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Archive for December, 2020

A Tale of Two Christmas Babies: Sunday musings…12/27/2020

1 Snorlax. Appears to be an emerging nickname. For me, from Beth. Snorlax is one of my Man Cub’s Pokemon favs.

Apparently not a term of endearment.

2 “Sham”. Name of the horse who came in second to Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Imagine spending your entire “career” in the presence of greatness. Forced to compete against perhaps the greatest practitioner of all time in whatever it is you do. This was the fate of poor Sham. I read that his times in both the Derby and the Preakness would have won a majority of those races, ever, and yet they left him simply the best runner-up in history. If thus challenged, no matter what you do, how would you react?

In “Grey’s Anatomy” the drama-driven medical weekly filled with characters with more “extra” than not, the second fiddle neurosurgeon is tagged with a nickname that forever confers and confirms his status: “Shadow Shepherd”. His response? He simply soldiers on. Does his job. Does the best he can. Makes no effort to compete. Others do. The cardiac surgeons, for example, and pretty much all of the pretty young surgical residents (not a hair out of place on a one of them), they compete. Thus far in season 6 no one has won. Kinda like a regular Triple Crown season. They all race on.

And what of Sham? He of greatness with a lower case “g”? He broke just behind Secretariat in the Belmont and was quickly left behind. They say it broke his heart. Uninjured, it looked as if he’d lost the ability to run. The jockeys on the mounts who passed him said he literally was crying out in pain during the race. Crying out in anguish when most horses simply try to cram as much oxygen in and let as little out as they can. That’s what they called it.

He finished dead last, 48 lengths behind, never to race again.

3 Babies. As in Christmas babies. We anxiously await the arrival of our own Christmas baby. The Man Cub and his sister Buggie Bear are blissfully unaware of the upheaval on its way. Yesterday’s due date slogged on by and now we count the hours until our littlest girl makes her grand entrance. She’ll be a Christmas baby, her birthday hard up against the biggest gift giving holiday on earth.

How will she handle that when she is old enough to know?

I’ve told this story at least a couple of times over the years, but “Little L’s” birthday reminds me of a tale of two other Christmas babies. Two boys, as it were, but no matter; it’s the Christmas part that matters. Will she look upon her birthday as the greatest bonus in the history of Christmas? An extra day when only SHE gets a gift? Or will she feel that in some way her special day is lessened in the gifting to others occurring all around it? Somehow lost in other’s joy. And as I’ve grown older I will now also wonder if her reaction to being a Christmas baby will change as she, too, gets older.

This is a tale of two boys, now long-grown men, who were once Christmas babies. On born on Christmas Day itself, the other on Christmas Eve. I don’t think that tiny part made any difference in their stories. Both were as well-loved as their families were capable of loving. One was born into substantial wealth, family intact, the other into biting poverty and a family that would be riven by mental illness. I have no real insight, no eye-witness accounts of how their families dealt with the gifting aspects of the birthday/Christmas continuum, only the stories the boys/men told me. Their parents and siblings may have made a big deal over their birthdays, but then again, they may not.

The boy born into wealth felt somehow cheated. In his mind no one really cared about his birthday. No one acknowledged it. He lived long into adulthood feeling this way; the little boy who felt like no one remembered his birthday lived within the adult man whose success had made him much, much more wealthy than his family had ever been. He is a very hard worker, by all accounts the best boss most of his people ever had. All of his adult success was earned and deserved. And yet each Christmas, for as long as I knew him, he remained at least a little bit sad. He remembered the feeling of not feeling remembered.

My other friend, the boy born into a troubled family that descended into poverty, well, there was hardly ever anything remotely resembling a gift coming his way on either Christmas OR his birthday. Whether arriving on Christmas Eve as a birthday present or under the tree on Christmas morning, any gift that came was a source of pure delight. A surprise of the grandest type, since each year passed with no promise that it would be any easier than the last. He, too, is wildly successful. Also one of the hardest workers I’ve known and widely known as a wonderful man to work for. He has earned generational wealth. His reaction, then and now? He was, and is, truly and genuinely grateful for every gift, large or small, on any occasion.

He remains, to this day, an inspiration; the most grateful human being I’ve ever known.

