July 31, 2006

What a long strange week-end it's been.

WARNING: This is as long an entry as I can remember ever posting, though it actually has a point near the end of it that I hope incorporates all of the parts above it. Also, it gets a little emotional towards the end. You've been warned. :)

There are certain moments that you'll remember forever -- this past weekend counts in many, many different ways. It's odd, though, because I can break both Saturday and Sunday into two hour blocks and make a full blog out of most of them. In that vein, here's a modified diary of what coud be (aside from my wedding -- two years ago to this very day!) the busiest and most varied weekend of my life.


6:00 - 8:00 am

Tri-minus two hours. Time to eat a banana and a Nutri-Grain bar before the big event. Our gear is packed in bags and ready to go -- the only thing left is to get all of it in the Outback, which with both of our bikes proved harder to do than we'd hoped. We made it to the park with plenty of time, thankfully as the parking lot was half a mile away from the transition area (where we kept our bikes and other post-swim gear). Half an hour before the race starts, the rules are read to everyone, and they congratulate us first-timers along with the training class from NIFS that we'd been a part of. I was in the first wave to start swimming right at eight (Meagan left 15 minutes behind me in the fourth wave), so I headed into the lake to get used to the water as the clock counts down to...

8:00 - 10:00 am

RACE START! The folks I was starting with included the "Clydesdale" group (men over a certain weight, which fit me to a T), as well as the hard-core competitive racers. In the interest of not having my face smacked by an inadvertant yet competitive stroke, I waited about 10-15 seconds before actually beginning the swim.

The swim actually went well -- the bike section, however, is a different story. Throughout training, I'd been under the assumption that I'd be using a bike on loan from my father-in-law which has an older, steel frame road-style chassis that we soon came to discover had problems with tire rubber rubbing against the rear of the frame (that's the bike, not the father-in-law). So I bought a new bike, and got my first chance to ride it on (wait for it) the day of the triathlon!! Much fun was had trying to find out what gears worked best for what type of climb, and I finally got into the flow around mile 9 (of 10).

The "run" by my definition was actually a two mile walk encouraging the runners that whizzed right past me (which happened frequently, as it did with the bike), followed by a one-mile brisk jog, culminating into my crossing under a banner with the most beautiful word in the English language:


Official final time and place: 1:45:06.3 / 411th (of 426)

Bear in mind, though, that I stalled 10 seconds at the very start, giving me an unofficial (but more accurate) time of 1:44:56.3, a mere 4.7 seconds under my ultimate goal time. I'm really excited about the time, but even more excited that Meagan (who did quite well as well) and I actually can consider ourselves as triathletes!!

10:00 - 12:00

Nothing incredibly noteworthy -- ate the free food they had for us and cooled down before piling everything back in the car and driving home before we...

12:00 - 2:00

... took the best nap ever.

2:00 - 4:00

While Meagan studied, I played a fascinating game called Katamari Damacy. Released by namco, it's a quirky game that puts you in the shoes of the diminutive Prince of All Cosmos (assuming that they are, in fact, shoes) as you gather up clumps of various items scattered all over Earth. Why in the world would you want to do this? Well, it seems the King of All Cosmos (a gargantuan entity, complete with Pringle-can-shaped head seen on the Prince) got a little... out of sorts one night and destroyed all of the stars in the sky. The clumps rolled by the player are given to the king so that he (in all his royal-We glory) can turn them into stars or constellations of various size and luster.

It's a fun game in that it's fairly easy to learn, and can be a LOT of fun to play. Anything, ANYTHING in the game can be picked up as long as your katamari (that's the big ball o' stuff) is large enough to hold it. We're not just talking stuff, either; cats, dogs, bears, people, buildings -- they're all fair game as long as your katamari is large enough. The controls are easy, solely utilizing the two joysticks on the PS2 controller to control the Prince, and the replay value is HUGE with logs that note what sorts of items you've collected by category (with over 80(!!) categories holding about 20 items each, that's a lot of items!). Truly a great game (with a recent sequel) that you can pick up used for fairly cheap at most video game retailers.

4:00 - 7:00

Ate some more and recouped before leaving for the...

7:00 - 8:15

... Guster concert!! Meagan spotted the concert in the local rag and thought it would be a great way to celebrate our success at the triathlon. Turns out there were a couple of opening acts, including Rogue Way (who was pretty good, but we mostly read our books during their performance) and Ray Montagne. Ray was a good guitarists, and the mellow music was nice to read to, but no one in the history of showbusiness has ever, EVER, had a more boring stage presence. The only two words aside from "Thanks" and the obligatory, "On the bass guitar, ." was the following sentence:

"It's hot."

