A Night Off, A Night Alone

In one of my educational psychology classes in college, I remember a professor talking about the brain and learning.  He said that when we learn, the brain is like a sponge; it can absorb only to a certain point.  Sponges can only hold so much water before they need to be squeezed out.  Purging is essential for the sponge to function properly; same goes for the brain.  It needs to be emptied at regular intervals to continue to be efficient, even effective.

I’m finding myself in a season of busy work.  Life is very busy right now and the routine sometimes gets the best of me and I get complacent and lazy. 

  • the same morning routine.
  • the same thing for lunch
  • the same search for a new job
  • the same evening with family

Are these all bad?  No!  I love my time with family.  Sorin is changing daily.  Katie and I had a great talk at dinner last night.  My days aren’t always (or completely) boring.  But I certainly lack a freshness to my daily activities.  I get stuck in a rut.  Certain things lack excitement.  I need to squeeze out the sponge before I can refill.  For me that means a full day off.

For two evenings I’m home alone.  Katie went to Cedarburg for three days to be with family, so I’ve got run of the house.  And Katie knows this about me – sometimes I just need this alone time to refocus.  Life has been very predictable.  But tonight I knew I was coming home with no pressure or responsibilities to be “on” with family.

Tonight I was able to catch up on a few blogs – less than I would have liked, but that’s probably a good thing.  At the same time I checked Facebook and then an interesting thing happened.  A couple people started posting comments on my blog and on my Facebook according to some of the things I’d recently written.  It started a series of small discussions that led me to think proactvely about my next career move.  Katie and I have talked about developing my fitness business and what that would entail.  Tonight I was able to share with some of my friends some of my thoughts and I was also able to see that I can get relevant discussions started with people – this is big if you’re starting a business.

My brain needed this.  I believe God had this night set aside for me to decompress from life and be able to engage with people in a way that I rarely have time for.  It was very refreshing.  It’s hard to talk about this because I don’t want it to seem like I need to get away from family to be productive.  But there is something to be said for retreats – retreats from the normal day-to-day routines that get us bogged down with sameness. 

So I’m happy with the night.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow night.  I need time away like this and so do you?  If you didn’t have to answer to anyone for a night, what would you do?  What could you accomplish?  Would it make any relationship better? 

On Encouragement

Last week I went to see a movie by myself.  Katie had Bible study, but she probably wouldn’t have been interested in this one anyway.  The documentary was called “Race Across the Sky.”  It’s the story about the Leadville Trail 100, a mountain bike race in Colorado that has grown from a cult following to national prominence after the release of this movie.

The Leadville Trail 100 is a grueling race that competitors have 12 hours to complete.  It starts around 10,200 feet and peaks somewhere above 12,000.  Twists and turns, climbs and drops, pavement and mud are all part of the race.  Some of the climbs seem like they can’t be any steeper.  At one point in the movie there’s a row of 30 bikers all walking uphill single-file because the rain had caused so much mud that the athletes couldn’t get any traction.

But on another portion of the course I saw other athletes struggling.  The section is called Powerline because the trail runs directly under a set of powerlines that are streaking down a mountain’s side.  The trail is bordered by rows of pine trees.  And this isn’t a nice smooth trail.  It has pits, boulders, bumps and gravel scattered everywhere.  Some of the leaders were walking up it earlier.  But at this moment the film was showing some locals who’ve adopted this section of the course as their own.  They’ve decided to help these bikers up the Powerline if they want to stay on their bikes.  What they do is as the biker approaches, they ask if they want a push.  Some decline, but many welcome the assistance.  So the next shot is a man coming along side a biker and pushing him at the hips as they climb the Powerline together

Don’t we all need that push sometimes?  Aren’t there times in life when things are either dull and complacent or frustrating and difficult, and an extra set of hands would really help us get up Powerline?

My biggest challenge right now is finding a job teaching or in the health and fitness industry.  We all know about the difficult economy.  Few companies are hiring.  Those that are have hundreds of applicants to sort through.  I’ve been at this seach for quite some time.  I really enjoy what I do and Katie and I have been making it work.  But it’s not a career for me.  I’ve been searching extremely hard advance myself and it’s been a tough road.

But today I talked to someone close to my situation who had words of encouragment.  He noted Psalm 45:1 that talks about pursuing a “noble cause.”  He said that he’s noticed how I have pursued a good career in which I will be very successful.  I’ve continued to study and grow as a leader and a learner.  I’ve read books and written reflectively about what it means to develop as a man.  He spoke into my life words of encouragement that were perfectly crafted.  They weren’t sappy and they weren’t over-reaching.  They gave me that push up Powerline that felt like a fresh pair of legs after miles of struggle.  He gave me that push up Powerline…

Encouragement is very powerful.  And it usually costs you nothing.  You can offer words, thoughts, your hand, your heart.  It costs you nothing.  But you’ll gain a sense of worth as you assist someone else up the hill they’re climbing. 

