Saturday, February 22, 2014

If I Only Had a Topic...

The blank "page" on my computer, photo by Jeno Berta

Greetings All:

I knew it would happen sooner or later.  No, not significant hair loss (although that's coming, I'm sure) or a mid-life/half-life crisis (that I know of) but something that I figured would strike me at some point in my blogging "career."  I have a shortage of topic ideas.

When I started doing this blog, I decided to avoid commenting on overtly political stuff or other controversial matters.  It is not that I don't have opinions, I do  Instead, it is my goal to focus on things that are unique to where I sit and on things in my life that are of interest to me.  I made a conscious decision to not delve into topics that are nicely covered (again and again) on any number of social media forums.  So that does cut out a potential source of topics.

On occasion, I write about more serious and less trivial matters.  I've got a couple in the hopper that I hope to move out of the "draft" stage sometime soon.  Also, if you've read this blog (and thanks for that!) you know I owe you a follow-up on "The Medal Stand" post from a few weeks' back.  That one is also on the lift in the blogging garage.

But for today's post, I'm at a loss.  What to write about?

Sometimes topics come to me from what I'm reading or doing.  Other times from what I see around me.   This past week, I have meant to write, gosh, I've had good intentions.  Yet, for whatever reason I have not been able to motivate myself to write.

I'd like to hold someone accountable (other than myself, of course).  Then I am reminded of the importance of taking ownership for our actions.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.  It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.” 
― Jean-Paul Sartre

Thanks Jean-Paul, appreciate that but still no topic to write on, to share with you all.  Guess I should have paid more attention to my French classes (sigh).

This past week I had some great ideas for some blog topics, but darn it if they slipped away, like ice melting in March.  I suppose I could have written them down, but I was likely doing something more important like checking my Facebook account (lots of important stuff going on there).  Drat, topic ideas lost to the wind...

So back to the issue of my searching for a topic for this blog post, I wish I could offer an explanation, find some cause other than myself that justifies why it has been a week (gasp!) that I have not posted on my blog.  I could "round up the usual suspects" of work, family, kids, community involvement, laundry, garbage day, running, Iowa basketball, but despite putting new batteries in the calculator the equation always gives this answer:  me.

Put another way, here's some words of wisdom from TR:

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.” 
― Theodore Roosevelt

So there you have it, no topic.  And I only have myself to blame...

Be well my friends,

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Lego Movie

Some of the characters from the new Lego movie, Lego, as reported by the New York Times,, fair use claimed

Greetings All:

Friday, we saw the new Lego movie.  It was great.  I had not heard much about it and was glad that I did not.  It made for an even better experience for me.  Now, with that said...

SPOILER ALERT!!!  I'm going to talk about the movie.  Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, here's my take on it.  Like many of the genre of kid-centric movies, there are subtle and not so subtle adult themes.  In this movie, the antagonist, President Business, runs the Lego world and wants everything to be in its proper place all the time.  As the movie went on, I found myself laughing to myself as I am an unapologetic "neat freak."  It's a rare day I leave work that I do have my desk clean.  If I have a project to finish, I put it on my chair, then push it into my desk.  I have two conference chairs and I slide them all the way in at the end of the day.  Yeah, I'm one of those...

Back to the movie, the plot is basically the following:  The main character is a Lego figure living in a Lego world who does not realize that he is about to become the savior of the (Lego) world.  Through a series of twists and turns, he does, but not before the one and only Will Ferrell makes an appearance.  I had missed the poster on the way into the theater that he was in the movie and was glad I did.  His on-screen entrance out of the animated part made for an additional great part of the movie, the pizza on the crust if you will.  One of the morals of the story is that don't be buttoned down and just assume something MUST be a certain way.  Oh, and I particularly liked how the average guy gets the girl from Batman. :).

