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Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Making Music

When my company arrived from Missouri, they brought a surprise. Attached to my brother's GMC Envoy was a U-Haul trailer and in it was my mother's piano. She asked me some time back if I would like to have it and I said yes, but I did not expect them to bring it at this time.

I played the piano for about three years during grades 3 - 5. I really wanted to play the drums, but my mother said I had to start on the piano first. I can still play a few songs I learned at that time.

I looked around the internet and found a website called Piano Nanny. I am going to relearn the piano. Start dusting those chairs off at Carnage Hall.

My drums have been in the attic for several years. Barbara does not share the same appreciation I have for drums. As a child, I loved the drums. I finally got my first drum in the fifth grade. It was a chrome snare drum and it currently rests in the dark recesses of my attic with its other percussion cousins, the bass drum, tom tom, and cymbals.

Due to the financial limitations of my family growing up, I got a new drum or cymbal each year, instead of a whole set at one time. I wound up with a three piece drum set with a hi-hat and ride cymbal. All I really lacked was the floor tom tom.

The extent of my career boiled down to a few years in the school band and playing in a gospel quartet throughout college.

Something about getting the piano, then buying a set of drum sticks at the House of Blues has me wanting to get the old drums down and bang on them again. What I really want to do is trade them in and get a full set and take lessons again.

This is crazy I suppose, because I do not intend to be in a band or anything, it is just for the fun of it. I still have to convince Barbara.

Here are her arguments against:
1 It is not practical
2 Let's spend the money on furniture
3 We already have too much clutter
4 You will drive me crazy

Here is my argument:
I know, but I want them.

I figure I can buy some furniture to offset number two of her list. Number one is a matter of opinion. Number 3 is easy to fix, I will get rid of some of my other toys. Then number four. I have been driving her crazy for years.

I will let you know, but I have my hopes up. I think I can wear her down.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, March 29, 2004


Warning: Contains Nudity

This page contains 49 photos highlighting our fun weekend in the Big Easy. Two photos are of a slightly intoxicated lady who really wanted some beads. Needless to say, enthusiasm like she displayed does not go unrewarded.

I lack the necessary energy to write a proper post right now, so enjoy the photos and I will pen the details tomorrow. I know I keep promising. The Missouri gang has returned home safely and will be back at work on Tuesday.

My sister Becky's 50th birthday celebration in New Orlenas photo page

Until the next time
John Strain


Things Are Back To "Normal" Around Here

I'll explain later.

John wearing Becky's Crown

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, March 28, 2004


Still Having Fun

We are still having fun. Here are some highlights. Today is the gospel brunch at House of Blues.

The Three Bloggers
The Three Bloggers heading into New Orleans

Becky Dancing
When will she come out of her shell?
O'Flahrerty's Irish Channel Celtic Centre and Pub, one of our favorite places

Becky poses by a sign
Becky enjoying Bourbon Street

John at Cafe Du Monde
The evening winds down with beignets at Cafe Du Monde

Enjoy your Sunday
John Strain


Saturday, March 27, 2004


Happy Birthday Becky

Becky with birthday cake

Today is Becky's 50th birthday and we are going to celebrate it New Orleans style. Stay tuned for more photos.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Friday, March 26, 2004


They Made It

Arrived in Covington

They made it. Notice the drink in Becky's hand. She does not waste any time getting into the party mode. Me neither, heheheh. The festivities have begun and I will keep you posted, get it, posted? More to follow.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Spring Time on the Bayou

Gators making love

Those two should get a room. Well, what can I say? It is spring on the bayou and even the animals are getting into the act.

What a Friday. I have taken off work and am going to work in the yard most of the day before my sister arrives from Missouri. The big weekend looms and I am looking forward to all of it. Check back this weekend for pictures.

Have a great Friday and weekend everyone.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, March 25, 2004


John's Journey

The banner I created for this blog contains some carefully chosen items which are meaningful to me.

First is a map and a compass. A journey needs direction. What good is it if you are making good time, but traveling in the wrong direction? Stephen Covey, in his books spoke of direction. I remember one of his points. "When someone is lying on their death bed, I doubt if their thought is 'I wish I had spent more time at the office'." The map helps a traveler know where he is at present and helps him get where he wants to go in the future. The compass along with the map guide the traveler. Direction is more important than the final destination in life. I may not achieve a final goal, but I will live as if I have already arrived.

The traveler on the right side of my banner is walking into a sunrise. The day holds adventure and promise. Effort is required for the journey. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and one sunrise after another.

The only other symbol I wish I could somehow incorporate is a wolf. I admire the beauty, freedom, and mystery of the wolf. The wolf embodies an untamed, unrelenting spirit. A freedom that only comes from God. I look into the eyes of a wolf and I feel sad, energized, strong, and mystic.

I have always liked trappings of the sea. A tall ship, lighthouse, and a ship's wheel also symbolize freedom, journey, and adventure to me.

In the measure of life I have received thus far, I have seen and done a lot. I have grown to appreciate many things, especially the simple things. Life is rich and full. I do not always notice, but it is there waiting for me whenever I decide to shoulder my backpack and head into a fresh sunrise. Adventure awaits you traveler. What are you waiting for.

I will see you on the path of life.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Blogging Out of Synch

I am still in my first year of blogging. Some of my posts are about blogging itself and this is another one. I have had the awareness' of how neat blogging is as it relates to new forms of communication and meeting people all over the world. I have experienced the addiction of looking at my site meter every five minutes to see who has been on my page, where they are from, and did they comment. I have experienced the walks down memory lane as I have penned my best stories from my personal history.