Thoughts On Fatherhood

Last Sunday I had a father’s feeling as I was dropping Sorin off at child care at church. Katie and I haven’t been to church much this summer and when we did, we often let my parents take Sorin so we could actually attend church without interuptions. Sorin doesn’t take too well to dad and (especially) mom leaving. So this week it was my week to take him to child care. As we walked in and got registered Sorin could see something was up. He started to observe everything and got timid right in my arms. We put his bag down and started playing a little bit. At the first sign of him interacting with one of the staff I bolted out the door. I went around the corner to one of the mirror/windows where I could see in but he couldn’t see me. As I watched him get comfortable I had a mix of emotions.

I felt really bad that he was alone without me. Sure, he was in good and caring hands. But he doesn’t know that. He was all by himself and trying to stay busy. He would start to play with something, but then somehow he would realize I wasn’t there and he’d start crying. It’s hard to see your son sad and alone, missing dad.

I also felt old. Sorin has grown up so fast. Wasn’t it last month that I was getting up at 4am to give him a bottle because he was relying on me for food? Didn’t we used to have hold him so close because he couldn’t even hold his head up? And here I was watching him walk and crawl on his own. Find a toy and play with it. Roll a ball and pick it up. He’s only 14 months but he looks like my little man!! So I watched him and thought of myself as an older dad.

Finally I felt pride. Here I am watching my son – my son! I feed him. I change his diaper. I put him to bed. I wake him and dress him in the morning. I rough-house him on the floor and carry him around the house. I push him in the stroller and carry him on my back. Now I’m watching him through the window as he grows into his own life.

What a great calling: to be a father.

(originally posted on Sorin’s Blog)

How to Read 47 Blogs Per Day

Technology is progressing such that we no longer have to search out information or news:  it comes to us.  Each day we check email, Facebook, our favorite news sites, and maybe some blogs.  Is that accurate?  How do you spend your time online?  How do you get your information?

Would it surprise you that I read 47 blogs per day?  Would you believe that on average I catch up on my news in less than 20 minutes?  This includes 47 blogs and about 150 Twitter updates per day!

How is it possible?

Well if you look over my shoulder as I sit in my office, you’d see that I’m not reading every post or every update.  That’s probably obvious.  But with the help of Google Reader I can look through the titles of every post and even the first few paragraphs to determine if it’s something I should read in its entirety.  We all do this with the paper or our favorite magazines.  The beautiful part of this is that I’m sorting through blogs that interest me and news sources that I’ve chosen to subscribe to.

Here’s how it works:  Go to Google Reader and set up an account.  (If you already have a Gmail or Blogger account you can use the same login and password).  On the left you will see all your subscription.  Now you need to fill them.  Open a separate tab (tell me you’re using Firefox) and go to a blog you’d like to follow.  For example here’s Sorin’s.  When you visit a website or blog that updates their information on a regular basis, they’re assigned an RSS feed and the icon looks like this.  What you need to do is click this button and then “subscribe to RSS” and it will take you to a page where you can “add to Google Homepage” or “add to Google Reader.”  Choose the Reader. 

You’ve just subscribed to your first blog – and a good one at that!!  Start finding some good blogs to follow, then progress to websites and news feeds.  You’ll be surprised what’s out there.  If you need more help I’d be happy to walk through more details with you. 

Remember:  Make the technology work for you.  You don’t need to visit each website or blog, it will come to you!  Are you interested in the Health Section of the NYTimes.com or the Business Section of FoxNews?  You can have these websites come to your Google Reader rather than visit them every day.  You’ll never go back.

Controlling Facebook Noise

While the number of users and the time spent on Facebook is only increasing, I still hear friends talk about too much noise on Facebook.  