The heroes of the movie, the "Master Builders," including, but not limited to Gandalf and Shaq, were able to take things, the basic building blocks of Legos, and make amazing things.  This drove President Business nuts!  He likes order and structure, kinda like the guy who keeps his desk spotless.  The good guys prevail when they out-create the "Man Upstairs:"

The "Man Upstairs" turns out to be none other than "Anchorman" Will Ferrell himself.  I loved him in Anchorman, Old School and even Bewitched.  In this movie, he showed a degree of acting depth that I have not seen in a while.  He's not going to win an Oscar for it, but still, he made an already good movie better.  I also think (and hope) he had a LOT of fun making this movie.

On the way back from the movie, we stopped at Target (a store) to buy a birthday present for our neighbor.  In the toy aisle, I looked to see what the Lego section had.  It had numerous kits, including a most excellent Star Wars one of the Millennium Falcon for like $130.00.  Here's the link to it if you want to buy it,...for your kid of course and not you-

Awesome stuff, without a doubt,  Still, I was surprised and a bit disappointed that there were no "free play" Lego sets.  For all of the movie's message of build and be creative, at Target at least, your creativity is limited, or at least highly guided to a specific kit.

I recall as a kid having sets of Legos that where just a bunch of different Legos.  Now, they are all kits.

The basic "building block" of the Lego world (I know, that was a bad pun), permission reasonably presumed granted by Legos website/fair use claimed, source-

I could not help but see the irony in the movie about the way they celebrate the creativity of the Master Builders and their ability to make something from a loose collection of blocks and then the inability to buy such a set for your kids.  I guess there are limits to reality.

In any event, it was a great movie and highly recommend seeing it, even if you're without young kids.

Here's a link to the movie's site:

Be well my friends,

Thursday, February 13, 2014

They Just Kept Skating

The German figure skaters Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, photo credit to, fair use claimed and photo sharing available per the website with accompanying article
Greetings All:

Savchenko and Szolkowy were one favored to do well, if not win.  The Star Tribune summed it up in February 1, 2014 article, "Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy want to end their career with Olympic figure skating gold in Sochi, the only title missing from the German pair's impressive collection."

Read more about their hopes, now over, here:

It comes as no surprise to me that their goal was the gold medal.  I think it is every athletes ambition to win a gold.  It is the pinnacle of competition.  If winning a national championship is Pike's Peak, winning a gold medal is Everest.  And to summit this peak, this pair needed something special.  Their something special- the triple axel.  The Star Tribune article cited above explains:

"Their hopes of going out with a bang hinge on Savchenko's frail health and the perfect execution of a triple axel, a demanding element that sees the petite Savchenko thrown into the air by her partner for three and a half rotations before a hard and tricky landing.
"Very risky, very difficult, technically very high value," Szolkowy said of the element that can make the difference between gold and silver in Sochi."
Fast-forward to the finals.  First came one of the Russian teams.  They were amazing.  The Germans were up next.  They had to do even better and then still put some daylight between them and the other Russian team.  Lots of pressure to say the least.
Let's go to the ice.  The Germans begin their program.  All starts well.  Then, disaster strikes.  I know nothing about skating except you need skates and an ice rink.  Aside from that, it's all just a blur of talent and skill.  So I cannot explain exactly what they were attempting, maybe that triple axel.  I can tell you that one of them fell.  And with that cruel display of gravity, their hopes were gone and gone with finality.  
I can only imagine the countless hours of practice these two have gone through in their lives.  Of the sacrifices, the pain, both physical and emotional, the rejections, the defeats, to get to this point.  Then, in an instant, it's over.  Just like Mitt Romney knew when Ohio went for Obama they knew with that fall the dream was dead.  There would be no gold medal.
And their program had just begun.
Then, I saw something amazing and inspiring.  They just kept skating.  They went through their program as they had countless times before.  They let go of the dream and lived in the moment.  Again, I know as much about Chinese pottery as I do about ice skating but I saw something special in that routine and it moved me.  Perhaps it was the fact that after the fall the program ceased being for the judges or the crowd or skating immortality but for them.  The crowd melted away and they returned to the empty practice arena where it was just them, and their dreams.  Now that the dream was done it was just the two of them.  Alone at last...
At the end of the program, they attempted what I think was that triple axel.  It didn't work.  One of them fell.  I am not sure which one and that really does not matter.  They went out on their terms as if to say, "We're leaving nothing to ourselves, to the ice we offer all.  All our passion and skill and love and yes, grief, at not obtaining our goal, of summiting our Everest."   I thought it was fantastic.  
I see a larger message in this for all of us.  Yes, set goals and by all means, yearn for the top of the medal stand.  Dare to dream big and have your heart broken.  Know that in seeking great things, great sorrow may visit you.  Yet also know that even if you cannot have one form of victory, you can achieve another as Savchenko and Szolkowy did.  All you have to do is just keep skating.
Be well my friends,