Lately, I have felt a bit disconnected or out of synch. This can be attributed to my work getting busier, going on a mini vacation to California, getting prepared for my sister's 50th birthday, and I think, the arrival of spring. All of these things have squeezed me and I feel the quality of my posts have suffered. In addition, I have not been keeping up with the blogs I read and commented on almost daily.

I think some others have experienced something similar. Cheeky Squirrel, Dorothy, and Dick have alluded to some of these conditions. Life does get busy and, at times, demands more attention and energy than at other times. I am not sure if this is part of the annual blog cycle or exactly what. I do know this is probably where a lot of people quit. Blogging is a discipline as is running. It is easy to run in the spring when the weather is nice. It is not so easy in the heat of summer or the dead of winter. Blogging is fun when you have time, but it can become another obligation, especially if there is not anything just dying to jump from your head to the blog post.

So here is what I intend to do. When I began a blog, it was to record my daily thoughts and random feelings. I had no concept of daily visitors. As things progressed, I became aware of an audience and thought more and more about giving the audience something. Some of this "out of synch" feeling is I do not feel the quality of my posts are what they were. Therefore, I am going back to the basics. I will pay more attention to my daily life and observations. I will think and write about them. I am just going to ride it out.

It is a real challenge to come up with something every day. Time and energy are required and each day only contains so much time and energy.

Does this make sense to anyone? Have you had similar feelings? If so, how did you respond? I love being confused, it means I am about to learn something about myself.

Happy Wednesday everyone.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Weekend Plans

Inn on Bourbon HotelWe have a fun weekend planned down here on the bayou. My old sister is going to be 50 so she is going to acknowledge the event in New Orleans / "The City That Care Forgot." Here is what I have planned thus far.

Company arrives on Friday evening. Grilled steaks on the Weber, baked potatoes, and drinks to suit any fancy. Spend the evening shooting the breeze and catching up.

Saturday: Wake up, light breakfast, plenty of coffee and more talking. Later that morning we will take a drive to Zemurray Gardens a 1280 acre area of woods, lakes, and azaleas, breath taking views this time of year.

Zemurray Gardens

Lunch time may include shrimp poboys (big sandwich on French bread). Then it is off to New Orleans for the official 50 year celebration of my sister Becky. I have secured a Bourbon Street balcony hotel room so we can base our operations there. If we want, we can sit on the balcony and throw beads to the tourists. We could go get in the fray ourselves, or both. I am thinking both.

Some of us will head back across Lake Pontchartrain, but will return to New Orleans Sunday AM for the House of Blues Gospel Brunch. I wrote about the gospel brunch in a November post.

Check out the Gospel Brunch menu:
Roasted Garlic Potatoes
Bacon & Sausage links
Cheddar Cheese Grits
Scrambled Eggs
Assorted Muffins, bagels, mini croissants, biscuits with country gravy
Omelet stations
Szechwan Noodle Salad
Fruit Boards
Chicken Jambalaya
Smoked Salmon Platter
Peel & Eat Boiled Shrimp
Fresh Sliced Fruit
Carved Top of Round of Beef
Carved Country Ham
White chocolate bread pudding w/Bourbon sauce
Unlimited Champagne Mimosas

After all of that gospel music listening and eating, we will walk around the French Quarter and spend any money we have left. The weekend promises to be excellent weather so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Last weekend was hard work, this weekend will be hard play.

As they say down here, Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler! Let The Good Times Roll!

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, March 22, 2004


Work / Rest

Work Cartoon

Thank goodnes I get to go back to work today. I need the rest. The weekend was about to kill me. I am not as sore as I had anticipated and my back is OK, so maybe I've still got it. I have some of it at least. It was back to winter for us this AM. The morning run was in 45 degrees. Chilly, but doable.

It is funny about putting bags of leaves on the street. They vanish. People pick them up and use them as mulch at their house. If I could only get them to rake them up too.

Speaking of work, I had better get myself ready for it.

Have a nice Monday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, March 21, 2004


Mission Complete

That was a job. Ripping out the old bushes was nothing compared to digging seven holes. The holes have to be twice as wide as the plant and half again as deep. That works out to a pretty big hole. I am glad that is done. After I post this, I am heading for my beer.

Azalea Bushes

Sweet olive bushes planted

Sweet olive bushes planted

Two views of the new hedge.

Now where's that beer?

Until the next time
John Strain


Step One of My Plan Is Complete

The red tops fought valiantly, but in the end I prevailed. I was bloodied, note the broken shovel. I will probably walk around like a question mark tomorrow, guessing my back will be protesting by then.

The Red Tops Are Gone

Now I have to prepare the holes for the sweet olives I am going to plant in the place of the red tops.

My Tool

I thought you would like to see a picture of my tool. This baby is the root master. Without my tool, I never would have extricated the red tops. Talk about feeling like a man, when I picked this up in Home Depot and walked to the checkout, I could feel the testosterone level spike in my body. The level kept rising as I walked through the parking lot. Yeah, I am a man with an ax, and I will use it. I dare you to give me some shit. A good thing I had the ax, because I broke my shovel after about 5 minutes of work. It snapped like a thong on Mama Cass.

OK, break is over, back to the planting.

