20 seconds

My wife recently shared a video with me from a motivational speaker who talked about how all it really takes to move forward in life is overcoming 20 seconds of fear and then taking the plunge. The point being that what holds us back from taking the plunge into something new is the 20 seconds of fear right before we leap.

I’m not a big fan of motivational speakers, as they’re often trite and try to pass off ideas as deep truth for the sake of generating a bigger audience (growing their business). Despite this, there is truth in much of what they say. In this particular case there is actual scientific evidence that our heart rates are the fastest right before we take a risk, and then we calm down once we’re actually doing the behavior.

I think about this right now as I’m considering my future, and how I want to spend the second half of my life. I’m at a point where I might be facing my ’20 seconds’ in the coming months and years, and it’s both thrilling and scary. However, I feel like I’m finally at a point where I am ready to experience something new and different. The pieces are starting to come together in my head, and it’s exciting, but it’s also ’20 seconds’ of fear.

I hate insomnia

I awoke at 2:30 am. I had fallen soundly asleep at 9:15 the night before, but for some reason my body came to life hours earlier than I wanted it to. I decided to use the bathroom, hoping that maybe clearing my bladder would relax me. I crawled back into bed, and then it began.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get comfortable, physically or mentally. My brain wouldn’t turn off, and my body wouldn’t relax. I tossed and turned forever. I knew my alarm would be going off at 5 am so I could get out for a run. That knowledge compounded the situation because every time I tried to relax my mind starting wondering how much longer I had left until the alarm would be sounding.

Finally, at 4 am I decided to get up and start my pre-run routine and hit the streets a bit earlier than I had planned. On the upside, it was an amazingly beautiful morning. The temps were very mild, and a light coating of crunchy ice/snow made my screw shoes feel useful. I didn’t run as fast as I should, but I enjoyed getting in a solid 6 miles.

It was a pleasant enough run that I had completely forgotten about the mere 5 hours of sleep the night before. That was until I turned into my parking lot and it all hit me. I grabbed a second cup of coffee after my morning check-in meetings and tried to keep busy throughout the day. I think tonight will be a very early bedtime.

Enjoying a day off

I work in a job that gives me Martin Luther King Jr. Day off from work, and since my wife has to work I have the time to myself. I’ve had a relaxing day so far, starting with a good workout at the gym. My workout schedule got a little messed up this week and so I never did my legs workout on Sunday like I’m supposed to. Therefore, this morning included both legs and arms.

Once I got done at the gym it was time to get cleaned up, grab some coffee, and head over to my friend’s house where he was doing some homebrew. We got to sit and hang out in his slightly chilly garage while the grains slowly turned themselves into wort, which will be beer in a couple weeks. It was a good time to sit and chat and hang out for a morning.

I then got to spend lunch with my wife, going to one of her favorite restaurants a mere 30 second drive from her office. I had a nice brat and a beer while we chatted about life. I then decided to head over to Silverwood Park (where I am writing this) and take advantage of their coffee shop and tables to get some blogging done. One of the perks of hitting Silverwood for a coffee is the view of the frozen lake and barren trees that make up the park grounds. It’s a beautiful winter scene.

I’m planning to go for a walk around the park before heading home and getting ready to pick up one of my kids for the week. I need to get my head back into the game for the upcoming week at work, which means an early bedtime and an attempt at a run Tuesday morning. That run might get canceled though if we get yet another ice storm overnight. I just wish this winter would dump snow on us instead.

All in all, a nice quiet way to spend a day off.

Sunset with Venus

Saturday night I got to go running out at Afton State Park with a bunch of friends. It was an amazingly beautiful night, and the snow was great for running. As I crested one of the hills I was met with an amazing sunset. It was made even more spectacular by the inclusion of Venus, shining brightly in the sky, before the moonrise.

My iPhone 7 did a pretty decent job capturing this image, once again fulfilling the mantra that the best camera is the one you have on you when you need it.

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Art during the Reformation exhibit

Today the wife and I caught the final weekend of the Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. This was a beautiful collection of pieces from the time of Luther’s Reformation, and showed how the artwork of the time was influenced by the religious upheaval that was going on at the same time.

Life in the Church was at a crossroads during this period, and many of the pieces reflected that change. As the Reformation grew, more and more aspects of Catholic stylings disappeared, giving way to new imagery. Yet there was a tension in all of this. Many of the Reformation pieces still depicted images of the saints, despite the pull away from the Roman church. People were coming to grips with a new reality, but the old one wasn’t quite given up completely.

