An Empty Bed

We lost our beautiful English Springer Spaniel, Charlotte “Charley,” yesterday.  I know I am lucky to have had her in my life for the past 14 years, but right now it is difficult to get past how much I miss her.  Still, I don’t want to dwell on the end of her life, but rather remember what a sweet, loving, and smart companion she was.

Fair warning, this is going to be a long and somewhat rambling post as I write down some of my favorite memories of our Charley.

Charley was a good-natured dog, but she wasn’t a well-behaved dog.  She jumped for her food, counter-surfed, stole food off people’s plates, rooted through trash cans (spot a theme?), pulled on her leash, etc.

One time, she managed to steal a half-wheel of cornbread off the kitchen island and scarf it down before I even noticed.

Of course, that’s all on me.  I suck at training dogs and she was especially challenging because she was so smart.  Sometimes, she’d pretend to behave, only to turn around and do whatever she wanted when we weren’t looking.

My daughter Isabelle’s room was the only room in the house she was barred from consistently because Isabelle would often leave tasty, and accessible, scraps in her garbage can.  Even after she had become mostly deaf, Charley would somehow know when Isabelle would leave her door open and would very casually saunter over and start digging through the garbage.  We usually only knew she was in there when we would hear an outraged “Charley!” from Isabelle upon returning to her room.

Charley came into our lives after our 11-year-old rescue, Mimi, died of cancer.  I felt I had a limited window of opportunity to get a new dog because once my now ex-wife got used to not having a dog around, she might not want to get one again.  I was searching for dogs when she suggested a Springer Spaniel.  I’d had a Springer, Chaucer, during my teenage years, and spoken of him often, but hadn’t considered getting one due to their heavy shedding.  I immediately found an AKC breeder in Tombstone, Arizona, of all places, with a gorgeous black-white-tri-color female puppy available.  I couldn’t have designed a more adorable Springer.  Within hours I had put down my deposit and reserved her.  I only learned much later how lucky I was.  Most breeders, including this one, pre-sell their puppies and it can take many months to get one.  From some reason, the people who had reserved Charley had backed out and I just happened to hit the website at the perfect time.

A few weeks later I flew to Tucson and drove an hour to Tombstone to get her.  I was greeted by about eight friendly, beautiful, adult Springers and little nine-week-old Charley fearlessly running around with them.  I stuffed her into a pet carrier and headed back to Tucson.  She hated the carrier so I let her out and she promptly fell asleep on the passenger seat.  When we got home, after spending a few minutes checking out her new digs, she curled up on my son’s backpack and fell asleep again, foreshadowing a special relationship to come.  We couldn’t have asked for a more loving, affectionate dog. 

When she was a puppy, she slept in a crate and she would occasionally just go in there by herself (that didn’t last long).  One day, she came out of the crate trailing twenty-dollar bills.  Apparently, she had found a pack of them on a table we didn’t think she could reach.  We joked that we apparently had a dog made of money.

During my divorce, she was my great source of comfort.  I took her for long walks every morning, often before the sun rose.  When I moved out, she came with me.  With only 50% custody of my kids, and then my daughter and later my son going off to college, and Teri moving in just a few years ago, we were each other’s only true constants for 14 years.  It’s hard to contemplate the next 30 or 40 years without her right now.

About a year after she joined our family, we took a two-week volunteer trip to Costa Rica (one of the most meaningful experiences of my life), and we left Charley with my wife’s friend and colleague, Bev.  Up until then, Charley had slept in a dog bed in our bedroom, but Bev allowed her dogs to sleep in her bed and Charley quickly joined them.  Our first night back, she hopped up on our bed and that was that.  After the divorce, she slept in my bed tightly pressed against me.  If I shifted, she shifted with me.  I’d often wake up in the middle of the night in about 12 inches of space at the edge in my king bed, having unconsciously moved away from her looking for some breathing room but with her chasing me across the bed until there was nowhere to go.  I’d then shove her over and we’d start it all again, sometimes repeated several times a night.  A few years ago, she started sleeping in her dog bed again.

Although she was an active girl who loved her backyard, she was also a big couch potato and snuggler extraordinaire, with my son, DJ, as her favorite sleeping companion.  She loved her boy and missed him when he left for college.

Charley warmly welcomed Teri when she came into our lives.  She always greeted her enthusiastically when she came over and, after she moved in, met her at the door every night and sometimes even waited by the door when she was late.  After DJ left for college, Charley chose Teri as her new couch companion.  Her affection for Teri was very endearing.

