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Showing posts from January, 2013

How to avoid crappy coffee

Why is it so easy to find bad coffee? Because it's really difficult to make good coffee. 
Don't get me wrong, if you like bad coffee keep drinking it. I'm the first one to say you should drink your coffee your way. This is not a coffee snob thing. I like mine drip with cream and sugar. But...I beg you...ditch the Keurig. Or, at the very least, know that you can get a cheaper, better quality cup of coffee than what Starbucks has to offer. 
Coffee has more flavor compounds that wine. It's greatly influenced by growing conditions, processing, and ultimately how you brew it. So when I sat down to think about writing up a short guide it hit me that it's actually a lot easier to tell you how to avoid a bad cup than how to get a good cup. I'm still searching for the perfect cup. I've come close. But that's the tricky part...you can never quite get the same cup of coffee the way you can never step into the same river twice. So, with that in mind, here a few sim…

Gays are the least of the Boy Scouts' problems...

To this day, my mother speaks with disappointment that I made it up to Life Scout then decided to drop out. For those of you without 3 generations of Boy Scouts in your family, allow me to clarify...that is the step before Eagle Scout. It wasn't that I had some grand complaint against the organization at that point...I was lazy and in high school. Busy with 3 varsity sports, marching band, girls, and not really wanting to do a community service project that would be both a time suck and place me farther down the ladder of lame than I already was.

But still, that was several years of camping, first aid, learning how to carve wood, build a fire, paddle a canoe--shoot a gun seems relevant in today's cultural debate. Looking back, they were important skills. Not that you could drop me a forest and I'd survive for weeks without provisions. More like when my own son or daughter asks me if I know how to apply a tourniquet or use two sticks to start a fire I can say with confidenc…

Tricycle success (sort of)

We've been trying since Christmas Day, basically, to get Cole on his new tricycle. Since the weather is cold, it lives in the basement where we've been attempting to lure him down...usually a place he loves to go. It's like he senses he's being tricked.

Though we started with a flat out "would you like to go ride your tricycle?" No.

Another day--would you like to go downstairs and play for awhile? No.

It's not like he is against the idea of the tricycle. It's not a kicking, screaming, NO NO NO NO NO, kind of thing. (That's probably the doctor tomorrow.) It's more like he notices, is aware, and indifferent to the tricycle. It neither brings him amusement nor displeasure. It is Switzerland in his world--that is, neutral.

So yesterday during a particularly wild, running around throwing himself on various pieces of furniture, driving both mom and dad to the end of their patience, I suggested we put on shoes and go play in the basement. For the fir…

A former test scorer tells all

The other day I promised to bring my insights to the topic of new standards for nonfiction in the English classroom as a tool to improve test scores. But, forgive me, I'm going to try to get wider...though not too wide, hopefully.

I'm going to use this article on vocabulary being linked to academic (and life) success as my jumping off point, but you don't need to read it to appreciate the bigger picture. The topic is a big one, but let me just give my take via what I know best. Testing.

Over the years, I've been a Team Leader and test scorer for two different test scoring companies. Both with very different approaches to proficiency scoring. One very industrial in their approach to measurement. One more relaxed. But, of course, it comes down to the states and what they want/require.

For those not familiar with how the process works, there are companies that specialize in educational measurement and contract with individual states to essentially grade the written portio…

Blog housekeeping & announcements

First of all, thanks for reading! When I first got into blogging, my son had just turned one and I had no idea what this would turn into. I sort of pictured 50 people reading regular updates about how my kids are doing. Somehow, thanks to your shares and linking and devoted reading, I have 10,187 views as of this writing. That blows my mind. Of course, it helps that it's turned into a bulletin board (remember those?) for me to write about marathons and triathlon, politics, gender, my favorite coffee growing countries, guns, baseball, religion and a whole lot more.

With that in mind, I've made a few changes. Please let me know what you think. Seriously. I have no idea how you guys use this thing. Ok, maybe some idea...but I'm open to feedback.

I've taken away the tag cloud on the left that listed frequent topics by how often they appear. In exchange, I've tried to move the Search box to a more prominent place. And, yes, that big open space you see currently is going…

Temporarily single parent

I don't know how you do it, single parents. Much respect to you from this Stay At Home Dad who is usually very on top of things. 
What needed to get done last night got done. Leda was, quite luckily, sleeping by 7pm...which meant that Cole could get my undivided attention for his bedtime routine. We got pajamas and read books and had milk and he wasn't happy about putting his head down on the pillow...but then again he never is. He was awake for the longest time and it required a couple "please put your cars down and try to go to sleep" before his room finally got quiet at 8:30pm. 
But then there was this overwhelming...I can't put my finger on it. There I am by myself with nobody to talk to, not really in the mood for anything--internet, tv, reading--filled both with the wonderful idea that it had all gone fairly smoothly so far. And also the dread that at any moment I was sink-or-swim on duty so true relaxation was not in the cards. 
The dog still needed a bedt…

Little fishy I am not

I had chosen a swim workout for last night's first official entry into the pool for training. It was recommended as a good beginner one...4 x 25 meters warmup, then a ladder of 25m, 50m, 50m, 25m. I did it. And then some...but it was ugly. Really ugly. Hence the reason for the "and then some." Me trying to fix my form. I wasn't wheezing and struggling and barely able to make it across the pool like you sometimes hear.

That's not the problem. In fact, if anything, my fitness is working against me. Because I know what it feels like to run 26.2 miles. Or bike for 30 miles. So, being a swim newbie, the outcome isn't exactly matching my non-level of technical skill. So I have the endurance and the confidence to, literally, hack my way through that above workout--totally frustrated.

By the time I finished and had gotten out of the pool to shower, I was ready to stop by the desk and ask about private lessons with a swim instructor. I'd been pricing a few swim co…

Germs, NASCAR & Acela

20-20-24 hours to go...

It's a pretty big day not only for the nation, but for me personally. We're swearing in our first African American President for a second term on the same day we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fight for civil rights. I said earlier, I wish someone who'd been frozen for a few decades could be thawed for today to see their reaction--that not only is a black man in the White House, but the VIP section for the day had rap icons and a gay bar got name checked during the Inaugural Address. It's a great time to be a Democrat. Liberalism has been mainstreamed and we have the most popular progressive President since FDR.

On the home front for me, Kelly needs to pack her bags because by this time tomorrow she'll be waiting on the car to pick her up for the airport and her business trip. Just me and the kids for about 48 straight hours. Should be lovely trying to get in dog walks considering the wind chill in Chicago tonight is going to be minus 25 F.

An evening with Joe Friel & Ryan Bolton

I had the pleasure on Friday night of attending a talk given by two fairly well-known people in the endurance sports world. It was hosted by the The Bike Shop in Glen Ellyn and featured USAT/USAC Elite-level training coach Joe Friel--of Training Bible & Training Peaks fame--along with his protege, former Olympian Ryan Bolton. Ryan now coaches, among others, a small group of Kenyan distance runners in New Mexico.

Since this blog usually ends up being read by a pretty wide mix of parents, athletes, friends, family, etc., I probably should give a little background on myself before I discuss what I took away from the seminar...I spent a pretty big chunk of my life under the guidance of coaches when I was younger. Some good. Some not so good. As a 3-sport athlete I got quite a bit of experience between wrestling, as a sprinter on the track, and then cross country. When I came back to running in 2009 after a decade off, the thought never crossed my mind that I would turn to a coach for …

It's not about Lance

For those of you who don't catch the reference, It's Not About The Bike was the title of a Lance Armstrong autobiography. This time, it's not about Lance.

That was my takeaway from the Oprah interview last night. Despite the media frenzy--and frenzy of hatred from the endurance sports community--Lance actually came across as a calm, put-together, honest, articulate, unashamed, not-so-apologetic...victim.

Yes, victim. Not in the passive, usual sense. But certainly undeserving of the pedestal that the public has set him on as a hero. As he said himself in the interview, he neither started the doping culture nor did anything to stop it. That, rationally, should put him somewhere in between.

Because, oh yes, he most definitely is a cheater. And a liar. ...And a cancer survivor. Champion. One of the greatest athletes who ever lived. Such are the problems of the times we live in. Complicated. He was/is a member of a larger culture that dominated him.

That's the problem with …

I didn't fall off...I'm just not on the wagon yet

I'm sure some of my endurance sports readers are wondering, "hey, didn't that guy sign up for a triathlon? He's been oddly quiet about his training." Well, dear readers, I can confirm that our gym membership is being started tomorrow. Of course, with Kelly out of town next week, it will probably be the end of the month before I can really start to hit the pool, but I'm getting myself mentally prepared.

I've literally done almost no exercise since setting a PR in the Chicago Marathon in October. So it's going to be a bit of a climb back to decent condition. But I'm fully ready to having my old gym bag packed to go and I've been itching to get back on the bike...though I will confess to being the typical outdoors-lover who doesn't relish the thought of being in the basement on the trainer. And, you know, I'll have to start eating well...says the man currently still working on the big bag of famous Chicago caramel corn Kelly brought home …

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude

As I hinted at in an earlier post, Kelly and I, we're ready for a vacation. I don't want to say I have cabin fever, but I've been trying to pretend the refrigerator light is helping me get a tan when my toddler stands with the door open looking for food. And, for the record, when did I turn into THAT guy telling him to choose something or shut the door?

We've never really been on a vacation together. Not without the kids at least. We've managed one blessed night in Minnesota last year when Kelly's saint of a mother kept Cole and Leda while we got a night away at a local hotel she'd won a stay at. Before the kids, we'd planned a sort of couple-ish camping trip either downstate or to Wisconsin, but it got bogged down in who accepted dogs, finding equipment, and finally ended with us enjoying some local Chicago sights. Amazing fun. But the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette is hardly a romantic location. No offense to the beautiful faith of Baha'i.

So stay…

It's not about guns...

One of my most-read posts the past 30 days has been what I had to say about guns in the wake of the Newtown school shootings...so I return to the topic given the news.

Today President Obama unveils the most complete set of gun control measures since the JFK/RFK/MLK assassinations in the 1960's. Many of my friends will be angry about this.

But 85% of Americans in a recent poll said they favor universal background checks.

I fully support the need to promote SAFE & RESPONSIBLE gun ownership. It's not about your 2nd Amendment rights...the Bill of Rights also contains the idea that other rights are not mentioned. One of these, certainly, is the right to not get shot.

Yes, it is a ridiculously over-the-top photo opportunity for the President to surround himself with children at the White House to announce the proposal. But it also highlights the selfish and flippant attitude many gun-rights advocates have about "the gun grab."

Because, in the end, this is about childre…

I'll be an army of one...

Well, this time next week I'll be knee-deep in the land of no reinforcements. Kelly will be in Atlanta--or, rather, a nondescript office park somewhere near Atlanta. It will be a brief 48 hours. Two nights. But the first time I've handled a long stretch alone with the kids.

No handoffs, timeouts (for me anyway), or backup. Just dad on duty. All the time.

I really don't think it will be that bad. If it weren't for the dog I'd say it will be pretty much business as usual. Some modification to routine may be necessary to accommodate walks though. No leisurely cartoons, cereal, out of bed whenever for a couple days. Get dressed and let's go, the dog's gotta pee. We do have the side yard I can always let the hound into in a pinch. At the very least, the kids are going to have to go outside twice.

But I don't think some people appreciate how nice it is for the parent coming home from work to get some time with the kids for the now-off-duty parent to unwind a …

The Nones: children of the culture wars

I was addicted to the radio alarm today as NPR started a new series on Morning Edition called Losing Our Religion. Today's story begins with the rise of the category "None." That is, people in America who answer that to the question of what their religion is. This religion geek is fascinated...it's too much to include on Facebook or Twitter. So here you go.

Some 46 million Americans, 1/5 of the nation, identifies this way. It's one of the largest growing categories of faith. Including 33% of Americans under the age of 30. And, contrary to the number of atheists and agnostics rising, the Nones are actually full of spiritual practice. They tend to be socially liberal, not looking to find an organized religion, and possibly fed up with politics and inclined to call themselves independent of party. 75% favor gay marriage and legal abortion.

Contrast this with the fact that Americans for the first time are less than majority Protestant--48%. And that a fairly substant…

The hot & cold of a two year old

This weekend was the kind where Kelly and I question our sanity, plan for strawberry margaritas in the blender Sunday evening, and start planning a vacation without the children. It's winter in Chicago and everybody has a bit of cabin fever methinks.

Which, of course, we tried to alleviate on Saturday with a playdate to the zoo with my friend who is a former coworker and has a son the same age as Cole. The plan was to meet to exchange the diaper covers we had in storage and enjoy a little time together since we rarely get to see each other. It did not go well. Forget the fact that they have taken dramatically different development paths and are into very different things. Cole can't even get to the point where he would like to find out if friends could be fun.

You never know with him. Cole, at two, is a bit of a wild card. He can be cute, fantastically playful, kind, considerate, enthusiastic about exploring. Or he can be stubborn, demanding, easily frustrated, and he'll j…

How many kids?

It's great to see so many of my friends messaging me about how to get started with their New Year's resolution to run, get fit, buy a bike, whatever. It amuses me to think back to 2009 when I first decided to cross "marathon" off my bucket list (I hate that term) and how I had no clue I'd end up in love with endurance sports. I was so ignorant and trying to get my hands on all the information I could. Struggling with my workouts, training schedule, wondering if I was doing it right or could finish the race I'd signed up for. Fast forward to 2013 where I not only have the confidence to say I can run 26.2 miles, but the confidence to not go with conventional wisdom on certain things.

So many people I know are just getting into the marathon and running world. It's so refreshing to see them in that newbie spot with a whole world ahead. It's also a strange feeling to be back in their shoes...but with the stakes raised...as a beginning triathlete this seaso…

For sports fans, the verdict comes in

I've already written extensively about the doping fallout and other crises of US sports culture here, here, here, and here:

Rethinking Lance Armstrong
Harsh reality sets in for a sports fan
A baseball rant
Who are your heroes?

