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Friday, April 29, 2005


Who's the DJ at the Chinese Restaurant?

Thursday nights are usually Chinese food nights for Barbara and I. We go to a place called the Six Fortune even though it only costs about $20 for a couple to eat there. The food is pretty good and there is no waiting. Little Christmas lights ring the walls year round and the noise of the soft ice-cream machine produces white noise that drowns out conversations from tables on the other side of the dining room.

Piped in music is usually something in the background and normally escapes my notice. This place, however, is different. The kind of music that emanates from the ceiling speakers is not what one would normally expect in an Oriental setting.

For the longest time a CD of weird chimes entertained us. It was like bad Lawrence Welk music. I usually made some observation to Barbara about the mix. It seemed to me they should play some Chinese music or something, but what do I know. Tonight when we arrived a soft rock station was on and a Bee Gee's song was playing pretty loud. Before I finished my hot and sour soup, the manager turned the music down, then changed the music altogether.

It was as though I were in the front row of a River Dance performance. Irish music was playing right down to the bagpipes. I was experiencing ambient vertigo. In my mind, I imagined Chinese guys doing the River Dance choreography only with the Chinese hats. Then in my mind's eye, The Village People ran onto the stage and began singing, "Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting." I could only wonder, "Who is the DJ around here?"

On a congratulatory note: My sister Becky ran her first 5K last night in West Plains, MO. She took 2nd in her age group. Not bad for a first race. Why not go to her blog and pass on a word of congratulations.

Now, I hope you all enjoy your weekend. I plan to do some yard work and maybe take a boat ride. Oh yeah, and some BBQ on Sunday evening.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 28, 2005


Of Squirrels and Men

Squirrel FeederFind out how to thwart a squirrel in his quest to vanquish your stores of birdseed

In the Bible, the Book of Genesis documents the fall of man from the Garden of Eden. Man had it made. God gave them the run of the place and even dominion over it. There was only one rule, "Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil." To make a long story short, before the day was out, Eve had prepared Adam a fruit salad from the forbidden tree and they both ate their fill. God must have been frustrated, but what could he do?

I made a garden myself and placed a bird feeder in its midst. I filled it with birdseed for the birds. For the squirrels, I threw seed all over the ground. It all could have been so serene and happy, but the squirrels were not "down" with my vision of things. They wanted more and cracked the code to the "squirrel proof" bird feeder. So I gave them more. I purchased a squirrel feeder like the one above. The squirrels now had access to an ear of corn along with the flung birdseed, but it was not enough. In an exhibition of their gluttony, they monopolized the feeder. To vex them, I began oiling the bird feeder pole; and while it worked, causing the furry tree rats to slip beneath their covetous gaze, I had to reoil the pole every few days. The best-laid plans of squirrels and men often go awry.

Now I am not comparing myself to God, but I am comparing squirrels to Man.

Wednesday morning I was watching a squirrel sitting on his feeder eating from the ear of corn. From the right, another squirrel slowly approached. it eventually crossed the line of respect and the eating-squirrel charged the intruder. They ran around the tree defying gravity and centrifical force, before the alpha squirrel returned to his business of cleaning the uncooked roasting ear. In a repeat performance, the challenger approached from another direction, but with the same result. This activity continued, until a third squirrel took his turn at the feeder while the other two squabblers matched wits. The alpha squirrel made his way back to the feeder after successfully running off intruder number one, only to find intruder number two having its way with the corn.

All of this cracked me up and I watched them chase each other and generally act stupid for a long time. The more I watch this behavior, the more similarities I see between creatures and Man. Are we so so different? We take for granted what we have to chase something forbidden. We covet. We fight over things for pride and to keep someone else from getting what we want. No matter how much we consume, it is never enough. The lessons are endless.

BTW: Do you know how to catch a squirrel? Answer: Climb a tree and act like a nut.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Sea Fever

". . . and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by."
-John Masefield

Boat photos

My son John received quite a surprise from his grandfather for his 20th birthday. It is a 14-foot aluminum flat bottom boat with a 9.9 HP Mercury motor. It is a perfect boat for fishing. John was very excited and is looking forward to a lot of fun in the boat reeling in fish.

We took the boat out on the Tchefuncta River to break it in. The weather was perfect and we were treated to some beautiful scenes in nature. Click on the photo to see larger images.

Boat photos

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, April 25, 2005


Television Sets

As today’s televisions become better and cheaper, the memory of yesterday’s boob tubes fades into a snowy test pattern. There is no excuse for not having a nice television picture these days. With cable or satellite options, a pristine picture is the norm. Televisions are cheap too. I saw a 27” at Wal-Mart the other day for $169. For those enthusiasts who have more money than they know what to do with, it is possible to spend thousands of dollars on the latest plasma, DLP, or LCD set.