Charley could be talkative.  She wasn’t a huge barker, but she had a howl that tapered off in a funny way if she wanted to get your attention.  Each summer for several years, we all went to one or two music festivals, and we had dog sitters come by a couple of times a day.  One night I received a frantic text in all caps:  SHE’S HOWLING AT ME!  I had to reassure the sitter that it just meant Charley liked her and wanted her attention (probably hungry).  I still chuckle about it.

A few quick thoughts:

  • She loved my father, who lives in New Jersey.  She was so excited to see him when he came to visit – jumping, twisting, pushing up against him, and furiously wagging her little stub of a tail.  It was always such a delight.  They had a game they played where she would “sneak” into the guest bedroom, snatch a sock and dive under the bed so he would have to get down and retrieve it from her.  Eventually, she grew too big to fit under the bed, so her head, with the sock, would be under, but her butt would stick up in the air, tail wagging.
  • She loved to drink water from the pool, but hated swimming.
  • She loved all the fruit from our backyard trees – mandarins, peaches, but especially avocados – and usually gained a few pounds during avocado season.
  • She was kind of an oaf. She would barge right in to drink at the water bowl and sometimes would jump onto the couch and actually sit on one of the other dogs.
  • At night, she always wanted to be the first to the bedroom, no idea why. When she guessed we were going to bed, she would trot down the hallway.  If one of us was ahead of her, she would speed up to slip by.  If she went too early, she would come back and peek around the corner to see where we were.

While she had been in a slow decline the last few months, she deteriorated rapidly during her last week of life.  On Friday, she didn’t eat her food for the first time, though she did take a few pieces of sliced turkey.  She looked terrible.  Drawn, eyes bulging a bit, unsteady on her feet.  In the afternoon, she wanted to go outside so I let her out into the backyard, but she went straight to the gate leading out to the front of the house, which was unusual.  I followed her out the gate and she wandered down the driveway and started trudging down the street.  Again, unusual.  I let her do as she pleased and she drifted down the street on wobbly legs, looking around a bit, sniffing here and there, but mostly just walking.  Worried about her safety, I turned her around and guided her home.  The thought occurred to me that she just wanted to take a last look around the neighborhood where she had walked many times.  I’m grateful I listened to her, because a few hours later, as she rested in her favorite spot on her mat underneath our entry table, she had the first of several grand mal seizures.  We took her to the ER, but it was time.

She died on this Saturday, a beautiful Southern California Winter day, at home, looking out over her beloved backyard and pool, surrounded by those who loved her and she loved.

Joe and Jill Biden have spoken of “an empty chair at the dinner table” to refer to their son Beau and those we have lost, and continue to lose, during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There is an empty bed in our bedroom now.  A bittersweet reminder of our loss, but also of the wonderful dog who graced our lives with so much joy for 14 years.  We’ll miss her forever.

Today, I’m Proud to be an American

For the past four years, I have been embarrassed to be an American.  Every time Trump tweeted, spoke, issued an executive order, or rolled out another heinous policy, I was not just outraged, I felt humiliated.

On 1/17 on CBS Sunday morning, I watched Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, laugh and clown around with each other.  I was delighted.  Can you imagine Mike and Karen Pence doing the same?  I can’t.

On Tuesday, I watched the Bidens and Harris/Emhoff’s honor the 400,000 people (and counting) who died during the pandemic.  Trump and his ilk have hardly given them a word or, I imagine, a second thought.

On Wednesday, I watched President Biden and Vice-President Harris (no longer “elect”!) take their oaths of office and was mesmerized by the brilliant poet, Amanda Gorman, enthrall everyone with her beautiful, stunning and hopeful poem, The Hill We Climb.

It feels like an eternity since Biden and Harris won the election and, as many others have noted, our democracy has been tested in the past few months like rarely before, but it did endure.  I was struck by a comment from Nathan Law, one of the prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.  He said that he was encouraged by our largely peaceful transfer of power.  What is so interesting is that while for us this has been the least peaceful transfer of power in living memory, for the rest of the world it was a minor incident.  Oh, the world was shocked that such an event could happen in the United States of America, but violence around elections is nothing new and Trump’s “army of imbeciles,” as Jimmy Kimmel called them, was absolutely nothing to fear.

There is a lot of work to be done.  Again, as many have pointed out, just because the Orange One is gone, does not mean that racial injustice and inequity, moronic conspiracy theories that suck in hapless and disenfranchised people, and a raging pandemic and economic crisis goes with him, but, for a moment, I was able to feel pride in my country again.

Our judiciary did not fail us.  Liberal and conservative judges and justices (even those appointed by Trump) overwhelmingly disgusted by Giuliani and his team of idiots’ laughable legal maneuvers tossed the cases out of court, often with blistering rebukes.