There were wonderful pieces of art as well as clothing and original manuscripts in Luther’s handwriting. The fact that so much of this has been recovered and preserved is a testament to Lutheran scholars and historians. Being able to see the text of Luther’s handwriting also gave me some personal pause.

When I think about the conditions that Luther lived in, which were depicted in scenes from his living spaces, it astounds me that he was able to write so much. The complete Luther’s Works takes up over 50 published books, and all of these were written by hand. He had pen and paper, and little else to write with. Writing by sunlight was the best option, since candlelight is dim and hard on the eyes. His desk was made of wood, without comfortable padding or lumbar support. Yet, he still managed to continue to write to exhaustion.

When I think about the tools that we have at our disposal today, it’s even more shocking. We have the benefit of laptops and comfortable chairs. We can write in coffee shops, in offices, or on top of a mountain overlooking a lake. Our ability to type almost as fast as we can think allows us to create great pieces of work in a fraction of the time or effort of Luther. Yet, it seems as though many of us can’t even come close to matching his verbosity.

It’s humbling when you think about it. Here was a man who literally changed the world with his words, and he did it all without any of the modern benefits that we have in front of us today. To dedicate one’s life to the production of so much literature is astounding. Just his writings alone constitute an amazing feat, apart from the political and religious change they heralded.

Unfortunately, the exhibit is over after this weekend, so I can’t tell you to go see it. That is unless it travels to a city near you. For now, I’ll leave you with some photos from the exhibit of some of the more interesting pieces to me.

Growing out of kittenhood

img_0411Our cat Jaina is only a couple years old, and still very much like a kitten in many ways. She’s rambunctious and still likes to play fetch, and she also doesn’t nap nearly as much as our older cat. However, she’s recently shown signs of becoming a bit more relaxed about things. In particular she’s never really liked to be held or lay in your lap. She’d sometimes lay next to you, but that was about it.

Then a few weeks ago she started getting nosy while I was working at home. She was walking all over my desk, and so I picked her up, leaned back in my chair, and put her on my chest to give her some cute chastising. She took a look at me, decided she had the upper hand, and proceeded to lie down on my chest while one of my arms held her in place.

img_0440Ever since that time though, she’s been more amicable to being on someone. In fact it’s gotten to the point where if I’m sitting in my office, or in the kitchen, working she wants to be on my lap. It doesn’t seem to matter to her that in the kitchen I’m often sitting on a bar stool, and it’s incredibly awkward to make a lap big enough for her to enjoy. Yet, she somehow makes it all happen. Strangely, she won’t sit on our laps on the couch, but will instead sit next to us.

She’s a strange cat indeed, but she’s a great cuddler when she’s in the mood. IMG_0432.JPG

Some XC skiing

We had some beautiful snow the last few days, and I wanted to take advantage of it and get on skis again. I skied one time last year in a short lesson, and so I wasn’t sure if I would remember anything this year. Everything went swimmingly while I was in the chalet and picking up my skis. The real fun started when I tried to remember how to actually strap the suckers on.

I stood out next to the rack for a good 5 minutes trying to get my boot to attach correctly. I’m sure I looked like an idiot, but eventually I got it figured out. I started out along the main trail and headed over to the practice area to try things out again. I went back and forth a few times and realized this was going to be a really hilarious evening. I couldn’t quite get the gliding right, but I managed not to fall.

After practicing for a few minutes I decided to head out on one of the trails. I started moving slowly, but consistently, as most people passed right by me. I didn’t mind though since I was still moving forward. I got to a fork and decided to go left. I ended up going down a big hill, and as I approached the bottom the first fall of the evening happened. Thankfully snow is soft and I managed to get myself upright again.

As I continued down the fork I came to a large uphill. I recalled what I had been taught and tried a couple different techniques to get up the hill. However, no matter what I did I just couldn’t get more than a few feet up the hill before I slipped back down. Thankfully, I was all alone and no one had to witness my epic failure. I headed back and took the other fork and continued on my way.

At this point I was doing pretty good, and the trail was nice and flat. Earlier in the journey I was told by an oncoming skier that some of the lights up ahead weren’t working. As I approached this area I realized I forgot my headlamp, so I had to make a choice to keep going, and hope the track kept me going the right way, or turn around. I was really enjoying myself, so I decided to plow onward into the darkness, leaving light behind.