Do you remember the old televisions? In the 50’s and 60’s a television was a major purchase. One of the jokes in the Michael J. Fox movie “Back To The Future,” was when he told a little girl he had three televisions. The father told the girl that Michael was pulling her leg because nobody has three TV’s.

A TV was a piece of furniture. They usually came in a big cabinet, sometimes with a record player and radio. Eventually portables came out; they only weighed 150 lbs. with their 19” screen. We once had a console that got sound but no picture and we had a “portable” that got picture but no sound. You guessed it. By setting the portable atop the console, we had a whole television. It was a bit of a pain, because we had to change the channel on both sets and tune them in to watch a program.

There was no instant on luxury in those days either. You could turn on the TV, go in the kitchen to fix a sandwich and return before the TV was on. The sound usually emerged first, then the picture would fade in. It was like watching a Polaroid photo develop.

Tuning is something no longer necessary. In the old days, folks had an antenna on the set or atop their house. In Kansas City, we had four stations for most of my early years. ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. No one ever watched PBS – sort of like today. Some days one channel would come in pretty well and other days other channels came in, but none of the channels ever tuned in great. There could be all sorts of reception problems: Static in the sound, good picture with poor sound, snowy picture, ghosts or double-images in the picture, and if you were lucky, all of the above. The remedy was moving the rabbit ears all over the top of the set. The best reception was usually only possible when you held the antenna in an awkward position, say standing on one foot while extending one arm with one of the rabbit ears in your mouth. It was not uncommon to see pieces of aluminum foil on the ends of an antenna. Some felt that improved reception.

Television reception was more magic and superstition in those days. Today, the channel is either perfect or it is not on at all. There is no control to play with like we had. Part of the channel knob in those days was a tuning dial. I would turn to channel 9 for instance, move the rabbit ears to get the best picture, then adjust the tuning knob. The best result of that procedure was what you got on that day. Do not expect it to stay put either. The reception would fade in and out or someone would walk by and bump the antenna and the process would have to be repeated.

We had more than one TV that tuned in better if it were hit in the right spot. Later on when we had a color set, the color would sometimes go out. I could hit the bottom of the TV and get it to come back on. In those days, walking down the street, it was not uncommon to hear banging in a home and know someone was pounding on their uncooperative television set.

We finally got an antenna on top of the house. No more adjusting rabbit ears, but sometimes my dad would have to get on the house and move the antenna. This required a voice relay chain. Dad would yell, “How’s that,” after moving the antenna. We would yell back, “Better . . .no worse . . .move it the other way.”

Then if the TV was broken, we would take the back off of the set, pull out all of the tubes and go down to Van’s Grocery Store and make use of their tube tester. This was a big technical looking machine with about 100 tube sockets on the top. You simply found the right socket for your tube, flip a switch, and a meter tells you if the tube is OK. This rarely worked, but I do remember purchasing a sound tube once which corrected our no sound problem.

The next resort was calling the TV repair man. He came out to the house and had all sorts of magical things in his black box. We would sit on the edge of our seats awaiting his diagnosis like a Marcus Welby, MD episode. The dreaded words would be, “I am going to have to take it to the shop.” This meant no TV for a while.

As technology improved, remote controls were invented. The first remotes were the size of car batteries. One would point this box at the set and press one of several buttons causing the lights to dim in the house and something as lethal as an X-ray would beam toward the set. The set would make a cur-chunk sound and the channel would change. I never saw any studies on the early remotes, but I would wager anyone walking in the path of the beam wound up with some dreaded radiation disease.

It is all taken for granted today as things are. It is truly amazing how televisions are cheap and 100 times better than those early sets. Hundreds of channels are but a click away. Tivo has made VCR’s obsolete and they are not that old themselves. I love technology, but still have a soft spot in my heart for the older things, because of the memories I have when they were around.

As for programming, that will be the topic of another post. One thing has not changed in those regards. Even though we have 100’s of channels from which to choose compared to the 3 or 4 in the old days, we still frequently say, “There’s nothing on TV.”

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, April 22, 2005


The 109th Boston Marathon

Check out my Boston Photos
Boston Marathon Photos

The phone rang piercing the silence at 5:00 AM, “Mr. Strain, this is your wake up call.” I mustered a response, “OK, thank you.” The day was Monday, April 18, 2005. In New England it was Patriots Day, commemorating the ride of Paul Revere and the first military exchange between the colonists and the British Army. It was also Marathon day; the reason I was there.