Our legislatures did not fail us.  Yes, far too many of them passed or tried to pass restrictive voting laws before the election, but afterward, none tried to intervene, and both our House and Senate confirmed the election.  Hopefully, those who baselessly attempted to thwart the Constitutionally mandated process will be held to account.

Our election officials did not fail us.  Virtually to a person, those invested with safeguarding our elections throughout the States, did their job honorably and proudly, sometimes in the face of threats to themselves and their families.

Our military did not fail us.  In spite of some missteps, our military leaders resoundingly and proactively rejected any attempt by the lame duck commander-in-chief to use the military against the American people.  There was no “Great Awakening.”  In fact, I am confident that had Trump declared martial law, the military would not have supported him.

Do I paint too rosy a picture?   Perhaps, but I don’t have on blinders.  As Ms. Gorman wrote:

Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished…

And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.

We are striving to forge our union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

Though our institutions, and our faith in them, were tested, they held firm.  It is particularly interesting that Democratic groups strategized on responses to many election-defying scenarios, many of which came true, but, in the end, the best response tended to be to hold back and allow the Trumpists to fail on their own.   On Wednesday, we proved that though democracy is fragile, ours is still strong enough to hold fast and expose a demagogue who acted tough and convinced far too many people that he cared about them for what he actually is – a weak con man and loser who was only ever out for himself.

I’m confident that, sadly, in spite of a swing away from Trump, many of our fearful legislators will swing quickly back calculating that they need his support to remain in power, but if Georgia’s Senate elections taught us anything, it’s that there is a finite amount of support for crazy and perhaps we have reached its limits.

I’m hopeful we can get back to the values that truly made America one of the greatest nations in the history of the human race, including those emblazoned on Lady Liberty.  Her words should not just apply to immigrants, but also to all disenfranchised people.  Perhaps in the next four years we can figure out how to start to remove hate from our lexicons and see each other just as people, more the same than different, or as Gus says in My Big Fat Greek Wedding,

Here tonight, we have, ah, apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.

Unexpected Trump coup obstacle: Pride in work

It’s easy to gleefully chuckle each time one of Trump’s election-challenging lawsuits (I’m tempted to put that word in quotes) is tossed out of court, often with a scathing opinion, but it’s important to look at why they keep getting so resoundingly rejected.  Just because they lacked any semblance of legal substance does not mean some of them might have had some success.  Sycophants are everywhere, including some in election administration, so why not in the judicial system?  Why did these particular people, many Trump-appointed conservatives, stand up to pressure while so many Republican lawmakers both now and since Trump’s election cow-tow to his bullying?

The answer is a simple and old-fashioned but universal tenant:  people take their jobs seriously and are proud of doing them well.  One can even argue that the sycophants’ behavior supports this theory because they consider it their job to please Trump and want to do that well.

Contrary to Trump’s expectations, conservative judges have struck down dozens of his “elite strike force” of legal clowns’ pathetic lawsuits because they take their jobs seriously.  Regardless of how they might feel about the election, they are sworn to the rule of law and that comes first.  What General Milley said about the military applies here as well:

We are unique among armies, we are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or queen, or tyrant or dictator, we do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion.

We take an oath to the Constitution, and every soldier that is represented in this museum—every sailor, airman, marine, coastguard—each of us protects and defends that document, regardless of personal price.

Republican election officials, even in the face of death threats to themselves and their families, have certified results and stood up to Trump’s pressure because they take their jobs seriously.  Probably the best example of this is Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.  Make no mistake, Mr. Raffensperger is no hero.  He is a fan of voter suppression laws, essentially advocating that it is easier to steal an election before the voting than after.  That being said, he followed the existing law and he took pride in overseeing a successful Georgia election.  He took offense as Trump and his cronies claimed that there was rampant fraud in his election.  Another Georgia election official, Gabriel Sterling, emotionally tore into Trump and others he declared complicit for not speaking out, when describing the threats he and his team have experienced.  Even a man who might have stolen an election by purging hundreds of thousands of people from the voter rolls prior to the election he was both supervising and running in (Stacey Abrams lost by 55,000 votes), Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has not crossed a line in spite of tremendous pressure from Trump.

None of this was because any of these Republicans love Joe Biden or the Democrats.  They are not secret liberals.  In fact, there was little personal or political upside to their actions.  Beyond the threats, elected officials are likely to be brutalized by Trump’s supporters the next time they run for office.  The Trump team simply made a mistake when they made it personal.  When they attacked their competence.  No one wants to be called incompetent and tends to dig in when they are personally attacked.

What’s ironic is that Trump actually knows this.  One of his signature campaign promises is to create more jobs.  He knows people often define themselves by being able to bring home a paycheck.  He knows that people are just as proud of a long hard day in a coal mine as they are in earning millions of dollars on Wall Street.  Regardless, a bully is a blunt instrument.  Trump can only attack and damn the consequences.

Of course, there is another explanation for his post-election circus.  Perhaps he realized months ago he wasn’t going to win the election.  Perhaps he never expected to prevail in court or via other coercive measures.  After all, he has raised over $200M since the election (as of this writing), misleading his followers into thinking they are supporting his bid to overturn the election while the vast majority of the money went to pay off campaign debts, the RNC, and his political action committee and no doubt from there to line his and his children’s pockets.  After all his years of greed and corruption, he has stumbled into the easiest and most lucrative grift of all – milking those with blind faith for all they’re worth.

In a Global Pandemic, Leaders Wear Masks

Like, I’m sure, many of us, I’ve been thinking a great deal about leadership these days.  Good leadership has many attributes – compassion for team members, respect for personal time, delegation, open-mindedness, etc. – but I’m thinking about one aspect specifically – modeling the behavior desired from others.

I’ve long held that there is only one rule necessary to live by, The Golden Rule (and for all you wits out there, no, not “he who has the gold makes the rules”):

We all admire the small business owners, CEOs and Boards of Directors and who have taken significant or full pay cuts and other measures to help pay their employees during the pandemic.  Of course, in many cases it is largely symbolic, but it is still important that they are “walking the talk.”

Nevertheless, in these challenging times, there is another significant issue at stake.  Lives lost due to leadership failure or even gross negligence.

It’s obvious where I’m headed, Donald Trump and his Trumpist cronies.  Full disclosure, I’ve spent countless hours during the past year working to help oust him from office so I cannot claim a lack of bias, but the point I want to make is valid.

One of the Trumpy talking points was best articulated by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on July 17th:

“I think what we did here in South Dakota is really remarkable because we gave people their freedom,” she said. “We let the businesses stay open, we let people go to work, we told them to be smart, and we also asked them to be personally responsible. And, we’re seeing benefits of that each and every day in South Dakota.”

First, shortly thereafter it became one of the worst hot spots in the U.S. and to this day she continues to be in denial.

Second, conflating a lack of freedom with social responsibility (seat belts, anyone? Or, “No shirt. No shoes. No service.”?), is not only stupid, but dangerous.

Third, her statement implies that Democrats want to take away American’s freedom and don’t trust them to be responsible.

That, frankly, is nonsense (I had another word in mind, but restrained myself).

People follow their leaders.  Democrats (and responsible Republicans), by and large, wore masks, socially distanced and washed their hands more, not because of mandates, stay-at-home orders and restrictions, but because they saw that behavior in their leaders.  Look at what happened when California’s Governor Gavin Newsom attended a dinner party or Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took a flight to visit family for Thanksgiving.  Backlash was swift and unforgiving, by Democrats as well as Republicans.

It is incontrovertible that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S. harder that it should have due to Trumpist leaders eschewing science, denigrating mask wearing and generally downplaying the truth.  In other words, they modeled poor behavior, and those they led followed. 

There is evidence that had a unified national leadership, at all levels – President, Senators, Congresspeople, Governors, and Mayors on down – simply worn masks and followed the science the U.S. would be nowhere near its current 270,000 death tally (as of writing this).  While many countries instituted mandates, others did not and still saw dramatically better death rates because the populace was consistently encouraged to wear masks and did.  It is understood that there are many other factors, including partial lockdowns and other restrictions, that impacted the death rate in countries that did not mandate wearing a mask, and that, culturally, the U.S. would not likely have seen quite the mask adoption levels of other countries.  Even so, had 20%, 30%, 40% more people regularly worn masks, thousands of lives would have been saved.

Not to mention, that had the pandemic been more under control with fewer cases and deaths, the toll on the economy would have been far less.  The two are inextricably linked.

Bottom line:  It’s not about trust or freedom.  It’s about leadership.  People will follow, and model their behavior, on both good and bad leaders.  With something so important as a global pandemic, people can’t afford bad leaders.

Anecdotally, I jog nearly everyday in a nearby park.  Prior to the election, I would estimate roughly 50% of the people there wore masks, though most did their best to socially distance.  Since the election (and the current virus infection surge) and Trump’s fading from public view, I’d estimate that at least 75-80% of people are wearing masks.   Scientific evidence?  Of course not.  However, hopefully, with a new leader taking the spotlight and modeling socially responsible behavior, signs of improvement are already beginning.

VEX Robotics World Competition Promotes the Best of Tech Community Values

This past weekend (4/23-27/2018) The Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation held is annual VEX Robotics World Competition in Louisville, Kentucky.  Thousands of middle school, high school and college students, representing hundreds of the best robotics teams in the world descended on the Kentucky Exposition Center for three days of intense rivalry.  Yes, with teams from over 40 countries, including China, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, and Mexico, this is truly a world competition.  Last year, a team of Syrian refugees was given a warm welcome and tons of support.  This year Puerto Rico was the focus.