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It was a beautiful, bright, moon so I could see the track faintly. I cruised along in the dark, breathing in the cool night air, with the sound of owls in the distance. I came across another hill and this time I told myself nothing would stop me from getting to the top. I dug into a herringbone prance, and committed to getting to the top. The next thing I knew I was cresting the rise and the rest of the trail was ahead of me. It was at this moment I decided I needed to take a couple pictures. In particular I LOVE the one that I attached to the top of this blog. For an iPhone camera it came out beautifully.

I continued on and the lights eventually came back into view. As I approached the 45 minute mark I could tell my body was getting tired. My form was sucking and I even fell once on flat ground for no reason. I made it back to the chalet in exactly one hour from when I started, tired and sweaty, but feeling incredibly fulfilled.

I had to pass on a different social activity to get this done, and despite missing that, I was happy I made the choice I did. The night was so beautiful and quite, and the challenge was daunting. However, I found myself loving it and wishing I had more time to improve my skills. After an hour I had gone 2.8 miles, which is slower than I could have walked that distance. I didn’t really care though, as I had challenged myself with something new, and didn’t give up, even when it was hard.

Trains in snow

Wednesday was our second day in a row with snow. It hasn’t been a lot of snow, only a couple inches per day, but it’s made commuting a complete mess and a pain. Tuesday it took me over an hour and a half to get into my office in Saint Paul. However, on Wednesday I was able to go to my Minneapolis office, and take the commuter rail in to town. It reminded me again how great rail transit is compared to bus traffic.

In a snow event, buses are subject to all the other traffic and traction issues that affect cars. It doesn’t really matter that buses can use the shoulder to drive on, or the diamond lanes. In a snowstorm these lanes aren’t tremendously faster, or even passable. However, a train can keep going on a track at the same speed in almost any conditions. I’m sure many of you have seen the cool video of a train busting through snow. They just keep going.

There are times I take the train in to Saint Paul during bad weather, even though it takes an hour and a half. It’s the same amount of time, no matter the conditions, and it makes everything very predictable. We need more rail transit in our cities, and less reliance on buses that get stuck in the same bad situation when the weather turns even mildly rotten.

Some religious musing

Today I engaged in a discussion with someone online, as they shared their interactions around language and interpretation of language. I wanted to share my side of the conversation, as I feel like I spent a good amount of time and thought on it.

I present these snippets here with some trepidation, as many people probably don’t know about this side of me. However, this is a glimpse into who I am and I feel that I made my point well.

My first response:

Love this. In a past version of my life I got a Master’s degree in theology. A big part of that was learning how to read ancient texts. When you get past the typical Sunday morning armchair theology of the modern evangelical individual, you find that academia is rife with nuanced interpretations of scripture. Not to get too deep into religious things here, but in the academic study of the bible you need to look at the context in which it was written. For example, trying to read the story of creation in Genesis as a literal, historical, accounting falls apart when you understand the anthropological context in which it was written.

All this to say that understanding what people say needs to go hand in hand with who is saying it. The context and culture surrounding the words that people use needs to be taken into account when trying to understand someone. We do this naturally, everyday, with people close to us in our lives. However, their stories are often similar to our own, and it’s easier to understand. When we are confronted with someone who has a completely different background, culture, and history, than us we struggle to understand their words, even if they’re the same language. I see this more and more as I get older, and at the same time I need to check myself all the time on my own biases. If I want to understand what ‘the other’ is saying, I need to understand ‘the other’.

But as I type that, I even see how the use of the word other is loaded and could form the basis of a whole different path of unpacking.

Great stuff to keep thinking about. Thank you so much for sharing this!

This individual then asked me to unpack my thoughts on evangelicals, and made the statement that it seems like all evangelicals believe you’re either with them, or against them. They lamented some of the beauty of the mythos of Christianity, but saw it lost in the way it was lived out.

I responded thus:

Generally I try to avoid generalizations, especially in matters of religion, but, your statement is reasonably accurate. I’ll try to unpack this without writing a novel, but basically my religious journey started in evangelicalism, moved into more moderate mainstream Christianity (think Methodist or Lutheran), and then back to evangelicalism before I pushed the nuclear button and went full Roman Catholic. That might sound really odd, especially when you consider some of the crazy things various bishops say, but I found myself at a crossroads; it was either Catholicism or atheism. I found myself asking this question because I could no longer accept a faith that was so driven by adherence to a single historical text that it missed the bigger picture. In evangelicalism the gold standard is the bible, and the bible guides life. Tradition, history, culture… all of these things are either very, very secondary (at best) or shunned (at worst) in the evangelical worldview. If you want to know God, everything you need to know is in scripture.