Well, yesterday the verdict came in and the jury has spoken. Baseball's steroid era is a black mark on history. Despite a long laundry list of superb players on the ballot, the baseball writers voted to select for the Hall of Fame...nobody. Good luck getting in, Sammy, Barry, Roger et al.

And nothing gets a triathlon forum going like mentioning Lance Armstrong's name. He's talking with Oprah, you know. And, apparently, may be willing to confess if it means he can come back to endurance events. Never mind that an entire cycling drug culture existed while he was there or that he did more for the sport's popularity and future success than anyone in recent memory.

But the same could be said of Barry Bonds, right? That sure was an exciting time when …

The undervaluing of American dads

A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. --Oscar Wilde We're in the middle of community battle in my town about the schools. We have a rather large surplus of money--$100 million or so--which has brought about a revolt about how high the taxes are. Which leads to a discussion about teacher salaries. We have a few teachers in our district who, apparently, make over six figures. And people are upset about this. Enough to write to the local paper. Go figure. Teachers aren't worth being paid well, I guess.

But this isn't a post about teacher salaries. Nor is it one necessarily about fathers, per se, though I'm going to concentrate on them. It's really about all the things we undervalue in our society. We're happy to pay 99 cents for a dozen eggs...until consumers are told that those hens are kept into conditions where they can't turn around, thousands to a barn, with conveyor belts of manure running underneath the cages. Then it seems a…

The new obsession of a 2 yr old

Thank goodness Cole still plays with his trains. And requests his Thomas pajamas. Because those are really the only clues we have that he cares about his previous favorite thing in the world.

It started innocently enough. A simple Netflix dvd. The sequel to an animated movie he had previously seen, enjoyed, cared little about, and I thought this might be some fun new entertainment for both of us since I hadn't seen the second film yet.

Now Cars have taken over my son's world.

He takes the rubbery Tonka cars--with eyes like in the movie--that his grandma gave him to bed and drags them back into the living room first thing in the morning. He asks for the movie to be replayed as soon as it finishes.

Actually, he asks for it to be restarted before the end credits begin. Right after the big chase scene at the end, he senses the final wrapup and wants to skip the denouement in favor of the beginning. He likes the journey, not the destination.

While he watches, he plays. Bumping the …

SAHDs are hard to pigeonhole

For those of you not keeping score at home, I've been working part-time on the weekends back at my old museum job because they tend to be busy at the holidays.

That's right, before this particular gig I've had many incarnations. I'm like Lord Vishnu with many avatars. Maybe sometime we'll go into my unique insights about the educational system as a standardized test scorer where I helped decide whether your 8th or 12th grader would graduate. I'm guessing very few of you know that my resume includes the staging of a play I've directed at a Tony Award-winning theater. Or that I used to be a pole vaulter--now there was something my mom probably worried about with justification!

I've been thinking a lot lately about roles. Not so much gender roles, more like phases of life and how we define ourselves...or are defined by others. Kelly and I discuss frequently how traditional our nontraditional relationship is. If you take "unmarried" and "stay…

Test driving a new gym

A few weeks back--before the holiday chaos and illnesses--we had taken a tour of a new fitness center we're considering. It's not as nearby as our old gym that is literally 4 blocks up the street...but it's almost certainly cheaper, less crowded, and so far seems to have less gym-head mentality where overly fit people go to get more overly fit. This one, ironically, is at the hospital where we delivered Leda and she lived for a month in the NICU. (See, no bad feelings!)

The director who gave us the tour gave us each a guest pass to come back and try out the facility so last night I went to take it for a test drive. And I really enjoyed myself. Though I was left with some perplexing questions...like why people use the treadmill still when there is an indoor running track. Something about running in circles, Kelly says. I think people just want to watch tv.

The place is clean and bright and user-friendly for the most part. Despite there strangely being only one water fountai…

Superfluous

I just got kicked out.

"Can daddy come read bedtime books with us?" No. "You don't want daddy to say goodnight?" No.

I asked for a hug and got a finger pointed towards the door. At least it wasn't the finger. Apparently what I am good for is rounding up from the living room the cars that he lines up along the wall in his bed. He was willing to allow me that honor of being his toy servant.

It wasn't always this way. My son and his mom didn't always have their secret ritual that I've only witnessed by sound from the other room. There is a formula. Every night. She can fill you in on all the details. They review numbers, colors, opposites from one book then read a couple other favorites. They frequently sing...usually with Cole's name or family members inserted into the song at appropriate times. Then there is the Putting On Of Blankets where Cole lays on the pillow and is covered by a magic series of sheet-Pooh-Thomas-lions-elephants. Lately, …