Make no mistake about it, the competition was fierce, going well beyond building a great robot, also encompassing sophisticated strategies, social game play and a deep understanding of the game rules so teams can decide how to gain an advantage by bending a rule to the breaking point.  Each match was played with two two-team alliances, assigned for the qualification rounds and then chosen for the remainder of the tournament.  Successful teams know how to work with their alliance partners and ultimately ally with other teams which complement their strengths and weaknesses.

However, all this intensity is saved for the field.  Universally, teams want to beat each other on the field, not off it.  The degree of collaboration off the field is remarkable.  Teams help each other out, trade parts, discuss coding techniques and even post robot designs online.  After the day’s competition, bull sessions go on long into the night.  Gender is irrelevant.  To a person, they are nice, respectful, smart, out to have fun and have zero interest in their parents’ advice.  Adults are there to pick up food, root from the stands and chauffer the teams from hotels to the Expo Center.

I attended with my son’s team for the second time this year and was once again blown away and inspired by these young people setting an awesome example for the rest of us.  If you have children with a STEAM orientation, I highly encourage you to check out VEX.  It has some attributes that make it stand apart from other robotics organizations, including a dedication to creating a level playing field for teams from any socio-economic background.  One of the top teams this year consisted of three first-timers who worked in a barn where they hand-filed components and produced an amazing and beautiful robot.

On top of it all, they put on a well-coordinated, polished and high-spectacle event with incredible production values.  The game MC’s, referees, judges and volunteers are professional, efficient and keep the energy high.  The final event in the Freedom Dome feels like a WWE production, complete with lasers, fire effects, giant screens and pulse-pounding music.  Each and every student is made to feel like a rock star!

I credit Paul Copioli, Karthik Kanagasabapathy and the rest of the VEX Robotics and REC teams for promoting an environment that is not only serious and challenging but also fun and welcoming for all!  Keep up the great work!

My Fitness Adventure

(Above:  Isabelle and I circa 2001/Me 2017)

Anyone who knows me would be shocked to read this post.   Up until a few years ago, I was never interested in fitness.  Oh, I would occasionally control my eating, cut back on sweets or Coke (still my favorite drink), things like that, but I am a foodie, which makes cutting back on dinners out and desserts so difficult.

Exercise was anathema.  I hated (and still hate) going to the gym and admired joggers from a distance always thinking that there was a snowball’s chance in hell that would be me.  My peak weight just before my divorce began in 2009 was about 178 lbs. (I’m 5’ 7”).  I had a 35” waist size, 17” neck and wore either extra-large or large shirts.  I had no idea how heavy I was.

The end of my marriage was somewhat traumatic and I rapidly lost about 25 lbs.  The upside was that I learned what a difference 25 lbs. makes.  Waist size about 31, neck shrunk and I was down to medium and large shirts.  Unfortunately, while I somewhat watched what I ate, I still did not have a good diet and didn’t exercise.

By 2013, I was back up to the mid-160’s.  That’s when I met Teri.  She taught me how to eat well and enjoy it, so my diet changed significantly for the better.  We started to cook our own food on Sundays for the week ahead and developed a menu with both liked:

  • Broiled chicken with a particularly good spice mix I found online
  • Whole Foods rotisserie chicken (naked is delicious!)
  • Broccoli and/or asparagus for a main veggie (recently added Brussels sprouts into the rotation)
  • Steamed green beans for a snack
  • Fruit from a farmer’s market. We particularly enjoy the many varieties of pluots (plum-apricot hybrids) which are available in the Spring, Summer and Fall.

Other than the cooked food, I also snack on carrots, nuts and raisins (very limited) and a small amount of sweets (cookies or chocolate) after meals.

On weekends, we go out or bring in food once or twice (often sushi) and I try to use portion control to manage my intake.  Lunch on Sundays is usually egg white scramble with mushrooms, onions and left-over chicken.

In spite of my improved diet, however, my weight didn’t change much.  Depending on how I ate (curse you November and December!), I ranged from the lower- to upper-160’s.

So, late in 2013, at nearly 49 years old, I decided to <shudder> exercise.

There was no way I would keep up with going to a gym, so I had to design a routine that I could do at home.  I bought a doorframe-mounted pull-up bar and started with a basic set of exercises:

  • 5 chin-ups
  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 push-ups
  • 20 sit-ups
  • 30 crunches
  • 30 bicycles

3-4 days/week, I did that routine 3 times with a 3 minute break between sets.  Over time, I was able to ramp up to 4 sets with 10 chin- and pull-ups, 20 push-ups, 40 sit-ups (20 to the sides and 20 straight) with a 2 minute break between.