Is there a lesson for us in this tale of two Christmas babies? Of course there is. A couple, actually. The first, of course, is to try our best to be as grateful as possible for any gifts, large or small, that come our way at any time. Even this year, this Annus Horibli that befell us. We have been gifted many times in many ways from many people. Truly. Almost none of us will ever know the kind of wealth that these two Christmas babies created, but we can know that we can be grateful no matter how much or how little we may have on any given birthday.

And we can think of our Christmas babies just a bit more around their birthdays than our other babies upon theirs, aware that this is a birthday that comes with baggage. We can lift them, be not only co-celebrants but also porters, carrying their bags for them a bit on their day. As I said, I do not know exactly how it went down for either of my Christmas baby friends on their birthdays when they were young. In the end it doesn’t really matter, eh? They are who they are; they feel what they feel. Still, we hold within our hands the ability to give the tiniest, grandest gift of all. In one tiny sentence we can tell them: “I see you. You matter. To me.” Just by saying “Happy Birthday” and nothing else.

Happy Birthday to my friends, the Christmas babies. I can’t wait to meet our “Little L” and wish her a Happy Birthday, too.

I’ll see you next week…

Christmas musings…

Boy, where did the day get to? What with 10 inches of snow to shovel, presents to open, and grandchildren to entertain (and be entertained by), I guess it’s no surprise that it’s just now, 5:00 somewhere, that I’m finally getting to my keyboard to wish both of you who read my stuff a very Merry Christmas!

It’s been a year, hasn’t it? And yet today (and last night) was just wonderful. There’s nothing like the wonder of a child, a believer, when they see the miracle of a tree surrounded by gift wrapped dreams, eh? Beth and I got that twice. How lucky is that? Our soon-to-be fifth grandchild, a little girl, declined to join us for either Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. The wife of one of my very best friends in the world approves; she flatly states that December 26th is a lousy day for birthing and so she’s calling the 27th and putting all of her markers on that square.

Did I ever tell you how my folks ended up with a quadrennial Christmas rotation among their children for the Christmas Holiday? No matter; Dr. Fauci says I’m elderly now so I’m entitled to telling repeats. Mom’s nose was out of joint because she didn’t receive a “proper” invitation to one of our homes for Christmas. When my younger sister asked whose house she’d visit she said “no one”. Instead she and my Dad would go see the Rockets (which he supposedly had on his bucket list). They would travel by bus, accompanied by all the other parents left behind that Christmas by their kids. My poor sister found herself deep in a hole but continued digging, asking what they would eat for Christmas dinner. “Why, we’ll have a brown bag turkey sandwich. We’ll toast our fellow Christmas refugees on the bus with stale chips washed down with flat Coke.”

And that, my friends, is how my folks ended up in the grand Christmas rotation.

Why tell this story (again) now? Mostly just to be a wise guy. Beth and I are alone at Casa Blanco for dinner tonight. Man, did I over-shop. It’s no one’s fault but mine that I have enough salmon to feed a high school basketball team and no one to share it with. Ok, maybe just the starting 5. But still, all I had to do was ask what the plans were and I would have realized that the blessings of having Christmas Eve dinner with one son and his family, and then spending the entire day with my other son and his were going to be my cup overflowith for the year. Still, if for no other reason than the pure entertainment of sending my Mom a pic, Beth and I will spend a bit of time on Netflix or wherever trying to find a vintage Rockettes video to watch. And send pictures to my kids and my siblings. And a big ol’ love note to my Mom telling her how much I miss her and wish it was my year to have my Mom and Dad here with us to open gifts. Go to Mass. Be wined and dined by our other best friends for the 28th consecutive Christmas night.

Yes, it’s been a year, for sure. And yet, here I am, happy. Blessed. Sharing this sacred day and night with the love of my life. My little Aussie plastered to my leg. I’ve mixed the first cocktail of the night, one of my Love’s favorites (a French 75). With a nod to my friend Bill’s annual Beef Wellington we will dine on Salmon Wellington. Beth and I will reflect on our blessings. The joys we have each and every day. It’s different today, Christmas Day. It just is. Still, it needn’t be. What we cherish about Christmas could be an every day thing and Christmas would still be special. Really. It would. But each and every other day would be so much more–don’t you think?–if it was a bit more like Christmas.

I’d love to take credit for that idea, but it’s not mine. Each year I remind myself, and anyone who joins me here, that making “that Christmas thing last” is within our grasp. We have Paul O’Neil, the genius behind the Tans-Siberian Orchestra, to thank for that. And so I will leave you with his words from my very, very favorite Christmas song, “An Olde City Bar” from the epic Christmas rock opera “Christmas Eve, and Other Stories” in the hope that you, too, will see the Christmas in each and every day.

And seize the chance…

“If you want to arrange it
This world, you can change it
If we could somehow
Make this Christmas thing last
By helping a neighbor
Or even a stranger
To know who needs help,
You need only just ask.”

Merry Christmas my friends.

I’ll see you Sunday…

Forks Over Knives: Sunday musings…12/13/2020

1 Gallimaufry. A confused jumble or medley of things.

Sounds like “Sunday musings…”

2 Soul. The latest from Pixar. Top of my “to watch” list.

3 Fischer. We watched “Finding Bobby Fischer” last night. If you have children and are in the active phase of the parenting gig this one is highly recommended. Especially if they show any inclination to excel in any particular activity.

Put it on top of your “to watch” list.

4 Half. As in half bottles of wine. My friend and wine merchant Sue sourced some half bottles of Vintage Port. All of them are now mature enough to drink, in part because they are all 20+ years old and also because the smaller bottles lead to earlier maturity in the wines they contain.

This is a great way to enjoy special wines you might otherwise not be able to access. Put half bottles on top of your “to try” list.

5 Nutrition. Roughly 3 months ago “Lovely Daughter” and her “Prince Charming” suggested that Beth and I watch a documentary “Forks Over Knives.” In short the documentary reviews the work of a Cleveland Clinic doctor and a Cornel University professor. I’ll save you the time if you wish. Their essential finding is that eating a strict Vegan diet leads to less heart disease and more importantly a reduction in deaths from all kinds of cancer.

Megan and Ryan have been eating a pescatarian diet for a bit over a year by now. Think of it as the Mediterranean Diet on steroids. If you’ve followed any of my gallimaufry over the years you have watched me carom from one type of nutrition strategy to another. The Zone led to a macro diet followed by a near-keto strategy, all meant to reduce my genetic predisposition to classic heart disease associated with elevated serum lipids. In one of the medical upset losses for the ages I am in the 10% or so of folks who have an INCREASE in LDL, etc. eating a high protein/high fat/low carb diet. On top of all of that there was no cancer-avoidance inherent in any of those strategies.

Now that it is clear that I can no longer maintain a lipid profile that reduces my cardiac risk without medication (which thus far has been wildly successful, by the way) my dietary options open up a bit. Why not emphasize, or at least put a bit of prioritization on following research that supports the anti-cancer properties of avoiding meat. We’re not on board enough to abandon all forms of once-living protein sources; like Megan and Ryan we are eating fish of all kinds. This has made it surprisingly easy for us. Hunting down plant-based protein sources on the daily would quickly drive us both back to McDonald’s.

Any effects after 3 months? Well, it’s not any easier to maintain my fitness or percentage body weight fat with this plan without returning to high intensity exercise than it’s been on any other nutrition plan. Duh. But I have noticed the first real breakthrough in my sleep quality since making the change. What was once a 2 or 3 time trip to the loo each night is now one, at most. And my HRV is running in the 90’s vs. the 40’s before (high is good). The only change on which to hang my hat is diet.

I’m due for some lab work this week so we’ll see if it’s doing anything on that front. I’m kinda hoping that it’s a wash to tell you the truth. There’s no percentage in messing with my modern medical interventions (my cardiologist would kill me). As long as I’m not an outlier with the Mediterranean Diet, too. That would be super frustrating.

Now I just have to find stuff to pair with a big ol’ bottle of Cab.

I’ll see you next week…

Shooting the Breeze: Sunday musings 12/6/2020

Shooting the Breeze: Sunday musings…12/6/2020

1 Vaccine. Just tell me where and when and I’ll be there. 

You should be, too.