Until the next time
John Strain


Make Straight the Path

My sister Becky is going to be 50 years old on the 27th. She will be arriving here Friday with her entourage for a full weekend of proper celebration. Therefore, I have been getting the yard in shape. Barbara has been getting the house in order. It is always good having company, if for no other reason, to get your place spiffed up.

Now I am going to tackle the sweet olive project. Photos to follow. My reward tonight, besides the beer, will be episode three of the Sopranos.

Please enjoy your Sunday

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, March 20, 2004


41 Bags of Leaves Later

41 Bags of Leaves

Flower Bed

8 hours of work, 2 Bud Lights, I need a shower, and I am ready to go get something to eat. Beer tastes so much better after a day of yard work. Tomorrow, I am going to rip out some red top shrubs by their little roots. Muahahahahah. They are going to die. Then I will plant in their place seven sweet olive shrubs. Have you ever smelled a sweet olive? Ahhhhhhhhh. Now I can smell them all the time.

Here's to hoping I won't be too sore tomorrow.

Until the next time
John Strain


Beautiful Spring Day

Azalea March 04

The azaleas are about a week from their peak here, but this bush is showing off some pretty nice blooms. I love this color.

It is a beautiful spring day. Therefore, I shall spend it cleaning up the yard. Still lots of leaves to collect, beds to reclaim, and flowers to plant. I had a nice 10 mile run earlier today, so I am primed and ready to go. One other task is to kill the fire ant mounds which have been springing up. Muahahaha. Their death is nigh.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, March 19, 2004


Relax, It's Friday

Wet cat

Yes, it is Friday and you have earned a well-deserved rest. At least you can go home and work for yourself the next two days. Some weeks, I feel like this little kitty looks. I could not resist posting the pitiful thing.

I was surfing around the internet Thursday night and I found a pretty good humor resource. A lot of this stuff you probably received in your inbox at some time. It is called, The Humor Archives. Here is an example of what you will find there.

Photo: Man with a big cock (don't be shy, click this link)

Browse around the archive and get your Friday attitude on.

I found a website which talked about animal hoaxes. Here is one of the photos from that site.
Louisiana Swamp Wolf Apparently this is an actual photo taken from an advertisement with the following caption:

This is a rare Louisiana Swamp wolf. See how big this sucker is ? He's 230 lbs, was caught straight from out of the wild, and sired 10 litters of pups in his 3 years of life. Now wouldn't you be right proud to have one of his offspring for only $800 ? Free delivery. Call now !

The Jackalope

I had never heard of the Louisiana Swamp Wolf. I have, however, heard of the Western Jackalope. I have had fun over the years telling people about the Jackalope, a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope. Who would fall for such a thing? I don't know, do you Debbie?


Well, enough foolishness, I better get to work. Here's to a great Friday and a better weekend.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, March 18, 2004




An unmistakable sign of spring is the advent of festivals. The first one of the season is the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. Ponchatoula is a little town 20 miles to our west. It is a typical south Louisiana festival. There is food, music, drinking, crafts, and much more. We have festivals for almost everything. Crawfish, shrimp, oysters, jazz, seafood, blue berries, blues, and more.

Here is a list of Louisiana festivals. These festivals are opportunities for road trips. They are lots of fun and educational. If winter is hanging on where you are, why not head south and take in one of these weekends of fun. In the case of Jazz Fest in New Orleans, you will need more than one weekend, but don't forget your sun screen.

I love this time of year. We celebrate our culture and take time to honor the things that make our lives so rich and fulfilled.

I'll see you at the Strawberry Festival. You will most likely find me by the strawberry daiquiri tent.

Until the next time
John Strain

School Bus


Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Pinocchio, Allen Iverson, and The Island of Bad Boys

Pinocchio turns into a donkeyIf you are familiar with the story of Pinocchio, you will recall he followed the wrong crowd and wound up on the Island of Bad Boys. To a kid, the island of bad boys looked like a paradise. There were amusement parks, nonstop eating and drinking of all the favorite foods, no rules at all. Yippppeee! Do what you want. No parents, bedtimes, or anything to cramp one's style. The shocking result however, was a transformation. Pinocchio the puppet wanting to be a boy had turned into a donkey instead. Can it be that unbridled fun and pleasure will turn someone into a jackass? In the case of Allen Iverson it did.

Allen Iverson is a very good basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers. He is so good, he has gotten away with some pretty big runins with his coach. Superstars often behave badly. They adopt an attitude they are above rules that govern others. They see themselves as special cases. They refer to themselves in the third person. John Strain would never do that himself.

The latest thing with AI, Allen Iverson certainly not artificial intelligence, is he missed about 12 days of practice with a bruised knee. He was released to play and his coach wanted to bring him in the game off the bench. Well, AI does not come off the bench. AI is a starter. Therefore, protecting his reputation and showing little kids how to handle a dis, he takes off his uniform and sits out of the game. His team lost, but AI's point was made. I guess he showed them.

In case there was a misunderstanding about AI's level of conceit and low class, he removed all doubt with a locker room rant the next day. Obviously feeling justified by his actions, he defended his behavior. In an ebonic rant, AI told the camera he had never seen an Olympic champion come off the bench. He had never seen a former MVP come off the bench. Then why should he come off the bench? Allen Iverson is a starter. I do not know about the starter part, but AI is certainly a jerk lacking in class. He puts the "I" in team and the word team isn’t supposed to have an “I”

AI and Pinocchio share something in common. When they were exposed to getting what they wanted they both turned into asses. AI may have exceeded Pinocchio to become a total asshole.