It worked!  To a degree.  My weight dropped into the mid- to upper-150’s.  Unfortunately, in March, 2014, I somehow injured my left elbow.  Hurt to exercise, so I stopped and the weight came back on.  My elbow felt sufficiently recovered by the end of May, so I restarted the exercise and added daily walking to my routine.

By August, I was back where I was before the injury, but slowly over the rest of the year, in spite of my dedication to eating well and exercise, I returned to the low 160’s.  It was frustrating because I was working hard, increasing my walking and adding more repetitions to the exercises and continuing to cut down on sugar, but nothing moved the needle.  I assume I replaced some fat with muscle, but I couldn’t see it on my body.  I spent 2015 stuck, but I kept with it.

In February, 2016, I realized something had to change, so I went online and researched more exercises I could do at home.  I found a cross-fit exercise called a “man-maker” or “Spartan maker (scroll about half-way down the page).”  Looked simple enough.  I decided to replace the push-ups, crunches and bicycles with the Spartan makers.  You’ll notice that the website indicates 5 reps.  “Ha!” I thought.  I was replacing 80 crunches, bicycles and push-ups.  I was confident I could do way more.  I bought 5 lb. dumbbells and tried it out.  I barely made it through 5.  In fact, I could only do them 2 out of the 4 sets.  They are much harder than they look.  Within a week, I was able to add them to all 4 sets, but even now I only do 6/set.

It worked!  The weight melted off.  Within a couple of months, I had surpassed my 155 goal and was rapidly heading into the 140’s.  By, August, I was in the low 140’s!  Waist size 29, small or medium shirts and a 15” neck size.  Probably my slimmest since before college.  Woo hoo!

I have plateaued in the low-mid 140’s, but this time the muscle development is visible, so I’m satisfied.

I have found that I need to regularly increase my exercise in order to maintain my weight and muscle.  My morning walks progressed to where I added several hundred stairs and am now actually jogging.  I used to walk about 2 miles, but now I run a little over 3 miles and do more than a half-mile of stairs (if I run where there are no stairs, I go at least 4 miles).  The exercise routine is about the same, but I replaced the plank with a medicine ball exercise called the rock and roll up.

There are definitely times I want to skip or shorten a routine/jog, but I am doing my best to keep it up.  My biggest motivator is when the numbers on the scale begin to inch up, though a close second is the Apple Watch.  I am determined to close those rings as many days/week as possible!

My current routine:

  • 5-6 days/week: Run/walk 3 miles
    • On Universal Lot: Run 3.0 miles, Walk .3 miles, Stairs .5 miles
    • Home Neighborhood: Run 3.8 miles, Walk .3 miles
  • 3 days/week: 4 sets, 1.5 minutes of rest between
    • 12 wide grip pull-ups
    • 6 Spartan-makers (12 lb. dumbbells)
    • 12 chin-ups
    • 12 rock & roll-ups
    • 12 regular pull-ups
    • 40 sit-ups
    • 12 neutral grip pull ups

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 8 – Saturday, 12/26 – The Adventure Ends & Lessons Learned

The Plan

Drive back to SLC, drop DJ at the airport since he was taking a side trip to Idaho to visit a friend, drop off the Behemoth and fly back to LA.

The Reality

The day went mostly according to the plan with one thankfully minor hitch (which could have been much worse) along the way.

The Good

Other than the below, everything went smoothly.  Dropped off the Behemoth, an Uber picked us up and we arrived at the airport in plenty of time.  I even managed to get us into the Delta Sky Club so we could relax and snack while we waited for the flight.

The Bad

As we left Zion, the winds were amazingly fierce which led to some white-knuckle driving for a couple of hours.  Once past that, it was smooth sailing to SLC, which led me to let down my guard.  I had been a little concerned about driving the Behemoth into SLC airport, but we spent a little too much time at a truck stop gassing up and cleaning out the RV.  As we were driving in, we saw that the clearance was 13’ (the sticker on the Behemoth claimed it was 13.5′ tall)!  Six lousy inches and we only had about 20 minutes to get DJ there.  I admit I lost my cool for a few minutes.  It was the last straw on a challenging trip.  However, we got it together and Teri called the airport.  She managed to talk to someone who sent us to an alternate entrance.  When we got there, the attendant judged that the RV was not that tall and we could make through the normal route.  Holding our collective breath, we dropped DJ off at the first opportunity (he made his flight) and then inched our way under two pedestrian bridges without a problem.  When I dropped off the Behemoth, I calmly gave my feedback to the owner of the El Monte partner that he should have instructed us about the anti-freeze and the proper clearance height.  He couldn’t have cared less.