Even when I was studying in an evangelical graduate school we were taught to put a critical eye towards scripture. We needed to understand the historical, and cultural, context that scripture was written within. It’s not a mistake that the New Testament was written in koine greek; a dialect(?) of greek that was distinct from classical greek. Koine greek was chosen because it was the language of commerce throughout the middle east and the mediterranean. It was the best vehicle to spread the word, which was the primary purpose of the apostles. When you understand that the apostles were trying to communicate a message to certain people, in a certain place, at a certain time, it changes how you read what they wrote. There are reason that many moral issues are not addressed in scripture; they simply never came up, or weren’t relevant. Therefore, we do a big disservice to the history of the text when we try to read our current context into what was written thousands of years ago.

I say all this because in Roman Catholicism scripture is held up against tradition in a balance that creates something that feels more ‘real’ to me. Scripture is still the primary source of knowledge about God, but it is interpreted in light of the 2000 years of tradition and history that have followed it. Modern evangelicalism is only a couple hundred years old, and has no deep tradition to draw upon. This is why in the Catholic church you get crazy stuff like saints who can fly, and pieces of flesh that never rot. These are artifacts of the tradition of the faith, from the time it lived and breathed, despite being silly and dumb by today’s standards.

The Catholic church in America (in particular) seems to want to align itself with the evangelical movement, but this is just a moment in time. I look at Pope Francis and see hope for a church of the future that will continue to grow with the society around it. My hope may be misplaced, but hope is what keeps many of us getting up every day. The church has been used as a weapon of war at times throughout history, almost as often as it has been used as a vehicle for peace and servitude. But, it’s also a faith that teaches that despite proclaiming that the way of faith is through Christ, as humans we can never limit the power of God, and others may come to salvation through another path. It’s a small tiny tidbit in the catechism, but it gives me hope. As I mentioned above… for me the other choice is rejection of it all and taking the path of the loving atheist.

Now, having typed all this I should add the disclaimer that I rarely go to mass, and I’m married to an atheist, and am pretty dang liberal politically. I often feel that evangelicalism is ruining the faith, precisely because of what you state about their view that the world is divided into those who are with God, and those who are against God. It hasn’t always been this way though, and history is littered with examples of amazing scientists who did what they did because of their desire to study God’s creation. Even Newton wrote hundreds of pages on theology in addition to his science. Yet, the evangelical church will have you believe that science is a myth, and that anyone who disagrees with scripture is a heathen.

That’s not the type of faith that I read in scripture, nor see in the lives of sacrificial people. I fully agree that it’s sad to see how much beauty has been co-opted by the desire to set ourselves up against another. I just hope that this current reactionary hatred eventually turns back to more rational and sane view of love and acceptance of others.

Hopefully, I got to what you were asking. Or maybe I just needed to vent a bit 🙂

The conversation is hopefully continuing, but I felt like this would be a good contribution to my writing journey today.

Tracking my strength training

I’ve started out the new year with a gym membership, and my wife has set up some strength routines for me to work on. Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a bit of a data geek. I like to track and categorize things, especially when it comes to fitness goals. That led me on a search for a good strength training app that could simply track my workouts as I grow and progress.

I downloaded a couple different ones including Strong and Jefit. After playing with them both for a little bit I felt like my choice was between these two. Both provide custom routines that you fill with exercises. When you’re at the gym you simply click a button to move through the workout, selecting when you’ve completed the reps at the station you’re at.

For the past three workouts I’ve been using Jefit, and I think it’s the one I’m going to stick with. One of the big pluses, is that it has a full featured website, so that you can create your routines with a mouse and a keyboard if you so desire. I also like the built-in rest tracker. I do my reps, click ‘Save & Continue’ and a countdown starts. I put my phone back in my pocket and when I hear the beep (and buzz from my watch notification), it’s time to start the next set. When I finish all the sets it moves me on to the next exercise, and I start the process over again. Changing the weight and reps for a particular set is a simple scroll, and I never have had to type anything during my workout.

I’m starting my second week with Jefit, so we’ll see what I think of it in a month’s time, but I highly recommend giving it a try if you’re looking for a nice strength training tracker.

 

Some cultural eating

Saturday for lunch we hit a local Indian buffet. I got one of my kids to go along to try it, and despite finding it a bit too spicy, he had a good time. The cool thing about the place we visited was how authentic it was. Most of the patrons were Indian, and the food was all called by it’s Indian names.