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Winter Blahs

Our stacked coat rack, February, 2013.  Photo by Jeno Bera

Greetings All:

It's February, that is the good news.  January is dead.  Here's the bad news- February is turning out to be just as nasty.

This quote was in my local paper yesterday- "Every mile is two in winter."  George Herbert said it.  Mr. H was a smart man.

Speaking for myself, I find it harder to do the "extra stuff," such as doing a blog post.  I do my writing either at night, on weekends or on (rare occasions) early in the morning.  It's something I enjoy doing but this past week it has been a challenge to do more than sit on the couch by the electric fireplace (please see below) and just hang out.  Dawn and the girls got me a Kindle for Christmas and I've done a bit of reading but precious little writing.  Simply put, just haven't been able to get motivated to write.

It ain't real wood but damn if it ain't real heat! Photo by Jeno Berta
I like to think that winter is just a state of mind, that the cold is just something to deal with, an inconvenience.  Sort of like TSA with wind chill.  Alas, even this winter has gotten to me.  Granted, this one has been particularly vicious.    One might be tempted to ask?  So how cold is it?  Well, how's this for an answer from our friends at CNN a few weeks' back:  "It's so cold, even polar bears and penguins were being kept indoors Monday."  Yup, that's cold.

There is something more to this winter, any winter, for that matter.  It is brutal and it's starting to drag on the way a summer drags on in Phoenix.  I think that after this many days of below freezing/below zero days, it's natural to want to hole up, semi-hibernate.

In my informally polling of my friends and colleagues, I am not alone in being less than motivated to do the "extra stuff."   For most of us, this too will pass.  However, for others, the winter blahs is more than a lack of motivation.  It is a legitimate medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  I was curious as to what percentage of the population suffers from it.  It's not an insignificant number.  From Psychology Today, I found this stat- "Seasonal affective disorder is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. Another 10 percent to 20 percent may have mild SAD. SAD is more common in women than in men."

I am not a mental health professional so I do not have the expertise to comment on this subject.  However, there is a link to an article on CNN from a mental health professional who lays out some of the differences between the winter blues (or blahs) and SAD.  If anyone reading this thinks they may have SAD, please, go talk to a professional.  We turn to professionals to keep our cars running well, we should do the same for ourselves.

Sooner or later the cold will end.  The wind will cease to bite and (eventually) become a gentle, welcoming breeze.  The days of boots and heavy socks will give way to flip flops and bare feet.  It may seem a ways off, but we'll get there.  In the meantime, I'll try to write some the fire.