I got up and began my ritual. Making coffee, stretching, shaving, getting dressed, and making sure other bodily functions were to take place before the race. Unlike a normal marathon, this race would not begin until noon, but I still had to board a bus at 7:00 AM to ride to Hopkinton and await the start at the staging area known as “Athlete’s Village.”

I flipped on the TV and news coverage had already started about the marathon. The weatherman was adjusting his forecast warmer – not good news. News crews reported from Hopkinton and the finish line area on Boylston Street. Excitement was building and it was just now becoming daylight.

I drank my coffee and ate an orange. Everything I could do at the hotel was done, so I headed out the door to catch the bus at Boston Common. I was wearing a running suit and long sleeved shirt over my race clothes. The morning in Boston was cool and a gusty breeze put a chill in the air. Entrants are given a bag for their outerwear. Prior to the race, they are loaded on numbered busses. It is a well-organized operation and my things would be waiting for me at the finish line.

Right outside my hotel, busses were backed up to take 20,000 people from Boston, west to Hopkinton for the start. As I neared the boarding area, I got into a line, which moved quickly. Volunteers counted out just the right number of people, then herded them onto an awaiting bus. “Alright, everyone from you to the guy in the yellow hat come with me,” a lady barked. The organizers did well and we marathoners submitted to them like sheep.

I talked to a couple of people in line waiting to get on the bus. We asked each other the usual questions. Where are you staying? Is this your first Boston? Where are you from? Do you want to have sex with me? What do you think the weather will do?

Once on the bus, I talked to Elizabeth from Seattle. She was 48 just like me. We talked all the way commenting on scenery and talking about the race. The ride to Hopkinton seemed long. Whenever I am in a race where I am bussed to the start, I always think, “Man, this is a long way.”

Eventually, the bus pulled up to Hopkinton High School and we were let out. Volunteers directed us to a corner of the parking lot where a big archway of balloons was moving with the breeze. A line of people wound to the balloons; a procession of dreamers who were waking up to find out their long awaited dream was coming true.

Athletes Village was a large fenced area that took in the ball field and some parking lots. Tents dotted the area. One of the tents was for cover and it was already filled with runners laying and sitting all over the ground. Other tents housed food and first aid stations. Port-o-pottys ringed the perimeter and lines had already formed at them. I heard Hopkinton had some 485 port-o-pottys to handle the crowd.

I followed the smell of coffee, which was at the end of a bagel line. I nabbed a bagel, but the coffee ran out just when I got to it. The Bob Marley looking volunteer said, “We will have more coffee in 20 minutes man.” After that, I looked for a patch of grass to sit on and wait the four hours until the start, time was now just after 8:00 AM.

I was alone in my thoughts when two younger guys sat near me. One pulled a towel from his bag and spread it on the ground. He laid down with his hands clasped behind his head and using his bag for a pillow. Then he said, “Life is good, life is very good.” He was right you know. I was sitting in a field in beautiful weather, surrounded by 20,000 fit, intelligent, and interesting people. I was about to realize a dream. He was right, life is good.

A stage was set up and during the wait music acts entertained us. It all had the feel of a rock concert or jazz festival. As more busses arrived, it became more crowded. A couple of guys sat near me and we eventually began talking. One was from Minneapolis and the other was from Denver. They were nice guys and we talked until we had to strike out to the start.

We noticed one of the female runners was wearing a Wonder Woman costume. One male runner was wearing ballerina garb. I didn’t do it, but volunteers had markers to write runner’s names on their arms so spectators could call their name during the race.

At 11:15 AM the announcer began instructing us to move toward the start. Runners are assigned corrals according to their bib number. There were 21 corrals and mine was the 9th. The purpose of this is to have the fastest people in front and the slower people in the back. This method is to ensure a smooth start and avoid the accordion affect.

One last pee, a sip of Gatorade, a final stretch, and putting everything in my bag, I was headed toward my corral – seven tenths of a mile away. As I walked, I talked to a couple of people on the cell phone. Barbara was back at the hotel waiting for my brother George, my Mom, and Rocky to arrive. They would all go together to the finish line and wait for me to arrive.

I finally got to my corral with about 20 minutes to go until the start. Loud speakers were conveying information and the mass movements and herding gave the whole thing a kind of Orwellian feel to it.

Then a lady sang the National Anthem and two military jets flew over. The hairs stood on the back of my neck and chills ran down my spine. It was really happening. I was about to run in the Boston Marathon. All of the training, planning, and working had led me to this moment; under a bright sunny sky in New England along with 20,000 others – it was still hard to believe.