  • “I don’t need to hear what every friend is doing today.”
  • “It’s too much of a distraction.”
  • “I only really want to hear about a handful of friends.”
I coudn’t agree more.  It has been fun to reconnect with old friends.  Certain stories and updates are compelling and I’m pleasantly surprised to have online discussions from people I never thought I’d talk to again.  But as family life gets busier and my hobbies demand more of my quality time, I find myself needing to prioritize how I stay connected on Facebook.
Why Facebook?  I have found that Facebook does everything I want as a communication platform.  I can:
  • update my daily (and hourly) status 
  • import my blog (‘notes’ on Facebook)
  • share news stories
  • see what friends are doing and reading
  • share pictures
This post isn’t about why you should be on Facebook.  It’s about why you should stay on Facebook if you want to have an online presence without all the noise.
The only requirement on your part is the following: being able to honestly determine who’s on your Short List.
Here’s how it works.  Click on HOME which takes you to your news feed.  On the left hand side you’ll see your lists of categories, technically called Lists.  At the bottom click “more.”  Then your whole set of lists is displayed, and now at the bottom you can click CREATE NEW LIST.
A new window will open and first you should give your list a name (Inner Circle, Real Friends, Cool People, Jet Setters).  Then you can click on any of your friends (groups are also listed and available) to add them to this group.  That’s it!  
To make this feature really work, you’ll have to rearrange the list to the top so that Facebook reads it first – one less click when you login.  To do this you’ll have to expand your lists again (click MORE at the bottom).  Now all your lists will have three horizontal lines at the right and you’ll have the ability to drag your new list to the top (you can also arrange any list if you want to prioritize).  
So my newest list (“Inner Circle”) is at the top, and right under that is my NEWS FEED.  Now when I login, my homepage only lists the news of my Inner Circle list.  If I have more time, I can click on NEWS FEED and I get every update from every friend.
Will this help?  Are you able to determine your Short List?  Your Inner Circle? 
I truly wish everyone was on Facebook because I think it’s a very powerful way to keep in touch and share stories.  Don’t ask if you’re on my Short List.  Please feel free to reference this article to friends who are want Facebook to be more efficient.

Lakefront Marathon

When I finished the Milwaukee Marathon yesterday, I felt two emotions:  first I was proud of my time, and second I was grateful for all my supporters.

Let me start with the latter.  I can say how thankful I was to have so many friends and family out on the course with me.  Yesterday was 48 degrees at the start of the race – and windy.  By the end it wasn’t much warmer.  The breeze sure didn’t go away.  Watching someone (like me) run 26 miles is quite and undertaking – it took me just under four hours, so there’s some committment there.  And still other family members showed up towards the end when I needed encouragement the most.  I wish you all knew the energy I get when I see supporters on the side of the road there cheering me on.  In the challenge of my race you were pushing me to the end – thank you so much.

My other emotion after the race was pride in my training.  This was my second marathon of the season, and it was the first time I had this volume of training under my belt.  While I had the miles to run well, I hadn’t worked on speed like I had hoped.  This time my training called for two 20-mile runs.  Mine went so well that they turned into 21 and 23 mile runs.  So I knew I had a chance at a good time.  Saturday night I wrote here about my goals:

Here’s how I’m looking at tomorrow:

  • 3:55 should be a lock
  • 3:50 is my goal
  • 3:45 is “things went perfect”

The start of the race was very cold – I couldn’t even get myself to take off my long-sleeve, but I ditched the hat at mile 8.  The first 13 miles felt very clunky and I was actually worried that things wouldn’t go well.  I knew from training that around 8-10 I would get into a rhythm, but when that came and went I started thinking this might not be my day.  At mile 13 I was three minutes behind where I wanted to be (1:50), but that just meant there was even less room for error.

And then I started thinking about the Madison Marathon five months earlier.  In that race I started off very strong and just barely held on to the finish.  Would today be the same or did I have more in the tank?

At mile 14-15 I started getting into a nice groove.  What a feeling!  I was blaming the weather and maybe my high ambitions started me too fast at the start.  But here I was feeling smooth and strong.  At mile 18 I was thinking back to my last few long training runs and glad that I had pushed to 21 and 23 miles.  I started to think of when I wanted to push the pace because I knew I had strong legs.

Mile 22 would be a little early to go for it.  Four miles doesn’t seem that far, but at the end of a marathon it’s too much for me.  I figured I had a little more than two good miles left so at mile 23.5 I left Ken who I was running with and increased my pace.

Those last 2.7 miles were very tough.  It’s really hard to push yourself when there’s not that much in the tank.  I knew I’d finish but I didn’t know how fast I could go.  In previous races I would alternate walking and running around mile 21.  That didn’t happen once yesterday!  I had picked up the pace but I was maxed out of muscle in my legs.  I don’t know how many people I passed but I know that no a single person passed me after mile 21.  I’m very proud of that.

I finished Milwaukee Marathon in 3:46, bettering my personal best by 13 minutes.  The training had paid off.  The cheers and support were greatly appreciated.  Who knows what’s next.  Right now I can be thankful and proud as I go into the winter and think of next season.  Katie and I have some thoughts about the future, but right now we’re very excited to focus on family and Katie’s health as she carries our second baby.  And I’m looking forward to cheering her on.

On the Record

I think goals are very important. And while I don’t have time to get into success, failure, and accountability, let me say this: I have a desire to put myself out on the line and shoot for a lofty goal. I want to be the guy in the game, working hard, performing my best, and seeing if I have what it takes. Like I said, I can’t get into this right now b/c it’s 10 hours before I’m running my marathon and I need to rest.