What burns me up is looking at this man with obvious, unquestioned talent. This places him in a unique position to do a lot of good. He is idolized by children and a lot of grown ups. As far as basketball ability is concerned, he deserves it. What does he do with this unique opportunity? In my opinion, he squanders it. He is so self absorbed he somehow feels justified in acting like a little baby. Often when these superstars are asked about this example / role model thing, they get upset and deny they have any influence.

Someday, when this little boy grows up, if he grows up, I hope he realizes what a prick he was and does something about it. He will not always be "the man." Fame and talent is fleeting. He may someday wake up, look in the mirror and wonder where those donkey ears came from. I wonder if he has a Gemini Cricket whispering in his ear. If he does, I hope he starts listening.

Now contrast AI with people you know. Do you know anyone who is really happy, but does not have a lot of reason to be? I know a lot of folks like this. I work with them at the hospital. Some have mental illnesses that make their lives impossible by most people's standards, yet they smile and laugh. They appreciate a free coke or a kind word. Some folks I am thinking of have severe physical handicaps and they are having a happy life anyway. They have nothing materially or by way of fame like AI. Isn't it funny, how those who should demonstrate the most appreciation and gratitude often display the least. Conversely, the ones seemingly least likely to be grateful may exude the most.

I guess it is a mystery. Too bad for AI, he is the one to lose. He obviously does not "get it", life that is. Maybe someday he will, I hope so, I don't like to see anyone miss out.

Allen Iverson sitting on the bench refusing to play
Allen Iverson chose to not play yesterday, sitting on the bench in street clothes as his teammates lost to the Pistons. "Why would I come off the bench?" Iverson said. "I've been a starter for eight years. I'm a starter. I'm not the sixth man."

So what do you think?

Now read Becky's post. She tackles the same topic, but from a different perspective.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, March 16, 2004


San Francisco

Barbara looking at redwood in Muir WoodsOur last day of vacation before traveling home was spent in the San Francisco area. Wake up was 4:30 AM so we could make the drive from Calistoga to San Francisco. We were concerned about the traffic and wanted to find our tour company with time to spare. It all came together and we were on Fisherman's Wharf in no time at all. Once we found the tour company we had time to grab breakfast at an IHOP a couple of doors down. The weather was shaping up to be another exquisite day. Sunshine, blue sky, and mild temps, it could not have been better.

At 9:00 AM we met at the tour company all set to see Muir Woods National Monument, Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. Our driver / guide was knowledgeable and interesting. As we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, he talked about the area, about red wood trees, animals, history, and other interesting facts. The views were breath taking. The water was blue reflecting the sky. The surrounding hills came right down to the water and held houses, trees, and other vegetation. We wound around up and down the mountains until we reached Muir Woods. This National Monument is an area of coastal redwood trees some more than 300 feet tall. The sequoia redwoods are only found in Sequoia National Park. One other variety of redwood, dawn, is only found in China. These trees live to be more than 2000 years old.

Unfortunately, most of the redwoods in California fell victim to timber companies. One reason Muir Woods escaped a similar fate is their virtual inaccessibility to the loggers. Before they became attractive for logging, the area had been purchased and set aside as a National Monument.

We walked along trails which followed a river. Imagine a dark forest and the sound of a babbling brook. Now imagine the air being cool but not cold. The forest floor was covered with rich, deep green ferns. Giant redwoods reached 300 feet in the air. Sunlight filters through creating interesting displays of shadow and light. Some things are beyond description and their beauty far exceeds any words invented to do so. A couple of times I got a big lump in my throat. That happens in some movies, looking at a newborn baby, or appreciating the beauty of a tree that stood when Jesus walked the earth. If you can, someday, go there. I will hold these things in my mind and heart along side my memories of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Back on the bus heading for Sausalito, the drive continued the theme of beauty. We saw a hawk flying between two mountains. The road wound, climbed, and fell abruptly. The bus driver zipped around with the precision and assurance that only comes with many repeated drives along that way. I was busy snapping photos and shooting video.

We arrived in Saucalito in a few minutes and after a few tips about where to eat and what to do, we were on our own for an hour or so. We all opted to buy some fish and chips then walk to the waterfront to eat them. Picturesque and serene, we sat at a picnic table watching boats, guls, and people as we ate the deep fried cod. We were reminded of the afluence of Marin County. The homes in the San Francisco area average about 600 K. I do not know how people can afford to live there. They must make more money than a social worker in Louisiana.

After our quick taste of Sausalito, we were back on the bus heading back to Fisherman's Wharf where we were to board our ferry to Alcatraz. The ride to Alcatraz was only about 15 minutes. I tried to imagine how it might have felt were I riding to a cell instead of on a tour. The contrasts are so obvious. From the island of Alcatraz, the prisoners could see San Francisco. They were surrounded by beauty, but though visible, it was beyond their grasp. Prisoners who went to Alcatraz were from other Federal prisons. The people who could not follow rules and work and play well with others were sent to Alcatraz. The worst of the worst were its denizens.

The tour began with a 12 minute video, then we were given headphones and a little remote control. The audio directed listeners through the prison. It was well produced and the voices were from actual guards and prisoners. Sound effects were also used to make the experience more real. It was eerie walking through the prison listening to the narration. This tour had a real impact on me. Not that I felt sorry for the people who had been imprisoned there, but I did have regard and respect for anyone who endured such an ordeal. Again, the view of San Francisco for the prisoners to see is like letting a starving man smell food, but preventing him from eating.