When the race started, there was no movement in corral number 9. I would not reach the starting line for 7 minutes and 19 seconds. It was very crowded and we were running slowly in all of the traffic. Controlled chaos would be a good term for it, but no one stepped on me or pushed me, it all went well. There was a lot of energy and excitement at the start. The cheering was very loud and the crowd was enthusiastic. Finally getting to run and seeing all of the people cheering for us touched me and I felt a lump in my throat. It was everything I was told about and then some.

The start is downhill and I was going easy as is the conventional wisdom. Some fools blaze down the hills and come up way short with a lot of race to go. It is a lonely feeling when you are spent and there are 10 miles or so to go. I would experience that lonely feeling myself later on unbeknownst to me.

I ran the way I planned. I started out slow, my first 5K was at an 8:47 pace. Then I gradually picked up speed. I ran a 7:59 5K at the 15.5 mile / 25K mark. From there I began to slow. The next 5K was an 8:46, the next was a 10:23, and the last one was a 10:04. I fell victim to a noon start, heat, and a really tough course, but I finished.

What an event, imagine running along and hearing the sound of cheering the whole way. There are the intermittent smells of BBQ grills and groups of neighborhood girls chanting rehearsed cheers. Little kids are offering you fruit and drinks. People have hoses awaiting a nod from an overheated runner to spray a cooling mist, signs are waving, and everyone is having fun. There is an interaction and at times I got the sense the crowd felt responsible for us. It was their job to pull us through and they took it seriously.

The loudest section by far is at the halfway point, Wellesley College. Those girls lined the road and screamed so loud fine crystal would not endure the vibrations. I heard one runner say after running by all of those screaming coeds, “OK, I can go home now.” Some wanted to run that leg again. The female runners just shook their heads.

I began running out of gas. I heard that being in the sun is like adding 10 degrees to the temperature. I don’t know about the science of it all, but I was hot. With the temperature, the sun and the wind, I was dehydrating even though I was drinking at every water stop.

When this happens, you just do the best you can. I got over heartbreak hill and still had 5.5 miles to go. Even though it was mostly downhill, the way I was feeling, it could have been 55.5 miles.

The crowds helped. They cheered and yelled encouragements. One mile gave way to the next and before I knew it, I was looking at the Citgo sign at Fenway Park. With only a mile to go, I found another gear and ran the rest of the way. I passed a lot of people in that mile and when I made the turn onto Boylston Street, the finish line was in sight. I drank it all in and ran over the line.

It really feels good to finish a marathon. The suffering is over and you can now rest. I started feeling dizzy and nauseous. After hard exertion, the blood is in the extremities. This coupled with the heat and the body starts rebelling. I grabbed a couple of waters and kept walking.

I heard my mother call my name. George and Barbara missed me at the finish line, but my mother spotted me walking in the finish area. Mothers have that knack to find their offspring in any crowd. My cell phone was ringing, but I did not have the strength to take it out of my fanny pack and answer it. We did call Barbara and George and gave them directions so we could hook up. Faye, a friend in Covington, had called Barbara to tell her I had finished the race. She knew before Barbara did.

Once united, we took a few photos, and I was still dying a slow death. I finally sat down and a volunteer came over to check on me. He gave me some more water and poured a bottle of water over my head. It helped. After about 10 minutes I was up and raring to go. I took the chip off of my shoe and gave it to a race official in exchange for my finisher’s medal. I ate a banana and a smoothie on my way to get my clothes from the baggage bus and I was feeling better and better.

We all walked back to the hotel, about a mile. After drinking a cold beer and taking a shower, we went for some pizza. What a day. I accomplished a goal I had worked for, for a long time and had my family there to see it.

Medal over training log

Like the guy back at athlete’s village said earlier in the day: "Life is good, life is very good."

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 21, 2005


A Marathon Trip

Sign hanging from a church near the finish line..The Boston Marathon was everything I thought it would be and more. A four-time winner of the race, Bill Rodgers, once said, "The Marathon can humble you." This marathon not only humbled me, but it kicked my ass, took my lunch money, and gave me a wedgy.

I will give a detailed accounting of the experience in a day or so. I have to get out and bring my yard back into the realm of acceptability. I wound up running the race 20 minutes slower than I had hoped, but an 8:48 pace on a warm day and a tough course is something I will take.

I can't whine about this race because I have another one coming up in June that will be even hotter, so I better get used to it.
Hell and Back sign
This sign was hanging on a wall at the race expo. It turned out to be prophetic in my case.

Sweet relief - goal complete

I want to thank everyone again for your words of support, prayers, and interest in this quest of mine. It feels good to set a goal, work for it, and then realize it. The sky is the limit. What you dream today will happen with a steady consistent effort from you, support from your loved ones, and the grace of God.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, April 15, 2005


I Appreciate You

I will try to post while in Boston, but I am not sure about computer access. I do want to take a moment to thank those of you who have provided me encouragement and inspiration through your sincere comments and well wishes. I do think of you folks when I am on the course. When I get tired and feel like slowing down or stopping, I think of all of you and I am renewed.

On Monday, April 18, 2005 at 12:00 PM eastern time the race begins. Of the 21 corrals, I am in number 9 and I estimate it will take me 12 minutes to get to the starting line. No problem, because with the advent of the chip, my time will be recorded accurately.

You can follow my progress on the Boston Marathon Website. My 5K splits will be broadcast live. You can also watch live coverage on OLN (Outdoor Life Network). Coverage begins at 11:30 AM on Monday.

To follow my progress at the Boston Marathon:

Go to this website

You need either my name: John Strain
My Bib Number: 9818
(The site will look different on race day and the process will be self-explanatory)

Again, I want to say thank you for your support and I look forward to posting about this experience.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 14, 2005


Shamelessly stolen Borrowed from Sarah

Your Linguistic Profile:

50% General American English

35% Dixie

15% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

0% Yankee

What Kind of American English Do You Speak?


It's Been a Long Road

May 21, 2004 announced goal publicly
Long RoadIt's been a long road to Boston, but it is downhill from here. Last May I decided to make a serious attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I prepared for the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon in December 04 to qualify and made the cut.

I have been training hard and ran another marathon in February 05. Even though I qualified for the Boston Marathon, it did not seem real. Now that I am engaged in getting things done at home and at work so I can go to Boston, the reality is sinking in. I am not nervous like I was for Baton Rouge, I am excited.

I was thinking about how the marathon is like gymnastics, boxing, and figure skating. The similarity being that one trains endlessly for one brief moment in time. April 18, 2005 has been the date for the Marathon. Nothing will change that. Therefore, I obsess about getting a cold, a twisted ankle, and I watch the weather closely. You get one chance and that in itself makes the pressure build.

I must like it though, because I keep doing it. Talk about delaying gratification, 99% of your running is in training. Only a small portion is for prime time. Marathon training allows me to work on physical achievement and mental discipline.

I finally finished my taxes to take to the accountant. Now I have to work on my itinerary for the trip. We want to take in some sights while we are there.

After Boston, I will begin preparing for the Goat Milk Marathon in Mississippi. The Goat Milk is June 4 and promises to be HOT and HILLY. June in these parts is usually hot and humid, so this marathon begins at 5:00 AM to avoid as much heat as is possible.

Lee Marvin sung "A Wandering Star" in the western musical Paint Your Wagon. I liked a line from that song:

Home is made for comin’ from
For dreams of goin’ to
Which with any luck will never come true

Goals are great to achieve, but I need another one to pursue once the achievement is made. Boston is a destination for me, but ultimately it is another mile marker along the road of life.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, April 13, 2005


A Running Poem

I was looking for some inspiration this evening. I had a taste for a good inspiring poem about running. I landed on this site and learned of Charles Hamilton Sorley. You may want to visit the site and read about him. It will make the poem more meaningful.

The poem was written by a 19-year-old English army officer, Charles Hamilton Sorley, during World War I.
this is an audio post - click to play

The Song of the Ungirt Runners
We swing ungirded hips
And lighten’d are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.

The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
’Neath the big bare sky.

The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.

I leave for Boston in three days. "And we run because we like it, through the broad bright land."

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Play Clothes

When I was a kid, we had "good clothes" and "play clothes." The rule was, when you get home from school, change into your play clothes. I can still hear my mom and dad in my head yelling out the door, "Are you wearing your play clothes?" There were many reminders when I came home. There was no excuse if the unthinkable occurred: messing up your good clothes when you should have been wearing play clothes.

I was an active kid. I liked to roll down hills, wrestle, climb trees, and play sports. It took way too much time to change into my play clothes, so I often lived on the edge. I was not alone. Other neighborhood kids had similar rules by which to live. If we were playing baseball for instance, and someone dove for a fly ball or slid into second base resulting in a big grass stain on their good clothes, play was halted while we all assessed the damage. The one poor bastard would be trying in vain to brush away the grass stain, while the other kids watched and thought, "But for the grace of God go I."