That's it. Acknowledging the heat in the most basic way possible. I thought it could use, I don't know, an adverb, maybe an infinitive even; something along the lines of Rogue Way's frontman, who said "Man, I didn't expect it to be this apocalyptically hot tonight." You have to respect a band that can incorporate any word whose root is "apocalypse" into their crowd banter.

I s'pose being incredibly boring is just Ray's style, but he (as an entertainer) just didn't seem to fit the Guster mold, which is more energetic and unashamedly boisterous. Everyone liked his music though, which admittedly was nice to read to, but I don't think I'd want to pay money to see him perform or purchase his albums.

None the worse for the wear, though, we waited patiently until the stage lights came on to reveal...

8:15 - 11:00

... Guster!!!! The gang put on a FANTASTIC show -- high energy, great banter with the crowd, and fantastic music as always. The great thing about Guster concerts (you'll find that BNL concerts as similar in this regard) is that when they play a song, they play it close to how they recorded it with just enough variation to make the live show special, but not so much that you can't sing along with the music (whch is the main reason I love live shows). That's what bugs me the most of Dave Matthews concerts -- I love his work, but I really enjoy singing along with the songs that I love (yep, I'm that guy) and he doesn't let the audience do that a lot. Very rarely does Dave stick to how it's done on the album versions, which I can respect as he's a fantastic guitar player (as the other members are fantastic instrumentalists). But I want to sing along with the songs from the CD's I wore out in high school and college, not pay $60 just to listen to you jam onstage without knowing exactly what's going on. I know there are folks that enjoy it, but I guess I'm just getting old and set in my way.

Anyway, the concert was great in part for the people watching. You could stratify the group in the following demographics: Normals (Meagan and I, along with about 7 others), College kids who wanted to be hippies, high schoolers that wanted to be college kids that wanted to be hippies, adults that wanted to be high schoolers that wanted to be college kids that wanted to be hippies, and, of course, actual hippies (we counted 6 of them). It's always fantastic when the entertainment isn't solely on stage.

The concert wore down, and we headed home after the second "encore" when they just sat on the stage in the blue chairs that we all had (the concert was held in an outdoor ampitheatre that provided everyone with the same blue folding chair to ensure everyone could see) before the lights came back on and they acted as if they'd been off-stage the whole time. Classic. Played a couple of their better-known songs, then closed on a song no one knew -- the last song was the only bad thing about the show. Always, always, always end on a song that everyone is singing with so that they leave excited and with a spring in their step as they go. Other than that, a near-perfect concert to end one of the most fulfilling days of my life, just shy of my wedding day.


9:00 - 11:00

This summer, Meagan and I are teaching Sunday School in the 1st-5th grade combined summer class, which has been a joy in that working with little kids is fun. We taught the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo, who were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to an idol, but came out unscathed because their faith in God was strong enough to protect them from the flames. Stories like that are why I don't cast stones at other faiths for having odd stories.

11:00 - 2:30

We finished packing up the apartment and were in the process of cleaning it out in order to turn in our keys by the end of the month. I'd vacuumed the upstairs and gotten the recyclables to the appropriate bins before packing up a few last things into the car (including a bedspread that REEKED of cat urine, on its way to the dry cleaners) and heading to the park for...

2:30 - 4:30

... the church softball league championship game!! In our bulletin, as well as on the original schedule the game was listed as being at 3:00. So, of course, when I arrived at the designated field, there was no one around. I waited in my car (mind you, along with the Comforter O' Urine in the backseat) hoping that someone else would come along, until finally I headed back to the house, depositing the bedspread in the garage before calling our captain to discover that the game had been moved to 4:30. In the interim, I looked for a dry cleaner that would be open on a Sunday (yeah, right!) before getting a call from my lovely wife stating that our bagless vacuum was missing the filter. I didn't even know it had a filter, as the last time I remember cleaning the canister, much of the dust/grime fell through the holw where presumably the filter should have been. A heated discussion ensued in an attempt to determine just who had lost the filter before we finally agreed to disagree. After this, it was time for me to head to...

4:30 - 6:30

... the church softball league championship game!! This was a big deal for North UMC as we'd never won the league since they'd had a trophy, yet, there we were, six innings from the title. We actually started great, building a 10-1 lead by the end of the first inning. But our opponent, Barnes UMC, had defeated us earlier in the season with a come-from-behind win. Sure enough, by the end of the sixth (and final) inning, we were tied at 12-12, with extra innings to decide it.

The way the lineup worked out, I was third to hit in the inning. The first two up to bat, however, hit the ball solidly, but right at an infielder, meaning I was up with the bases empty and no one out with the score tied and momentum squarely on the side of the opposing team.

