continue to pull out, only, as you've guessed by now, he had zero room to do that. So he inched out and then, rather than pulling back in his spot and waiting for me to pass, inched out again and came within an atom's space of tapping my front fender.
OK. Look, I realize he has a Porsche. I know it's a much, much cooler car than my CRV. I love my CRV as it rides like butter over rough mountain roads, but yeah, I'd probably choose a Porsche too. And if we were pulling out at the same time, I'd defer to him just because of the pure awesomeness of the car, in the same way that I'd defer to a guy who could bench twice as much as me if we were walking down a street in opposite directions.
I get the natural order of things. I really do. 
But we weren't pulling out the same time. I was on my way and he expected me to not only slam on my brakes but then BACK UP so he could pull his precious princess out of the spot. 
Nope. I was havin' none of it. I stayed right there and blared my horn. When he gave me a warning glance out his back seat, I gave one right back. He finally threw up his hands and drove into the spot and let me pass. If he decides to sue me later, I'll just write a story about it and make him look like an asshat.

2. I got a haircut today. Sure, I had a disturbing number of gray hairs that peppered my cover cloth, but that's not what was annoying. No, my scalp's been a tad itchy today after the cut, and every time I scratch it, about 10,375 little hairs coat my computer and desk. 
Now, I understand there are always a few hairs after a cut, but where do all these hairs come from? Seriously, there's like a billion now, and a few, inevitably, are now stuck in my keyboard, so it looks like a black cat sat on it for three days.

3. Kate had a rough day yesterday at work, so I suggested we go out to eat to "relax." This is, of course, almost impossible with twins not quite 2 and a toddler not quite 4, but it is what it is. Anyway, we went to Red Robin. Every parent usually eats at Red Robin about 457 times a year. I'm not a huge fan but we do go there a lot because you get a balloon when you walk in, and when you're almost 2 and 4, you think that's pretty fucking cool.
So the girls sat in their high chairs for about .0078 seconds before deciding that they wanted out. So they were rather vocal about their decision that they no longer wanted to sit in the chair. So we took them out. Kate had one, I had the other. This worked for most of the night, even if it was like trying to eat with a small badger on your lap. They occasionally shrieked but for the most part were OK.
Only when I looked over at a table with older folks in it, the grandfather was staring at me and continually shaking his head. He did this for a good 10 minutes. I didn't tell Kate about it because she gets fired up about stuff like that and I wanted her to just forget her bad day.
But. Really? I mean, seriously? Let's review.
1. We are at a RED ROBIN. This is not a place with candles, linen tablecloths and a wine list. They bring you bottomless fries with ranch sauce to start (which rocks, by the way). You get a fucking balloon when you walk in. 
If you can't handle kids at a restaurant, you probably shouldn't go to a place that gives you a balloon when you walk in.
2. The kids were a little noisy but nothing too bad. I understand that I'm used to screams with decibel levels that exceed jet engines, but we are careful about our kids causing too much of a ruckuss, which is also why I was eating with one of the squirmy ones on my lap.
3. It was 5 p.m. or prime dinner time for young children. Go at 7:30 p.m.
I let him stare, however, until we left. I didn't really care. I'd fought my battle for the day.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Colorado Half Marathon

Saturday morning, the day before the Colorado Half, I was a cranky shit.
I whined about my kids sapping so much energy from us over something small like breakfast and told Jayden that "we didn't need that behavior from him" because he's, you know, he's almost a whopping 4 and therefore mature enough to act like a little gentleman 24 hours a day. Kate looked at me after all this and said, "You're cranky."
The real reason, of course, was I felt like crap, the weather was crap and I was wondering if my leg was going to hurt like crap, as it did all last week. And I had a half marathon to run the next day.
What else could go wrong, I thought to myself. 
Now, I realize I posted about a half marathon a couple weeks ago, and it was a great time, but there are races, and there are "A" races, and the Colorado Half was an A race. I ran well in the Horsetooth Half, but I held back a bit just for this race. I had, in a sense, been training for this since November.
So of course I had an injury that forced me to take the whole week off, the weather looked rainy and cold for the sixth weekend in a row (not kidding) and Thursday my nose started to run, thanks to the petri dishes that reside in my abode. 
One thing I've learned to accept after the birth of the twins is that I can't always be in control of my life. It was a tough lesson, but I have accepted it for the most part. Still, I was angry, I admit, that six months of hard training could almost be ruined because of some stupid weather, a stupid cold and a stupid calf strain. I mean, I ran through blizzards occasionally. Doesn't that count for some kind of karma?
Apparently it does.
When I started driving to the race, about 35 minutes away, I was shocked to see broken clouds and then black sky and finally starts. It reminded me of a time I drove eight hours to climb a 14er and wound up sleeping in my car instead of camping the night before because a gnarly thunderstorm that was so fierce it rattled my windows went on for HOURS. By the time I finally fell asleep, at 10:30 p.m., the storm was still pounding away, and I figured the eight-hour drive was a waste of time. I woke up at 3:45 a.m. to pee, and as I got out of the car, the sky was full of a billion stars, and the moon shone silver light across the landscape. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
So I looked up at the sky Sunday morning, and in a moment of pure giddiness, shouted, "YES!" I could have ran in the rain, sure, but folks, half marathons are hard enough, at least for me, and I don't need to battle the elements just to prove something.
Also, when I woke up, it's almost as if my body and the cold worked out a deal. The body would continue to let it ravage me, but only if it took a couple hours off that morning. I felt much, much better than I should have, in other words.
Finally, the calf injury, which sounds insignificant but was so painful right after the Horsetooth Half Marathon that I could barely walk, was gone, and I felt really great. Not only was the calf fine, but all those aches and pains you gather over a half year of training were gone too. Note to self: Taking a week completely off before a hard race is probably a good idea.
When the race started, down the Poudre Canyon, I started banging it, determined to take advantage of the first six miles downhill, and I was a little stunned to see that I could keep running at a 7:40-per-mile clip mile after mile. In fact, many times I had to slow myself DOWN, knowing that I had 13 to complete.
By the time the race was near its end, I knew I was going to PR, meaning I was going to break my best-ever time set last fall, 1:46:45. That is, if I could just hold my pace.
I have climbed more than 175 peaks, but I don't really know if there's anything harder for me than finishing those last two miles of a half marathon. You're just exhausted, yet you have to keep running hard and, essentially, punishing your body when it's begging you for a rest. I tried to focus on my music - I even put "Rocky" at the very end - but that only does so much. 
But I also knew I was going to set a personal record, that the training was going to pay off and that, despite all the adversity, I was going to be proud of my time not just minutes but days later. 
There are few feelings in the world better than that one.
Edit: Stats from the race. I ran 1:45:33. The pace was 8:02-per-mile. I finished 15th in my age group, 103/391 males and 157/1,276 overall.