The ride back provided more views of the city and opportunities to drink in the bay area beauty. Once back on shore, we did some shopping in the Fisherman's Wharf area. Eventually, we hopped a cable car and rode it to China Town. We ate at a little Chinese restaurant. The people were friendly and the food was good.

It was dark now and we had to be getting back to Oakland. We had planes to catch in the AM to head back home. Our little vacation was over, but we packed a lot in a few days. I ran the length of the Napa Valley, ate at a mountain top home, toured wineries, saw ancient redwoods, visited Alcatraz, and ate in China Town. Not bad for three days.

If you missed them yesterday, check out my California photos today.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, March 14, 2004


Wine Country

Wine tasting at Sterling WineryThe Napa Valley is 30 miles long and 5 miles across at its widest point. A creek flows from the north end of the valley and becomes a navigable river by the time it reaches Napa at the south end of the valley. There are some 300 vineyards in the valley, which account for 4% of the world's wine production.

The valley has what they call micro climates and varieties of soil. Each combination of climate and soil are just right for a particular grape and kind of wine. Therefore, Napa Valley produces many different wines.

We stayed in the north end of the valley in Calistoga. Calistoga was developed in the 1860's. Its name is reputed to have been accidentally coined by town founder Sam Brannan. Brannan apparently intended to refer to it as the "Saratoga of California", the "Saratoga" referring to the well known spa area in New York State. Brannan, having had a few drinks, instead came out with "the Calistoga of Sarafornia". Calistoga it stayed.

The area is over hot springs and north of town is a geyser, named Old Faithful. It spews boiling water about every 30 minutes or so. The hot springs are used by spas for their mineral baths and by everyone else for a cheap source of hot water.

After the race, and an afternoon of rest, we had a dinner invitation at a home up in the mountains. It was our dumb luck to have the opportunity. A friend of Neal's, parents live in the Napa Valley. He was going to be at his mother's house at the same time we were to be in the area, therefore the invite.

The drive was beautiful and included very steep roads to the top of a mountain, which represented the highest point from where we were to the Pacific Ocean. The kicker was who these folk’s neighbors were. Paloma vineyards was next door. Last year, Wine Spectator magazine rated one of the Paloma wines #1 in the world. Yes, we got to drink some. All of this was somewhat wasted on me. I am in no way a wine connoisseur. Still, I was impressed and enjoyed the ability to see how the locals live.

Our hosts were wonderful. They grilled tuna steaks and completed the meal with baked potatos, asparagus, and salad. Desert was a brownie with whipped cream and rasberries. It was by far the best meal we had on our trip.

Monday morning we got up early and drove half way down the valley to take pictures before breakfast. We ate at a little cafe in Calistoga, then drove to see the geyser. One extra at the geyser, was a four day old fainting goat. Apparently, these goats got their name because if they get really nervous or stressed, they faint. The little one was very cute.

The area was so pretty. The yellow wild flowers were everywhere. Trees were blooming, some with white blossoms and some with pink blooms. The mountains changed like a kaleidoscope as the sun cast ever changing shadows. The color spectrum was rich and full - a real treat for the eyes.

We spent the rest of the day touring wineries. The two we chose were Berringer and Sterling. Berringer is the oldest winery, which has been in continuous operation. They date back to the mid 1800's. The grounds were neatly manicured and the central point was the old Berringer House, which appears on their label.

The extent of this tour was walking through a large door leading to a hewn out cave in the hillside. Wine is fermented and aged in this area. The wineries use the in ground wine cellars because the temperature stays at a steady 58 degrees. If you remember the movie, A Walk In the Clouds, the scene where the father in law was getting his perspective son in law drunk, was filmed in this Berringer cave.

At the conclusion of the tour we were led into a room to taste three wines. We then walked around the grounds and wound up in the Berringer House to sample a few more wines. We sat on the porch looking across a beautiful lawn, pink blooming trees and blue mountains in the distance. The weather could not have been more perfect. What a peaceful, relaxing setting.

Our next tour was the Sterling Winery. The novelty of Sterling is it sits atop a mountain. We rode a ski lift type car to the top of the mountain. The tour was self-guided, so we took our time and enjoyed it. I was much more impressed with the setting. We were surrounded with mountains. It was a photographer's paradise.

As we concluded the tour, we went to the wine tasting area. We were seated at a table on an outside porch allowing us to soak up the splendor and grandeur a little more as we sipped our small glasses of wine.

A day of tasting wine can be taxing, especially if you ran a marathon the previous day. Neal and I were feeling it as we climbed up and down what seemed to be millions of stairs. So we opted to go back to the hotel and split a six-pack of brew while the ladies went for some shopping. Later on we ate at a Mexican restaurant in town. It was a full and pleasant day. Tomorrow would be our San Francisco / Muir Woods visit, but not before some welcomed sleep.

Check out my California pictures

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, March 13, 2004


Yard Work Beckons

While I have been out preparing for and accomplishing lofty goals, haha, my yard has gotten away from me. Today is reckoning day. The weather is bright and sunny. Temp to settle in the mid 70's - I have to tackle the yard. Therefore, instead of writing my post now, I will do it later after I improve my curb appeal.

Have a nice Saturday
John Strain


Friday, March 12, 2004


The Race

Tree near the start of the race

It was a cool morning, probably 45 degrees. Our hotel was only a few blocks from the start so we walked. Just before a race, runners have two major tasks. First is to pee. There were about 30 port-o-pottys for this task. The lines were long and I had about 20 minutes. I counted about that many in my port-o-potty line so I knew I would be pressed for time. Standing amongst all of the people, 2200 runners plus support staff and spectators, it was warm. I was wearing a light wind breaker I intended to take off and put in my bag just before the start of the race. I was getting nervous, because time was running out. The National Anthem was sung and I had about five minutes. I did get to pee. The next task was to take my bag with clothes for the shower at the end, to the "sweat bus." The road was narrow and the runners were in their position to start the race. I was pushing through the throng saying excuse me as I bulled my way to the front. I broke free of the crowd and ran to the bus. The countdown began. Throwing my bag in the direction of a staff member, I took off running back to the starting line. I was on the front row. Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, BANG! Just like that 2200 pairs of shoes began moving down the Silverado Trail that connects Calistoga to Napa from the North to the South of the valley. We were running into the sun. The runners were in silhouette against a backdrop of colorful mountains, meadows, and fog. As I ran, the fog caused smoky shadows to form and the whole scene had a surreal quality. A news helicopter hovered overhead drowning out the songs of birds and an otherwise peaceful Napa Valley day.

I wanted to drink in the scenery. Hoping to ignore my body and pass a few miles would shorten the run for me psychologically. So we ran along a rolling, winding, two-lane road. The rhythmic sound of shoes hitting the pavement followed, thump, thump, thump. As the road wound around the mountains, we were in and out of the sun. It warmed quickly and became quite comfortable. I ran my first mile in 7:53 a tad fast so I backed off some. I would run between 8:00 and 8:30 for about 18 miles with the exception of miles 15 (had to pee) and 17 (started getting tired.)

The trick is to run 10 miles without thinking much. Concentrate on the next 10, then hold on for the final 10 K. I was feeling tired around mile 12, but held on. By mile 18 I was slowing down and had to gut it in the rest of the way.

I have run 4 other marathons, so I knew I was in for a long day. This race was my toughest psychologically. I was really tired and had to do some fancy talking to keep myself in the game. The marathon is funny. Two weeks ago, I ran 22 miles and knew I could have finished the remaining 4 without a problem. The day of the race was different. You never really know how you are going to feel.

Instead of averaging about 8:11 per mile as I had anticipated, I averaged 9:03 per mile. I finished 57th out of 122 in my age group (men 45 - 49) and I placed 531 out of 2200.

Mile Times Chart

One of the most beautiful sights is the finish line. For nearly four hours I was moving toward that finish line. The road was lined with lots of enthusiastic people cheering the runners on. It was a pick up and helped move me down the road across the line. Few things are as satisfying as to stop running after four hours. A swing band was performing. People were milling around. Runners were telling their stories of the race. It was a festival atmosphere.

I completed my goal, but not as I had hoped. Therefore, I am toying with running a marathon in Kansas City on May 29. After another two months of training, I should do just the way I want. I guess I will have to see.

Neal and I bought a six pack and went back to the hotel. The wives did some shopping. Later in the afternoon I had a massage. We were staying at a spa so it all worked out nicely.

I think the marathon has always appealed to me because I do not get physical exercise in my regular job. Being able to run a marathon makes me feel I am in shape. I also like it because it is measurable. My work is often not measurable, certainly not in the way a marathon is. I do not think everyone should run a marathon or that people who run them are any better than people who do not run them. To me, the marathon is one kind of goal. It meets my needs and interests, but is far from the needs and interests of others. I write this disclaimer in case all my marathon talk has come across in some unintended way.

Scenes along the Silverado Trail

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, March 11, 2004


Home Sweet Home

I had a great time in California. You will soon hear about all of it. At this moment though, I am just thankful to be back home. I was only gone five days, but that was long enough to make home look better. Now, I get the credit card bills, the unpacking, and the catching up at work. A friend of mine's mother used to say, "if you want to dance to the music, you have to pay the piper." The dancing is over and the piper has his hand extended.

Wild flowers in CalistogaScenes like this one lined the marathon course. These wildflowers add to the already rich color in the Napa Valley. It was a visual feast. The unseasonably warm weather added to the comfort and enjoyment of the trip.

We often dog air travel, but what a miracle it is. This morning (Wednesday) I stepped into a magic vehicle which transported me from the Pacific Ocean nearly to the Atlantic Ocean and half way back - all before 5:30 PM. When I do something like this - plan and go on a vacation somewhere I have never been - I often think to myself, "why didn't I do this sooner?" Travel is one of the most invigorating, refreshing things we can do. It jolts us out of our routine and massages our senses in fresh new ways. New sights, new sounds, new smells and tastes. When is your next trip? Don't have one planned? My prescription - make plans. It does not have to cost a lot of money, but even if it does, you won't be sorry. We were not put on this earth to go to work every day of your life and never have fun. Don't wait for retirement, you may not live that long. Today is the day, now is the time. DO IT! I am pretty confident you will not be disappointed.

I have missed reading about my blog pals and missed writing. I guess I have a "blog jones" for sure. I will take the next few days to describe my fun. One day will cover the race. Another blog will be about wine country, and the third post will cover our San Francisco area sightseeing. But for now, my own bed awaits. Ahhh! the first night back in my own bed. Nothing like it.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Back Online

John after Napa MarathonI certainly did not intend to be offline this long. We stayed at a spa in Calistoga, CA and there were no phones in the rooms. I guesss they figured people wanted to get away from such things. It raised my stress though, I was going cold turkey with a sizeable blogging monkey on my back.