Be well my friends,


Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Olympic Spirit, Father and Son

Derek Redman and his dad,, fair use claime

Greetings All:

I started working on the follow-up to "The Medal Stand" goal-setting/prioritization post I did about a week ago.  I will get that up sooner than later.  However, I am doing another round of it this weekend to get a bit more data.  Stay tuned, it's coming.  After all, that post is on this weekend's medal stand. :)

In the meantime, here's a blog post on the Olympic Spirit.  In a week, after this weekend, the Super Bowl will be over.  Somali pirates will be wearing either Seattle/Denver "2014 Super Bowl Champion" t-shirts and hats (whomever lost and those are then donated to charity and promptly sent to the third world).  Then we'll turn our attention to Sochi for the Winter Olympics.  First and foremost, here's to an incident free games.  Of lesser significance but much more fun will be the games themselves.  We will see displays of grace, athleticism, teamwork, joy, and yes, despair.  For those of us who grew up with Jim McCay and ABC's "Wide World of Sports," we recall the opening credits with the famous line, "...and the agony of defeat!'  It featured a,...well, check it out for yourself:

We like winners.  I like winners.  I like it when Iowa wins in basketball and even more in football.  I believe it was John F. Kennedy who said, "Success has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan."

Yup, it was.

So here's an Olympic story that shines a different light on victory, defeat and a father's love.  Here's the story.  Enter Derek Redmond.

Redmond entered the 1992 Barcelona Olympics the favorite for the 400 meters.  Track and Field is to the summer games what figure skating is to the winter games.  I can only poorly fathom how many grueling hours he spent training, the monk-like denial of food and other comforts/entertainments in a laser-focus on one goal- the gold medal.

The race began and all went well.  Then, disaster struck.  About 250 meters from the finish and Olympic immortality, he ripped his hamstring and crumpled to the ground, writhing in agony.  I pulled a hamstring playing softball ten years ago.  It hurt.  Redmond destroyed his.  The pain had to be horrific.  And there was not just the physical pain, there was the emotional.  He HAD to know that when the hamstring ripped his Olympic dreams also were ripped apart.

So there he lay, on the track, in the pain of both the hamstring and defeat.  He was the orphan of defeat.

In that moment, he made a decision, to finish the race.  Step after step, he moved forward.  The race long over, he did not care.  He was going to finish.  So on he jogged, then walked, then hobbled.

Then, a disturbance in the stands.  An older man pushed his way through the crowd, onto the track.  No security guard without a taser was going to stop him.  And even if a guard had one, they would have holstered it and let him pass.  He had no official pass, he had something better- Derek's DNA.

Enter Jim Redmond, Derek's Dad.  At first, he did what any dad would do, comfort his son.  He told him, "You don't have to do this."  Derek replied, "Yes, I do."  At that point, the Rubicon was crossed and Derek was going to finish the race, with his dad Jim helping.

The suits from the Olympics ran up to them, trying to get them to stop.  Jim told them to (expletive-deleted) off.  Good for him.  His son was going to finish this run, his last run, with him leaning on his Dad.

As the final few feet of the race approached, Jim lifted his son, ever so gently, from his shoulder, so that his son could end the race on his own.  Derek did.  The crowd exploded in applause, as well they should.  In his case, defeat was not an orphan.  Then again, I'd argue (strongly) that this was a victory in its own unique and important way.

Epilogue- The dad, Jim Redmond got to carry the Olympic Flame during the relay in the UK that winded its way to London.  I cannot think of a better candidate to do so except for when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic Torch in Atlanta in 1996.  Here's a photo and the whole story is below.

British Olympic Association CEO Andy Hunt, right, hands over the Olympic Torch to Jim Redmond who will carry the flame during the torch relay, which will begin in May. Source: AP, Source of caption and photo listed below, fair use claimed.
As I was working on this post and looking for photos, I hit the jackpot with a remarkable video of Derek and his Dad finishing the race.  I tried to upload the video and failed so please just check out the link and watch the video.  It's amazing.  It is inspiring.  It remains us, well, at least me, what is the purest form of competition.  That is, of course, with ourselves.

And for good measure, here's one that follows the commentators:

Good luck to all those competing in Sochi, may the only drama be from the competition.  Congrats to Team U.S.A. on getting to the games and wishing you many trips to the medal stand.  May Derek Redmond be an inspiration, and his dad.

Be well my friends,

Other Sources: