SCOOBY SNACKS

Mention “Scooby-Doo” to any 80s child and they will be hard pressed to not start humming the theme song to the cartoon centered around a brown talking dog motivated by “Scooby snacks.” If Scooby wasn’t enough entertainment, consider Snoopy, Odie, Droopy, Goofy, Muttley, Pluto, Brian Griffin, Deputy Dawg, Pongo, Huckleberry Hound, Mr. Peabody, Spunky, Spike and a host of others.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “most dogs look like their owners,” then you might just agree that humans tend to make their pets the center of the universe.  This blog alone has at least one guest appearance from my friendly fur ball named Cookie.

She recently took on a new, more suitable name, “Fatso Cookie.” It seems like just yesterday she was running 3-4 miles per day and could easily keep up on a six mile mountain trail trot.  Now, she’s scared of the winter weather and her main running buddy (yours truly) is halfway around the globe for 6 months.  She’s struggling to tiptoe a single mile.  C’mon dog!

My question to you is this, “how healthy is your dog?” I’m learning that dogs make great “mirrors” in more ways than one.  They might look like you sure, but why not dig a little deeper? (Just not in my backyard you mangy mutt!)  Dogs are likely to reflect our own health.  If you run, your dog runs.  If you hike, your dog hikes.  If you go to dog parks, I’m sure you let your pup accompany you (so you don’t look so strange.)

THE CHALLENGE: If your dog is 15 years old, you get a free pass today.  Otherwise, assess its level of activity.  If healthy – great!  Keep up the good work.  If you’re like me, you have some employment ahead of you.  Perhaps it’s time to cool it on the Scooby snacks.  Oreo cookies aren’t good for dogs, and they’re not good for you either.  Put down the chocolate truffle cheesecake and grab a leash.  Get off the couch and go play fetch.  When you throw a ball, race your dog – it’s a lot more fun, and you’ll both get in shape.  Perhaps try setting a goal to get your dog to run a mile, then two, then three, etc.  Who knows, maybe taking the pressure off of your own performance and projecting it onto your four-legged friend will work wonders.  You can even be like Scooby and pretend you’re running from a ghost.

FLAKEY AT BEST

My kids grew up on Sea World – how lucky. My best animal adventure was a school field trip to Roger Williams State Zoo in Rhode Island – how lame.  Talk about apples and oranges.

While I never experienced the magic of watching people ride dolphins, I wasn’t clueless about underwater life. My older brother had a paper route and that allowed him to save enough pennies for…wait for it…wait for it…a fish bowl.  He never went without a fish.  They were sometimes gold and sometimes neon.  Eventually he discovered his favorite variety, a Siamese fighting fish.  They were terribly boring so I thought it was a good fit for him (we had our share of contention).  I can’t remember any of those fish living very long.  Unfortunately they seemed to go belly up within weeks, and while I don’t know the exact cause of death, I’m sure my generous contribution of fish flakes didn’t help.

Occasionally we took a summer vacation across the country all the way to the beehive state. We quickly learned that there was no way to frontload the fish food.  If they didn’t die from overeating, starvation was certain, even after cannibalism ensued.

As humans we tend to scoff at the scaly creature circling the fishbowl. We might suppose that fins and gills equate to a complete lack of human characteristics.  But the aforementioned observation changed my mind.  Hunger is as real as it gets!  Gluttony isn’t too far off the mark either.

Hunger makes the world turn. Let’s face it, we get up and go to work so we can eat.  Joey Chestnut got up one day and decided he would set a world record by devouring 74 hot dogs.   But hot dogs or not, no matter how full you get… it won’t be enough.  It won’t sustain.  Give it some time and before you know it that tummy starts to grumble.  Bears stock up for hibernation, but soon enough even they roll out of the cave for a midnight snack.

The takeaway (and please don’t nuke this one) is this. For anything to sustain maximum vitality and life, it needs a daily dose of nutrition.  Forget burning the midnight oil.  It’s not sustainable.  “Two-a-days” at the gym?  When did this become a thing?  How about “five-a-days” or “ten-a-days”?  Stupid right?  Work a job for the overtime?  Not for me.  Why?  Because you still have to flip burgers, drill oil, or file paperwork the next day.  Run a marathon in your 20s, cool…but what can you do in your 60s?  Maybe a mile per day, or even a mile per year is more sustainable for the long haul.

THE CHALLENGE:  Keep it simple.  Don’t overfeed your fish!  But don’t let them eat each other either.  You have to feed the things you want to keep alive.  You want to be a great artist, welder, pilot, musician, or mechanic?  The formula is simple, feed your craft.  Sure there are times to put in a little extra, and there are times to back off.  But remember this – play the long game!  Be consistent!  Watch how many flakes you put in the bowl and don’t go on vacation for too long.

THANK YOU BRENDA

Rarely do I pay special tribute to a female not named “Mom” or “Wifey.” This is one of those occasions.

Brenda was a childhood neighbor. She was sheltered.  Lived in a home raised by religious zealots.  Good kid.  Real good kid.

It wasn’t often that she could come outside, but when she did…one thing was for certain. We would race.  She was fast.  I’m talking road runner fast!  I can’t recall ever beating her – and I’m okay with that.  She made me faster.  She helped me establish a solid foundation of good health and discipline.  Our races taught me the value of friendly competition.

I only saw Brenda once as a young adult – but after all these years she still manages to live on in my mind. Every time I run with a goal to be fast, guess who is two steps ahead of me?  Brenda.

In my mind’s eye I travel time and space. I see and feel myself as a kid running down Martha St. with everything I’ve got.  But, for whatever reason – I STILL can’t beat that 9 year old girl who manages to stay just out of reach.  I’m okay with that.

THE CHALLENGE: Being YOUR best doesn’t necessarily mean being THE best.  Be okay with that.  Be okay with knowing the person you can’t quite beat is making you better every time you try.  Identify a “road runner” in your realm of expertise and go race.  RACE TO WIN EVEN IF YOU KNOW YOU WILL LOSE.  You may thank them one day.

Run to Start – Shed Skin to Finish

Crawl, walk, run – a principle that governs the universe for all able-bodied humans born into mortality.  We might add to this sequence another step “run far” or “run fast” (pick your poison).  Whether a four-minute mile or an ultramarathon, both are preceded with a vast amount of practice and effort just to get to the starting line.  As an artist, I’ve put in countless hours trying to figure things out, but at age 39 the starting line is exactly where I’m at.  The first leg of my race was a portrait of a snake.  The inspiration behind the 8×10 oil painting is posted below.

Gus

I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of people, but none as subtly profound as Petty Officer First Class Alvaro Hurtado.  We called him “Hurt” and oftentimes “Gus.”  He was not the most vocal leader, wasn’t the model of physical fitness, and not the most dynamic instructor.  My initial impressions of Gus were therefore somewhat ill-mannered and careless.  My biased judgments, however, were futile unproductive thoughts that set me up to eat a massive piece of humble pie.  As far as influence is concerned, Hurtado was a sniper who put a slug in my forehead – as if it were routine business.

Each person we meet is like a mine laden with gold awaiting extraction.  The gold is there for the taking.  Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do the panning, sluicing, dredging or underground blasting.  As time passed I saw Gus not for what he wasn’t, but for what he was.  I discovered what I needed to see, gold.  I noticed that the GOLD he possessed, I lacked completely!

His attention to detail and quest for perfection stood out in many ways.  For instance, the cover to his working uniform was starched and pressed to exactness, as though the cover itself was standing at attention.  While many Sailors at the command frequently shoved crumpled uniform items into a gym bag, Gus made time to fold his t-shirts “boot camp style.”  His penmanship was flawless.  Each letter was strict and upright with textbook spacing and consistency.  Surely a significant amount of time and effort went into mastering his craft.

Every time a Sailor checked out of Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute (NEMTI), Gus was the one guy to always ensure they left with a token of gratitude.  It didn’t matter how low they were on the totem pole.  He wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sometimes he gifted a paddle which was painstakingly wrapped with his personal tools and talent.  Others received a glass case containing contents that symbolized their role as build team leaders.   Shadow boxes were carefully prepared for retirees.  Markers were made available for others to sign a few words of good wishes or fond memories on the back of each parting gift.

I shall never forget the day that I stood in the back of the flag room holding a paddle that had just been presented to UT2 Samuel B. Kellogg.  As the room cleared out, I proceeded to convey to Kellogg what a remarkable gift he had just received.  I went on to express my judgment that Hurtado had a heart unlike anyone I had ever encountered, a heart that I sought to emulate.  Somewhere in that dialogue, I choked up.  I don’t recall if I was able to conceal the tears that streamed down my face, or if I even tried.  One thing is for sure, I decided then and there that I needed to be more like Gus.  I needed to ensure he left NEMTI with a personalized gift.  I also determined that I needed to carry the torch to the best of my ability, that all departing shipmates were worthy of a few hours of my time so they too might receive a customized token of appreciation.

My talent lies in the realm of creative arts.  As a child, I was somewhat exposed to fine art.  I knew innately that oil painting was something I wanted to do at an extremely high level.  I dabbled in many creative endeavors.  I received a formal education in visual communications and web design.  I excelled at photography and could hold my own with a can of Krylon.  Unfortunately, when it came to oil paint I never took the bull by the horns.  Oil painting requires many hours to execute a realistic representation.  Every stroke of the brush must be deliberate and precise.  I supposed that I could not offer a better gift to Hurtado than a painting, a perfect metaphor for everything I admired in him.  I knew I wanted a subject that would require me to pay close attention to detail, form, shape, color, texture, and edges.  I pondered for many weeks.

The solution finally arrived during Hurtado’s final presentation at a CPO 365 PME.  His words led to a discussion in which our Senior Enlisted Leader Master Chief Haskins talked about the growing pains of personal development.  Therein he made the comment, “When we grow, it’s like a snake shedding skin.”  BINGO!  At that moment I knew just what to paint.  As a result, I presented to my friend, my brother, and shipmate, one of my first ever oil paintings on a very, very long journey to mastery.  This piece is entitled “GOLF – ROMEO – OSCAR – WHISKEY” the phonetic military alphabet for the word “GROW.”

I will forever pay tribute the name HM1 Alvaro Hurtado for showing me a piece of manhood that I lacked entirely and for causing me to grow out of darkness into light as depicted in this painting.

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Photo: Work in progress – 2nd of 3 layers applied.

 

11 Lessons From a Half Marathon

This past February my wife (Kim) and I ran the Murietta Avocado half marathon. It was my first “official” half. Finish time 1:39

Below are 11 lessons gleaned from the experience:

1) Generally speaking, paid races are a waste of money. It’s for people who need an official calendar date to find motivation, or to seek external validation by suiting up in fancy workout apparel to show the world they are part of that particular culture. I feel equally satisfied (if not more so) running on my own.

2) Preparation is everything. Prior to the start, Kim remarked that I looked calm. I was, very calm indeed. Yes, there were some unknown elements, but putting one foot in front of the other is old news. The distance is old news. Running early in the morning is old news. Running hills is old news. There were two hills on this race that caused many otherwise strong runners to walk. I embraced those inclines. Loved them even. I’m not into the practice of positive affirmations. But I did continually repeat “hills are where I win”. After each runner slipped behind me, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the hours I had spent running up Cowles Mountain (the highest point in San Diego County) and grinding up the fire break trails on Camp Pendleton. I didn’t look down on anyone who couldn’t keep up. I didn’t think I was “better” than them. I did, however, feel EXTREMELY grateful that I had already paid the piper. I had good credit and it made me want to never quit fighting gravity.