Anyway, it is late Tuesday evening and all the fun is over. Ahead lies a day of travel that will take us from Oakland, CA to Antlant, GA, then back to New Orleans somewhere around 5:30 PM.

I need to get to bed, but here are the high points.

RACE: I finished, but with a slow, for me, time - 3:57. This was my slowest marathon. I had run 21 miles by three hours, but it took me almost an hour to complete the remaining 5 miles. More on this later, but I was happy to complete it. The scenery was magnificent.

We toured wine country and visited some vineyards. Tuesday was spent in San Francisco. We took a tour to see Muir Woods and Alcatraz. Lots more on these attractions later as well. We ate in China Town and drove to our hotel in Oakland.

Just wanted to post a few facts. When I get home, I will give you a proper rendition of the trip. It has been a great experience. I have seen some beautiful, beautiful scenery.

Looking forward to catching up on all of the news.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Friday, March 05, 2004


Travel Mode

Things are coming down to the wire. I am going to work until 1:00 PM today. Then it is get ready for the 7:00 AM flight tomorrow. I hate the early flights, but they are the cheapest by quite a bit. My cold is hanging on, but I am sensing signs of it breaking up. I am hopeful it will not be a factor or at least a major factor.

I have been neglecting some of my blog reading and commenting responsibilities and intend to improve on that once I return from the west coast, (I always wanted to say that).

My son has agreed to let me take his laptop on the trip, so I hope to post regularly. When I get back I have more fun to look forward to with my sister and crew from Missouri coming for Becky's big 50th birthday celebration.

Here is the card my mother sent me announcing their coming:

Cows on the road

Card contents

I'm getting excited. Have a great Friday because POETS - (piss on everything tomorrow is Saturday)

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, March 04, 2004


You'd Better Sit Down

When a doctor says this phrase, you know bad news is imminent. Today one of my friends / coworkers was telling me about some medical tests she needs to have done. Understandably, she was concerned. Even though she is a nurse, she is not immune from worrying about uncertain physical goings on. I asked her if she had gotten on the internet yet to diagnose herself and / or convince herself she had cancer. "Not yet," she said. That is what many of us do, however, we have symptoms, we find a medical website, do a few searches and convince ourselves we have only days or weeks to live.

TesticlesA couple of years ago, I woke up at 5:00 AM one morning true to my daily routine. When I was taking a whiz first thing, I noted that my right testicle was tender. As the day progressed, so did the pain and the size of my right nut. About 11:00 AM I ducked into the bathroom to inspect the jewels and I could see the difference. The right one was the size of an egg. it would eventually grow to the size of a baseball. I am talking, having to walk bow legged large nut. I always thought I would want to have a big set of nads, but they only make the penis appear smaller. Had my nad stayed that big, I would likely have installed a tattoo saying: penises around this set of nuts may appear smaller than their actual size.

I was starting to get worried, I had seen horror movies start out like this. Maybe my nut had been inhabited by an alien life form or something. Talk about poetic justice - a man consumed by his own testicle. I decided I better get some help. As much as I hated to ask for help, having one of my balls explode was even more undesirable.

I asked my friend Susan, the nurse I mentioned above, what she thought. I guess I figured, since she was a nurse, she would also be a swollen testicle expert - she wasn't. Of course, anyone I told had a good laugh. (I hate it when people act like me to myself) After she quit laughing, she grabbed the rolodex and started calling urologists. I am not assertive on the phone. I had already called one doctor and they told me it would be two weeks before I could get an appointment. I couldn't believe the receptionist being so laissez faire about it, but then I realized she did not have testicles, much less one testicles growing out of control, "so what's the big deal?" Susan took charge and after talking to the third doctor, she found one who said I could come right over.

Now I am in the doctor's office. I drop trow and he confirms I have a "big ass" testicle. The next step is a testicular ultrasound. The only time I looked at an ultra sound was when John was floating around inside of Barbara. The technician was a man - who gave me no indication of what the heck was going on. One of the things about the ultra sound I did not like was having KY Jelly ladled all over my jewels. That stuff doesn't wipe off, I don't care how many boxes of Kleenex's they give me.

Next stop, back to exam room one to wait for the doctor to give me the verdict. I do not know about you, but I get bored sitting around in an exam room. I open cabinets and drawers to check out what's what. Getting caught by the doctor while rummaging through a drawer only adds excitement to the little game. So I check the place out, thumb through the old magazines two or three times and he finally graces me with his presence.

He explained it could be as simple as an infection or as serious as testicular cancer. He figured if it was an infection, it would get better with the meds he was going to prescribe me. They also took some blood for other tests. At any rate, I would not know what was going on until after the weekend.

I, being the internet / medical savvy person I am, began reading about giant right nuts. I had myself convinced I had testicular cancer. I was resigned to the fact I would lose said nut. I thought about my mortality. Now, I was not freaking out, but I had these thoughts going on. I hated dying so young and not being around to mentor my son further along the manhood highway. I had all sorts of things going on inside my head.

Monday rolled around and they repeated the ultrasound. I used another box of Kleenex wiping up KY Jelly. When it came time to move me back to the exam room, the nurse said, "Dr. Nutsack will see you in his office." She led me into a nice office. I sat on a leather couch and waited for the saw bones. He walked up to the doorway and stopped. He was reading a chart, my chart. Then after a few minutes, it seemed like hours, he walked, still reading to his desk. Then he began to write. I am waiting, scrutinizing his every move. Expecting him to stop writing at any moment and begin telling me about the nut removal surgery. I was ready with questions about prosthetic balls and everything. Finally, finally, he stopped writing. He looked at me and said in a matter of fact manner, "OK, I will need to see you again in six months. Everything is fine." WHAT? You make me wait in the office alone, then show up and build the suspense better than a Perry Mason episode, then you say, "everything is fine????" Of course, these were only thoughts. What I said was, "OK." Then I left.

All of that build up for nothing. I had a new lease on life. I was going to live and I was going to keep going through life with two balls as God intended it.

In retrospect, it was a fun time. Everyone at work was concerned. "Hey John, how's the right nut?" someone would ask. "Back to normal," I'd say. Barbara just shook her head. Something about me having no shame or something like that.

So maybe it is best to stay a little in the dark. Let your doctor shine the light a little at a time. Who am I fooling? I seek out information like a dog digs for a bone. It is just a new dimension we have to deal with where our health is concerned - lots of information.

I hope Susan's tests come out fine and we can all laugh like we did about my jumbo jewels.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, March 03, 2004


The Day After

John on 47th BirthdayIt is funny how birthdays change. This birthday was the first one for me since I began blogging. 24 different commenters wished me a happy birthday. Last year, I did not even know most of those people. I usually seed the environment at work a few weeks before my birthday. Then a day or two before, I remind everyone subtly. I will say something like, "When is my surprise party tomorrow?" or "Do you need to know any of my sizes or favorite colors for gifts? Then on my birthday, when people wish me happy birthday, I look surprised and say, "how did you know?" I figure this tactic is better than saying nothing and feeling sorry for myself all day, because no one knows it is my birthday. On the flip side, I want to know when it is my coworker's birthdays. I will throw in a few bucks for a cake. I write something funny on the card.

Throughout the day, I checked my comments and all of them really made me feel special and lucky. People I have never met, yet with whom I have connected and am close in many ways, sending me their best wishes. Something that simple makes an impact and I want to make sure all of you know it.

I also got a nice card from my son. He told me that he loved me and that I have taught him a lot about life. He said I have given him a perfect life. He may not know it, but he has given me a perfect life. All of this together adds up to what I would call a perfect life. My sister wrote that I was one of the richest men she knew and after yesterday I would have to agree with her.

Make sure you let the blogsphere know it is your birthday when it rolls around. I want to do my part in wishing you my best.

Have a great day folks.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, March 02, 2004


We Are All Getting Older

Today is my birthday. I am 47 years old. I remember when I was 10, so proud to be in double figures. At the time, thinking about being 40 seemed like eons. Now I am closing in on a half century. It is funny how our spirit or inner voice, whatever you want to call it, does not age. My body, on the other hand, is showing signs of wear. No hair, wrinkles, aches and pains. Oh there are many good years left I am sure, but I am aging and have probably used more than 50% of my allotment of years.

It is enough to make me think about the treatment of our senior citizens. I never thought about it much 20 years ago, but now I can see myself walking like a question mark and being laughed at because I can't understand the inside jokes.

When I was in seminary, I was introduced to a a little book called Smoke on the Mountain by Joy Davidson. In the book was a story about a little old man who went to go live with his son. The story follows here:

Once there was a little old man. His hands trembled when he ate, he clattered the silverware continuously, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. He lived with his married son, having nowhere else to live. It was apparent that the son's wife didn't particularly care for the arrangement.

Things finally reached a breaking point and she said, "I can't have this, it interferes with my right to happiness." So she and her husband took the old man gently but firmly by the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner looking at the table with wistful eyes.

One day his hands trembled more than usual, and the earthenware bowl fell and broke into hundreds of pieces. The daughter-in-law blurted out, "If you are a pig, you must eat out of a trough." So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his meal in it each day. This family had a four-year old of whom the parents were very fond. One evening the father noticed him playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing. "I'm making a trough," he said, smiling for approval, "to feed you and momma out of when I get big."

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and didn't say anything. Then, holding back tears, they went to the corner and took the old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a regular plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded him when he clattered the silverware, spilled food on the table, or broke things.

It is kind of scary, no? The longer I live, the more I respect my elders. Too bad it is that way. We often do not appreciate things, say thank you or I love you, until it is too late. Many times we whisper these things to a coffin or a grave. What a happy thought on my birthday.

We are all getting older. Hug an old person. Maybe you will start a trend in which you yourself will benefit someday.

This day in music
Who was born on March 2?

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, March 01, 2004

Ripped off fair and square from Kat's Blog.

You are a Pineapple...the traditional symbol of
friendship, you embrace everyone as a
friend...you are loyal, kind and always there
for a friend in need...

What Kind of Fruit Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


Fighting A Cold

It would be real easy to start feeling sorry for myself about now. I have been training for this marathon since September and now I have a cold. Crap! It is no wonder. At the hospital the patients and employees have exposed me to every germ in the western hemisphere. I am hoping to fight it off by race day. To run a good marathon, everything has to come together. A cold is not one of those things.

So, I rested all weekend, drank plenty of fluids, including orange juice. I refuse to whine though, unless the above paragraph qualifies.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like a cold just before a marathon), the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

There is an awful lot of wisdom in those words. I live by them.

Until the next time
John Strain