A lot of times it happened innocently and not out of defiance for the rules. Let's say you are walking home from school and some of your pals are playing baseball or football in a yard. It would be impractical to go all the way home, change and come back. That would waste too much daylight. Therefore, you wade into the game and tell everyone, "I'm in my good clothes, so take it easy."

The bluegrass in Kansas City was notorious for ruining jeans. Down here in Louisiana, the grass does not stain the way the Kansas grass did. Once a big stain was on your knee, you could try to cover it up, tell the truth and take your lumps, or try to lie your way out of the jam. I tried all approaches, but the honesty policy worked out best for me. I was a lousy liar so telling the truth just worked out best.

If I did not stain the heck out of the knees in my jeans, I wore them out. My mom bought iron-on patches to cover the holes. In my roughest days, she ironed a patch on the inside and outside of the jeans and reinforced the seal by sewing around the edge of the patch. If an archaeologist were to find these jeans he/she might conclude a devout worshiper of some kind possessed them, but my knees were not worn out from praying.

Now a days, we get to wear our play clothes to work on Fridays. I don’t think as much work gets done on Fridays for this very reason, but it sure feels nice and comfortable.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, April 11, 2005


Birds and Squirrels

New Bird Feeder

I have added a squirrel-proof birdfeeder to the garden. This is how I do things, I start out with an idea; and then I go crazy adding and expanding on it.

From the simple idea of wanting to make a nice place to remember my dog, to a bird and squirrel sanctuary, has only taken about a month. I get a kick out of watching the squirrels and birds. Today, the birds really began showing up. At any given moment, there may be 5 squirrels, 2 blue jays and a cardinal or two hopping around the yard. They are making Rodney King's lament a reality - they are all getting along.

I throw seeds all over the ground to make the furry and feathered critters work for it. Now with the birdfeeder, the birds have a new serving line. The perch on the birdfeeder is on a spring and the weight of a squirrel makes it close off access to the seed. They can see it, but they can't eat it - supposedly.

I don't really care that much. Let them all eat. I am not through with this project yet. I still have to move my hummingbird feeder to the area.

Here in Louisiana, we have red headed woodpeckers, mocking birds, blue jays, and cardinals. I have seen all of them in the yard today. I am not certain, but it seems to me that a woodpecker could give a girl splinters. Groan.

I have traded a pet dog for squirrels and birds.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, April 08, 2005



Happy Dog

Happy Friday everyone. I hope you get some good R&R this weekend. It looks like this pup is on a roll.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 07, 2005


Helen Keller Jokes

This post has been found to be politically incorrect. Consider yourself warned.

Wednesday night, Barbara and I went to our local Chinese restaurant for dinner. We ran into one of my coworkers, her family, and another couple. Toward the end of the meal, my friend told me her son would love to hear me tell my Helen Keller jokes. I told a bunch of them one day at work and she passed a few of them on to her son who loved them.

After we ate and paid for our meal, I walked to their table to recite my jokes. There were four adults and four boys ranging in age from 8 to 14. I must tell you, I feel entitled to tell Helen Keller jokes since they are in fun and I am a blind guy myself.

I began:

Why does Helen Keller play the piano with one hand? Because she has to sing with the other hand.

How did Helen Keller's parents punish her? They rearranged the furniture.

How did Helen Keller burn her fingers? By trying to read the waffle iron.

How did Helen Keller burn her face? By answering the iron.

How did she burn the other side of her face? They called back.

What did Helen Keller do when she fell in the well? She screamed her fingers off.

The jokes were well received and the boys were going to tell them at school tomorrow. I am glad I can have a small part in perpetuating politically incorrect jokes. The funniest thing though was the youngest boy thought I was telling Martha Stewart jokes. He was laughing at all of them too.

I just thought of another joke:

A blind guy walks into a Wal-Mart with his seeing eye dog. All of a sudden, he begins swinging the dog around by its leash. The unsettled store manager approaches the blind guy and says, "Sir, may I help you." The blind guy replies, "No thanks, I'm just looking." Hehehehehe.

I have a few more Helen Keller jokes in my repertoire, but not really appropriate for young children. If you are dying to hear one of the dirty ones, email me and I will send it to you.

Now I know Helen Keller was a wonderful person who overcame tremendous obstacles. In life we all learn a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. I respect her and what she accomplished. I also like to laugh and I believe the term politically correct is another way of saying tight ass with no sense of humor.

Happy Thursday and keep smiling.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, April 06, 2005


By His Hands . . .