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3) Who do you pace? The race was equipped with “pacers” who each held a stick with a fluorescent sign indicating the pace/time they were going to finish. I reflected repeatedly upon this concept. In life, we need someone to pace. We need a mentor. For me, in my world, I want to reach my potential as an artist. BUT, I’m not pacing anyone! Big no-no. I follow plenty of artists on Instagram who put out quality work every month, week or even day. Can I not pace them? Who is at the front of the pack? How do I catch up? Why am I not there? What fluorescent signs have those who have gone before me, left as a clue? Can I not watch more videos and read more books striving diligently to master the principles?

4) Practice how you play. Normally when I run, I stop to pee whenever I feel the urge. Today I didn’t. “Time doesn’t stop when I stop”, I thought. So I continued to push – it was unpleasant. I exercised discipline running up hills prior to the race, but never holding onto a full bladder. I need to exercise discipline in ALL areas of training, just as if were game day.

5) Expect the unknown. Mile 9 had a road washed out. There was no option but to run through this excess rain water. My feet got wet. Not a little wet, a lot wet. All the way wet. It also was unpleasant. The lesson here was to “go the extra mile” while preparing to be the best. I often run along the ocean but never once considered soaking my feet to add a curve ball. Another lesson here is about being a good volunteer. There were several Marines acting as road guards just a few feet away. This happened to be an area with no traffic. They could have EASILY walked over and set out a few boulders for runners to walk over. Of course, they were just there to hit a wicket for their advancement. A generation of idleness. While I’m on the topic, I noticed that many of the road guards had bags of fast food by their side. Juxtaposition indeed.

6) No time to look back. One thing I did well was to avoid the temptation of looking back. I focused on closing the distance to the runner in front of me. If there was any advantage to paying for a race this was it. It naturally creates a spirit of competitiveness. Whenever I found myself next to someone running the same exact pace, I had to be the one to speed up a little. Only one person played leapfrog with me. Once I made the second pass I committed to making it final. Cars have large windshields and tiny rear view mirrors, most of our time should be spent looking at the lights in front of us.

7) Family first! Kim pulled her hamstring insomuch that she heard an audible pop. She sent me the info via text. This gave me a heavy heart and I suspect even slowed me down a bit just to think that she was not enjoying the race as much as me. I wanted to turn back and be with her. I made the difficult decision to push forward. This takes me back to my first point, upon injury – not worth the expense. Also, may divide loved ones…I only didn’t turn back because I thought of the money ‘invested’….but what I really needed to be doing was investing in my injured wife.

8) Scout the track. If I’m going to race for time, it’s a good idea to scout the track. It’s like reading the table of contents of a book. It will help to subconsciously prepare for what’s ahead. I could have run faster but not knowing the track required me to pace on the safe side. For example, the first mile-marker was at mile 4, but in my head, this was mile 6 – a disappointment. From mile 12 until the finish, I didn’t know where to turn on the gas. Additionally, the course ended up being 13.31 total distance in order to corral the racers into a parking lot.

9) Girls rock! It was awesome to see several females run faster than me. Not because I thought of myself as better/faster/stronger….but knowing how fast I did run and how far behind I was just evoked an endless wellspring of respect for those sisters!

10) No pain no gain. I was limping on Monday (before the race) and sprinting on the day of (Saturday). Every day in between I ran a little bit despite the pain. I demanded of myself that my body would perform come show time. It worked, the pain subsided long enough to execute.

11) Runners high. It’s a real thing. Not the way others have described it to me. For me, it comes after a long-ish run. Sometimes immediately after, but sometimes hours later. I just sit down, relax and everything just slows down. My sense of sight, smell, and hearing are enhanced. I feel content beyond description. It is a very euphoric experience.