Final thoughts

In spite of the challenges, it was a wonderful trip which I don’t regret for a minute.  The parks are awesome and even more so in the snow.  I might not recommend taking your first RV trip in Utah in the winter, but we all, including the Behemoth, survived and we have some amazing photographs of a unique trip to memorialize my 50th birthday.  More photographs will appear on the site eventually.

As always, DJ was a remarkable help.  More often than not, he was the one who managed the hook-ups and other RV maintenance chores.

Lessons Learned:

  •  – Make sure the RV totally checked out before picking it up, perhaps avoiding the issue we had right out of the gate.
  •  – Know the exact vehicle clearance and check route for any issues.
  •  – Make sure to pre-check the route for any RV-unfriendly roads and make necessary adjustments.
  •  – If winter, use RV anti-freeze in gray and black tanks or get a RV with heated tanks.
  •  – Skip the kits sold at RV rental places and buy at Target or the equivalent. The RV rental places sell kits with basic necessities (personal kits with towels and sheets and kitchen kits with pots, pans, utensils, etc.).  They are junk and we only used about half or less of what we bought.  We would have been much better off spending that money at Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond, getting better quality products and just what we needed.
  •  – At RV parks, a water hookup and a waste dumping site are more important than power as long as the RV uses propane for heat, which I assume most do.
  •  – Costco hiking socks (Men/Women) are awesome. I couldn’t find the links on Costco.com, but they were much less expensive than shown on Amazon.
  •  – A clothesline inside the RV would have been handy.
  •  – Pick up a pack of cheap shop rags somewhere. Very handy and disposable.
  •  – Bring/buy a variety of containers of various sizes. While RV’s have a number of cabinets and drawers, it helps to have something to organize with, especially for small items which tend to move around a lot within the cabinets or on counter tops when driving.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 7 – Friday, 12/25 – Bryce, Zion & Turning 50

The Original Plan

See Zion National Park, celebrate my birthday, and stay either in the Watchman Campground at Zion or nearby.

 

The Revised Plan

See Bryce Canyon National Park in the morning and Zion National Park in the afternoon.

The Reality

The day went mostly according to the revised plan with one significant hitch along the way.

The Good

In spite of freezing temperatures and steady snow, we hiked out to two viewpoints on the rim of the Amphitheater at Bryce, Sunset and Sunrise Points, and drove to two more, Bryce and Inspiration.  The famous hoodoos were in full evidence and the park is breathtaking in the snow.  Due to the weather, we only spent a couple of hours there and, after getting some advice from the manager at the lodge, headed off to Zion.  Breaking free of the snow around Bryce was a relief and we were making good time to Zion when hit our major hitch of the day.  More on that below.

Zion was as spectacular as I remembered!  We were able to maneuver the Behemoth through the 6-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive stopping every few minutes to take pictures.  Parking was often a challenge, but in spite of being reasonably busy, we had no real trouble.  Trails were mostly too icy to hike, but we packed a lot of sightseeing into the time we had there.  Again, being at the bottom of the massive Zion cliffs and rock structures was just awesome.

We celebrated my birthday dinner at Oscars Café, an excellent Mexican restaurant right outside of Zion in Springdale.  Everything was good, but try the carrot cake, you won’t be disappointed.

We stayed in the Zion River Resort, a terrific campground about 30 minutes outside of Zion.

The Bad

When we got to UT-9 to drive into Zion, we discovered that high profile vehicles needed special escort because the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel is too shallow on the sides for any vehicle over 11’ 4” tall (the Behemoth was supposedly 13.5’ tall).  They have to stop traffic from the opposite direction so you can drive down the center of the tunnel.  Unfortunately, due to weather (though we were first told it was due Christmas), they had suspended escorts when we arrived.  Fortunately, we figured that out before we drove about 10 miles to the mouth of the tunnel.  Unfortunately, the only other route was a 100 mile detour south on US-89 into Arizona, west on AZ-389, northwest on UT-59 and back to UT-9 on the other side of Zion.  That little hiccup cost us two precious hours and I was steamed that the manger in Bryce hadn’t mentioned the issue with the tunnel.  If she had, we could have taken an alternate route which might have saved us an hour.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 6 – Thursday, 12/24 – Frozen Tanks

The Plan

Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park then back to Escalante Petrified Forrest State Park for our second night in the campground.

The Reality

Spent the day thawing the gray and black water tanks which had frozen overnight and then drove to Bryce to spend the night (for some of us) at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon.