Hobo Garden
Hobo Garden

I completed the memorial garden for my dog Hobo. To lure birds to the birdbath, I put a small bird feeder in the garden. We have had it lying around the yard without filling it, so I am putting it to use.

It only took a day or two for the squirrels to find it. We have also noticed a couple of blue jays dining on the seeds. I laugh when I think of the lengths my grandfather went to, to keep squirrels out of his bird feeders. I was almost drafted into the same war when I noticed the words on the feeder. "By His Hands We All Are Fed." I guess squirrels are God's creatures too, so what the heck. Eat up boys. And that is just what they did. Tuesday AM, four of the pudgy rodents were bellied up to the trough. I keep a pair of binoculars in the kitchen so I can witness their antics.

It is fun watching the little buggers munching down. The birds will get their share. All of the animals can just take turns. It is funny how a memorial for Hobo has evolved into another animal obligation. My friend Marty said you know you are officially old when you start feeding birds. I guess I am a bonafied old guy now.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, April 05, 2005


April Foolery

Friday was April Fools Day and things were pretty quiet until just before I was going to knock off for the day and go home. Now on Friday afternoon there are only two things on my mind: Number one, going home and getting a drink, and number two, going home and getting a drink.

I was talking with one of my patients in my office and that was to be my last act for the day. When I came out of my office, one of my coworkers said to me, "John, there is a walk in up front. Marty is already seeing one and now there is another one." A walk in is a pain in the ass because they are usually time consuming. They pose a lot of hassles. The worst time for a walk in is just before you are about to leave for the day.

Not much I could do about it, so I grabbed a clipboard and headed up front. When I got to the lobby, the place was as quiet as a church. It hadn't hit me yet, because often, folks will go outside and smoke. I asked the security guard where the people were who needed to be seen and he looked at me like he did not know what I was talking about. Then it hit me. I just got punked.

I am used to this sort of treatment on April first. Since I am such a big joker, I am often the victim of April Fools salvos. I congratulated the actors and acknowledged the fact that they really got me. I was just glad I got to go home and get to my two things I mentioned above. Everyone had a good laugh.

So on our way to the car, Marty and I were talking. I commented on how it would be funny to tell the nurses, who were still there, that their relief was not coming in tonight. Well, onne thought led to another and a great plan was hatched.

Marty called the scheduling person and told her to call the unit and let them know the next nurse due in just called in sick. She would go on to say that she was trying to find relief, but so far had been unsuccessful. It worked to perfection. A little later, Marty called the unit for a routine matter and the nurse told him about the call in. We let them suffer for about 45 minutes before pulling the string. It was great. One of the nurses called her husband to say she would not be home to help him cook the pizza.

It was great good-natured fun and we all had some good laughs. I think that is what April Fools Day is supposed to be like.

How about you, were you fooled last Friday or did you do the fooling?

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, April 04, 2005



The 2005 major league baseball season began Sunday evening when the Boston Red Sox played the New York Yankees. I am going to ignore some of the things about baseball that I hate, like steroids and egos. Instead, I want to tell you what baseball meant to me as a child and how it was the stuff of magic moments and heroes.

I was a baseball fanatic. Living in Kansas City, I grew up with the Kansas City Athletics who now reside in Oakland, California. In those days, players stayed on the same team and fans got to know them. Loyalty, honor, and valor were a part of baseball in those days - at least it seemed that way to me.

I had a Kansas City Athletics hat. The hat and I were never too far apart. In those days, team sportswear was not available. My mother took an old t-shirt and made a replica of the A's uniform for me, complete with my favorite player's number, "19." She did it with her trusty Artex paints. When I wore that hat and that shirt, I had everything I needed to feel like a big league ball player.

We had a bunch of kids nearby who liked to play baseball. We played in the Killingsworth's yard most of the time. The Killingsworths were all good athletes. Dave was the oldest and three years older than me. Mark was the middle son and he was a year younger than me. Robbie was the youngest and he was about three years behind me. Doug was two years behind me and my across the street neighbor. My best friend was Frank, and he was a year ahead of me. We all got together almost everyday after school and frequently on weekends.

The good thing about the Killingsworth's yard is it had few obstructions. Also, the houses on each side of them did not have fences, so our field could spill over into the other yards. Another good thing about their yard was the zoysa grass. This grass was like a thick carpet and you could slide on it really well.

In the spring, we anxiously waited for a day warm enough to play. The first chance we got, we would be outside playing catch or hitting fly balls. From that time, to the first game was usually a couple of weeks. The ground was always wet and muddy so we had to confine our activities to prevent the ball from getting water logged. Those first games of catch, the sounds and smells in the spring were part of our cycle of life. It was like the swallows going to Capistrano or something. The smell of the leather glove and the ball brought comfort and constancy. I feel the same way today when I hold a glove to my face and smell the leather.