2 Letters. I just started what looks to be one of those simply wonderful books that you can’t wait to open and will simply hate to see close. It’s called “Dad’s Maybe Book” by Tim O’Brien. Pretty simple concept. O’Brien, a famous writer who became an older Dad, wrote letters to his two sons beginning when the older boy, Timmy, was around 4. Tim Sr. is a very gifted writer and this one looks like it’s going to resonate; I’ve read 6 pages and shed tears twice. 

It’s perfect timing, as it so often turns out to be with books like this. O’Brien talks about the inevitability of time, the sure to come years, too many years, when his boys will be forced to make their way without the aid of his love and wisdom. My Dad’s life, more specifically how he lived his life, was a constant in teaching my brother and me how to live. Not a man of letters (though the 3 he did send live close in a drawer in my nightstand) I must admit that my memories get hazier with each passing year. 

Once written a letter can go on telling someone how much you love them long after they’ve started to struggle to remember what it sounded like when you first told them. 

3 Shoot. One of my buddies made good this morning on his threat to take me shooting. At 0900 with temps in the 30’s under typically gray Cleveland skies, Jeff and I set up shop at his working man’s range for some trap shooting and camaraderie. Everything about this morning was very generous. Jeff brought the shotguns, provided the ammunition, and paid the range fees. Wouldn’t let me pick up a thing. Prior to today I’d only shot a gun once before in my life; taking me to the range was the equivalent of a scratch golfer inviting someone who’d never even played puttputt to join them for a full round of golf. 

I’m sore as hell, but I had a ball. 

Over the course of the last couple of years I’ve come to see just how much of my time is still given over to my job and the activities that branch out from it (I’m supposed to be with my work “tribe” in Miami this weekend). When I had my hip replaced in April of 2019, I learned that if I don’t go to work I can’t account for roughly 40% of the waking hours in my day. And that’s with getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night instead of the 6 I usually get. Unlike our crazy 2020, that 4 ½ week period during which I recovered from surgery was a true test of what retirement might look like because I could do pretty much anything I wanted to do with or without Beth. She had 3 hours of barn time each morning; I found myself just killing time. 

This year, both the lockdown, shelter-at-home months earlier in the year, and the huddle at home when not working ones we are living now, what I’ve learned is that I’ve allowed myself to have a rather 2-dimensional life: work and home. To be sure both are really quite fine, at least for the moment. It remains to be seen what the most recent upheaval wrought by yet another government intrusion will bring in the office. What I now know, though, is that since walking away from public CrossFit I no longer have a “3rd space” in my life. I no longer have a 3rd “thing”, like Jeff has shooting, that brings me away from work and out of the home to commune with like-minded friends. 

Due to its very nature, the intensity that makes it so different from other fitness program, it was likely that I was destined to drift away from the doing of CrossFit sooner or later. But after spending 4 or 5 years exercising alone and pretending that the internet-based cyber gym was a real place, I learned that the true magic of CrossFit happened in the CrossFit Box. Our family gym owned by our boys and run by the family collective, gave me not only a true third space but also anon-family, non-work “tribe” I knew I’d see 3 or more times each week. When it was good, when the repeated close proximity and shared suffering resulted in forged bonds, it was as close as I ever came to having something like what Beth has at her barn or my brother has at his golf club. 

As much as I enjoyed CrossFit (and skiing, and golf) what was best was the shared experiences and shared interest that brought me together with other CrossFitters. My right shoulder is a mess; I will never be the golfer I once was. After surgery my legs are literally so different in length that I need bespoke ski boots; I can’t even give it a go without first finding a specialty shop that can MacGyver me a pair. Neither golf nor skiing move me like dressage moves Beth, but with these two activities I do at least know where to find my 3rd group. Is it better to revisit turf once trodden, or to strike out on trails untouched with something new like shooting? Do you necessarily have to discover (or re-discover) a passion when all you really need is a place and your people?

Like my post-op recovery, the Pandemic will subside and we will be once again free to seek out our 3rd space. I still don’t know where mine is or what I’ll be doing there, but my Jeff’s generosity this morning shows me as clearly as anything else that whatever I do or wherever I do it, I need to be with a 3rd group of folks who mean more than whatever it is we end up doing together. I had fun learning how to shoot a shotgun this morning, but what was really fun was having my buddy Jeff do the teaching.

I’ve taken aim. It’s well past time to pull the trigger.

I’ll see you next week…

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