The Bad

Woke up in the morning to two problems – DJ was sick with terrible stomach and head aches and our gray (shower and sink drains) and black (toilet) water tanks had frozen which we knew because the drains in the shower and sinks started to back up.  This was the most frustrating aspect of the trip since I had realized this was a risk and had asked at El Monte how to deal with the problem.  His advice, and the instructions in the manual, simply said to never let the tanks get more than two-thirds full (the gauges for all the tanks are in thirds).  I realize now that the point of that was that if they did freeze, since water expands when it freezes, the tanks and pipes wouldn’t burst.  I kick myself for not doing more research on the subject since we quickly found out that that there is inexpensive RV anti-freeze which can be poured into the tanks to prevent this issue.

Regardless, knowing we were going to remain in sub-freezing weather for the foreseeable future, we realized we had to thaw them out before we could do anything else.  First, we went to a local hardware store, Do It Best Escalante Home Center, on Christmas Eve Day and bought a drain snake, but that couldn’t break through the ice in the pipes.  Second, we tried dumping hot water down the drains and over the pipes under the Behemoth – fail.  For each attempt we had to drive back and forth to the campground because we had to be positioned at the dump site before we tried anything in case it worked and the tanks cut loose.  Third, after consulting El Monte and some online research, we decided to buy a space heater and position it under the Behemoth and see if it would thaw the tanks.  I was concerned because it was still below freezing as well as windy with the occasional snow flurry, so I had no idea if it would work.

The Good

Fortunately, back at the hardware store, minutes before they closed for the holiday, we met Reed Munson, a gentleman in every sense of the word.  He loaned us a couple of concrete blankets, which are like large fiberglass comforters, used to facilitate drying concrete, which we wrapped around the bottom of the Behemoth while the heater was running.  After about an hour-and-a-half, we tried again and the tanks drained.  The black tank was never the same after that, always reading at least one-third full, but we simply dumped every chance we had and it worked out.

DJ was a total trooper, helping out occasionally even though he didn’t feel well.

Since we had lost most of the day, we decided to get a room at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon where the kids, both of whom were not feeling well, would sleep while Teri and I stayed in the Behemoth.  It was another treacherous drive through snow and ice to Bryce, but we got there without incident.  We all took advantage of the shower in the room and planned to get an early start on the next day since we would be covering both Bryce and Zion.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 5 – Wednesday, 12/23 – Natural Bridges & Capitol Reef

The Reality

Here’s where I made my second rookie RV mistake.  I didn’t check our revised route (163N to 261N to UT-95) for any sections closed to large vehicles.  Turns out there is just such a section on the 261, so we had to turn around and drive back through Bluff to pick up UT-95.  The detour cost us about 45 minutes, which would have been avoided had we just stayed in Bluff.  No regrets.  Goulding’s Campground in Monument Valley will likely turn out to be our favorite RV park of the trip due to the spectacular view from our slip.

The Good

The entire ride from Monument Valley to Natural Bridges was beautiful though we did run into a snow storm about half way there.  Natural Bridges is gorgeous.  You can watch a brief video at the Visitors Center about how the bridges are formed.  Not sure if it was due to the snow and ice on the ground, but I actually had trouble seeing two of the bridges at first, but after a few seconds of staring, was able to clearly make them out, kind of like looking at those old 3D prints.  Natural Bridges is a gorgeous park and well worth the visit.

We arrived at Capitol Reef late in the day and only got a glimpse.  As we drove up to the Visitor Center, we saw the petroglyphs carved by the Fremont people roughly 1,000 years ago.  A unique and very cool element of the trip!

The main road through the park is not RV friendly (there are shuttle during normal business hours), but what we were able to see of the massive cliffs and canyons was amazing.  It reminded me a bit of Zion (which I visited when I was a teenager).  Up until now, we were either overlooking canyons or seeing mesas and plateaus from a distance.  This is the first time we were up close and personal at the bottom of massive cliffs like these and it was awesome.

The ride from Natural Bridges to Capitol Reef was challenging. While driving through our second snowstorm of the day, I also had to deal with snow and ice on the road from a recent snowstorm or two.  It was one of the longer legs of our trip and I had to drive very slowly.  Fortunately, we saw very few other vehicles on the journey so my slow driving didn’t get in anyone else’s way.

We wanted to grab dinner at a restaurant before driving on the Escalante, but we found the majority of restaurants in that area were closed for the season.  We did find a place that was serviceable.

The trip from Capitol Reef to Escalante Petrified Forrest was even more hazardous than the trip’s previous leg.  Dark, rain, snow, ice, narrow roads, and herds of deer dashing out into the road made for a frightening drive.  When we finally reached Escalante, Google took us off course into a residential area until we corrected and found the campground.  Teri joked that she wondered if when some of the residents see headlights flash by their windows late at night they get a good laugh at the Google-misled tourists.