It also was authentic in it’s cultural expectations. As Americans at a buffet we blasted through multiple plates of food and were finished in 20 minutes or so. The proprietor came over to offer us more water and we said “no thanks” as we were finished and getting ready to go. He then told us that we didn’t eat enough and that we needed to stay longer and try more things. He asked us kindly to try more of their deserts and sit and relax longer, and that it would make him happy if we tried more.

What can you say to that? You can say “Ok, let’s go check out more food!” It’s obvious that we have a very different cultural expectation of how long we should take to eat, and we hadn’t met his expectation. It was a fascinating thing to see played out, and frankly, really brought home a lesson in cultural differences to my son.

Needless to say, we grabbed some deserts and they were really neat. My son loved this sour yogurt and rice pudding, which I gobbled down some sweet mango yogurt type of dish. It was really yummy, and was a great way to end a meal of spicy foods. The entire experience was a lot of fun, and I can see us paying this establishment a visit more often.

Cold winter morning

Friday morning I went out for a cold -11 degree F run. I was pleased to find that the ice was 99% gone from the roads, with just a few areas to run around. When I got home I decided to snap a couple quick shots for an Instagram Layout photo. After looking at the completed image though I really liked the picture going down the street so I want to feature it as my post today. It’s so quiet and peaceful on mornings like this, and the deserted street really gives the feel of what it’s like to be out there alone in the cold.

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Catit Flower Fountain

For those of you who are not pet owners, this post will probably be silly and boring, but for those of us with a couple of feline companions, I want to share our experience with a cat water fountain we’ve been using for a month or so. It’s called the Catit Flower Fountain, and it is an electronic, filtered, water fountain designed for cats.

Just like humans, it’s important for cats to get enough water. Cats also don’t care for water that’s been sitting in a dish all day getting stale, much like humans as well. If you’ve ever experienced your cat jumping up onto the bathroom sink to drink water from the faucet when you turn it on you know know true this is. The Catit Flower Fountain helps with this by continually running  water through a small pump on the inside, which also has a simple filter to keep the water clean. You can add and remove parts from the flower to give a different level and type of flow until you find one that works for you and your cat.

img_0422We’ve been using this for a month or so and we’ve noticed a marked difference. In particular, we’ve found that our cats don’t touch their secondary water dishes nearly as much anymore. They spend their nights in the basement, and previously, those water dishes would often be dry in the morning. Ever since we started having the Catit available they’ve stopped needing to drain those dishes dry. We’ve also seen a marked decrease in their desire to drink from the bathroom sink or tub, which used to be a daily occurrence.

The Catit is relatively quiet, but if you don’t have the pump seated firmly you may get some undesirable buzzing. It took a little bit of fiddling for us to get ours to be as quiet as we wanted. We also experimented with the different flower attachments, and found that taking out the center flower piece worked best for getting the cats some pooled water in addition to the flowing. Every cat is different, but the ability to adjust the product makes it very flexible.

Needless to say we’ve been very happy with the fountain. It’s given our cats a lot fresher water than we could provide on our own, and it’s helped keep them hydrated and healthy. I’d highly recommend it for other cats, and encourage you to check out their self feeder as well if you have a cat that maybe eats their food too quickly.

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Starting on Supergirl

In the Arrowverse timeline that I found at IMDB, we’re at the point in progression where we watch most of Supergirl in a row. So last night the wife and I started up the first two episodes.

I had heard nothing but really good things about this series and so I was excited to see it. From the first couple episodes I can tell it should be a fun ride, but I don’t know that I would call it amazing quite yet. It’s got a lot of character in how it’s presenting the struggle of Kara to not only figure out how to be super, but also to live in the shadow of her older (younger?) cousin. I actually enjoy the fact that she makes some incredibly dumb mistakes at the beginning to show that you need more than just super strength to be a hero. I think we take it for granted that many of our superheroes are actually rather good at math and physics.

Part of me wishes this was a part of the same Earth as Flash and Arrow, but I can see why it can’t be. The inclusion of aliens into the Arrow world is a pretty big change, and just plopping Superman and Supergirl into that mix would make everything Arrow has built more complex. I know there are crossovers that happened this year, and the notion of aliens were introduced, but as an overarching part of the universe I think I can handle them being separate for the time being.

We’re scheduled to watch up until the first crossover with Flash and then it’s back into a rotation with the other shows. I’m actually looking the most forward to getting back to Legends of Tomorrow and seeing how that show develops.