As I got to the plate, I noticed that the outfielders (in softball, there are four) were lined up with three fielders in left and the fourth right up against the right-field foul line. It made sense considering I'd been hitting line drives to left all game, and the shift had already turned sure doubles into outs in my last couple of at bats. I adjusted accordingly, turning my shoulders in and pushing my front foot towards the plate in an effort to knock it "the other way", or into right field.

As I swung at the first pitch, I heard the PING! off the aluminum and knew I'd hit it just near the sweet spot as it almost felt like I hadn't hit the ball at all. Sure enough, there it went, curving away from the man in center field towards the big gap they'd given me and over their heads by a good 50 feet or so.

I took off. Tearing around first I heard, "You're running for days, Mike!" As I rounded second I saw the third base coach waving me all the way around. After hearing a final "Dig, dig, dig!" as I passed third, I saw three people in front of the plate, one of whom looked ready to catch the ball. I sped up, trying with all my might to beat the throw home. I did, but only just. With one swing of the bat and a dash that was half a second away from being disaster, I'd given us the lead.

Turns out we'd rally to score six (!!) more runs with two outs, but the team said that the homer was the play of the game, because it kept us alive in the inning, and a darn good thing, too -- Barnes ended up scoring four runs in their half of the inning and even loaded the bases with two outs, giving them the winning run at the plate. Thankfully, he popped out to the shortstop and the trophy gets to visit North UMC for the first time in its existence! Go North!!

6:30 - 10:45

Spent some time relaxing, including playing another enjoyable namco title "Tales of Legendia", which mixes action and RPG gameplay quite well, if a tad tediously at times. One of the better stories I've seen in any game not called "Final Fantasy", which was to be expected from one of its recent predecessors, "Tales of Symphonia". Played dominos with Meagan and her grandmother, who's in town staying with us as her husband (Meagan's grandfather) is being treated at IU hospital this week. That would've been the saddest news of the week-end had I not gotten the call at 11 that night.

10:45, Sunday night

Sara Lee O'Neill, mother of four, great-grandmother of four, and grandmother of 16 (including me) passed away quietly and painlessly in a Nashville, TN nursing home surrounded by her family. She was eighty-one years old, and was known best as being a determined woman that wouldn't let anything stand in her way. In one of the many spectacular incidents of ignoring what most think are limitations, she hiked the Himalayan mountains despite having had a hip replaced a few years earlier.

Dad had been at the Meadows that evening and called me at 11 with the news. It wasn't entirely unexpected -- we knew she'd had an episode of some sort earlier that week (possibly another stroke), and aside from that she'd been in a nursing home for years toughing out the symptoms of leading a fantastic life and the wear and tear that went with it. Even in those last few years, she always had a kind word to say to anyone that cared to listen, even if it was the same one over and over each day. To know that she cared for her family, even if she wasn't sure exactly who we were, kept us going despite the dichotomy of lives she'd led between the active lifestyle she once enjoyed and the comfortable stability she found in Nashville.

Depsite the past few years, she'll always be remembered for what she was able to do with her life. A strong woman, she raised a fantastic family of intelligent and successful children who grew up to be leaders in the community, in business, and the country itself, while still managing to accomplish things that most of us don't dare to envision on our life's to-do list. She will be missed, surely, but we rejoice that at last she is going home to where we all long to be.

11:00 Sunday evening - 12:01 Monday morning

The rest of the evening was spent figuring out travel arrangements and just what I was going to tell the folks at work. This week, our internal auditors are in town for a big IT audit which I might be a big part of, and I was concerned about when I'd need to stay in the office and when I'd be able to take the time off (everything has sinced worked out very well). As the clock struck midnight, Meagan and I celebrated our second anniversary. Two years ago to this day, I became the luckiest man on the face of the Earth (Gerhig has already passed on himself) as Meagan Beth Miller and I exchanged wedding vows surrounded by our dearest friends and family. Relishing in beginning our third year together was a strange juxtaposition to the sorrow felt earlier in the night, but all in all, it seemed to wrap up the entire weekend quite nicely.

There are certain moments in life that you'll remember forever; some you'll want to forget, no doubt, but most are purposefully etched into our minds. Crossing the triathlon finish line, kissing my wife as Guster played in the distance, touching home plate to help give our team its biggest softball victory in a long time -- these are things that stay with us as long as we can recall them. But the treasured time with family, even the opportunities that only last a few hours, are the ones that stay with us long after our loved ones leave us, even if we can't recall the specific moments with them. It's the love we receive and (more importantly) the love we give that stays with us, even after the memories, and the moments, no longer remain.