I think it would be easy to say I want to run faster than my last marathon. That would be under 3:59, and I would honestly be proud of that. I haven’t trained “fast” but I have trained more. So barring major set-backs 3:59 should be a lock. But if I’m honest with myself (and now my readers) I would say that wouldn’t be enough. I’ve trained for back-to-back marathons now and I think that will be a significant increase in training and thus performance.

Here’s how I’m looking at tomorrow:

  • 3:55 should be a lock
  • 3:50 is my goal
  • 3:45 is “things went perfect”

So honesty if I don’t finish before 3:50 I will be disappointed. If it happens did I fail? Yes, I guess I did — but that would be ok. Because so often in life big things happen from failure. We come back stronger and never make that mistake again.

Too much for tonight. I’m really excited about running tomorrow. My strategy is 8:15 miles for the first half, and then 9:15 miles to the finish. You can see my updates on my Twitter Feed.

Race Week

I am very excited to be at the final training week for the Milwaukee Marathon this Sunday. It is my third marathon, my second this year. I did Madison Marathon for the first time in 2007 and finished in 4:04. Last May I did Madison again and met my goal of going under 4 hours – I finished in 3:59. And now I’ve completed my training for this marathon on the heels of my Madison marathon, so the two consecutive training programs is making me very excited to see “how fast” I can go on Sunday.

Training is so motivational for me. I’ve made many updates on Facebook and Twitter this summer as I’ve processed my runs and the training program. It’s been great to see how much stronger my body has gotten from all the miles I’ve logged. Are you aware of the capabilities of the human body? I’m not saying everyone should run marathons. But what might it be for you? Your first 5K? A run/walk. A brisk bike ride around the lake? What could you train for that would require some time and effort, but you think is possible in 8 weeks of training?

So this week I’m resting and looking back on my first two marathons – how my splits were and what my heart rate was over the course of the run. My friend Tom Moore says that marathons start after mile 20 – and I agree. It’s the last six miles that are really what you train for, especially after your first marathon. In May I basically ran two different runs – my first 18 miles were great and my last 8 went downhill. So I’m starting to develop strategy for having more in the tank at the end.

If you’re interested in following me on Sunday, you can watch my Twitter feed which my sister will be updating.

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

In sports it’s called the sophomore slump. A player has a great first (freshman) year and then can’t live up to expectations the next. Donald Miller fully admits that after a very successful experience with Blue Like Jazz, a New York Times bestseller for 40 weeks, he went under the radar and did little more than get off the couch. Through a series of events and conversations with his roommate, Miller realized that he wasn’t living a good life; he wasn’t writing a great story. An avid learner and critic, Miller begins studying story in the context of films. Why? Because he’s been approached to adapt his memoir into a screenplay. He’s writing his own feature film, staring himself.

Donald Miller gained a nationwide following with his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, in 2003. His style of writing was refreshingly honest, critical, and insightful. But his cynicism left readers with a void and a sense of a missing component. Should we question so much of the Christian life without pursuing answers? In A Million Miles Donald Miller shows us how he has matured from a critic to an editor. He’s been charged with the task of making his story work. And the story is compelling. The backdrop is a movie – Miller’s life being edited for a screenplay on the big screen. But when two professional movie makers tell Miller that his story lacks some excitement, he’s forced to examine his life and see if there’s a better story to tell.

I was captivated by Miller’s context of examining story and how it translated to his personal life. The characters he encounters and pursues will keep you riveted also. This book will be an enjoyable narrative and a challenging reflection at the same time.

Social Media Revolution

There are certain things that I really get jazzed about that others could care less about.  Most people hate Favre – I’m still a fan.  Friends and family are still using Hotmail and Yahoo – Gmail is the best.  And U2 is still the best band on the planet.

While I’m aware that my personality leans towards passion and action, I know that not everyone gets as excited as I do about certain things in life.  But some things are worthy of more attention than people give me credit for.  My career choice is to be an exercise professional.  While you may not view it as important as I do, and though you may not talk about it as much as I do, you should still do something about it.  Your health, livelihood, and quality of life depend on it.  And that’s independent from me – it’s just a fact.

In the same way, I don’t see too many of my friends and family getting excited about Social Media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube).  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect them.  Because if it doesn’t now, it sure will in the future.  Many of my friends have ditched email and now message each other through Facebook.  I’ve been able to keep friends and family informed with my life and being a husband and father through Facebook updates and photo albums that I can share.  You can’t do that with email.  I’ve learned to not only find information from the web but share the relevant stuff publicly with Facebook, Twitter, and my blog.  News and information is so much more personal when it’s shared this way.

As you can see I’m still trying to find my voice on this.  While I may not communicate it as effectively as I’d like, the beauty of computers and the internet is sometimes I don’t have to.  I came across this YouTube video last week from a friend I follow on Twitter.

I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts about Social Media after watching this clip.  It goes fast, so you may want to keep your hand on the pause button.