Even though I had a vision problem, the kids compensated for me. They all knew it was not fair to throw the ball by me just because they could. I usually got a ball I could hit. I also pitched most of the time. In the outfield, I could not tell when the ball was coming to me. The infield was a problem, because I would have to handle a hard throw, but pitching gave me the chance to handle the ball without having to field that much. I never got to play organized ball, but my neighborhood games filled the bill.

Sometimes Frank and I would play in my backyard. We constructed game scenarios and acted them out. I often pitched to him and we would do the play-by-play as we went along. Imagine two kids in a backyard and one of them is talking like a baseball announcer. Here is a typical play-by-play:
Strain walks to the mound in relief of the starter. Here's the situation. The bases are loaded and there is nobody out. Kansas City is clinging to a one run lead in this seventh game of the World Series. The Dodgers have the heart of their order coming to the plate in the top of the 9th. If Strain can close them down, the A's will win their first World Series.

Frank and I would act it out complete with trips to the mound to settle me down or to remind me of a hitter's strength or weakness.

It always came down to a last strike - something like this:

Strain looks in for the sign . . . bases are loaded . . two out and a 3 - 2 count on Howard. Strain checks the runners . . . he kicks and delivers. CALL STRIKE THREE ON THE OUTSIDE CORNER - WHAT A PITCH - HOLY COW - THIS PLACE IS GOING CRAZY - THE KANSAS CITY A'S HAVE JUST WON THEIR FIRST WORLD SERIES AND JOHN STRAIN GETS THE BIGGEST SAVE OF HIS LIFE!!!
So many things about baseball are nostalgic. I love to hear the warmth of an announcer painting pictures with words. Listening to them every day creates a familiarity, one feels a personal connection. I spent many evenings in the backyard listening to Monte Moore and Red Rush. I never knew when the calm voice of Monte would shift into high gear as he described some action. The crowd erupting at the same time had the power to send chills up and down my spine.

Years later, I stood on a little league field as a coach for my son's team. The sounds and smells were the same and I was in familiar territory. I wrote a piece about it and named it "The Stage of Dirt and Grass."
The Stage of Dirt and Grass
Engaged in a dance, a rite of passage, choreographed by those who have gone on before - still variations are written and composed as unique as the lives of the dancers who take to this stage of dirt and grass.

Yesterday he was 12 years old pitching his first game. His stomach was filled with butterflies from the fears of possible failure, the hope of success and the realization of responsibility that others were depending on him.

Today he is a father watching his son. Feeling nostalgia and reliving some of the sweet innocent times of his life. A welcome break from the pressure of his reality. He feels butterflies too. This time from the awe that is the realization of life's cycles. Seeing where he has been, knowing where he is and knowing his time is growing short. The feeling that it has all happened so fast, yet able to enjoy the moment and drink in the spring air and sunshine. To put a glove to his face and be reminded of the smells of childhood. The smell of the leather and the grass transporting him back in time one sense at a time.

Tomorrow, he is a grandfather, now sitting in the stands. Observing, even more philosophical, at peace. The familiarity of the game and the sights and sounds are comforting. No matter what has changed in the world during his long life, this game has not. It is still the place boys begin to learn what it is to be a man. To work as a group, to win and lose with dignity, to encourage, to be humbled, to accept a challenge, to conquer a fear or work through a pain.

The lessons of baseball are endless, so too is the never ending stream of sons, fathers and grandfathers sharing in at least one common thread that runs through their lives. The stage of dirt and grass.
Play Ball!

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, April 01, 2005


Vintage Video

John Kelly 1961 Boston MarathonI was surfing the net and found some pretty neat vintage video of the Boston Marathon. Check them out here: Running Past.

I was born in 1957. The 1957 Boston Marathon was won by a school teacher named John Kelly. If you watch highlights from the 1961 Boston Marathon you will see the dog that tripped Mr. Kelly during the run. The dog looked a lot like my recently departed Hobo.

Some of you may be paranoid about clicking any links on this site on April Fool's Day, but I give you my word there are no hidden surprises. No screaming ghosts or anything like that. It is hard for me to pull anything off on this day - everyone is on guard. Now April 2 through next March 31 are different stories. Muahahahaha.

So check out the newsreel footage. In 18 days I will be running on that very course which has hosted runners from around the world 108 times already. Now imagine the song Tradition playing.

OK, it's my bedtime.

Until the next time
John Strain