July 11, 2006

Triathlons are moderately difficult: T-minus 18 Days

Yikes, three weeks to go, and I still feel like I haven't gotten anywhere on the run or had a good actual bike ride (though I kill on the stationaries and spin bikes). I haven't done much training, either, since last week as we've been moving and work is quickly becoming a bear.

However, I had a big breakthrough on Thursday, namely....


After our first training session, I was seriously concerned about the first leg, but now I feel much better about it. I've really found my stride with my breaststroke, which is what I mostly used. Even with that, I was able to swim it in 16 minutes! I was shocked by that, since breaststroke was never a strong stroke for me when I swam competitively and since it's supposed to be slower than freestyle. I think I was about 80/20 breaststroke/freestyle (with a quick backstroke break to keep the noggin above water for a little while). I'm really stoked about that, though now it probably means that I'll be passed a LOT on the bike and run (ha!) portions of the "race". Knowing I can finish, though, is 3/4 of the battle, and realizing that the swim is far from impossible is a great step to knowing that I can indeed do this.

Too bad moving is getting in the way of any other training. This past weekend was filled with running errands revolving around getting new carpet for the house, along with paint for the bathroom(s?) and other odds and ends to make the house feel a little more like home. We've got folks coming in this weekend to get the big push done, and hopefully get all of our furniture in place (both from our apartment as well as from the store) so that we can take smaller loads for the next couple weeks as well as cleaning the apartment to get it into move-out shape.

So, we've been keeping busy. Whatever happened to summer vacations?

July 03, 2006

Blessedly back to my nerd roots

I realize that it has been a woefully long time since I last posted about anything nerdy, which apparently is the whole reason for having this blog in the first place. Allow me to rectify that by commenting on the King of All Nerd Blogs, Confessions of a Trivial Mind, the blog written by Ken "Personification of the Nerd Dream Life" Jennings. For those of you with an active social life, Ken Jennings was the pop culture Jeopardy! phenom (yep, that's "pop culture" and "Jeopardy!" in the same phrase) who was the first to make good use of a rules change stating that champions could stay on the show long after the previous five-game limit. Ken went on to win app. $2.5 MILLION dollars (please note the cliched pinky inflection in MILLION), averaging about $34,000 per episode.

So, in yet another way to use trivia to create financial gain (which makes, by my count, two possibilities in the entire universe), he's a writing a book about the history of trivia, titled Brainiac, and is making sure that you can find the link to his book by shamelessly providing the link at any chance that he gets. Who knows -- maybe that type of marketing will catch on.

I admire and envy Ken for many reasons, but mostly because for the past year or so he has lived the life I would love to live -- travel around the country to learn more about the lives of trivia buffs. As an avid and admitted trivia buff (to the extent that houseguests and Meagan run in fear whenever I mention breaking out the Trivial Pursuit board), as well as an aspiring writer hoping to take this hobby to the next level at some point in the future, this is the perfect hybrid of two things that I rather enjoy. In the book, he meets the writers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, witnesses college quiz bowl competitions, and goes in-depth into what apprently is a surprisingly deep trivial universe.

I would love to have written this book, but really, there's probably not anyone better than Ken to write it. Not only is he the world's best known trivia buff, but he also seems to be extraordinarily likable, not coming off as full-of-himself or even overly awkward on camera as other long-running Jeopardy! champions typically were after his reign. I'd still love to do something along the lines of this book, but examining high school Quiz Bowl teams. I can actually see myself interviewing coaches from public, private, and home-schooled teams to see the different takes on what the team should be, as well as digging deeper into nationally recognized powerhouses like Irmo, SC. It think would end up being a lot like Spellbound, only with acne, teenage angst, and Dungeons & Dragons. Ah, yes -- those were the days.

But, until I win those millions of dollars on a game show, I'll keep writing in here. The fun thing is, though, that I've been noticed by a premier source of nerd-dom -- video game marketing!! That's right; in the next few weeks, right here in this very blog, I'll be reviewing Capcom's newest compilation release, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, which brings back college ladder tournament memories just writing the title, and I haven't even received the game yet. We'll make this a nerd-blog yet!

In other news, Meagan and I have ventured into one of the last remaining grown-up realms -- home ownership! We closed on a house on the west side of town, closer to work for both of us, along with a big yard for our four-legged monster. We've taken pictures and will post them (along with details of how the home improvement is going) in later posts. We're lucky that we've got a month to move all of our stuff thanks to our apartment lease not being up until the end of this month, but that just gives us the chance to spend more money (i.e. better furniture and new carpet, both of which we'll be looking for in the next few days).

But for now, enjoy reading about Ken, his book, and upcoming additions to this blog. Hope your week is as an enjoyable (if less hectic) than ours promises to be!